The Glory of the Gospel

A joy in the Christian life is to share the Gospel with others. Unfortunately, we sometimes place so much focus on our methods to share the Gospel that we actually lose the joy of simply sharing it. Paul says that we have the treasure of Jesus Christ in the frailty of our human bodies, so that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves. Sharing the Gospel with another is not so much about our technique as it is about our love for the Lord and our love for others. The article below I hope will help you find more joy as you share the life-changing message of the Gospel. Pastor Chris
 
 
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How should we define Evangelism?

“I don’t think Christian people set out to write books on evangelism based on unbiblical principles. But it happens. It happens because there are wrong ideas about the critical components of evangelism. Usually, these wrong ideas are based on marketing principles or on human understandings about how to argue someone into the kingdom. It has more to do with results and effect, which is the realm of the Holy Spirit, rather than faithfulness in proclaiming the truth, which is our job description.  If we don’t have biblical evangelism nailed down, we tend spend much time doing things we call evangelism, but may not be evangelism at all.

For example, a housewife meeting with a friend over coffee may be evangelizing, while a brilliant Christian apologist speaking to thousands in a church sanctuary may not be. Few see it this way, but that’s because we have false understandings of what evangelism is. Defending the faith is a fine thing to do, but it is easy to give apologetics for Christianity without explaining the gospel—and we cannot evangelize without the gospel.

We need to know what we’re talking about when we say “evangelism,” “conversion,” or even “gospel.” Those words raise different definitions in people’s minds and often come with question marks. If Christians don’t understand these basic concepts, we will quickly spin out of biblical orbit.   So, we define evangelism in a biblical way to help align our evangelistic practice with the Scriptures. Here’s a definition that has served me well for many years:

Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.

Sort of dinky, huh? I bet most people would expect much more from such an important theological word. But this definition, small as it is, offers a far better balance in which to weigh our evangelistic practice than looking at how many people have responded to an appeal.

Here is how the Amplified Bible might have expanded my definition:

Evangelism is teaching (heralding, proclaiming, preaching) the gospel (the message from God that leads us to salvation) with the aim (hope, desire, goal) to persuade (convince, convert).

Notice the definition doesn’t require an immediate outward response. Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is. Notice, too, that if any of the four components (Teaching, Gospel, Aim, or Persuade) are missing, we are probably doing something other than evangelism.  Let’s look at two of these: teaching and aim.  We’ll spend time on gospel and persuade in the next post.

Teaching

Many of us think of preaching when we think of evangelism, as we should. I, for one, want any sermon I give to contain the gospel. Certainly Paul did his share of evangelistic preaching. But often when Paul describes his ministry, he says it is a teaching ministry (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). J. I. Packer, in his survey of Paul’s evangelistic practice, says that Paul’s method of evangelism was primarily a teaching method.1

This is good news for those of us who don’t get to preach every Sunday. Not all of us can be preachers, but we can all teach the gospel as opportunity comes. I often wonder whether more people come to faith over lunch when someone asks, “What did you think about the sermon today?” than during the sermon itself. Great things happen when we can teach the gospel.

Aim

An “aim to persuade” also reminds us that people need more than a data transfer. Some who think of evangelism as only teaching do a good job of explaining, expanding, and answering questions, as we all should. All Christians should apply themselves to think through reasons for the hope we have in Christ, reasons that sweep aside the objections and questions. But as we set out the facts of the gospel, remembering evangelism’s aim helps us to be compassionate, understanding, and loving (1 Pet. 3:15).

Having an aim helps us keep perspective on what we’re doing. It steers us toward an end. Our aim helps us remember that much is at stake: to see people moved from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom. Aiming for something bigger helps us know which fights to pick and which to avoid.” J. Mack Stiles



STARTING OVER

As we enter a new year, often we reflect back up the previous year to consider our ways whether good or bad. Then we will look ahead at the new year with all the potential it offers us to set new goals or aspirations. Donald Whitney in the post below offers some questions we can use to help us in this endeavor as we stand at the door of a new year. May the Lord use this in your life to develop your life in Him. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
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Consider the Direction of Your Life

“Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them. 

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going. 

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

  1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God? 
  2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year? 
  3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year? 
  4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it? 
  5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year? 
  6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church? 
  7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year? 
  8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year? 
  9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year? 
  10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

In addition to these ten questions, here are twenty-one more to help you “Consider your ways.” Think on the entire list at one sitting, or answer one question each day for a month.

  1. What’s the most important decision you need to make this year? 
  2. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what’s one way you could simplify in that area? 
  3. What’s the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year? 
  4. What habit would you most like to establish this year? 
  5. Who is the person you most want to encourage this year? 
  6. What is your most important financial goal this year, and what is the most important step you can take toward achieving it? 
  7. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your work life this year? 
  8. What’s one new way you could be a blessing to your pastor (or to another who ministers to you) this year? 
  9. What’s one thing you could do this year to enrich the spiritual legacy you will leave to your children and grandchildren? 
  10. What book, in addition to the Bible, do you most want to read this year? 
  11. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year? 
  12. What single blessing from God do you want to seek most earnestly this year? 
  13. In what area of your life do you most need growth, and what will you do about it this year? 
  14. What’s the most important trip you want to take this year? 
  15. What skill do you most want to learn or improve this year? 
  16. To what need or ministry will you try to give an unprecedented amount this year? 
  17. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your commute this year? 
  18. What one biblical doctrine do you most want to understand better this year, and what will you do about it? 
  19. If those who know you best gave you one piece of advice, what would they say? Would they be right? What will you do about it? 
  20. What’s the most important new item you want to buy this year? 
  21. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?

The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by articulating which person you most want to encourage this year is more 

likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t considered the question.

If you’ve found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace—in a day planner, PDA, calendar, bulletin board, etc.—where you can review them more frequently than once a year.

So let’s evaluate our lives, make plans and goals, and live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering that, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage” (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things let’s also remember our dependence on our King who said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).”



What Child is This?

       There are many Christmas hymns that we enjoy to sing during the season we celebrate Christ’s birth. I appreciate the creative way songwriters let us look at biblical Truth. What Child is This? is one of those hymns that moves us to quietly contemplate the mystery of godliness, which is the incarnation of Christ. Below is a post from Slice of Infinity that opens the gift of Jesus as we celebrate His birth. May the Lord use it to strengthen your faith in Him. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
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The spirit of Christmas often lends itself to the cry of loneliness. During this season more than any other, thoughts long hidden cease to remain veiled. Yearning for a place to rest our heads from lurking notions of restlessness or isolation, intuitively, many of us sense that we are not quite at home. Christians often speak of this truth expectantly. 
We are waiting, waiting for all of creation to be made new, even as we catch glimpses now: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” But on honest nights, we might confess that the waiting is wearying, the silence at times daunting. We are homesick, like children lost in a crowd, not quite at home nor capable of getting there. For many, the songs and sounds of Christmas lure us further toward this restless longing.
 
Since I was small, the Victorian carol What Child Is This? has roused cries and questions. The haunting, minor tune itself seems to place ancient pleas on our lips: How long O Lord will you look on? How long shall I cry for help? Will you not come near? Could you not tear open the heavens and come down? The words of the hymn seem to rise from a confused onlooker at the first Christmas. What child is this, here in this crowded stable, surrounded by animals and expectation? If this is this the Messiah, why is he here in the cold, without a bed? If this is a king, where is the display of royalty? If this is God, why come like this?

For centuries, humanity has inquired similarly as to the identity of this child and the man he became. Who is this child and does it matter? Was he a myth? A moral teacher? A delusional man? A miraculous infant? Who is this child in Mary’s arms? Coupled with the longings of Christmastime, the possibility of an answer to that question threatens to turn us aflame. Could it be that the heavens have truly come down that we might meet face to face? Is this homeless child the Word that answers our restless longing for home?

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

The hymn tells a story unlike any other, even as it hints at a familiar theme: in the darkest places, we look and long for hope to rise and be accounted for. We look for answers to questions we can’t entirely find the words to voice. In this, the writer’s own life exudes a similar tale. An insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, William Chatterton Dix was quite successful in business until he was stricken suddenly with a serious illness at the age of 29. From his bed where he laid in depression for some time, he asked the stirring questions of this hymn over and over, suddenly realizing for the first time that God had answered, quite severely.

Why lies He, in a mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.
 
Wouldn’t it indeed be strange to have the feeling of homesickness, unless it was intended for us to know another home? The cries of Christmas are a part of a vast chorus. Even in loneliness, our longings for home are not without great company. The people of Israel had looked to this day for centuries. Their collective cry was not unlike our own: “Oh that the mountains would tremble before you! […] O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Look upon us, we pray.” Our cries today are not so different from those a person in Bethlehem could have been uttering before the first Christmas. 

How long O Lord? Where are you? 

And then God came, choosing to be born in a sense of homelessness, choosing to lay his head in a foreign land. God came near, choosing to be born vulnerable, alone, in need of the careful arms that held him. God came beside us, choosing to be exploited, choosing to be betrayed.

What child is this?

 It would have been a sight to be among the first to behold the infant Jesus crying. Cradled in the arms of his young mother, his cries indeed joined the cries of the world. And for the first time in history, humanity would have heard God weep. This, this, is Christ the King!


The Gift of Adoption

 
There is a multitude of blessings that come to us as believers in Jesus. One of those blessings is being adopted into God’s family. Below is an article from Iain Campbell that addresses the subject of how believers in Jesus become sons and daughters of God. As you read it, I hope you will be encouraged in your faith, knowing that you are a child in God’s family. Pastor Chris
 
 
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ADOPTION INTO GOD’S FAMILY
 
“Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a marvelous statement of gospel doctrine and practice. He writes to remind the believers in Ephesus of the glorious realities of their salvation and the great responsibilities that fall on them to walk “worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). For Paul, there can be no reflection on these themes except in the context of praise and adoration of the God from whom all the blessings of salvation flow. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says at the outset of his letter, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3). Here Paul uses the word bless in the form of an adjective, a verb, and a noun. God is blessed. He has blessed us. He has given us every blessing. In Christ, God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves, and He deserves all the glory for it.
 
Among the blessings God bestows on us in Christ is the blessing of adoption. We have been brought into God’s family and made God’s children. From God we have received “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father’” (Rom. 8:15). As far as our status is concerned, we are no longer “strangers and aliens” to the people of God but “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). The Christians in Ephesus may have no natural affinity to the descendants of Abraham, but God in His grace has addressed the issue of their spiritual alienation from His covenant by making them His sons and daughters.
 
In the opening section of Ephesians, our attention is drawn to four issues in connection with our adoption. The first is that we were predestined to our new status. “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). God’s adoption of us was initiated by God Himself, and the decision to make us His children was made before either we or the world existed. There is a determination — a purpose — on the part of God to enlarge His family by bringing rebels and sinners like us into it. It is one thing for human parents to decide to adopt someone who will fit into the family and enhance it; God, however, purposes to adopt those who are the very opposite of Himself. The second aspect of adoption is that it is “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). Our adoption into God’s family is not so much something that confers a benefit on us; in the first instance, it is something that enhances the reputation of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has opted to become our God and Father too. All the praise is His. Our adoption arises out of His
choice, and focuses on His glory and praise. We did not deserve it and could not achieve it. But God, by His mercy and favor, conveys this blessing on us that He will be praised throughout endless ages of eternity.
 
A third focus of Paul’s doctrine of adoption is that it is in Christ. Some eighty times Paul uses the couplet “in Christ” or “in him” in the course of his letters. There is no spiritual blessing outside of Christ. But once we are in Him, there is no spiritual blessing that is not ours. Notice the concentration of emphasis on this in Ephesians 1:3–6: we are blessed “in Christ” (v. 3); chosen “in him” (v. 4); predestined “through Jesus Christ” (v. 5); blessed in the Beloved (v. 6). The whole complex of our adoption finds its center and its meaning in Jesus Christ.
 
Moreover, if we want to know that we have been adopted into the family of God, then we must look to Jesus Christ. God has no focal point or ground upon which to secure our status as His adopted children except what He has done in His only begotten Son. He sent the one Son He had from all eternity into the world with the purpose of enlarging His family, so that He would bring many sons with Him into glory (Heb. 2:10). To be adopted is to be able to stand where Jesus always stood, looking at God and calling Him “Abba.” Jesus, who always addressed God as “My Father,” teaches His people to say, “Our Father.” What a glorious, magnificent, awe inspiring, and humbling doctrine. We who were enemies of God are made the sons of God, only because the Son of God was set apart to be regarded as the enemy; He was made a curse for us, so that the blessing of Abraham would come on the Gentiles (Gal. 3:14) — the blessing in which God says, “You are Mine.”
 
Finally, we are adopted so that we will, in fact, bear the family likeness. We are chosen to be holy and blameless (Eph.1:4). These are the characteristics of the children of God. They are set apart to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil. 2:15). There can be no adoption without a conferring of the family likeness and the implanting of a new impulse toward holiness and godliness.

It used to thrill me when my children were younger to hear one of our boys say, “I want to be like my dad.” I know of nothing that better evidences our adoption into God’s family than to wish, more than anything else in the world, that we could be more like our Father. That’s why He adopted us, after all.”



The Way to God

A joy of the Christmas season is the reminder that God through Christ has provided a way for sinful man to return home. The Christmas message of the incarnation of Christ provides the backdrop for one of the greatest aspects of our salvation, namely reconciliation. The act of God whereby our separation from Him was overcome by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
 
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” 2Corinthians 5:18,19
 
John Walvoord wrote extensively on the subject of salvation. The article below is one he wrote on the topic of reconciliation. May it equip you in the truth of God as you desire to live for His glory. Pastor Chris 
 
 
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“Important Passages on Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:17-21. This central passage dealing with reconciliation introduces the concept that the believer reconciled to God is a new creation. The key phrase is found in verse 17 , “If any man is in Christ.” The new creation is in contrast to the former position in Adam, in which man was doomed to die and under hopeless condemnation (Rom 5:11-21). “The old things” are therefore said to be “passed away” in the sense that the believer in Christ has an entirely new position. He belongs to the new creation instead of the old, the Second Adam instead of the First Adam.

This total change is indicated by the word reconciliation in that God has reconciled the believer “to himself through Christ.” As Morris states: “First of all let us notice that the process the apostle has in mind is one which is wrought by God. ‘All things,’ he tells us, ‘are of God, who reconciled us’; ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,’ ‘him…he made to be sin on our behalf.’ Though it is true that there is an aspect in which men may be exhorted to be reconciled to God, yet there is no question that Paul is thinking of something God has done for men, and not of some merely human activity.”1 God is the subject, man is the object, Christ is the means.

Because man is given the new standing of being reconciled to God, he also has “the ministry of reconciliation,” as defined in verse 19 , “to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses.” Here is the grand reason for man being reconciled to God, namely, that he is in Christ and in this position God has reconciled man unto himself. By the act of imputation He does not impute their sins to them, but instead imputed sin to Christ.

Of interest is the fact that “the world” (Gr. kosmos) is used, meaning something more than believers only. It is rather that Christ in His death made a forensic provision for the entire world and has provided reconciliation for all, not just the elect. It is this important point that makes emphatic the ministry of reconciliation as defined in the latter part of verses 19 and 20 : “…Having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God.” God, having a provision in the death of Christ for all sinners, now can present a “whosoever” gospel. The appeal is that God has already provided reconciliation for all, but it is effective only when received by the personal faith of the individual. The contrast is between provision and application. The provision is for all, the application is to those who believe. Those who are already reconciled to God are the ambassadors through whom the message is delivered to those who have not yet availed themselves of the mercy of God.

The recipient of the message of reconciliation must receive the reconciliation. As Taylor expresses it: “This passage is also of importance because it is complementary to the truth that it is God, and God alone, who can reconcile men to Himself. As we have already seen, although the verb, ‘to be reconciled,’ is passive, it denotes an active process of co-operation on man’s part. Man cannot accomplish his reconciliation with God, but he can refuse it….”2

Commentators have noted that up to verse 20 there is no direct connection of the doctrine of reconciliation with the death of Christ. Verse 21 , however, makes plain that the act of reconciliation did not arise in a divine fiat, but in the work of Christ upon the cross. Here it is stated: “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” It was the act of Christ in becoming sin by the imputation of the sins of the whole world to Him (cf. 1 John 2:2) that made possible reconciliation of a sinner to God.

Morris brings this out: “For although in these verses the apostle does not specifically mention the death of the Lord, there is not the slightest doubt that he has it in mind. For it is only through this death that man’s trespasses are put away on Paul’s view, and thus the cross is vividly present to his mind in verses 19 and 21 .”3 Forsyth concurs with this interpretation: “The New Testament at least cannot sever Atonement from Reconciliation. The greatest passage which says that God was in Christ reconciling says in the same breath that it was by Christ being made sin for us. The reconciliation is attached to Christ’s death, and to that as an expiation.”4

The relationship of redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation, therefore, becomes clear. Christ by His death redeemed or paid the price for sin. This payment constituted a propitiation or satisfaction of God’s righteousness. This freed the love of God to act in grace toward the sinner in reconciling the sinner to Himself on the basis that Christ has died in his place. The believer who comes into the position of being in Christ through faith and through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13) thus is reconciled to God because God sees him in Christ. The whole act of reconciliation, therefore, is an act of God, a free gift to man, provided for all men, effective to those who believe. Those once estranged in Adam are now reconciled in Christ.

Romans 5:6-11. Considered by some to be just as important as the passage in 2 Corinthians, the presentation of the doctrine of reconciliation in Romans 5 is remarkable in many respects. It expounds, first of all, the fourfold need of man for reconciliation, presenting this in climactic order: (1) man’s inability, or lack of strength, i.e., “While we were yet weak” (v. 6 ); (2) man’s lack of merit: “ungodly” (v. 6 ); (3) man’s lack of righteousness, or his guilt before God: “sinners” (v. 8 ); (4) man’s lack of peace with God, being at enmity with God: “enemies” (v. 10 ). From this fourfold indictment, it is clear that man is without strength to accomplish his own reconciliation. He is without merit or a righteousness. He has in fact sinned against God and stands condemned for his disobedience. Finally, his moral depravity has placed an insurmountable wall between him and God, leaving him completely estranged from God’s love and mercy.

Certain theological conclusions also are presented forcibly in this passage. First, it may be observed that the death of Christ is mentioned in some way in each verse of the passage from verse 6 to verse 10 , in contrast to 2 Corinthians 5, where the death of Christ is only mentioned in the last verse . Here the emphasis is clearly on the means of reconciliation. Second, reconciliation is presented as something that man desperately needs which he has no right to expect, but apart from which he is utterly estranged from God.

Third, reconciliation is shown to be a work of God rather than a work of man for God, as also in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. It is a work which is objectively toward man, in contrast to propitiation which is objectively toward God. This is stated in verse 10 : “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” The verb forms are passive, indicating that God is the actor and man is the recipient. This conclusion is emphasized in verse 11 , where it is added, “And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

Fourth, reconciliation is presented in this passage as a ground for assurance. The logic is unanswerable. If Christ died for sinners who at that time were estranged from God, unable to reconcile themselves, and without any merit, if God by His mercy has reconciled sinners to Himself, how much more will He be merciful to those who are reconciled? In other words, if God can save a sinner, then the one who is already reconciled by the death of Christ shall certainly escape the wrath of God. The child of God is saved “in [or, by] His life.” The life of Christ mentioned here is the life which was given on Calvary which in resurrection continued to provide the basis for the believer’s intercession and advocacy.

Some confusion has arisen because in verse 9 mention is made of the wrath of God and of justification by the blood of Christ resulting in salvation from divine judgment. Some, therefore, have attempted to include this in the work of reconciliation. Morris, for instance, writes: “There is an objective aspect to reconciliation, and this may well be held to imply that there is a sense in which God can be said to be reconciled to man.”5 Morris ignores, however, that the Bible carefully avoids ever saying this. It is more accurate to express it as God being propitiated, and man being reconciled. All agree that there is a Godward aspect of the atonement; the question is whether the word reconciliation is properly used of this concept.

Reconciliation necessarily depends upon other aspects of the work of God in salvation, namely, the redemption provided in respect to sin and the propitiation provided in respect to the righteous demands of God toward the sinner. These having been accomplished, however, God is now free to reconcile a sinner to Himself by declaring him to be in Christ and justified by faith. Technically, we are not saved because God has been propitiated, which is true of all men, nor because mankind as a whole has been provisionally reconciled. The act of salvation is a personal one by which the individual on the basis of all these works of God is placed in Christ, declared righteous, and therefore reconciled to a holy God. Taken as a whole, the Romans passage brings out in bold relief how tremendous is the scope of divine reconciliation, and how intrinsic is the work of Christ on our behalf as providing a basis by which reconciliation can be effected.

Ephesians 2:16. According to this passage, it was God’s purpose to reconcile Jew and Gentile in the present age and form from them “one new man” (Eph 2:15), “so making peace.” As Taylor expresses it: “…St. Paul is not thinking only of the reconciliation of individuals to God, but also of the creation of a new divine community, the Church of God, in which His work of conciliation in Christ is to find its perfect embodiment.”6 The reconciliation which is afforded the believer in Christ not only reconciled Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ, but reconciled both unto God in the one body referring to the church as a living organism. Reconciliation, therefore, is effective between men as well as between man and God. Hence it may be regarded as horizontal as well as perpendicular.

Colossians 1:20-22. This passage confirms and expands the universal extent of reconciliation, declaring that reconciliation extends to all things, but especially toward sinful man: “And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens. And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable, before him.”

The truth, as it is unfolded in this important passage, treats both the provision and application of reconciliation. All things are provisionally reconciled to God; this new relationship of peace has been made possible through the blood of the cross; it extends to all things, both in heaven and in earth provisionally; its application is specifically to sinners saved by grace who once were alienated and enemies through evil works, but now reconciled and presented holy, without blemish, and unreprovable before God. It should be clear from this passage, as well as from the others, that the act of reconciliation in the death of Christ does not in itself affect reconciliation for the individual, but rather that it is provisional and makes possible the reconciliation of the individual. The natural state of the unsaved continues unchanged even after the death of Christ until such time that the reconciling work is made effective in him when he believes. Having believed, however, and coming into a new relationship in Christ, he is considered by God as holy and without blemish and unreprovable, even though his actual state may be far from perfection. This passage again clearly indicates that it is the position of believer before God rather than his spiritual state which is in view. Even now the believer in this act of divine reckoning can be presented before a holy God.

The Extent of Reconciliation

Reconciliation provided for all. Reconciliation in its provision is intended for all men, and theologians who differ on this subject usually do so by definition of terms. As Shedd writes in connection with his discussion of the vicarious atonement of Christ: “In answering the question as to the ‘extent’ of Christ’s atonement, it must first be settled whether ‘extent’ means its intended application, or its intrinsic value; whether the active or the passive signification of the word is in the mind of the inquirer. If the word means value, then the atonement is unlimited; if it means extending, that is, applying, then the atonement is limited.”7 Properly understood then, the question of the extent of the atonement does not give basis for the universalist who would teach that all men are saved, for the Bible truly contradicts his concept. And, on the other hand, it does not support the adherent of limited atonement who would try to make the provision of reconciliation limited to the elect. A proper orthodox point of view is that reconciliation is provided for all, but applied only to the elect.

The main issue in the question of the extent of reconciliation is that of the design of the atonement. If the strict Calvinist is correct, God’s essential purpose was to save the elect, and necessarily the death of Christ was directed primarily to this end. A more tenable position, however, is reflected in moderate Calvinistic, Lutheran, and Arminian theologians. They, in some cases, retained the essential features of Calvinism but held that God’s purpose in the death of Christ, while including the salvation of the elect, was a broader purpose to render the whole world savable or reconciled in the provisional sense.

The concept of reconciling the whole world has been given the term unlimited atonement, whereas the more strict Calvinistic, position is that of limited atonement. Many moderate Calvinists, while going along with the main tenets of Calvinism, nevertheless hold to unlimited atonement. The question is somewhat theoretical, as most theologians, even the strict Calvinists, agree that the death of Christ forensically was sufficient for all. The question is a technical one of God’s purpose in the death of Christ. The best solution, however, is to be found in what Christ actually did. Here the broad statement of 2 Corinthians 5, where God is said to reconcile the “world,” should be determinative. Just as redemption and propitiation were for all men (1 John 2:2), but are applicable only to those who believe, so also is the work of reconciliation.

This concept of the universality of the provision of reconciliation is borne out in the context in which reconciliation is discussed. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, emphasis is given to the fact that all were dead spiritually. The three instances of “all” in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 seem to be universal. This is followed by the limited application indicated in the phrase “they which live.” Hence, the passage reads: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all [universal], therefore all [universal] died; and he died for all [universal], that they that live [restricted to elect] shall no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14-15). The word “all” is used, then, in a universal sense in this passage, followed by the restricted application indicated in the phrase, “they which live.” This is reinforced by the use of the word “world,” referring to all men, in verse 19 .

Reconciliation applied to the elect when they believe. The reconciling work of Christ for all men does not become effective even for the elect until that moment of faith in Christ in which they pass from death unto life. Ephesians 2:1, referring to the Ephesian Christians, plainly indicates that even though they were elect prior to their salvation, they were “dead through…trespasses and sins.” Because of this, they lived according to the pattern of the world and “were by nature children of wrath even as the rest” (Eph 2:1-3). What is true of the Ephesian Christians is true today. Though the death of Christ occurred centuries ago, even the elect are not saved in any sense until reconciliation is applied. It is for this reason that the responsibility of carrying the message of reconciliation is pressed upon those who have already believed, and they are exhorted to carry the message to others.

Reconciliation in relation to the nonelect. The question may fairly be asked what benefit is the death of Christ to those who have not received Him as Savior. An unbeliever goes on to his eternal doom in much the same manner as if Christ had not died. If God has provisionally reconciled the whole world to Himself, how does this affect the unsaved, if at all?

The answer seems to be that the basis for his condemnation and judgment has been essentially changed. Apart from the death of Christ, a sinner would have been committed to his eternal punishment regardless of what he had done. Even if he had placed faith in God, he would still be in Adam, and there would be no provision of reconciliation or salvation for him. The provision having been made, however, the whole world is placed in an entirely different light. A person now proceeds to eternal punishment not because God has failed to provide, or because the love of God has been ineffective, but rather because he has rejected that which God has provided. This is set forth plainly in John 3:18: “He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The condemnation of the sinner now is not simply because he is a sinner, but because he has rejected God’s provision to care for his sin. Though he is still judged according to his works, his eternal punishment has a new character of being that which he chose in rejecting the love and grace of God in Christ.

Reconciliation in relation to the universe. One of the reasons why the death of Christ needed to extend to the entire world, not just to the elect, is the fact that the curse of sin inflicted on the universe by Adam had an effect far beyond the bounds of the human race. According to Romans 8:22, “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” The whole universe is laboring under the curse of God, which is manifested in many ways in nature as well as in man. It is for this reason that Colossians 1:20 speaks of reconciling “all things unto himself,” and specifically extends this reference to “things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.” The question may be raised, however, as to what extent reconciliation actually extends to the earth. Grace, seemingly, is unknown to the angels, except as they observe it in the relationship of God to man. The fallen angels have no offer of salvation and, having once sinned, are doomed. The physical universe, however, having been cursed by the sin of Adam is destined to have this curse relieved in the future millennial reign of Christ, when the desert will once again blossom as a rose, and satanic power will be inactive. Ultimately, God will destroy the present physical universe and replace it with a holy universe which stems from the reconciling work of Christ.

The results of reconciliation. In its broadest sense, the work of reconciliation extends to the total work of God on the behalf of the believer, while redemption is active toward the payment of the price for sin, and propitiation is directed to satisfaction of the righteousness of God. Reconciliation, then, deals with man’s total need and total restoration. Certain aspects, however, can be mentioned specifically. (1) The baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13) is the work of God by which the believer is united to the body of Christ and comes into his new position “in Christ.” This, of course, is the key to the whole reconciling work of God. (2) In regeneration, the believer becomes a new creation, having received the very eternal life of God. Just as Adam became a natural man by having breathed into his body the breath of life, so the unregenerated man at the moment of salvation in Christ has breathed into his spiritually dead body the eternal life of God. As such, he is a new creature with a new nature and a new destiny. (3) By justification, the believer is declared righteous before God, because he is now in Christ. In this position there is imputed to him the righteousness of Christ and he is accepted as perfect in the presence of God. (4) The new position in Christ and His justification assures the believer’s positional sanctification in which he is set apart as holy to God. (5) In his new position, as reconciled to God, the believer has the possibility of intimate fellowship assisted by the indwelling presence of the Triune God and the transformation of his character through the new birth. Reconciliation, while essentially positional, has an experiential aspect as the believer walks in fellowship with God. (6) Ultimate sanctification is also assured the one who is thus reconciled to God, in which the believer’s spiritual state is elevated to his high position. (7) The final state of reconciliation is that of glorification in the presence of God in which the last evidences of sin are destroyed and the believer stands perfect and complete, sharing the very glory of Christ in heaven.”



The Grace of God Revealed in Jesus Christ

Charles Ryrie in “So Great a Salvation” explored the subject of salvation. In that exploration, he provided a personal illustration of grace. Grace is a difficult concept to understand. I hope his illustration about it will provide you with a renewed understanding of God’s grace and with it, a greater appreciation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Pastor Chris
 
 
GRACE
 
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“Grace is a difficult , perhaps impossible, concept to understand.

In seminary days I had a job working with underprivileged junior-high and high-school kids at the downtown YMCA. On what was then the outskirts of the city was a camp we used every Friday night when weather permitted. We would load a bus with forty to fifty kids, head for the camp, and enjoy an evening cookout and games. On special occasions we would sleep there overnight and return Saturday afternoon. Overnight camping trips were usually rewards given to those who had successfully passed certain requirements in our weekly Bible clubs. So the kids who stayed overnight after the others went home were rather special.

One Friday night—or, more accurately, early one Saturday morning—I awoke, startled by some unexplained noise. Soon I discovered that a few of my leaders had sneaked out of the dorm, gone down to the lake, launched one of the boats, and were having a great time far out from the shore. Not only was this against every rule in the book, but it was dangerous. When the kids knew I knew where they were, they came immediately into shore. Like dogs with tails between their legs, they meekly went back to bed, wondering what punishment awaited them in the morning.

For me, sleep was now impossible. Then night before I had talked to these Christian young people about forgiving one another. So as I paced the grounds in those early-morning hours deliberating their fate, my own words from the night before kept coming back to me . . . and back to me . . .and back to me.

If I don’t give them some punishment, I argued with myself, they will never be impressed with the seriousness of what they did. I have a responsibility to the YMCA to enforce their rules and punish the violators.

But the more I debated with myself, talked to the Lord, thought about a number of relevant Bible verses (I discovered again that night that you can prove almost anything with a Bible verse), the more Ephesians 4:32 grew larger and larger in my thinking: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” But Lord, I can’t forgive them; they don’t deserve it. Neither did I. But Lord, I have to enforce the rules. I’m glad, Lord, You didn’t. But Lord, if I’m too kind, the kids will think I’m weak. I never thought You were weak, only loving. But Lord, first I’ll make them promise never to do something like this again, and then I’ll forgive them. It’s a good thing You didn’t require that of me, or I never would have been forgiven.…just as God forgave me. How was that? No conditions or promises ahead of time. No works at the time. No remembrance afterward. But Lord, You’re God—You can do anything. “You’re My child,” He said. “Imitate Me.” 

So with great reluctance and with very little faith, I told the Lord I would. And then, in the morning, I told the kids. “You did a terrible thing. It could have had disastrous consequences for yourselves, your families, for the YMCA, and for me. But I forgive you unconditionally and completely.” “You’re kidding,” they said. “There’s got to be a catch somewhere.” “No,” I insisted, “you are fully forgiven.” And then I told them what the Lord had been saying to me that night about His grace, and how I wanted them to have another taste of that grace.

I didn’t even make them do the cleaning up that day. I did it myself because I didn’t want them to think they could earn even a little bit of that forgiveness.The sequel? As long as those particular kids were in my clubs they were the epitome (as much as kids that age can be) of goodness, helpfulness, and usefulness. They never presumed on that grace.Grace is indeed a difficult, perhaps impossible, concept to understand.

If it was difficult for those kids to understand an act of grace that forgave one sin on one night, how much more difficult for us to comprehend God’s grace that forgives all our sins of every day and night, without preconditions, without works, and without remembrance? We can learn some important matters about grace from this experience.

First, grace is unmerited favor. As a concise definition of grace, this serves well. More elaborate definitions have their place; but simply stated, grace is unmerited favor. It is undeserved on the part of the recipient. It is unearned and unearnable. Those kids had no claim on my grace. They were in a state of total demerit. Anything I might do could not be in response to any merit they had (for they had none at that point) nor as a reward for anything they had done (they only deserved to be punished). My grace that night was pure unmerited favor.

Second, grace is not cheap. Grace is expensive. It is free to the recipient but costly to the donor. The only way one may say that grace is not very costly is if the particular benefit costs the donor very little. My forgiveness that night cost those kids nothing. It cost me a lot of agonizing and soul-searching, which is nothing in comparison with what grace cost our Lord. But to use the word cheap in the same breath with the grace of God in salvation seems almost blasphemous. It cost our Lord Jesus His life. Some may insult grace, reject it, trample on it, or disgrace it, but that does not lower its infinite value.

Third, it is not easy to believe someone who offers grace. Those kids were dumbfounded when I announced the verdict of grace. They could not believe what they were hearing. And why should they? From day one they were reared (and so are we all) in a merit system, in which acceptance is based on performance. “Do this and you will be rewarded. Fail to do this and you will be punished.” This kind of merit system permeates all of life and most religion. It is not easy to believe someone who says that he or she will do something good for us that we do not deserve.

Human works are like termites in God’s structure of grace. They start small, but if unchecked, they can bring down the entire structure. And what are such works? Anything I can do to gain any amount of merit, little or much. Water baptism could be one such work if I view it not as an important or even necessary result of being saved, but as a requisite to be saved. It is a work even if I insist that it is God who gives me the desire to want to be baptized that I might be saved.

The same is true for surrender. If surrender is something I must do as a part of believing, then it is a work, and grace has been diluted to the extent to which I actually do surrender.

Fourth, grace that is received changes one’s life and behavior. Those kids, though really not bad before that night, showed a number of changes in their lives. Their bond to me personally was much stronger. They followed me around like puppy dogs anxious to do whatever they could to please me. And they had new insight into the love of their Savior for them.

The Gospel is the good news of the grace of God to give forgiveness and eternal life. Let’s keep that Gospel so full of grace that there is no room for anything else to be added to dilute or pollute the true grace of God.”

 
 


WAITING

Waiting is hard for Americans. Whether it is in a store, a drive-through, or on the phone, we seem to have little patience for any sort of delay. The Christian, living in America then, is sometimes faced with the difficult task of waiting on a God, who seems to work in a different realm of time. The Christmas season reminds us how God values waiting for His time. The post below from Slice of Infinity. May it provide you with renewed patiences as wait faithfully for Him. Pastor Chris 

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Breaking In

““As for me,” said American writer E.B. White, “I en­joy liv­ing among ped­es­tri­ans who have an in­stinct­ive and ha­bitu­al real­iz­a­tion that there is more to a jour­ney than the mere fact of ar­rival.”

Under typical circumstances, the beloved author of Charlotte’s Web would not have presented me with much pause here. The pause of agreement, yes, for this is normally the kind of thought with which I resonate, even though the word ‘journey’ may be overused and prone to sentimentalisms. I think it’s true that we lamentably fail to see the great gift of the collective whole, perhaps particularly in the segments of life where we are comfortable with our divided realms—where the end triumphs over the means, destination over the journey, and heaven is divided from earth, the spiritual from the physical, the present from the eternal. White’s words fit aptly upon any soapbox addressing the paradox of a king who is both present and coming—a mystery Jesus championed again and again, in his storytelling, his living, and his dying. In the kingdom he espoused, the journey is not simply a matter of arriving one distant day at the gates of pearl, but rather in finding the pearl of great price in our midst even now and seizing it with all that is in us. Under typical circumstances, I would have enlisted E.B. White’s voice in one of my favorite sermons.

But I read this quote as I watched the live coverage of 33 Chilean miners emerging from a two-month journey of being trapped beneath the earth. For them, the journey was indeed astounding, but the arrival was everything.

Over seventy years ago from a pulpit in London during the season of Advent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the image of a man trapped after a mining disaster: Deep in the earth, dark as night, the man is cut off and alone. The supply of oxygen is frighteningly limited. Food, water, and options are scarce; silence and fear are not. He knows his situation, and he can do nothing but wait. “He knows that up there, the people are moving about, the women and children are crying—but the way to them is blocked. There is no hope.” But what if just then, in the distance, the sounds of tapping are heard—the sound of knocking, the sound of friends, the sound of evidence that your cries have been heard, that your lament had not been silenced? This, said Bonhoeffer in December of 1933, is the hope of the Christian Advent: the coming of one who knows, the drawing near of a human rescuer to humankind, the arrival of Christ for those laboring to breathe. Like the Chilean miners, elated at the arrival of Manuel Gonzalez, the rescuer sent 2,040 feet underground to coordinate the procedure, Christ’s arrival into this dark world matters most profoundly.

Even so, his arrival is not the end of our waiting. It is not the end of our journey.

Advent teaches us how to wait wherever it finds us. “Can and should there be anything else more important for us than the hammers and blows of Jesus Christ coming into our lives?” In our waiting, we are given assent to cry out as the first believers did, 

Come, Lord Jesus! This is the ancient cry of palpable hope—Maranatha!—Lord, come quickly!—which is at times as much a cry of lament and dire need as it is a cry of hope. Advent teaches us to wait and watch, and to live expectantly regardless, though we sit in the dark, though we find ourselves scared or exhausted and struggling for air. “When these things begin to take place,” instructs Christ, “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

The angel’s repeated instruction to “Fear not” beckons the sound of hope drawing near, the sounds of God’s human arrival in dark and unexpected places. There are also the sounds of saints who have gone before and proclaim their rescuer even in death. There are sounds of the heartrending promise: “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19).

The world is still dark. But in it every day a quiet voice breaks in, “I stand at the door and knock.” Christ has come. Christ is here. Christ will come again.”



A Healthy Congregation

Last summer, Pastor Jon and I, taught on the topic of a healthy congregation. We outlined several areas that we can use to gauge the health of our fellowship. First, are we a nourished body? Do we feast on biblical theology, expository preaching, and expository listening? Next, are we a growing body? Are we advancing in our Gospel witness and Christ-centered discipleship? Finally, are we a functioning body? Do we cultivate the next generation of servant-leaders? Do we faithfully carry out our obligations to one another?
 
Tim Challis posted an article that relates to the topic of a functioning body. The focus of the article is on how we fulfill Hebrews 10:24&25. May your grip on grace be stronger as you consider how the body of Christ functions at Bethany. Pastor Chris
 
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“Reality Check (V)

The day’s second teaching session was taken by Jeff Noblit who preached a message about the duties of church membership. He said “If you do not get this, you do not get anything. And if you get this, you have about everything.” He spoke of our duty to the bride of Christ. We live at a time when church membership means almost nothing. It’s a disgraceful thing almost to challenge people as to their duties to the church. The church is the centerpiece, the foundation of God’s work in the world and He has no plan b.

 

He spoke from Hebrews 10:24-25 which reads “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

There were three main points: The exhortation to be about your duty to the church, the motivation as to why we need to be about this duty; the culmination—the end of this duty to the church.

The exhortation to be about your duty to the church

 – There are two chief words for this point—consider and stimulate. “Consider” means to have your mind
attentatively
fixed on something. In other words, you must choose to fix your mind on the bride of Christ. You’ll choose to focus here. This is your calling and your responsibility. The word “how” indicates a studying aspect, that you would study the ways you can better serve them. How many of us study our churches so we may know how to serve others? “Stimulate” means to provoke or encourage. The root of this word is the same as “vinegar”—you are to be like a splash of vinegar to these people. The health of the body of Christ and the glory of God depends on people going to church with this intentionality. We are to purpose that we will be a vinegar-like stimulating effect on others mostly through our lives, but also through our mouths when necessary.

The motivation as to why we need to be about this duty

 – We are to consider how we are to stimulate one another. The Bible is primarily written to churches and not to individuals. Even when it addresses individuals, it is primarily to teach how you can serve within that church family. You need to either accept that and glory in
that, or just get right out of the way. We are to focus on the “one anothers”—those of us who are spiritually
, miraculously the same through God’s grace. There’s a negative side to this—things that must not occur within the body of Christ. Our motivation must never be to dishonor a brother or sister in Christ; we must never harbor dishonoring thoughts or attitudes towards others. We must always be walking in love. The motivation, then, is that we are all part of one another other as members of the same body.

The culmination—the end of this duty to the church

 – The author culminates this in the text by saying that we are to do all of this so that God’s love will produce love and good deeds. Love is the primary grace that we should provoke in each other. Sometimes we need others to stir up this love. God has meant for us to be dependent upon other Christians to walk in love and good works. You are not Superman—you must have brothers and sisters in Christ to be the Christian God wants you to be. This should make us want to pray for them and for ourselves. The chief thing that happens is that we should now see the love that God has put in us flowing out of us. This word love indicates a kind of rest—a great rest. Through the merits of Jesus Christ, God is greatly at rest with us—he loves us. The one who apart from Christ would arouse God’s wrath, but through
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he is at great rest. 

We used to bear the image of the earthly and so we loved the earthly. But now we bear the image of the heavenly and so we love the heavenly. There is now a miraculous and even mysterious love for other Christians. All Christians are marked by the image of the heavenly and it draws us together.

There are four marks of this love:

  1. This love is unique to Christians and no one else has it
  2. This love is a delight to God. It delights Him to see this love shared and lived out among us
  3. This love makes us most like God
  4. The love is a fruitful mother. All other graces and all other spiritual works, duties or deeds flow from this love. If it’s not from this love, it’s not of God. 

In the final analysis, this love is what most glorifies God. The challenge is to rededicate your life to the bride of Christ, to give yourself to her, and to seek to bring glory to God in this way. You must find a true church and give your life to it.”



Creating a Culture of Evangelism

Recently I read an article from Mike McKinley in a 9Marks Journal. The topic for that journal was evangelism. This particular article addressed the issue of creating a culture in the church that conveys the importance of evangelism in the local church. May the article encourage your faith as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
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“Three Ingredients for an Evangelistic Church Culture

I’m convinced it’s better for your church to have an evangelistic culture than just a series of evangelistic programs.

In a church with a program-driven approach to evangelism, sharing the gospel can become something mostly for certain people at certain times, like when the evangelism team goes out visiting.

But in a church with an evangelistic culture, each member is encouraged to play a role within the larger church’s effort to reach the people around them with the message of salvation in Jesus. It becomes a part of every believer’s life.

THREE INGREDIENTS OF AN EVANGELISTIC CULTURE

If you are looking to create an evangelistic culture in your local church, here are three ingredients that may help.

1. The Gospel: the Fuel for an Evangelistic Culture

The gospel message is the fuel that feeds an evangelistic culture in a church. We all naturally share the things that excite our hearts. If the Philadelphia Eagles ever won the Super Bowl (I know…), you wouldn’t have much luck shutting me up about it. In the same way, if we want to create cultures in our churches where it’s natural for members to talk to about the gospel message with non-Christians, then we need to help our members fall deeply in love with the gospel.

That means they must understand the gospel message. It also means that the beauty of the gospel message must be put on display week in and week out in our churches. When Christians truly grasp the depth of their sin, the wonderful holiness of God, the perfection of Christ and the depth of his suffering for them, the power of his resurrection and the gift of eternal life for all who repent and believe, our affections for Christ will grow.

The gospel message also frees Christians from motivations that might lead them to dislike evangelism. The gospel says that we don’t have to evangelize in order to earn God’s love. Our position in God’s family isn’t dependent on how often or how well we share the gospel. Instead we can be certain of God’s love, which frees us from the overwhelming concern for the opinions of people around us that makes us afraid to speak up about Jesus.

2. Prayer: the Power of an Evangelistic Culture

Second, a church that is sharing the gospel must be committed to prayer. Evangelism seems a hopeless task. We are calling spiritually dead people to embrace life. How are we going to equip and encourage people for that work? It seems utterly futile.

That’s why an evangelistic culture must begin with a culture of prayer. In prayer, Christians go to the Lord with a confession of their insufficiency for the task of evangelism and his sufficient strength. God alone can make the seeds that we sow spring up to eternal life in our hearers, and so we must begin with prayer.

In our church, this particularly happens on Sunday evenings. We gather together as a congregation to pray that the Lord would spread his gospel through us. People share gospel conversations that they’ve had during the previous week, or opportunities that they hope to have in the coming week.

This prayer time serves a few purposes. First, it commits these things to the Lord, who normally has us ask before we receive in these matters (James 4:2).

Second, it involves the whole church in the work of sharing the gospel. It’s not a burden or a project that we undertake alone, but we have brothers and sisters to pray and encourage us.

Third, this sharing makes it clear that evangelism is the work of “normal” Christians. The people asking for prayer aren’t usually pastors or elders or gifted evangelists. They are just believers who have embraced their calling to share the good news with the people around them.

Finally, this prayer time gives people a good place to begin reaching out to their neighbors and co-workers. If people are nervous or uncertain about sharing the good news, we encourage them to begin with prayer. They can pray that the Lord would give them opportunities, and that he would bring people who need the gospel to their attention. That’s a much less intimidating first step than rushing out with a tract in hand.

3. Training: the Blueprint for an Evangelistic Culture

A third ingredient is training, the blueprint for an evangelistic culture. Remember that the goal is for our churches to have evangelistic cultures rather than merely evangelistic programs. But that doesn’t mean that there is no place for church leaders to organize and equip people to share the gospel. In fact, a love for the gospel and prayer may not be enough to motivate Christians to a lifestyle of evangelism.

While evangelism will come naturally to some people in your congregation, there will be many people who love the gospel and pray faithfully but still need to be equipped to share the gospel. Here are a few ways church leaders can equip the congregation:

Recommend good books on the topic. J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and Mack Stiles’ Speaking of Jesus are two of my favorites. Read these books with the people you are discipling, give them away to people who will read them, or make them available through you church library.

Bring people with you when you have a chance to share the gospel. When I am invited to give an evangelistic talk, I bring a younger person from the church with me. It’s a good opportunity to model for them how to share the good news.

Address unbelievers in your sermons. Your people will grow from listening to you engage people who don’t know Jesus with the claims of the gospel. Take time to thoughtfully consider the questions or objections that an unbeliever might have to your sermon’s message, and then speak to those issues.

Run evangelistic meetings where people can bring friends and get help sharing the gospel. If your church can host an evangelistic coffee house meeting or a program like Christianity Explored, you will give opportunities for your people to invite their friends and observe how they can share the gospel as well.

BETTER THAN THE BEST PROGRAM

There is no program that can create an evangelistic culture in your church. Instead, it will require church leaders to teach, model, and pray until members of the church realize that sharing the gospel is their privilege and responsibility. A church with such a culture will be far more fruitful and effective than a church with even the most effective programs and strategies.”



Congregation Killers

Recently I read an article by Todd Gaddis on attitudes and actions within a congregation that can harm its health. It is reprinted below in its entirety so that you may be encouraged by it also. Our health as a local fellowship is predicated on our commitment to follow the precepts of Jesus expressed in the New Testament Letters. May His Spirit empower us to be faithful in both our attitudes and actions. Pastor Chris
 
 

“10 Poisons That Will Kill Any Church

Brown Church Steeple Background

I read recently that thousands of churches close their doors every year. Who knows how many others are on life support? We live in a time when churches need revitalization and renewal. The eternal destiny of people depend on the faithful witness of local churches.

As I think about churches dying, I’m reminded there are certain poisons that are causes of death. I call them poisons because they are deadly, but they are avoidable. The churches that die from them do so by their own hand.

Here are ten poisons that will kill any church.

Performance without participation

Like concerts, movies, and athletic events, much of our worship has become spectator-oriented. A handful of well-trained (perhaps paid) musicians perform for the masses. Too often, we enjoy entertainment without experiencing engagement.

Information without inspiration

With advancement in technology and a multitude of media sources, we are drowning in information. Clearly, this phenomenon has spilled over into the church. Sermons, conferences, seminars, and Bibles studies are good, but some have sat and soaked so long that they’ve soured.

Mirrors without windows

Too many churches stare at themselves in the mirror, primping and preparing for the home town fans. Instead, we should be peering out windows, looking for local needs and global opportunities.

Attachment without commitment

Those who used to attend two or three times a month are now coming once or twice. Most people I run across claim an affiliation with a congregation, yet too many lack affection for its mission. They want to be included on the roll without taking a role.

Ritual without spontaneity

When a young man was asked why he didn’t go to church, he replied, “I’ve been.” Church services are too often boring, irrelevant, and predictable. We speak a different language on Sunday than the rest of the week. We’re saying the same things, singing the same songs, and voicing the same prayers.

Prosperity without generosity

Most congregants are employed and making decent money, yet this good fortune isn’t spilling over into the offering plate. Tithers are dying and tippers are taking their place. “Donations are on course to drop by 70 percent within twenty-five to thirty years—due to the deaths of the most generous generations,” says John Dickerson in
The Great Evangelical Recession.                       

Addition without reproduction

Much of what we call church growth is actually sheep swapping. We play musical pews, as Christians hop from church to church. Some churches may be adding to their membership, yet how many of these constitute a net gain for the Kingdom?

Birth without growth

It’s wonderful when the nursery is full of newborns, yet not so good when they make up a sizable portion of the congregation each Sunday. If your first grade child or grandchild made an A on a test of one-digit addition and subtraction problems, you’d beam with pride. However, would you feel the same way if your high school calculus student aced that same set of problems?

Membership without conversion

According to Christian author and researcher George Barna “half of all adults who attend Protestant churches on a typical Sunday morning are not Christian.” Having spent 14 years as an unsaved church member, I’m especially sensitive to this sad situation. A name on the church roll doesn’t forward to the Lamb’s book of life.

Duty without love

Too many 21stcentury congregations are modeling the first century church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7). Calendars are full but hearts are empty. Love for Jesus, fellow saints, and one another is growing cold in these later days (Matthew 24:12).

I wish I had simple solutions to these critical issues. It’ll take widespread revival to reverse these trends. In the meantime, while we pray for and anticipate such a move from God, we can strive to make sure the people we shepherd and churches we serve buck the trend.”