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

John 6:31-65 – Part 1: Come to Me, believe in Me (v. 31-40)

INTRODUCTION. A Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts giving insight into the metaphors and analogies Jesus uses with the crowd to explain what it means to believe in Him. This is the first part of the study, John 6:31-40.

OVERVIEW. As our passage opens, Jesus has just fed the five thousand from “five barley loaves and two fish (6:9). The Lord created food from heaven to feed the five thousand in order to make clear to the crowd that He was the bread that came down out of heaven, but the people are spiritually blind. They understand Christ’s metaphors literally and thus become confused and even disgusted. We want to be sure, as we go through this story, that we are not likewise confused by Jesus’ analogies and metaphors, but instead are encouraged to draw closer to Him and to enjoy Him more.

JESUS IS THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN. One of the main messages that we should receive from this passage is that Jesus is the bread that the Father has sent from heaven. Jesus says this many times and in many ways to make unambiguously clear that He is the bread of life (6:35, 48) and that, by believing in Him, you will be satisfied. Eat Him, and you will have life. The Father has sent Him from heaven to be the bread of life for the world. Jesus did not just show up one day and start making outrageous claims. Rather, Jesus was sent by the Father to the world to accomplish a specific mission (17:4; 19:30). So, Jesus = bread from heaven. This is the message. Let’s see how Jesus communicates this.

6:32. “My Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” Jesus is the true bread from heaven and has been given by the Father.

6:33. “The bread of God (from heaven) gives life to the world.” Jesus gives life.

6:35a. “I am the bread of life.” Can’t get much clearer than that!

HE WHO COMES TO ME, HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME. Jesus now shifts slightly from proclaiming to teaching. In 6:35b – 6:47, Jesus teaches about the significance of His being the bread of life. For the value of bread is not merely beholding the bread or acknowledging that bread exists, but the value of bread comes from eating the bread. Bread cannot sustain life unless it is eaten. Just so, Jesus will not give you life unless you come to Him and believe in Him.

6:35b. “He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Jesus now introduces these two critical phrases, “he who comes to Me” and “he who believes in Me.” The two phrases mean essentially the same thing. The one who comes to Jesus comes to Him because they believe in Him, and the one who believes in Him has first come to Him. Thus, they are equivalent expressions and mean “to trust in Christ savingly.”

6:37a. Here Jesus speaks of God’s election of those He will save. “All that the Father gives Me” makes clear that the Father is the One who initiates salvation. The people who come to Jesus for salvation come, not because they personally have made a decision, but because the Father has given them to the Son. And whom does the Father give to the Son? The Father gives to the Son those “the Father chose in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

6:37b. “will come to Me.” Jesus now moves from God’s election, those whom the Father chose for salvation, to God’s certain calling. The math in this verse is clear: If the Father has “given you to the Son” (chosen you for salvation), you will (definitely, irresistibly) come to Jesus for salvation. Or again, if you have been given to Jesus, you will certainly (eventually, before you physically die) believe in Jesus. That is simply what these words mean. Jesus is not here speaking about possibilities but about divine certainties. Those who are chosen will be saved.

6:37c. “and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Having declared God’s sovereignty in salvation in His election and in His calling (see above), Jesus now tells us that, once a person has come to Christ (that is, once they have believed in or trusted in Christ), they will never be “cast out.” That is, those whom the Father has given to the Son are given forever. These are saved, and they will never be lost. (See John 10:27-30 for another strong statement of this doctrinal truth.)

6:38a. Jesus now returns to His essential message in the gospel of John, but here He leaves out the bread. “I have come down from heaven.” Jesus again makes a clear declarative statement about His origin. There is no ambiguity. You either believe what He said or you don’t, but there is nothing to be misunderstood. Simply put, Jesus came from heaven.

THE WILL OF THE FATHER

6:38b. Now another central theme in the gospel is voiced, namely that Jesus came to do the will of the Father. “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Notice again that Jesus was sent from heaven, and the One who sent Him was the Father. Jesus, as God the Son, has submitted His will to the will of God the Father. Jesus has been sent to accomplish the will (or possibly “mission”) of the Father who sent Him.

6:39. And what is the will of Him who sent Jesus? It is explicitly stated in this verse. “Of all that He (the Father) has given Me (see 6:37a) I lose nothing (see 6:37c) but raise it (or “them”) up on the last day.” Much theology is packed into this verse. First, the Lord affirms that He will certainly not let anyone who has come to Him be lost. This is not only a statement that gives the believer security in their salvation, but it is also a statement of Jesus’ deity, for He is claiming the power to guarantee that no one who comes to Him for salvation will ever be lost. How can He make such an outrageous claim? He can do so without arrogance and with complete confidence because He is God.

TEACHING ABOUT THE END OF THE AGE

But second, there is much here about the end of the age. Notice that Jesus says He will be there on the last day. This is another testament to His deity. The Man who is here making statements to this crowd about being the bread of life will also be the One who will raise up in glorious resurrection all those who believed in Him throughout the ages. Jesus is God, and He will be there on the last day of human history to speak to those who are in the tombs, and “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth” (John 5:29). So, the message is that, on the last day, Jesus will personally raise up all those who have come to Him. He will lose nothing.

Notice also that there is certainly coming a last day. Many people live as if things will just keep going along like this forever and there will not be a day of reckoning when God will judge the living and the dead, but that is foolish. There is coming a last day when the resurrection will occur and the final judgment will take place. God will surely render recompense to the unrighteous for their sins and will finally redeem the righteous. It will be an awesome day. I know where I will be on that last day. How ‘bout you?

6:40. This verse parallels 6:39 and says essentially the same thing in different words. This is a common occurrence in John’s gospel. Jesus will say the same thing several different ways in order to make the message unmistakably clear. This teaching method also allows us to see that there is more than one way to state a theological truth.

Phrase in John 6:39Phrase in John 6:40
the will of Him who sent Methe will of My Father
all that He has given Meeveryone who beholds the Son and believes in Him
I lose nothing **will have eternal life **
I raise it (them) up on the last dayI Myself will raise him up on the last day
** not exactly parallel, but similar

Now we can see how this teaching method helps us understand phrases in this passage and in other passages in John. Below I lay these ideas out explicitly.

  • “Him who sent Me (Jesus)” = “My Father”
  • “all that” = “everyone who”
  • The person given by the Father to the Son (Jesus) = The person “who believes in Him” Every person given by the Father to the Son will believe in the Son.
  • This is not an exact parallel, but “I lose nothing” tells of the believer’s eternal security and “will have eternal life” also gives assurance, because an eternal life that can be lost is obviously not eternal
  • “I raise it (them) up on the last day” = “I Myself will raise him up on the last day”

This study is taking more time than I thought, but it is an edifying experience, so I will cut off this part here at the end of John 6:40 and pick it up with John 6:41 with the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 4/29/2022                   #523

1 Peter 2:9 (Part 1) – The believer’s new identity

INTRODUCTION. The first letter of Peter provides a sound foundation for the newly converted disciple of Jesus Christ to begin their journey with their Savior, and the heart of their conversion is captured powerfully in 1 Peter 2:9-10. Here Peter declares the disciple’s new identity, their new purpose, and their new people. This post is about the disciple’s new identity.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Our study text above begins by Peter telling us about our new identity, and the apostle gives us four characteristics that are now true of us that were not true of us before. But the presence of a new identity requires the existence of an old identity. And this is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that “the old man” can and must die and “the new man” must rise to take his place. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to convert a human soul, to “rescue us from the domain of darkness and transfer us into the kingdom of Christ” (Col. 1:13). Only by bowing the knee to Jesus and trusting Him alone for my salvation can I receive my new identity.

But before we explore the four characteristics of our new identity in Christ, we need to look at the old identity we had without Christ.

THE OLD IDENTITY OF “SINNER”

Formerly, unrepentant sin was the dominant and defining characteristic of our life. It may seem strange for me to say that, because, for the sinner, sin is just not that big a deal, and for someone to say that “sin is the defining characteristic of your life” seems like hyperbole. But keep in mind that we are now seeing the issue of our sin from God’s point of view. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin defines a person’s life. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin results in condemnation and judgment. So, sin is big deal to God. Having unrepentant, unforgiven sin gives us the identity of “sinner.”

So, formerly, with our old identity as “sinner,” our sin established a separation between us and God, the Holy One (Isaiah 59:2). On our part, we sinned with delight and we sinned without remorse (Romans 1:28-32; 6:20-21; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 Peter 4:3; etc.). We sinned without regard to consequences and without regard to “the wrath of God revealed from heaven against our ungodliness and our unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Regardless of the degree of our sin, whether small or great, we were defiant rebels who willfully remained ignorant of our sin. We were happily oblivious to the fact that we were “storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).

Then came the day when those who were happy in their sin heard the gospel. An ambassador for Christ proclaimed to them that God is holy and that they were sinners and that God’s wrath abided on them (John 3:36) because of their sin. But Christ, the Son of God, had exchanged heaven’s glory for the agony of the cross so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish, but would have eternal life (John 3:16). They had believed that message and embraced that Christ and had passed from death to life (John 5:24).

THE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST IS “SINNER” NO LONGER

Recall that, before we had repented and trusted in Christ as our Lord and Savior, we had our old identity of “sinner.” But now in Christ, believers are sinners no longer. This is the amazing reality of our new life in Christ. While it is true that we continue to sin, we are no longer “sinners.” Even though we will not be free from all sin until we die, when we finally shed the flesh that indwells this mortal body, our old identity as “sinner” is no more. God now relates to us as saints who are wrapped in Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Our sins, which were as scarlet and which were on proud display for all to see, have been made whiter than snow (Isaiah 1:18).

The Bible does not refer to believers as sinners because heaven no longer sees our sins. All our sins – past, present, and future – have been nailed to Christ’s cross (Col. 2:14) and are, therefore, no longer a barrier between the believer and the living God. All the believer’s sins, whether flagrant or mild, whether intentional or unintentional, whether acknowledged or unknown, are as far from the believer as east is from west (Psalm 103:12). Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, the Lord has cast all my sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17), yes, He has cast all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Those whom the Lord has declared as righteous can no longer be “sinners.”

NEW IDENTITY

So, if we are no longer sinners and our old identity has been buried with Christ, who are we now? Who have we become? That will be the subject of the next post on 1 Peter 2:9 as we look at the four characteristics of the disciples of Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 4/27/2022                   #522

Isaiah series: Principles of Isaiah’s prophecy (Part 2)

“ISAIAH” SERIES INTRODUCTION. One of the fruits of my conversion to Christ, now more than thirty years ago, was an almost immediate love for His Word. As I became more familiar with the Bible, even as a young Christian, I was fascinated by the power and beauty and mystery of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that fascination has only increased over time. As a result of my love for the book of Isaiah, I have decided to begin making occasional but regular posts about passages from the book, trying to capture the beauty of the writing while also attempting to interpret the complexity of the prophecies.

PRINCIPLES OF PROPHECY. Before writing in detail about particular passages from the book of Isaiah, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine Isaiah’s writing in general. Isaiah covers a broad range of themes but knowing some basic principles about how Isaiah wrote should be helpful in grasping his ideas and in benefiting from his prophecy. This is the second of two posts on these principles. (See post #520, April 25, 2022, for the first post.)

THE IMPORTANCE OF IDENTIFYING THEMES IN ISAIAH

Thirdly, a helpful approach for interpreting a passage from Isaiah’s prophecy is to begin by identifying the main “big” theme of the passage. Although Isaiah writes on a broad range of themes, identifying the specific theme of a given passage is usually not difficult. The chapter breaks in the book often serve as theme breaks or as theme identifiers. Identifying the theme also helps identify the time frame of the prophecy, whether the passage is talking about the sin of national Israel in 700 BC or about the first advent of Jesus or about God’s call to come to Him for salvation or about the day of the Lord, “that day,” when the glorified King Jesus comes back to gather all His people to Himself forever and to judge the wicked. Correctly identifying the theme of the passage will greatly help your interpretation of the passage.

For example, we have talked already about Isaiah 24. The whole chapter is about the judgment that comes upon the unrighteous on the last day. Thus, the theme is the day of the LORD and the timeframe is the last day. Isaiah 53 is obviously about the life of Jesus the Messiah with an emphasis on His passion when He atoned for the sins of His people. So, the theme would be Jesus’ first advent.

The following chapter, Isaiah 54, the theme is about the LORD’s blessings that He will certainly pour out on His people. The chapter overflows with compassion and redemption and tells of the LORD’s demonstrations of His love for His people. This theme is as relevant today as it was when Isaiah wrote the prophecy.

Isaiah 55 sees the LORD calling His people to Himself and offering free pardon for all who come to Him. The theme, then, is the availability of a yet-to-be-defined salvation. Now that the gospel has been clearly proclaimed in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, this call to salvation and pardon is much more defined. We can see in the LORD’s call in Isaiah the call of the evangelist in our own day. This, by the way, is a common theme in Isaiah, that salvation and pardon for sin is available, but the exact details of that salvation are not made clear in Isaiah. In Isaiah 55, we see a hint in the mention of “David” being a “witness to the people (55:4), a leader and a commander for the people,” but this veiled statement awaits its fulfillment in the New Testament when the gospel is made visible in the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God.

The point is that identifying themes and then defining the timeframes of a given passage can be very helpful in interpreting the passage and grasping the meaning of complex imagery.

So, having spelled out some suggestions for understanding the prophecies of Isaiah, it is time to plunge into the ocean of this prophet’s writings.

SDG                 rmb                 4/25/2022                   #521

Isaiah series: Principles of Isaiah’s prophecy (Part 1)

“ISAIAH” SERIES INTRODUCTION. One of the fruits of my conversion to Christ, now more than thirty years ago, was an almost immediate love for His Word. As I became more familiar with the Bible, even as a young Christian, I was fascinated by the power and beauty and mystery of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that fascination has only increased over time. As a result of my love for the book of Isaiah, I have decided to begin making occasional but regular posts about passages from the book, trying to capture the beauty of the writing while also attempting to interpret the complexity of the prophecies.

PRINCIPLES OF PROPHECY. Before writing in detail about particular passages from the book of Isaiah, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine Isaiah’s writing in general. Isaiah covers a broad range of themes but knowing some basic principles about how Isaiah wrote should be helpful in grasping his ideas and in benefiting from his prophecy. This is the first of two posts on these principles.

HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED PROPHECY
First, Isaiah did not write his prophecy from his own brilliance as a result of his own human insight. Isaiah, like all biblical writers, wrote what he did because he was “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” In his second epistle, Peter writes, “20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Isaiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit and so his writings are God-breathed. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes, “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (ESV). Therefore, when we read from the book of Isaiah, we are reading the very words of the living God. This explains how Isaiah could pen for us with astonishing accuracy prophecies about events that would take place hundreds and even thousands of years after he wrote them.


CONSISTENCY OF A GIVEN THEME THROUGHOUT ISAIAH
Second, Isaiah’s prophecy about each specific theme is consistent throughout his prophecy, regardless of when in his prophecy he writes about that theme, and his overall concept of history is consistent throughout his prophecy. This is a complex idea, so I will explain below with some examples.
A frequent theme of Isaiah’s writing is the topic of the last day, also known as “that day” or as “the day of the LORD.” For example, in Isaiah 24, the prophet declares that “the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants” (24:1). The reader would identify this as a prophecy about the theme of the last day when the LORD returns to destroy the earth and render recompense to the unrighteous. But it should be noted that what Isaiah writes in chapter 24 is consistent with what the prophet writes in other passages about this theme of the last day. By consistent, I do not mean they are identical, but that they are complementary. They are obviously about the same event (in this case, the last day) and they share the same features. Passages about the same theme “fit together.”
Another of Isaiah’s prominent themes is prophecy about Jesus’ first advent, most notably in the passages on “the suffering Servant.” The best known of these is in Isaiah 53, where we see the suffering of the Servant with dazzling clarity, but there are numerous other passages on the theme of Jesus’ first advent (His birth, His earthly ministry, and His passion, etc.) and these prophecies are consistent with one another. They “fit together” and are obviously about the same person. The fact that there is consistency within a theme also makes it easier for the reader to identify the theme. That is, the reader will have the experience of thinking, “Wait a minute. This sounds a lot like what I read elsewhere in Isaiah.”


WORLD HISTORY IS LINEAR WITH A DEFINITE END
But also, Isaiah’s view of world history is consistent throughout his prophecy and is in agreement with the rest of the Bible. That is, Isaiah sees history as linear, with a clear beginning and a definite end. Isaiah’s worldview has the LORD as the ruler of the universe He created. The LORD is in sovereign control of all events, and He directs history according to His perfect plan. Isaiah’s world is a world where the LORD is Holy, Holy, Holy (6:3) and man is ruined (6:5). The LORD is merciful, and man is in rebellion against the God who created him. Man is, therefore, subject to God’s judgment. But Isaiah also envisions the LORD sending a suffering Servant (Isaiah 53; etc.), the Messiah, who will bear their iniquities (53:11). This One will be crushed for our iniquities (53:5) and on Him the LORD will lay the iniquities of us all (53:6). Remarkably, by His scourging, we are healed (53:5).
Additionally, Isaiah’s prophecy tells of a God who is merciful to rebellious mankind. The LORD calls us to come to Him for salvation (Isaiah 55:1-3). The LORD is Redeemer, Savior, the Holy One of Israel, your Husband is your Maker, Creator, the LORD of hosts. For Isaiah, the LORD is the patient Holy One of Israel, calling rebels to repentance and inviting sinners to draw near to their God. In Isaiah’s worldview, there is redemption, forgiveness, and atonement.
Finally, a linear view of history means that there is coming a last day. Isaiah’s prophecy is full of warnings to the unrighteous, calling them to repentance and telling them of the disaster that awaits all who will not forsake their wicked ways. And these warnings are not to no purpose, for as surely as there was a beginning, there will certainly be an end. Isaiah writes about Jesus’ first advent, but he also writes about His Second Coming. There will be a last day, “that day,” when the LORD’s patience will end and will be replaced with His wrath poured out on the unrighteous. Isaiah writes of the suffering Servant coming back as the crowned and conquering King. Isaiah knows that history will end, and that end will be terrifying for those who have not rejoiced in the LORD. But for those who have known the LORD and who have been wrapped with the robe of righteousness (61:10), the last day is a day of rejoicing as they will finally and forever be redeemed by the LORD.
In summary, Isaiah is consistent in the way he presents each of his themes throughout his prophecy and his view that history is being directed to a definite end “on that day” is consistent with the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture.

In the next post, we will look at a third principle for understanding Isaiah, that of beginning our interpretation by carefully identifying the theme of the passage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/25/2022                   #520

Psalm 116:4 – I called upon the name of the LORD (Part 4)

INTRODUCTION. My fourth and final post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see previous Post #518, 4/19/2022)

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the fourth verse. .

116:4 CALL UPON THE LORD – “SAVE MY LIFE!”

When we had last seen the psalmist at the end of Psalm 116:3, he was in a desperate place. Having been convicted of his sin and having realized the wrath of God that was directed upon him because of his transgressions, the writer felt the awful weight of condemnation. His sin must be punished and so, he appeared doomed. Who but himself could pay the penalty?

THEN . . . MERCY!

“Then . . .” (116:4) It is such a simple word, but in the right context, it can have life-changing significance. “Then . . .”

Then I thought to myself that the Holy One of Israel may also be merciful to me, the sinner (Luke 18:13). Then I dared to think that perhaps ‘the Lord GOD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ (Ezekiel 33:11). Then I imagined that it could be that ‘while I was still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6). In the depths of my sin, I had looked within, but there was no salvation in me. I had looked to the Law to see if I could obtain forgiveness there, but the Law could only condemn and show me my sin. The Law’s sacrifices could not remove my sin. ‘Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?’ (Micah 6:7). Ah, but then I turned to the LORD for His mercy. ‘I confessed my transgressions to the LORD, and You forgave the guilt of my sin’ (Psalm 32:5). Could it be that simple? Could it be that ‘If I confessed my sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9)? Then I remembered that ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:13). And so, what would be the only reasonable thing to do?”

To call upon the LORD!

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

THE CRY OF INITIAL FAITH

When I had no reason to receive mercy and deliverance, when I had lost all hope, then I called upon the name of the LORD. Out of the depths I have cried to the LORD (Psalm 130:1). I cried aloud with my voice to the LORD (Psalm 142:1). “In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried to my God for help” (Psalm 18:6). In an outburst of initial faith and with a cry to the One whom I cannot see but whom I suddenly trust and believe for my salvation, “Then I called upon the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:4). Hopelessness is vanquished by faith, and I am compelled to call upon the name of the LORD.

And what do I cry out to Him? “O LORD, I beseech you, save my life!” Lord, rescue me from sin and death and bring me into Your kingdom! Save my life from death and Sheol!

By faith, Bartimaeus asked Jesus for the impossible, to receive his sight (Mark 10:51). By faith, the leper asked Jesus to make him clean (Matthew 8:2). By faith, Jairus begged Jesus to save his daughter from death (Mark 5:23). And Jesus responded to their faith and granted their requests.

In the same way, the sinner comes to Jesus in repentance and faith, requesting the impossible: “Save my life!” And Jesus assures us that “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). And we know from the rest of this psalm that the Lord is faithful to fulfill His promises.

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death. – Psalm 116: 7-8

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY OF PSALM 116:1-4

In this brief study of Psalm 116:1-4 we have seen there are sound reasons to pray to the Lord. To those who know Him, the Lord has inclined His ear to hear their calls for help. And to those who do not know Him, the Lord has promised to hear them when they beseech Him in faith and ask Him to save their life.

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2022                   #519

Psalm 116:3 – Rescue from death and Sheol (Part 3)

INTRODUCTION. My third post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see Post #517, 4/15/2022)

The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow. – Psalm 116:3

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the third verse. .

116:3 CONFRONTED WITH DEATH AND SHEOL

The psalmist now speaks of the consequences of years, maybe decades of godless living.

THE CORDS OF DEATH

“The cords of death encompassed me.” These cords have not come upon the writer for no reason. Rather, the accumulated sins that were once so delightful and offered their wicked pleasures for my enjoyment have borne their bitter fruit of hopelessness and despair. Having walked in the path of anger, greed, hatred, selfishness, lust, strife, lying, deceit, and pride, I have reaped the fruit of fear, loneliness, and emptiness. Now suddenly death appears on the horizon as a dreaded specter, threatening a just recompense for my myriad transgressions. Like a stick floating irresistibly toward the brink of the towering waterfall up ahead, I float toward  my own death unable to slow the progress and unable to change the outcome. The icy fingers of the cords of death are tightening around my soul and in a panic, I search for an escape from this pit. “The cords of death encompassed me.”

THE TERRORS OF SHEOL

With the cords of death inevitably come the terrors of Sheol. Instinctively I know that physical death is not the end of my existence and that my sins must be punished, for the Lord will not allow His righteous Law to be trampled with impunity. I know “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4), and that verse has a very personal sound to it. “The terrors of Sheol came upon me.” As my death steadily approaches day by day, the terrors of Sheol grow more acute. The Lord has prepared a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48) and I realize with horror that my sins have purchased that place for me. And so, “the terrors of Sheol came upon me.” But regretting my sins now does no good. The crimes against the Holy One of Israel have been committed and they cannot be undone. Blood is on my hands and guilt is on my soul. The terrors of Sheol await and how can there be any escape for me? God is just, and how can He acquit the guilty and still remain just?

And what must be the inevitable result? “I found distress and sorrow.” The cords of death grip my throat and the terrors of Sheol threaten my eternal soul, thus distress and sorrow ensue. There is vast misery and horror as I see that I must reap the harvest of the sin that I have sown. “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5). Who can deliver me from my deserved condemnation? I look within me and know that this sinner cannot save himself. I look around me and know that all others are in the same boat with me and cannot save themselves and certainly cannot save me. And so, I am hopeless and my doom is sealed, for where else can I look? I am condemned before a holy God, and His justice demands punishment for sin. And is there any answer to God’s justice?

THE PERIL OF EVERY SINNER WITHOUT CHRIST

This is the situation and the peril of every person who remains outside of Christ. For every soul who does not worship Jesus, there will be eternal “distress and sorrow,” unending misery and ruin. God’s justice must be satisfied, and every sin must receive a full recompense. God is infinitely holy and, in His universe, all sin must be punished. If God were only a God of justice, every child of Adam would have no hope. And as we finish examining Psalm 116:3, we are in a hopeless situation. We have “found distress and sorrow.”

IS DISTRESS AND SORROW THE FINAL ANSWER?

But the good news is that God the Judge is also the God of mercy. The good news is that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). The good news is that “God is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). The good news is that God is perfectly just and the Justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26). The good news is that God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). And the psalmist who wrote Psalm 116 had experienced this God of mercy.

The next post from Psalm 116:1-4 will tell of how the unrighteous can receive mercy from the Lord.

SDG                 rmb                 4/19/2022                   #518

Psalm 116:2 – Why every believer prays (Part 2)

INTRODUCTION. One of several posts on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see Post #516, 4/14/2022)

Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live. – Psalm 116:2

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the second verse. .

116:2 CALLING ON THE LORD AS LONG AS I LIVE

116:2a. – “Because He has inclined His ear to me”

What does it mean that “the LORD has inclined His ear to me?” It means He continually hears my prayers. Unlike man, the LORD never slumbers or sleeps. Psalm 121:4 – “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Once He has inclined His ear to me, He is always attentive to my cry. Because He has inclined His ear to me, He does not become irritated at my persistent cries, but patiently listens to my voice as a father does to his beloved child. Psalm 103:13 – “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” In the midst of the cacophony of the noise of the world, the LORD distinctly hears my voice and inclines His ear to my cry.

In the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus inclined the golden scepter to Queen Esther (Esther 5:2) because she had found favor in his sight. In the same way, the LORD has inclined His ear to His child because we have found favor in His sight.

After granting Esther favor, King Ahasuerus then listened carefully to her request. “What is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be given to you” (5:3). Just so, after granting me favor, the LORD listens carefully to my voice so that He can answer my request. “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Matt. 20:32). “Ask and you shall receive” (Matt. 7:7).

The LORD whom I love has graciously inclined His ear to me. What shall I do in response?

116:2b. – “Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.”

The sovereign LORD of the universe has inclined His ear to me and has given me free access into His presence. I have the opportunity to delight myself in the LORD (Psalm 37:4). “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). All of these have been made available to me and are mine for the asking. “The LORD has heard my supplication. The LORD receives my prayer” (Psalm 6:9). He is with me always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). With all this available to me, how will I respond?

“Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.”

As long as I draw breath, I shall call upon the LORD!

When times are good, I will call upon Him with prayers of thanksgiving, thanking Him for giving me seasons of peace and rest. When times are difficult, I will call upon Him with prayers of thanksgiving, thanking Him for His presence and His promises of heaven, and thanking Him for giving me His Spirit who gives me strength to persevere and for giving me His Word, which reminds me of the LORD’s sovereign power over all things.

I will call upon Him when I grow old and feeble and gray, when my hands shake and my memory has faded, and I will give Him praise for having sustained me thus far.

I will call upon Him at all times, asking Him to make me more useful to the Master and asking Him to continue to purify me with hyssop and to remove any wicked way from me. I will call upon Him for a cleaner heart and a steadfast spirit. I will call upon Him to grant me the ability to love people well and to forgive my enemies and to let my speech be seasoned with salt and to let no unwholesome word proceed from my mouth, but only such as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.

I will call upon the LORD as long as I live because there is no greater delight than to fellowship with the LORD of the universe.

Yes, “I shall call upon Him as long as I live.”

My next post on Psalm 116 will consider 116:3 and the condition from which the LORD delivered us. SDG                 rmb                 4/15/2022                   #517

Psalm 116:1 – Why every believer prays (Part 1)

INTRODUCTION. The first of several posts on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued.

I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications. – Psalm 116:1

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the first verse.

116:1 THE AMAZEMENT AND THE PEACE OF THE ONE WHO LOVES THE LORD

116:1a. – “I love the LORD.”

First, this love for the LORD is required to be a believer. Every believer loves the LORD and only believers love the LORD. Every believer cries out with the psalmist in an unashamed shout, “I love the LORD.” This is the deepest possible love of emotion and passion, a love of heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the believer’s love for the LORD.

But second, “I love the LORD” defines the believer. There are many ways to describe a Christian. Born-again. Saved. Converted. Repented. Trusted in Christ. And, of course, there are others. But “I love the LORD” is the most unambiguous. This expression clears away all the mists and all the doubts. A believer is best defined as one who loves the LORD.

Third, “I love the LORD” demolishes any lukewarm counterfeits. The question that blows away the smoke and breaks the mirrors is the question, “Do you love Jesus?” Don’t tell me of your church attendance or of your giving to the church, of when you “prayed the prayer” or of how religious your grandmother was. Don’t impress me with your good deeds done for the church or with how you feel about Christmas. The question on the table is, “Do you love Jesus?” And, if you claim to love Jesus, how do you demonstrate that in your life? The life that overflows with love for Jesus will broadcast that love to others and will serve as an ongoing testimony to Jesus. This is what the psalmist expresses when he say, “I love the LORD.”

Before I knew Christ, I could love no one, for all I had was the twisted, selfish love of self. But now my heart overflows to the point of bursting with my love for the Lord, and that love for the LORD pours out in my love for others. But this love for others is strictly secondary for the psalmist in this psalm. This is a love-psalm from the disciple to the LORD. If this phrase were the entire psalm, the psalm would be complete. These four words express a complete thought and contain enough truth to fill entire books. How is it that the LORD would set His affections on this wretched man (Luke 5:8) and would make it possible for me to love Him (1 John 4:10, 19) “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). “I love the LORD!” I long to shout it from the housetops. The Holy One of Israel is my King!

Next the psalmist adds the reason He loves the LORD.

116:1b. – “because He hears my voice and my supplications.”

How can it be that the LORD of the universe bends down from His holy throne to hear the pathetic cries of His feeble servant? Why would one so great pay any regard to one of such immense insignificance? How can we explain such grace? Consider these verses.

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry. – Psalm 34:15

He (the LORD) heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears. – Psalm 18:6

How can these things be? The answer is that God hears my voice and my supplications because, before time began in eternity past, He chose me in Christ to be His adopted child (Eph. 1:4-5) and because the Father sent the Son into the world to be the propitiation for my sins (1 John 4:10), and because God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, at a point in time, made me alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:4-6) and He made me His child (John 1:12); God hears my voice, I say, because I am His child.

My next post (on Psalm 116) will consider Psalm 116:2 and what the believer does in response to the amazing news that the LORD hears my voice and supplications.

SDG                 rmb                 4/14/2022                   #516

These must not even be named among you (Ephesians 5:1-6)

INTRODUCTION. An exegesis and exhortation from Ephesians 5:1-6. This post will be the second in a series of articles designed to give the disciple of Jesus biblical tactics and strategies to fight the sin of sexual immorality in its various manifestations. (See also Post #513 from 4/5/2022 and Post #511 from 4/1/2022.)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. – Ephesians 5:1-6

These are all part of the worthy walk from Ephesians 4:1: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” In Ephesians 5, the apostle continues his exhortations by instructing us about the more fleshly sins. But he begins by reminding us of our family heritage.

5:1-2. Paul has told us in the doctrinal section of the epistle that we have an adoption as sons (1:5) and therefore we have an inheritance (1:11, 18) from the Father. Since that is true, then we will live lives that demonstrate our adoption and that testify to our being heirs.

Children naturally imitate their parents. God has wired us that way. Children are constantly observing all the parent’s behaviors and mannerisms to try to imitate everything the parent does. One clear example is that a son will observe how his father walks and he will imitate that walk. (See John 5:19.) One of the clearest indicators of sonship is that he walks like his father.

Likewise, the beloved children of God strive to imitate God. And the glorious, good news is that we now have been adopted by a perfect heavenly Father whom we long to imitate. So, if we are, indeed, children of God, we will imitate God in all our behavior and will thus give evidence of our family ties (1 Peter 1:15). We will walk in love, like our Father.

APPLICATION: Therefore, consider these things the next time you are tempted to engage in some kind of sexual sin. “I am a beloved child of God. I long to be an imitator of God by walking in love. Therefore, all my behavior, in public and in private, will glorify my older brother, Jesus, and will bring glory to God.” In the power of that truth and resolve, then vigorously reject the temptation.

MOTIVATION: 5:1-2. Since we have been adopted as sons of the living God, the Holy One of Israel, let us live holy lives at all times, in our minds and with our hands.

5:3. (This verse is a pure command.) These are the sins that should not even be named among believers. What Paul is saying is that these sinful behaviors are doubly dangerous. First, they defile the professing disciple, and second, they defame the name of Jesus. Continuing in this sin causes believers to begin to question the truth of your testimony. “Does a true believer continue in these sins that are not even to be mentioned?” And continuing in these sins causes unbelievers to mock and ridicule the name of Christ. Unbelievers know that believers claim that Jesus is holy and that He came to set His people free from sin yet here we have a professing believer who continues in overt, “unmentionable” sin. This causes the mockers to say, “Does Jesus really set you free from sin, or is this just another religion?” In 2 Samuel 12:14, Nathan rebukes King David, saying, “By this deed you have given occasion for the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.” In Romans 2:24, Paul declares, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Both of these verses are declaring how the sin of the believer calls into question the power and the holiness of our glorious gospel.

Immorality. This “immorality” is specifically sexual immorality. Also mentioned is all (any) impurity or greed. These behaviors should never be mentioned among us or ever be said about us. The worthy walk (4:1) and the life of the heir (the one with the inheritance) exclude these things. Those who display these sins bring scrutiny on their inheritance. (Refer back to Ephesians 1:11, 18 which talk about our inheritance in Christ as part of what God has given us because of our election.) If you evidence these sins that are not even to be mentioned, you may be testifying that you are NOT an heir and you do not have an inheritance.

It is possible to think you are an heir, but to be wrong. You think you are an heir of God with an inheritance, but your behaviors and your sins betray you. Hebrews 12:16f gives us a drastic warning about Esau who despised his birthright and lost his blessing through his carelessness. So we must not throw away our inheritance through our sins.

5:4. (This verse is a pure command.) These seemingly “lesser sins” are forbidden because may simply be clues that point to uglier sins hidden in the dark or just beneath the surface. The person who “walks” in this way is at least immature and unsanctified and is at worst unsaved. The worthy walk is waging war against all of these sins, not just the “biggies.” Sanctification must ruthlessly attack all filthiness and get rid of it. Purge it out. Put it to death. There is no such thing as a “lesser sin,” because every sin sent Christ to the cross. But we also need to remember that any sin is food to feed the flesh and to strengthen the flesh and empower its lusts. Therefore we must put all sin to death. We need to starve it, choke it, smother it, or buffet it. Our approach must be a zero tolerance policy – no sin, no matter how “small,” is acceptable for the disciple of Jesus. As we have seen before in another lesson in this series, these sins “wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

APPLICATION. Be alert for and wage war against all sin, no matter how seemingly harmless. It is the little foxes that ruin the vineyards (Song of songs 2:15).

5:5. “This you know with certainty that no one who displays these behaviors has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” That sounds pretty strong! You may say, “Paul seems to be trying to frighten me.” Yes, exactly. That is exactly what Paul is doing! The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul would rather frighten you into casting all your sins far away from you than leave you falsely confident that because you are a professing Christian you can sin with impunity.

We need to think about this verse for a second. For Paul is writing to Ephesian believers and warning them that we know with certainty there are some people who do not have an inheritance in the kingdom of God. But we also know that believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14) and are secure in their salvation (1 John 5:11-13). In America we have been taught so much about the security of the believer that even apostolic warnings tend to be discounted and explained away. But like the author’s warnings in the epistle of “Hebrews,” Paul is issuing a stern warning to those who display ungodly behavior and saying, “Your immorality and impurity may indicate that you do not have salvation.” The principle is that BEHAVIOR TRUMPS PROFESSION. This should serve as a red alert for all professing Christians who are “struggling” with these types of fleshly sins, particularly sexual sins. Behavior trumps profession. The fruit reveals the root. “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” So, if there is a disconnect between your profession and your behavior, then what the behavior reveals represents the truth. Your immoral behavior can disqualify your testimony.

And so, if others see you as an immoral or impure person, or covetous man, you have your warning and you know you are in danger. Be frightened, and immediately and radically change your behavior, or you may be lost.

APPLICATION. Make sure that your behavior and the thoughts in your head are consistent with the testimony you profess. Be open to be alarmed.

5:6. One of the consequences of the fall is that there are deceivers in the world who delight in destroying your soul. Some people will tell you lies and deceive you for no other reason than to bring about your ruin. Yes, Satan relishes your spiritual demise, but he is not the only one. There are people you encounter in books and on TV, and people who stand behind pulpits or parade up and down on platforms who are just as pleased as Satan when their deceptive words bring about your shipwreck. They are drinking the drug of power over others, and your ruin is their reward.

So, Paul vigorously warns about these deceivers. “Let no one deceive you with empty words” (5:6). The deceiver will tell you smooth things, that your sin is not really sin and that a token response is true repentance. They will say, “God loves you, so how can He be angry with you?” or “God does not expect perfection, just your best effort.” The deceiver will teach you things that sound good, but that do not appear anywhere in God’s word. “Let no one deceive you!” It is one thing to have received no warning and then to be deceived by a crafty charlatan, but it is another to receive apostolic warning about those who would deceive you and then still be deceived. Do not be a fool! Do not be deceived!

These deceivers will try to convince you that there is no consequence to your secret sins of lust, but the word of God tells the truth. “On account of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.”

APPLICATION 1. Listen carefully to faithful, trusted teachers and preachers of the Word, and find a church where you trust the pastor’s teaching. Be discerning when listening to those who have not already proven themselves trustworthy. Reject wholesale those who deceive you and tell you lies to control you.

APPLICATION 2. Do not listen to anyone who tries to convince you that your fleshly lusts are not sin and that they are not deadly dangerous. That person is a deceiver and seeks your spiritual ruin.

SDG                 rmb                 4/10/2022                   #515