1 Peter 2:9 (Part 4) – Purpose: proclaiming excellencies

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 new purpose the disciple has received as a result of their new identity. (Also see post #544 on June 16, 2022, 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

In the first chapter of 1 Peter, the apostle has already told us that we were redeemed from our futile way of life (1:18) by the precious blood of Christ (1:19) and that, by God’s great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope (1:3). As we have studied 2:9-10, we have learned about the four-fold identity that the disciples of Jesus received when they trusted Christ as Lord and Savior (see post #536 and #544). Now we are going to discover the purpose for this new identity. There is a purpose for God giving His people their new identity and there is a mission to which He has called us. We are called to proclaim.

CALLED TO PROCLAIM

The chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the people for God’s own possession is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church is now being gathered from all the nations of the earth to receive the unfathomable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8) for the primary purpose of proclaiming the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).

The church is called to proclaim the excellencies of God. The one true and living God whom we proclaim is a God of excellencies. He has displayed His own glory in a creation of astonishing beauty and complexity, where His excellence is manifest in an abundance of life. His excellence has been made known in the wonder of the gospel, such that His perfect holiness is not violated by the forgiveness of sinners. His excellence has been visibly seen when the Lord Jesus Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us. The church is called to proclaim these excellencies.

Ever since Adam sinned, all people have come into the world as lovers of darkness and haters of the light (John 3:19-20). We are born as blind and dead lovers of darkness and we would forever remain in that wretched condition, but the one true and living God, in His grace and mercy, calls His enemies out of darkness and into His marvelous light. And so the church, the gathered assembly of redeemed wretches, is called to proclaim to the nations the transforming power of the gospel, for in the gospel God calls people from darkness into light.

But the church’s most important proclamation is to tell the world about Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we have a Savior and a Redeemer and a conquering King who is worthy of all our loudest praise. “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’” (Psalm 96:3, 10). In heaven now the voices of many angels say with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). But what myriad angels are saying in heaven the church is now to be proclaiming on earth.

In Acts, the church was facing a growing hostility to their message about the resurrection. So, in light of the threats, the church prayed that the Lord would “grant that Your bondservants may speak Your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). In that instance and in every instance until Jesus returns, the church is to proclaim the glories of Jesus with all boldness regardless of threats. “We are not of those who shrink back to destruction” (Hebrews 10:39). We have been chosen and called to proclaim Jesus’ name to those who are in darkness. For Jesus warns us that “whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory” (Luke 9:26). Therefore, His church is to proclaim His excellencies.

APPLICATION

The true church is a chosen race and is a people who have been called to be holy so that we can proclaim His excellencies. Since that is the case; that is, since we have been chosen and called for the purpose of proclamation, each of us should evaluate how we are doing with our own proclamation. I offer several questions to help in our evaluation:

  • How do you intentionally seek opportunities for “proclamation” within your network of relationships? (season your speech with salt (Col. 4:6), let your light shine before men (Matt. 5:16), throw out baited hooks for fishing (Matt. 4:19))
  • What is your strategy for “proclaiming His excellencies” when an opportunity presents itself? In other words, have you considered how to move the conversation toward a gospel-related topic?
  • How can you increase the boldness of your “proclamation?” How can you prevent fear from producing disobedience?

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2022                   #550

Scattering seed and inviting to the feast

INTRODUCTION. A study of two parables of Jesus and how they teach us to be obedient in our proclamation of the gospel.

I have been spending time in Jesus’ parables lately and have seen in them many new applications that I had not seen before. In this post, I want to review two parables, the parable of the sower in Matt. 13:3-9 and the parable of the wedding feast in Matt. 22:2-14 and see how Jesus teaches us about our task of being His witnesses (Acts 1:8).

THE SOWER WENT OUT TO SOW

We will begin with the parable of the sower in Matt. 13:3-9. This is one of the best known of the parables and is also one of only a few parables that Jesus interprets for us. In Jesus’ interpretation in Matt. 13:18-23, we find that the seed that is scattered is “the word of the kingdom,” which we would understand to be the gospel. We also discover what each of the soils represents and why the seed is unfruitful. Finally, we see that the seed is certainly potent and that, in the good soil, it produces a hundredfold, or sixty fold, or thirty fold.

It seems obvious that this parable is about proclamation, about evangelism. The sower is the disciple of Jesus Christ. We had already stated that the seed is the gospel. The places where the seed is scattered is any place and every place that the sower (disciple) goes. But let me make some other observations about this parable and about the sower himself.

SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE SOWER

Matt. 13:3 says, “The sower went out to sow.” Having acquired a big bag of seed, the sower intentionally goes out into the world to sow that seed. The sower’s purpose and aim is sowing his seed.

Also notice that the sower’s task is very simple. Sow the seed. That’s it. Sowing is an unskilled task that can be done by anyone who has seed. There is nothing sophisticated or nuanced about sowing seed. Any obedient worker can fulfill the task.

Observe that even though most of the sower’s seed is wasted and proves unfruitful, Jesus makes no comment about the sower’s wastefulness. The sower recklessly and indiscriminately scatters seed wherever it might go and yet there is no rebuke or criticism given. This is because the sower’s task is to sow seed. He is not responsible for the results. Just so, the disciple of Jesus is to scatter the seed of the gospel extravagantly and generously wherever he goes, believing that the Lord is sovereign over the harvest and that He will direct the seed to the good soil.

Thus, for the sower, the measure of success is faithfulness to their appointed task of sowing seed, and not the quantity of the harvest. The Lord is sovereign over the harvest, but He has entrusted the scattering of the gospel seed to His disciples.

THE MESSAGE TO US. Putting this together, then, the disciple of Jesus (the sower) is called to intentionally go out into the world and indiscriminately and extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel anywhere and everywhere, recklessly sowing the seed, trusting that the Lord in His sovereignty will bring the harvest. (See also 2 Corinthians 9:6.)

INVITE THEM TO THE WEDDING FEAST!

Now we turn our attention to the parable of the wedding feast in Matt. 22:2-14. In this story, there is a king who wants to give a wedding feast for his beloved son. The king desires to have as many guests as possible at the feast, so he sends out his slaves to call those guests who had already been invited long ago, but those who had been invited refused to come. The king is enraged by the rudeness of his subjects and has them destroyed. Then he commands his slaves to go out into the main highways and invite anybody and everybody to his son’s wedding feast.

Although there are some important details to this story that teach us about the unbelief of the Jews and about the events of the end of the age, the main message of this parable is also about evangelism. Before we focused on the sower, but here we will concentrate on the slaves. The slaves represent disciples in the church. The king is God the Father and, of course, the son is the Lord Jesus. Thus the church has been sent out into the world to invite “as many as they find” to the wedding feast. The “wedding feast” represents the church with Jesus in heaven at the end of the age.

SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE SLAVES

The first thing I want to point out about this parable is that the slaves have been commanded by the king to invite people to the wedding feast. No other instructions have been given, no guidelines about who to choose or who to avoid. Therefore, the “slaves went out into the streets and gathered all they found” (22:10). They were indiscriminate about who they invited. If they found them, then they invited them. It did not matter whether they were evil or good. Whoever they found, they invited. That was their assignment from the king.

Notice also that this assignment was not complicated or difficult. There were no special skills or talents required to fulfill the assignment. No amazing spiritual gifts. Inviting people to the king’s feast was simple, an unskilled task that could be accomplished by anyone who would faithfully obey the king.

Finally, we see that, even though there are some false guests among those that are invited, the king does not rebuke or correct the slaves for inviting the wrong people. The king takes responsibility for the quality of those who are at the feast, while the slaves are responsible for the quantity. In other words, the measure of success for the king’s slaves was faithfulness to their appointed task of inviting guests, not the quality of the people invited.

THE MESSAGE TO US. Putting this together, then, the disciple of Jesus (“the slave of the king”) is called to intentionally go out into the world and indiscriminately invite as many as he can to “come to the wedding feast” (that is, call people to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior), trusting that the Lord in His sovereignty will inspect all the guests.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

What I have attempted to do in the interpretation of these two parables is to show that the Bible consistently calls the disciple of Jesus to the task of proclaiming Christ to the world indiscriminately and extravagantly so that many will hear the message and respond. These parables demonstrate that the disciple has been given the task of scattering the gospel recklessly and inviting to the feast extravagantly so that many will  come to faith in Jesus and to enjoy the final wedding feast.

We have been called to faith in Jesus so that, as His disciples, we can declare His glory among the nations (Psalm 96:3) and proclaim His excellencies who has called us into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

SDG                 rmb                 6/17/2022                   #543

The disciple’s job description (or “What is Discipleship?”)

INTRODUCTION. This post provides a link to what I am calling a disciple’s job description. This “job description” document attempts to describe the disciple of Jesus Christ in terms of the tasks and activities that the New Testament gives the disciple to perform. My upcoming book on Discipleship (targeted for completion some time in 2023) will include the finished version of this job description.

The job description is broken down into three categories: “Discipline and obedience,” which is what we might call “formal discipleship;” “Holiness,” which is the disciple’s conscious striving for practical righteousness as he wars against sin; and “Evangelism and witness,” addressing every disciple’s responsibility to proclaim the gospel and testify to the glory of Christ.

Here is the link to the current version of the list:

https://roysreflections.com/the-disciples-job-description-or-what-is-discipleship/(opens in a new tab)

SDG                 rmb                 6/8/2022                     #541

Can Paul’s compassion for the Jews save? (Romans 9:1-5)

INTRODUCTION. Considering Paul’s compassion for his fellow Israelites, does this influence God’s sovereign choice? Is Paul suggesting that Israel gets special treatment because they had been “God’s chosen people?” Evaluate compassion and duty in evangelism. How can we use these ideas to equip a congregation to proclaim Christ more effectively?

These are my notes and thoughts copied from the Study Guide for “Romans” by John MacArthur. These notes are from page 75 in the chapter on Romans 9-11.  

When talking about Paul’s earnest desire for the salvation of his fellow Israelites, MacArthur writes, “Paul’s love and concern for his countrymen was such that he wished he could trade places with them, literally that he could go to hell so that they might be saved.” Then MacArthur asks a question about how we might increase our compassion for the lost.

My response to that question was, “I do not see evangelism as a matter of compassion but as a matter of duty and obligation.” (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 9:16-23; 1 Thess. 2:4)

Below that answer, I observed that “Here in Rom. 9:1-5, Paul expresses his compassion for his fellow Jews.” We can see Paul’s compassion for his fellows as admirable, and it certainly is admirable, but I do not think Paul wrote these emotional words in the inspired Scripture to highlight his own compassion. Rather, I think it is more likely that Paul told of his fervent desire for the salvation of his fellow Israelites to show that not even apostolic compassion or deep longing for another person’s salvation can influence God’s sovereign choice in election. Despite Paul’s most impassioned pleas and his deepest longings for the salvation of his fellow Israelites (see also Romans 10:1), God is always fully sovereign over the salvation of every human being.

THOUGHTS ON COMPASSION AND DUTY

[NOTE: In this section, “proclaim the gospel” (or something similar) refers to the believer’s intentional attempt to encounter the unsaved and to bring up topics or ideas related to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We might also call this “intentional evangelism.” The believer may be “scattering seeds” or he may be “reeling in a hooked fish,” but the gospel is in the believer’s mind and winning a lost soul to Christ is the ultimate aim of the effort. This is what I mean by “proclaiming the gospel.”]

So, let’s consider compassion. Compassion is good, but compassion is unreliable. My level of compassion ebbs and flows depending on my emotional level or my physical energy, and compassion varies widely from one individual to the next. In some, compassion may motivate to action, but in others, compassion, whether great or small, does not motivate. Notice, however, that in either case, compassion cannot save. Emotional feeling for the lost cannot save them. To be meaningful, compassion must compel us to proclaim the gospel to the lost, for it is the gospel that has the power to save (Romans 1:16). Compassion that remains divorced from action is simply a feeling.

Now consider duty. As a believer, it is my duty to be Christ’s witness (Acts 1:8), regardless of my level of compassion. It is simply a matter of responsibility, part of my “job description” as a worshiper of Jesus, whether I feel emotions about it or not. (Consider these verses: Matt. 4:19; 13:3; 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 9:15-23; 2 Cor. 5:20.)

Notice also that all Paul’s compassion and emotion for his fellow Israelites did not save a single soul and did not influence God’s sovereign choice in the slightest way. Romans 9:16 says, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy.” Thus, the Scripture explicitly says that salvation depends on God’s mercy, not on man’s compassion.

“Compassion is subjective, but command is objective.” This statement is not meant to dismiss human compassion, but rather is intended to put the emphasis where it will produce results. So, I witness to the lost because of the commands of Jesus Christ and because of the clear teaching of the New Testament (objective), rather than waiting until I feel compassion about the perilous position of the unsaved. To paraphrase, “To obey is better than compassion, and to fulfill your duty than to have fervent emotion” (modification of 1 Sam. 15:22). Compassion has no power to rescue the lost, but preaching the gospel, regardless of how I feel, “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16).

PRACTICAL APPLICATION IN A LOCAL CONGREGATION

With these thoughts fresh in our mind, how can we work with our congregation to make them more active in their evangelism, in “proclaiming the gospel?” My suggestion would be to make the congregation more aware of their biblical duty of witnessing for the Lord Jesus. That is, review those verses in the New Testament which make it clear that it is every believer’s duty to be a witness for the Lord Jesus and to be an ambassador for Christ. This means that the believer does not seek to win the lost primarily because they feel compassion for them, although the believer certainly should have compassion for those who are perishing. The disciple of Jesus does not sow the seed of the gospel primarily because of the emotion they feel for those outside Christ, although we should feel emotion for those outside of Christ. The believer is an ambassador for Christ and a fisher of men and a sower of the gospel seed and a witness for Jesus and a proclaimer of the excellencies of our gracious Redeemer primarily because of the believer’s love for Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the more we understand about our responsibility and our duty to be witnesses and ambassadors of the Lord Jesus, the more we will be compelled to reach the lost. So the leadership of the church (pastors and elders) focuses their teaching energies on making the congregation aware of our duty to our Lord to proclaim the gospel.

But awareness of a duty without equipping to fulfill that duty only produces guilt and resentment. So, the pastors and elders must go beyond awareness and must also train the congregation how to fulfill their duty. The leadership should provide means and methods for “proclaiming the gospel” so that the congregation can discharge their duty. This means that the leadership of the church (or other members of the church) should make available regular and tangible proclamation vehicles.

“Regular” means that proclamation vehicles are regularly scheduled on the church calendar. “Regular” also means that these opportunities for proclamation are preceded by training to equip the participants so that their experience is edifying and successful.

“Tangible” means that the proclaiming activity gives the participant the sense that they meaningfully participated in a bona fide evangelism event. The goal is for participants to have the sense that they genuinely proclaimed the gospel and discharged their duty to their King.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2022                     #538

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

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

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

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

UNFAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES

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

NOT DEPENDENT ON PAUL

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

THIS ONE INSTANCE IMPLIES ALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENVY, STRIFE, AND SELFISH AMBITION

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

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

PURE GOSPEL, BUT WRONG MOTIVES

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

SUMMARY OF THE PASSAGE

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

SDG                 rmb                 5/18/2022                   #532

Reaching those in religion

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

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

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

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

RELIGION ENCOUNTERED AND DEFINED

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

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

Let’s consider this definition for a second.

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

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

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

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

RELIGIOUS SELF-IDENTITY

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

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

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

Unless . . .

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

ONE GOSPEL CONVERSATION AWAY

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

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

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

A POSSIBLE STRATEGY FOR REACHING THOSE IN RELIGION

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

SDG                 rmb                 5/5/2022                     #526

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

Musings on friendship evangelism – Part 1

INTRODUCTION. A series of posts sharing some personal thoughts on evangelism and on some of the potential sticking points of “friendship evangelism.” This first post is on the problem of mixed motives in friendship evangelism.

Our church has three pillars to our general ministry: evangelism, discipleship, and Christian hospitality. Since these pillars are central to our ministry, our pastors frequently talk about these from the front, and those in the pews are exhorted to make sharing your faith and proclaiming the gospel a normal part of the life of every Christian. Like every church, we do not do this perfectly, but the heart of those in the congregation is bent toward telling unbelievers about Jesus.

FRIENDSHIP EVANGELISM

One of the common strategies for evangelism is “friendship evangelism.” This is the idea of making friends with unbelievers in your neighborhood or at work or at the gym or whatever, with the hope of gradually introducing them to spiritual topics and going through Bible studies with them so that they come to faith in Christ. It is a good strategy, especially for those who are naturally friendly, because it is done for the right motive, namely, to lead unbelievers to Christ. The believer remains focused on the gospel and how he or she can present the gospel to their unbelieving friend. The believer prays for the unbeliever and has others in the church praying for the unbeliever, that their eyes would be opened and that they would come to faith. These are all positive points to commend this approach.

STICKING POINTS

But, while friendship evangelism is a good strategy for church members to pursue, I have observed that there are also some sticking points that should be considered and addressed when using this evangelism approach.

  1. Mixed motives (the evangelist and the unbeliever)
  2. Radar goes up (the most significant “sticking point”)
  3. When do you decide to abandon this friendship because you have determined it is not going to bear fruit?
  4. If you need to disengage, how do you disengage (awkward, at best)

MIXED MOTIVES. The issue here is a feeling of a lack of integrity or a lack of sincerity on the part of the evangelist. The cliché is, “Am I viewing this person as a friend or as a ‘project’?” Implicit in the cliché is the assumption that Jesus or Paul or any “sincere” evangelist would never befriend someone merely for the purpose of bringing them to salvation.

But no matter how it is worded, there exists a certain tension here for the evangelist.

  • “Am I a friend first, or an evangelist first?”
  • “Is the friendship the goal, or is proclaiming the gospel the goal?”
  • “When do I stop pouring energy into the friendship and start pouring energy into the evangelism?”
  • “If I have built a friendship that does not include evangelism, how do I continue the friendship that now includes evangelism?”
  • “What happens if my evangelism threatens the friendship?”
  • And then, even more concerning, “What happens if the friendship silences or muffles my evangelism?”

Another consideration in this point of mixed motives involves the perceptions of the unbeliever whom the evangelist is befriending. Hopefully, this person is aware that their new friend is a genuine Christian, but this should not be assumed. The unbeliever may be surprised if the believer suddenly starts talking about “religion.” If the unbeliever is aware that their new friend is a Christian, is an unspoken condition of the friendship that the believer keep their faith to themselves? Also, the unbeliever may wonder, “Why is this person being so friendly to me (now)? (I wonder what they want?)” What will happen to the friendship when the believer begins to proclaim Christ? Will the unbeliever feel used and betrayed because the “real agenda” is now out in the open?

PROPOSED SOLUTION TO MIXED MOTIVES

Since these feelings of mixed motives are common to those who proclaim the gospel through friendship evangelism, I would propose two remedies. First, ask those in your church who have the most experience with friendship evangelism how they have overcome this potential sticking point in their own evangelism. Second, I would recommend that a brainstorming group be formed from those in your church who are most active in evangelism, and that this group discuss these ideas about mixed motives, considering personal experience and Scriptural instruction.

NOTE: No method of evangelism is perfect, so it is possible that there is no “silver bullet” for this sticking point, or for any sticking point. That means that the possible result of asking and brainstorming is to confirm that there is no solution to this sticking point. It is simply inherent in this method of evangelism. And that would be fine.

NEXT POST: The next post in this series will consider the other “sticking points” and how we can overcome them or minimize them in our evangelism.

SDG                 rmb                 3/24/2022                   #507

Baptism in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) – Part 2

This article, “Baptism in the Great Commission,” will be a part of my next book to be published in late summer, A Look at Biblical Baptism.

INTRODUCTION. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives to His church not only their mission for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives them the strategy for accomplishing that mission. In my last post on the Great Commission (#504 on March 18, 2022), I looked at the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s commission to His church. Now I will look at the individual pieces of His church growth plan.

MAKE DISCIPLES – THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH

Jesus’ mission for His church is to make disciples. Since that is His command, His church needs to understand what He means by “disciple.”

It is often said that Jesus did not command us to make converts, but to make disciples. The intent behind this statement is to make sure that the goal of our ministry is to produce mature followers of Jesus who are obedient to the teaching of the Bible and who are faithful witnesses to Jesus. That is, the goal is not just to coax people to give a nod to Jesus but is to see people give their entire lives to Jesus and to manifest that by the visible means of worship and witness and obedience. Therefore, this distinction between “convert” and “disciple” is a worthwhile distinction, especially since Christians have been known to count conversions as the number of people who prayed a certain prayer. In this sense, there should be a distinction between “convert” and “disciple.”

In Matthew 28:19, however, a “disciple” is, in simplest terms, a convert. The meaning of “disciple” in the context of “make disciples” means “make people who have confessed Jesus as Lord” (Romans 10:9).  Make people who have passed from death to life (John 5:24). Make people who have been born again (John 3:3). Make people who have believed in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31). Make people who have been “made alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). Make people who have been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). Make people “who were lost and have been found” (Luke 15:24). Make people who have repented and believed in the gospel (Mark 1:15). The point is that the church is to proclaim the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 24:14; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47) to the end that many will believe (John 20:31). In the context of Matthew 28:19, a “disciple” is simply one who has believed the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

The mission for the church, then, from Jesus’ ascension to the end of the age, is to make disciples. But if the church is to make those who have believed in Jesus, the question becomes, “How are we to go about making these disciples?” In His commission, Jesus gives a three-fold strategy for this.

GO! (GOING TO THE PEOPLE / TO THE LOST)

According to Jesus, the church’s first activity is to go out to “all the nations” (Greek πάντα τὰ ἔθνη) and proclaim to them the gospel. This is the activity of evangelism, of telling unbelievers the good news of salvation so that those who are currently outside of Christ “will call upon the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13, then 10:14-15) and be saved. Therefore, the church must go and proclaim. The existing disciples are to go anywhere and everywhere proclaiming the gospel to those who are not disciples so that they will make disciples. The goal is that, by going and proclaiming the gospel, some will believe and thus become disciples. The church is to continue going and proclaiming and making disciples until Jesus comes back at the end of the age.

The fruit of going and proclaiming is that some will believe and thus become disciples. According to Jesus’ strategy for accomplishing the Great Commission, what happens then?

BAPTIZING THE DISCIPLES

It is unmistakably clear that, according to Jesus, the next step is to baptize the new disciples. Jesus commands the church to make disciples, then He says, “Baptizing them.” “Them” is the disciples who have just been made. Once it is verified that a person has believed and thus has been made a disciple, according to Jesus, that person is to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Why does Jesus’ strategy include baptism here?

First, because baptism serves as the sign that tells the world that this person is now a disciple of Jesus. The one baptized now identifies with Jesus, and they have decisively separated themselves from the world and joined themselves with the disciples of Jesus. Baptism also tells the church that this person is now one of them. Finally, baptism declares to the one baptized that they have forever left the world of the unbaptized. They have “come out of the closet,” so to speak. They have gone public. They have openly confessed Jesus Christ as Lord of their life and have then been plunged beneath the waters of baptism. They have been “buried unto death in Christ, rise again to walk in newness of life.” The old is gone, the new is come (2 Cor. 5:17), and there is no turning back to the old again.

But second, Jesus commands that disciples be baptized at this point in their spiritual journey because baptism is the sign that marks the successful end of evangelism and the beginning of discipleship. The church has been proclaiming the gospel to this person in the hopes of seeing this one come to faith and repentance, and the person’s baptism declares that evangelism has obtained its intended end and the person has come to faith. This person has been sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22) and is, therefore, ready to begin the process of discipleship. Now the disciple becomes part of the church and begins to learn what it means “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

Finally, according to Jesus, what is the next step in His church growth strategy?

TEACHING THE DISCIPLES HOW TO BE DISCIPLES

Jesus declares to His church (Matthew 28:20) that, after the disciple has publicly professed their faith through baptism, there is the responsibility of “teaching them (disciples) to observe (or “obey”) all that I commanded you.” But where and how will this “teaching to observe all” take place? What is the strategy for this?

The strategy for teaching disciples how to obey the Lord Jesus is called the local church. Now, “having been justified by faith” (Romans 5:1), the new disciple is as justified as they ever will be. They have also testified to their justification (salvation, conversion) through the waters of baptism (Romans 6:4), but they are brand new in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, as a physical newborn relies on its parents to teach it everything the newborn needs to know to survive, so the spiritual newborn relies upon the church to teach him everything he needs to know to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4b), to obey the Lord Jesus, and to behave as a witness for Christ. Therefore, the Lord Jesus has given His children the organism of the local church, the ἐκκλησία, where existing disciples teach and encourage newer disciples so that the entire church “causes the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). The local church, then, is the place where disciples of the Lord Jesus mutually encourage one another and teach one another to observe (obey) all that Jesus has commanded us. But the existing disciples of the local church are also those who go anywhere and everywhere proclaiming the gospel to those who are not disciples so that the existing disciples will make new disciples. In this way, the process of church growth perpetuates itself, as Jesus Christ said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).

A CHURCH-GROWTH PLAN WITH BAPTISM IN THE CENTER

What we have seen is that, in the Great Commission, given to His church by the resurrected Jesus Christ, the Lord has given us much more than a command for evangelism. He has given His people a church-growth plan for the entire age, and there is no piece of the Master’s plan that is not vital to the accomplishment of the church’s God-given task. The Great Commission is about making disciples by going out and proclaiming the gospel (evangelism), baptizing those who profess Christ, and then teaching these disciples what it means to live as disciples of Jesus (discipleship).

We have seen that baptizing disciples is commanded by the Lord so that the church and the world can identify those who are disciples of Jesus and so that the church can know whom to teach the doctrines, beliefs, and behaviors of the disciple of Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 3/21/2022                   #506

Baptism in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) – Part 1

This article will be a part of my next book to be published in late summer, A Look at Biblical Baptism.

INTRODUCTION. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives to His church not only their mission for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives them the strategy for accomplishing that mission. The purpose of this post is to see how Jesus’ strategy is contained in the Great Commission and why baptism is a vital part of the church’s mission.

THE PASSAGE ITSELF

Here is the passage in Greek and in English.

(Greek)

19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν: 

καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

(English)

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Notice that, in Jesus’ final and supreme charge to His church, our Lord gives them their mission and the God-ordained strategy for accomplishing the mission.

EXEGESIS

Before we begin considering the meaning and application of Jesus’ words, we need to spend a brief time making sure we understand what the words themselves mean.

There is one imperative verb in Jesus’ commission. Many readers will know that the only command is, “Make disciples!” The other verbs in English are actually participles and are not commands but serve as instructions for how to accomplish the command. Thus, a rough paraphrase could read, “Make disciples by going (to anyplace the people are), baptizing them (the disciples that you have made), and then teaching them (the disciples) to obey My commands.” Jesus finishes His commission by assuring His disciples that He is “with them always, even to the end (completion, culmination, consummation) of the age.”

I will use this interpretation as the working meaning of the Great Commission. Now that we have the meaning in hand, we will move on to a deeper understanding of its outworking in the growth of the church.

MISSION AND STRATEGY TILL THE END OF THE AGE

Before we look at the individual steps in the Great Commission, it is important to realize that, in this magnificent charge to His church in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives not only the mission of the church for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives the church His strategy for accomplishing that mission. The Lord’s plan for building His church is clear and simple. His plan operates in any context: urban, rural, or suburban; subsistence farming, industrial age manufacturing, or Cloud-based technologies; rich or poor; in any language, in any culture, on any continent, under any form of government, in any ethnicity. Make disciples (mission) by (three-fold strategy) going out and proclaiming the gospel, then baptizing the disciples (those who believe), then teaching the disciples how to obey the Lord and to walk worthy of the gospel.

This post looked at the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s commission to His church. In the next post, we will now look at the individual pieces of His church growth plan.

SDG                 rmb                 3/18/2022                   #504