Important Messages

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Can we "Live the Gospel?"

1 Corinthians 15: 1-5Now I would remind you, brothers,[a] of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Have you ever heard someone say we need to "live the gospel"? Have you ever been encouraged by a pastor or friend to "live the gospel"? Chances are you have. But is that possible? Do you ever hear that in Scripture? It sounds nice, but if you think about it, it really represents what I believe is a great misunderstanding of the true gospel, its power, and its purpose in saving souls. And this misunderstanding is important because it has a direct impact on the eternal destiny of people. When people truly believe that they can somehow "live the gospel" their lives become more marked by trying to do good works rather than obeying the call to simply proclaim the gospel. In the end, the Christian church becomes almost indistinguishable from Mormons, JWs, Catholics and any other humanitarian group dedicated to doing acts of service. Should we do acts of service? Of course! But without the proclamation of the gospel, that is all they are, acts of service.

Only one Being can live the Gospel and only one Being has lived the gospel; Jesus Christ. Part of living the gospel involves complete fulfillment of the Law, which only Christ can do. The other part of living the gospel is dying as the propitiating sacrifice for the sins of the world, being buried for three days and rising from the dead. Only Christ can do that. Only Christ has done that. Encouraging someone to "live the gospel", while it sounds nice, makes about as much doctrinal sense as encouraging someone to walk on water or feed the 5,000 with 2 loaves and 5 fish.

One of the most disturbing parts of Christians encouraging one another to "live the gospel" is when they say that, they often attach it to doing "good works". They relate service projects, or giving someone a cup of cold water, or feeding the homeless, or building houses, or doing relief work or [insert act of service] to "living the gospel". This is dangerous, because by themselves, those acts have no power to save anyone. This is dangerous because what you wind up with is Christians who love to do good works and never proclaim the gospel because they think that by their works they are in fact "proclaiming the gospel."

In an article about the relationship between the Law and the Gospel, Michael Horton touched on this topic:

For instance, we often hear calls to "live the Gospel," and yet, nowhere in Scripture are we called to "live the Gospel." Instead, we are told to believe the Gospel and obey the Law, receiving God's favor from the one and God's guidance from the other. The Gospel--or Good News--is not that God will help us achieve his favor with his help, but that someone else lived the Law in our place and fulfilled all righteousness. Others confuse the Law and Gospel by replacing the demands of the Law with the simple command to "surrender all" or "make Jesus Lord and Savior," as if this one little work secured eternal life.

This is why it is so important to structure our activities according to what we see in Scripture. If you don't, it is easy to get caught up in doing things that make you feel good but ultimately leave people around you hopeless without the true gospel. When it comes to the gospel, we are called to proclaim it to all creation. We cannot live the gospel, but we can live in light of the gospel. When we do that, true gospel proclamation will be our primary concern, our acts of service will be secondary. That, I believe, is the proper order of things according to Scripture.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thankful for Skeptics

This past week I had the opportunity to engage one of my co-workers in a conversation about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Gospel and the like. He is an atheistic skeptic who hates God, at least the God that he has fashioned in his mind. One thing that occurred to me during our conversation is that the god that he is rejecting, is not the God of the the Bible. It is not the true and living God. He is rejecting a god that he has framed in such a way that suits his own criteria for rejection. And I think this is true of most atheists and skeptics. They have a caricature of the true God in their mind and the caricature they build is the same god they wind up rejecting.

One objection in particular that he brought regarding the Bible's credibility was the value of Pi. He claimed that the Bible says Pi=3 which means that the Bible can't be trusted. I have to admit, this is the first time I heard that objection. I have read the Bible several times and have never come across a passage where the Bible discusses the value of Pi. In any case, I told him that was interesting and that I would look into it.

After looking into it, I found out the passage in question is 1 Kings 7:23-26. After reading it and running some calculations on my own I found out that the value of Pi is not explicitly stated but could be calculated indirectly from the information given in the passage. As the passage describes the diameter and circumference of a round object, it says:

Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty cubits in circumference....It was a handbreadth thick, and its brim was made like the brim of a cup, as a lily blossom; it could hold two thousand baths.
1 Kings 7:23-26

With a 10 cubit diameter, it would follow that the circumference would be 31.4 cubits, not 30 cubits, as the passage states. So what is going on here? There are a couple ways I suppose one could look at it.

First, the measurements could be approximations rather than exact numbers. This would be entirely consistent with the genre of literature that this is written in. It is not a mathematical discourse. If the diameter were 9.5 cubits and written down as 10, that would lead to a circumference of 29.9 which could be approximated as 30 cubits. This is a perfectly valid explanation by itself.

Second, if you take into consideration the outer brim, which is a handbreadth thick, then you really have an outer and inner circumference. The passage does not say whether or not it is describing the outer or inner circumference. The above scenario where Pi=3 is for the outer circumference and it could very well be an approximation. However, if the passage is describing the inner circumference then you could calculate for Pi directly. Based on the historical value of a cubit (18 inches) and a handbreadth (4 inches), you can calculate for Pi from the equation:

Wow! Solving for pi we get Pi=3.14. This is the same approximation we use today for Pi in everyday calculations! So, either way you look at it, the Bible's credibility is not called into account, rather it is supported!

In the end, the trustworthiness of Scripture is validated once again when you take the time to investigate the claims of skeptics. The more I witness to people, the more I come to realize that this is the usual outcome whenever I investigate objections against Scripture. I always come away with more confidence and trust in the absolute authority, reliability and trustworthiness of Scripture. For this reason, I thank God for skeptics and I thank God the the opportunities He gives to reach out to them. I'm looking forward to sharing this discovery with my co-worker in the near future.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Where are the Harvest Fields?

I was skimming through the entire gospel of Matthew recently to get a better understanding of how Jesus went about ministering with the 12 disciples.When I got to this passage, I was stopped in my tracks and decided to write down what I learned...

When Jesus talks about the harvest and the laborers, what was the context? Where are the harvest fields he is referring to? Is it our home, our neighbors, our workplace? It is safe to say that we need to be laboring for the gospel's sake in all those places, but I don't think those were the specific places Jesus had on his heart when he spoke this message to his disciples. Let's look at the passage starting in Matthew 9:35:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)

We see that Jesus was going through cities and villages, preaching the gospel and healing people. He was in the public gathering place of the day, synagogues, where he knew people would be and he could reach many people with a single teaching. In other words, Jesus went to preach the gospel where he knew there would be a significant number of people gathered. He was a fisher of men, and it just makes sense that fishermen go to places where they know fish gather. He wasn't invited to each city and village to be a guest speaker. These weren't people he had spent 6 months (or 6 years!!!) establishing a friendship with and had now earned the right to preach the gospel to. These were strangers, as were most of the people Jesus preached to throughout his public ministry. Jesus' motive was to seek and save the lost through the preaching of the gospel because that was His Father's will. And that is the same reason we are here today, to seek and save the lost, following the example of Jesus (John 20:21).

Next, we see the heart of Jesus having compassion on the crowds. His compassion came from his understanding that these people were harassed and helpless (other translations write confused, distressed, weary, scattered, dispirited, fainted, troubled) and they were also without a shepherd. Now at this moment, after being moved with compassion for these crowds of helpless people that he had been encountering from city to city, Jesus says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

So, the harvest fields referred to in context here are the crowds of harassed, helpless and shepherd-less people in the cities and villages around us. And Christ calls us to pray for laborers to go into these harvest fields.

The following chapter in Matthew's Gospel makes this passage even more amazing. Right after the statement about laborers in the harvest, Jesus then turns to the disciples and we read, "And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction." (Matthew 10:1). So he gives them AUTHORITY for the task that was ahead of them, namely going into the harvest fields. After giving them authority, he sends them out (ie. he commissions them, Matthew 10:5-15). He warns them that persecution will come on their journey (Matthew 10:16-26), that they need to fear God and not man and to confess Christ before men (Matthew 10:27-33). While Jesus limited the scope of his disciples specifically to the lost sheep of Israel in this case, in Matthew 28 Jesus commissions us to do the same, but to go to the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike.

Matthew 28:18-20 - And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore[c] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Mark 16:15 - And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

So, in summary...Jesus's heart was broken for the harassed and helpless crowds of people around him and he was burdened with the fact that the laborers giong to these harvest fields are few. So Jesus then tells his disciples to pray for laborers to go to the multitudes and then commissions them himself to go out and preach the Kingdom of God in the harvest fields. When I read this I was struck at the similarity to the Great Commission given us who call Jesus Lord. We have been sent into the harvest fields, to the multitudes of harassed and helpless people around us in our local cities and villages. That is where we are to go.

By all means, we must preach the gospel in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, etc. But if we neglect to proclaim the gospel in the places around our city where we can reach many people with the gospel, then we are missing out on one of the specific places that broke Jesus' heart.

I pray that our heart will be moved with compassion for the multitudes around us that are harassed and helpless. That we will not limit our evangelism efforts to the people and relationships already in our lives but we would be burdened for the multitudes and take the time to go to the crowded places in our cities where many souls can be reached with the message of the gospel. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Can These Bones Live?

I was reading Ezekiel 37 recently and two things occurred to me...First, God commands Ezekiel to speak to the dead bones. Second, after Ezekiel speaks what God commands him to, God carries out his plan as He ordained and God gets all the glory!

What was Ezekiel's part in this miraculous event? Simple obedience. Speaking what God had told him to speak. Being faithful to the task God had given to him. Ezekiel was just a faithful servant obeying his Master's command.

God is still raising the dead today and for some reason only known to Him, He has chosen to use us in this process. In a similar way, we live in a world where we are surrounded by spiritually dead people (1 Cor 2:6-16). Spiritually speaking, people are walking around us as a heap of dry bones. The job God has given us is like Ezekiel's, to speak what God has told us to speak to the dead bones around us. And God has given us a very specific message that must be spoken in order for the dead to be made alive.

Mark 1:15 - “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 16:15 - And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

Romans 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

Repenting and believing the gospel is the means by which dead bones come alive, the means by which God places His Spirit in them and causes them to live again. This is the means by which a dead deserter becomes a disciple of Christ, the means by which God gives the natural man the mind of Christ and he is radically transformed from the inside out. Our part is simple obedience to preach the gospel as our Master has commanded. It is the miraculous work of God to carry out His ordained plan.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Problem with Modern Evangelism

"But showed first to them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." Acts 26:20

The Problem with Modern Evangelism. Many Christians obtain “decisions” by using the following method: “Do you know that you are going to heaven when you die?” Most will say, “I hope so.” The Christian then says, “You can know so. The Bible says ‘All have sinned.’ Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and if you give your heart to Him today, you can know for sure that you are going to heaven. Would you like to have that assurance that you will go to heaven when you die?” He will almost always say, “Yes.” The person is then led in what is commonly called a “sinner’s prayer.” (Click here for why the sinner's prayer is unbiblical.)

There are a few difficulties with the popular approach: 1) There is no mention of Judgment Day—the very reason men are commanded to repent; 2) There is no mention of hell; and 3) The Law isn't used to bring the knowledge of sin. The apostle Paul said that the Law was the only means by which he came to know what sin was (Romans 7:7). The modern approach may get a decision or gain a church member, but if there is no biblical repentance, there will be a false conversion and there will be no rejoicing in heaven.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Is There a Key to Reaching the Lost?

“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” Luke 11:52

Have you ever thought, “There must be a key to reaching the lost”? There is—and it’s rusty through lack of use. The Bible does actually call it “the key,” and its purpose is to bring us to Christ, to unlock the Door of the Savior (John 10:9). Much of the Church still doesn't even know it exists. Not only is it biblical, but it can be shown through history that the Church used it to unlock the doors of revival. The problem is that it was lost around the turn of the twentieth century. Keys have a way of getting lost.

Jesus used it. So did Paul (Romans 3:19,20), Timothy (1 Timothy 1:8–11), and James (James2:10). Stephen used it when he preached (Acts 7:53). Peter found that it had been used to open the door to release 3,000 imprisoned souls on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus said that the lawyers had “taken away” the key, and even refused to use it to let people enter into the kingdom of God.

The Pharisees didn't take it away. Instead, they bent it out of shape so that it wouldn't do its work (Mark 7:8). Jesus returned it to its true shape, just as the Scriptures prophesied that He would do (Isaiah 42:21). Satan has tried to prejudice the modern Church against the key. He has maligned it, misused it, twisted it, and, of course, hidden it—he hates it because of what it does. Perhaps you are wondering what this key is. I will tell you. All I ask is that you set aside your traditions and prejudices and look at what God’s Word says on the subject.

In Acts 28:23 the Bible tells us that Paul sought to persuade his hearers “concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets.” Here we have two effective means of persuading the unsaved “concerning Jesus.”

Let’s first look at how the prophets can help persuade sinners concerning Jesus. Fulfilled prophecy proves the inspiration of Scripture. The predictions of the prophets present a powerful case for the inspiration of the Bible. Any skeptic who reads the prophetic words of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, etc., or the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 cannot but be challenged that this is no ordinary book.

The other means by which Paul persuaded sinners concerning Jesus was “out of the law of Moses.” The Bible tells us that the Law of Moses is good if it is used lawfully (1 Timothy 1:8). It was given by God as a “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Paul wrote that he “had not known sin, but by the law” (Romans 7:7). The Law of God (the Ten Commandments) is evidently the “key of knowledge” Jesus spoke of in Luke 11:52. He was speaking to “lawyers”—those who should have been teaching God’s Law so that sinners would receive the “knowledge of sin,” and thus recognize their need of the Savior.

Prophecy speaks to the intellect of the sinner, while the Law speaks to his  conscience. One produces faith in the Word of God; the other brings knowledge of sin in the heart of the sinner. The Law is the God-given “key” to unlock the Door of salvation. See Matthew 19:17–22 comment and Romans 3:19,20.

“I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the Law. The Law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart unless you first send the needle of the Law to make way for it.” Charles Spurgeon

Source: The Evidence Bible