Meditations on the righteous and on righteousness – Part 1

INTRODUCTION. The first of a short series of posts giving my thoughts on topics like the absolute nature of being righteous or unrighteous, how it is that one who is wholly unrighteous can become fully righteous in God’s sight, how to reconcile a declaration of God’s righteousness with unrighteous behavior, and others. Degrees in the manifestations of (expressions of, displays of) unrighteousness and of righteousness, and the reason for these degrees.

I want to spend the next few posts considering the concept of righteousness and what it means to be righteous, but before we get too far into these critical topics, it would be good to establish some basic ideas.

“RIGHTEOUS” IS AN ABSOLUTE TERM

Every person who ever lives is either completely righteous or completely unrighteous. That is, “righteous” and “unrighteous” are terms which represent two states or two conditions that are mutually exclusive. You are either 100% righteous or you are 100% unrighteous, and there is nothing in between. “Righteous” and “unrighteous” are words like up or down, top or bottom, yes or no, right or left, on or off, positive or negative. These “either/or” words are called “absolute words” or “absolute terms” because they have no presence of degrees; it is either one or the other.

KEY CONCEPT: In the Bible, “righteous” and “unrighteous” are absolute terms. Every person is either righteous or they are unrighteous, and there is no third category.

This is a very important concept to understand because it nullifies many of the most common descriptions of our own moral condition, descriptions which are full of relative and vague terms. When people are asked about their own righteousness or about their condition before God, they will offer something like, “I think I’m a pretty good person.” Whatever that means, it leaves THE question unanswered: “Are you righteous before God? Yes or no.”

            But why spend time thinking about righteousness? And why is it important to know whether I am righteous or unrighteous in God’s sight? Righteousness a critical topic because it is essential for salvation. To enter heaven, you must be perfectly righteous in God’s sight, and yet we are all helplessly trapped in our unrighteousness and are, therefore, under the condemnation of God. We require perfect righteousness but possess perfect UNrighteousness and are without any available means of escaping from our unrighteous state. The question thus becomes, “How can anyone be righteous before God?” This would be impossible were it not for the gospel.

DECLARED RIGHTEOUS

Since there is “none righteous, no, not one” (Psalm 14:1, 3; Romans 3:10ff; cf. Psalm 143:2; Jeremiah 5:1; etc.) and all are therefore unrighteous before a holy God, the Lord has graciously provided the gospel as a way to save sinners. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord will declare a person to be righteous on the basis of that person’s faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord’s declaration of their righteousness in time forever transfers that person into the kingdom of the righteous.

We have just stated the good news of the gospel that God will declare any person to be righteous if that person will place their faith in Jesus Christ. So, the Lord declares them righteous by their faith and, at that moment, their righteous eternal life in Christ begins. (Have you responded to the gospel? Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ?)

This is the most important message that could ever be proclaimed, that by faith God will justify (declare righteous) the ungodly (Romans 4:5), and my writing could be complete right at this point. 

BUT NOT DECLARED UNRIGHTEOUS

But, as I continued to think about the unrighteous and God’s declaration of righteousness, I noticed another idea that caught my attention.

We have said that, by faith, God declares the unrighteous person to be righteous. On the other hand, the Lord does not declare a person to be unrighteous. Why is this so? If the Lord declares a person righteous based on their faith, why would the Lord not also declare a person to be unrighteous?

The main reason is that, since every person is, by nature and by action, unrighteous (John 3:17-18), a declaration from God about our unrighteousness is unnecessary. We have all fully merited our unrighteousness by our sins. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Law of God given at Sinai clearly renders us all unrighteous and our unrighteousness is evident for all to see. The sad fact is that all of us are born in a state of unrighteousness and in that state, we remain (unless we place our faith in Jesus Christ) and in that state we will die. Then, on the last day, we will be judged by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16) and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Unless we have come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are absolutely unrighteous and stand fully condemned before God. God graciously warns us about our unrighteousness and our consequent condemnation not only in the pages of the Bible, but also by the inner voice of our conscience (Romans 2:14-15), in the power and the glory of God’s creation (Romans 1:19-20), in the reading of the Law, and in the proclamation of the gospel, so man is without excuse. In short, there is so much evidence of our inherent unrighteousness that a declaration from God is unnecessary.

But there is another, perhaps more important reason God does not declare the sinner to be unrighteous. Recall that when an unrighteous person initially and savingly places their faith in Jesus, God declares them to be righteous, and because of God’s declaration, that person is eternally righteous and will never be unrighteous again. The point is that God’s declaration creates a permanent state that cannot be changed. The person’s righteousness can never be lost.

Now, if God’s declaration of righteousness created an eternal state of righteousness, then God’s declaration of unrighteousness would likewise create an eternal state of unrighteousness which could never be changed and from which the unrighteous could never escape. If God declared the person to be unrighteous, that person would be eternally unrighteous because God’s declaration (or decree) establishes the final state. Therefore, to prevent an unrighteous person from being permanently and irredeemably fixed in an unrighteous state, God withholds His declaration of unrighteousness and instead issues warnings to the unrighteous person through the Law and by means of the conscience and through the proclamation of the gospel so that the unrighteous person will repent of their sins and will place their faith in Jesus. Then God will issue His decree that this unrighteous person has now been declared eternally righteous and is bound for heaven.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2022                   #533

Providence, circumstances, and the gospel (Phil. 1:12-18)

INTRODUCTION. A Bible study from Philippians 1:12-18 showing how God’s providence works through all our circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul from prison. Despite his circumstances, Paul writes to his beloved Philippians with joy, thanksgiving, confidence, and hope as he instructs them how to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27).

As I was reading the section from Phil. 1:12-18, several ideas occurred to me related to God’s providence and the spread of the gospel, so I want to take a few minutes to consider these thoughts.

UNFAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES

Phil. 1:12. This verse begins the body of the letter. Paul announces that, in this one instance, his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” This by itself is fairly remarkable when we consider his circumstances. Paul has been taken out of his role of proclaiming the gospel “from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum” (Romans 15:19-20) and has been imprisoned with the praetorian guard, who would seem to be pretty “hard ground” for the gospel. Also, now that he is out of the spotlight as proclaimer of the gospel, lesser preachers have taken his place, and some of them are selfishly ambitious. So, these circumstances seem anything but favorable for the gospel.

NOT DEPENDENT ON PAUL

But we need to remember is that the progress of the gospel is not dependent on the apostle Paul. Yes, Paul is a chosen instrument of the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9:15) and he is a man who is fully committed to the service of Christ (consider Phil. 1:21), but the greater progress of the gospel is guaranteed by God and so cannot be prevented by the adverse circumstances of anyone. The progress of the gospel is guaranteed by Jesus Himself (see Matthew 16:18 – “I will build My church”). Not only that, but the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), so the gospel’s greater progress does not depend on the gifts of the proclaimer. The power is in the message proclaimed, not in the one who proclaims. So, the progress of the gospel is not dependent on any human instrument, but is irresistible because God has determined that the gospel will progress until all the elect have been gathered in.

THIS ONE INSTANCE IMPLIES ALL

There is, however, another point to notice here. Paul announces that, in this one instance, his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” Next Paul describes to the Philippians how, in this one instance, God’s providence has brought about the spread of the gospel despite Paul’s “bad” circumstances. But from this one instance with Paul we can confidently extrapolate to all instances and all circumstances. That is, we can confidently assert that God, through His providence, is always causing the greater progress of the gospel. In our “good” circumstances and “bad,” when we can see His hand at work and when we cannot, God sovereignly causes all things to turn out for the greater progress of the gospel so that Christ will be glorified.

As we go into the rest of the passage, we see the details of how God used circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

Phil. 1:13. Because of his imprisonment, Paul has been taken out of the spotlight of boldly proclaiming the gospel to crowds and he no longer is “reasoning in the market place every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). Now he does not get to choose those to whom he will proclaim Christ, but he is limited to those to whom he is (probably) chained. Now Paul can only witness to the praetorian guard (1:13).

But let’s consider this for a moment. These men, who otherwise would never have known anything about Christ or the gospel, are now assigned to watch their prisoner, the chosen instrument of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul. And so these men, who would otherwise have perished, now hear an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ proclaim the gospel all day long. This is God’s providence as He arranges circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

Consider also that Paul needed to be faithful in this assignment. Paul was a bondservant of Christ and, as such, he did not get to choose his duties, but was required to do what the Master commanded. God’s providence had placed Paul in this prison at this time with these men and therefore Paul was to discharge his duties as an evangelist. Paul was faithful in this humble assignment because it was his Master’s assignment. The slave does the Master’s bidding without grumbling or complaining. APPLICATION: The believer is to be faithful to the Master whether He entrusts the believer with little or much.

Even though there is nothing in the text about this, it is interesting to speculate about the strategic significance of Paul’s evangelism among the praetorian guard. To me, it is not clear from this epistle where Paul is imprisoned. Most commentators opt for Rome, but I tend to think it was somewhere else, maybe in the governor’s palace in Caesarea. This could be supported by Acts 23-26 (see 23:35). Regardless of where Paul was imprisoned, he was closely acquainted with the elite soldiers of the praetorian guard and thus may have had access to officials. Could this have even allowed him to testify before kings or even before the emperor himself? If so, this would have been another instance of God’s providence.

Phil. 1:14. While Paul is fulfilling his assignment with the soldiers, “most of the brethren” are out “speaking the word of God without fear.” When Paul was on the scene, these brothers were content to let Paul preach. They sat back while Paul caught the heat. But now, with Paul at least temporarily taken off the field, these men have stepped into the void and begun to proclaim Christ.

Consider the effects of God’s providence here. New preachers are raised up to proclaim the gospel. These new preachers gain skills in proclaiming and they proclaim to new people. Once they have been raised up, perhaps they will continue to proclaim for years, maybe going far afield to new lands as they live for Christ. All this because Paul is providentially sidelined.

ENVY, STRIFE, AND SELFISH AMBITION

Phil. 1:15, 17. Here we encounter those preachers who “preach Christ out of envy and strife” (1:15) and who “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, thinking to cause [Paul] distress” (1:17). I am not sure exactly what was going on here, but it seems that there were some preachers who were jealous of Paul or who did not like him for some reason (maybe these were Jewish evangelists who did not like the fact that Paul did not make the Gentiles keep the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20-22)), so when Paul was providentially taken out of the picture, they began to gain attention by preaching Christ, thinking that Paul would be “distressed” that they were stealing his preaching ministry.

But what actually occurs? Paul is delighted that they have stepped up into the breach. Paul was probably saying, “Finally! Let Christ be proclaimed by whoever will proclaim His name!” “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed. In this I rejoice” (1:18). More preachers means Christ will more loudly be proclaimed. Amen!

PURE GOSPEL, BUT WRONG MOTIVES

It is important to observe about these other preachers that they were not preaching error or heresy. Each time they are mentioned, their message appears to be true. They “speak the word of God” (1:14). They “are preaching Christ” (1:15). They “proclaim Christ.” Paul does not mention or even hint that their message is false, but rather that their motive for preaching is amiss. As I read this, I observe that their message is true, but their motive is impure. If their gospel had been false, Paul would not have stood for it for a moment (see Galatians 2:11-14) but would have exposed their error (see Galatians 1:7-10). But Paul ignores their personal attacks on him and, instead, celebrates the fact that there are more voices proclaiming Christ. “In this I rejoice” (1:18).

SUMMARY OF THE PASSAGE

It is fascinating to see how the simple act of putting Paul in prison (God’s providence) produces so much progress for the gospel. Many would see the imprisonment of the apostle Paul right at the peak of his ministry as being a severe blow, but God, whose “sovereignty rules over all” (Psalm 103:19) and “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), has ordained that this “bad” circumstance would advance the gospel (consider Gen. 50:20). Paul evangelizes the praetorian guard while other preachers are raised up who speak the word of God, who are preaching Christ, and who proclaim Christ so that Christ is proclaimed.

SDG                 rmb                 5/18/2022                   #532

When I am discouraged, obedience is difficult

INTRODUCTION. Another post (see #530 on May 13, 2022) on the subject of discouragement and how the believer can and should fight to be free of this condition.

I have posted two articles recently on this idea of fighting discouragement. My purpose has been to help believers see that, of all people, we have the most reasons to be encouraged, and that discouragement should be a place where we spend very little time.

The first article (post #528 on May 11, 2022) was on changing our mental diet. The idea is that the main contributor to being a discouraged Christian is not being careful about your mental diet. Therefore, starve your mind of dwelling on discouraging thoughts. Do not allow your mind to eat any mental food that discourages, but rather train your mind to remain fixed on God’s goodness, on the blessings He has bestowed on you and promised you, and spend large amounts of time in God’s Word, the Bible.

The second article (post #530 on May 13) was about how many of the ideas that would lead to discouragement for the unbeliever should not affect the believer because of the promises given to the believer in the Bible.

In this article, my main idea will be to show that it is difficult for the discouraged Christian to be an obedient Christian. Now, this may sound strange at first. How would discouragement make me less obedient as a believer? What is the connection between obedience and encouragement? Well, consider the following situations.

  • The Scripture commands us in many places to be thankful and the believer has uncountable reasons to thank God no matter what the circumstances, but when you are discouraged, how can you be thankful to God? Are you going to thank God for the things that discourage you? No, you are not. So, the discouraged person is not a thankful person. But the believer knows that not being thankful is a sin. It is disobedient to not be thankful. The fact is that discouragement hinders or stops thankfulness, so discouragement must go! So, when you are discouraged, even for a moment, begin thanking God for all His goodness and provision to you. Soon you will not be discouraged!
  • Jesus Himself gives His disciples a “new commandment” in John 13:34, that we are to love one another. This is a direct command from the Lord Jesus. The believer is to focus on loving others and not focus on himself. But when a person is discouraged, they are usually focusing on self, not on others. Being self-centered and selfish is a sin (Phil. 2:3-4).  Instead of being focused on self and feeling sorry for yourself, immediately begin praying for someone you know and consider how you can do a better job of giving yourself away for others (2 Cor. 12:15).
  • The Bible gives us many commands to rejoice, but how can you obey those commands when you are discouraged? Rejoice always. (1 Thess. 5:16). Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3:1). Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice (Phil. 4:4). It is difficult to obey the command to rejoice if your heart is heavy and you are discouraged. On the other hand, it is hard to be discouraged if you are rejoicing in the Lord! Will you be obedient and rejoice, or will you be discouraged and disobedient? Sing! Rejoice! Praise the Lord!
  • The obedient believer is content in all circumstances (Phil. 4:12), and the believer’s contentment testifies to God’s generosity toward His children. But when the believer is discouraged, it is very easy also to be discontent. Your discouragement will poison your contentment and will often lead to grumbling about what God has not provided or to coveting what others have and you want. Discouragement endangers your contentment. So, deliver yourself from your discouraging thoughts and you will see contentment return. The Lord provides!
  • We have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). We are to be a “people for Christ’s own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). The believer is “to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed” (Titus 3:1), and “to be careful to engage in good deeds” (Titus 3:8). Every believer has been created in Christ Jesus (born again, saved, converted, redeemed, etc.) to be a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and to accomplish the work God has given us to do (John 17:4). But when we are discouraged, we are not available for good works. The discouraged believer lacks the joy or the energy to accomplish the work they have been given to do. The discouraged believer is not a zealous believer. So, to engage in good deeds the believer must shed the clothes of discouragement and be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and press toward the goal (Phil. 3:14).
  • The believer is to let their light shine before men so that God is glorified (Matthew 5:16), but the discouraged believer has a dim, flickering light that does not shine before men. The encouraged believer shines forth a bold, pure light which attracts people to the light and hopefully to the Light of the world, but the discouraged believer’s light is not attractive. People are attracted by vigor and joy and life and light, and so the encouraged believer gives them a reason to draw near. On the other hand, the discouraged believer seems to feel the same heaviness the rest of the world feels, and so the world passes by. The obedient believer will let their light shine, and that means discouragement must go.
  • The believer is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Although this verse is worded as a declarative statement (i.e., a fact, not a command), it is certainly intended to be an expectation for all believers, and thus has the force of a command. The obedient believer is to proclaim God’s excellencies. But once again, we find that the discouraged believer has no voice for proclaiming the gospel and has no courage for telling of God’s excellencies. Thus, the discouraged believer is not able to obey the Lord’s command, and the primary reason they cannot obey is that they remain in a state of discouragement. Christian! Get rid of discouragement! Sing praises to the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord. Rejoice!

In conclusion, then, I offer these thoughts to encourage the discouraged to shake free of those thoughts and habits that are robbing you of the joy and vigor of the vibrant life in Christ. Change your diet to feast on the riches of Christ and the encouragement that every believer has in Him (Phil. 2:1). Give thanks! Rejoice! Proclaim! Give yourself away to others!

SDG                 rmb                 5/17/2022                   #531

For the believer, the sources of discouragement are gone

INTRODUCTION. Another post (see #528 on May 11, 2022) on the subject of discouragement and how the believer can and should fight to be free of this condition.

EXPECT TO BE DISCOURAGED

A few days ago I posted an article on “discouragement” (see #528 on May 11). In that article, I made the statement that discouragement is the expected state for many people in this world just based on their discouraging state of mind. For example, if you fear the future, and are discontent in the present, and regret the past, you should be discouraged. If you believe your existence is an accident of impersonal random chance in a vast, indifferent universe, you should expect to be discouraged. If you are afraid of death, then expect to be discouraged. If you have no meaningful purpose for your life, you will be discouraged. Sooner or later, even the most optimistic person will be crushed by these ideas and will become discouraged, then depressed, and then probably will feel hopeless. Bottom line is, if this is you, you should expect to be discouraged.

Now, I want to think some more about this phenomenon of a discouraging state of mind. There are two things to observe about the discouraging thoughts that I listed above. First, these thoughts can occur to anyone, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, physical health, monetary status, marital status, national origin, or any other natural distinction. Because these are thoughts and concepts in the mind, they can occur to anyone. That’s first.

BUT NOT THE BELIEVER!

But second and more profound, these thoughts should not be present to any great measure to the follower of Jesus. Here’s why I say that.

  • Fear of the future. In this life, “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), so there is no need to fear the future in this life. When I die, I will go to heaven (Phil. 1:23) and at the resurrection, I will receive a glorified body and will forever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17), so there is no need to fear the future after death. The believer should not fear the future.
  • Discontent in the present. The believer is to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18) and is to be content in whatever circumstances they are (Phil. 4:11-12; Job 1:21; 1 Timothy 6:6-8), so there is no reason to grumble or be discontent.
  • Regret the past. “Forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize” (Phil. 3:13-14). The Bible says that the believer can forget what lies behind, so no regret. The “body of sin” from my past is gone (Romans 6:6). “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), so there is no past sin remaining to be regretted. I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as a new creation, I have no past to regret.
  • My existence is an accident of impersonal random chance. One of the great benefits of being an atheist or an evolutionist is that you believe that, in your very essence, you are an accident of impersonal random chance. This points to the fact that your existence (or non-existence, for that matter) cannot be of any significance, because it is impossible for the results of impersonal random events to have any inherent meaning. For the follower of Jesus, however, who knows that he has been formed in His mother’s womb by the living God (Psalm 139:13-14) and has been chosen before the foundation of the world for salvation (Ephesians 1:4) by the maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1), his life has immense significance. He will pour out his life to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
  • Afraid of death. The natural man, regardless of his futile attempts to deny it and disguise it, is afraid of death. Death is God’s judgment on sin, and as such, causes fear in the depths of man’s soul. It is fear of death that has motivated man to create his demonic religions, but these will do him no good on the day of judgment. The natural man has no answer for death, and yet death relentlessly approaches with each passing day. But for the follower of Jesus, death has no sting (1 Cor. 15:54). For the Christian, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is after death that the believer receives the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26), the one who believes in Him will never die.
  • No meaningful purpose in life. The vast majority of people spend their lives without a mission or a purpose. Even people whom the world evaluates as “successful” are simply better at doing what the world values than other people but ask them to describe to you their mission and they are at a loss. The best most people have is a worldly idea to gather together more stuff. But the follower of Jesus has been given a mission by the Lord Jesus Himself. Part of the birthright of the born-again is the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19-20). Also, I am to be Christ’s witness (Acts 1:8). I am to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Confession). Whatever I do in life can be measured against these great mission statements. The Christian should not be discouraged because there are always more opportunities to be a witness for Christ. My purpose and my mission have been given to me by the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Jesus Himself has given me personally my mission and my purpose. And so, the believer should not be discouraged because their life is full of purpose. The mission is clear, and it is exciting.

So, brothers and sisters in the Lord, let’s shed the grave clothes of discouragement and let’s put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and rejoice!

My next post on this subject will describe why it is so difficult for the discouraged believer to be obedient to the Scriptures.

SDG                 rmb                 5/13/2022                   #530

John 6:31-65 – Part 2: The Father draws him (6:41-44)

INTRODUCTION. An in-depth Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts. This section of the gospel of John is important for several reasons. In these verses, Jesus gives some of His clearest teaching about the sovereignty of God in salvation, from initial choosing to final glorification. Also, Jesus here instructs us about the timing of the resurrection, that it will occur on the last day. Thirdly, in this passage, Jesus teaches using different metaphors and analogies to explain what it means to believe in Him and so helps the reader have multiple readings of the same concepts. This second part of the study is a continuation of Post #523 on 4/29/2022 and will cover John 6:41-44.

In this short passage (John 6:41-44), Jesus continues His teaching about who He is. He is the bread of life that came down out of heaven sent by God the Father so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life and will be raised up on the last day. This is a bit much for these unbelieving Jews to grasp, so they grumble.

John 6:41-42. Since the Jews continued to believe that Jesus was a mere man, simply the human son of Joseph and Mary, they grumbled at the arrogance of His saying, “I have come down out of heaven.”

6:43-44. Jesus continues His previous teaching about God’s sovereignty in salvation and about the last day (6:44). Before going on to explain 6:44, however, I wanted to review what we  covered in John 6:35-40.

REVIEW

  • In the previous section (6:35-40), we were introduced to two key phrases: those who “come to Me” (6:35, 37 (2)) and those whom the Father has given to the Son (6:37, 39), and we saw that these two phrases describe exactly the same group of people.
  • From John 6:35, we also saw that those who “come to Jesus” are the same group of people who “believe in Jesus.”
  • We also recall that John 6:39 taught us that “all the Father has given to [the Son] (i.e., all those chosen in Christ before the world began; Ephesians 1:4), these the Son will “raise up on the last day.” That is, all those given by the Father to the Son before the foundation of the world will surely be resurrected (glorified) on the last day (see Romans 8:29-30; 1 John 3:1-2). In other words, we see that God ordained the beginning and the end of salvation, and everything in between. God the Father began salvation by giving the elect to the Son in eternity past, and the Son will end salvation by raising up all the elect on the last day.
  • Finally in 6:40, Jesus again states the connection between believing in Him and having eternal life (previously stated in John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24), and we see that everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life. So there is a 1:1 correspondence between believing in Jesus and having eternal life. And from this verse there is also a 1:1 correspondence between believing in Jesus and being raised up on the last day. So, everyone who believes in Jesus will be resurrected (glorified) on the last day. [NOTE: It is obvious from this passage that the resurrection occurs on The Last Day. Literally, on The Last Day.]
  • In John 6:40, Jesus also teaches us that eternal life is not the same thing as having a glorified body or even the same thing as being in heaven. Eternal life begins when a person believes in Jesus. This is clearly stated in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” But we know that Jesus will not raise up believers until The Last Day. Therefore, all believers will spend some time having eternal life in our fallen bodies, and all believers will spend eternity having eternal life in our glorified bodies, and most believers will spend some time having eternal life as disembodied souls in heaven awaiting the resurrection.

Having reviewed Jesus’ previous teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation and the certainty of the last day, we return to John 6:44 to discover what Jesus adds to His lesson.

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 6:44

6:44. Jesus introduces us to another necessary part of our salvation. We have learned that it is necessary for us to come to Jesus to be saved, but here we read that not all have the ability to come to Jesus. “No one can come to Me (unless).” In the original Greek, the verb translated “can” speaks of ability. A possible paraphrase of this verse might be, “Everyone is unable to come to Me (unless).” A man may want to fly through the air like a bird, but he is physically unable to do that. He cannot fly. Just so, Jesus is saying that you cannot come to Him unless the Father does something first. Also, as the verse reads in the text, it appears that the “rule” is that a person is unable to come to Jesus, and that the “unless” speaks of the exception to the rule. That is, most cannot, but a few can. But regardless of whether those that come are the exception or the rule, Jesus is definitely teaching that, unless the Father draws the unsaved person, that person cannot come to Jesus for salvation. In other words, that person’s eternal salvation depends entirely on the Father’s action.

The question that must follow is, “Whom does the Father draw?” Is His choice arbitrary, just a random selection? Or is it based on the goodness of the people who are drawn, that they are the ones who are more righteous and holier than the rest? But of course Jesus’ teaching already makes clear those whom the Father will draw. The Father will draw those whom He has given to the Son so that these can (are able to) come to Jesus, and these will believe in Him for eternal life. Those who are drawn to Him and who come to Him and who believe in Him, He will certainly not cast out (6:37c), but “I will raise Him up on the last day” (6:44).

SUMMARY SO FAR

This is a good point to stop and try to summarize what Jesus has taught so far in this passage. In eternity past, the Father has given some people to Son. In time, the Father draws those whom He has given to the Son, and those whom the Father draws will come to Jesus and will believe in Jesus. Those who believe in Jesus have eternal life and they will be raised up (resurrected, glorified) by Jesus on the last day.

SDG                 rmb                 5/12/2022                   #529

Change your diet. No longer feed on discouragement.

INTRODUCTION. Thoughts on how to vanquish discouragement. My primary strategy is to stop “eating” discouragement, particularly in my mind.

I am very conscious of my diet and carefully watch what I eat. I have found that there is a direct and fairly immediate relationship between the number on my bathroom scales and what I have eaten in the last couple of days. Basically, eating certain things results in a bigger number on the scales. There is no surprise in this. This phenomenon is well known.

But recently I have completely eliminated from my diet a few specific foods and have been pleased to see a couple of stubborn pounds disappear from the bathroom scales. The lesson I took away from this experience is that even small changes can yield measurable results.

While my physical diet and the resulting weight are important to me, they are not nearly as important as my sanctification and my growth and usefulness as a disciple of Jesus. And I have found that, over the long term, one of the biggest obstacles to my growth and my usefulness as a disciple is discouragement.

THE BATTLE AGAINST DISCOURAGEMENT

Discouragement and depression have been my companions since I was young, long before I came to faith in Jesus. My parents divorced when I was eleven years old, and my father moved to California, leaving me with no male role model. Also, by personality, I am introverted and judgmental and hard on myself and others. These patterns set me up for discouragement, but more than these were the habits of thought that I developed. As a non-Christian, I had few filters, especially in my mind and thoughts, and I allowed discouragement to have free access into my head, saturating my mind with negative thoughts. Thus I perceived depression to be my normal state. The point is that my discouragement thrived by allowing my mind to dwell on discouraging thoughts. A steady diet of feeding on discouragement produced discouragement and depression. This was my mental cage as a non-Christian.

FOR MANY, DISCOURAGEMENT IS REASONABLE

Now, it should be acknowledged that there are many people who should be discouraged. Regardless of their thought habits, a state of discouragement is reasonable for many people in this world. People who fear the future, are discontent in the present, and regret the past should be discouraged. Those who believe their existence is an accident of impersonal random chance in a vast, indifferent universe should be discouraged. People who have no source of hope or joy should be discouraged. People who are afraid of death should be discouraged. It is entirely reasonable for those who have no purpose for their life to be discouraged. People who have no one to thank for the good things they receive and no one to help them through the hard things should be discouraged. Those whose security is their money and for whom pleasure begins and ends with their body should be discouraged.

In my own example, based on where I was in my life, it was entirely reasonable for me to be discouraged. Not good, but reasonable and expected. Objectively, I had reasons to be discouraged about where my life was headed.

And then, in an amazing act of God’s kindness and grace, when I was not seeking Him, but was instead content to wallow in my discouragement, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved me, even when I was dead in my transgressions, made me alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). “My chains fell off. I’ve been set free. The blood of Jesus ransomed me.” The Lord opened the cage and the Son set me free, and I was free indeed (John 8:36)! And so, after my salvation, I never struggled with discouragement or depression ever again. Right? WRONG!

NEW CREATION, OLD HABITS

After my conversion, I passed from death to life (John 5:24) and became a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and brought into my new life in Christ all the discouragement and depression that had marked my life as an unbeliever. My habits of feeding on discouragement were just as effective at producing depression as a born-again believer as they had been as an unbeliever. But now, everything had changed. Everything was new and the cage was gone. Now, as a follower of Christ, I could change! No longer was I a slave to the harmful habits of the past. Now, when I saw a habit that was harmful or sinful, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit I could change and break that habit. And that included habits of thinking. My “old man” had bequeathed me the bad habit of letting my mind dwell on discouragement, but now my “old man” was dead and my “new man” desired to be useful to the Master and to be filled with joy and to be a bright light for Jesus, so dwelling on discouragement had to go. And so, a little more than thirty years ago I began to break the habit of discouragement, and I have been making progress ever since.

CHANGE MY DIET. ELIMINATE ALL SOURCES OF DISCOURAGEMENT!

But this morning, I had a breakthrough. As I was thinking about the effects of my changes to my physical diet, I saw the analogy with my mental “diet.” I realized that, as a follower of the Lord Jesus, I have no reason to be discouraged. In fact, it is dishonoring to the Lord for this redeemed sinner, who has received “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), to be discouraged and depressed like I was when I wallowed in my sin as a rebel and as a spiritual orphan. And since allowing my mind to dwell on discouragement is the primary source of continued discouragement in my life, I resolved to FORBID MY MIND FROM FEEDING ON DISCOURAGEMENT of any kind. Feeding on discouragement is the trans-fat of my thought life, so I am determined to completely eliminate discouragement from my mind’s diet. Do not even snack on discouragement! As my body is to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11), so my mind is to abstain from discouraging thoughts, which wage war against fruitfulness.

ELIMINATING DISCOURAGEMENT IN PRACTICE

Here are some quick thoughts about how to put this into practice. First, become aware of your thinking and recognize those times when your thoughts are trending toward discouragement. In those times, consciously stop that thinking, ideally out loud. “No! Stop it!” Then second, consciously turn your mind immediately to rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord and giving thanks to the Lord for all of His goodness to you (Psalm 116:12). Replace the first hint of discouragement with songs of rejoicing. You are redeemed! He has rescued you from the pit! What possible reason can there be to be discouraged? And pour out thanksgiving to the Lord. You were thrown out in the open field (Ezekiel 16), but now you are seated at the King’s table as one of His beloved children (read 2 Samuel 9).

Discouragement is spiritual poison and allowing your thoughts to dwell there will drain you of zeal and life. Instead of dwelling there, which is nowhere commended in Scripture, be obedient. Obey 1 Thess. 5:16-18. When you detect discouragement, respond with praise. Become familiar with the psalms and pray them often. Refuse to feed on discouragement. Rejoice and praise the Lord!

SDG                 rmb                 5/11/2022                   #528

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9, 13 – Part 1)

INTRODUCTION. These next few posts explore the vital importance of Mission for sustaining us and helping us maintain our zeal for life. In this Bible story, Elijah runs from Jezebel (1 Kings 19) and runs to Horeb, the mountain of God to meet with the LORD and find out His purpose for the rest of his life.

ELIJAH’S PREVIOUS MISSION

As 1 Kings 19 opens, Elijah has experienced a great victory. The LORD had given him a mission and had appointed him as the prophet to speak to King Ahab about the wickedness of Israel. But now the mission regarding the drought was over. Fire had come down from heaven and had consumed the soaking wet sacrifice. The people had declared, “The LORD, He is God!” and the prophets of Baal had been slain at the Kishon. Then a cloud as small as a man’s hand (1 Kings 18:44) had grown into an entire sky black with clouds and wind, and a heavy shower had ended three and a half years of drought. The LORD has accomplished a great work through His prophet and Elijah stood briefly on a spiritual mountaintop.

Now things have changed dramatically. Jezebel has issued her threats (19:2) and our hero “was afraid and arose and ran for his life” (19:3). He heads south as fast as he can, eventually sitting down alone under a juniper tree. Then the Scripture says:

and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” – 1 Kings 19:4

Elijah is exhausted, so he slept. Twice the angel of the LORD (the pre-incarnate Christ) wakes him and gives him bread and water, so that he can go “in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God” (19:8).

THOUGHTS ON THE PASSAGE SO FAR (1 KINGS 19:1-8)

LOSS OF MISSION. In my opinion, Elijah did not run away because he was afraid of Jezebel, at least not primarily. Oh, yes, she was an evil woman and she intended harm to Elijah, but Jezebel’s threat was not the primary reason Elijah was afraid. If the prophet were merely afraid of Jezebel, he would have stopped running long before he reached “Horeb, the mountain of God.” No, Elijah was not fleeing FROM Jezebel, but he was fleeing TO God.

Why was Elijah afraid and fleeing to God? Elijah was seeking the face of the LORD to know if his life’s work was done. Elijah was afraid because he feared that his purpose in life was finished. And if the LORD was done with him, as he feared was the case, then it was time for him to die.

He was thinking, “LORD, was that it? Was that my only work for You? Have I accomplished all the work You have given me to do? Because if my work is done, then my life is done. I would rather die than languish.” So his fear was related to his loss of mission or loss of purpose. “If I have no more purpose, then I need no more life. LORD, give me a new mission or take my life and take me home.”

For at least three and a half years, Elijah had experienced the joy of being on a mission for the LORD and with the LORD. Every day when he arose from sleep, he was engaged, even consumed by the work the LORD had given him. He was God’s chosen prophet to declare to Ahab and Jezebel their wickedness, to call them to repentance, and to warn them of the coming judgment. Every moment was meaningful. The mission was accomplished on Carmel as the LORD glorified Himself, and then came the letdown. “What is my mission now?” When Jezebel threatened Elijah with death, he thought it might be God’s signal that his life’swork was done.

Was God done with Elijah? Were his fears well-founded?

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD. We see the LORD’s compassion on his frightened prophet as he sleeps under the juniper tree. The angel of the LORD Himself comes to Elijah twice, feeding him a bread cake from heaven (John 6:35, 50) and giving him some of the living water (John 4:14). Notice also that the angel of the LORD tells Elijah that there is still a journey for him to complete (“the journey is too great for you” – 19:7),  thus giving him a strong hint that there is yet work for him to do.

FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS. This phrase is significant because it indicates that Elijah was going to Horeb, the mountain of God, to seek the LORD with extended fasting.

I have usually read this expression in this passage as meaning how long Elijah traveled, but he did not need forty days and forty nights to travel from Beersheba to Horeb, a distance of less than two hundred miles.

Rather, when the expression “forty days and forty nights” appears in the Scripture, (with the exception of Genesis 7:4, 12), it describes times when Bible heroes spent a long time in fasting and prayer. (Moses in Exodus 24:28; 34:28 when he was on Sinai (Horeb) with the LORD receiving the Law. Jesus in Matthew 4:2 during His temptation in the wilderness.) Thus the expression here in 1 Kings 19:8 is describing Elijah coming to Horeb to seek the LORD with extraordinary fasting.

ELIJAH AND THE LORD AT HOREB

When Elijah arrived at his destination, he found “a cave and lodged there” (19:9). The word of the LORD came to him,

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why did the LORD ask this question of Elijah? First, although the LORD perfectly knows all things, He wanted Elijah to verbalize the reason he had come to Horeb. It was like the perfect physician asking the patient the reason for his visit. Or like Jesus asking blind Bartimaeus. “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) Or again, like Jesus asking the man at the pool of Bethesda if he wanted to get well (John 5:6). The LORD’s question forced Elijah to think about the answer. “Yeah, why am I here?”

ZEALOUS FOR THE LORD

Elijah answers, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts” (19:10). As I consider this reply, I hear Elijah telling the LORD that he has been zealous and he is still zealous, but he needs to know if the LORD still has work for him to do. “LORD, I am zealous and I am willing, but I need to hear from You if my work is done. O, LORD, do You have another assignment for me?”

NEXT POST. In my next post, I will continue to explore this story of Elijah at Horeb and will see how the LORD faithfully sends the prophet out for another mission. We will also learn how Elijah’s search for a mission has applications for us, especially during times of transition in our lives. Stay tuned.

SDG                 rmb                 5/10/2022                   #527

Reaching those in religion

INTRODUCTION. Encouragement for ambassadors for Christ who encounter people devoted to a religion. Thoughts on how to evangelize unbelievers in religions. Also, the power of the gospel.

Martin was a Vietnamese man who also worked at SGI. I had recently made his acquaintance and had invited him to lunch. As we were returning to work, I had asked Martin, “What would you say is the most important experience is your life?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. What’s yours?” Eager for the opportunity, I told Martin how I had met Jesus Christ and had become a follower of Jesus when I was thirty-one years old.

“So, Martin, what do you think about that?”

He paused for a second and then pointed to the jade green statue of the Buddha that hung from his rearview mirror. “Roy, I’m a Buddhist. My grandfather was a Buddhist, my father is a Buddhist. I’m a Buddhist.” Thus I encountered the immovable object of “religion.”

RELIGION ENCOUNTERED AND DEFINED

It can be frustrating to the witness, the ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) who has stepped out in obedience and begun to tell the gospel to someone only to encounter the stone wall of religion. Religion comes in many guises, but these various religious guises have a common trait.

A religion is a formal spiritual system which is given to the adherent at birth, and which becomes part of a person’s self-identity.

Let’s consider this definition for a second.

That a religion is “formal” means that it has a structure and is recognized as a system of thought or behavior by the adherents. So, poker players do not make up a religion because poker playing does not constitute a formal system, but Islam is structured as a formal religion.

Another distinguishing aspect of a religion is a “spiritual” component. Broadly speaking, the “spiritual” component of a religion is that part that provides a counterfeit or substitute for the one true and living God. Buddhism is “spiritual,” but atheistic. Hinduism offers millions of false gods. Islam presents the false god of Allah.

A religion is given to the follower at physical birth. Strictly speaking, of course, the newborn infant is not a Catholic or a Hindu, but the newborn infant raised in a Catholic or Hindu family will certainly take on that family’s religion. If asked, a Catholic or a Hindu will tell you they have been in their religion since birth. That a person has been in this “formal spiritual system” since birth is a distinguishing mark of someone in a religion.

Finally, this “formal spiritual system” is an integral part of the person’s self-identity. Now, by itself, the characteristic of “self-identity” could be religious or not religious. Those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ certainly self-identify as believers, as Christians. But the self-identity of those in a religion is of a different flavor.

RELIGIOUS SELF-IDENTITY

The adherent of a religion certainly identifies strongly as a member of that religion, but that identification is not by choice, but is by obligation. The person identifies with that religion because they must. Their religion is believed to be unchangeable, and so it is unchallengeable. The person entrenched in a religion has probably never thought deeply about their religion and has never considered any alternative to their religion. In fact, many of those who follow a religion are not aware that an alternative even exists. It has never occurred to them to question their religion. Their religion is “right” because it is the only thing they have ever known.

When one follows a religion, the religion is simply a fact of their existence, like the color of their eyes and like the color of their skin. And, like the color of eyes and skin, it cannot change. What the religion believes or does in its practice is irrelevant to the adherent. By that I mean that the beliefs or practices do not need to “make sense” with experience or with logic or even with any religious book. As the falcon flies because that is part of its essential “falcon-ness,” so the religionist does what he does without question simply because he is of that religion, and that’s what those in that religion do.

So, my friend Martin was born a Buddhist, and he will live as a Buddhist as long as he lives, and then he will die as a Buddhist. That’s just how it is with religion.

Unless . . .

That’s just how it is, unless there is a message that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The situation is hopeless for those trapped in the grip of religion unless there is some means available to set these people free (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1).

ONE GOSPEL CONVERSATION AWAY

And the good news is that the person who is trapped in his religion, even the one who is zealous for his religion may be one gospel conversation away from true freedom and salvation. The Bible declares that if someone will preach the gospel, then anyone may hear and believe and then call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:14-15) and be saved.

Before he was converted to Christ, the apostle Paul was as zealous a Jew as ever lived (Galatians 1:13-14), who persecuted the church and threw believers in prison (1 Tim. 1:13-15; Acts 8:1-3). He was born a Hebrew of Hebrew parents and had every pedigree of a religious Jew (Philippians 3:5-6). I suspect no one was praying for unsaved Paul, except perhaps that he would drop dead or go away. Then this zealous Jew was converted by the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9:4-6) and was sent out as an apostle to proclaim the gospel of salvation.

Thus, the Bible makes clear that the gospel is more powerful than the stone wall of any religion. Religion is one of Satan’s tools for creating confusion and for generating zeal in the wrong direction, but the gospel is “mighty before God for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4) and we can be confident that the gospel will do its work.

A POSSIBLE STRATEGY FOR REACHING THOSE IN RELIGION

Like you, I do not have a “silver bullet” for winning anyone to Christ, let alone a perfect strategy for reaching those in religions, but I have thought about it some and suggest this as a possible approach. Since evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel to the unsaved, any strategy should lead to a gospel presentation as quickly as possible. The challenge is that the one who is trapped in a religion is predisposed against Christ and the gospel. But the evangelist and the religionist do have something vital in common. They both face death. So, once the witness has discovered that the other person is in a religion, he might say, “That is very interesting. I am a follower of Jesus, so obviously I do not share your religion. But there is something we both have in common, and that is that, as human beings, we both face death. What is your religion’s answer for death? How does your religion help you deal with death?” From here you would bring up Jesus Christ and how He has conquered death, which would hopefully lead to a discussion about the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 5/5/2022                     #526

Let me introduce you to my Big Brother

It does not happen often, but there are times when I feel so discouraged, when I am just feeling low and down on myself. There are times when I feel so inadequate and so incompetent and so very imperfect. I ask myself, “How can the Lord use me at all?” But it turns out that, because of the fall, we are all imperfect and weak and prone to error and failure. It is at times like these that I need to stop thinking like one who is all alone in the world and like one who does not have the Lord on his side. I need to stop thinking like a sheep without a shepherd. The LORD is my shepherd! (Psalm 23:1) The Lord is with me like a dread Champion. (Jeremiah 20:11)

When Satan tells me that I am a failure and will be a failure and he reminds me of all the mistakes that I have made and tells me of all the times that I have failed and then tells me that I am therefore a failure, I will refer him to my Big Brother, Jesus. “You, Satan, are the father of lies. You are the accuser of the brethren. You are the one who hates me and who seeks to kill and to steal and to destroy. You intend nothing but my destruction and plan for nothing but my failure. But let me introduce you to my Big Brother, Jesus. I think you may have met Him before. Do you remember? He was the One who kicked you out of heaven and determined that you would crawl on the earth like a serpent. He was the One who defeated you in the wilderness and resisted every one of your temptations. You will remember that He is the One who drove the cross through your skull on Calvary’s hill and He is the One who said, ‘It is finished,’ from the cross. He is the One who has delivered me from the domain of darkness. He is the One who has destroyed your works. He is the One who has conquered death and who promises that I will never be condemned. He is the One who is at my side and has promised to never leave me or forsake me. Nothing shall be able to take me out of His hand and nothing can separate me from His love for me. He is the One who is in heaven interceding for me. He is the One who is with me like a dread champion. He is my refuge and my Rock and my Redeemer. He is the One who will come from heaven with a shout and with the voice of the archangel to receive me into heaven and to give me a glorified body. And He is the One who will throw you into the lake of fire to be tormented forever. Don’t you remember Him? I think you do. He is my Big Brother. He is my Savior. He is the One who will defend me from those too strong for me.

“So if you have something to say to me, Satan, and you have some accusation to bring against me; if there is some discouragement that you want to bring against me or if you want to remind me of some failure and if you want to tell me that I am a failure, you will need to speak to my Big Brother first and see what He has to say about it. The reality is that apart from Jesus, I am nothing, but because Jesus Christ is my King and because He died for me and because He is for me and because nothing can separate me from His love, I am destined for glory and my life is useful to the Master. I have been given a white robe and a ring. I have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ so that I am whiter than snow. My frail efforts, when offered in the name of Jesus, are powerful for the destruction of all your fortresses. You, Satan, say that I am a failure, but Jesus Christ says I belong to Him, that he has bought me with the price of His own blood and that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. You, Satan, say that I will fail and that the future is bleak, but because you are the father of lies, I know that is a lie and that my future is, in fact, bright and that God will use me and that nothing can stand against God’s purposes to bring about His glory through my feeble efforts. So, tell your lies to my Advocate and to my Intercessor and to my Redeemer and see what He has to say about them.”

When I remember to refer Satan to my Big Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, then his vain threats vanish like so many puffs of smoke and He is revealed to be a toothless lion and a fangless viper. I am reminded that Satan is a mere fallen angel, but the One I worship, my rock, my shield, and my defender, Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, King of kings and Lord of lords.

So, next time Satan attempts to harass you with his taunts and temptations, introduce him again to your Big Brother, and press on toward the goal for the prize.

[Some of the Scripture references: Isaiah 64:4; Hebrews 11:6 (“God rewards (‘is a rewarder of’) those who diligently seek Him” – Believe this promise, that God rewards not on the basis of height or looks or wealth or strength or even ability (remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25) or age, but God rewards on the basis of faith and according to His faithfulness – Hallelujah!); Romans 8:31-39; John 19:30; 2 Cor. 5:21]

SDG                 rmb                 5/3/2022                     #525

Considering “contact evangelism”

INTRODUCTION. An introductory post about Contact Evangelism (CE).

In the world of evangelism, there are three broad categories to describe an evangelistic encounter: broadcast evangelism, friendship evangelism, and contact evangelism. In this post, I want to extol the advantages of contact evangelism (CE), which is the method of evangelism that simply makes contact with people at random to present the gospel or a related spiritual topic. Make contact, then have a “spiritual conversation.” The contact is made for the sole purpose of discussing the gospel or talking about Jesus Christ. “The sower went out to sow” (Matthew 13:3).

Before we go too far, let’s define terms. I will use the terms “witness” or “evangelist” to describe the person presenting the gospel, and “prospect,” whether stranger or friend, as the person hearing the message from the witness or evangelist. In CE, the context is assumed to be one on one or maybe one on a few.

Also, I am considering CE in contrast to friendship evangelism (FE).

ADVANTAGES OF CONTACT EVANGELISM

Here, in no particular order, are some of the considerations that commend CE:

  • CE is always available. By this, I mean that it is always possible to do CE. There are always new people whom you can contact and to whom you can present the gospel. On the other hand, FE requires that you have “friends” or acquaintances who are consistently available to listen to the gospel.
  • CE is efficient in terms of time, energy, and money. Depending upon the particular witness and their chosen presentation of the gospel, the entire encounter from start to finish will usually be five or ten minutes. This means that 10 or 20 times as many people can be contacted as can be contacted with FE. CE takes little emotional energy, whereas FE consumes a lot of emotional energy, simply because CE is transactional, a task to accomplish an objective, while FE is relational, which means it involves the emotions. CE costs little money, since it can be accomplished by discussing a tract or by getting a prospect to talk with the witness about a gospel-related topic of the witness’s choosing. FE is inherently expensive since it frequently involves meals and possibly events that cost money and takes place over an extended period of time (weeks and months).
  • In CE, the sole purpose of the encounter is to present the gospel message and to seek a favorable response, so there is little risk that either witness or prospect will have a “project” mentality. There is nothing in the CE approach that leads to the feeling that someone is a “project.” By contrast, the FE approach has many opportunities for a “project” mindset. The witness must guard against treating the prospect as a “project,” whatever that means to the witness. It is also entirely possible over time for the prospect to feel like they have become a “project” for the witness and feel that the “friendship” is simply a pretext for the witness to proselytize.
  • Even though we are reluctant to admit it, both CE and FE are “numbers’ games.” The more encounters you have, the more favorable responses you will receive. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). I suspect that the “success rate” with FE is about the same as the success rate with CE, but even if the success rate with CE was half that of FE, it would still yield much greater numbers than FE because you can make ten times as many contacts.
  • CE has “the element of surprise,” which is an advantage. The person being approached does not have time to develop a resistance strategy. But in FE there is no element of surprise and the “friend” of the evangelist has a lot of time to develop resistance strategies, since their radar is up from the start.
  • In CE, if the prospect rejects the offer of the gospel, he is rejecting the message, not the messenger (witness), which is easier on the witness’s ego and emotions. But in FE, if the prospect eventually rejects the offer of the gospel, it is harder on the evangelist’s ego and emotions because he has more invested and it is more difficult to separate message from messenger.
  • CE can become a regular part of your weekly schedule because, unlike FE, it is not dependent on another person’s availability or schedule. You simply decide when and where and for how long I am going to engage in CE and put it on my Day Timer. FE is complicated by involving the availability of another person.

THE STRONGEST REASON TO USE CE

The above are good reasons to consider using CE, but the strongest reason to use CE is that the only examples we have of evangelism in the New Testament are broadcast evangelism (BE), where the evangelist addresses a large crowd (Acts 2; 13) and contact evangelism (CE), where the witness speaks to strangers about the gospel. The simple fact is that there are no examples of FE in the Bible. In the evangelism accounts in the New Testament, the apostles are either proclaiming the gospel to crowds of strangers or they are declaring the good news to individual strangers or small groups of strangers. To befriend someone so that you can proclaim the gospel to them is unknown in the Scriptures. Which begs the question, “Why would we use a strategy that is foreign to Scripture (FE) when a strategy that is commonly used by the apostles (CE) is so readily available?”

SUMMARY

In this post I have explored some reasons why contact evangelism should be a part of an evangelist’s toolkit and regular practice.

SDG                 rmb                 5/1/2022                     #524