The power of religion, in promoting happiness in this life and in disarming death of its terror, has seldom been more beautifully illustrated than in the example of William Wirt, Attorney General of the United States. When a young man, just commencing his professional career, he was distinguished for his genius, his eloquence, his fascinating powers of conversation, and his polished manners. In every circle his society was courted. Fond of pleasure, and the center of attraction of every convivial(1) party, he was living for the joys of this short life, and was in great danger of being ingulfed in that vortex of worldliness and fashion where so many thousands have perished.
While thus living, as he was on one of his professional circuits as a lawyer, he passed a Sabbath where the celebrated blind preacher of Virginia, Rev. James Waddell, was to preach. Mr. Wirt having no other way to pass the Sabbath, entered the humble church with the congregation. He has himself described, in his own forcible language, the scene which ensued. The primitive simplicity of the preacher, the subdued pathos (2) of his tones, his unaffected (3) piety and fervid eloquence, all combined, through the influences of the Holy Spirit, to touch the heart of Wirt. He felt the emptiness of his own joys, and the unprofitableness of his own life. He reflected and wept and prayed. “God be merciful to me a sinner”, which became, for many days and nights, the anxious supplication of his soul. Forsaking his thoughtless companions and his dangerous habits of gayety, he commenced a new life of Christian usefulness. True peace visited his heart, and his benignant (4)countenance proclaimed that he had sought happiness and found it, where alone happiness can be found. He became the advocate of Christian missions, and to every object of philanthropy he consecrated the energies of his noble mind.
Though necessarily called to move in the highest circles of opulence and intellect, and to encounter the temptations with which those circles are ever filled, he humbly, yet fearlessly sustained his character as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and gave his commanding influence, unreservedly and constantly, for the promotion of piety. Revered by the community, and loved almost to devotion by a wide circle of friends, he spent his days in doing good. And when the dying hour came, hope and joy beamed from his eye, brilliant with almost celestial vision, as the glories of his heavenly home were unfolded to his view. His body has long ago mingled with the dust, and his spirit has long dwelt, we trust, with the God who gave it.
Such are the effects of religion. Infidelity can show no such triumphs. Who will not utter the prayer, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his?”
(1) friendly, lively, and enjoyable
(2) evoking pity or sadness
(3) without artificiality or insincerity
(4)kindly and benevolent
The story you just read is the true account of how God brought William Wirt to the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ, published in a collection of articles by Presbyterian theologian and Princeton Seminary professor Archibald Alexander (April 1772 – October 1851). The blind preacher, Rev. James Waddel was the first Presbyterian Minister in the Northern neck of Virginia. He was known as the “blind preacher Waddell” because he had periods of blindness.
Footnotes notwithstanding, it’s a wonderful account of one man’s salvation. We are told of Mr. Wirt’s character and life situation leading up to a Sunday when he “happened” to walk into a church and listen to a renowned and talented preacher. While he was attracted to the preaching (he was a lawyer), the Holy Spirit opened his heart to hear and receive the gospel message (the Lydia principle in Acts 16?). He was shaken to the core with the realization of his own sinfulness and prayed the simplest of prayers, “God be merciful to me a sinner”. He found a true peace and happiness he had never before known. As a result, his entire life was changed forever!
Dear reader, what’s your story? How did god save you? What happened on your way to the cross?
Today Christians remember the day that their Savior died on a cross at Mount Calvary, finishing the work that He was sent here to accomplish – to die for and save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Three days later, Christ rose from the dead, leaving an empty tomb, displaying the power and glory of God, both in Christ’s resurrection and foreshadowing the raising of spiritually dead sinners to new life in Christ.
Just a few comments – food for thought about what it all means:
John 3:16 – 19
16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
Let’s break that down, beginning with the most memorized passage in all of the New Testament.
16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
This verse tells us that those who believe in The Son will have eternal life. What are we to believe about the Son? In Mark 1:15 Jesus told his listeners to “..repent and believe the gospel.” The Apostle Paul defines the gospel quite clearly in 1 Corinthians15:1-4:
1“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
“17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
The Son’s first coming into this world was to save sinners who repent and believe the gospel. His second coming will be as the righteous judge of the whole world. (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 19)
18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
This verse tells us that those who have repented of their sin and believed the gospel are not now condemned, nor will they be condemned at the judgment. It also tells us that those who have not repented of their sins and believed in the Son stand condemned already, even as they live and breathe.
“19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
This verse tells us WHY so many have not repented of their sin and believed in the Son. They love the darkness in which they live, in which we all once lived. They love the darkness BECAUSE their deeds are evil. Would it be a stretch to say that they LOVE their sin, or would it be a strikingly logical conclusion?
The really BIG question is, “Have you repented of your sin and believed the gospel?” Are you safe in the arms of Christ, or do you stand ‘condemned already’ before a just and holy God?
Those are questions between you and God. Do not take them lightly. Don’t answer me, answer Him.
In Part 1 of this series of articles, Be Available, we shared real examples of how doors seem to just ‘open up’ for sharing the message of the gospel, and what can happen when there’s a willing and available gospel messenger ‘on location’.
This article focuses on understanding the nature of the believer’s role in sharing Christ with the world around us. Bear in mind that God, being GOD, is able to save lost sinners in any way He chooses to do so, with, or without our involvement. At the same time, it’s important to remember that God has not only provided for the salvation of His people (through Christ); he has chosen the means by which he saves lost sinners. – the preaching of the gospel (sharing Christ). This means that fur you and me (and all believers) sharing Christ with a lost world is at least three things; Our Duty, Our Great Privilege, and Our Hignest Calling!
18And Jesus came and said to them (the disciples), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mathew 28:18-20)
You might be thinking that there is no command for personal evangelism in the above passage of scripture, I beg to differ. Jesus’ command, to ‘make disciples’, by its very nature requires sharing the message of the gospel. Disciples are only produced from saved; blood bought sinners. Jesus disciples (followers) were commanded to make disciples of those were already believers and preach the message of the gospel to those still lost so that they could then be made into disciples.
Our Great Privilege
God not only provided the way of salvation of His people in the death and resurrection of His Son, He also decreed the means whereby men are saved.
13“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)
The above passage is crystal clear. Those who call on the Lord will be saved. Calling on the Lord means believing in Him. To believe they must first hear the good news (evangel). For them to hear, someone must preach Christ to them. Those who share the good news are ‘sent’ by God to do so.
Dear friends, WE ae among those who are sent to share the good news! The Great Commission was given specifically to Jesus’ immediate disciple, but it was meant for all believers for all time.
God has chosen to use flawed you and me to share His perfect message of salvation! How is that NOT the greatest privilege bestowed on God’s children?
Our Highest Calling
I recently read an article in a local newspaper about an F/A-18 Super Hornet weapons system officer who was actually the first female pilot to bomb ISIS from an F/A 18. Here is how she described ISIS and her role in the bombing:
“They are a horrible crop of humans, with an utter disregard for human life,” she said. “To witness that, day in and out, to witness mass murder, you have such an understanding. I’d trained for so long to protect innocent people on the ground, and when I saw that violated, and to finally use my skills to do that and use weapons, there is no higher calling.” (Emphasis mine)
With no disrespect to either a fine Naval officer or anyone who fights global terrorism, I have to confess that the immediate reaction of this old soldier was “But there IS a higher calling!” – to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world around us, and often hostile culture in which we live.
In many churches these days much is made of living our best lives now, discovering our special purpose for our time on planet Earth, and even achieving our ‘dream destinies’. Friends, I suggest to you that all of those things are merely temporary at best. I also suggest to you that our duty and great privilege to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a lost world, and the eternal consequences at stake (heaven and hell), define the great commission as the highest calling a blood bought child of God has received from heaven!
I find it interesting that the first paragraph of military combat orders cover the battlefield “Situation”, followed by “Mission”. Many of us might think that a statement of the missions would come first. ‘Situational Awareness’ (SA), a term familiar to many of us, means nothing more than recognizing your circumstances; knowing what’s going on around you. For instance, a military commander must be aware of the total situation (enemy and friendly) around him and his unit on the battlefield, as well as the bigger ‘strategic’ picture. Total situational awareness is essential for successful military operations against any enemy, on any battlefield, for any warrior. As Christians, and warriors in the Kingdom of God, we need to maintain complete situational awareness as inhabitants of planet earth (the battlefield environment), as well as our Commander’s intent (God’s strategic picture).
Sadly, we often lose focus of both our battlefield environment and our Commander’s intent, for a variety of reasons, ranging from our tendency to focus almost exclusively on ‘personal’ growth and fulfillment, to applying human wisdom and worldly principles to the operation of the ‘postmodern’ church as a whole. At both levels, the result is that the Lord of the harvest, the Holy Spirit, sits in the back of the bus as we arrogantly occupy the driver’s seat!
Dear readers and friends, it is past time to regain our ‘situational awareness’ and overcome our spiritual ‘nearsightedness.’ For that task, we need to ‘begin at the beginning’ of our lives as Christians and go from there. In a familiar and often quoted verse of Scripture, the Apostle Paul tells us:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
What a promise – the greatest makeover of all time! When we place saving faith in Christ, we step out of darkness and into the light, passing from death to life! We are given a new nature in Christ as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our being, giving us a desire to serve God and the power to live a life of obedience to Him. This is common knowledge, not rocket science.
Our ‘makeover’ is so complete that in another of his letters to the early church, Paul presents what is a mystery to limited human logic.
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6
This is a bit more difficult for human logic to grasp, but notice the past tense verbs in this verse. Paul is saying that as Christians, although we physically remain here on planet Earth, we have already been ‘raised up’ and ‘seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.’ Paul partially explains this mystery in more easily understood terms a bit later in the same chapter:
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. . .” Ephesians 2:19
A citizen is a legal resident of a nation, country or state. Paul is saying that, at the moment of salvation, our ‘legal citizenship’ status changed! One could say that if before we received Christ, we could have visited the ‘heavenly realm,’ we would have been ‘illegal aliens.’ We are not like the child born to an American military family overseas, who has dual-citizenship status until he or she is 18 years old and needs to make a decision. We are NOT dual citizens. Now listen to the Apostle Peter in one of his letters to the early church:
“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11
Do you see the contrast here? Paul tells us that at one time we were ‘aliens and foreigners’ to God’s household, while Peter tells us that as Christians we are now ‘aliens and strangers’ in the world in which we live!
Why is the world in which we live ‘foreign territory,’ why are we ‘aliens and strangers in it,’ and how do we apply these truths?
First, we need to understand that the world in which we live is not, the world that God created and pronounced ‘good’ and ’very good’. In fact, Scripture tells us that the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden affected more than just our little piece of turf. There is a clear description of the present condition of God’s creation in Romans 8:17-24, in which we find the following:
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:22
All of God’s creation is somehow tainted, polluted by sin, and in need of redemption.
Scripture also gives us an interesting description of the state of the human race after the fall of Adam, as well as a who seems to be controlling things (the god of this world).
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4
As believers, we are citizens of the household of God, with a new ‘landlord,’ servants of the Most High God, no longer bound by the god of this world. And as members of God’s household, we are now foreigners and strangers to the world we live in and enemies of the ‘god of this world.’
If you still aren’t convinced of your citizenship as a Christian, listen to the words of Jesus from his high priestly prayer:
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (John 17:13-16)
I have come to the inescapable conclusion that we are living behind enemy lines! Perhaps this has caused your thought process to pause for a moment of speculation. Maybe it came to a screeching halt because your first reaction was “No way!” Then hear what the Apostle James had to say to believers in his day who were becoming a bit too ‘friendly’ with the fallen culture around them.
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4
If you still aren’t convinced that we are living in enemy territory, I encourage you to read James 4 in its entirety, followed by Jesus’ words to his followers in John, chapters 15 and 16, concerning what to expect from the world that is hostile to God.
All of the above leaves with an inescapable question: “Why are we still down here?” That might be connected to the second paragraph of a Combat Order – “Mission”. More to follow.
In the above quotation from J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. we can see the work of the Holy Spirit in at least there ways.
1. The Holy Spirit Empowers the evangelist. While it is true that the message of the Gospel can be presented as if it’s a matter of mere facts, or an intellectual exercise, the sharing of the Gospel message In the power of the Holy Spirit carries with it certain Divine authority that is not lost on the hearer.
2. The Holy Spirit opens the heart of the hearer to receive the Gospel message. While it is also true that the Gospel message can be heard by anyone at all, a God-opened heart guarantees that it will be taken to heart, received with gladness, and a lost soul saved for eternity. No better example can be found than the woman Lydia in the 16th Chapter of the book of Acts.
3. The Holy Spirit no only empowers the evangelist and opens the heart of the sinner, He also empowers the new born believer to live for God and serve Him from that day forward.. It is the Holy Spirit that works in the Christian both to desire and to do what is pleasing to his Lord. (Phil 2:13).
Food for thought………….
If you are interested in a review of, or obtaining Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, go here for either or both.
“De oppresso liber”, commonly translated “to liberate the oppressed” is the motto of U.S. Army Special Forces. The phrase stems from the exploits of World War II Office of Strategic Services Jedburgh/Sussex Teams operating behind the lines in France. Colonel Aaron Bank, father of United States Army Special Forces, and his teams enabled the French Resistance to grow and oppose the occupying German Army.
Although the phrase “to liberate the oppressed” might not be an exact grammatical and literal translation, the point is well made. Liberating oppressed peoples has always been a primary goal of U.S. Special Forces.
Perhaps one of the greatest symbols of oppression in the history of mankind was the Berlin Wall. We were stationed in Berlin between 1984 and 1987. When we were stationed in Berlin in the late 80’s, we were able to capture a picture of a small part of the Wall that depicted the goal of German people living on both sides:
The need to liberate oppressed peoples is nothing new, nor is it a goal or mission reserved for the temporal realm.
God raised up the Prophet Isaiah to accuse the leaders of a rebellious nation of not caring for the oppressed and remind them of their obligations as rulers:
“Learn to do well:
relieve the oppressed
judge for the fatherless,
defend the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)
Perhaps the most significant of the church fathers, Augustine of Hippo recognized that liberating those who are oppressed was one of the solemn responsibilities of pastoral ministry. In a sermon celebrating the anniversary of his ordination as a Bishop he eloquently described how he saw his duties:
“The turbulent have to be corrected,
The faint-hearted cheered up,
The weak supported;
The Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted,
Its insidious enemies guarded against;
The unlearned need to be taught,
The indolent stirred up,
The argumentative checked;
The proud must be put in their place,
The desperate set on their feet,
Those engaged in quarrels reconciled;
The needy have to be helped,
The oppressed to be liberated,
The good to be encouraged,
The bad to be tolerated;
All must be loved.”
(St. Augustine, Sermon 340,3: CChr.SL 194, 920.)
Oppression has many faces and affects all levels of society. The list of oppressors and oppressed people groups is too long to try and list here. At the same time, alleviating varying types of oppression (or perceived oppression), both from America’s past and existing today, has become a priority and matter of debate in secular society as well as the church. ‘Social justice’ issues have been declared by some to be integral to the message of the gospel itself instead of an outcome of having embraced the gospel that Christ died for our sins.
All of the above aside for a moment, I would like to ask you a question, and here it is:
“What is the single most dangerous and cruel form of oppression that has existed throughout the history of mankind and still exists today?”
I’ll give you a hint or two.
- It exists in every country/nation on Earth and has affected every person that has ever been born since the fall of Adam.
- It’s not oppression between people or groups of people,
- It has eternal consequences.
(Insert 30 seconds of quiz show music……….)
And the answer is……………SIN.
The greatest oppression that has ever existed in the history of humanity is sin’s oppression of every single person born after the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve were created with a desire to please God, but also with the ability to disobey. Disobey they did, with disastrous results to follow and affect everyone ever born thereafter.
The Bible tells us about those who are lost to God and separated from Christ by sin:
The lost are slaves to sin.
“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.” (Rom 6:16)
The lost are also spiritually dead.
The Apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—” (Eph 2:1-2)
The lost are condemned already.
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)
That’s a really short list of passages that speak of the oppressed condition of all those separated from God and apart from Christ by sin. Perhaps the harshest description of the lost in the entire Bible is something else Paul told believers in Ephesus:
The lost are the “children of wrath”.
“…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:3)
No earthly oppression can ever compare to the oppression caused by the sin that is in the world that resulted from the disobedience of the first Adam. And there are many who live their happy and content lives oblivious of their condition in abject slavery to that sin.
But there is GOOD news! We don’t have to despair!
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
This is the very reason Christ came to Earth so long ago – “to seek and save that which was lost”. That was His mission on earth – the mission that was announced to His earthly father Joseph:
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21)
“De Opresso Liber”
I asked a question instead of making a statement for a reason. If I ended the title with a period or exclamation point, a lot of folks might end up with apoplexy (cerebral hemorrhage). After all, I doubt that a believing Christian of any stripe (Calvinist, Arminian, Calminian, or otherwise) would dare suggest that we save ourselves. Also, at the end of the day, my personal opinion is not relevant. Thus, the question.
But ‘WHY the question?’, you might be asking. Well, I’m going to tell you why I ask it.
You see, concerning the salvation of lost men, there are only a few conceivable options concerning who does what leading up to someone actually being saved. The ‘actors’ involved are but two, God and lost sinners. Our options:
1. God saves us (sinners) all by Himself.
2. God saves us with our help.
3. We save ourselves with God’s help.
4. We save ourselves all by ourselves.
Of those four options, let’s get rid of No. 4, that we save ourselves all by ourselves, which seems to be a ridiculous idea. It’s not new and was actually articulated the 5th Century by a man named Pelagius (and his chief disciple Celestius) who taught that we are quite capable of living holy lives without God’s help – that the human will at birth is not inclined toward either good or evil, and whether we perform good or evil acts is a matter of unencumbered free will decision. We do what we do based on decisions we make, apart from anything outside of us pushing us in one direction or the other. We literally can ‘save ourselves’.
That leaves us with three remaining options. Let’s look at No 3. – that we save ourselves with God’s help. That option takes into consideration the sequence of actions that take place on the road to salvation, specifically that while God sent Jesus to die for our sins, it’s our free will decision that makes salvation a reality in our lives. In other words, God made it possible for us to be saved by the death of His Son, but we close the transaction with an act of the human will. I think there’s a bit of sound logic here, but I don’t know anyone who would sign up to the idea.
On to No. 2, that God saves us with our help. I think this is by far the prevailing opinion of most evangelicals, although we balk at the idea of ‘helping’ God save us. You could call it the ‘fallback’ position from No. 3, since we would never actually say we save ourselves, but at the same time, a human free will decision to follow Christ is still in play, as the deciding factor in our salvation. God did 99% of the saving, with our free will decision being only 1%. God did His part, now we do our part. That sounds good, but if we ‘contributed’ anything to our salvation, don’t we have ‘reason to boast’, whether we do or not? If yes, that would be a violation of Eph 2:8-9.
So…….that leaves us with No. 1, that God saves us all by himself. The other 3 options have been eliminated. You can believer that, or we can play at being ‘hypothetical’ and assume No 1 is the truth of the matter. IF No.1 is the truth of the matter, what does that have to say about our receiving Christ as Savior? It goes without saying that a human decision of some sort is involved, does it not?
Let’s get hypothetical again. IF a human decision is involved in the salvation transaction (and let’s assume it is), and IF a strictly human decision would give us reason to boast (prohibited), what does that say about our decision to follow Christ? Does it mean that God is the source of our decision?
Well, IF there are two ‘actors’ in our little scenario, God and a sinner, and IF the sinner can’t take credit for his decision, God, by default, must have brought about the decision. Not only that, God must have done something so powerful that when faced with the truth of the gospel message, the sinner’s greatest desire in this life is to say ‘yes’ to Jesus! What happened?
I think it was a ‘God’ opened heart! We see the perfect example in Acts chapter 16, with the conversion of Lydia in Philippi. Lydia listens to message of the gospel presented by the Apostle Paul, God opens her heart to really pay attention to Paul’s words, and Lydia is saved and baptized. Read the story for yourself.
God opens hearts to hear the gospel in order to save sinners, and God never fails. When sinners with God opened hearts hear their condition in sin, along with God’s solution in Jesus Christ, lost sinners run to the cross!
So there you have one old soldier’s thoughts concerning our starting question “Sinner, save THYSELF?”
I would love to hear comments, thoughts and questions.
by Mike Ratliff, at Possessing the Treasure
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:41-44 (NASB)
One of the aspects of our Christian faith that we lose sight of sometimes, and it gets us in trouble when we do, is how vital it is that we remain totally amazed that we ever got saved at all. We make a huge error when we forget this because that path leads to self-righteousness, self-absorption, and an ungrateful heart towards God. Even though we may not be fully aware that we are in that place of self-focus, we cannot be Spirit-led when we are full of self.
“God works in people’s hearts by sovereign grace, taking away their imperviousness to his word, taking away their inability to respond to that word, and changing the disposition of their hearts so that instead of saying “Nonsense” when they hear the word of Christ, they say, “That’s just what I need,” And they come.
Are you a Christian? A believer? Then you came to Christ because you found yourself willing, longing, desirous, wanting to, as well as, perhaps, not wanting to but knowing you must. How was that? It was because God worked in your heart to give you this desire. He changed you. It was his irresistible grace that drew you to the Savior’s feet. Praise him for it! It was one expression of his love to you.” – From: To All Who Will Come pp 184-185 by J.I. Packer
Even the most mature Christians are in great need of reflecting on the cross and what an astounding act of grace it is on God’s part to offer up His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross as a perfect sinless sacrifice, The Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of all those who will come. Not only has God provided the way to eternal life through the Son, He also draws His people to Him in such a way that they believe and repent in total surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Those who were God’s enemies who considered the cross as “Nonsense” and Christianity as, at best, a pie in the sky religion that is only the “Opiate of the Masses,” come to Him as the Father draws them. All who come are His and He will raise them up on the last day.
Yes, all of us are in great need of seeing our salvation from God’s perspective. The current trend in the 21st Century in some parts of the visible Church is for the focus to be on being a Christian for temporal gain or to gain God’s favor through being a Social Justice Warrior. However, those who see the truth of their sin and totally lost condition until God saved them will not consider this life to be the focal point of it.
31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:31-34 (NASB)
The part many have a problem with in this passage is in their own experience of not having what Jesus lists here as being added to them. The part that is misunderstood here though is that the condition is that they must first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness then all of the stuff is added to them. The interesting thing about this is that the key part of this passage is not in getting the stuff, but in the seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness. This is describing what God’s genuine disciples do. They put God first in all things. They walk through each day seriously considering every decision in light of God’s glory and their walk with Him. When they do that the interesting thing which happens is that concern about “stuff” goes away. They become content where God has them doing what God has them doing. All of their needs are met to the point that enables them to accomplish His will in this. This passage is not a guarantor of health, wealth, prosperity, or acceptance by the world.
Those who live this way consider the cross and Christ crucified. They take that into account in all they do. They see that the cost has been counted and paid by their Saviour. They live the rest of their life seeking to be obedient to their Lord in all they do. They also know that it is by God’s grace that they can do so, not their own abilities.
Lastly, their values change to match those of Christ’s. Perhaps the believer starts out focused on the world’s concept of “justice” and “fairness” and attempts to align all that with the gospel and their walk with Christ, but when the focus of the believer becomes eternal rather than the temporal, they will see themselves as a branch attached to the vine (John 15) rather than a Social Justice Warrior. Their focus becomes that of one seeking to be that living sacrifice acceptable to God who is being transformed through the renewing of their mind daily, that is, living for Christ in all they do (Romans 12:1-2) with the result being them becoming that Christlike believer who finishes the narrow path to the Celestial City as a mature believer to be accepted into the arms of their Savior and hears that welcoming cry, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Soli Deo Gloria!
Sounds rather ominous, doe it not? Really deep stuff! Well, not necessarily. First, let’s define our terms.
“Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian”.[i]
“To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”[ii]
We all have presuppositions, certain beliefs or assumptions with which we enter discussions. They frame our thoughts about a matter as well as our argument. In matters of personal evangelism, it means that we believe what the Bible tells us about ourselves as human beings, as well as what it has to has to say about lost sinners. We let those truths guide us in our sharing of the good news.
So, what does the Bible tell us about ourselves as human beings? For me, the two most significant facts are found in Romans, Chapter 1.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of (fallen) men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:18-19) Emphasis mine.
First, since fallen men are full of ungodliness and unrighteousness, they are subjects of God’s wrath. Secondly, fallen men know that God exists, yet the suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. In other words, God doesn’t believe in atheists.
With that truth in mind, what else the Bible have to tell us about those with who we desire to share the gospel? We’ll share just a few.
1. They don’t seek God.
“As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11)
2. They hate God and can do nothing to please him.
“For the mind that is set on the flesh (the only mind the sinner has) is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom 8:7-8) Emphasis mine.
3. They cannot, in and of themselves, even understand the gospel!
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14)
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4)
So how does this affect our evangelistic efforts? There are several ways:
1. If all of us, by nature, already know that God exists, we do not have to ‘prove’ the existence of God. In fact, some would suggest that if we engage in proving the existence of God to an unbeliever, we are presenting a ‘case for God’ and making the unbeliever the ‘judge’.
2. If it’s true that the unbeliever is living in rebellion against the God he/she knows exist, that person by nature also hates God’s gospel. We are actually presenting the gospel to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.
3. If it’s also true that the unbeliever, in his/her natural state, cannot even understand the message of the gospel why do we present it at all? I tell you why I do.
You see, along with believing what the Bible says about us as fallen creatures (our presuppositions), I also believe that God saves all those whom he has chosen to save in exactly the same manner (another presupposition). Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into a long dissertation about the doctrine of salvation. But I do believe that there are two ‘steps’, if you will, in God’s saving of sinners.
1. God opens hearts to hear the gospel.
2. God sends a messenger to present the gospel to that divinely opened heart.
Do you remember Lydia in Acts, Chapter 16? Paul and company went down to a river outside of Philippi looking for a place of prayer and there was a small group of women already gathered there. Paul spoke to them and we are told:
“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) (Emphasis mine.)
In short, God opened Lydia’s heart to hear the gospel, sent Paul as his messenger to present that gospel and Lydia was baptized (along with her household) and invited Paul & company to stay at her house!
“And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:15)
We don’t need to be told specifically that ‘Lydia was saved that day’; the text speaks for itself. God had a purpose ion opening her heart and God’s purposes cannot fail.
So, what does that mean for personal evangelism? It means that we have the great privilege to be God’s ‘gospel’ messengers. Our job is to ‘get the gospel right’ (Christ died for our sins) and share it with others. Our prayer for the lost is simple. “God, open their hearts to hear.”
We don’t need to try and pry open hard hearts with clever presentations. We don’t even need to ask people to open their own hearts. They can’t. That’s God’s business. Unless God opens a heart to hear the truth of the message, our words are just words. But when God opens a sinner’s heart and the gospel is heard, salvation happens.
In summary, presuppositional apologetics – believing what God says about fallen men and believing what we are told about how God saves sinners actually simplifies our evangelism. Our ‘work’ is knowing and being faithful to the gospel message (See 1 Cor 15:1-5) and being available to share that message as God leads us. No tricks, no gimmicks. We’re not ‘salesmen’. We’re simply messengers. It is God who saves sinners!