A Singular Mission (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

_______________________

DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART VI – Tying It All Together

Lesson Fifteen: A Singular Mission

18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,’” (Matthew 28:18-20; ESV).”

In 21st century America, most organizations have a mission statement. Following suit, many churches have also developed mission statements to help them have a united purpose. Mission statements in-and-of themselves are not wrong. They can be quite helpful for uniting organizations of people under one cause or vision. The problem comes when God has stated the purpose for an institution, and it seeks to redefine that purpose. The question must be asked, then: If God has already given the church a mission, why are we still drawing up mission statements as though He hasn’t already spoken?

Mission Statements. A quick survey of the mission (or vision) statements of most churches demonstrates one or both of two things. First, many churches get the importance of the Great Commission in stating the mission of the church. They seek to demonstrate that they get its importance by using language that suggests as much. However, in talking about the importance of making disciples, they often use terms like creative or unique to describe their evangelism, suggesting that God’s word is not sufficient to teach us how to make and equip the disciples of Christ in the local church.

Others will hit on one aspect of the Great Commission (making disciples or, perhaps, foreign missions) while neglecting others, and especially baptism. A mission statement is often one of the first things that a potential visitor might read. Putting it out there that new disciples will be expected to make a commitment to the local church through something as public and personal as baptism is not a very seeker-friendly approach. Also, teaching is seen by many in our culture as “so one-sided.” That language could easily be replaced with talk of “helping” people move to the “next level” in their personal relationship with Christ.

A second thing made evident by a survey most churches’ mission statements is their man-centeredness. Even those that boast being Christ-centered will often spend the rest of the statement using terms like personal and individual, revealing how they really are more concerned with luring in potential church members than corporately honoring God. Even their man-centeredness is often shallow at best. They will give you cookie-cutter classes on how to move to the “next level” with Christ, but they often are more concerned with organizational matters than truly shepherding souls.

Think of some of the larger churches you have attended. Most likely, you barely knew the pastors of those churches and likely even spoke with several members who told you they had never met the man. This is the man that Hebrews 13:17 says must “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account,” (NASB). Yet many of these pastors have never spoken more than a few sentences to many of the members of the churches they claim to shepherd.

The problem is not the size of the church, though. The problem is the lack of overseers necessary to shepherd such sizeable flocks. In order for true discipleship to take place, and the sheep to be adequately guarded against the wolves, pastors must share the work of the local church with other pastors to ensure that each member of the church is being fed, guarded, taught, encouraged, and built up in Christ.

Mission creep. Is there a problem, then, with mission statements? Yes. There is a problem with mission statements (plural). If a church does not recognize that they have already received their inerrant, infallible marching orders in the Great Commission, then they have already erred. The Lord has told the church what her mission is to be on this earth. We are to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. That is the singular mission that should consume the local church. All other causes, purposes, or missions are to be subservient to this one all-consuming mission. When churches deviate from the God-breathed Great Commission, they inevitably engage in what is known as mission creep.

“mission creep: the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization,” (Merriam-Webster).

When an organization commits mission creep, moving off of or broadening its originally stated objectives, the result is something far different than the original mission. The organization itself comes to resemble something far different than what it was meant to be. In the case of military organizations, the stated objectives are not met resulting military campaigns being prolonged. The church has been given her marching orders. We have a singular mission. We have not been commanded to broaden it or be creative. Our orders are very simple. We make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching.

What are some of the ways in which churches have decided to broaden the mission of the church in recent years? One way is by becoming overly political in their emphases. Some churches have gone so far as to have political personalities come and speak to their people about matters of state, people who have no business filling the pulpit on the Lord’s Day. These churches run the error of Saul who, as king of Israel, had no business presenting the ceremonial offering to God before going into battle (1Sam. 13:8-14). He who enters the solemn assembly on the Lord’s Day either enters as God’s uniquely called representative to distribute the word and sacraments to the people or as disciples of Christ who come to bring an incense offering of corporate prayer and song, and to receive the word and sacraments. There is, therefore, no office of magistrate among the assembly of God’s people during His public worship.

Nor is there any place for earthly inter-mingling of nationalism with the worship of God. Christ’s disciples should be taught to respect and pray for civil magistrates (1Tim. 2:1-2; 1Pt. 2:13-17). However, when churches engage in Memorial Day services or bring the American flag into the assembly of God, a boundary has been crossed that should not be crossed by God’s church. No nation is ever to be put on par with, or elevated above, the kingdom of God during the worship of God. When the citizens of God’s kingdom enter His embassy on His day, there should be a recognition that they are leaving the soil of their earthly nation and standing on the soil of the kingdom of heaven.

Christians do not exist to improve their nation, state, or city. The land on which our church meets has had six national flags flown over it. From 1821 to 1845 alone—the span of just 25 years—Texas went from Spanish control, to Mexican control, to independence, to American statehood. Imagine, if the same thing were to occur today, what utter chaos and confusion would set in for many churches. What flag would they have on their stage opposite and equal with their Christian flag? Which politicians and political commentators would they invite in to interview during God’s worship before His kingdom citizens? God’s people need to be those who recognize that God establishes kings and removes them from their thrown, but His kingdom endures forever. As such, there should be no inter-mingling of God’s worship with national pride.

Moving beyond this one glaring error, there are many also who wish to bring social justice causes into the mission of God’s church. These people often are more concerned about societal ills, as they perceive them, than making disciples. Some of these causes are noble and, insofar as they are addressed in Scripture, should be a part of local church discipleship. Men should be taught to be spiritual leaders in their homes and present influences in the lives of their children. Women, children, and the disabled should be protected from all forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Partiality, in all its forms, should be openly shunned so that none are privileged above any others. Abortion should be outed as murder. Violence of any sort should be decried. The biblical definition of marriage and the marriage bed should be clearly taught.

In teaching on all of these issues, as well as the rest of the counsel of Scripture, Christ’s disciples will be adequately equipped to live for God as they ought. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work,” (2Tim. 3:16-17; NASB). Sadly, there are entire websites, podcasts, and organizations that have been established (some even calling themselves Reformed) that undermine the sufficiency of Scripture and have sought to smuggle worldly philosophies and the traditions of men into Christian discipleship (Col. 2:8-23).

These people see “white privilege,” “male privilege,” and even “straight privilege” (culturally defined labels) as necessary, mission-redefining concerns of the church. They suggest pragmatic solutions such as altering the hiring and ordaining practices of the church to be slave to worldly quotas rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit. They too seek to inject political discussions into the mission of the church, bringing up all manner of topics such as gun control, immigration, and the redistribution of wealth, as though these ought to be the primary focal points of the kingdom of God.

Sadly, the evidence is undeniable that the church has gotten off mission. Our purpose, our vision, our mission is to always, only be that of fulfilling the Great Commission. When we get side-tracked and start to follow red herrings, the enemy has succeeded in getting us off mission. When we are more concerned with social or political reform than we are with heart reform, we demonstrate that we have forgotten our first love. Let the church re-center on the primary mission to which we have been called on this earth: the Great Commission. As we do, we will return yet again to the chief end of the church of God. As we seek to make new disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching, God will be glorified and enjoyed as only He deserves.

The Urgency and Cost of Discipleship (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

_______________________

DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART VI – Tying It All Together

Lesson Fourteen: The Urgency and Cost of Discipleship

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” (Lk. 14:26-27).

 

When calling sinners into discipleship with Christ two concerns must be held in tension with one another. We must understand that the call to discipleship is both urgent and costly. New disciples must understand both that the general call to repent and believe is not something to be considered at their leisure and that discipleship, though a joy-filled endeavor, will also mean hardship, pain, and persecution.

The urgency of discipleship. In His earthly ministry, Christ taught on both of these matters. Regarding the urgency of discipleship, He warned men not to presume upon God and, thus, squander the time they had been given on this earth. Man does not often think of his time as being squandered. We have a knack for keeping ourselves busy with stuff. However, Christ would have us to understand that busyness is not in itself virtuous. Consider the man who squanders his life on greed.

15Then He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’ 16And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. 17And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God,’” (Luke 12:15-21; NASB).

Man, in considering the gospel, often thinks of it as something to which he will attend one day. It’s another piece of junk mail to be added to the pile. A pre-approved line of credit he can always reconsider at a later date. Right now, there are more pressing matters that need my attention. Jesus says that God will say to such men, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”

God is patient and merciful, but we are never to presume upon His patience and mercy. We are not to presume that we are owed our next breath because, in presuming, many have fallen headlong into their eternal damnation. Instead, like a man who is going into battle or running a race, we are told to lay aside all that encumbers us and launch into action. Delay, even for the moment, could mean an eternity of destruction. This very night, our soul could be required of us!

Hearers must be careful not to say, as many did on Mars Hill, “We shall hear you again concerning this,” (Acts 17:32b; NASB), presupposing they will have opportunity to yet again hear and respond to the gospel. Tomorrow is promised to no man. We are not merely commanded to have soft, receptive hearts ready to receive the implanted seed of the gospel. We are commanded to do so today!

7For He is our God,

And we are the people of His pasture,

And the sheep of His hand.

Today, if you will hear His voice:

8Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion,

As in the day of trial in the wilderness,” (Ps. 95:7-8; NKJV).

Procrastination in the matter of repentance and faith is not merely foolish, though. It is also sinful. Because the one who procrastinates presumes upon the patience and mercy of God, that one stands guilty of the sin of presumption. When tempted to put off Christian discipleship, the hearer must pray along with the psalmist, “Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression,” (Ps. 19:13; NASB).

The cost of discipleship. Yet, we must keep in mind that Christian discipleship is not a foolhardy endeavor. While we are not to hesitate in turning from sin toward God in faith, the path we choose in that moment will not be easy. Christian discipleship is costly, and that cost must be weighed. No man, woman, or child should be asked to ‘sign on the dotted line’ without at least a certain level of understanding that his or her gaining of Christ might mean losing all else.

Christ does not call us to abandon a few of our more valuable possessions in order to follow Him. If there is anything in this life we are not willing to forsake in order to gain Christ, we will by no means gain Him. “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple,” (Lk. 14:33; NKJV). Many of us tend to think of this forsaking as a forsaking of those things we already hold somewhat loosely. Christ does not mince words, though. In this teaching, He begins with the most difficult bonds to sever:

26If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” (Lk. 14:26-27).

Notice the exhaustiveness of this commitment. Christ uses the term anyone to describe the group of people who would come to Him as disciples. He does not say that a certain select group in far away lands need to be ready to give up everything to follow Him. He says instead that anyone who follows Him must prepare himself in this way. Christian discipleship means being prepared to lose everything and everyone you hold dear. If you value anyone higher than Christ, you do not value Him as you must. You cannot be His disciple. Period.

Well, you know, I could give up my mother-in-law. She’s painful to be around anyway. No! Who do you value most? If you are to be Christ’s disciple, you must be ready to forsake even that relationship in order to be faithful to Him. You must value Him higher than your parents, your brothers and sisters, your children and, yes, even your spouse.

It is as though you were dead and at the bottom of the ocean with all of this life’s cares pulling you down. Having heard the gospel, you have been revived. A true disciple of Christ, in order to reach the surface and be brought onboard the lifeboat will shed all that encumbers. He or she will be willing to sever all bonds that weigh them down and keep them from Christ. Is your spouse more lovely to you than Christ? Do your parents have more authority in your life than the word of God and the leading of the Spirit? Do you idolize your children? These are all bonds that can potentially be used to drag you down to the abyss.

Few Christians are required, at the moment of conversion, to sever such bonds. Sadly, we have some among us who were. We are not commanded in Scripture to abandon our unbelieving family members at the moment of conversion. Instead, what we are expected to do is to hold loosely to those earthly bonds in comparison to Christ. There is an order of priority here. Men and women are commanded, when they wed, to leave their mother and father in order to cleave to their spouses. This does not mean that the parents are no longer important in the lives of the young couple in question. What it does mean is that the marriage now takes precedence over any concerns of the extended family. The extended family is to be loosely held.

The church is wedded to Christ. We are Christ’s bride, and so we are to hold loosely to all other bonds on this earth. Our love for Christ is to be so much greater than our love for others that our love for all others might be said to resemble hatred.

Not only are we to hold loosely to earthly relationships; we are also called to hold loosely to our own lives. This is where people misinterpret the command to carry our cross. Periodically, you might hear people say, “It’s just my cross to bear,” by which they might mean some infirmity, some difficult person, or a financial hardship. When Jesus spoke of bearing our cross, He did not mean dealing with difficult circumstances or people. He meant that we are to die to ourselves.

The cross is not a symbol of burden or hardship. The cross is a symbol of execution. When Christ says in Luke 14:27, that His disciple must “bear his cross and come after Me,” He means to say precisely what He said in the previous verse. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate. . . his own life also, he cannot be My disciple,” (vs. 26). Christ’s disciples are merely those who hold loosely to others. We are also those who hold loosely to ourselves. We are those who confess with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Phil. 1:21; NASB). This is the cost of discipleship. Christ purchased it for us. Now, we are called to walk in it. Our Master was hated. He was persecuted. Should we expect less? Certainly not.

There is yet another promise, though. Surely, we have been promised that many will loose their possessions, their loved ones, and perhaps even their own lives for the sake of Christ and His gospel. We have not only been promised that such would be the case, but that we will receive one hundred-fold in this life, along with persecutions.

28Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’ 29Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life,’” (Mk. 10:28-30; NASB).

Sure there will be a great cost to Christian discipleship but, when the church is being the church in one another’s lives, there is also great benefit. We may lose shelter, but the church will ensure that we have a place to stay. Our families may abandon us or, for the sake of gospel ministry, we may have to leave our families, but the church will be our brothers, sisters, mothers, and children. We may loose our livelihood and have concern for whether or not we will eat or be able to feed our children, but the church will not let us go hungry. Discipleship requires a great price, but it comes with a great reward, yes, even in this life!

If, then, we are going to be calling people to this urgent, costly discipleship, let us also have a sense of urgency to be the church in their lives. Whatever or whoever they are called to forsake for the sake of Christ and His gospel, let us be ready to meet that need a hundredfold. In this sense, also, evangelism must be seen as a corporate effort.

Corporate Evangelism (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

_______________________

DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART VI – Tying It All Together

Lesson Thirteen: Corporate Evangelism

23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near,” (Heb. 10:23-25; NASB)

 

Pragmatic Gnosticism. Most books you will read on the art and importance of evangelism will center on what is commonly called personal evangelism. They are in essence how-to manuals that are often filled with bits of special knowledge (gnosis) accumulated through trial and error. One approach to evangelism is only more valid than any other if it is demonstrably valid (pragmatism). In weighing the truthfulness of ideas about evangelism, many Christians have come to agree with the father of modern Pragmatism when he wrote: “Truth happens to an idea,” (William James, Pragmatism, pg. 92).

As a result, those who sell books and get speaking engagements on the matter of evangelism are those who have developed methods and seen them “work.” They are seen both as having a special knowledge about the subject that only they can offer, and as having seen their means justified by their results. This brand of Pragmatic Gnosticism is detrimental to our understanding of evangelism. Just as detrimental, if not more, is any notion that evangelism is primarily meant to be a personal endeavor.

It’s in the realm of personal evangelism that the results of this gnostic, pragmatic Christianity is said to prove its worth. If you follow Joe Schmoe’s approach to evangelism, you will surely see an upsurge in people who “pray the sinner’s prayer” and “invite Jesus into their hearts.” You might even see a greater number of annual baptisms and an increase in church membership.

Individuals or kingdom citizens? We must remember, though, that our goal in evangelism is not to get people through the door or even into the baptismal waters. Our goal in evangelism is to fulfill the whole of the Great Commission: to make disciples, baptize them into covenant membership with a local church, and teach them to observe all that Christ commanded. Our goal in evangelism is to make kingdom citizens, not individuals. Sadly, many of us have come to think like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote: “I am waiting to be shown this prodigy in order to know whether he is man or citizen, or how he manages to be both at the same time” (Rousseau, Emile, pg. 6).

In the kingdom of God, we find our identities chiefly in our kingdom citizenship. Our worship is primarily corporate, and evangelism is calling others into our corporate worship of our sovereign King. We must, then, recognize that our evangelism is also primarily corporate. In our personal interactions with the lost, we must be always ready to give a defense for the hope that lies within us (1Pt. 3:15). We must also be overflowing with love for God and zeal for His kingdom to the point that we cannot but speak of it to the lost in our lives (Tit. 2:14).

Corporate commitment to teaching and preaching. However, we cannot of our own accord expect to give our lost loved ones everything they need for the conversion of their souls. The gospel is deeper and wider than anything we can hope to present in short snippets on our own. Furthermore, no individual Christian is anywhere commanded to teach any one disciple to observe all that Christ commanded outside the context of the regular, corporate assembly of the saints. The primary context for teaching the observance of Christ’s statutes and preaching God’s word is among His people on His Day.

23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near,” (Heb. 10:23-25; NASB; cf. John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10).

It is as the church comes together as the church that evangelism becomes possible. When we think about evangelism, today, we think of it primarily in terms of making individual converts. In ages past, though, evangelism encompassed the whole of the corporate life of the church. For the Reformers and the Puritans, evangelism meant church planting—evangelism meant missions. These are areas where we really need to broaden our thinking about evangelism.

Corporate recognition of the gifted. It is the church corporate who recognizes godly men who are gifted for the task of preaching and teaching. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me,” (John 10:27; NASB). In this age in which direct, divine revelation has ceased, God directs His church through the indwelling of His Spirit and the leading of humble, yet vigilant, church leaders (Eph. 4:11-13; Acts 20:28-31). It is through the common suffrage of this Spirit-indwelt, elder-led body that God raises up godly men for the ministry.

“The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein,” (The Baptist Confession, 26.9).

Corporate education of the gifted. Consider for a moment the churches that supported Paul on his missionary journeys. They not only enabled him to journey to Ephesus and plant a church. They also enabled him to start up a school of ministry from which church planters like Epaphras were sent out to neighboring cities like Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea to plant even more churches. We can conclude from this noble effort of the first Christians that it is proper for local churches to associate with other likeminded churches to support seminaries and schools of ministry. The result of such schools is the inevitable planting of churches and the furtherance of the kingdom into farther parts of the earth.

One such seminary is being established over the next few years in Fort Worth, Texas, one of just a few Reformed Baptist hubs in the United States. The Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (IRBS) is a joint effort of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA) to ensure the education of the next generation of Reformed Baptist pastors. As our church seeks membership in our state and national association, and as the Lord grants success to our evangelistic efforts, we can expect that such noble institutions will eventually benefit from our contributions.

Corporate commitment to church planting and foreign missions. Evangelism means the recognition and education of the gifted, but it also means the sending of the gifted. Evangelism means sending, because evangelism and missions are so intrinsically intertwined. This sending begins locally and works its way outward. Minimally, it means that a church will support fully its local ministry. After that level of local support is achieved, then other local churches can be planted. From there, and through the joint efforts of church associations, support for foreign missions should be a desire.

Support for foreign missions means two things. First, it means the planting of churches. We must recall that every aspect of the Great Commission assumes the local church. If the lost in foreign contexts are to be reached, the corporate church must recognize, educate, and send gifted men. If they are to be baptized into covenant membership with a local church, a local church must be established in that foreign context. Finally, if they are to be taught to observe all that Christ commanded, they must have a local congregation with which to assemble under the ordinary means of grace.

The second thing support for foreign missions means is translation. If new disciples in foreign lands are to be taught to observe all that Christ commanded, they must be able first to hear all that Christ commanded in their own native tongue. This teaching is where charismatics get 1 Corinthians 14 so wrong. Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 14 was primarily on the lost. In the mission field, it was necessary for Paul to be able to speak in multiple tongues, so that people of many different languages might understand the word of God. In a local church context, though, the use of many languages would only confuse the preached word. This was the understanding of the Particular Baptists when, heavily citing 1 Corinthians 14, they confessed:

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope,” (The Baptist Confession, 1.8).

They understood the gift of tongues not as some erratic, unlearned gifting that bore a close relation to direct revelation and, thus, must have ceased with the apostolic era. They understood the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 to be the local expression of the gift of translation from one tongue to another for the edification of the saints and the furtherance of the gospel. Such non-revelatory gifts are still in practice today through translation committees, schools of textual criticism, live translation at multi-lingual local churches, and the mission field. It is not in the least charismatic, therefore, to say that the gift of tongues (translation) never ceased. In fact, this gift must likewise be recognized and honed for the furtherance of the kingdom through the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Personal implications. What does this mean for you as the ordinary person in the pew? It has a few different implications. It means that evangelism suddenly means a lot more than trying to figure out how to “break the ice” on a religious discussion while sitting next to a stranger at a ball game. It means a lot more, but it also simplifies matters. Rather than feeling all the weight of trying to figure out the perfect way to break out of your shell and start up conversations with total strangers, you are free to focus on how you can personally help the corporate church to fulfill the Great Commission.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • In submission to God’s word, how might I prayerfully help to recognize the gifted among our body?
  • How does my giving, outreach, and hospitality toward visitors help our local church to be fully sustained, plant churches, support seminaries, and support foreign missions?
  • How can I better support my elders in teaching new disciples to observe all that Christ commanded?
  • How can I be praying for the fulfillment of the Great Commission through the efforts of our local church?
  • How might you support your local church’s efforts to fulfill the Great Commission through prayer, regular attendance, hospitality, the discipleship of new believers, and fidelity to the teaching you have received?

Book Review: The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel

I wrapped up 2017 by finishing one last Puritan work entitled The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel, and I want to share with you my thoughts on the book.

First, if you’re a little unclear on what providence is in the first place, I think the fifth chapter of the LBCF can shed some light on the topic for you. In addition, Reformed Baptista took the time over the past year to expound on every chapter and paragraph of the LBCF 1689, and she covered the chapter on providence starting at Day 81 and continued through Day 103. So I highly encourage you to take the time to read up and understand what Providence is before beginning this book because I believe that John Flavel really jumps into the topic under the assumption that you know what it is (or at least have heard about it and can give a good definition of it).

Flavel organizes his book into three sections. The first section gives the evidence of looking_behind_providence in various areas of life (i.e. sanctification, employment, conversion, family life, etc.), but he has an obvious focus on how God works through providence on behalf of His children. I really enjoyed this section because Flavel pulled so many random stories from the Bible and Church history to give examples of providence, both good and bad, in the lives of people. The second section of the book was on meditating on God’s providence and why we ought to make this a regular duty of the Christian life. I also enjoyed this section, but I felt like it became a little redundant towards the end. The last section of the book goes through some of the practical implications of the doctrine of providence for the saints, and it offers encouragement to all believers to record our experiences with providence throughout our lives for our spiritual good and the good of others. I enjoyed this last section as well, and it was good to see some practical connections between a doctrine we can read about at length and how it can (and should) have an effect in our everyday lives.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I think I found the book to be slow at times because a lot of things seemed to be repeated so often. Reflecting back, I think he does repeat some things, but I think that the feeling is stronger because there are so many things that he mentioned that I read and picked up on in The Crook in the Lot and The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. So in a way, I think I read these three books in a good order, and Flavel’s book was a great summary and wrap-up of everything that I’ve learned over the past year. However, I don’t want you to get the impression that Flavel didn’t really offer anything new in this book, because he expounds on a lot of things that you would otherwise not consider carefully enough. Thus, I still highly recommend this book to you.

In conclusion, there are three things that stood out most to me in this book. Two of those things are quotes that I spent a lot of time thinking about, and I think they are worth sharing with you now. The first quote is this:

O that you would once learn this great truth, that no man ever lacked that mercy which he did not lack a heart to trust and wait quietly upon God for. You never yet sought God in vain, except when you sought Him vainly.

The second quote is this:

O that we would but steer our course according to those rare politics of the Bible, those divine maxims of wisdom! Fear nothing but sin. Study nothing so much as how to please God. Do not turn from your integrity under any temptation. Trust God in the way of your duty. These are the sure rules to secure yourselves and your interest in all the vicissitudes of this life.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetThe final thing that stood out to me was Flavel’s insistence that we make it our Christian duty to remember God’s acts of providence in our lives. I know my own life is full of memories of God directly intervening in crazy situations, and there are also memories of impeccably timed mercies from the hand of God that brought relief just what I thought I would break and be lost forever. And on the other hand, there are distinct times of providential testing of my faith and resolve and other experiences that, though painful and difficult at the time, ended up maturing and sanctifying me in unforeseen ways. Flavel ended his book pressing home the fact that regardless of how ordinary and miraculous these experiences may be in our lives, we will all forget them as time goes on if we do not take time to record them and go back over them from time and time. And I have taken that idea and started a journal for 2018 where I will be recording God’s gracious and timely providences in my life. I think that alone is something all Christians should do more often in all of the changing circumstances of life, so that like Asaph, we can say:

“I will appeal to this,

to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;

yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.

Your way, O God, is holy.

What god is great like our God?

You are the God who works wonders;

You have made known your might among the peoples. –Psalm 77:10-14

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 365

Day 365

Of the Last Judgment.

Chapter 32, Paragraph 3.

“…so will he have the day unknown to Men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour, the Lord will come; and may ever be prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly, Amen.”

Scripture Lookup

Mark 13:35-37

Luke 12:35-40

Revelation 22:20

Reflection

Jotting stuff down on my calendar lets me determine my priorities. This way I know how to get ready: do I have time to get this errand done? Do I have to be concerned that x,y, and z haven’t happened yet?  With a schedule, I determine the course of the day. I am in charge!

To my carnal self, knowing the date of the Last Day would be ultra convenient. Looking at the number of people who have claimed to know the exact day of Christ’s return, I’m guessing I’m not alone. But we are clearly told in Scripture that no one knows the day or the hour. (Mark 13:32) Why leave us in suspense?

By withholding the date of the Last Judgment, we are completely dependent upon God for our tomorrow. We know that there will be a day when justice and mercy will be meted out in full measure; we are to be content with that. Living however we want for a time and then cleaning up our act will not work. We must anticipate His arrival at any moment.

Waiting for the Lord to come can be wearying, though. As a mom, I am always “on” when watching my young kids. I don’t want anything to happen to them, so I do my best to  keep them out of trouble. When night comes, I can breathe easily when they are finally asleep, knowing I have a break. In a similar way, when the Lord finally comes, our battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil will end. We will no longer have to be vigilant, because there will be no sin to fight. Longing for that day to come, and for it to come quickly, is a good thing. In doing so we recognize our weakness and look to Christ to fulfill His salvation. He will give us the strength to endure, but even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Amen.

Questions to Consider

  • Are you anticipating the Last Day? Why or why not?

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 364

Day 364

Of the Last Judgment.

Chapter 32, Paragraph 3.

“As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a Day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin, and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity;…”

Scripture Lookup

2 Corinthians 5:10,11
2 Thessalonians 1:5-7

Reflection

We know that the Last Day is a certain event. Scripture has revealed to us several times how Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, and how His kingdom will have no end. But it is an event so foreign to our everyday existence, it almost seems like it won’t happen. Why does God, through Scripture, give us the certainty of a Last Day?

Knowing that there is a Day of Judgment coming requires action. A response is required to the fact that the kingdom of God is at hand. Because there is coming a day of judgment, all of humanity is called to repentance. Unbelievers are called to repent and trust in Christ for their salvation. Believers as well are called to repent, to “abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) Being aware that the Last Day is a fixed event reminds us the need to prepare now for its arrival.

The certainty of the the Last Judgment also encourages Christians to persevere. It is easier to endure hardship when you know there will be a happy ending. This sinful world, with all its hatred and evil, will cease. The justice of the Lord will be made manifest to all at the appointed time. As painful, hard, and difficult the trials faced in this life may be, they do not compare with the eternal glory that is to come on the Last Day.

Questions to Consider

  • How is the certainty of the Last Judgment affecting your life right now?

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 363

Day 363

Of the Last Judgment.

Chapter 32, Paragraph 2.

“The end of God’s appointing this Day, is for the manifestation of the glory of his Mercy, in the Eternal Salvation of the Elect; and of his Justice in the eternal damnation of the Reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient; for then shall the Righteous go into Everlasting Life, and receive that fulness of Joy, and Glory, with everlasting reward, in the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who do not know God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into Eternal torments, and punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”

Scripture Lookup

Romans 9:22,23

Matthew 25:21,34

2 Timothy 4:8

Matthew 25:46

Mark 9:48

2 Thessalonians 1:7-10

Reflection

When thinking about the Last Judgment, we have a tendency to focus on what is going to happen to us. Knowing that the elect will be saved and the wicked will be punished forever gives hope to the Christian, as well as urgency to share the gospel with the lost. Such knowledge is important, but is the purpose of the Last Day to give happy or sad endings to people? The reason for the Last Judgment is to glorify God.

Way back in Chapter 2, paragraph 3 of the Confession, we learned why this Last Day would occur in the manner described in Scripture. The LBCF states:

By the decree of God for the manifestation of his glory some men and angels, are predestinated, or fore-ordained to Eternal Life, through Jesus Christ to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice. (italics added)

When the Last Judgment occurs, God’s full glory will be manifest to all humanity. For the Christian, this means receiving the fullness and glory of joy, the joy of being in full communion with Christ. No longer will we walk by faith, but we will see Christ. No longer will our sin prevent us from being in God’s presence. His mercy will be abundantly demonstrated when He invites us in: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father…” (Matthew 25:34). Because of Jesus Christ, we see the final act of salvation – eternal life, singing the praises of God’s glorious grace.

The wicked will also glorify God on the Last Day, but in a manner quite different from that of the saints. In the Last Judgment, those who do not belong to Christ receive everlasting torment and punishment. They do not benefit from Christ’s grace and mercy; rather they see the justice of God on full display against sin. In this God is also glorified, for all will realize that He is holy.

In the end, all of creation and all of time exist for God’s glory. The Last Day, accompanied by the Last Judgment, are no exception. At that day we will see God’s “wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy” (LBCF 5.1) in all its splendor, and we will praise Him for it. May we practice giving such praise to God even now!

Questions to Consider

  • Do you view the Last Day with God’s glory in mind?

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 362

Day 362

Of the Last Judgment.

Chapter 32, Paragraph 1.

“God hath appointed a Day wherein he will judge the world in Righteousness, by Jesus Christ; to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father; in which Day not only the Apostate Angels shall be judged; but likewise all persons that have lived upon the Earth, shall appear before the Tribunal of Christ; to give an account of their Thoughts, Words, and Deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Scripture Lookup

Acts 17:31

John 5:22,27

1 Corinthians 6:3

Jude 6

2 Cor. 5:10

Ecclesiastes 12:14

Matthew 12:36

Romans 14:10,12

Matthew 25:32-46

Reflection

The day is coming when Christ will judge us. The One who has all power and authority will judge every single person who has lived on this earth besides Himself. Humanity will stand before him, not as a group, but individually, each one giving account for his actions, thoughts, and speech. Even the fallen angels will be judged on that day, to receive their just recompense.

For a believer, the thought of judgment by Christ can be apprehensive. We know time and time again that we do not measure up. To have our sin presented before Jesus is a scary thought. Yet we do not have to fear! While we live in this life we are fallen creatures. Christ knows that, and He has bought us for His own. Our sin has been paid for; we have been fully forgiven because of Christ’s work. The same God who forgives you now will not suddenly change His mind on the last day. Christian, do not fear the last judgment, but continue to look to Him for your salvation!

“Yes, Christ saved me,” you may argue. “But won’t we be judged by our works?” It says in this paragraph of the Confession, “…to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.” It is true that only those who have done good works will receive eternal life. But where do those works come from? Earlier on in the Confession it speaks of these good works.: “[Believers’] ability to do good works is not at all of themselves; but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.”(LBCF  6.3) Because they are good they proceed not from us, but from His Spirit. Our works cannot merit eternal life. They have been defiled with imperfection, since they were done in a body that was still corrupt with sin. Instead the works approved by Christ are evidence that those who did such are one of His purchased saints, and He will lose none (John 6:39).

Christian, this life will someday pass away. Until then, continue to look to Christ. “The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” (Psalm 27:1) We can anticipate the last day with hopeful expectation, for He will prove faithful until the end.

Questions to Consider

  • How do you view the last judgment? Are you scared, hopeful, or ambivalent?

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 361

Day 361

Of the State of Man after Death and of the Resurrection of the Dead.

Chapter 31, Paragraph 3.

“The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour; the bodies of the just by his spirit unto honour, and be made conformable to his own glorious Body.”

Scripture Lookup

Acts 24:15

John 5:28,29

Philippians 3:21

Reflection

On the last day, everyone who has died shall be resurrected. The souls of the departed have been separated from their bodies since the time of their death. Now the soul and body will be reunited. But what kind of reunion will it be?

Those who are not united to Christ, their souls tormented in hell as they awaited this day, will also be united with their bodies. But this union is not a joyous one, for their souls are united with a dishonorable body. What does that mean? There is ambiguity regarding the qualities of a dishonorable body, but Samuel Waldron writes, “While this end is wished upon no one, the Bible suggests that God will make the ugly and repulsive nature of sin visible in the very bodies of the unrepentant.”

At the same time, the bodies of the righteous will be raised and united with their souls. These souls have been in the presence of their Savior, free from sin. Now they will once again be with their bodies, but these bodies will not be the corrupt flesh that they had during their earthly life. Just as the soul is the same soul, but changed, the body is the same body, yet glorified. There will be no hindrance to a complete union with Christ.

As the new year approaches, advertisements and articles appear touting the best ways to get in shape. The desire to transform oneself into a healthy, attractive body is a strong one for humanity. Yet the truly beautiful bodies are those who have been transformed due to Christ. On the last day, the bodies of the righteous will be perfect in a way that the gym will never accomplish.

Questions to Consider

  • How does your spiritual state affect how you presently treat your body? How does having an incorruptible body affect the way you view your present body?

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 360

Day 360

Of the State of Man after Death and of the Resurrection of the Dead.

Chapter 31, Paragraph 2.

“At the last day such of the Saints as are found alive shall not sleep but be changed; and all the dead shall be raised up with the self same bodies, and none other; although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their Souls for ever.”

Scripture Lookup

1 Corinthians 15:51,52

1 Thessalonians 4:17

Job 19:26,27

1 Corinthians 15:42,43

Reflection

At death the body is separated from the soul. Depending on whether you are in Christ or not determines where your soul goes. For those in Christ, they reside in heaven. For the wicked, they are cast into hell. That is not the end of the story, however.

The last day will be a momentous occasion. The soul will be reunited with the same body it had in life, but with a twist: those bodies will not suffer decay anymore. Those still alive when it happens do not experience death, but are changed as well.

Your body is part of you. Through God’s design your body has particular traits. There is much pressure to belittle and criticize our bodies for not attaining to society’s standard of perfection. There are many mysteries about how our bodies will be changed at the last day. But the body you have now, while it will be changed, is the body you will have for eternity.

Questions to Consider

  • How does knowing your body is the selfsame body you will have on the last day affect your view of your body now?