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Honest & Humble Evangelism

Saturday, February 19, 2022

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness.

1 Thessalonians 2:3-5

The defense of Christianity as objectively true, rationally compelling, and subjectively engaging plays an important role in evangelism. When engaging in apologetics, we are to persuade people of the truth of the gospel with rationally sound arguments. God calls us to love him with all our “mind,” as well as with our “heart” and “soul,” which necessitates an intellectual dimension to our devotion to God (Mt. 22:37). The Christian faith is a thinking, rational faith.

Since this is so, part of our approach to evangelism must be to help remove the intellectual obstacles that hinder others from coming to Christ. Therefore, apologetics is always in service to evangelism.

But we must be cautious. Our persuasion must not, as Paul puts it, “spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive.” The weapons we employ “are not of the flesh” but are spiritual in nature and have “divine power to destroy strongholds” of faulty “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Therefore, we do not use personal threats, power plays, coercion or deception to achieve the goal of conversion. The means of evangelism must agree with the ends (conversion).

Instead, the methods we use to convince others flow from the Scriptures themselves. We speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) with “wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:18-31) so that others may hear the gospel, believe it, and follow it. We tell the truth and leave the results to God who will judge the world in righteousness.

Jesus engaged in apologetics with his sharpest critics (for a series of good examples see Matthew 22). If he is our example in all things, we must follow his lead. Let us, as Jude says, “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jd. 1:3). But let us do so honestly and with the utmost integrity. “The bad man with a good argument is only half-clothed. One may have a sword (arguments) but lack a shield (godly character), and thus become vulnerable and ineffective.” (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics p. 37).

Paul told the young evangelist Timothy to keep a close watch on his life as well as his teaching (1 Tim. 4:16). Therefore, humility is also essential in evangelism. Humility is not, however, intellectual timidity or uncertainty. One can be humble and convicted of the truth at the same time. If we grow in our ability to persuade others without growing in the grace of humility, we will become arrogant which will undermine all our evangelistic efforts. Paul was well aware of this when he said, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor. 4:7)

Another aspect of our humility in evangelism is our dependence on God through prayer. We cannot engage in anything for God without asking for his blessing and support first. Paul asked the Colossians to pray for his efforts to reach the lost (Col. 4:2-4). The church in Antioch prepared with prayer and fasting before sending Paul and Barnabas on their mission to preach the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world (Acts 13:1-3). We too must pray for wisdom when preparing to evangelize the lost.

Honesty and humility are indispensable to successful (i.e. biblical) evangelism. Success is not determined by the number of people converted but by whether or not we spoke the truth in love. We have been “entrusted with the gospel, so we speak not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4).


Saturday, February 12, 2022

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:25

Why don’t animals have to wear clothes? That was the question posed by my daughter, who was three years old at the time. We may turn her question over and ask why humans shouldn’t go around naked because open nakedness was not always shameful.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve “were both naked and were not ashamed.” And why would they be? They didn’t know what nakedness was, let alone shame. They were, much like little children, ignorant and innocent of evil (1 Cor. 14:20). But after they had rebelled against God in the garden, they became aware of their nakedness for the first time and sought to hide their bodies from each other and from God in shame (Gen. 3:7-11). They bought their new knowledge with great pain (Gen. 3:16-18, 22-24).

From that point on, open nakedness became shameful. To see someone exposed is to witness their open shame (Gen. 9:22-23; Ex. 20:26; Lev. 18:6-18; Rev. 3:17-18; 16:15). To publicly expose a person’s nakedness was considered a form of punishment (Isa. 47:3; Hos. 2:3; Nah. 3:5). Idolatry was illustrated as “uncovering one’s nakedness” to strange gods (Ezek. 16; 23:18), whereas, covering another’s nakedness was an act of mercy (Ezek. 16:8; 18:7, 16; Hos. 2:9; Mt. 25:36).

After God’s pronouncements on the Serpent, Eve, and Adam, there are two rays of hope. First, Adam names his wife “Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). “Eve” means ‘life-giver,’ which is especially hopeful in light of God’s earlier promise that the “seed of woman” would conquer the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Death slithered its way into God’s world but Life would crush it.

The next ray of hope comes through clothing. Though Adam and Eve had made clothes for themselves out of “fig leaves” these were evidently insufficient. In an act of mercy which foreshadowed greater acts to come, God made Adam and Eve “garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). Perhaps he did this because things “made with human hands” (Heb. 9:11) are inherently flawed. Also, notice the different material: animal hide instead of leaves. This more substantial covering indicates that the alienation of humanity from God was greater than they had realized. We are not told how God came by this skin, but it is not unreasonable to think that it required the death of the animal. If this is so, it would only be the first of many casualties to come in the war against sin.

This story teaches us at least two things. First, like Adam and Eve, we can never hide our nakedness and shame from God (Heb. 4:13). Second, God can cover our shame through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The word translated as “atonement” has many nuances of meaning including “to cover.” In the Law, God allowed the blood of animals to make “atonement for your souls” (Lev. 17:11). The Israelites needed to know that sin invites death into the world and life was the only payment. Animal blood may have been better than “fig leaves” but it could never fully cleanse the conscience of the sinner and atone for sin.

John explains that “the blood of Jesus… cleanses us from all sin…” and “he will forgive us our sins…” because "he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 1:7, 9; 2:2). John could see how Jesus fulfilled the entire sacrificial system of the Law. The Jewish Day of Atonement (Lev. 17) pointed to Jesus, a fact made plain by the Hebrew writer (Heb. 10). Therefore, what the blood of bulls and goats could never do, Jesus did by offering himself as a once-for-all atoning sacrifice to cover us. In Christ, we are “clothed” with him in baptism (Gal. 3:27) as we “put on” the new self (Col. 1:3-10) and wait to be “further clothed” in our resurrection bodies (2 Cor. 5:4).

A New Song

Saturday, February 05, 2022

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;

he inclined to me and heard my cry.

2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40:1-3

Where do we turn when we’re down? To all who sense their deep need for help, Psalm 40 speaks volumes of relief. In this Psalm, David expresses his gratitude for God’s rescue; he had waited on the Lord (1) and had been helped by him. He describes his desperate situation as being in a “miry bog” (2a), an image sufficiently vague enough to have a wide application. The metaphor of being stuck in a slimy swamp suggests disgust and helplessness. Whatever his actual situation was, David had not just escaped the miry bog, but found himself on solid ground (2b).

Secure once again, David immediately finds occasion to praise God (3a) which flows outward from him to others (3b). What is this “new song” of “praise” which God had given him?

“New song” language is especially common in the Psalms (see Psa. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1). When David says, “He put a new song in my mouth,” it is as if he is saying, “God, you have done something so wonderful for me that none of the songs I know can adequately express this new blessing!” When Scripture speaks of a “new song,” it marks the beginning of some fresh blessing. God has done something new and unexpected, something that breaks our notions of what we thought was possible. With the new blessing, comes a new song expressing our wonder and praise.

There is a “new song” which stands above the rest. In Revelation 4-5, God is depicted in colorful metaphor as the sovereign Creator. All the spiritual beings bow in his presence and cast their crowns before him acknowledging their utter dependence on him. They come together and sing that God is worthy of all glory because he created all things and by his will all things exist (Rev. 4:11).

Once the stage has been set with God’s glory at the center, the drama unfolds in chapter 5. In God’s right hand is a scroll sealed with seven seals which contain all of his plans for redemption and judgment. But his plans can’t be enacted until the seals are broken (Rev. 5:1). For example, the last will and testament of Emperor Vespasian was sealed with seven seals as well. And because no one had the authority to open them, his will had to go into probate court so the seals could be broken and his will put into effect.

In Revelation, a mighty angel challenges the entire universe, asking who is worthy to approach God to take the scroll and break the seals so that his will can be done (Rev. 5:2). But no one is found who is worthy. And John weeps because God’s justice and blessing can’t go forth (Rev. 5:3-4). But then one of the elders tells John to stop crying. “Look, the Lion of tribe of Judah has prevailed!”  (Rev. 5:5)

John looked and saw a Lamb (apocalyptic literature loves to mix its metaphors; the Lion is the Lamb — Lion: majestic/royal/powerful; Lamb: sacrificial/innocent, yet having seven horns, embodying complete kingly power). Because the Lamb-Lion takes the scroll, he prevails to bring about all of God’s purposes for judgment and blessing. Therefore, everyone present sings a “new song.” But it is no longer the song from chapter 4, praising God for creation. Instead, it is a song addressed to Christ (see Rev. 5:9-14).

We have all tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psa. 34). And we have songs to express our praise. But when we go through some new agonizing situation and God pours out his grace in a fresh, unexpected way, he gives us a “new song” to sing. But all our new songs will have the same focus: Jesus, the Lamb who was slain to ransom us and make us a kingdom of priests to reign with him forever!

Painful Evangelism

Saturday, January 29, 2022

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect

1 Peter 3:15

What does it mean to “give an answer” (NIV) or “make a defense” (NASB/ESV) for the hope within us? The word “answer/defense” comes from a Greek word from which our English “apologetic” is derived. But giving one's apologetic does not mean apologizing for one’s faith. An apologetic is a verbal a defense (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 2 Tim. 4:16), a reasoned argument (1 Pet. 3:15) or a legitimate excuse (Rom. 1:20). It entails explaining the reason we have hope within us. But even more than this, the aim of our apologetic is to persuade others to seize that hope for themselves.

For example, when Paul was in custody at Caesarea, he said, “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews” (Acts 26:2). Now notice Agrippa’s response after he had heard Paul’s “defense”: “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28) He understood that the goal of Paul’s “defense” was not merely to exonerate himself from the spurious accusations of the unbelieving Jews, but to persuade Agrippa to turn to Christ. This is the command that Peter is giving us. We are to be ready to explain the “reason” for our hope and persuade others to lay hold of it too.

Peter not only expects every Christian to be equipped to answer the question, “Why are you a Christian?” but he also assumes unbelievers will ask. On the surface, that sounds pretty easy. We just follow Jesus and get ready for people to walk up to us and say, “You have such hope within you. I want to have that hope too! Can you please sit down with me and explain it?”

While this scenario is possible, this is not at all what Peter is talking about. Peter wrote to an exiled people (1:1, 17) who had “been grieved by various trials” (1:6). Like Jesus, they had been “rejected by men” (2:4), spoken of against by “evildoers” (2:12), and suffered unjustly (2:19) sharing in the Lord’s “sufferings” (4:13).

Even the immediate context of verse 15 won’t allow a painless evangelism. The previous verse (14) speaks of suffering “for righteousness’ sake” and the following verse (16) mentions being “slandered” and “reviled” for Jesus' sake. Therefore, Peter is teaching us to be ready to defend our hope in the face of hostile, unbelieving, incredulous people. We must be ready to explain our hope when we are attacked for what we believe or how we live. We must be willing to risk rejection, loss of reputation, and persecution.

Instead of hearing, “Wow, you are such a hopeful person. What makes you so different?” it is much more likely to hear, “The way you live offends me, and your beliefs are ridiculous. Why would anyone believe the Bible? You Christians are so intolerant!” In the face of such hostility we will be tempted to stay quiet or alter the message to avoid the pain or even to strike back. But Peter teaches us to be ready to respond clearly, gently, and respectfully.

Jesus sent out his disciples as sheep among wolves (Mt. 10:16). Have we forgotten that? Evangelism isn’t easy. Evangelism means knocks. But those knocks just make us look more like our King and give others a chance to hear the saving gospel. The costs of evangelism are relatively “light and momentary” compared with the “eternal weight of glory” laid up for us (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

How do we persevere when evangelism is painful? “In you hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,” that is, allow Jesus to rule unconditionally on the throne of your heart. Only when Jesus is given complete control of our lives, can we truly be free to give our defense of the gospel without any fear (1 Pet. 3:14).

Wealth and the Christian

Saturday, January 22, 2022

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

The topic of wealth was often on Jesus’ lips. But the Lord was concerned with its use and how it is viewed rather than the mere possession of it. In the kingdom, it is not a crime to be wealthy. Wealth can be a blessing from God (Deut. 28:1-8), but it does come with both responsibilities and warnings. Wealth is deceitful (Mt. 13:22). Therefore we are not to “trust” in it for security (Lk. 12:19), but to use it in God-honoring and neighbor-loving ways.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he warned those who were poor “but desire to be rich” about the dangers of the “love of money.” The lowly Christian is to be content with having his basic needs met (1 Tim. 6:6-10) and “boast in his exaltation” in Christ (Jas. 1:9) finding his sufficiency in him (Phil. 4:10-13).

But lest those Christians in Ephesus who were “already rich in this present age” feel condemned simply for being wealthy, Paul instructs and comforts them (1 Tim. 6:17-19). In this section, he puts wealth into perspective and teaches us several simple lessons about how we are to view and use our wealth as Christians.

Live for the future — In Jesus, the rich and the poor alike have “tasted… the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5). We have learned that earthly wealth belongs to “this present age” and is, therefore, uncertain and temporary (1 Tim. 6:17; 1 Jn. 2:17; Prov. 23:4-5). For those living for the future, material gain is irrelevant and therefore greed is irrational (1 Tim. 6:7; cf. Job 1:21; Ecc. 5:15). The rich young man’s downfall was his attachment to the wealth of this age (Lk. 18:18-23). In that same context, Jesus promised that those willing to forsake all to follow him would receive eternal life “in the age to come” (Lk. 18:29-30). It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom but what is impossible for us is possible with God (Lk. 18:27).

Hope in the Lord — We live for the future by setting our hope on God, “who richly provides us with everything” (1 Tim. 6:17). We are not to be “haughty” nor place our hope in money. The rich fool believes his surplus will provide him with rest and security (Lk. 12:13-21). The wealthy wise finds his rest and security in God (Jer. 9:23-24) and lays up “treasure in heaven” (Mt. 6:19-21). But how?

Give with generosity — Paul says to be “rich in good works” and “ready to share, thus storing up treasure.” True wealth is found in giving, not having or getting (Acts 20:35). However, “storing up treasure” is not buying shares in heaven or paying God off. Rather, generosity with earthly wealth is evidence that one is hoping in God, living for the future, and laying “hold of that which is truly life.”

Enjoy with thanksgiving — Wealth is also meant to be “enjoyed” as a gift and an expression of God’s generosity: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:1-5; Ecc. 5:8-20; Col. 2:20-23). Enjoyment is not self-indulgence (Mt. 23:25; 1 Tim. 5:6; Jas. 5:5) when it is connected with sincere gratitude and generosity. Enjoyment of “everything” as God’s generous gift leads away from pride and false security to the freedom of being generous ourselves.

The poor and the rich are united in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Poorer Christians should never resent their wealthier brothers and sisters. Likewise, wealthy Christians should never be haughty (Jas. 1:9-10), but should put their trust in God, use their wealth for good, and enjoy what God has richly provided them with.

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