The danger of merely tasting Christ (Hebrews 6:4-6)

In a recent post (April 9), we began a consideration of Hebrew 6:1-8, a passage that talks about the danger of “tasting” all the truths of the gospel and hearing all the glories of Christ without ever coming to true faith in Christ. This post will continue in that vein.

A SUMMARY OF HEBREWS 6:4-6

The best way to understand Hebrews 6:4-6 is as a strong warning about the danger of hearing the gospel of salvation and yet never actually coming to faith in Jesus. The author suspects that some in the fellowship are still unsaved because they remain on the fence, considering the claims of Christ but refusing to make a full commitment to Jesus. Here in this passage, the author warns that, if you delay long over the call to faith, and if you persist in refusing Him who calls, then there may come a time when your heart will grow cold and when the gospel no longer compels you to respond. If you merely taste the things of Christ without confessing Him as Lord and Savior, you may know that experience where “it is impossible to renew you again to repentance (6:6).” At that place, your eternal doom is forever sealed. Tasting Christ without trusting Christ will be regretted forever in hell. So, this is a very sober passage.

TASTING, BUT NOT BELIEVING – HEBREWS 6:4-6

The full gospel had come to the readers of this letter. “God had testified to the gospel by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit (2:4).” They had been called to enter God’s rest (3:7-4:13). They had heard the message about Jesus, their great High Priest (4:14-5:10). The gospel had been proclaimed such that they had heard the truth about Christ and about His salvation. How had they responded?

“For in the case of those who had once been enlightened (6:4)

These had heard the gospel proclaimed, probably many times. Upon hearing it, they had been enlightened. They had become aware that Jesus, the Son of God from heaven, had come and died on the cross, and risen on the third day. But, having heard the gospel, they have not believed the gospel and called on the Lord. (Romans 10:13-14) They are enlightened, but still unbelieving.

“and have tasted of the heavenly gift (6:4)

The “heavenly gift” is the gift of the One who came from heaven. The heavenly gift is Christ Himself. But Christ is not merely to be tasted but is to be received as Lord and Savior (John 1:12). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves (John 6:53).” A tasting can never save. You must love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Matthew 22:37).

“and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit (6:4)”

I do not know what it mean to be a “partaker” of the Holy Spirit I know what it means to be sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Word teaches about being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). There are certainly gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). These verses describe a vital, saving relationship with the Holy Spirit, but being a “partaker” talks about an association or a familiarity, but does not speak of a saving relationship. The true believer is empowered and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, not merely a “partaker” of Him.

“and have tasted the good word of God

These people had been in the assembly of the church and they had heard the pastors and the elders teach the Bible, and they had been moved. “Ah, surely here is power and truth! Yes, these men can preach!” They had enjoyed the Bible teaching, but they had not been changed by the Word. They tasted the Word, but they did not embrace the Word. If the Word did not agree with their opinions or desires, they just tuned it out or rejected it. A taste of the good word of God will not cleanse a filthy heart or open blind eyes.

“and have tasted the powers of the age to come

There were some people in the church who has seen signs and wonders and miracles (2:4) performed before their very eyes. They had tasted the powers of the age to come, but their interest in Christ remained lukewarm. 

Yes, they had been exposed to everything about the glory of God and the salvation offered in the Lord Jesus Christ. They had heard it all, and yet they remained unconverted. They still had not unreservedly run to Jesus. They had not bowed the knee to the Jesus and confessed Him as Lord. They were comfortable with these ideas and enjoyed associating with those in the church, but nevertheless they remained once-born.

THE DANGER OF MERELY TASTING

There is a danger in continuing to taste of salvation without coming all the way to full repentance. Today the word of the gospel may have an appeal and there is in your heart a curiosity about Christ, maybe even an attraction to Christ. You enjoy being in the company of believers and the Bible is an interesting book. You even had the thought, “You know, maybe I’ll become a Christian today.” You are tasting Christ, but you are not trusting in Christ.

For in the case of those who have tasted “and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” – Hebrews 6:6

But the danger of merely tasting Christ without embracing Christ as Lord and Savior is that one day, suddenly, you “have fallen away.” Suddenly, one day the gospel is foolishness to you. In a moment, your curiosity about Jesus has vanished like smoke. All of a sudden, you despise the people in the church and the Bible is a dead book. Your heart has gone from lukewarm to ice cold. You “have fallen away” and the collapse is both irreversible and complete.

Most chilling of all, your eternal destiny is now sealed, for if you “have fallen away, it is impossible to renew you again to repentance.” You are doomed to be damned. Repentance is now impossible. Hebrews 10:26-27 gives this warning:

If you have fallen away “after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

You have heard the gospel and have heard of the offer of salvation in Christ, but you delayed too long, and now the offer has been forever withdrawn. Now all that awaits you is a “terrifying expectation of judgment.”

SEVEREST WARNING POSSIBLE

Because of the eternal danger of falling away, the author of this letter is giving the severest warning possible. If you fall away, the opportunity for repentance is eternally lost. If you fall away, you can never be saved. Therefore, come to Christ now!

“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart (Hebrews 4:7).” Act now! Come to faith in Jesus now! The Lord will not call forever. There is an urgency to your response.

Do not hesitate until the call of the Holy Spirit has ceased. Then you will be like Esau, who trifled with the blessing too long, and then finally could not obtain it for any price (Hebrews 12:17). The gospel was proclaimed to you, but you refused to respond. Now your heart is cold, and the gospel is foolishness. The moment is forever lost, and it is impossible to renew you again to repentance (Hebrews 6:6).

When you sense the attraction of the gospel, when you feel the draw of the Holy Spirit, then cry out to Christ for salvation. Be like Bartimaeus, who knew that eternity hung in the balance (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus Christ is passing by! Call to Him now. Hesitate and He will be gone, and you will never have this opportunity again.

Do not be those who receive (meaning, “hear”) the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation (6:2).” Do not be among those who heard the good news but did not heed the good news (Romans 10:16). You have heard the message. What will you do? “Be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40)!”

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Hearing a blind beggar’s cry (Mark 10:47)

For Bartimaeus, that day had begun like every other day. The blind man had been led down to his spot beside the Jericho road, sitting in the dirt and the dust and crying out for alms to passersby whom he could not see, most of whom intentionally tried not to see him. Few of them knew his name and fewer still had pity on him. After all, why should they be concerned about a blind beggar sitting by the road? Yes, it seemed like this would be another ordinary day.

But something was different about that day, for down the road coming out from Jericho was a large crowd, all apparently following the Man who was walking on ahead of them. The crowd was talking excitedly among themselves, as crowds do, but they were also listening intently to the words being spoken by the Teacher, the Rabbi who was leading the crowd.

Large crowds were not common on that road out of Jericho, so Bartimaeus asked about the Rabbi. Who is He?

And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Mark 10:47

It would be difficult to find a less significant person in all of Israel than this blind beggar in the dust of the Jericho road, whose lot in life was to cry out for alms. And it would be impossible to find a more significant Person in all of human history than Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God sent from heaven “to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).” And at this moment, this most significant of men was fixed on accomplishing the most significant work in human history as He aimed for Jerusalem and His appointment with a cross.

Nevertheless, blind Bartimaeus “kept crying out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” – Mark 10:48

Could Jesus even hear the blind beggar’s cry above the din of the crowd? And even if He could, would He pay any attention? Why would He pay any attention? But Jesus does hear the beggar’s cry.

And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” – Mark 10:49

Jesus interrupts His journey to Jerusalem and His mission of dying as a sacrifice for sin to call a dirty, blind beggar to Himself. What manner of Man is this (Matthew 8:27)? Bartimaeus “jumped up and came to Jesus (10:50),” and then the Son of God gave Bartimaeus a blank check.

“What do you want Me to do for you?” – Mark 10:51

Jesus put no limitations on what could be requested, because there are no limitations on what He can supply. In essence, Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Ask Me according to your faith.”   Then, as an act of pure faith,

the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight! – Mark 10:51

As only Jesus could do, He gave the blind beggar sight, then continued on His way to the cross with a new disciple following behind Him.

THE MESSAGE OF BARTIMAEUS

Why is this story of Bartimaeus in our Bible? It is here because all of us are born into this world as insignificant blind beggars, and we figuratively sit in the dust beside the road begging for mercy from passersby. Like blind Bartimaeus, we cannot change our situation or fix ourselves. Every day is basically the same as the last one, and we wait for someone or something that can give us hope of change.

Like Bartimaeus, we are waiting for Jesus the Nazarene. We are waiting for someone to tell us about Jesus, Son of David, who can give sight to the spiritually blind and who can give life to the spiritually dead. We are waiting for Jesus, the Man with divine power, to have mercy on us, to call us to Himself, and to allow us to follow Him forever.

For all those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior, you, like Bartimaeus, have a “that day” when you met Jesus. On “that day,” when the Lord Jesus came near, you cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And on “that day,” Jesus heard your cry and stopped and said, “Call them here.” When you realized that He was calling for you, yes, for YOU, you threw aside your cloak, and jumped up and came to Jesus.

Jesus said to you, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

“Lord, save me! Forgive me of my sins! Make me one of Your disciples. Let me walk with You.”

Then Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.”

So, that is one reason why this story of Bartimaeus is in our Bible. It gives a picture of who we are as fallen, sinful humans and how we can come to Jesus and be saved.

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Remaking a spoiled vessel (Jeremiah 18:1-4)

The potter worked quickly and skillfully as he created his vessels from the lumps of formless clay. His working on the wheel was almost as if the two were one unit, with the wheel yielding to and obeying every impulse from the potter as he shaped and molded. Every once in a great while, the potter would make a mistake with the wheel or with the clay, and the vessel that he was making would be spoiled in his hand. In those instances, the potter would collapse the spoiled vessel back into a lump of clay and quickly remake it into another useful shape.

The LORD calls Jeremiah, the prophet, to go down to the potter’s house and he sees what we just described. The potter takes the spoiled vessel and remakes it into another one.

But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so, he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. – Jeremiah 18:4

As interesting as the work of the potter is, it is not the main point of this story. In fact, this story of the potter and the spoiled vessel is just an illustration that speaks to our own ruined human condition. You see, you and I come into this world as spoiled vessels and we need to find someone who will remake us into pristine, useful vessels.

WHAT DOES A SPOILED VESSEL LOOK LIKE?

The Bible is the story of God’s pursuit of His people and of how He redeems them and remakes them regardless of how spoiled they are. Included in the pages of Scripture are many pictures of what ruined vessels look like to show me how ruined I am.

So, what does a spoiled vessel look like?

As a spoiled vessel, I was like a demon-possessed man screaming naked among the tombs as I gash myself with stones. Not even chains and shackles could restrain me as I fought wildly against my own depravity (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:27-39).

A spoiled vessel, I was like a newborn infant thrown out into the open field, squirming in my own blood, helpless and rejected. (Ezekiel 16:4-6)

I was dead like Lazarus, rotting in the grave, stinking in my graveclothes (John 11:39)

I was spoiled like Mephibosheth, crippled in both feet. (2 Samuel 9:3-4)

I was an unclean leper, longing to be touch and cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-4)

I was a spoiled and ruined vessel like the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting in the dust beside the road (Mark 10:46-52).

Those are pictures of what a spoiled vessel looks like.

Watching a skilled potter make pottery and occasionally remake spoiled vessels into beautiful ones is entertaining, but what does someone do if they themselves are the ruined vessel? For the clay vessel was visibly spoiled, but I am comprehensively ruined. A skilled potter can remake a clay vessel into something useful, but who has the power to redeem and remake a ruined life?

THIS POTTER CAN REMAKE ME INTO SOMETHING NEW

And now we come to the main application of the story of the potter. For there is a master Potter who has the power to remake the most spoiled of vessels into a new and glorious creation. But observe that the ruin in the vessel cannot be repaired. This is not pottery repair, but it is pottery made new. The old vessel must go, and the new vessel must come.

For me there came a day when I realized that the vessel of my life was ruined and there was nothing and no one who could repair it. Sin had ravaged and was ravaging my life, and I needed to find someone who had the power to make me new and set me free. I was tired of gashing myself on stones. I was weary of the dust beside the road. I was rotting in the grave and I was crippled in my feet. My life was spoiled and needed to be remade. Then I met Jesus Christ, the great Savior, the one who has the power to remake ruined lives into useful lives. He has the power to give sight to the blind and freedom to the captives and beauty for ashes. He took my spoiled vessel and remade it as it pleased Him to make it.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. – 2 Cor. 5:17

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Why all the warnings? (Hebrews 3:12-14)

False assurance is a dangerous thing. The person possessing false assurance is confident that they are prepared to face a certain challenge or threat when, in fact, their defenses are inadequate, and their preparation is incomplete. This is like the fair-skinned sunbather on the Florida beach with SPF 5 sunscreen that they are confident is SPF 50. Or this is like the rock climber with the 100-foot rope rappelling down the 130-foot cliff which the climber is confident is only 80 feet tall. Or this is like someone who has been attending a local church for a little while and has joined in the singing and has listened to the sermons and has done whatever they saw the other people in the church doing; this is like that person having the false assurance that, because they behave like a true believer and go through the same motions, they possess the same salvation and are safe from God’s judgment. In these instances of false assurance, the person must be warned about their error before bad consequences result. So, we can see that false assurance is a dangerous thing.

The author of “Hebrews” is acutely aware of the disastrous consequences of a false confidence of salvation. He warns those who may possess a false profession, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31),” and “our God is a consuming fire (12:29).” In fact, one of the dominant themes in this New Testament epistle is the author’s warning to those who are religious and unconverted. “Pay close attention lest you drift away.” “Do not neglect this great salvation.” “Do not fall away from the living God.” “Hold fast!” “Have faith, not unbelief.” “Strive to enter God’s rest.” “If you fall away, it is impossible to restore you.” “Do not be a person who shrinks back.” The author repeatedly urges the pretenders and all the falsely assured to fully embrace Jesus Christ and loudly proclaim Him as Lord to rightly be assured of true salvation.

WARNINGS IN HEBREWS 3:12-14

Consider one of the author’s warnings in Hebrews 3:12-14:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.

The warnings in this passage are strident and the implied consequences dire because it is urgent that the writer gain their attention and alert them to their peril. He does not mince words when he warns them of an “evil, unbelieving heart” and tells them they “will fall away from the living God.” Without encouragement, they are in danger of being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You are truly partakers of Christ only “if you hold fast your assurance (your faith) firm until the end.” Implicit and explicit warnings follow one after the other as the writer speaks to this fellowship.

WHY ALL THE WARNINGS?

Why so many warnings? The warnings evidence a heartfelt pastoral concern. The writer-preacher is concerned that some in his congregation are in danger of falling short of salvation, that they have not really embraced Christ in faith, but rather are just going through their old religious motions in a new way. These people must be warned that following Christ is radically different from the old Jewish traditions and practices, and that those who fall short of or drift away from genuine faith in Jesus will eternally perish. Having heard the message about Jesus Christ, you must embrace that message. To go through the new Christian “rituals” without embracing Christ and without being born again is to engage in useless religious works.

THE TASK OF WARNING THE RELIGIOUS

This task of warning people of the peril of religion is never an easy one because most people are quite comfortable with the religion they have been given. Religion gives its adherents a false sense of assurance. Just so, until recently, this Jewish (Hebrew) community was contentedly practicing their religion of external works, moral lifestyle, and traditional practices. All Jews were accepted as full members of the religious community based on their adherence to the external works. (This is the way all religions work.) The community was close-knit because they all maintained the same age-old practices. The old wine was good enough (Luke 5:39). There was no talk of salvation or of repentance or of faith in the Messiah. All was routine and peaceful. And, unfortunately, all were peacefully perishing without a Savior.

But now, the religious landscape has seismically changed. Now the gospel of salvation has been proclaimed. Now Jesus is preached as the Messiah, the Christ. Now the religious community of the Hebrews is being replaced by the faith community of the followers of the Messiah. The traditions of the elders and the fathers are no longer good enough because the works of the Law cannot justify anyone (Romans 3:20). Now we must repent from dead works (Hebrews 6:1) and place our faith in Jesus. Now unity and fellowship in the Jesus community is based on a common faith in Jesus the Messiah.

WHAT ABOUT A THIRD OPTION?

In addition to the old Jewish religion based on external works and traditions, and the new movement of faith in Jesus the Messiah, what we see happening in the book of “Hebrews” is the emergence of a third option. It is this third option that is the reason for all the writer’s warnings. The preacher’s concern is that some in this congregation have exchanged the external works of Judaism for “the external works” of the faith community without embracing Jesus the Messiah by faith. These people emulate the external “religious works” of genuine believers without the new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) of genuine believers. They mistakenly think that this new Jesus movement is just another religion, and, like Judaism, a person can be an accepted and respected member of this new community merely by doing the appropriate works and going through the expected motions. The writer-preacher directs his most urgent exhortations at these people in the hopes that they will forsake this deceptive and disastrous way of thinking and come all the way to full faith in Christ.

APPLICATION FOR OUR OWN TIME

The beauty of the Scriptures is that they are always contemporary, and they apply to our world and our situations. Just so, we must take seriously the warning about this “third option,” which is the circumstance where members of our church fellowship may be falsely assured of their salvation because they are relying on “religious works” or even “Christian works.” In the case of the Hebrews, the people emulated the external “religious works” of genuine believers without the new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) of genuine believers. This is a real concern today, particularly in American churches where religious traditions can replace genuine faith. In churches where conversions are not celebrated (Is that because they do not occur?) and where forms are prominent, the church can gradually become a homogeneous gathering of people united based on shared traditions and externals, rather than being united based on a shared experience of conversion and a fervent faith in the Lord Jesus. I believe that when the writer-preacher of the book of “Hebrews” wrote his warnings, he had specific people in the congregation in mind. He was, thus, compelled to warn them of the peril of religious motions without saving faith. Just so, the concerned pastor today would be well-served to preach these same warnings with vigor to his congregation in the hopes of stirring up faith in those who are comfortably unconverted.

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A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

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Sow your seed morning and evening (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

To be a witness for Jesus Christ is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus has called His disciples to be witnesses to Him. In fact, the last thing that Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection was, “You shall be My witnesses . . . to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).” Thus, being a witness (“martyr” in the Greek) for Jesus is virtually synonymous with being a disciple. And what is the best means that we have, as His followers, to witness for Him in this world? The best means we have been given is the gospel. We are called to sow the seed of the gospel so that Jesus Christ is glorified.

AGRICULTURAL WISDOM

Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether this or that will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. – Ecclesiastes 11:6

The author of Ecclesiastes gives us simple wisdom about successful agriculture in chapter 11, verse 6: Scatter the seed! And then continue to sow the seed. Morning and evening (an expression that means “all the time”) sow the seed, because you have no idea which will sprout, but we do know that you will not have a good harvest if you do not scatter any seed. Of course, God gives us this wisdom for more than just agriculture. When considering the seed of the gospel, what wisdom can we take away from this? Scatter the seed! Morning and evening and all the time sow the seed, for we do not know which of them God will use to change a heart.

Matthew 13 is a chapter that is full of “kingdom parables,” which tell us about the kingdom of heaven through stories of everyday life. In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-8, Jesus tells the large crowds, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” Then we see the sower scatter the seed indiscriminately on roads and among weeds and on the rocks and in good soil, apparently indifferent to where the seed is going. Yet, despite the sower’s careless sowing, Jesus makes no mention about the need for greater skill on the part of the sower. The sower is not rebuked. Why not? Because the sower is not called to evaluate the condition of the soil, but is called to sow the seed, and trust that the seed will yield a crop. The sower’s confidence is in the seed. Just so, we cannot see the condition of the human heart and so we cannot know what the Lord will do when we sow the seed of the gospel. We have been called to sow the seed indiscriminately and extravagantly and then trust the Lord to bring the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

FAITHFUL SOWERS AND WASTED SEED

The sower who does not sow is a contradiction in terms. How can it be that the one who is defined by his task does not do the work that defines him? A sower is obviously hired to sow seed. If he does not sow seed, shouldn’t his compensation be in jeopardy? Indeed, his very identity is in jeopardy! Now, the believer is called to be a sower of the seed of the gospel. If we do not sow the gospel seed, shouldn’t we be concerned about our identity? Therefore, since Jesus has called us to be sowers of the seed of the gospel, let us be sure that we are laboring at our defining task.

If some of his master’s seed is “wasted” by extravagant and indiscriminate sowing, the sower will still be praised as faithful to his duty, because the master has called the sower into the field to sow. Now, we know that the seed of the gospel is potent seed and that the master has an ample supply, but we also know that the sowers of the seed are few (Matthew 9:37). Finding faithful sowers of the seed is the limiting factor.

The only “wasted seed” is the seed that is never sown.

The unfaithful sower is the sower who has been given seed that he does not sow (Matthew 25:24-26).

Let us, therefore, be faithful sowers who extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel.

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Call upon Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6)

“We are still young, and we have lots of things that we want to do. There are girls and beer and experiences. When we are older, then maybe we will think about this religious stuff.” Thus Kostya, a Russian student, explained to me his thoughts about the gospel. In so many words, he said to me what many people believe: “The offer of the gospel can be received anytime, and when I am good and ready, I will accept God’s offer.”

Indeed, the Lord’s offer of salvation through the gospel seems to be always available to the sinner, at least that is what we are led to believe. It appears that the sinner, once informed of the gospel of salvation, is free to accept God’s offer whenever they choose to accept it, either today or tomorrow or on my deathbed.

This appearance, however, is a lie from the pit of hell. It is the devil’s lie that the creature is free to ignore the Creator’s offer of salvation until the creature decides to act. Satan propagates this idea because he knows that when a person postpones their gospel response, they effectively smother their gospel response.

But consider this from the standpoint of human experience. Is there ever a situation where a serious offer can be accepted at any time? No. No serious offer is made without an expiration date. In practice, an offer is made, and if there is no acceptance of that offer, the offer is withdrawn.

Now, if it is true in our experience that offers between people for mere earthly things are either accepted or they are withdrawn, how much more true is it that the Lord’s offer to sinful man for forgiveness and for eternal salvation must be accepted or it will be withdrawn. There is an urgency that accompanies the hearing of the gospel, and if the sinner does not respond, the Lord may withdraw the offer.

How, then, are we to respond? In Isaiah 55:6, the Scripture says,

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.

            We are to seek the LORD, but it is clear from this verse that He is not always available. There is a time element to our seeking the LORD. We are to seek the LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND. And since we do not know when the LORD may be found, we are to seek Him with all our heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13) THE INSTANT WE HAVE A DESIRE FOR HIM. When the gospel has kindled our desire for the LORD and has given us a hunger for cleansing and for righteousness, THEN we are to seek the Lord.

            And we must call upon Him, but again we see that He is not always near. How do I know when HE IS NEAR? If the gospel has been proclaimed and you have been convicted of your sin and have felt a longing for forgiveness, you can know that THE LORD IS NEAR. It is THEN that we are CALL UPON THE LORD. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).”

            In Acts 17, the philosophers in Athens heard Paul declare to them the truths of the gospel and the glories of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul urged them to seek God (17:27) and to repent (17:30), but they sneered at him and said, “We shall hear you again concerning this (17:32).” But they never heard Paul speak again. Instead, “Paul went out of their midst (17:33)” and left Athens. They had heard the gospel, but they did not seek the Lord, nor did they call on His name, and the offer of salvation was withdrawn, and they perished.

            By contrast, in Matthew 13 we read two parables about seeking in 13:44 and 13:45-46. In the first parable, a man finds a treasure hidden in a field. He realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and that he must act now and seize the moment. And so, “he sells all that he has and buys that field.” That is the attitude of the person who hears the gospel. “This is the moment of my life. I will seek the Lord and call upon Him until I receive His offer.”

            The second parable is similar to the first. In this parable, a pearl merchant finds a fabulous pearl of immense value. He realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and that he must act now and seize the moment. And so, “he sold all that he has and bought it.” That is the attitude of the person who hears the gospel. “This is the moment of my life. I will seek the Lord and call upon Him until I receive His offer.”

            When God, in His infinite grace, chooses to bring the gospel near and to stir our heart with a desire to know Him and to be freed from our sin, then at that moment we must respond, for we do not know if God will ever do this again.

SDG                 rmb                 11/24/2020

The question of the conscience (Romans 2:15)

The issue in the book of Romans is righteousness, that is, a right standing before God. Paul’s theological masterpiece describes how God legally grants righteousness to those who are manifestly unrighteous and sinful, and who, because of their unrighteousness, deserve His wrath and condemnation. The means of obtaining this righteousness is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” If a person hears and responds to the gospel, they will be saved (Romans 10:9-10), but if they do not, they remain condemned (John 3:18, 36).

AWARENESS OF SIN

One of the critical components of the gospel message is for a person to come to an awareness of their own sin. This is where the conscience fits in. God has created man as a moral creature, and that means that we are all accountable to God for every disobedience of His commandments. So that we can know when we have broken one of God’s commandments, God has given every human being a conscience. And what does the conscience do?

            Romans 2:15 puts it this way:

They (the Gentiles) show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

            Paul is saying that the conscience makes the sinner aware of their sin by functioning like a copy of the Law written on their heart. The same God who issued His holy Law at Sinai is the God who has, by the conscience, written a copy of His Law on every human heart. So, when you or I violate one of God’s commandments, our conscience is provoked and accuses us of sin, and we experience guilt, as we should. And this is true for every human being, regardless of any external factors. God has given everyone a conscience so that we would all be aware of our sin and would, perhaps, seek for the Savior.

            But is the conscience enough to bring about salvation? No, it is not. The conscience renders all people guilty of violating God’s Law but offers no relief from the guilt. My conscience merely leaves me without excuse, justly deposited on death row without an apparent hope of pardon. My conscience reveals to me my unrighteousness but tells me nothing about where righteousness lies. The necessary bridge between a guilty conscience and the joy of righteousness is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only by faith in the crucified and risen Lord that my guilt is washed away.

APPLICATION

            Because all people have a conscience, all people should be aware of their sin and guilt. In our evangelism, then, we can be confident that some will be sensitive to their own unrighteousness and will be open to hearing about a forgiving Savior.

SDG                 rmb                 10/27/2020

Sowing the gospel seed (Mark 4:26-27)

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Jesus, Mark 4:26-27

            Our pastor recently conducted an evangelism workshop at our church. During the workshop, the men at my table had been working on our evangelism exercise, trying to present the gospel (God-Man-Christ-Response) in less than two minutes, and were finding the exercise difficult. I heard myself going through the presentation with my voice, but in my head having my doubts. Although one of my friends described it as “technically correct,” no one at our table felt that it was either convincing or persuasive. We just felt that we were declaring huge truths to people in rapid fire and expecting the impossible, that they would believe these truths about God and man and sin and salvation, and then to have some kind of saving response. But this seemed very unlikely.

            How does this work, then? How is it that a brief proclamation about how Jesus Christ has died for sin so that sinners who trust Him for salvation can be delivered from the wrath of God and thus have eternal life; how can that message ever get traction?

            As I was pondering these things, I remembered three times in my own past when people had spoken to me about Jesus.

My first recollection is of me on a bench in downtown Asheville. I was probably eleven years old (~1970) and I was waiting for my mom to pick me up after a doctor’s appointment. A man probably in his mid-twenties approached me and sat down on the bench with me and proceeded to tell me about his journey. He was strung out on drugs and was running from the law and his life was a mess, and then he met Jesus Christ. He asked Jesus into his heart and Jesus had changed him. “Don’t you want Jesus in your heart?” What was I going to say? “Sure (if you will promise to leave).” So, we prayed “the prayer” and I was saved. Then Mom came and picked me up and I forgot all about that. Or so I thought. A seed had been planted.

Fast forward to about 1986. My girlfriend had taken me to the local Baptist church, where during the service an executive at Proctor & Gamble had talked about how he came to faith in Jesus. “So, if anyone is interested in talking to me more about how Jesus can change your life, please get in touch with me.” His story impacted me, so I contacted him. We met for breakfast at a restaurant in Roswell, GA. He did his best to tell me about Jesus and about how I could know Him as my Savior. The seed had been watered.

In 1988, I was on a date with another girl I had taken a fancy to. We were on a patio of a restaurant in north Atlanta and she brought up that she was a Christian. She told me that she believed in Jesus Christ and that Jesus had forgiven her of her sins. I think I may have asked a question or two about her faith, but that was about it. But the seed had been watered again.

Isn’t it interesting that, of all the experiences that I have had in the last fifty years, I remember these three times when random people talked to me about Jesus? The point is that the gospel makes an impact. It is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” So, God used these obedient people to plant and water the seed of the gospel in my life.

Then, when the Lord was ready to bring me to Himself, after an experience on a big cliff and visits to a church, in late 1990 I repented of my sin and believed in Jesus as my Savior. How did that happen? “It is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”

So, what do we do? We sow the gospel seed far and wide, “in season and out of season.” We proclaim the gospel to unbelievers as often as the Lord will give us opportunity, trusting that the power is in the message of the cross and not in the cleverness of the speaker. “God is well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21).”

SDG                 rmb                 10/23/2020

How will they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14-15)

BRITTON BUSINESS SCHOOL CASE STUDY

The sales manager was at a loss as to what to do next. Sales had been flat to slightly declining for almost five years now, despite having a clearly superior product at a more competitive price. True, the product had not been changed or been upgraded for a while, but the existing features and benefits already so far exceeded all the competition that an upgrade should have been unnecessary. That, in combination with a sales price much less than the competing products, made it hard to explain why sales were not steadily increasing.

“Far superior product at a lower price; Why can’t we move the needle on sales?”

He considered the company’s decision to cut marketing. Could that be it? Yes, they spent less than 25% of what the competition spent on marketing, but that could not be the full explanation.

He thought about sales training as a possible answer. “Maybe our salespeople need more training.” But that didn’t make sense, because both his salespeople had been selling the product for at least twenty years. Both knew how to prospect, how to make and convert cold calls, how to show the superior features and benefits of the product. As far as skill at one-on-one sales, the sales manager would put both his salespeople up against anyone in the business.

Then he wondered whether it was the competition. While it was a fact that the competition was well-established in the market, it was also a fact that almost all of their existing customers had at one point in time been using the competitive product and had switched when they heard about our product and what it had to offer. “No, it’s not the competition. It must be something else that I can’t put my finger on. There has to be some reason why we can’t get more market share, especially with more than 50 million potential customers in our territory.” The sales manager decided to call his two salespeople into his office and see if they could brainstorm and come up with an answer.

CASE STUDY ANALYSIS

            As business consultants, how would you explain the lack of anticipated sales at this company? What would be your recommendation for the sales manager as to how to increase sales?

            Okay, time’s up. What is your answer? I hope that you said something like, “Get more salespeople out there! If you have a market of 50 million people and TWO SALESPEOPLE, you are desperately understaffed and need to figure out how to let more people know that there is a far superior product available at a lower price. People will not buy the best product in the world, even if it is free, if they don’t know that the product exists.

THE GOSPEL ANALOGY

            In Romans 10:14-15, the apostle Paul lays out four essential steps for any person anywhere to be saved. After declaring that, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13),” Paul then tells how that blessing of salvation takes place, starting with the end and working backwards. So, he asks how they will call on the Lord if they have not believed in the Lord. (Implied answer: They won’t!) Backing up one more step, he asks how they will believe in Jesus if they have never heard the gospel about Jesus. (Implied answer: They won’t!) Finally, he asks the critical question, “And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Implied answer: They won’t!) All these steps are necessary for salvation. No step can be omitted. Therefore, it is necessary for salvation for there to be “a preacher” (see below for a description of what it means to be “a preacher”) to proclaim the gospel message so that an unsaved person will hear the gospel. And it is necessary for salvation for the person who hears the gospel message to believe that message. And it is necessary for salvation for the person who believes the gospel message to call on the name of the Lord in repentance and faith as a response to their believing the gospel message that was preached and heard. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth (a verbal call on the name of the Lord) Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” That means that if there is true belief in your heart, it will issue forth in verbal confession from your mouth and then in life and behavior change as sanctification occurs.

WHO IS A PREACHER?

            So, from Scripture we see that a preacher is necessary for salvation because the gospel message must be heralded to the unsaved. But now the question comes up, “Well, who is a preacher?” Various pictures may be conjured up in your mind in answer to this question. The caricature seems to be of some man sweating profusely as he shouts at his hapless congregation. The popularity of this image would suggest that the picture was designed in hell and has resulted in the perishing of many souls as they laughed off “the preacher.” But the biblical word that is used in Romans 10:14-15 is that of a herald, of a person who had been entrusted with a critically important message and was sent out to proclaim exactly that message, even if the herald was killed in carrying out the task. This is the biblical picture. In the Bible, Paul was a preacher (2 Timothy 1:11). John the Baptist was a preacher. Solomon was a Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Noah was a preacher (2 Peter 2:5). Most significant of all, the Lord Jesus Himself was a Preacher. There is no reason to shrink back from being a preacher based on reputation.

            But who is a preacher? Think about the preacher’s task. The preacher is a herald sent out to proclaim a message. Now consider Matthew 28:19-20, when Jesus told us to “Go, therefore” in the Great Commission. Jesus was sending every member of His church out to proclaim the gospel to the nations. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus says to His first disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Those are herald words. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Again, herald words. Jesus told the parable in Matthew 13, “The sower went out to sow.” We find out that “the sower” sows the Word of God, and it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to see that every believer could be described as a sower. Again, more herald words.

            Who is a preacher? Who is a herald? Who has been sent out by the Lord Jesus Christ to herald His message to perishing men and women so that they might be saved? That is the privileged calling of the preacher. Who wouldn’t want to be called to that task? And what Paul is saying in Romans 10:14 is that you and I have been called as preachers (“heralds”) of the good news so that people will hear and believe and call on the name of the Lord.

            So, whether your audience is few or many, you are the one who has been called by your Lord and Savior to let others know about Jesus and about how they can be delivered from the wrath to come.

            In Matthew 9:38, after seeing the misery of the people who were like sheep without a shepherd, He said, “Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Just as the company in the case study needed more salespeople, so the Lord Jesus is seeking more heralds who will be active in His harvest.

SDG                 rmb                 9.8.2020