Rightly Dividing The Word
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I would like to invite you to examine God's Word, the Bible, along with me. Even if you are not certain if God exists or that the Bible is true, I hope you will open your heart and mind to the possibility that you need to know Jesus and consider accepting God's Free Gift of Eternal Life.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone is the unique concept that separates Christianity from all other religions. Beginning in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness using fig leaves (by their own effort); God showed them that their works could not cover their sin. He made clothing of animal skins to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. In this act we see that God is the prime mover in the salvation process. In systematic theology the doctrines pertaining to salvation are referred to as soteriology.
Within the field of soteriology we can discover God’s overall plan of salvation for mankind. This study includes the concepts of election, conversion, justification, regeneration, union with Christ, adoption into God’s family, the sanctification process, the perseverance of the saints and the means of grace. In this paper we will primarily look at the doctrine of justification.
Justification comes from the root word “just” which means to be morally right, within the bounds of the law or proper in nature. “Justify” means to declare to be free of blame or to absolve. It carries with it the idea of there being a legally sufficient reason for this declaration. The dictionary definition of justification is: “the act of justifying … the condition or fact of being justified” and it also may mean “a fact or circumstance that justifies.”
From a Protestant Reformed Christian theological perspective, justification may be defined as: “that act of God whereby he declares righteous him who believes in Christ.” Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology states: “Justification is the declaring of a person to be just or righteous. It is a legal term signifying acquittal…” The Tyndale Bible Dictionary states that justification is: “The act of God in bringing sinners into a new covenant relationship with himself through the forgiveness of sins. It is a declarative act of God by which he establishes persons as righteous—that is, in right and true relationship to himself.”
Justification consists of two primary elements. First there is the forgiveness of sin and the removal of sin’s guilt and also the elimination of the eternal punishment for a believer’s sin. In addition God imputes to the justified believer the righteousness of Jesus Christ and restores him or her back into God’s favor.
Many theologians, bible teachers and pastors have tried to develop a workable illustration for the concept of justification. Perhaps the best illustration I have discovered is that of a judge pronouncing a verdict of: “Not guilty!” Justification is not something that a man or woman does, or even can do for him or herself. It is a legal statement made about an individual by God. God, the judge, declares that, in His eyes, we are not guilty of our sins. Our slate has been wiped clean just as if we had never committed a sin. But, in addition to the judge pronouncing the sinner as innocent, God also gives us something positive. He pays our fine and He also puts His unlimited resources (His righteousness and His grace) in our account.
In Romans 3:24 Paul tells us that those who believe in Jesus Christ are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” Later on, in the fourth chapter of Romans, he says that righteousness is “imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”
The Greek word that is translated “justification” in Romans 4:25 and Romans 5:18 is “dikaiosis.” According to Strong’s Concordance the meaning of “dikaiosis” is “the act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him.” An alternative meaning is: “abjuring (as with an oath) to be righteous, justification.” The Greek word “dikaiosis” is derived from “dikaioo” which comes from the root Greek word “dike.”
Dike (or Dice) was a Greek goddess. She was one of the goddesses of the seasons of the year and also one of the keepers of the entrance to heaven. Specifically Dike was seen by the Greeks as representing “justice, fair judgments and the rights established by custom and law.” The noun “dikaiosis” (justification) occurs only twice in the New Testament, but the Greek word “dike” and its derivatives are used more than 200 times. In addition to the English word “justification,” the Greek word “dike” and its related forms are also translated as: justify, be freed, be righteous, justifier, righteous, just, right, righteousness, ordinance and judgment.
The concept of justification can be seen as a legal decree or as a declaration that someone is righteous or just. But justification can also be viewed as an act that shows someone to be right or just. As with all Bible interpretation it is extremely important to derive the meaning of a word with reference to its overall context.
There are widely divergent views within the religious world as to how one achieves justification. The most prominent general concept is that a person needs to somehow be “good” and that, if their good deeds outweigh the bad, then they should be accepted into heaven. But that is not the literal Biblical basis for justification. In Romans we are told that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
In his book “The Gospel According to Grace,” Pastor Chuck Smith remarks: “No one can be justified by the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments. We’re already guilty before we even start. The law wasn’t given to justify us, but to expose our innate sinfulness. It reveals the fact that the whole world is guilty before God…The Law condemns all of us, and it points all of us to the only hope of salvation that we have – the grace and mercy of God and the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ.”
Catholics and Protestants have debated the issue of salvation and justification by grace alone versus the idea of justification by faith plus works. This was one of the major issues that sparked the Protestant Reformation. Catholics rely on baptism, communion, attending mass, confession of their sins to a priest and reciting certain prayers as an addition to their faith. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is:
“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “…baptism is necessary for salvation…” So it is quite clear that, at the very least, Roman Catholics believe that works must be added to faith for a person to be justified before God.
The Reformed Protestant position on salvation is that a person is immediately justified or declared to be righteous in God’s eyes at the moment of belief in the Gospel message. Works are not part of the Evangelical Christian salvation and justification equation.
The debate on the faith and works issue arises primarily from the interpretation of two key portions of Scripture. Throughout his writings the Apostle Paul is very clear that salvation and justification are attained by faith alone and that they are not the result of works. James, on the other hand, seems to teach that works are required for justification.
To make his point about justification by faith alone Paul uses the example of Abraham. In Romans Chapter 4 he states: “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…”
But James also uses Abraham to illustrate his contention that justification is through works. In Chapter 2 of his epistle he states: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?”
There is no doubt that, at first glance, these statements contradict each other. Martin Luther was so perplexed by this apparent contradiction that he chose to pretty much ignore James in building his theology of salvation by faith alone. He called the Book of James an epistle of “straw” and also said: “…I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle…”
The issue here, however, is not a difference in theology but a difference in viewpoint. Paul is looking at justification from God’s perspective while James is looking at the situation from man’s point of view. Both Paul and James use the same Greek work for “justified” in these two passages of Scripture and rightly so because the Greek language allows that this word has two different possible meanings. The meaning in a particular passage must be derived from the overall context.
C. S. Lewis says that “the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit; or, as we say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” As humans we cannot see forgiveness, we cannot see imputed righteousness, we cannot see justification. What we can see are the effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s life. James does not contradict Paul. He contrasts intellectual knowledge with true saving faith. Mere acknowledgement of a set of historical facts will not save anyone and James says that this type of faith is “dead.”
Jesus spoke of this dichotomy when he was talking with Nicodemus. He said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was confused by this statement and he asked Jesus: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” As a Pharisee Nicodemus wanted to follow God but he had been blinded by the traditions of men.
Jesus was looking at a spiritual rebirth and Nicodemus was thinking in the material realm. Jesus then gave a classic response that describes how human beings can have evidence in the material realm about what is happening behind the scenes in the spiritual world. He said: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Jesus was telling Nicodemus, and us as well, that a man who truly has faith and who is truly saved will demonstrate his justification through his actions.
What then is the Biblical process and how is justification achieved? The Bible tells us: “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” We also learn from Scripture that we have been “…justified by His blood…” and this statement refers to the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross of Calvary. In addition the Bible says that a man is “justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Also, we are told that as believers we are “…justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…”
How do a man’s works relate to salvation? Paul clears up the controversy in the Book of Ephesians. He tells us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
The fog has lifted and the concept is now clear. Justification is not a result of the works of the Law, it is by the grace of God, it is by the blood of Christ and it is by faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work at Calvary. However, when a person is saved and justified he is new creation and his actions will show evidence of what has already happened on the inside in his or her heart. The only “works” that are required by God that are related to justification are described by Jesus. He said: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
In summation of what we have learned: justification is a judicial act of God in which the believer is declared to be righteous. The Greek words used for justified and justification have two related and yet slightly different meanings. When Paul speaks of being justified he is looking at it from God’s perspective where believers are seen to be righteous. When James speaks of justification he is looking at it from man’s viewpoint. There should be evidence in a believer’s life that justification has taken place. If there is no evidence then it is questionable that faith, belief, salvation and justification have occurred. The Catholic viewpoint on justification is that faith alone is not sufficient and that faith must be coupled with works, but this position is not Biblical. The Reformed Protestant position is that works are not required and that faith alone is sufficient to justify the believer. Justification is achieved by faith alone, through God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ alone.
What are the results of justification and how can I, as an individual Christian, make application of the Bible truths about salvation in my daily life? As I read about the history of the Church and the development of various theological doctrines several thoughts come to mind which I have applied in my approach to Bible study. The first is to recall the words of Paul as he spoke to the elders of the church at Ephesus: “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”
It is very important for me to study the entire Bible. I grew up going to Sunday School at the Christian Science church. Christian Scientists engage in “cut and paste” theology. They will only read a portion of a verse and then a portion of another verse and then put together a false concept of God, man and Jesus. After I became a true Christian it took me several years of consistent study to flush this false theology out of my system.
Another area of application is that I must keep God’s promises in mind each and every day. I am a new creation in Christ and I need to act that way. I have been forgiven and, since God has forgiven me, I need to be careful not to condemn myself when I stumble. I have been restored back into God’s favor and I need to respond in love by serving God and others. I plan to continue to serve my church as a teacher and in the area of outreach. I plan to continue to serve my community as a member of our festival planning committee.
As a believer in Jesus Christ I have been given the righteousness of Jesus Christ as a free gift. But it is my responsibility to make righteous decisions every moment. I am enabled to do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Titus tells us that “having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
I have been assured of my future glorification. There is a place in Heaven that has been reserved for me. This life on planet earth has been given to me as a time of preparation for my eternal future in Heaven with Jesus. Because of this I need to have regular time in God’s Word and in personal communion with Him. I need to live each day looking for the Lord’s soon return. I need to be like the Bereans who "received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
Catholic Answers: “The Necessity of Baptism,” www.catholic.com/library.
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: “The Roman Catholic View On Justification,” www.carm.org/religious-movements/roman-catholic.
Clarke, Adam: Commentary on the New Testament. Cedar Rapids: Parsons Tech, 1999.
Elwell, Walter A.: Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids:
Baker Books, 1996.
Elwell, Walter A.: Comfort, Philip Wesley: Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001 (Tyndale Reference Library).
Enns, Paul P.: The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1997, 1989.
Evans, William; Coder, S. Maxwell: The Great Doctrines of the Bible. Enl. ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1998, 1974.
Farlex: “The Free Dictionary,” http://www.thefreedictionary.com.
Geisler, Norman L.; Nix, William E.: A General Introduction to the Bible. Rev. and expanded. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1986.
Gerstner, John: “History of the Doctrine of Justification,” www.apuritansmind.com.
Hodge, Charles: Systematic Theology. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Lewis, C. S.: Mere Christianity. New York: Harper Collins, 1952, 1980.
Schaff, Philip; Schaff, David Schley: History of the Christian Church. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Shelley, Bruce L.: Church History in Plain Language. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, 1995.
Smith, Chuck: The Word for Today Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Smith, Chuck: The Gospel According to Grace. Costa Mesa, CA: The Word For Today,
1981, 2002, 2007.
Strong, J.: Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Cedar Rapids: Parsons Tech., 2003.
Swain, James: “Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture,” www.ntrmin.org.
The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Nashville: Nelson, 1982
Thiessen, H.C.: Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949, c1979.
Torrey, R.A.: Difficulties in the Bible: Alleged Errors and Contradictions. Willow Grove: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1998, c1996.
Theoi Project: “Dike,” http://www.theoi.com/Ouranios/HoraDike.html.
Wilmington, H. L.: Wilmington’s Bible Handbook. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997.
Friday, March 5, 2010
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Friday, February 12, 2010
The New Living Translation reads: *For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes--Jews first and also Gentiles.* (Rom. 1:16 – NLT)
Will you please join me in prayer? Heavenly Father, we love you and we want to know more about you. Thank you for your word given to us in the Bible. We believe that your word is true. Please open our hearts and minds to what you have to share with us today. May your Holy Spirit show us how we can put Your words into practice in our lives. In Jesus Name - Amen
Today we are going to look at some of the reasons why first century Christians might have been ashamed of the Gospel and then the situation today in our own country and culture. Next we will define The Gospel message itself and then deal with some objections and concerns that Christians have about evangelism.
As I was looking at Romans 1:16 one of the first questions I asked was: *Why did Paul even mention being ashamed of the Gospel?* After all, isn*t Paul the bold, fearless apostle who hiked thousands of miles telling people the Good News about Christ and planting churches throughout Asia and Europe. What did he have to be ashamed of?
In the first century it was the height of absurdity to say that the world was saved by a peasant Jew that was crucified by the Romans. At that point in time the Jews were totally despised by everyone but themselves. When Paul went to Mars Hill and began to preach to the philosophers they essentially asked: *Who is this *seed picker* that is bringing strange things to our ears.* (See Acts 17:16-33)
Mars Hill (part of the Acropolis of Athens) is a very impressive place. Some of the temples to the Greek gods have been standing for more than 2,500 years. Paul going there and speaking with the most learned people of his age would be like one of us going to Oxford and telling the academic community that they are all wrong and that the solution to all of the world*s problems is found in a Jewish carpenter who was executed as a criminal. We would get laughed right off the campus. The interesting thing to me is that some of the philosophers did believe.
Paul is writing this letter (The Epistle to the Romans) to the church in Rome. Rome was the seat of political power for the entire Roman Empire. Throughout the Roman world Christians were the subject of persecution. In many cases they were ostracized by their families, they often lost their means of income and they were in constant physical danger. During his ministry Paul himself was ridiculed, beaten, stoned, jailed and eventually executed.
Under the reign of Emperor Caesar Nero the execution of Christians was a form of public entertainment. Some were killed by covering them with skins of wild animals and letting dogs tear them apart. Others were covered with pitch, attached to stakes and used as human torches. I remember several years ago standing in the Coliseum in Rome and thinking about all of our brave brothers and sisters in Christ who were not ashamed of the Gospel no matter what the consequences.
Some people during that time decided it was better to blend in with the rest of the culture than to become a true Christian and be a witness of the basic, simple and yet foolish sounding message of the Gospel. Others preached a different Jesus or a different Gospel. The Judaizers added the Law to the Gospel and the Gnostics claimed that they had a higher understanding.
What was Paul*s answer to these challenges? He said that another Gospel was *…no Gospel at all.* (Gal. 1:7 - NIV) He also warned believers: *See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.* (Col.2:8 - NIV)
Paul had an eternal perspective. He knew he needed to be faithful to his calling from God and that God would take care of the details. He told Timothy: *Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.* (2 Timothy 4:8 - NIV)
We have look at things from a first century perspective. What is the situation in the United States today? Do we have reasons to be ashamed of the Gospel? Here are a few recent examples of why we might be tempted to be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A high school student in Florida was suspended for handing out religious literature before and after - but not during - school hours. A Christian employee of Hewlett Packard was fired for posting Bible verses on his desk. When we say *Merry Christmas* to those outside of our church family the answer is often a quizzical look and the politically correct response *Happy Holidays.*
God*s truth about creation cannot be taught in the public schools. It has been replaced with the secular humanistic theory about evolution which is taught as fact event though it cannot be proven to be true. The Reverend Patrick Mahoney was arrested for praying on the steps of the Supreme Court. In my personal experience, when I mentioned the Bible recently to one of my co-workers, he said: *Isn*t that just a bunch of myths and fables?*
Unfortunately many church leaders today are responding to these challenges by becoming friends with the world. They try to mix psychology and Christianity. They try to find ways to mesh creation and evolution. They preach messages that do not use supposedly offensive words like sin, repent, holy and wrath. They use marketing surveys to try and determine *felt needs.* They advise Christians to avoid using Scripture when they share the Gospel.
James does not pull any punches as he tells us God*s view on this subject. He says: *…don*t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.* (James 4:4 - NIV)
Christians are supposed to have discernment. No matter what we read in a so-called Christian book, no matter what we hear on Christian or secular radio or TV or in a message from a pastor we need to filter it through the lens of the Bible (See Acts 17:11).
Now our next topic: What is the basic Gospel message that is so offensive to the world at large? Since we are in the first chapter of Romans let*s go to the top of the page and look at the first few verses. In verse 1, we find that Paul is *called* and the he is *set apart for the gospel of God.* In verse 2 we discover that the Gospel was promised by the prophets in the Old Testament. In verse 3 we find that the Gospel is about God*s Son who is both divine and also the descendant of King David in his human nature.
Verse 4 gets closer to the meat of the Gospel so let*s read it: *…and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.* (Rom. 1:4 – NIV)
In verse 5 Paul speaks about his calling and we see the word *grace* which is the very essence of the Gospel message and then in verses 6 and 7 Paul indicates that believers are called to belong to Jesus Christ, they are loved by God and they are called to be saints.
Let*s skip down to the most exciting part of the Gospel message. The statement that changed the lives of Martin Luther, John Wesley and many others – Romans 1:17: *For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: *The righteous will live by faith.** (Rom. 1:17 – NIV)
Just think about that for a moment – not our righteousness but God*s righteousness given to us by faith! In the words of one of my favorite Michele Pillar songs: *When He sees me, He sees His righteousness. He sees His Holy Spirit filling up the emptiness. And when He looks at me, He sees the blood He shed. I know He sees Himself each time He looks at me!*
Most of us are familiar with the words of Jesus in John 3:16: *For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.* (John 3:16 – NIV) To get the more complete picture of the Gospel message in this passage we also need to continue with verses 17 and 18: *For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God*s one and only Son.* (John 3:17-18 – NIV)
The central issue of the Gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 15 of the Book of 1 Corinthians verses 1 through 5 Paul writes: *Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.* (1 Cor. 1:1-5 – NIV) Paul was very careful to state that he was passing on exactly the Gospel he had received.
To sum up what we need to know about the Gospel let*s look at Ephesians 2:8 - 10: *For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God*s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.* (Eph. 2:8-10) We are not saved by our works but when we are saved we are called to do good works.
All of us are called to let others know about the Good News of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus said in Mark 16:15: *…Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.* (Mark 16:15 – NIV)
In this verse the Greek word translated preach is *KAH-ruh-SO.* This word speaks of being a herald, officiating as a herald, or proclaiming after the manner of a herald. The word carries with it the concept of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed. In the ancient world, before the days of radio and television, official decrees from the government were proclaimed to the citizens by heralds. The herald had an official duty and if he altered the message or failed to proclaim it he could be punished by death.
Jesus* command to us is really just letting us know that we are to do as Jesus did. The first message of Jesus recorded by Mark is: *The time has come … The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!* (Mark 1:15) Jesus was acting as a herald of the Gospel and we should do the same thing.
So let*s summarize with a broad brush what these verses tell us about the Gospel message: Heaven is a free gift from God but to enter Heaven God demands perfection. We cannot get there by our own efforts. All of us have sinned. We have all broken God*s commandments and we are all guilty. The penalty for our sin is death.
God is loving and merciful but He is also just. He must punish our sin but He loved us so much that He made a way for us to spend eternity in Heaven with Him. Jesus Christ is both 100% God and 100% man. He came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, was buried and then rose again.
His blood paid the price for all of our sins and purchased a place in heaven for us. His resurrection demonstrated that God was pleased with His sacrifice and looks forward to our own resurrection.
Every person can have the free gift of Heaven and eternal life. It is available to all but it is not automatic. We have a choice. We can receive the free gift - we can repent, turn towards God, believe that Jesus died for our sins and trust in Him alone for our eternal life. Our other choice is to reject Jesus (or just to do nothing) in which case we are already under the judgment of God and we will experience God*s wrath.
As Christians we have not just *Good News* but really fantastic news to share with others. Every other religious system in the world is based, in some way, on individual effort. It is do, do, do and if there is a Heaven and maybe if you are good enough, you might get there.
The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really one word: *DONE!* Jesus did it all. When we believe in Jesus and trust Him alone for our eternal life God gives us the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
We cannot ever do enough good things to be righteous enough to earn God*s favor. As believers our righteousness is God*s righteousness. It is given to us as a free gift because of God*s grace and faith in Jesus. Our salvation is not based on just faith – it rests on the object of that faith – Jesus Christ.
We have looked at the situation in the first century, in America today and also at the basic Gospel message. Next we will take up concerns Christians have about sharing their faith.
As Christians we are official ambassadors of Jesus Christ (See 2 Cor. 5:20). We are called by Him to herald the Good News. So why are we ashamed to tell others about the free gift of heaven and eternal life? Let*s look at five concerns and also at some possible solutions.
First, many of us really don*t want to be involved in evangelism. We read about what Jesus has told us to do, we hear messages about the Great Commission and we may even attend classes about sharing Jesus with others. The bottom line is that we do not have a burden for the lost. If we were being completely honest with ourselves we would probably have to admit we just don*t care.
If we do not care about our friends, family and neighbors who are lost we are not following Jesus* example. Mark tells us in his Gospel: *When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.* (Mark 6:34 - NIV) Jesus cared enough to tell people with words how to be saved.
How do we solve this issue? Through prayer. Jesus tells us to *bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.* (Luke 6:28 – NIV) The world may not like us but we are commanded to bless them and pray for them. Make a list of people that you need to share the Gospel with. Ask the Lord to open the door of opportunity for you.
Second, we think we don*t know enough, we don*t know what to say and we think that it is the Pastor*s job to preach the Gospel, right? This is sort of like having a Moses syndrome. Did God let Moses off the hook? No.
Peter tells us: *Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…* (1 Peter 3:15 – NIV) David says in Psalm 119: *I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.* (Ps. 119:11 – NIV)
Here is my question – are you reading your Bible every single day? Not sharing the Gospel is a sin of omission. Start memorizing Scripture. Develop your own brief personal testimony. Be ready when a door opens.
One caution about sharing with others. In Romans 1:1 Paul tells us that he is *set apart for the Gospel of God.* (Rom. 1:1 – NIV) Many Christians seem to be set apart not FOR the Gospel but FROM the Gospel. They focus on talking about their views on political hot button issues like same sex marriage or abortion. The Gospel is about Jesus Christ. Keep the main thing as the main thing. Don*t get side tracked and spend time going in circles on rabbit trails.
Now the third concern, some of us do not know very many non-Christians. We talk a lot about relational evangelism or friendship evangelism but who do we hang out with most of the time? Our friends from church, the members of our home fellowship or Community Life group and the people we serve with in ministry here at church.
But, we are not supposed to totally isolate ourselves from everyone who is not a Christian. Jesus prayed in John 17: *My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.* (John 17:15 – NIV) Get involved in your child*s school, volunteer to serve at the Senior Center, help out with the local community festival. We need to be intentional about getting out of our comfort zone and making friends.
How well do you know your next door neighbors or the people across the street? Have a neighborhood barbeque or open house, start a Bible study, take food to someone who is sick. Pray for God*s leading and then take action.
Fourth, we are concerned about what others might think of us if we admit we are Christians or that they might be offended if we ask them questions about their spiritual beliefs and share our faith. Here is what Paul has to say on the subject: *Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.* (Gal. 1:10 – NIV))
From my own personal standpoint I am much more interested about what God thinks than what my neighbors or co-workers my think. Here is what our Lord has to say: *If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father*s glory with the holy angels.* (Mark 8:38 - NIV)
Our fears are mostly the result of spiritual warfare. The last thing the enemy want is for us to share Jesus with others. Our primary offensive weapons in spiritual warfare are the Word of God and prayer (See Eph. 6:16-17). Pray for the peace of God.
Paul tells us: *Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.* (Phil 4:6-7 - NIV)
The other side of this coin is that Jesus told us that the world would hate us (See John 15:18 – NKJV). If everybody loves you, no one ever gets upset with you and you are never persecuted for your faith you may want to ask yourself if Jesus is really shining through you? You may have your lamp hidden under a bowl or in a jar? (See Luke 8:16)
Now for the fifth and final objection – our fear of failure. Surveys show that this is probably the number one reason we do not tell others about Jesus. We must remember that evangelism is not about us. It is all about God. God elects who will be saved (See Rom. 11:17). God calls people to salvation (See Rom. 8:28). The Holy Spirit convicts people of their sins (See John 16:8). God gives a person the faith to believe (See Eph. 2:8). Yes, there is the area of human responsibility – everyone has a choice (See 2 Thes. 2:12). But their choice is not up to you. Your job is to proclaim the message. You are the ambassador but you are not the King. You are only His messenger, the herald that God has chosen. But the power is not in the messenger – it is in the message itself.
The word translated as *power* (in Rom. 1:16) is the Greek word *du-nah-mes.* It speaks of inherent power, power residing in something by the virtue of its nature, power for performing miracles. It is the root for our English words dynamite and dynamic.
This is why it is critical to use God*s Word when we share the Good News. The power is in the word of God. The Gospel is *…the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.* (Rom. 1:16 – NIV) *…the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.* (Heb. 4:12 - NIV) The prophet Isaiah records what God thinks about the power of His Word: *so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.* (Isaiah 55:11 - NIV)
When we voice our own opinion and our own ideas we can get ourselves into trouble. We may actually be interfering with what God wants to do. When we speak God*s Word we are speaking with God*s authority. God *wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.* (1 Tim. 2:4 - NIV) But not everyone will be saved because *Many are called but few are chosen.* (Mat. 22:14 - NIV) But we have a responsibility to proclaim God*s message. Jude tells us to: *Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them…* (Jude 1:23 - NIV)
Let*s see what this concept of snatching people from the fire looks like. You are walking down the street in your neighborhood and you notice some of your neighbors up on their second floor balcony. They are barbequing some steaks, drinking beer and watching the super bowl game on TV.
You also notice that there is some smoke coming out of a window on the ground floor of their home. You pray about what to do. The smoke on the ground floor is now flames. You decide to be a witness for Jesus through your lifestyle. You go home, get your Bible and walk up and down in front of your neighbor*s home reading passages about loving your neighbor as yourself. You smile and hope they will notice you.
The fire has now consumed a portion of the first floor of your neighbor*s home and is spreading rapidly. You decide that it would be a good community service project to demonstrate how to fight a fire and maybe your neighbors will get the idea. You get some paper and a match and a fire extinguisher, go back to your neighbor*s house, stand out in front of the balcony, light the paper on fire and then put it out with the extinguisher.
By this time the first floor of the neighbor*s house is fully engulfed in flames. But there is one outside stairway from the balcony down to the ground that is still intact. It is the only way out. But your neighbors are still blissfully ignorant of the entire situation. Are you getting the point? You need to clearly warn them (with words) not just actions that their house is on fire and that they had better make a choice to go to the only escape route and get out of the house quickly or they will die. You may even have to get their attention by running up the stairs where they are so they can hear the words you are speaking. Now that they know the situation the choice is up to them. They can die or they can be saved.
Now I know that this illustration may sound a little bit far fetched. But it typifies the attitude of many Christians towards evangelism and the Gospel. We don*t see the urgency. We get wrapped up in learning about how to share our faith and we spend time supposedly earning the right to talk to others about Jesus while every non-Christian is in a spiritual house that is burning down.
Take your responsibility personally. Paul did – three times in his writings he refers to the Gospel as *my gospel.* (See Rom. 2:16) People need someone to tell them how to be saved - that someone is you, that someone is me and the time is now!
During our study so far we have looked at the concept of not being ashamed of the Gospel. We started in the first century, moved to the 21st century, defined the basic Gospel message and dealt with some common concerns about sharing our faith.
Today – right now - approximately 150,000 people in this world will die. Statistics show that perhaps 1/3 of the world is Christian. This means that at least 100,000 of these people will die without believing in Jesus Christ. Your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors who are not saved will spend eternity being tormented and separated from God.
Despite the declarations of some liberal theologians there is a final judgment. Revelation 20:15 tells us: *If anyone*s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.* (Rev. 20:15) – NIV) While I have been sharing this message more than 1,400 people have died without being saved and are on their way to Hell.
Have we answered our initial question? Are Christians today ashamed of the Gospel? The answer is *Yes.* Many are ashamed. I know that there have been many times that I knew I should tell others about Jesus but have been reluctant to do so.
We need to stop being so concerned about what others might think of us and think about the eternal well being of those around us. We need to prepare ourselves and pray for God to open hearts and minds to the life changing message of Jesus.
In the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit we must stop being ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is not *God helps those who help themselves.* The Gospel is not *do unto others as you would have them do unto you.* The Gospel is not living out the phrase *what would Jesus do?* The Gospel is what Jesus has already DONE! We need to let the world know starting in our own neighborhood with words.
Will you please join me in prayer? Heavenly Father, we come before you in the Name of your precious Son Jesus Christ. We thank you for providing Him as the only means of salvation. Lord, help us to have a burden for the lost. Give us your strength and your courage so that we will not be ashamed of the Gospel. Fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for you. Open the doors of opportunity for us to share your plan of salvation with others. Amen.
Horton, Michael: Christless Christianity, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008.
Laurie, Greg: Equipping Believers to Impact Their World, Riverside, CA: Harvest Ministries.
MacArthur, John: Ashamed of the Gospel, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993.
Pillar, Michelle: When He Sees Me, 1991
Smith, Chuck: The Gospel According to Grace, Costa Mesa, CA: The Word For Today, 2007.
This message was presented at Friday Chapel on February 12, 2010 at Cypress Church, 6143 Ball Road, Cypress, CA 90630. For more information about the Gospel or if you would like to receive Jesus Christ as your savior please visit: http://www.Decision4Jesus.com
Scripture quotations marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are from The New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Many people believe that they are entitled to have good things. When the unexpected occurs they feel that life is just not fair. Most of us have heard that God is good and loving and we blame Him when things don’t go our way. So why do bad things happen anyway?
Some would say that because bad things happen then God (who is supposed to be good) must not even exist. The church I attended as a child took a different approach. They denied the very existence of anything that was not perfectly good.
The problem lies in our limited human understanding and in how we define the word “good.” We think that anything that causes pain or suffering is bad and that things that make us happy are good. But the truth of the matter is diametrically opposed to this viewpoint.
God defined all of creation including man as “good” in the Book of Genesis. Jesus told the rich young ruler: “Only God is truly good.” (Mark 10:18 – NLT)
The Bible tells us: “No good thing will the LORD withhold from those who do what is right.” (Psalms 84:11) The Apostle Paul writes: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 – NLT)
We have an example of this principle in the Book of Genesis. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Conventional wisdom would say that this was a “bad” thing. But later on, because God was in ultimate control of the circumstances, Joseph was in a position to save the lives of his entire family. Joseph told his brothers “God turned into good what you meant for evil.” (Genesis 50:20 – NLT)
Joseph’s brothers were acting in a sinful, evil manner when they sold him into slavery. The apparent bad thing that happened was the result of their sinful choices. But God was and is able to turn the tables.
The bottom line on this issue is that God is in control. He is, by definition, good. When we accept the “Good News,” the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are “doing right” and are in a position to receive good things from God. Even suffering, pain and things we formerly saw a bad we now understand are being used for our ultimate good as God is shaping our character to be more like that of Jesus Christ.
If we are trusting in ourselves, or in a god that is the figment of our imagination, then we have actually put ourselves under the control of Satan and he is trying to work his evil plan through us.
If we trust in Jesus Christ alone for our eternal life, we have joined God’s Kingdom and we will experience true joy both now and in the future. Our happiness will not depend on circumstances but on our eternal perspective. As Jesus has told us: “The thief's (Satan’s) purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10 – NLT)
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Monday, November 9, 2009
A good friend of mine was planning and saving for retirement for many years. Just two years after he took his pension he died of prostate cancer.
On September 11th of 2001 thousands of people got on the train, subway, taxi or personal car and went to work just like every other Tuesday morning in their life. Others boarded airplanes for a vacation or business trip as they had done many times before. Unfortunately many of these same individuals did not live to eat their lunch much less go home to their families or retire in comfort.
We discover in God’s Word (The Bible) the He (God) has “…decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:5 – NLT). James tells us: “How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog--it's here a little while, then it's gone.” (James 4:14 – NLT).
How do we make sense of these tragedies? Do we live long because we are “good” people and do we die young if we are “bad” people? Is God sort of like an evil puppet master who takes sinister delight in pulling the rug out from under us just when we think everything is wonderful?
There are many things that we have trouble understanding. We see from our experience that, from our perspective, bad things happen to “good” people and good things happen to "bad" people. Solomon asks the question: “What do people get for all their hard work?” (Eccl. 1:3 – NLT). Later he observes: “Both of them die. Just as the fool will die, so will I.” (Eccl. 2:15 – NLT).
At this point in our thinking the overall outlook is pretty bleak and depressing. We will examine solutions to our dilemma later in this discussion. To give you a little preview of coming attractions Paul tells us that God has “...great love for us...” (Romans 5:8 – NLT) and that “…God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them...” (Romans 8:28 – NLT).
So don’t despair! There is a bright spot on the horizon and we will discover what that is in a future post.
Click HERE to discover God's Free Gift for YOU!
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Another related thread is that wisdom is extremely valuable and that the wise are more likely to find themselves on the path that leads to blessings. Proverbs 3:13-18 - Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed. Proverbs 16:20 - Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
The Book of Proverbs also gives us some interesting insight by contrasting the wise man and the foolish man. Proverbs 12:15 - The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. Psalm 14:1a – The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." Proverbs 1:22 - How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? Proverbs 10:8 - The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. Proverbs 10:14 - Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. Proverbs 10:23 - A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom. Proverbs 15:14 - The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.
If we are not wise then why would God choose to bless us with financial resources? Without wisdom we would not make the correct choices in our stewardship of His resources. Proverbs 17:16 - Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom?
Of course wisdom implies correct action. We can have all the knowledge in the world but if it is not coupled with correct actions our great learning is meaningless. Solomon tells us at the conclusion of the Book of Ecclesiastes: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Eccl 12:13 NIV)
If a person focuses on getting more money then he or she is on the wrong track. The correct course of action is to focus on developing a deeper relationship with and knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. Click here to learn more.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Talk radio and TV news shows really “bug” me because they can be so deceptive. We are willing to take advice from KABC talk radio or CNN and make life changing decisions about our finances but we do not listen to God.
In the Book of Psalms we read: “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” (Psalm 33:11)
Solomon has more insight in the Book of Proverbs:
Proverbs 1:5 – “…let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance…” Proverbs 11:14 – “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.” Proverbs 12:15b – “…a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 15:12 – “A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise.” Proverbs 15:22 – “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
If we want to cooperate with the Lord and His plan we need to listen to godly advice, but where do we find it? One place is from the video seminars available on the “Life Navigation” ministry web site (http://sites.google.com/site/lifenavigationinturbulenttimes/). Another is from someone trained by Christian organizations such as Glass House Ministry (http://www.glasshouseministry.org/) or Crown Financial Ministries (http://www.crown.org/)
The key to success in all areas of life (including money management) is having a correct set of priorities. That means putting God first in every area of our lives. Many of us have tried in our own strength to set up and maintain a budget but we have failed. One reason for that is that we are sinners and by nature we are not able to do “the right thing.” We keep sinking lower and lower.
How do we change this downward spiral? By establishing a personal relationship with our creator God and giving our lives over to Him. CLICK HERE to find out more.
If you live in Southern California visit Cypress Church at 6143 Ball Road near Valley View. Sunday Services are at 8:45 am and 10:30 am.