Archive for April, 2014
“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!