Thursday, July 12, 2018

Five Ways the Doctrine of Election Encourages Evangelists

Five Ways the Doctrine of Election Encourages Evangelists;
Or: The Doctrine of Election as the Great Divide!
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18.
One of the most ardent sermons of John Wesley was his attack on predestination titled, “Free Grace,” preached in A.D. 1740. The heading for Wesley’s last point in this sermon was, “Predestination is a doctrine full of blasphemy.” In that section, Wesley discussed reasons he felt that adherence to the doctrine of predestination was blasphemous to the loving purposes of God as described in the Bible. For one thing, said Wesley, the doctrine of predestination paints Jesus as a deceiver of the people:
“To say, then, he did not intend to save all sinners, is to represent him as a gross deceiver of the people. You cannot deny that he says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden.’”
That same year George Whitefield penned a response to Wesley, addressing him directly:
“When you were at Bristol, I think you received a letter from a private hand, charging you with not preaching the gospel, because you did not preach up election. Upon this you drew a lot: the answer was ‘preach and print.’ I have often questioned, as I do now, whether in so doing, you did not tempt the Lord. A due exercise of religious prudence, without [the drawing of] a lot, would have directed you in that matter. Besides, I never heard that you enquired of God, whether or not election was a gospel doctrine.”
Then, in his public letter, Whitefield went on to answer the arguments of Wesley’s sermon, “Free Grace.” 
Meanwhile a doctrinal guillotine had dropped. Divided were the evangelistic efforts of the two primary traveling evangelists of the First Great Awakening. The momentum of that movement soon mitigated.
This debate of theirs was not new in Christian circles. That same cleavage was canonized, with equivocal language, in the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529). Orange dissuaded any who dared believe in predestination by condemning its logical antithesis: double-predestination:
“We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.”
By anathematizing double-predestination, the Second Council of Orange tacitly anathematized predestination. Orange used a tactic called “plausible deniability”—thereby being capable of plausibly denying that it disaffirmed predestination—while turning the table on believers in predestination. Orange put believers in predestination on the defensive, forcing them to explain why and how they did not believe in double-predestination.
Meanwhile it is only logical that a state-endorsed church would need to adapt its doctrinal principles to include all citizens of that state. Hence, by necessity, Orange had to affirm general atonement. 
The position of the Second Council of Orange was clarified in a lesser known council that took place 56 years before Orange. The state-church’s clear antagonism to predestination was communicated in the AD 473 Council of Arles. A certain Presbyter Lucidus was required by this council to retract certain opinions on the doctrine of predestination. The following excerpt of Lucidus’ retraction is cited from Denzinger (2005 edition):
“From now on, according to the recent statutes of the venerable council, I condemn with you all this opinion: ...

  • That says that Christ our Lord and Savior did not undergo death for the salvation of all; 
  • That says that the foreknowledge of God violently compels men unto death, or those that are lost are so by the will of God; 
  • That says that after having legitimately received [infant] baptism are dead in Adam whosoever sins; 
  • That says some are assigned to death, and others are predestined to life.”

The Presbyter Lucidus signed off on these retractions to his views of predestination. So important was his retraction, that the Bishop Faustus of Riez immediately sent it to the thirty bishops of Gaule (France). As predestination was an issue in Fifth Century France, so it was also an issue in the 18th Century United States. The dictum of Solomon stands true: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
The rupture that rent Wesley and Whitefield tore apart Christians long before it divided Wesley and Whitefield.
For any evangelist wondering when chill winds fell on New Testament evangelism in the Western Church, the 473 Council of Arles and the 529 Second Council of Orange are good places to start. As the light of biblical evangelism dimmed in the Sixth Century Western Church, so the new believers saved by the light of the gospel proclaimed during the First Great Awakening dimmed in doctrinal dissension.
Evil purposes have long found beneficial to their cause the biblical axis where intersects God electing purposes and man’s freewill. This fulcrum has proven expedient in dividing born-again Christian brothers who believe the Bible.
These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven arean abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.” Proverbs 6:16-19.
Sowing discord among brethren stands at the climax of the seven abominations to the Lord. The intersection of divine election and man’s freewill has been used as an ax-head to split the evangelistic momentum of revival movements since the beginning of the church. What was in the past continues into the present. Evil purposes do not sleep; they still sow discord in every generation of the church.
However, the practice of biblical evangelism demands that both God’s predestination and man’s freewill be held synchronously.
In God’s providential foreknowledge, both man’s freewill and God’s electing purposes must be maintained simultaneously. Each sheds divine light on the practice of evangelism. The doctrine of election endues evangelism with twofold realism:
  • Realism as regards biblical precepts and examples of evangelism; and
  • Realism as to evangelism counters in the present day.
With these two truths in mind, this article offers five ways that the doctrine of divine election encourages evangelists. Next it considers the importance of universality to the Great Commission purposes of Christ.
While generality can lead to unrealistic expectations of openness among lost people, the doctrine of election prepares the evangelist for rejection—in the same way that Jesus prepared His disciples for promised rejection in Matthew 10:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.” Matthew 10:16-17.
Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Matthew 10:21-23.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” Matthew 10:24-25.
Perhaps the first lesson impressed upon the evangelist is the small percentage of people who are genuinely interested in the gospel. This truth is taught when he encounters rejection or disinterest from most people. The Apostle Paul learned this lesson first hand from God. Paul explained this experience in his testimony to a hostile crowd in Jerusalem:
“‘Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a tranceand saw Him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” So I said, “Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Then He said to me, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”’ And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!’” Acts 22:17-22.
Paul very quickly learned that, although God loves the world, the vast majority of the world does not and will not love God back. 
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” John 1:11.
Even years after the fact, Paul’s hearers in Jerusalem still burned with murderous rage at Paul. They pronounced on him an immediate death sentence because he dared evangelize, and to do so in Gentile territories—outside the reach of the Sanhedrin’s authority. By the time he shared his testimony before that hostile crowd in Jerusalem, Paul bore on his body many scars of the world’s hatred of Jesus.
Whereas generality assures the evangelist the false expectation that all people will be saved—if only the gospel is properly communicated to them—, the doctrine of election counters by clarifying that only those with a “hearing of faith” will be saved.
The problem with a universalism comes at the point of a “hearing of faith.” Only a minority of those who hear the gospel will have a “hearing of faith” according to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. Universalism leaves the naïve evangelist with the false expectation that everyone with whom he shares the gospel should and will have a “hearing of faith.” When this false expectation is dashed in the laboratory of real life, fear and introspection can destroy any of his future efforts in evangelism. Through using harsh rejection of the gospel, Satan succeeds in closing many Christian mouths from ever sharing the gospel again!
But not all people have a “hearing of faith.” It is given to only a few. Paul explained the importance of a “hearing mixed with faith”:
“For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” Hebrews 4:2.
He also discussed the role of a “hearing of faith” in Galatians:
“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:2-3.
The Bible clearly communicates in a number of places and in a number of ways that “narrow is the gate and difficult the way” that leads to salvation, and “few are those who find it.”
Whereas generality can misplace the world’s hatred as being rooted in something other than rejection of the gospel—leading to an endless search for what we are doing wrong—, the doctrine of election reminds the evangelist that Christ continues to be hated by the people of this world.
In order to align a general view of the atonement with the rejection faced in evangelism, the Christian is forced to seek out “What went wrong?” Because of general atonement, coupled with a misguided anthropology (that men will not by their sinful nature reject Jesus), the blame for rejection falls on the evangelist. Because of the fallacy of the original premise—being, “If I communicate the gospel rightly all persons should receive it warmly”—, an acceptable diagnosis for rejection is not possible, aside from abandoning the gospel altogether. The generalist evangelist is left “striving after the wind”—seeking a natural solution for supernatural problem, the problem of lost people rejection of Christ.
Yet Jesus warned His disciples of the rejection of the world:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:18-19.
Whereas generality can shift antagonism to the gospel to the means, manner, or method of the proclaimer, the doctrine of election assures the evangelist that lost souls will reject even a proper gospel presentation.
Paul reminded the Corinthian church of the foolishness of the message preached to the ears of those who are perishing:
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:21-24.
While God makes no efforts to make His gospel palatable to all men, some modern practitioners appear to make it their life’s goal to do so. Steve Sjogren, David Ping, and Doug Pollock began their book, Irresistible Evangelism (2004), proposing “A Fresh Outlook on Evangelism”:
“Most Christians want to see the people around them make faith commitments to Christ. Some are desperately looking for ways to become more effective at the task, but many others have given up.”
One of the three authors, Doug Pollock, was introduced as follows:
“His passion to see people experience new life in Christ compelled him to try out and evaluate just about every possible approach to evangelism. He has reached the conclusion that most of our methods for sharing the good news leave both Christians and pre-Christians with bad tastes in their mouths.”
While this book has many helpful ideas and suggestions, its use of “pre-Christian” seems to ignore the doctrines of total depravity and total inability. Rather they appear to communicate an implicit generality. This generalist view of Sjogren, Ping, and Pollock forced them to scan the horizon of their combined experiences to find a methods of evangelism that:
  1. Would not leave a bad taste in the mouth of the proclaimer or the hearer; 
  2. Would be irresistible to all people; and 
  3. Would allow the proclaimer to avoid persecution for the gospel. 
This book does not seem to consider that the Bible has abundant tutelage on methodology for sharing the gospel. Nor does this book consider a biblical understanding of persecution in light of evangelism!

Whereas generality places the focus of the evangelist on his words, his personality type, his communication style, his cogent arguments, his persuasive techniques, and/or his cultural relevance, the doctrine of election drives the evangelist to keep his focus on the spiritual weapons of the gospel and the word of God.
Paul made a strong distinction between spiritual weapons and carnal (or worldly) weapons. It appears that false teachers were persuading the house churches in Corinth to focus on carnal weapons rather than spiritual ones.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare arenot carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-4.
Borrowing terminology from Jeremiah 1, Paul showed the need for spiritual weapons and methods over the need for the world’s weapons and methods.
On the other hand, in a frantic search to improve the world’s reception of the gospel, the rejected and misguided evangelist grasps for every source of truth he can find. Consider the words of the aging evangelist Charles Finney in his foreword to his Systematic Theology (1851):
“The discovery of new truth will modify old view and opinions, and there is perhaps no end to this process with finite minds in any world. True Christian consistency does not consist in stereotyping our opinions and view, and in refusing to make any improvements lest we should be guilty of change, but it consists in holding our minds open to receive the rays of truth from every quarter and in changing our views and language and practice as often and as fast, as we can obtain further information.”
Finney’s pitfall was to modify his old opinions “from every quarter … as often and as fast, as we can obtain further information.” This quote shows that the early Finney—the 1821 Finney with his Lectures on Revival—did not represent the later Finney. Once he lost the Bible as the sole arbiter and ground for truth, Finney no longer had an anchor.
For the evangelist who understands God’s electing purposes. The outcome is quite different. He is not blindsided by persecution, either to compromise his method to be palatable to a lost world or to shut his mouth altogether. He continues in humble submission to Christ who has given His gospel as the message and has taught how His gospel should be proclaimed.
The evangelist uses the spiritual weapons God has made available to him, including the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
When, however, the Bible no longer remains as the sole authority for faith AND PRACTICE, a vacuum is created, only to be quickly filled with ideas from “every quarter”—except for the Bible! The slippery slope is lubricated with concepts from public relations, marketing, sales techniques, and mass persuasion. The Finney quote above portrays the attitude that began the descent of this evangelist down a doctrinal slippery slope.
Just as the doctrine of election gives staying power to the persevering evangelist, so also does the Bible’s universal appeal and man’s need to “Call on the name of the Lord to be saved.”
A hidden freewill is lodged in men that God reveals in the context of gospel proclamation. It outwardly appears that a person is receptive to the gospel OF THEIR OWN FREEWILL when one approaches them with the gospel and they hear, repent, and believe. Yet behind that open reception lies a host of hidden divine actions:
  • The Holy Spirit bringing life to the Scriptures;
  • God opening a person’s heart to be receptive to the gospel;
  • The Holy Spirit applying each word of Scripture to the heart in a proper way; and
  • The Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
God operates His predestined result through this hidden consortium of divine power impacting man’s soul. Meanwhile on the other side of the spiritual continuum, Satan himself comes to snatch the seed of the gospel before it can take root in the person’s heart (cf. Mark 4:15). Every seasoned personal evangelist has experienced these opposing results many times over. The spiritual battle is most evident at the point where the word of God is first being proclaimed and heard.

For the receptive heart, consider God’s powerful working in the heart of Lydia. She was found to be among several other women, the others apparently remaining unreceptive.
And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia was listening. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. Acts 16:13-14 (My adaptation of v. 14).
Here the Lord operated as the Agent opening Lydia’s heart to attend and respond to the gospel that Paul was sharing with the group of women. The general group of women were untouched by the gospel Paul was proclaiming. Yet, through the same words, God wrought salvation in the heart of one hearer, Lydia.
From Paul’s perspective, it may have seemed like Lydia’s freewill was drawing her to Christ. Man cannot see the heart of others. Only God sees the heart:
“For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
What looks like freewill to man has been lodged in the purposes of God since before the foundation of the world!
General atonement is quite different. For general atonement, at the cross God opened the heart of all men. The divine power of God is not necessary to open individual hearts of men and women as they hear to the gospel. They just need the opportunity to hear the gospel. Then the choice is theirs.
The scenario where God works in every heart, leaving it to man to make a decision does not match with God’s working in Lydia’s heart. While man making the choice appears true, it overlooks all the divine elements mentioned above. Yes, Christ died for all men. But God does not act on all men. God did not open the hearts of all the women at the riverside. He opened Lydia’s heart to be attentive to the things spoken by Paul.
Even so, universality does play an important role in evangelism.
Universality is also found in the New Testament. There is a clear universality to the Great Commission. Christ commanded His people to preach the gospel to every creature. The New Testament makes it clear that God loves the whole world. Jesus’ death was the propitiation “not for our sins only, but for those of the whole world.” There is a universal aspect to the New Testament that cannot be ignored. It is not for the Christian to question what God has clearly communicated on the anvil of His word. Indeed, God’s universal mandate and Christ’s sufficient atonement drive intentionality and expectancy in evangelism.
  • With Intentionality we must go to every tribe, tongue, and nation.
  • With Expectancy we share with all that some will have a “hearing of faith,” repent and believe.
  • With Intentionality we proclaim the gospel with every possible person that we encounter.
  • With Expectancy we trust that some will repent and believe in Christ the very first time they hear His name.
  • With Intentionality we use the very words of the Bible because the Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation in the life of all who believe.
  • With Expectancy we understand that the Holy Spirit will work in, with, and by God’s word and the gospel of Christ.
  • With Intentionality we call receptive people to commitment in obedience to Christ’s command, and following the examples of Scripture.
  • With Expectancy we rejoice by faith in the plentiful harvest that Jesus promised.
Both intentionality and expectancy in evangelism are deeply rooted in God’s universal mandate and Christ’s sufficient atonement. Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.
“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10.
Both election and freewill have their place in God’s sovereign work through the preaching of the gospel. The greatest danger is allowing Satan to tear apart these essential Bible teachings and to use them as a wedge to split God’s people. The sword of the Spirit gives unity and power. The scalpel of Satan slices and dices, bringing discord, disharmony, and constant strife.
Enough of allowing the Evil One to use divine election and man’s freewill as a ploy to divide God’s people. Rather than spreading discord, may we work to be faithful proclaimers and peacemakers.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Evangelism to the Glory of God?

For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Gal. 1:10.
There are really only two kinds of evangelism. One is to the glory of God. The other is to the glory of man. One is God-centered, the other is self-centered. God-centered evangelism focuses on God, His works, His self-revelation, and His salvation. Man-centered evangelism focuses on human works and human ability.
The muses of cultural conformity lull us to pleasure our selfishness and hedonism at every turn. They color their teaching with a veneer of Bible terminology and God-talk. They redefine biblical evangelism to accommodate man’s worship of himself. Don’t people flock to hear their patronizing platitudes?
But man’s way are not God’s ways, nor are man’s thoughts God’s thoughts. Even as the heavens are higher than the earth, so God’s ways are far superior to man’s ways. The dichotomy between God’s ways and man’s ways exists in every realm of life, including evangelism.
There are many ways that evangelism becomes man-centered. The negative spiritual results of such compromise are many. Nevertheless, the following eight counter-positions may help us capture and refocus our evangelism to the glory of God.
  • Focus on Jesus—Not Us

Keep the focus of your evangelism conversation Jesus. It’s not about you or I. It’s about Him, His love, His life, His death, and His resurrection. He and only He can and will save. Even when sharing our testimony of salvation, the focus should be on our total unworthiness and Christ’s great worthiness—His love, His effectual death for sin, and His gift of unmerited righteousness to everyone who repents and believes. The focus of every gospel conversation should be to get to Jesus as quickly as possible.
  • Focus on the Gospel—Not Our Lifestyle

Living in conformity with the gospel is Christianity 101. However, there is a philosophy abroad that posits that Christians needs to “earn” the privilege to share the gospel with others by living a lifestyle in front of them or by building a relationship with them. While both of these are non-negotiables of living the Christian life, the result of these prerequisites to the gospel leads to man-centered evangelism.
Requiring a lifestyle as a precursor to evangelism assumes that Jesus did not earn the privilege for us to share the gospel when He died on the cross. His work was insufficient for effective evangelism to elicit healthy responses to the gospel. “Earning the right” presumes that the Jesus did not have the have the authority to command His followers to proclaim His gospel, and win disciples to Him, without the nuanced prerequisite of “earning the right.” It places a human caveat between Christ’s command and our obedience. The requirement leaves the Christian in a nebulous pause:
  1. How long until I have “earned the right”?
  2. What must I do to “earn the right”?
  3. Have I done enough to “earn the right”?
  4. Surely friend X is not open to the gospel, because I have not done enough to “earn the right”?

Christ followers are left seeking to earn the right to share the gospel to a hostile world. Did not Jesus earn the right to share the gospel with His hometown acquaintances? In fact, Jesus’ own hometown people disbelieved in Him and sought to kill Him. Was it the fault of Jesus for not doing enough miracles in His hometown? No Jesus gave the reason:
“But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.’” Mark 6:4.
  • Focus on God’s Power—Not Ours

With a focus on human effort and attainment in evangelism comes a focus on human results. Substantial human results in evangelism can bring human pride. On the other hand, diminished results in evangelism can lead to discouragement and introspection. But surely, gospel transformation is completely a divine process. The evangelist merely acts as a conduit for the eternal gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin. Only the gospel remains the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
Furthermore, one of the greatest hindrances to biblical evangelism is fear of failure, followed by a sense of personal responsibility if the person rejects Christ, and ending in debilitating introspection of apparent failure in evangelism. All of these doubts emerge from an unhealthy focus on human-centered evangelism. It’s not about us, but about Jesus. It’s not about our abilities, its about the tremendous power of the gospel message.
  • Focus on the Scriptures—Not Our Words

The Tempter would tempt us to use our words, our ideas and illustrations, our stories. The Evil One would lure us into dropping the mighty sword of the Spirit. He knows that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment by use of the Holy Scriptures.
When the words of the Bible are brought into a gospel conversation, another person is invited into the conversation: God Himself.
When God enters a conversation, He begins His work of conviction. He means just what He says, and His words will make their mark. When God speaks to mankind, He uses His own words. So also, we should use His words when we share His gospel.
  • Focus on the Great Commission—Not Personal Feelings

Christ was very clear in what He wanted His disciples to do. His commission was not a recommendation, nor is it stated in equivocal language. Jesus wanted His disciples to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to all creation. He wanted His suffering and resurrection to be preached, resulting in repentance and remission of sins. Jesus wanted all of His followers to become fishers of men and to win disciples for Him. He did not say it would be easy, but acknowledged that we ought not fear men, but fear God. He warned that there would be antagonism and persecution both from the lost and from other Christians. 
If personal feelings rule in our hearts, it is highly likely that we will never share the gospel. If Christ’s commands control our hearts, then obedience to the Great Commission will not be a matter of preference but of obligation.
  • Focus on Biblical Methods—Not Our Methods

The New Testament is replete with instructions on sharing the gospel, as well as with examples of sharing the gospel. Evangelism to the glory of God will mine the pages of the Bible for guidance as to how best to evangelize. Christ has provided His words as the foundation for life—including in the area of evangelism. We would do well to submit to Christ’s instructions and follow the numerous biblical examples.
Every Great Awakening in the history of the churches has always been accompanied by Christians following and obeying New Testament methods of evangelism!
As a student of the history of evangelism, it has become apparent to me that every movement of the Spirit of God in the history of the churches always includes preachers following both the message and methods of the Bible in the areas of preaching and evangelism. If we are to see a movement of God in our time, it will be spurred on when God’s people take God’s Word seriously and follow its guidance, with a focus on biblical methods of evangelism.
  • Focus on Seeking God's Elect—Not Those We Decide Need to Be Saved

It is easy to become emotional about seeing sinners saved. So emotional that we pray, beg, and plead with God that family members, neighbors, coworkers, and long-time friends be saved—and so we should. However, God is not obligated to save them. It might not be in His ultimate plan. This truth is hard to handle.
Sometimes with the salvation of family or those we have befriended we become “Name It and Claim It.” I have prayed for so-and-so be saved. In fact, I totally believe God that so-and-so will be saved. Hence, so-and-so will be saved. Meanwhile, God is not under obligation to save those we have determine should be predestined to salvation!
God is not under obligation to save those we have determine should be predestined to salvation.
This one fact alone should give us holy pause in all our human-oriented evangelism efforts. Consider that God is not even obligated to save the unsaved spouse of a believer:
For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save yourhusband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” 1 Cor 7:16.
Even in the case of a believer married to an unbeliever, Paul did not assure the believer that the unbeliever would be saved. How much more with any other human relationship.
So, while God does “truly love the world” and while Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our only but also for the whole world,” this does not in any way affirm universal salvation. Nor does it affirm that all whom we desire to be saved will be saved.
While a posture of expectancy is desirable every time we share the gospel—expecting God to be at work through His word in every person—expecting every recipient of the gospel to have a hearing of faith—we cannot transfer our spiritual well-wishes upon another person’s soul. Ultimately, salvation is God’s decision. Each person is a soul unto themselves, and each person must decide for themselves. It is not the decision of a third party to operate salvation in the soul of another.
  • Focus on Lost Souls—Not Our Comforts

Christ commanded His disciples to look, lift up their eyes, and see the fields, that they were already ripe unto harvest. He directed their gaze away from themselves and into the fields. Jesus moved the attention of His disciples away from the comforts of the well—where they were talking. He wanted them to perceive the harvest. Jesus always calls His disciples to focus on every tribe, tongue, and nation. As unreasonable and impossible as it may sound, He calls all His people to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. It is an urgent call—requiring urgent obedience!
Evangelism to the glory of God requires a lifestyle of repentance. It requires repentance from a sin-stained life to receive the righteousness of Christ. All we offer Jesus is our sin. And through His substitutionary death and resurrection Jesus gives us His perfect righteousness. However, repentance does not end with conversion. Conversion only marks the beginning. Repentance continues as we submit to His Scriptures making Jesus the Master of every part of our lives.
In evangelism we volitionally put to death self-centered evangelism to focus on Christ-centered evangelism. We move from tickling people’s ears with our thoughts and ideas to allowing the Holy Spirit to work in, with, and by the Word of God. We understand that the way is narrow, and that only a few will repent and believe. We seek those with a hearing of faith, pouring the gospel into their souls.
The result of God-centered evangelism is spiritual transformation of individual souls—one-by-one. In God-centered evangelism we join God in His work of calling His elect unto Himself! True God-centered evangelism requires a constant decision to move outside of our own will, and to say with Jesus, “Thy will be done.” The Sirens of ease whisper in our consciences to compromise by downgrading to human-centered evangelism. We must not abide their seductions. God’s Word and only God’s Word must be our master.
“Lord, may You rule in my life, and may Your will be done today in my life, even as Your will is being done today in heaven.” Matt 6:10 (my adaptation).

Friday, July 6, 2018

Understanding the Rocky Soil... Psalm 129—Really?

A song of ascentsSince my youth they have often attacked me—let Israel say—Since my youth they have often attacked me, but they have not prevailed against me. Plowmen plowed over my back; they made their furrows long. The Lord is righteous; He has cut the ropes of the wicked. Let all who hate Zion be driven back in disgrace. Let them be like grass on the rooftops, which withers before it grows up and can't even fill the hands of the reaper or the arms of the one who binds sheaves. Then none who pass by will say, “May the Lord’s blessing be on you.” We bless you in the name of Yahweh. Psalm 129 (CSB).
We all lament the epidemic of Christian youth who drift from the Lord as they move from high school into early adulthood. Whether it is 45% or 85% it is still at epidemic proportions among U.S. Evangelicals. It seems that Psalm 129 offers an interesting perspective and prognosis for this problem. In Psalm 129 the unnamed psalmist offers three earmarks to assist parents, youth pastors, and local churches prepare their youth to navigate this inevitable transition.
The Psalm uncovers three diagnoses related to adolescent drift, thereby offers remedies for the same. These same three diagnoses also emerged as characteristics that Jesus used in His Parable of the Sower. In the second soil mentioned by Jesus in this parable, the shallow soil, Jesus offered three qualities related to the spiritual drift so common among adolescents:
  • The Laboratory of Persecution
  • The Lack Spiritual Depth
  • The Loss of Spiritual Blessing

The interrelationship between Psalm 129 and the seed sown in the shallow soil becomes apparent by linguistic markers. Both speak of short-lived grass. One on the rooftop and the other in the rocky soil. The psalm emphasizes a lack of blessing. The words of Jesus “falling away.” The most interesting theme is that of persecution. In the psalm, the psalmist testifies in first person of receiving continual persecution from his youth. Yet, having faced persecution from his youth, he did not SUCCUMB TO persecution. By contrast, in the Parable of the Sower, the second soil, the shallow soil, is scandalized BECAUSE OF persecution.
And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.” Mark 4:16-17 (NAS).
The tragic fate of the seed sown in the shallow soil comes at the point of persecution because of the word of God. Once a child leaves the protective shelter of his Christian family, if he indeed clings to his faith, he will encounter persecution. The moment he verbally shares his faith with others, he faces immediate persecution. The antagonism of the world to the gospel is so unexpected and abrupt, that it comes as a shock to the unprepared. The words of Jesus are shown to be true:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” John 15:18 (NKJ).
Persecution is part and parcel of the true Christian life. Properly negotiating persecution is seminal to a robust biblical Christian faith. Here is another reason why a universal salvation and the state-run church model make no sense. If everyone is a Christian, why then is there persecution? Hence, for most of Christian history experiencing persecution because of the gospel was not taught as a part of Christian doctrine. Nevertheless, God has foreordained persecution as His crucible to test the character of His people.
We must prepare our youth for persecution. This task is quite simple as the Book of Psalms, the Gospels, and the Acts are replete with examples of persecution and encouragement of how to properly handle it. Further, as we encourage youth to be involved in personal evangelism, we cannot ignore that persecution is one of the first things they will encounter.
Likewise, Jesus spent most of His sermon preparing His disciples for evangelism discussing persecution. The sermon of Jesus in Matthew 10 speaks so strongly of persecution as to be almost overwhelming and unbelievable. He emphasized persecution far more than He did the message they were to deliver. 
We do our youth a disservice when we speak glibly of evangelism, as if it will not result in persecution. We do our youth a double disservice when we contrive methods of evangelism that soften, eliminate, or minimize the possibility of persecution—especially if we still call it evangelism!
Our youth need to face persecution. And as they do, we must be there to assist them in dealing with it, just as Jesus did in His Missional Sermon in Matthew 10. Perhaps spiritual persecution, with its corollary, the narrow road, are the missing elements that youth need for them to have the spiritual depth they need to escape a scandalized faith.
Two points in these passages are extremely sad when considering the many youth who falter from their faith once they reach adulthood. The first is a lack of blessing on their life.
“Neither let those who pass by them say, ‘The blessing of the Lord be upon you; We bless you in the name of the Lord!’” Psalm 129:8 (NKJ).
At best, Christians who drift due to persecution live an unblessed life. At worst, Jesus explained that they stumble (σκανδαλίζω, Matthew 13 and Mark 4) due to the word of God and withdraw (ἀφίστημι, Luke 8) from believing.
Second, Christians who drift due to persecution turn to a hatred of Zion—God’s people and God’s purposes. It is amazing to consider how someone who once tasted the sweet things of God can so quickly and radically turn from the Lord to become an open persecutor of those who walk the narrow road.
“Let all those who hate Zion Be put to shame and turned back.” Psalm 129:5 (NKJ).
The dual mention of youthfulness in Psalm 129:1 is no coincidence. This psalm offers guidance to parents, youth workers, pastors, and church leaders in dealing with the complexities of young people moving out of adolescence and into early adulthood. There is hope for the epidemic. That hope is found in teaching the full counsel of God to our youth—including what the Bible says about persecution and walking the narrow road. Youth must be prepared for persecution and the understand the world’s true hatred of Christ.