“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together. . .”
(Acts 20:7, ESV)
Having argued that the Lord’s day (Sunday) is the day chosen by the early church for distinctly Christian corporate worship, how should we approach the Lord’s Day as 21st Century believers? I want to offer four simple exhortations that will help us as we consider gathering together each Lord’s Day.
SET ASIDE the Lord’s day for distinctly Christian worship gatherings! If you are free and able, you should gather with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day (Sunday). If you are free and able, then set aside the entire day for Christian worship. I say this not as a command (It wasn’t REQUIRED until Constantine), but for concern for your welfare. Use this day to gather with God’s people both formally as we assemble together and informally to eat meals together, pray together, read together, sing together. When you set aside the Lord’s Day and don’t let other things crowd out your schedule, you will find that this day will become much more meaningful as you share it with the brethren. If you are not a faithful part of a local assembly, then commit yourself to a gospel-driven, Christ-exalting church.
PREPARE yourself for gathering with God’s people on the Lord’s day – on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning. Too many times we come to the Christian assembly consumed by the cares of this world. Also, we often arrive distracted by tiredness due to the activities we choose to participate in the previous evening. Consider using Saturday evenings to prepare your hearts and minds for the Lord’s day gathering. Consider the texts that will be preached on Sunday. At High Pointe, we offer meditation passages related to the preaching texts via our weekly email. Read through these passages on Saturday night; share them with your family. And be sure to get a good nights rest.
When you arrive to assemble greet the brethren, then consider the passages that will be read publicly. At High Pointe, they are written in the bulletin for your convenience. Finally, when you hear the pre-praise music begin, join in as we sing praises to our Lord and prepare your minds and hearts for what is about to happen.
DECLARE the Lordship of Christ with God’s people as you gather on the Lord’s day!
1. SING – In singing, we are jointly declaring the Lordship of Christ over all things. Declare with your lips that Jesus is Lord and worthy to receive all glory and honor and praise!
2. PRAY – In praying, we jointly declare our dependence upon Jesus, the Lord who provides for the needs of His people. Therefore, cast all your anxieties upon the Lord.
3. GIVE – In giving, we are declaring the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all our wealth and possessions. Since Jesus is the sovereign Lord who provides everything we need, He is the Lord of everything we have.
4. READ/LISTEN TO THE WORD – In preaching the Word, we are declaring the Lordship of Christ and urging those who do not presently submit to Jesus’ Lordship to repent, bow down or be consumed in His wrath. Be careful how we listen; pray for the preacher; obey the Word!
In all things REST in Christ! Do not rest in what you do: i.e., Lord’s day attendance/participation, membership, giving, etc. Rest in Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together” (Acts 20:7, ESV).
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. It may be a while before I post again. However, in light of substantial discussion within certain Christian circles, I’ve decided to write a brief series of posts. Specifically, I have had to answer questions regarding some Christians who have become convinced that they should observe the old covenant legal requirements, particularly, forsaking assembling on the Lord’s Day in order to “keep the Sabbath” and gather with a small group or even just their family on Saturdays.
Now, I want to be careful here. Admittedly, the role of the Christian and the Law is one of the more difficult theological issues facing us today. In fact, this is not a new problem; the early Jerusalem church made up of mostly Jewish Christians had to answer the same question when Gentiles began to be converted (see Acts 15).
To be fair, some who profess faith in Christ and trust in Christ (and His work) alone for their justification may enjoy learning about the Passover. Other such Christians may want to restrict their diet and abstain from various foods, say pork. So long as these Christians understand that we can do nothing to gain God’s favor (justification) except to trust in Christ and his saving work on our behalf, we are free concerning diets, days, and personal convictions (cf. Romans 14; Colossians 2).
HOWEVER, the moment someone believes that they MUST observe old covenant regulations such as dietary restrictions (pork) and Sabbaths and feast days, then they condemn themselves. They place themselves under the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10-14).
Sadly, I am hearing of more and more professing Christians who have fallen prey to false, or at the very least confused, teachers who demand that in order to be faithful, Christians must return to the old covenant and keep Sabbath (meet on Saturday), observe dietary restrictions, and celebrate the festivals. Sadly, such professing Christians isolate themselves from the body of Christ because they refuse to meet with the body of Christ on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Some, in fact, go as far as to condemn new covenant Christians for meeting on the Lord’s Day. Without realizing it, such professing Christians have fallen for what theologians have called the Galatian heresy (read all of Galatians).
Allow me in what remains of this post to address the question of the day for distinctly Christian worship.
Why is Sunday the traditional gathering day for Christians?
If Christians are no longer under the old covenant/Law, then, we are free from the Mosaic covenant and its sign: the Sabbath. Yet, being free from the Law raises several questions: If Christians are no longer required to keep/observe the Sabbath (Saturday), then . . . (1) Did the early Christians gather at all? (2) If they did gather, then when did they gather: i.e., what day and why that day? (3) What was the purpose of early Christian gatherings? (4) Why should we gather as a church in the 21st century?
After thinking through these questions more carefully, I have come to the following conclusion: the Lord’s Day is, and has been, the gathering day for distinctly Christian worship. The early Jerusalem (mostly Jewish) church observed the Sabbath at first but also gathered on the Lord’s Day/first day of the week for distinctly Christian worship (Acts 2:42-47; 20:7). The fact that the early church observed both means they did not see Sunday as a Christian Sabbath. Sabbath observance for the early Jewish Christians is understandable, but why meet also on the Lord’s Day? Richard Bauckham provides some helpful insight to these questions, making the argument that the Lord’s Day (first day of the week/Sunday) was the distinctly Christian gathering day (see R. J. Bauckham, “Lord’s Day”, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson, pages 221-250). Bauckham’s arguments are carefully made and humbly presented. At the risk of oversimplification, I want to summarize them in three points:
1. The early church met on the Lord’s Day to commemorate Jesus’ Resurrection (Bauckham, 232-245): All four gospels emphasize Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week. Though it cannot be proven that this was the reason established for Sunday worship, early Christians did connect gathering on the first day of the week with the Lord’s resurrection (Bauckham, 236, 240). Early church history attests to this fact as well (see Didache, Justin Martyr’s, First Apology, “Christian Worship,” chapter 67).
2. By the end of the first century, “Lord’s Day” is seen to be a technical term already in use in reference to the first day of the week/Sunday, the Christian gathering day (see Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 222-232). In fact, the apostle John can say that he was “caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” without having to provide any further explanation (Revelation 1:10).
3. By the middle of second century, Lord’s Day worship gatherings are the universal practice of the church (Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 230).
Some summary implications regarding the Lord’s Day (Sunday) worship gatherings:
1. To those who say “it just doesn’t matter what day we gather,” we’ve already seen above the pattern which begins in the New Testament (Acts 20; Revelation 1) and is attested to early in the history of the church – the Lord’s Day was the chosen gathering day for distinctly Christian worship.
2. To those who insist that everyone keep the Sabbath (meet on Saturday), the apostle Paul reminds us that because of what God has done for us in Christ, we are no longer under the copies and shadows of the old covenant. The old covenant pointed forward to the time when Christ would come. In His life, death, and resurrection Christ has now fulfilled the old covenant; therefore, let no one pass judgment on you, saying that Christians must meet on the Sabbath (Saturday) or abstain from pork or celebrate the Jewish feast days (Col. 2:16-23).
3. To those who apply Sabbath language to the Lord’s Day (Sunday) and suggest that new covenant Christians must keep the “Christian” Sabbath, I would remind you that the apostle Paul gives room to differ on such personal convictions regarding days; nevertheless, if that is your conviction, you must be true to it (sabbatarian or not). Since Paul places such observance of days under the category of personal conviction (see Romans 14:5-9), he also reminds us that we are not to pass judgment on one another on such matters (see Romans 14:10-23). Instead, we are to love one another and not pass judgment (Romans 14:1-13).
However, we cannot confuse the category of personal conviction with foundational doctrines such as justification. It is our duty to warn those we love that no one is justified before God by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:2:15-3:14). Instead, we are all to look to Christ and embrace all He has done on our behalf.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV)
If you have ever been a part of any church for any amount of time, then chances are you have witnessed conflict, perhaps even major conflict. This is a sad reality of life and ministry. You would think that a church full of professing Christians would be able to avoid divisions, but the truth of the matter is they don’t. Why is that?
Why are so many churches marked by conflict and animosity? The Corinthian church situation allows us to look into a divided church full of corporate and personal conflicts. There are several facts that may help us to see why conflict arises in churches.
First, divisions arose because of spiritual immaturity (3:1-4:21). Those who were immature placed their favorite “preacher” above the others. Instead, Paul reminded them that they should not boast in men, but in God (3:18-23). After all, ministers are God’s servants (4:1-21).
Second, divisions arose because of spiritual apathy. They simply refused to address sin in the congregation. Whether it was the case of incest (5:1-13), the personal conflicts and unforgiveness (6:1-11), or the sexual immorality (6:12-20), Paul knew that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Since we are called to be holy, we must address sin in our midst.
Third, and primarily, divisions arose because of spiritual arrogance. This pride raised its ugly head in doctrinal matters. Some of their beliefs led to marital conflicts (7:1-40); others simply looked down at the younger believers (8:1-11:1). Yet others showed spiritual elitism because they were wealthy. The most arrogant, however, were the ones who thought they were really spiritual because of their spiritual gifts. Regardless, though, the root of all conflict is sin. As James reminds us, we have conflict because we think only of ourselves (James 4:1-4). So then, what is the solution?
Christians are united by the foolish message of Jesus Christ crucified as revealed by the Holy Spirit: For this world, the message of the cross is foolishness (1:18-25), “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18). This gospel message reminds us that we were nothing when God called us to salvation; therefore, we cannot boast in self (1:26-31).
This gospel message comes in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in flashy or impressive speech so that our faith would rest in God, not preachers (2:1-5). Of course, the natural (unbelieving) person does not accept these things (2:14-16) because they are revealed by the Holy Spirit (2:6-13). But those whom God calls and sanctifies (makes holy), Christ sustains until the end (1:2, 8). So when Christ changes a life, what should it look like?
Christians who are united by the gospel should be marked by love: when we are marked by love (for God and others), then we will be of one mind. As Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So, I ask you Christian—are you marked by love? Love is, after all, the mark of the Christian.
Sermon Resource: The Mark of the Christian (Matthew 22:34-40)
Book Resource: The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer
“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”
(1 Timothy 4:6-8, ESV).
As Americans, we spend lots of money, time and energy trying to either get fit or stay fit. While being or getting physically fit is important and may even be God-glorifying (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), the apostle Paul reminds us that it is only of limited value. Training for spiritual fitness, however, is of eternal value (1 Timothy 4:8). Therefore, argues Paul, we are to train ourselves for godliness because it is of value for this life and the life to come. But what does it mean to train for godliness? Let’s follow Paul’s argument.
Note the command and Paul’s argument. Stated negatively, Paul warns against having anything to do with irreverent (godless) babble and silly myths. Positively, Paul commands that we train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). To train for godliness, then, seems to be the opposite of giving oneself over to the false knowledge that comes from false teaching. It is giving oneself over to “the words of the faith” (i.e., the gospel), and the good doctrine that flows out of that gospel (1 Timothy 4:6). In other words, to train for godliness is to train oneself in the true knowledge of God that comes from giving oneself over to God’s Word.
At this point some may argue that such training sounds and smells like legalism. But training for godliness is not legalism because this true knowledge of God begins as a gift of grace at salvation, and this true knowledge of God is a gift of grace for sanctification (2 Peter 1:3-4). Having received this knowledge of God and His saving power, we must continue to grow in this knowledge – this is what it means to train in godliness. It is only legalistic if you believe yourself to be gaining God’s favor by your actions. But if we receive God’s gracious Word and take it in by faith, then we are seeking to grow in our knowledge of God through Christ by His revelation to us. But you may still wonder how to go about such training?
To be sure, the Lord grants us many different means of grace (ordinances, one another, gathering as a church, etc.), but here I want to emphasize the foundational means of grace for our sanctification: God’s Word illuminated by God’s Spirit. Donald Whitney in his book The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life calls this Bible intake. God has mercifully not left us in the dark to figure things out. Our Lord Jesus promised to be with us by His Spirit, and the Holy Spirit guided certain men to record the Word of God about Christ. That’s what the Bible is: God’s Word about Jesus. If we are to know God, that is, understand who He is (character, attributes) and His ways, then we must take up the gracious gift of God’s Word and read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, hear it read and preached, and even sing it. If we are to understand the Bible itself, we must read it because earlier passages of Scripture shed light on later passages of Scripture and vice versa.
To train in godliness, then, is to train diligently in the knowledge of God in Christ by giving yourself over to the gospel and the doctrines that flow from the gospel – that’s Bible intake (Hos. 4:6)! So, establish a time and a place, then find a plan and begin by faith. It is hard work; after all, Paul calls it training. Taking the Bible in and hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, singing it is merely hearing God and getting to know Him in the manner in which He has graciously revealed Himself to us. Let us train together and grow in spiritual fitness!
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18, ESV)
The gospel is a gospel of peace. It declares that since the time of Adam’s sin we have been born into this world as God’s enemy: hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21) against God (Romans 8:7). The most holy God had every right to declare the differences between Him and us irreconcilable. Yet, in His wisdom and love God chose to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). By judging our sin at the cross of Christ, Holy God is able to reconcile to Himself us who receive Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by faith.
Through Christ, we who have been reconciled to God have also been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). As ministers of reconciliation, we proclaim this gospel of reconciliation to the world in order that all peoples may be reconciled to God through the death of Christ. But our ministry of reconciliation does not end there, for we must continue living in the light of the reconciling work of Christ. Consequently, we must live our lives reconciled to one another.
Even though we Christians have been reconciled to God through Christ, far too many professing Christians still live in conflict with others. Such conflict is manifested in marriages, homes, workplaces, even church relationships. Unfortunately, many of us address such conflicts according to worldly wisdom rather than heavenly wisdom. This is why Christians have as many divorces as non-Christians, why they stop talking to fellow Christians, why they leave churches over conflict, and why churches even split over conflict.
What kind of Christian testimony do we offer this world if we are reconciled to God through Christ but fail to be reconciled to one another? One of the most powerful witnesses we can provide our community is the witness of reconciled relationships that flow from being reconciled to God. If we are to live in such an atmosphere, then we must cultivate a culture of peace. According to Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a culture of peace is a culture where “people are eager and able to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships in a way that clearly reflects the love and power of Jesus Christ” (291). If we are to cultivate such a culture of peace, then we must have a biblical strategy for resolving conflict. Sande offers the following counsel (the four “G’s”):
Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our entire lives must be motivated by a desire to glorify God. Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). We must first look at our own hearts in order to discern our contributions to conflicts. Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). The Bible gives us clear instruction in approaching those with whom we have conflict. Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Once we have addressed conflict, we must be willing to restore relationships.
Let us cultivate a culture of peace in our local churches. May we be about God’s glory, and address conflict biblically by first looking at our own hearts, then approaching one another with the goal of reconciled relationships that give evidence to the fact that we are a people reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
From The Transforming Community: The Practise of the Gospel in Church Discipline (85-92)
By Mark Lauterbach
The church must be a place where people can grow, can begin as immature, and come to maturity. No matter where we draw the line of “when to speak to a brother” we must do so in a context of the Gospel and knowing that we are all maturing in Christ. Every day believers need the Gospel.
The new community is not a place where people are perfect. It is a place where people are honest about their sin. It is not a place of perfection, but of humility and the cross.
How to wisely address concerns about sin with brothers and sisters in Christ:
1. It should be evident we are dealing with sin, not violation of church taboos or traditions [or personal preferences]. “Make sure that the sin you are seeing in the other can be addressed by reading a verse of Scripture, without commentary” (86).
2. Guard the church against an atmosphere that is always pointing out sin (Matthew 7:1-5). “The call to reprove my fellow believer for sin must be put in the context of the call to encourage them and build them up” (88).
3. Remember that the general tone of the New Testament is encouragement. “I find it helpful,” notes Lauterbach, “to assume that another believer wants to please God. Therefore, they welcome my encouragement. The attitude behind reproof is to help them grow in Christ, which they want to do” (89).
4. Remember there is sin that is the normal lapse of the believer in their state of remaining sin. “The first question to ask is simple: Is this sin I am seeing part of the ordinary stumbling of the Christian? If so, then I need not speak to it immediately. Is it hardening their hearts or are they judging it themselves? If the latter, I may forbear” (89).
5. Remember to take into account the work of the Spirit. “[The Spirit] is wisely shaping us into the likeness of Christ in his sovereign love. Rather than expose all our corruption at once, he is gentle. To see ourselves as God sees us would undo us. He points out one thing at a time. As I intend to reprove someone or speak to them of my concern for them in sin, I must be aware of this” (90).
6. Where the believer is judging his sin and admitting it, I have no reason to be harsh. “They, like me, are seeking help and encouragement to keep on fighting the holy war. It is not helpful to rub salt in a wound” (92).
7. Sometimes we must intervene quickly. “Some sins have an unusual seriousness (and danger) to them. If I see a friend flirting with someone of the opposite sex, it is not time to be patient. It is time with wise and gracious words, to intervene, see if suspicions are correct, and seek their repentance before adultery is committed” (92).
May the Lord grant us the grace to speak to one another in love about sin.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
(1 John 3:2-3, ESV)
Parenting is the hardest task I’ve ever been given. It’s like a roller coaster ride. Sometimes things are up; sometimes they’re down; it’s always a fast ride, and you can never anticipate all the turns. The sad thing is that even though I’ve been parenting for over twenty two years, it hasn’t gotten any easier; the truth is that oftentimes I feel like an utter failure. Nevertheless, I will continue to cherish the opportunity God has given me to raise our girls in the discipline and instruction that the Lord requires.
Like all parents, I too want what’s best for my children. Jeanine and I diligently work at home to make sure we are teaching them God’s word in an effort to bring them along to a proper understanding of a gracious and holy God. There is only one problem; children tend to be very much like their parents. Have you noticed? The most humbling moments in our home are when we have realized that our children not only look like us; they act like us. This truth is a double-edged sword.
I believe God gives us these reflections of grace in order that we may understand Him better. I am speaking of reflections such as marriage and parenting, for God has revealed Himself as Father, and we know Jesus as the bridegroom. For example, we received our girls into our family when they were born. Similarly, God receives us into His family when we are born again (John 1:12-13). The good news for us is that as God’s children, we begin to take on the characteristics of our heavenly Father, for God is conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
When you read through 1 John, you will see that John sets out the characteristics of a child of God in contradistinction from the characteristics of a child of the devil. In 1 John you will discover that God is love; therefore, if we are born of God we too will love as a reflection of our Father’s love (1 John 4:7-8). As you read through 1 John, you will notice that the apostle John also emphasizes that God is light; therefore, if we are born of God, we will walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:5-7).
For now, consider how John combines the idea of the holiness of God with the second coming of Christ. Knowing that Christ is righteous, those who are born of God will also be righteous (1 John 2:28). When Christ returns for His bride (the church), those who are His will have no cause for shame, for we will have remained in Him and His righteousness (1 John 2:27). This is the ultimate hope for the Christian, that when Jesus returns we will see Him as He is, and we will be like Him (1 John 3:2-3). This being the case, do not be conformed to this world, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV). If Christ were to come today, would you have any cause for shame? Or, are you in the process of becoming more and more like Him? If you are being conformed to the image of Christ, then you have no need to fear His return.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
(1 John 3:2-3, ESV)
One of the features of Christian liberalism in the early 1900’s was the teaching of the “Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man” (see Adolf von Harnack, What is Christianity?, 1900). In other words, liberalism denied that the true gospel message was about exclusive faith in Christ. The result of this understanding is that God is the Father of all, and we are all brothers and sisters. But is this the message of the Bible?
To even propose that God is not the Father of all is at a minimum disturbing for some and at most heretical for others. Therefore, allow me to give two points of clarification before answering the question, “Who is a child of God?” First, all of humanity is God’s offspring in creational terms, that is, in the sense that all humans derive their being from God (Acts 17:22-31). John Stott says it well when he declares that, “Although in redemption terms God is the Father only of those who are in Christ, and we are his children only by adoption and grace, yet in creation terms God is the Father of all humankind, and all are his offspring, his creatures, receiving their life from him” (The Spirit, the Church and The World, 1990).
Second, the Bible affirms God’s love for His creation, particularly His human creation. We were created in His image (Genesis 1:27), and upon His creation of humankind, God declared it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Further, the Bible also affirms that God sent Jesus into the world to save sinners because of His great love for the world (John 3:16) and that He desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).
Therefore, to say that God is not the Father of all people is not to deny His role in creation or His great love for the world. However, when we deal with the issue of salvation, the Bible makes a clear distinction between those who are God’s children and those who are children of the Devil (1 John 3:8-10). The Bible clearly states that only those who have been born of God have the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13; see also Romans 8:12-17). How did we become Children of God? The Bible says that although we were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3) and were formerly hostile to God (Colossians 1:21), God has now reconciled us to Himself through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (Colossians 1:20). In other words, “God rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). The result of this new birth by which we have been transferred into God’s kingdom is eternal life. Thus, we have a future hope; Jesus is coming again for us (John 14:1-3). Having this hope, we now live, not for this world, but for the world to come. Are you a child of God?
As we strive to be a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered church, we remind ourselves that God glorifies Himself by taking rebellious sinners and transforming them into those who worship Him in spirit and truth; the Father is seeking such worshipers (John 4:23-24). We also remind ourselves that the church is the people to whom God has entrusted His gospel and who serves as His instrument to reach an unbelieving world.
It is our joy and privilege, then, to join the Father in the gathering of genuine worshipers into the body of Christ. We will, therefore, by any and all means available to us and permissible by Scripture, take the gospel of Christ to unbelieving and unchurched family members, neighbors, co-workers, friends, and acquaintances. However, I want to remind us that the primary evangelism strategy of High Pointe is YOU – each of you having natural, normal, conversations about the gospel with unbelieving, unchurched people. I want to challenge each one of us to do what no one else can do; invest time in YOUR unbelieving and unchurched family, friends and neighbors, and take advantage of opportunities the Lord provides to speak to them about Jesus – His life, death, resurrection.
A study of the formerly unchurched by Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources, shows that those who were closest to the unchurched were the most likely to reach them with the gospel. Of all relationships, family relationships proved the most pivotal. Rainer found that “of the different family members, wives were the most often mentioned as important in influencing the formerly unchurched to Christ and the church” (Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, 49).
The same is true in other relationships. Christians who invest in the lives of unbelievers are in the best position to introduce their friends, neighbors and co-workers to Christ and the church. This much has been proven already at High Pointe. Just last Sunday (Easter) our building overflowed with your unchurched family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. In addition, many of the visitor cards we receive each week are filled out by those who were invited to attend High Pointe by a friend or family member. Let me encourage you, then, to invest in the lives of unbelieving and unchurched family members, neighbors, friends and co-workers. When you invest in the life of unbelievers you will have opportunities to share Christ with them that others will never have. So invest in the lives of the unbelieving and unchurched with the intention of having gospel conversations that point them to Christ.
And don’t forget that many unchurched people are open to an invitation to attend a service with you, so ask them to come with you. In fact, invite them to come with you next Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, yet again. We promise to pray, plan and prepare for worship gatherings that will honor God, exalt Christ and present the gospel. We will also provide free resources that you can give to your friends and family at the Welcome Counter. I urge you, invest in the lives of unbelievers, then speak to them about Jesus. And as you have opportunity, invite them to come with you as we gather each Lord’s Day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
As we share our lives together as a church founded on the gospel, High Pointe will increasingly grow as an attractive witness to the glory of God (Acts 2:42-47). However, our witness is not merely to be attractional; God has chosen that the church both originate and continue to expand through the intentional witness to Christ through gospel proclamation. It is to this end that we have been commissioned (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-16; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). Be encouraged, though, for we have also been promised the power we need for such a mission (Acts 1:8). Therefore, we go in faith under the authority of Jesus Christ, boldly proclaiming his gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2). In this light, let me encourage you to pursue ten practices of intentional witness.
1. Know the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)! The gospel is the revelation of God concerning Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:16-17); it is a divine message. One of the ways we encourage you to remember this gospel is with four words: God, Man, Christ, Response. When we understand the gospel, we know that GOD is holy and created a world without sin. God provided the man with all he would need to dwell in God’s presence. However, MAN rebelled against God, declaring his independence because he wanted to be his own king. Such rebellion requires judgment, the penalty of which is death. But God in His grace and mercy, provided CHRIST as a substitute to live a life of perfect obedience acceptable to God and to receive upon Himself the penalty of sin. Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day indicating that the Father accepted His substitute life/death for sinners and had gained victory over sin and death. Now, all who RESPOND with repentance from sin and faith in Jesus have eternal life. This is the gospel, the good news that we must know and understand if we are to share it with others.
2. Live your life in light of this gospel. As this gospel takes root in our own lives and we begin to apply it to our marriages, parenting, relationships, lives together as a church, etc., then our lives will be markedly different than the world and thereby attractive. How can we announce that this gospel is the power of God to save and change lives if we who profess Christ continue living just like the world?
3. Pray and fast for unbelievers (John 14:12-14; 15:7-8). One reason unbelieving people are not on our minds is because we don’t pray for them. First, pray that God would break your heart for the lost in general and for specific people in particular. Then, make a list of unbelieving people and begin praying for them and their salvation because it is God who saves. But also pray for opportunities throughout the day. Ask God to open doors for evangelism, then by faith be obedient when the opportunities arise.
4. Be willing to share your life with unbelievers (1 Thessalonians. 2:1-8). We can’t just share the gospel word, we must also share our lives, investing in those we desire to reach. In other words, we must make evangelism part of our normal lifestyle, not a special program! We need to take time to talk to people everywhere and invite them into our homes for a meal, or small group, or even church. But, in order to do that, we need to know the culture (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The apostle Paul said he became all things to all peoples that he may save some. We must seek to understand people and their cultures in order to reach them. That means we need to get to know unbelieving people. We need to know where they live, shop, eat, recreate and move out of our comfort zones to look for opportunities to relate to them where they are, instead of thinking they will come to us.
5. Share the gospel with urgency! We are on an urgent mission (2 Peter 3:8-10)! We must share the gospel naturally & clearly. Since the gospel is a word/message about Christ, then we must be word-centered and use the Bible. Also, the gospel is a word that must be proclaimed! We cannot keep it to ourselves. But I think one of the reasons we struggle with evangelism is because we think it is “special” – we have to do it in a “special” way, using a “special” outline, and there are Christians who are “especially” gifted at this. The truth of the matter is that evangelism is NOT special; it is normal. Think of evangelism simply as a conversation about who Jesus is. If using the four words, God, Man, Christ, Response, is helpful, then think through the gospel story in that way. But in the same way we have normal, every day conversations about the weather, the Longhorns and Aggies, we should think of evangelism as normal – this is a normal activity of every Christian: speaking of Jesus when our conversations permit during the opportunities God gives us.
6. Study the doctrine of hell! If you lack urgency in evangelism, then perhaps you should do a personal study of the doctrine of hell. As you study what the Bible says concerning the fate of those who reject Christ, ask God to break your heart for those who reject Christ and to move you with urgency to share the good news.
7. Invite unbelievers to repent and believe! As I mentioned above, the gospel requires a response. We must call on all people everywhere to repent (turn away from their sinful ways) and believe (in Jesus Christ).
8. Invite unbelievers to church. This goes along with sharing our lives with unbelievers and investing in them. Invite unbelievers and unchurched to come with you on the Lord’s day so that they may hear the gospel proclaimed. Surprisingly, in a 2010 study of unbeliving, unchurched people in Austin, a large number of people indicated that they would be open to invitations to go to church. Imagine that! They don’t come because we don’t ask.
9. Trust Christ for the results. Faithfulness, not results is what God requires of us. Salvation is of the Lord, so we must trust the sovereign Lord to do His work in the hearts of unbelieving people. Our responsibility is to faithfully share the gospel indiscriminately.
10. Share with others and ask them to join you in prayer. I have found it greatly encouraging to hear other Christians’ stories of evangelism and to know that I am accountable to someone for evangelism. Share your encounters and pray together for those souls. May the Lord grant us a great harvest of souls!