You can listen to the audio lecture series here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part I – The Great Commission
Part II – The Messengers and the Recipients
Part III – The Present Estate of Man
Part IV – Redemption Accomplished
Part V – The Gospel Commands
Part VI – Tying It All Together
This course is not designed to be a practical treatment on the subject of evangelism so much as—as the title suggests—an attempt to define a doctrine of evangelism by examining key texts. There will be times when we consult church history to see how godly men of earlier ages understood these topics, but these lessons are designed primarily for the purpose of getting us into the word. As such, we hope to deeply consider several major biblical themes touching evangelism and the Great Commission, and to make practical application to our own lives.
Since this is not primarily a “how-to” on evangelism, there are some practical matters we want to consider first. Of paramount consideration is our own relationships with God and with our neighbors. We read in Matthew’s gospel:
“And He said to him, ‘‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets,’’” (Matthew 22:37-40; NASB).
Love for God. We must consider how much time we spend in the word and on our knees in communion with the God with whom we claim to have been reconciled. If I do not spend adequate time with my wife and with my kids, it will show in the way that I talk about them and converse with them in public. As I seek to give marital or parenting advice to others, they will know by their observance of my own relationships that I am disqualified to offer such counsel. The same is true for evangelism. If we are to be qualified to bring people to Christ, both in the eyes of our hearers and in reality, we must regularly strive to bring ourselves to Christ in His word and in prayer.
If we hope that others are to know Christ, we must know Him as well. We’re not called to know Him on a merely academic level. We can have a great abundance of knowledge about people. Just talk to any avid baseball fan, and they will soon be rattling off to you player stats for their favorite players. If the player has been in the game for a while and has written an autobiography, they may have even read it. However, how foolish would it seem if, by virtue of this public knowledge of a public individual alone, they were to invite you over to his house for a cookout that is not open to the public.
In the same way, we are not to so belittle a relationship with our Redeemer as to invite people into such a relationship without first being in relationship with Him ourselves. Before we explain to men and women their dreadful state before God apart from Christ, we must have first taken stock of what it means for us. If we are then to educate them on the merits of Christ through which He accomplished our redemption, we must examine ourselves to see if we are truly living according to the grace that has been given us. If we are to call them to repentance and faith, we must first examine ourselves to see if we have truly repented and believed.
Love for neighbor. Love for God is the first Great Commandment. We must labor long and labor consistently at cultivating a love for our God. As we do, we will increase in yet another love: love for neighbor. This call to love our neighbor is the second great commandment. As we come daily to the word and to our knees in prayer seeking to grow in love for Christ, we should seek also to have our hearts inclined toward our neighbors.
Have you ever been excited at the prospect of meeting with a couple for dinner for the first time only to find that they had invited the whole neighborhood to their house for dinner and a sales pitch? They recognized that hospitality can be a great way to get people through your doors and gain a listening audience, but they did not care to use their home for the purpose it was originally intended. You came in the hope of a potential new friendship and instead were treated like a potential customer. What was lacking? Love.
Dynamics change drastically when love is at the core of the relationship dynamic. Jennifer and I had some friends at our last church who had us over to their house on a couple of occasions a year. They sold products through their home for one of these companies, but by the time they actually spoke with us about the products they had, it did not come off as a sales pitch. We were friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord. There was no suspicion there. We either bought their products or we didn’t but, either way, they still loved us and we loved them.
We must cultivate the same love for our neighbors to whom we hope to bring the gospel. It does no good to tell people your message is one of love if they perceive that there is no love for them in your heart. This isn’t an evangelism method I’m proposing to you. It doesn’t matter to me if churches knock on doors, host neighborhood cookouts, organize evangelistic conferences, rent booths at local festivals, hand out gospel tracts, or preach the gospel in the open air from on top of egg crates. Each of these methods will rub wrong people of different personality types.
Each of these methods will also be met with some measure of success. The difference is not necessarily in the method. The difference is in the love that we have for our neighbors. If we do not love them, they will know. In our skeptical world, it is much easier to spot someone who is lacking in love than to discern the authenticity of actual love. Nevertheless, let us pray for our neighbors, let us ask God to grant us a heart for our neighbors, and let us regularly seek His power and wisdom in conveying that love to our neighbors.
Structure. Our approach to defining evangelism will follow the structure of the “Working Definition” above. The first two parts of our study will be preparatory, while the last three parts will be definitive, explaining what evangelism is. In the first part, we will examine the foundation for evangelism: The Great Commission. The main verb in the Great Commission is the verb make disciples. This verb is modified by three participles: going, baptizing, and teaching, so our first three lessons will center on these three modifiers.
In the second part, we will consider the messengers and the hearers of the gospel in the act of evangelism. Is every Christian meant to be engaged in evangelism in exactly the same way as all others? Is evangelism solely the work of ordained, or recognized, leaders within the church, or is it the responsibility of every member? Who are the proper recipients of the evangelism? Is it only for those outside the church, or should it be a major emphasis of the preaching and teaching within the church? Part Two will be covered in lessons four and five.
It has been well noted that the good news of Christ does not make sense apart from the bad news. The cure for a terminal disease does not become precious to the patient until the doctor issues the dismal diagnosis. In the same way, the unregenerate must understand the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man before the good news of Christ’s work of atonement makes any sense. Part Three, comprised of a lesson on God’s holiness and a lesson on the sinfulness of man, will help us to understand the importance of these truths for evangelism.
In Part Four, we will finally come to an observance of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. In lessons eight through ten, we will note three acts of Christ essential to the gospel message: His obedience in life, His obedience in death, and His resurrection. As we observe each of these doctrines, we will see how Christ accomplished for us our full and final atonement and, through union with Him, come to have reconciliation with God in heaven.
Lessons eleven and twelve will comprise the fifth and final part of our study. In them, we will observe the gospel commands that come as a result of having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ: repentance unto life and saving faith. Having explained the joyous news of our accomplished atonement in Christ Jesus, the church has one final declaration to our hearers in our work evangelism:
“30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead,” (Acts 17:30-31; NASB).
“With a view toward making disciples of all nations1 and entering them into covenant membership with a local church, through baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 2 in order that they may be taught to observe all that Christ commanded,3 evangelism is the endeavor of the entire church4 to explain to the unregenerate—both in their midst and in the world5—God’s holiness,6 man’s sin and its wages,7 Christ’s accomplishment of redemption through His obedience in life,8 death,9 and resurrection,10 and the proper response of sinners: repentance from sin toward God11 and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.”12
PART I – THE GREAT COMMISSION
Lesson One: Going in Christ’s Authority
“18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,’” (Matthew 28:18-19a; NASB).
All authority. It is essential on the outset that Christians, with the task of evangelism set before them, recognize that it is a task that must be done in boldness. It must be done in boldness, because it is a task that has behind it all of the authority of heaven and earth. It has divine authority. The task of evangelism is a task that has been demanded of us by divine authority, and its message bears the divine seal.
As we are going weekly into our contexts—our homes, our workplaces, the marketplace, and our neighborhoods—we are carrying with us the King’s message. When a mother instructs her children, she must recall with great urgency the divine message she has been given to imprint on those young hearts. As we take a smoke break or a coffee break at work, we must remember that Christ’s authority is over the whole earth, even our workplace. Our coworkers sorely need to be compelled by His gospel to submit to His rightful authority. . . in this life! Our neighbors both in the marketplace and on our block should readily see the gospel of Jesus Christ adorned by our character, our actions, and certainly our conversation. After all, this gospel is not our message. It is the King’s message, and we are His ambassadors as we sojourn in this world today.
How is it that the early church was taught to adorn the gospel of Christ and the doctrine of the apostles? They were called to have Christian character. Slaves were encouraged to have a strong, Christian work ethic, so that their character would support the Great Commission in the workplace and not detract from it.
“9Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect,” (Titus 2:9-10; NASB).
We who work for others ought to regularly consider what our work ethic conveys to those with whom and for whom we work about what we truly believe. If we claim to be Christians, we must live, work, rest, and play in such a way as to adorn His and His apostles’ teachings. If we claim the name of the King, and we bear the message of the King, we must adorn His name with such virtues as integrity, loyalty, equity, and efficiency.
Sadly, I’ve spoken with some Christian business owners who have lamented to me the fact that they have hired a great many Christians who do not adorn the name of Christ. Christians can be known for shoddy work, for talking on the clock, and for laziness. What we should be known for is an above-standard work ethic that raises all our peers to the next level. As we show all good faith in our work, we will truly adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. Wives, likewise, were encouraged to adorn themselves with godly character:
“3Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands,” (1 Peter 3:3-5; NASB).
Rather than seeking to win their unbelieving husbands with the latest fashions and jewelry, they were to let the hidden person of their heart be exposed, but with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit. Peter, in essence, wants women to understand that men are not won by their wives’ external beauty. Ungodly husbands are won to Christ by the adorning of godly character in support of the gospel that has been preached. Peter conveys as much in the preceding two verses.
“1In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior,” (1 Peter 3:1-2; NASB).
Everything the Christian does either supports or detracts from the Great Commission. Do we love our co-workers as we have been called to love all men? Do we hope to see them saved? We must adorn the doctrine of God our Savior then through a godly work ethic. Do we love our unbelieving family members? Do we hope to see them saved? Then we must adorn the gospel of Christ in our love and respect for them in all of our conversations.
We must adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ for their sake, but also out a sense of its authority. Again, this gospel we have been given is the very message of the King. It comes with His authority upon the hearts of the hearers, but it should also fall with His authority upon our hearts. If it bears no authority upon the church, how will they ever hear? We can wish all day long that they would just happen to the pew by the sheer will of God, but we know that is not at all how God accomplishes His will.
The gospel is God’s power unto salvation (Romans 1:16). They must be compelled to submit to godly discipleship by its power, or we should expect that they will never have the slightest desire of discipleship. The lost must see their great need of Christ and of His church if they are to be brought into the church and taught to observe all that Christ commanded. That is one of the goals of preaching the word: to help regular church members be so immersed in the word that we can all explain, bare minimum, a person’s need for discipleship in Christ. If the average church member can’t explain that, then the local church has failed him.
Going, therefore. This great authority having been given to Christ, the church is now commissioned. We are commissioned to make disciples of all nations. In the Matthew 28 account of the Great Commission, there are several participles providing subpoints to this main point. The main verb is to make disciples. The participles are ‘going,’ ‘baptizing,’ and ‘teaching.’ Each of these participles is given in support of the main verb, so it could be said—and has been said—that the main verb gives us the objective, and the participles give us the plan of attack.
Christ, in His incarnation, accomplished several pivotal goals in the church. One of the great feats He accomplished was to mobilize the church. The assembly, before Christ’s incarnation, had been bound up within one single ethnicity: the Israelites. The worship of God’s congregation was to occur according to a strictly regulated ceremonial law code in which four festivals were to be observed on Mount Zion a year. The covenant community of God was shored up within a very neatly defined set of geographical boarders.
When Christ came to this world and took on human flesh, He removed the enmity that existed between circumcised believers and their Gentile counterparts:
“14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity,” (Ephesians 2:14-16; NASB).
Now, the assembly includes all ethnicities from which any have bowed the knee to Christ. In His incarnation, He also removed the sense of geographical, earthly worship and declared that we who worship Him must worship Him instead in spirit and in truth.
“21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,’” (John 4:21-24; NASB).
Jesus’ congregation then gathers not on Mount Zion to observe a regular church calendar of feast days, new moons, and sabbaths. Rather, we gather together wherever we can with a true, local body of believers to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Not only Has God expanded His assembly to include all ethnicities and abolished the requirement for the congregation to gather on Mount Zion, teaching them instead to worship in spirit and truth. Christ also broke apart the geographical boundaries of the kingdom of God, mobilizing the church to go forth into all nations. However, He did so through interesting means.
In Acts 7, we read of the stoning of Stephen, the deacon, at the hands of the Jews in Jerusalem. Up until this time, the church of Christ had met locally in one single location in Jerusalem. It was by all accounts an obscure, insignificant, geographically challenged church, though their numbers had grown quite large in a short amount of time. God used the murder of Stephen, though, as an occasion to mobilize the church and to move them out into all the known world.
“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles,” (Acts 8:1; NASB).
Our God has a knack for taking the things that men mean for evil and using them for good. He did so in the life of Joseph. He did so in the death of Christ. Here, we see that He even did so in the stoning of Stephen. After the stoning of Stephen, a great persecution broke out in the church, and the saints were scattered.
On the day of Pentecost, we’re told that many Jewish men from all over the Roman empire had made their way to Jerusalem for the festival. Many of them repented of their sins as a result of God’s sovereign work on their hearts through Peter’s preaching. However, rather than going back home and making disciples, they remained in Jerusalem. We read in Acts 2 that this was a sweet time of fellowship, self-sacrifice, and learning at the feet of the apostles.
This time of growth in the faith would be needful in the days ahead. By Acts 7, the religious leaders in Jerusalem had reached a boiling point in their disdain for the Way. Many had been pierced to the core by Peter’s public preaching. Those who remained hardened were only growing in their animosity toward the church. When Stephen stood and boldly accounted to them the chronic unfaithfulness of Israel and their murder of the Messiah, it was more that they were willing to stand, so they stoned him. At this, a great persecution broke out, and the church was scattered. The church was scattered such that, by the time that Paul wrote to Colossae from prison, he declared that the gospel had already gone out to all the known world.
“5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth,” (Colossians 1:5-6; NASB).
Of course, as the gospel went out, support was soon needed. As people were brought into the church, fulfilling the gospel on a micro level, finances were needed for the sending of missionaries and the support of struggling churches. In First Corinthians, Paul writes of one such need:
“1Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. 3And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. 4But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me,” (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; NASB).
Most commentators are in agreement that a collection was needful because of a local famine that was affecting the saints in Jerusalem. In the ancient church it was understood that, when one local church was in pain, the entire church experienced the same pain. This famine in Jerusalem was no different.
Support was not only required for established churches, though. Missionaries like Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Titus, and Timothy needed to be supported as they took the gospel to the ends of the known world. In another prison letter, Paul commends the church at Philippi for their financial support of him.
“15Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account,” (Philippians 4:15-17; NKJV).
Though Paul was a self-sufficient tradesman and had time to apply his trade as well as preach the gospel—having no wife or family for which to provide—he still required financial support, especially while in prison. This is a privilege for local churches. Local churches who have the ability to support missions should count it all joy to do so. It should not be seen as having been done so for the sake of the gift given to the missionary himself, but as fruit that abounds to the account of the giving church!
This blessing, however, should not be seen as something that can be bought. We do not earn the favor or the blessing of God through unwise stewardship. There were times in the lives of local churches in which they were unable to provide financial support for missions. Not only is it okay to go through seasons in which we are unable to give. It is biblical. Even the church at Philippi, who Paul is praising for their generosity in this text, went through a season in which they were unable to meet his need.
“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity,” (Philippians 4:10; NASB).
A natural outworking, then, of fulfilling the Great Commission in the immediate context of the local church is the increase of opportunity to support the fulfilling of the Great Commission in greater contexts. As the Lord gives ability through the increase of a local church, the local church is to be increasingly focused on the work of the universal church. As we focus on the spread of the kingdom abroad, we will then be encouraged to take part in the spread the kingdom in our contexts.
Lesson Two: Baptizing in the Triune Name
“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,’” (Matthew 28:18-19b; NASB).
Why baptism? For many Christians today, baptism has no place in any discussion of evangelism. That is because many Christians do not believe evangelism and discipleship to be intrinsically linked. In fact, to consider their practice, many Christians today do not even consider discipleship and baptism to be intrinsically linked. Yet, when Christ commissioned His church to make disciples, baptism was the first step He listed in which these new disciples were to take part.
The whole of the Great Commission is a corporate effort. The church goes, the church baptizes, and the church teaches. It also has an individual aspect, though. After the church goes and makes a new disciple, that disciple submits to baptism and submits to the teaching of the church.
For the new disciple, then, there are two aspects to discipleship: the one-time submission to baptism and the ongoing submission to teaching. Both of these two aspects of discipleship require a common denominator: the local church. The local church is essential for the carrying out of the Great Commission. There is no sense in which baptism and teaching in the New Testament was expected to occur outside of the authority of local congregations.
The very nature and structure of the New Testament testifies to this fact. All but three of the epistles and Revelation (itself an epistle to the seven churches) were written either to local churches or to be circulated among local churches. The other three epistles were written to church leaders for the benefit of local churches. The other five books of the New Testament are the Gospels and Acts, in which must instruction is given for a godly ordering of local churches.
“The New Testament is a church book, a book for Christians in the context of a local church. The New Testament knows nothing of a churchless Christianity. There can be no ‘teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you’ or no continuing ‘in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, and breaking of bread and prayers’ unless a Christian is a member of a visible body of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 28:20 & Acts 2:41,42 & 47),” (Earl Blackburn, Denominations or Associations? pg. 28).
Our subjects this week (baptism) and next week (teaching) only make sense within the context of the local church. The commands will necessarily be fulfilled by a Christian if he or she is truly disciple of Christ, and these commands are only fulfilled within the auspices of the local church. This fact makes membership within the local church absolutely necessary for the Christian. “Far from being only one of many options for the Christian, the church is the primary means through which God accomplishes His plan in the world,” (Mack and Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, pg. 21).
Baptism is an absolutely necessary part of Christian discipleship, because church membership is an absolutely necessary part of Christian discipleship. If we are to be discipled by Christ, it will occur within the body of Christ. The first step in Christian discipleship, and the first step in church membership are the same: baptism.
“[Baptism] is what the Bible presents as the first step for the Christian, and the assumption in the New Testament is that all Christians have been baptized,” (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, pg. 160).
Baptism, as a public admission of a person into the church, accomplishes two things. The first thing it accomplishes is to recognize the disciple’s willing submission to the authority of the church in his or her life. This is a countercultural concept, especially in America. We don’t like to think of any human being as having authority over us. However, the Bible is very clear that we are to subject ourselves to one another in Christ (Eph. 5:21). When I submit myself to a local church through baptism, I am declaring my desire to be submitted to that local congregation for admonition, teaching, exhortation, rebuke, edification, and training in righteousness.
This willing submission assumes a second desired end. It assumes that a church desires to corporately come alongside the new disciple and provide him or her with godly admonition, teaching, exhortation, rebuke, edification, and training in righteousness. For those who have left everything to follow Christ, it means even more. It means that the church will provide him or her with “a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms,” (Mark 10:30; NASB). This submission, then, is necessarily reciprocal, and baptism is the rite through which we enter this relationship of mutual submission.
“[Baptism] ratifies our union with those who are saved by Christ (1 Cor. 12:13-26). It is therefore often called the rite of initiation into the Christian Church,” (J. Aspinwall Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pg. 138).
Christian disciples today are rightly skeptical of joining themselves to churches, because many if not most churches are either ill-equipped or unwilling to join themselves to new disciples. This is one of the great tragedies of our day. Churches have forgotten, if they ever knew, how to be churches to those who come through their doors.
“Biblical membership means taking responsibility. It comes from our mutual obligations as spelled out in all of Scripture’s one another passages—love one another, serve one another, encourage one another. All of these commands should be encapsulated in the covenant of a healthy church,” (Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church?pp. 95-96).
One reason we don’t often think about what we owe to one another and, specifically, what we owe to new disciples among us, is because we have forgotten the solemnity of baptism. We have forgotten the fact, or perhaps were never taught the fact, that baptism is the sealing of a covenant bond between Christ’s disciples. Baptism is a solemn vow between new members and churches, a commitment to mutual submission and a reciprocal consideration of one another’s welfare.
Baptism is not merely an individual decision. It is not merely the decision of a believer to join himself or herself to a church. Rather, it is the mutual decision of the church and the believer to enter into vital union with one another. The church is not the church without her members, and Christians are not living as true Christians apart from the church. As such, baptism is just as much a submission of the church to the member as it is a submission of the member to the church (Mack and Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, 48).
The mode and formula of baptism. In Baptist churches, we teach that new members who enter into the covenant community through faith are the only rightful recipients of the sacrament of baptism. According to An Orthodox Catechism, “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, and faith in and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ” are the “proper subjects of this ordinance,” (Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Q.69). This is well known among Baptist churches. What though, are the proper mode and formula for baptism?
Before discussing mode we must note that the mode, though important, is of far less importance than the order and formula of baptism. Many of the first generation Particular Baptists, though baptized as believers, were nonetheless baptized by pouring or sprinkling, not immersion. When considering the authenticity of a baptism, I am far less concerned about the mode than I am about the order and formula. Nonetheless, Baptists have historically recognized immersion as the true mode of baptism.
This was the preferred mode of the early church. Pouring or sprinkling were only used in instances were immersion was not an option. The early church clearly understood, as we see in the Didache, that immersion was the proper mode employed by Christ and the apostles.
“The procedure for baptizing is as follows. After rehearsing all the preliminaries, immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’. If no running water is available, immerse in ordinary water. This should be cold if possible; otherwise warm. If neither is practicable, then sprinkle water three times on the head ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’” (The Didache, 7).
Finally, as new disciples are added to our number through baptism, they are to be baptized in a Trinitarian formula. This practice, as we see in the above quote, was clearly the practice of the church from the earliest times. It is also a practice that the church has continued to this day.
Why do we baptize in the Triune name, though? We baptize in the name of our Triune God to signify baptism in His authority. Remember that we go forth in Christ’s authority to make disciples. Christ further commands that we baptize in the authority of the Triune God any who enter into discipleship with Him. Baptism being the entrance point into the church, and baptism being divinely commanded of all who enter into the discipleship of Christ in the authority of the Triune name, all who would come to Christ as Lord must also submit themselves to the local church through baptism.
As such, it is proper to follow in the apostles’ footsteps in our discussion of baptism. Just as they preached baptism as a part of their evangelistic message (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 22:16), so ought the church today. If we are not baptizing we are not making disciples, and if we are not making disciples we are not being faithful to our King. Let us, then, reconsider the importance of baptism for the work of evangelism.
Lesson Three: Teaching Obedience to Christ’s Commands
“ teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you [a]always, even to the end of the age,’” (Matthew 28:20; NASB).
Defining a disciple. What is it to be a disciple. Discipleship means learning. That’s what the term in the Greek means: “to learn.” Christian disciples are first and foremost disciples of Christ. They will have to answer directly to Him on the day of judgment. However, they will not be the only ones answering for their souls. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews was very clear that teachers, too, will have to give an account for every soul they have been commissioned to teach.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you,” (Hebrews 13:17; NASB).
This was the practice of the early church. They gave themselves regularly to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). Teaching was so paramount in the early church that the apostles even requested that men be set aside from the church to aid in the administrative matters of the church so that they could more fervently devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:1-5). This is a vital role within the church. Deacons are necessary for the freeing up of elders for prayer and the ministry of the word, and as the word is preached, new disciples find their place in the economy of Christ as true, teachable disciples.
When Christ makes disciples, He does not leave them as orphans. Rather, He gives them the Holy Spirit as a Helper, a Comforter, and an Advocate. When Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, He sent the Spirit to us to guide us into all truth (John 14:16-26; 16:5-15). This same Spirit gives gifts to the church that are necessary for her unity in the faith (Romans 12:3-8).
Christ told His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed that it was for their benefit that He go. Why? In the giving of His Spirit, He was also giving godly men to the church for their preservation in the unity of the faith. He was giving them, and all subsequent teachers, to the church for her edification, refreshment, admonition, exhortation, and sanctification. The Spirit of God does His work primarily through the teaching ministry of the church.
“7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says,
‘When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.’
9(Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:7-13; NASB).
If a disciple is one who learns, then what is a disciple of Christ? What kind of disciples are we to be seeking to “make”? A disciple of Christ is one who submits to the teachings of Christ in His present teaching ministry, and Christ presently teaches through the teachers He has given the church through the Spirit.
What are disciples to be taught? Disciples are those who are to be taught to obey all that Christ commanded. They are not mere converts left to their own devices with no expectation of growth in holiness. They are meant to be brought into the church and taught the statutes of Christ. It is through the preaching and teaching ministry of the church, then, that we come under subjection to Christ. Outside the auspices of the local church, then, growth in godliness is not to be expected.
“The bottom line is that God has designed the church to be the context in which we move from sinfulness to holiness. Attempting to grow in Christ outside of the church is like trying to learn to swim without ever getting into the pool!” (Mack and Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, pg. 29).
Consider then what a horrible thing it is to assure someone of his or her salvation outside of regular attendance to the preaching and teaching of the church. To offer a person such assurance is like assuring a blind man that he is in no danger as he walks toward a 500-foot cliff. Such assurance would be terribly unloving. Yet, this type of assurance is offered regularly by well-meaning Christians in the name of evangelism.
Disciples, then, are to be taught two main things:
“what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man,” (The Baptist Catechism of 1693, Q.6).
This means that the disciple is to be trained thoroughly both in right doctrine and in right practice, orthodoxy and orthopraxy. We are to believe what God has said about Himself and, at the same time, walk in accordance with that belief. The word of God has given us sufficient testimony to both. As such, the role of the church in the life of the new disciple is to be one of pointing him or her to the word of God.
This is not just the job of the pastor in the pulpit. Other Christians are to be committed to the task of training up the new disciple in what we ought to believe concerning God and what He requires of us. The pastor cannot be everywhere at once. The whole church is required for the teaching of new disciples.
A further requirement for disciples is that they be teachable. After all, that is what a disciple is: a learner. The moment a disciples ceases to learn in accordance with Christ’s ordained means, he ceases to be a disciple of Christ. We must labor, then, to remain teachable at every turn of our Christian lives.
PART II – THE MESSENGERS AND THE RECIPIENTS
Lesson Four: A Whole Church Endeavor
“so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,’” (Philippians 2:15; NASB).
An endeavor. Making disciples from every nation is not something that happens by osmosis. It takes work on the part of the church. It’s something we pursue as a church, not merely something we hope will happen. It is an endeavor that starts with our view of Christ.
If we do not already have a high view of Christ in our everyday lives, we will not seek to bring His gospel to the world. We must, then, work to sanctify Christ—set Him apart as precious and holy—in every aspect of our lives. Only then will we as a church truly desire to commit ourselves to the work of evangelism in our community.
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence,” (1 Peter 3:15; NASB).
As the Apostle Peter wrote, one of the effects of sanctifying Christ in our hearts will be that we will be always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for our hope. Another effect will be that our defense will be with gentleness and reverence. We will recognize that it is not our message, but the message of God Himself.
As such, we will not seek our own ends in the methods and message we use, but we will seek His ends. We will be careful with how we handle the gospel of Christ, because it is not our gospel. It is rather like a car we have borrowed or a home we’re watching for a friend. As we handle it in the world, we will handle it with great care and great reverence, because it is not our own.
Another motivating factor that will drive us to our rightful duty of evangelism is the recognition that the world is a dark place. As we look around this world, even in our own nation, we see such deep darkness and misery. We see the depths of depravity, and how man’s heart is only, continually turned against God.
Seeing this great problem in our world should not drive us merely to social justice or political solutions. The problem of pain and of evil should drive us to shine our lights even greater in this dark and fallen world. It should not cause us so much to see solutions in activism or the promotion of this political candidate or another. Rather, it should cause us to recall the pure light of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fact that we have been called to reflect that light.
“14Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain,” (Philippians 2:14-16; NASB).
We have been shown great mercy in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been granted the very word of life! As we hold forth that great word of life in this world, we hold forth a light that pierces the darkness and, where the light shines, no darkness can remain.
We know that “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more,” (Luke 12:48; NASB). We who have been granted much light are expected to shed much light into the darkness of our fallen world. Consider then how dreadful a thing it is that many churches that enjoy a high theology of God and sit under such a wealth of biblical preaching would be called “the frozen chosen.”
Our endeavors to make disciples then are not for the sake of achieving a closer relationship and more accurate view of God. Instead, they should spring from having received such a pure light. The Calvinist rightly decries the non-Calvinist who thinks he is earning anything from God for all the work he does. However, because the Calvinist recognizes Christ has already earned everything he needs from God, it should find all the more joy in his labors for Christ!
A whole-church endeavor. There has long been much debate over who is responsible to accomplish the work of evangelism in the life of the church. The short answer with which most can agree is that it is the endeavor of the whole church. Some might say that every member has a responsibility to do evangelism in much the same way as everyone else. Others might say that, with the support of the whole church, the officers and a few other chosen men are to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility of evangelism.
While both of these views would agree that evangelism is the endeavor of the whole church, I would disagree with both of these extremes. The Bible nowhere offers one cookie-cutter approach to evangelism or, much less, commands that everyone follow such a cookie-cutter approach. Nor does the Bible anywhere restrict the work of evangelism to a select group of ordained or recognized men within the church.
What we see instead is that every member within the church of Christ is called to be about the spread of the kingdom of Christ. For some this will mean a much more overt, visible teaching labor than for others. Some are called to go into the highways and byways and preach the gospel of Christ. These are the men that Paul means when he says that some must be sent.
“And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!’” (Romans 10:15; NKJV).
There is great wisdom in churches coming together under the direction of the elders to recognize godly men who are suited for the work of pulpit preaching, street preaching, teaching from house to house, teaching Sunday Schools, etc. As the preaching, teaching, and evangelism ministry of church elders allow, other godly men will arise who demonstrate the willingness, qualification, and ability to join and support them in their efforts. The Baptist Confession makes specific mention of such men.
“Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it,” (The Baptist Confession, 26.11).
Were the work of evangelism to be so narrowly defined as to only include that public teaching and preaching marked by the above definitions, we might be inclined to agree with those who say that all men must be recognized by the church in order to do evangelism. However, the work of evangelism is much more thorough than just the public ministries of teaching and preaching. Under this definition, workplace conversations, family worship, a mother catechizing her children, and discussions in the marketplace would all be considered something other than evangelism.
Used in its most general sense, evangelism is simply gospel preaching. That is what is meant in the biblical use of the term. When Paul told the church in Rome that he wished to “preach the gospel” to them (Romans 1:15), he used one word for “preach the gospel”: εὐαγγελίζω. He did not mean in the sense of making converts, but rather in sense of continuing the work of discipleship among them.
Christian discipleship is rooted in the gospel. In that sense, all who endeavor to aid in the work of discipleship are aiding also in the work of evangelism. For Christians who are hearing the gospel for the thousandth time, the work of the gospel on their hearts is be the power of God unto their sanctification, drawing them afresh to the bosom of Christ. For those who have yet to draw near to Christ in true discipleship, the gospel will hopefully be the power of God unto their regeneration, justification, and adoption into the family of God.
For this reason, sermons, Sunday School lessons, workplace conversations, family worship, daily instruction of children, etc., ought always to be done with a view toward supporting the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will not always overtly hit on the exact same elements of the gospel of Christ, but they must be conducted in such a way that they do no injustice to the true gospel of God. The whole life of the Christian, then, will be seen as a life lived in support of evangelism.
This evangelistic life should impact every aspect of how we view church. When pastors come to the pulpit, they should be mindful that the people need to be hearing the preached gospel and learning how to convey that same gospel. The people also, as active listeners, should come ready to learn how to take they gospel they are receiving and convey it to the lost and dying world in which they sojourn. For this reason, Christ gave pastors and teachers to the church: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12; NASB).
Lesson Five: The Recipients of the Gospel
“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” (Philippians 2:15; NASB).
In the world. When Christians in the West consider the work of evangelism, we often think of it in terms of outreach and church growth. As such, the primary focus is often placed upon getting youth and young adults through the doors of the church. We think of the man-on-the-street style of evangelism that most of us have seen on YouTube and other places. We think of knocking on doors, asking our waiters and waitresses how we might pray for them and leaving them a gospel tract with their tip, and having smoke break, coffee break, and water cooler conversations at work. In other words, our focus in much of our talk of evangelism is outward focused.
Today, I’d like to make the argument that evangelism rightly understood ought to be focused both outside the walls of the church and inside them. First, let us consider those outside the church. These are the most obvious recipients of our evangelistic efforts. It is most clearly modeled for us by the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles. We see not long after Pentecost and the gospel being brought to the Jews that it was soon brought to the Samaritans (Acts 8:1,4-25) and the Gentiles as well (Acts 8:26-38; Acts 10:9-48). This expansion of the kingdom of God beyond the borders of Judea was in keeping with Christ’s words:
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come,” (Mt. 24:14; NASB).
“The gospel must first be preached to all the nations,” (Mk. 13:10; NASB).
As Gentiles living in a predominantly Gentile nation, we must recognize that our mere presence in this land is a fulfillment of Christ’s commission to take the gospel to the nations. When we leave our gatherings on the Lord’s Day and go into our homes, the marketplace, and our workplaces, we are going into the kingdom of man. We are entering the nations and bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. We are on mission, witnesses of Christ Jesus in our own context.
We see this idea expressed in Luke’s account of the Great Commission. Matthew is not the only apostle to have recorded the Great Commission for us. In Luke’s account, we see a bit more of Christ’s intent for the gospel. In Matthew’s account, Matthew highlights Christ’s command that we go into all nations in order to make disciples. In Luke’s account in Acts, we get a little more specificity.
“7He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,’” (Acts 1:7-8; NASB).
The church was commissioned not merely to go into every nation, but into “even the remotest part of the earth” in order to make disciples. We see in some denominations today a push to plant churches only in urban centers like Dallas, Chicago, New York, Paris, London, etc. Jesus did not only command that the gospel penetrate the urban centers of the nations in which we sojourn, but that it should be taken even to the remote pioneer locations like West Texas, rural China, the mountains of Chile, and even to tribes whose languages we’ve yet to learn.
Christ taught not to forbid even little children from coming to Him. He likened forbidding a child from coming to Him to forbidding every citizen of His kingdom from doing so, because “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it,” (Mark 10:15; NKJV). All who come to Christ are to believe in Him and trust in Him just like a little child. This is one reason we should not be opposed to properly ordered children’s ministries, like catechism classes, as are some in the church. We must labor to minister the gospel to the children in our midst. This is also why fathers and mothers must preach the gospel to and catechize their children. Do you have children at home? There should be no space in your home where the gospel is not being preached.
Are you the only true Christian, or one of only a few true Christians, in your workplace? You have an opportunity there to help your coworkers to understand the lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives and to, Lord-willing, be used of Him to make disciples in that very particular context. What other contexts might lend themselves to the making of disciples? Local political organizations, college classes, sports teams, scout troops, home school communities, etc. For our context, these are our “remotest parts.” Should the gospel have no representation in them? Should these be considered “safe spaces” from our witness to Christ?
In our midst. Certainly, we are called to make disciples of those who are outside of the church. Our gospel ministry does not stop there, though. We are also called to minister the gospel in our midst. Consider the words of Paul as he instructed the church at Corinth on the topic of Christian liberty.
“19For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you,” (1Cor. 9:19-23; NKJV).
Paul did not merely assume that all of his readers, by virtue of the fact that they were members of a local church, were necessarily saved. This is a common mistake we often make in Reformed churches today. We just assume that everyone is already a believer merely because they profess to be so. On the contrary, Paul encouraged the church at Corinth: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified,” (2 Corinthians 13:5; NKJV). He didn’t just assume that they must necessarily be in the faith.
This is the reason why he wrote three entire chapters on the church’s use of Christian liberty. We are to practice our liberty in Christ with joy and liberality, but also with love toward our weaker brothers. If by our lack of caution and concern for our weaker brothers we cause them to stumble, we might also by the same act prove that we were never truly saved. “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified,” (1 Corinthians 9:27; NKJV). Therefore, all of us—teachers and disciples—are called to self-examination. We’re all called to make our calling and election sure.
Knowing that many within the church may not truly be saved, it is incumbent upon the church to minister the gospel on a regular basis. This is also why weekly attendance to the preached word is also important. As we sit under the preached word, we get more and more of a full picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is one of the main reasons why I am no longer convinced that we must have a cookie-cutter, five-minute gospel presentation that we preach every time we talk to our lost friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. Our job is to make disciples (learners), not converts. Whether someone is yet saved or not, if they are regularly sitting under the preaching of Christ, there is a very real, practical sense in which they are disciples. As these disciples sit and add weekly to their understanding of the gospel of Christ, they are also weekly subjecting themselves to the power of God unto salvation.
It’s not just the lost, though, who need to hear the gospel on a regular basis. We each need to be regularly reminded of the law of God, the gospel of Christ, and our need for continued repentance and belief in Him. So the weekly reinforcement of the gospel through the preaching of the word is not just for the benefit of the lost. It is also for the benefit of the saints. Consider the fact that Paul himself calls the Roman church saints (Romans 1:7). It was only a few short sentences later that he tells them that he is “eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome,” (Rom. 1:15; NASB).
Was this because he thought them not to be saved? Surely, based on what we’ve already observed from his letters to the Corinthians, he knew that not all of them were necessarily saved. That was not his primary concern, though. Paul recognized the duel effect of the gospel when preached in the assembly. For the lost, it is the power of God unto regeneration, justification, and adoption into the family of God. For the saints, though, it is the power of God unto sanctification, edification, admonition, and preservation. In both cases, it is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).
Also, where the gospel is not regularly preached in the midst of the saints, there is a great danger of a false gospel creeping in. Paul recognized this when he wrote to the churches of Galatia. He assumed that there were faithful ministers still preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, though there were some who were already trying to still them away with a false gospel.
“8But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed,” (Gal. 1:8-9; NKJV).
Let us be careful, then, to preach the gospel to all. Whether we are in the church or outside of the church, whether we are talking to a professing Christian or a raging atheist, let us ever have the gospel of Jesus Christ on our lips. Preaching the gospel to all people in all places, then, we will by exhausting all means at our disposal save some.
PART III – THE PRESENT ESTATE OF MAN
Lesson Six: The Holiness of God
“And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top,” (Exodus 24:17; NASB).
The proper starting point. Having discussed the purpose of evangelism (making disciples) and the messengers and recipients of evangelism, we finally arrive at the actual message to be delivered in evangelism. This point is where the Reformed and biblical approach will differ from many modern approaches. A great many modern approaches to evangelism center the message either on the messenger or the recipient. They might begin with asking the recipient, “Would you consider yourself to be a good person.” Some other approaches begin and end with a mere telling of the messenger’s personal testimony.
In order to be truly biblical, though, evangelism must have as its primary Subject He who is the primary subject of the Bible itself: God. The goal of discipleship is to move the disciple from a place of enmity with God to a reconciliation with God, from a place of great disparity from God to an intimate relationship with God. The problem we seek to address, then, is a problem of location.
The carnal man is located outside of the covenant promises of God. He stands as a sinner who is on a crash course with the eternal wrath of God. All of God’s attributes require that justice must be served to the sinner, because God is a God of justice and all of God’s attributes are naturally consistent with His justice. One primary focus for our explanation of the gospel, though, ought to be His holiness.
The holy and the unholy. We’re told in Exodus: “And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top,” (Exodus 24:17; NASB). In bringing the sons of Israel to repentance, God first impressed upon them His holiness. He helped them to see that He was as a consuming fire among them (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). He did the same with Moses at the burning bush when He told him to remove His sandals, “for the place where you stand is holy ground,” (Exodus 3:5b; NKJV).
The new disciple must first come to a recognition of the holiness of God before he or she can truly understand any of the message of the gospel. The new disciple must see that God’s holiness necessarily means consumption for the unholy. God’s holiness and justice demand payment for all sins ever committed.
“He is immutably determined by the moral perfection of his nature to visit every sin with a just recompense of reward, if not in the person of the sinner, then in the person of his Substitute. The terrible lake of fire and the cross of Calvary are awful testimonies to his absolute justice,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pp. 14-15).
The carnal mind may naturally balk at such notions as a God who would punish every sin. In a desire to continue in their sin and to treat it as of little consequence, the recipient of the gospel message may go as far as to say that he or she can never believe in a God who would punish sinners with an eternity of hell. A little exercise is instructive at this point.
An illustration. In order to demonstrate the importance and the necessity of the holiness of God, the gospel messenger needs to use a reference point. One such reference point that has proven helpful in many an explanation of the holiness of God is the unbeliever’s own innate sense of justice. We must be mindful, though, that this approach does not work with all men. Men are self-deceived creatures, and you may find that men and women with an Eastern or Middle Eastern worldview have often deceived themselves to the point of denying the necessity of justice in God, and even in some cases between men.
For those who do recognize the necessity of justice between men, you may ask them to think of the worst crime they can imagine followed by asking them, now, to imagine that crime being perpetrated on a small child. For the average man who is not actively suppressing the truth in regard to his sense of justice, just the thought of such an act should evoke a sense of righteous indignation. Allow that thought to weigh on him for a moment, and then move the subject to God.
The world over, nearly every theist will agree that the god in whom they believe and whom they worship is a god of love. This recognition comes to man by the light of nature placed within them and evident to them in God’s works of creation and providence. They know intuitively that God is love. Otherwise, the world would be far worse off than it is today. However—and this is the next question we want to ask our unbelieving friends—if God truly loves that little child, will He allow the crime against her to go unpunished?
At this point, you have come just a little way in helping your friend or family member to see the importance of God’s holiness to the discussion. However, God’s holiness is not merely the starting point or a rhetorical device to get us to the point of convincing our lost friends and family that they are in danger. God’s holiness is the ultimate reference point for all things in the universe. Everything we see, hear, and understand either aligns with or deviates from God’s holiness. His holiness is the great referent. It is the necessary starting point in our discussion of the gospel, because it is the necessary starting point in our discussion of God Himself.
God’s absolute justice. God’s holiness speaks to His great otherness and His great purity. It also speaks to His unrelenting hatred of sin—deviation from the holiness of God. It is for this reason that He absolutely must punish all sin. If He punishes some sin, but not all sins, He would be terribly inconsistent. He would possess some righteousness, a righteousness comparable to an earthly judge perhaps, but He would not be completely righteous. He would be righteous enough to punish some sin, but not righteous enough to punish all sin. However, if he is not righteous enough to punish all sin, how could He be righteous enough to punish even the greatest of sins. The Bible is clear, though, that God does punish all sin and, as such, it is a very grievous matter to be found in sin. Consider Isaiah’s recognition of his own sin, when he beheld the glory of God in his temple vision:
“3And one called out to another and said,
‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.’
4And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5Then I said,
‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,’” (Isaiah 6:3-5; NASB).
To recognize the holiness of God is necessarily to recognize our terrible lack thereof. Isaiah recognized not only the great heights of the purity and majesty of God in his vision, but also the great disparity that existed between God and himself. He recognized not merely the sinfulness of the people among whom he lived, but he took the all-consuming holiness of God into the core of his own being, and he was utterly wrecked by what he beheld. Let us not be trivial, then, in our own assessment of God’s relationship to the sinner. God hates sin so much that He willingly poured out His wrath on His own Son in order that His justice might be satisfied.
“Not all the vials of judgments, that have, or shall be poured out upon the wicked world, nor the flaming furnace of a sinner’s conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious devils, nor the groans of the damned creatures, give such a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, as the wrath of God let loose upon his Son.,” (Stephen Charnock, Discourses on the Existence and Attributes of God, pg. 484).
Reconciliation with the God of perfection? God is completely separate in His holiness from sin of any sort. That is the definition of sin, after all: deviation from God’s holy standard. However, God’s holiness is not solely a negation of sin. It is also the complete perfection of His being. Berkhof explains: “But the idea of ethical holiness is not merely negative (separation from sin); it also has a positive content, namely, that of moral excellence, or ethical perfection,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 73).
The holiness of God does not exist in order to provide us with a rhetorical device to persuade unbelievers to recognize their sins. It is not revealed to us simply to provide us with a dilemma or a riddle that must be solved. It does, however, present us with a dilemma. It brings us before the holy, unapproachable throne of heaven, strips us bare, exposes all our shame, our imperfection, and our guilt, and leaves us condemned before a just and vengeful God.
Apart from some atonement, some payment, some divine pleading of our case, we find ourselves not merely separated from God, but under His just, holy, and eternal condemnation. As such, it is all too important that we help our unbelieving friends and loved ones to see themselves in the mirror of His infinite perfection. Do they hope to stand on the day of judgment? Apart from Christ, they should have no such confidence, for He dwells in unapproachable light.
“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen,” (1 Timothy 6:16; NASB).
Lesson Seven: Man’s Sin and Its Wages
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23; NKJV).
Man’s need for redemption. One of the biggest obstacles we face in our society, when considering the task of evangelism, is helping people see their need for the gospel. Many are simply unconcerned about their eternal state. Even those who affirm the existence of a god out there somewhere believe His primary attribute to be that of mercy, so they live as though they will never have to answer to God for their sins. As we saw in our last lesson, this has never been the Christian affirmation of who God is.
“Q.11. Is not God therefore merciful?
A. Yes, very much so! He is merciful, but He is also just, wherefore His justice requires that the same which is committed against the divine majesty of God should also be recompensed with extreme, that is, everlasting punishment both in body and soul,” (Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Q.11).
We live in a nation that has largely forsaken this understanding of who God is. In fact, many Christians will tell you never to talk about sin, guilt, or repentance when sharing the gospel with people. They don’t mind discussions of the love and the mercy of God. They don’t even mind discussions of His holiness, as long as there is no correlation drawn between His complete holiness and the sinfulness of man.
The problem is that man cannot truly understand their need of God’s mercy unless they first understand His holiness and their complete lack thereof. Individuals must be brought to an honest, prayerful contemplation of their own personal sinfulness in light of God’s utter holiness and justice. They must be brought to understand that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23; NKJV), which means they personally have sinned and fall short of His glory. Until then, the gospel will make no sense whatever.
Until man is brought to an understanding of his sinfulness and the consequences thereof, he will see no danger in staying the course. He must be brought to an understanding that his sin means eternal destruction and damnation apart from the gracious provision of God, but engulfed in His eternal contempt. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise, where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell; where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day; besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none,” (The Baptist Confession, 31.1)
The sinfulness of the individual. Truly, man is fallen in Adam and death has thus spread to all men (Rom. 5:12), but the carnal man must be made to see the particular offense his own sin is against a holy, righteous, and just God. He must be brought, as by a schoolmaster, to Christ and His gospel by nothing less than the sheer condemnation of the law of God (Gal. 3:24). Until then, he will see no need for redemption. He will think himself basically good and in no need of atonement. He will think himself basically good, because he is self-deceived.
“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled,” (Titus 1:15; NKJV).
The mind untethered to the word of God is a mind in darkness. Even Christians, the farther we stray from the word of God, wander into self-deception and the defilement of the mind. We must ever be confronted by the word of God in order to come to a true understanding of our sinfulness and how far short of God’s holy standard we fall.
One way that this conviction has been attempted in recent years is through an exercise in which the unbeliever is ask if she thinks herself to be a good person. If she says, “Yes,” the Christian asks if he can test that affirmation. If she concedes, he proceeds to ask a series of question about her obedience to the Ten Commandments. The unbeliever inevitably fails this test and, if convicted of sin, is then offered the gospel. I largely agree with this approach. There are just a couple issues, though, that I take with it.
First, there seems to be an assumption that a short 3-5 minute presentation should be enough to convict people of their sin and help them see their need for Christ. In most cases, much more work needs to be done. There needs to be a prolonged period of sitting under the preached word and much soul-searching on the part of the unbeliever. So, while the initial presentation of the law and the gospel might whet a person’s appetite for Christ and the preaching of His word,
We should not expect that most of these initial encounters will necessarily lead to the individual’s immediate conversion. Most often, the unbeliever needs to get under the preached word at a local church where they can be discipled and taught to observe all that Christ commanded. Through that process, Lord-willing, he may eventually turn from his sins toward God and put his full trust and allegiance in Christ Jesus alone for his salvation.
Second, there is often an extremely erroneous assumption made in the way that this method is employed. Some well-known adherents to this approach teach not to even share the gospel with the unbeliever unless he demonstrates a conviction of sin and a concern for final judgment. They claim that offering the gospel to such individuals is a casting of pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6). The problem is that the law only has the ability to lead one to the gospel. It has no power, though, to convict. That power is found in the gospel alone (Rom. 1:16). It’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance.
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4; NASB).
The universal sinfulness of man. The individual must be brought to an understanding of his or her own personal sinfulness. In the process of bringing the unbeliever to this understanding, though, an understanding of the universal sinfulness of man can be instructive. Imagine you are talking to a man, and he says that he is better than most. How do you respond? This individual needs to understand that he is comparing himself to a mass of fallen, depraved individuals who also fall short of God’s holy standard.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5; NKJV).
It always baffled me that pastors and theologians would point to this passage in Genesis, before the flood, when speaking of the universal depravity of man. Then, one day, it occurred to me that there was not real change in the constitution of man after the flood. We are still just as depraved as they were back then. The change that occurred after the flood was in God’s dealings with man’s sin. He established a covenant with all mankind whereby He promised never again to destroy the world with water.
Man, on the other hand, is still totally depraved and under the condemnation of the law. This is indeed a universal depravity. We are all sinners and thoroughly sinful. For a man to stand and say that he is not a sinner is for him to say that he is better than every other human being that has ever lived. It is the height of arrogance, because there is none good.
“10As it is written:
‘There is none righteous, no, not one;
11There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.’
13‘Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit’;
‘The poison of asps is under their lips’;
14‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’
15‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17And the way of peace they have not known.’
18‘There is no fear of God before their eyes,’” (Romans 3:10-19; NKJV).
Another response, especially in the South where a lot of erroneous ideas have been floated in the name of Christianity, is to say, “Well, you don’t know my heart, and you can’t judge me.” While there is some truth to this statement, the Lord has revealed enough about the heart of man in Scripture that we can state with confidence that every man is a sinner in need of redemption. In fact, those who convince themselves that they are not sinners have actually been deceived in their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?,” (Jer. 17:9; NKJV).
We, then, are up against impossible odds. We stand in a valley of dry bones and seek to preach to the self-deceived that they are utterly sinful both in body and in mind, the very sin that hinders them from receiving our message with gladness of heart. How can we have any rational expectation, then, that they will respond aright? Lest the Lord act, we cannot. Nevertheless, the gospel message must begin here: with an accounting of both the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.
PART IV – Redemption Accomplished
Lesson Eight: Christ’s Obedience in Life
“For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous,” (Romans 5:19; NASB).
Having established that the Great Commission is the driving motivation behind our evangelism, the church are the messengers, and the unregenerate are the recipients, and having discussed God’s holiness and man’s sin and its wages as the backdrop to the gospel, today we finally arrive at the gospel itself. We have just spent two lessons describing man’s terrible predicament. Now, we will discuss God’s great remedy. In the next three lessons, we will observe Christ’s accomplishment of redemption through His perfect obedience.
Is Calvinism the gospel? One famous preacher is often quoted as having said that Calvinism is the gospel. I have even been out doing door-to-door visits before with individuals who insisted on bringing up the five points of Calvinism in their gospel presentations. While it is certainly helpful in one’s evangelism to know and affirm the doctrines the doctrines of grace, conveying them in an initial evangelistic encounter is not always wise. Besides, our goal in evangelism is to make disciples, not Calvinists.
This is not to say that there aren’t some elements of the doctrines of grace that are essential to explaining the gospel. For instance, we certainly want the unbeliever to understand his or her depravity and the fact that Christ provided an atonement for His sheep. Discussions about election, the irresistible call, and the perseverance of the saints can come later in the process of discipleship. How redemption is applied to the individual may be necessary to discuss at a certain point in the discussion, but the main thrust of the gospel message in evangelism should focus primarily on how Christ accomplished our redemption.
Redemption and atonement. First, we must ask, “What is redemption?” The term redemption stems from the biblical concept of being bought back. When a man sold himself into slavery in order to pay off a debt, in the Old Testament, a kinsman redeemer could come and purchase him back and restore him to freedom and to his land (Lev. 25:47-50, 25). In the same way, we are told that the unbeliever is enslaved to sin and in need of a Redeemer.
“16Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness,” (Romans 6:16-18; NKJV).
As slaves to sin, we must have a Redeemer if we hope to be free. John Murray wrote at length about the doctrine of redemption in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Again, it is this accomplishment of redemption that should be our primary focus in our evangelistic discussions. Murray explains in the opening sentence of his book, “The accomplishment of redemption is concerned with what has been generally called the atonement,” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 9).
Second, then, we must ask, “What is atonement?” Atonement is observed in the historic acts of Christ in which He “by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father has given unto Him,” (The Baptist Confession, 8.5). For our study, we will observe three specific elements of Christ’s work of redemption: His obedience in life, His obedience in death, and His resurrection.
Christ’s obedience in life. In understanding the necessity for Christ’s obedience, we must begin by understanding that we are disobedient. Each of us have the work of God’s law written on our hearts (Rom. 2:14-16) such that none of us are excused in our violation of it (Rom. 1:18-21). None of us will be able to stand in the day of judgment in our own deeds, for “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3; NASB). In ourselves, then, we are deemed to be the pupils of Satan, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath.
“1And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.,” (Eph. 2:1-3; NKJV).
However, from the initial sin of Adam, God has been about the work of redemption. From the beginning, He provided for His people the hope of a coming Messiah, one who would make atonement for their sins and reconcile them to God. We know that the many prophesies of this Messiah to come were finally and fully fulfilled in the Person of Christ Jesus. As a result, all who turn from their sins toward God and place their full trust and allegiance in Christ are now considered sons of God, obedient children (1Pt. 1:14).
This transaction required the full and perfect obedience of Christ. The reason Christ needed to live a perfect life is twofold. First, Christ needed to go through all of the trial, temptation, and hardship He did in order to prepare Him for the single voluntary act of dying on the cross for our sins. We’ll explore in more depth the doctrine of the cross next week. Second, Christ had to fulfill on behalf all His sheep the perfect law of God.
“He perfectly met both the penal and the preceptive requirements of God’s law. The passive obedience refers to the former and the active obedience to the latter. Christ’s obedience was vicarious in the bearing of the full judgment of God upon sin, and it was vicarious in the full discharge of the demands of righteousness. His obedience becomes the ground of the remission of sin and of actual justification,” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 22).
Christ then is not only our perfect Sacrifice, as we will see next week. He is also our perfect obedience to the law. He provides atonement for the sins we have committed, to be sure, but He has done far better. When we turn to Christ, we not only receive a clean slate and new standing with God. We receive Christ’s goodness and perfection and all the blessing and privilege that comes with it. In Him, we not only have the infinite debt of our sin expunged, but we have accredited to our account an infinite sum, an eternal inheritance!
It is imperative that we Christians deeply and regularly consider these truths. In doing so, our evangelism becomes second nature. The truth of the gospel and the joy that accompanies it will readily and bountifully spring from our hearts and through our lips as streams well up and flow from deep within the mountains. Let us not take in this knowledge as a purely academic exercise, for that would be contrary to Scripture. It would also lead to the sure death of our evangelism. Rather, we must take these truths and drive them deep into our souls to be regularly meditated upon and regularly discussed as we commune with the saints.
“7who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek,’” (Hebrews 5:7-10; NKJV).
Lesson Nine: Christ’s Obedience in Death
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,” (1Pt. 3:18; NASB).
Christians are a peculiar people. We sing songs about death, and we sing them with joy and hope in our hearts. With a sense of great liberation, we sing of one specific death in history. When Christ died, He did not primarily come to die as our example. Certainly, there is a certain character we see on display in Him as He went to His death that is worthy of emulation (1 Peter 2:21-25). Yet we know from observing the whole counsel of Scripture that Christ’s primary purpose in death was not that of setting a good example.
Christ’s purpose in death. If His main purpose were to set a good example, how would that be anything close to good news? If His sole purpose were to set for us an example, the gospel would be reduced down to a message of works righteousness. Christ could be said to have died merely to show us how we might save ourselves. Indeed, there is much we can learn from the cross about how to more accurately and faithfully follow Christ. The primary purpose of the cross, however, was the accomplishment of our redemption.
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed,” (Isa. 53:5; NASB).
In Christ, we see that our transgressions (our violation of God’s law) and our iniquities (our evil deeds) were blotted out. As a result of the cross work of Jesus Christ our sin, which we committed in plain sight of the God who sees all things, is remembered no more. As Christ hung on the cross to receive the punishment we deserve for our sins, we now stand before God in His righteousness to receive the privilege only He deserve: the privilege of sonship.
Christ’s volition in death. This death was no mere accident. Nor was it an assassination or a death by natural causes. Such a death would not do. Instead, Christ was tried by men, received the sentencing we deserve, nailed to an accursed tree, and left to die. In this process, another far greater trial was being decided. An infinitely more important penalty was being paid. Almighty God, out of sheer sovereign love for His people and righteous judgment over sin, poured out His wrath on the Son.
“But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand,” (Isa. 53:10; NASB).
Salvation from sin and death comes to the elect by way of Christ’s willing acceptance of the punishment we deserve. The glorious news of the gospel is that Christ receives the punishment we deserve so that we can enter into the privilege only He deserves, and all of this comes to us as a result of the love of God. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8; NKJV). To reduce Christ’s death down to mere example, then, is a criminal offense against the gospel and the God who secured it for us.
We see then that Christ’s mission was not merely one of perfectly obeying God in life, but it was likewise a mission of obedience in death. Christ came to this earth, took on flesh, and lived the perfect life so that He might die the perfect death. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” (Phil. 2:8; NKJV). Not only did it please God to crush Him, but He willingly came to this earth for that very purpose.
Christ’s sacrifice in death. Christ’s obedience in death not only satisfied the justice of God in punishing our sin. It also met the righteous requirement of the law of God. As such, we cannot conclude our discussion of the cross without mentioning its accomplishment of our atonement through sacrifice. When Christ died on the cross, His death was not merely a penal death. It was also an atoning death. That is, it cleansed us of the sin that separates us from God.
John Murray insists that the death of Christ ought to be viewed in reference to Old Testament sacrifices. In the Old Testament, animals were regularly slaughtered to make atonement for the sins of the people. These sacrifices were expiatory, meaning that they were meant to remove the sin from the sinner in the eyes of God. Murray explains:
“This means that they had reference to sin and guilt. Sin involves a certain liability, a liability arising from the holiness of God, on the one hand, and the gravity of sin as the contradiction of that holiness, on the other. The sacrifice was the divinely instituted provision whereby the sin might be covered and the liability to divine wrath and curse removed,” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 25).
What we have then, in the death of Christ, is a complete removal of our identity as sinners and the substitution of a much more glorious identity: the identity of sons. Christ’s sacrifice was the final sacrifice. Nor is there any other. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,” (1Pt. 3:18; NASB).
Union with Christ. When the biblical authors speak of Christ’s obedience in life and death as it applies to us in our redemption, they speak of it primarily in terms of our union with Christ. It’s only by virtue of our union with Christ that we come to be partakers of the great privileges afforded us in the cross. As such, what Christ has accomplished for us the Spirit applies to us as He engrafts us into the body of Christ.
“1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Rom. 6:1-3; NKJV).
When Paul writes in Romans six and seven of the Christian’s relationship to sin, he speaks of it in terms of a deceased man. We are those who have died to sin. This is an accomplished action in the past. We no longer live under the threat of the penalty or the reign of sin. When we came to faith in Christ, we were immersed (baptized) into Him and now are seen as perfectly obedient in life and death. What is true of Christ is now true of all who are immersed into Him. We weren’t merely immersed into His obedient life. We were also immersed into His death, and so we have died to sin.
Our great assurance in Christ. This is one reason that Roman Catholics and other cults of Christianity cannot rise above their guilt. If you believe that Christ must be recrucified every mass the atonement cannot possibly be accomplished, and your eternity cannot possibly be secure. The saints of the Old Testament trusted in the God who would eventually make full and final atonement for sins, and we look back to the Messiah who did fully and finally atone for them.
With this great Savior comes great assurance, an assurance that had all but disappeared until the dawn of the Reformation. The only assurance Rome could offer hinged upon the obedience of the individual in her observance of the sacraments. The Bible clearly stands in opposition to such a doctrine. Our assurance is bound up solely in the obedience of Christ in His death, His obedience in burial, and in His resurrection.
Application to evangelism. When speaking with the unbeliever about these matters, it may be necessary to convey just the general idea of what we are here describing. This can be a lot to take in at once. That’s one of the reasons why it is so important that we not merely reduce evangelism down to little five-minute encounters on a street corner, and the gospel down to a five-minute, cookie-cutter presentation. The gospel (the good news) is a multi-faceted diamond that must be observed from several different angles. Reception of the full gospel, then, requires a regular, weekly attendance to the ordinary means of grace, and especially to the preached word of God.
Again, we are not called to be about the work of making converts and leaving them as spiritual orphans. We’re called to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to observe all that Christ commanded. As such, while it is important that disciples search the depths of the obedience of Christ and what is secured for us in it by virtue of our union with Him, we are not necessarily called to try to convey it all in our initial discussions with the unbelievers in our lives. For this reason also, the death of Christ should ever be a central focus of the church and her services.
“With the apostles the church affirms that it was the eternal Son of God, the Word who became flesh, the Lord of glory, who died on Calvary (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; John 1:1, 14; 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8). Accordingly, in its best moments, the church has ‘gloried in nothing but the cross’ (Gal. 6:14) and has ‘resolved to know nothing among [the nations] except Christ Jesus and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2),” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pp. 624-625).
What is meant in Galatians 6:14 and First Corinthians 2:2, that Paul gloried in nothing but the cross and resolved to know nothing among the Corinthian saints except Christ Jesus and Him crucified? Only that the central focus of the gospel ministry ought to be that of the cross work of Jesus Christ. The highest work of the gospel minister is to ever put the crucified Savior on display for the people of God, so that they might come to saving faith in Him and, having been saved, that they might be ushered time and again back to the fountainhead and object of their faith: their crucified Savior.
PART V – The Gospel Commands
Lesson Eleven: Repentance unto Life
“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” (Mt. 4:17; NASB).
The gospel in its essence is not a command, as though it were comprised of a list of dos and don’ts. The gospel is a set of historical and theological facts painting the picture of God’s great redemption of His people from the beginning of creation to final glory. Yet, wherever we find the gospel being preached in the Greek Scriptures, we find along with it the commands to repent and believe. As such, when we refer to repentance and faith as gospel commands, we do not mean the gospel to be taken as a set of imperatives. We simply mean that these are the commands that, by necessity, accompany the gospel.
Order of consideration. The first of these commands we will consider is the command to repent. We’re not considering repentance first because it is in any way prior to faith, but rather the opposite. Faith and repentance, as they are found in the pages of Holy Writ, are chronologically simultaneous events. That is to say that they occur at one and the same time at whatever point they are found in the lives of Christ’s disciples. Repentance is impossible apart from faith, and genuine faith in Christ necessarily breeds repentance.
There are numerous instances in the Bible in which hearers are told explicitly to believe, but not to repent. There are similar instances in which they are told explicitly to repent, but not to believe. In all of these instances, the command not mentioned is not therefore to be seen as excluded. Rather, where one is commanded, the other is implied. It has rightly been asserted that faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin.
One of the most difficult struggles I’ve personally watched a child endure is the struggle of the child raised in the Reformed tradition who desperately wants to know if he or she is among the elect. The reason we start with repentance is not because we believe it to chronologically precede faith, but because it is the evidence of genuine faith. A child raised in the Reformed tradition should not be made to rest his or her assurance upon the genuineness or strength of a faith considered apart from a biblical understanding of repentance. Rather, it is a faith that will manifest itself in the fruit of repentance. The root of faith, then, will be known by the fruit of repentance.
Defining repentance. Before venturing further, it is imperative that we pause to define our terms. When we speak of repentance, what do we mean? For some, this can be a rather archaic term. The term in the Hebrew Scriptures basically meant a change of mind (Num. 23:19). In the Greek Scriptures, the term took on more of the idea of turning from sin toward God (Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1). Thomas Watson defined repentance in this way:
“Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed,” (Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, pg. 10).
As such, even as we consider the fact that repentance and faith are gospel commands, we must simultaneously recognize that they are graces of God worked upon the soul of man, not mere works of man conjured up in man’s own strength. As such, in our consideration of repentance, let us first consider it as a command, and one that is impossible to be fulfilled in the mere strength of the hearer. Then, we will consider repentance as a grace, and one that is worked upon the soul by the good pleasure of God by His word and Spirit.
The command to repent. The very first message we find John the Baptist preaching in the Greek Scriptures is a message of repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Mt. 3:2; NASB). Strikingly, the Christ began His own public ministry with the exact same message of repentance: “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” (Mt. 4:17; NASB). From the beginning of the New Covenant era, it was clear that repentance was not merely a requirement for Israel, but for all who would hope to be found in Christ (Lk. 24:46-47; Acts 11:18).
John the Baptist commanded his hearers to repent. So did Christ. We also see in the preaching of the apostles that repentance was a requirement of all believers. Repentance was a staple of Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22) and teaching (2Pt. 3:9). Paul also emphasized the universal obligation of all men to repent in his preaching (Acts 17:30; 26:19-20) and teaching (Acts 20:21; Rom. 2:4; 2Cor. 7:9-10).
Some may think it strange to refer to repentance and faith as commands. After all, in 21st century Western Evangelicalism, haven’t we all deemed ‘gospel invitations’ to be the more appropriate term? Nowhere in Scripture do we see God inviting every man everywhere to repent and believe in Christ. Instead, we read: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,” (Acts 17:30; NKJV). Thus, we see that repentance is both a universal requirement and a command.
The grace to repent. Some would interject here that we are adding to the gospel a new law. We are in a sense, according to these detractors, making the gospel conditional upon a work. First of all, we must admit that the salvation afforded us in the pages of Scripture is a salvation by works. It simply is not a salvation by our works. We are saved instead by the works of Christ alone.
As Thomas Watson asserted in the aforementioned quote, even the repentance we exercise is a grace worked upon our souls by the sovereign God of our salvation. Repentance, then, is not a condition for our justification and regeneration, but the fruit of it. When the sinner, by grace through faith, receives with joy the good news of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ, God works upon his soul the grace of repentance. Repentance, in this sense, is not a work but a gift from God (Acts 11:18)!
When we think about repentance, it is necessary also that we consider it as part of our overall sanctification. In Philippians 2:12-13, we’re commanded to work out our own salvation. At the same time we’re informed that, as we work out our own salvation, it is God who is at work in us to accomplish it. As we consider this great grace of sanctification afforded us by the indwelling, preserving work of the Holy Spirit, we must recognize that repentance and faith are vital parts of it.
Repentance and faith are not one-time requirements in the lives of disciples; they are regular expectations throughout the Christian life. Thus, just as every other element or our sanctification is wrought by God who is at work in us, so it is true also of repentance. The same grace that comes bringing the saving grace of conversion also comes bringing the saving grace of sanctification. The apostle Paul is very clear on this matter when He writes:
“11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds,” (Titus 2:11-14; NASB).
The same grace of God that converts us also instructs us to deny the ungodliness and worldy desires in which we formerly walked when we were dead in our trespasses and sins. It calls us instead to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, having been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. Rather than dreading the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, the grace of God causes us to look upon it with blessed hope and joyful expectation. The grace of God in Christ redeems us from every lawless deed and purifies us for Him who purchased us, sowing in us a godly zeal for the good deeds God predestined from the foundation of the world, that we should walk in them.
The grace of God, then, is not a mere forgiving grace. It completely renovates us throughout our sojourn in this foreign land. It grants us new hearts with new desires. It renews our minds. It causes us to hate sin, such that we gladly turn from it, and to love God, such that we turn to Him finding in Him our all-in-all. Let us pray, then, that all with whom we have the joy of sharing the glorious news of redemption in Jesus Christ will be granted the grace of repentance unto life and salvation.
Lesson Twelve: Saving Faith
“8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9; NKJV).
We saw in our last lesson that repentance and faith are commanded of all who hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. These are not mere requests or invitations any more than a criminal might be requested or invited to stand before a judge or an officer of the law might request or invite a lawbreaker to put his hands in the air. Faith and repentance are required of all who hear the gospel under penalty of eternal judgment.
Last week we considered the command to repent. We also considered the grace given to God’s children to repent. This week, we will examine the same aspects of saving faith. As we mention last week, faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin. Thus, whereas we are commanded to repent, we are commanded to do so in faith, and whereas we are given grace for repentance, that grace also works in us the necessary faith that works repentance.
The command to believe. In our study, we have considered the purpose of evangelism (the Great Commission), the messengers and the recipients of evangelism, God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. These are the central messages of God’s redemptive revelation. There are many other very important doctrines of the faith but, taken as a whole, these are the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely a message to be heard, though. It is also a message to be believed. It is a message in which we are to place our full trust, hope, and allegiance. In order to understand what we mean by saving faith, let us take it in three parts. John Murray explains, “There are three things that need to be said about the nature of faith. Faith is knowledge, conviction, and trust,” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 110)..
When we confess that faith is knowledge, we do not mean to deny that faith requires belief. What we mean to say is that faith is belief that is not divorced from knowledge. Faith in Scripture is never presented as being blind faith. Rather, biblical faith is always married to biblical knowledge. Afterall, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” (Rom. 10:17; NKJV). And what is the word of God if not knowledge of Him received from Him. When we talk about faith, then, we are talking about a substance, an object in which we believe. When we speak of faith, we are speaking about a body of knowledge. We mean to draw our attention to something that ought to be preached, something to be defended. Faith, in this sense, is knowledge.
When we confess that faith is conviction, we mean not merely that we know something, but that we affirm it. It is one thing to assert a truth. It is quite another to agree with it, to assent to it. When we share the gospel with a person at the workplace or catechize our children in our homes or Sunday Schools, we equip them with knowledge through the hearing, but God requires their assent. He requires that they agree with the message that has been preached. He requires that they affirm its truthfulness.
“9that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” (Rom. 10:9-11; NKJV).
God not only requires that we know the truth. A man can know a tremendous amount about Buddha or the golden tablets of Moroni without ever being convicted of it. Knowledge and conviction, then, are two very different but necessary elements of saving faith. It was not only necessary for Abraham to know what God had said. He also had to believe Him: “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness,’” (Gal. 3:6; NKJV). He had to be convicted of the truthfulness of the word that had been spoken.
Finally, when we confess that faith is trust, we recognize not only that it is a body of knowledge and that it we must be convicted of its truthfulness. We also confess that we must entrust ourselves unto it. The recipient of the gospel message is not merely being asked to join a club or buy a product. He is being presented with a Savior into Whose hands he is now commanded to entrust not only his eternal soul but, perhaps even more difficult, the remainder of this earthly existence.
The demand that is made upon the life of the disciple of Christ is quite weighty. Christ doesn’t demand bits of the believer here and there. He demands the believer’s whole being. As a skydiver entrusts himself to the parachute the moment he throws himself from the plane, so too the new disciple entrusts himself to Christ from the moment he first bows the knee until he draws his final breath.
The grace to believe. Like repentance, faith is impossible apart from the sovereign grace of God. Let it be known that the whole of the Christian life is all of grace. All that is required of the Christian, including faith, is only accomplished by the sheer grace of God bestowed freely and lovingly upon His children.
“8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast,” (Eph. 2:8-9; NKJV).
Grace comes to us as a gracious gift from the God to whom belongs all things and from whom all things are freely given. From heaven the plan of redemption was laid. From heaven Christ came to live the perfect life we could never live. From heaven Christ came to receive the punishment that we deserved. From heaven Christ was sprung from the grace that, for three days, held His body captive. After Christ’s ascension, we received the Holy Spirit from heaven. From heaven also, we receive the minds to perceive and the hearts to believe in the glorious gospel that is afforded us in Christ, from heaven.
Thus, we see that our faith is not merely all of grace. It is more accurately to be stated that our faith is all of Christ. He is both the Author and the Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). He is both the Source and the Object of our faith. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen,” (Rom. 11:36; NKJV). As John Murray explains:
“It is to be remembered that the efficacy of faith does not reside in itself. Faith is not something that merits the favour of God. All the efficacy unto salvation resides in the Saviour,” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 112).
Surely, “without faith it is impossible to please Him,” (Heb. 11:6; NKJV), but we mustn’t be so foolish as to believe that we can somehow muster this faith on our own. The canal through which our faith is given birth is not the mind, the heart, or the will of man, but the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. No hope, then, is to be placed in the faculties of man.
This knowledge should give us great boldness in our evangelism. When we know that our evangelism does not hinge on man who is prone to fail and err, but on our infallible and inerrant God who has promised to work through the power of the gospel to save souls, we can go in confidence to preach the gospel to a lost and dying world with great confidence. Far from being hindered by sovereign grace in our proclamation of the gospel, we are instead given wings!
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?
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.
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.
Lesson Sixteen: Counterfeit Evangelism
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves,’” (Matthew 23:15; NASB).
In 2008, I was deployed to Kuwait with the U.S. Army Reserve in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a medic with an ambulance company, I ran missions between camps transporting patients who needed different levels of care. In between missions, though, I made sure to be involved with a group of men who were committed to living for Christ in that desert context. One such man, a dear friend to this day, once issued a challenge to me. I had been studying a tremendous amount about apologetics. How to answer Mormons, how to answer Jehovah’s Witnesses, how to answer Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. My friend noticed that I spoke more about the errors of other religions than I did about the truth of Christianity. He challenged me to set aside my study of apologetics for a while and just study historic, Christian theology. In so doing, I found that my theology became my apologetic.
The better choice is always to focus on the genuine article than to focus on the counterfeits. Jehovah’s Witnesses meet four times a week to be indoctrinated in the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. In most cases, the average Jehovah’s Witness can twist the above average Christian into theological pretzels, because of the theological ignorance of most professing Christians. Throughout the word of God, knowledge of God is put forth as a high priority for the saints. When we speak of sharing our faith or defending the faith, then, we must be very familiar with the content of that faith. We must know the genuine article far better than we know the counterfeits.
The same is true for evangelism. We have spent fifteen lessons discussing the genuine article regarding evangelism, and that is by design. It is imperative, if we are to be about the fulfillment of the Great Commission, that we know what the Bible teaches on the matter. Like a bank teller who makes a thorough study of genuine $100 bills in order to be able to spot any counterfeit, the church must make a thorough inquiry into the word of God in order to be able to distinguish between biblical evangelism and its counterfeits. Having defined the genuine article over the span of the last fifteen lessons, let us now take one lesson to consider some counterfeits.
Every-member evangelism. Many churches’ membership covenants tend to include a line or two about their expectations that all members commit themselves to personal evangelism. Such an expectation, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad. All Christians are expected to be ready to give a defense for the hope that lies within them (1Pt. 3:15). However, that defense will look different depending on the nature and circumstances of each individual encounter and the abilities of the Christian in question.
Every Christian is not called to pass out gospel tracts on the corner, knock on doors, speak only of Christ to their lost coworkers, and open-air preach in the local town square. In fact, most of those endeavors ought to be done by, or supervised by, individuals who have been recognized and sent by the church to do those tasks (Rom. 10:14-15). Why must these men be recognized and sent? As we have already established, evangelism is first-and-foremost about fulfilling the Great Commission, and the Great Commission is a local church endeavor. As disciples are made, they must be engrafted into a local church where they will be baptized and taught to observe the Lord’s commands. As such, evangelism done properly will reflect on the church, Christ’s bride. The reputation of the bride of Christ is at stake every time the gospel is preached.
Rogue evangelism. The second counterfeit is like the first. In fact, it might be said that the second is fueled by the first. There are many groups within the United States that have broken away from local churches and are attempting to do the work of the church, in the name of the church, detached from any regularly assembling, rightly constituted body of believers whatsoever.
These people often began by attending churches that strongly encouraged every-member evangelism and had lively street preaching ministries. They had a go at open-air preaching, and it gave them a sense of empowerment. Before long, though, they began to grow divisive. The church was not as radical in their approach to abortion as they were. Perhaps, they stirred up division within the body and tried to get the pastor fired over something petty, eventually leading to their expulsion from the church. Regardless, there are countless men in urban centers throughout the United States who preach in town squares, outside “apostate” churches, outside movie theaters, abortion clinics, and wherever else they may find opportunity who are in no way submitted to any local church.
We must be purposeful at this time to point out the fact that not all open-air preachers are rogue evangelists. Nor is all open-air preaching the work of churches that are forcing an unbiblical notion of every-member evangelism. What can be traced, however, by merely speaking with many rogue evangelists, is the fact that the majority of them cut their teeth on open-air preaching with churches that did not have a biblical understanding of evangelism.
Mere conversion. In C.S. Lewis’ radio talks, which later became the book Mere Christianity, Lewis described Christianity as a great building in which there were many rooms and a great hall. In order to get into the rooms, one must first enter into the great hall. Lewis’ mere Christianity was to be taken to represent that hall, and he saw it as his purpose to get people into that hall. He wrote, “If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.” He further went on to explain, though, that the rooms (denominations) are where one finds the furnishings of Christianity.
Hopefully, we have gone one step further even than Lewis. In the previous lessons, we have hopefully made it clear that the goal of evangelism should never be to merely get people into the great hall of Christianity or even one of the rooms of a particular denomination. The goal of the Great Commission is to engraft new disciples into the life of one local church where they will be baptized and taught to observe all that Christ commanded. Mere conversion is not an option.
When churches or individual Christians set out to make mere converts, knowingly or unknowingly, they are setting out at the same time to make spiritual orphans. Imagine you run into a man on the street who tells you that the reason you are malnourished, frail, and on the brink of death is because you are starving. The man gives you bread, but then neglects to tell you where you might find more bread. This man has committed a kind act but, by failure to provide more vital information, he has only kept you from dying for perhaps one more day. Our job is not merely to point people to Christ, then, but to point them also to the local market where they might weekly assemble to draw from the storehouse of His grace.
Emotionalism. Many in our age have romanticized what Christ accomplished, and what He hopes to accomplish, for sinners the world over. They have come to believe in the notion that man not only has the freedom to choose God, but that such freedom is a necessary part of the gospel itself. These men and women argue that only if Christ died for each individual human being ever to have existed can the offer of the gospel be sincere. When speaking with Reformed Christians, they might ask, “Are you able to tell a lost person, ‘Christ died for you’?” adding, “If not, how can you do evangelism?”
One very glaring question looms at the back of such a line of inquiry. Where in the New Testament do we find the apostles telling an individual, “Christ died for you,” or even commanding the church to do so? Furthermore, if Christ died for each individual human soul that ever existed, what about those who died in their sins long before He was ever born? What about those since His death and resurrection who have never had an opportunity to hear the gospel message? The Bible is clear at once that Christ laid down His life for His sheep, and that the gospel is to be preached to everyone. The fact remains that Christians will never in this life know who the yet-unconverted elect are, so we are called to preach to all without exception.
What this line of reasoning amounts to is pure emotionalism. God must love all without exception in precisely the same way, or He is not truly loving. In order to understand God’s love a little better, let us consider one of the biblical pictures given us in Scripture of His love.
“25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church,” (Ephesians 5:25-32; ESV).
Men are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church. They are also called to love their neighbors and, yes, even their enemies. Are men called to take every neighbor into their homes, become one flesh with them, and provide for all of their physical and spiritual needs, even bathing them with the washing of the water of the word “‘til death do they part”? No. There is a unique love a man is called to have for his wife. We do not berate a man or think him a monster if his love for his wife is different than his love for other women. We rather praise him for it. Yet, when Christ is said to have a special love for His bride, emotions get heightened, and He is accused of being a monster.
Conversion to Calvinism. As biblical as it is to speak of Christ’s love in this way, bringing people to a clearer understanding of the doctrines of grace is not the gospel. We are not called to go and make Calvinists of all the nations. We are called to make disciples of Christ. A solid local church that truly understands the doctrines of grace will teach them, and the goal of evangelism is to make new disciples and get them into such a solid church. However, arguing with other Christians about the doctrines of grace is not the same as evangelism.
Neither is arguing with people about myriad other doctrines. One doctrine that is very important to Reformed Baptists is the doctrine of Christian liberty. Now, Christian liberty covers a wide array of subjects, but the main two that often come to mind are drinking and smoking. A few years ago, I was a member of a church that majored in street evangelism in downtown Fort Worth, TX. We would go to Sundance Square every Saturday and share the gospel with people as they walked by. A few blocks away were the Kingdom Baptists. These people would stand out in front of the movie theater holding signs and tell people as they walked out that they were going to hell for watching movies. Their message was all law and no gospel.
One day, as a couple of our young men were leaving Sundance Square and heading back to their cars, they were confronted by these Kingdome Baptists. I noticed them talking at a distance and was naturally curious as to the nature of their discussion. The next day at church, I asked one of the young men what was said. He said that they were debating with these Kingdom Baptists about whether or not drinking was a sin.
In hindsight, there was nothing necessarily wrong with discussing this topic with these men. They clearly needed to understand that their legalistic gospel was no gospel at all. However, I did take time to explain to my young friend that this debate they had with the Kingdom Baptists was not evangelism. With new disciples, discussions of Christian liberty can be quite important. When seeking to sow the gospel of Jesus Christ into a hardened legalist, it is often best to focus on the grace and mercy of Christ.
Method-ism. In this series of lessons, I have not sought to put forth a particular method of evangelism. It is my goal neither to teach a particular method nor to cast a negative light on a particular method. What I have found over the years is that almost all of the methods have pros and cons, and it is good to take the best of all of them and leave the rest behind.
My earliest exposure to evangelism was in doing Wednesday outreach ministry with my local church when I was in middle school. I did not fully understand why, but my local church wanted a group of us to go door-to-door and just let people know that we were there to meet their spiritual needs. Then, in late middle school and early high school, I started going with my local church on “mission trips” across the United States. These mission trips usually consisted primarily of work projects, running sports day camps for local children, and sharing what Christ had done in our lives when the opportunity arose. As a side note, I did all of these while professing to be a Christian, but being far from Christ.
In the Summer of 2006, I came under conviction from the gospel, experienced true godly sorrow over my sin for the first time, turned from my sin, and believed in Christ alone for my salvation. This church majored in clothing and food drive ministry, so I soon found myself sharing the gospel with, and praying for, many of the homeless and impoverished in Fort Worth while helping with these various ministries.
Not long after that, I was exposed to the Way of the Master approach to evangelism. In 2009, I joined a local church that majored in the Way of the Master approach and, for the next five years, was involved in street preaching and evangelism ministry. I still have a heart for a properly-ordered approach to street ministry, but I have since come to be skeptical of most of what passes for street evangelism today.
Diversify. I am now convinced that all of these methods have their proper place in the making of disciples as long as the goal is always to make disciples and not merely converts. I would encourage people to have a firm grasp of their personal testimonies and how to share them in support of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Read up on Evangelism Explosion, the Romans Road, and Way of the Master. Look into what godly, local church-led, gospel-centered abortion ministry looks like. Do all of this, and you will have come a little way toward helping your local church to fulfill the Great Commission.