Costa Rican Mission


Some of our readers have asked about our work here in Costa Rica.  The pictures above show some of the folks who attend our Sunday A.M. Bible studies. Many of them are Roman Catholics who are showing a great interest in the gospel.

The response here has been very slow since we are working in what is probably the most Catholic area of Costa Rica.  Our little town is home to the only standing Colonial RC Church still in use,  http://www.360cities.net/image/colonial-church-of-orosi-valley and we live only a few kilometers from the country’s most well known Basilica.  Every year,  for a couple of weeks leading up to August 2, the road ways are clogged with pilgrims making their way, on foot, from all over the country to La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgen_de_los_Angeles. They are coming to seek the virgin’s blessing or to give her thanks for some blessing they have received.  The folks here take their Catholicism much more seriously than in other parts of Costa Rica.

Since the people to whom we are ministering are very poor, (most of them would be called “campesinos” or “peasants”), we seek to care for their physical and material needs as well as their spiritual needs. Thanks to the help of some of the Gringos who attend our English Speaking Bible Study, we are able to provide them with basic food supplies, clothing and medicine. Of course, as the number of those attending grows, this becomes more of a financial burden.

Unemployment in our area is a huge problem. Those who can find work must support rather large families on around 400 USD per month. It has become quite expensive to live in Costa Rica, relative to other parts of Central and South America.  Most of the people you see pictured above must walk several kilometers to attend our Bible Study.

We do not receive any salary for our work here.  Everything that is contributed goes directly to the ministry in which we are engaged. I understand that many of you are fully engaged in other ministries, but if the Lord should lay it on your heart to become involved in this work in Costa Rica, your gifts would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, gifts to this ministry are not tax deductable.

Contributions should be Payable to  H.I.M., Inc. and sent to:

Hispanic International Missions. Inc.
c/o Ray Taylor
7578 W. Tropical Ln.
Homosassa, FL 34448



Calvinistic Evangelism-The Apostolic Pattern–the Message–Chapter Five:The Gracious Commitment

Continue reading ‘Calvinistic Evangelism-The Apostolic Pattern–the Message–Chapter Five:The Gracious Commitment’


Calvinistic Evangelism–The Apostolic Pattern–the Message–Chapter Four:The Gospel Call

The evangelical church has spoken with anything but clarity on the issue of the gospel call. Some would suggest that if that call gives any impression that sinner’s must turn from sin in coming to Christ it amounts to a message of works for salvation and is a denial of justification by grace alone in Christ alone. Others seem to believe the faith to which the gospel calls sinners is merely a mental assent to certain gospel propositions and that the call is to be answered by the repetition of a simple prayer. Many have differing views about what the gospel calls on sinners to believe. Some even question whether there is a sincere and universal offer of the gospel to those who will never believe. These are only a few of the issues we need to consider as we examine the nature of the gospel call. As we survey the relevant biblical literature in search of an apostolic pattern, it soon becomes clear the first century evangelistic message included an urgent call for sinners to obey the commands of the gospel and bow before God’s sovereign throne in humble adoration. As we search for more detail there are other pertinent questions that begin to emerge. Our intention here is to examine some of those questions in the light of the biblical record. The following are some of the questions we will consider:

1. What are the commands of the gospel that sinners are called to obey?

2. To whom is the gospel call directed? Are we warranted to invite all sinners to faith or is the call reserved for those who give evidence of having been awakened spiritually?

3. In what way or ways is the apostolic message suited to answer the two major problems that sin has created in the sinner’s relationship with God?

4. What part did Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement have in apostolic preaching and what significance should it have for our gospel witness? It is my intention to examine such issues as the nature of faith and repentance in the section on the theological foundation for evangelism. My purpose here is merely to examine the biblical record to learn what the apostles preached. We will consider these issues one by one as we seek to discover the pattern we should follow as we proclaim the gospel.

Phrases Not Found in the Biblical Record

There are many phrases that have become the coin of modern evangelism that occur nowhere in the proclamation of first century evangelism. This is not a matter of opinion; it is only a statement of fact. This should be important to us for at least two reasons. First, we need to bring our message and methods into conformity with the biblical pattern. It is sinful presumption to believe our methods are superior to those Jesus and the apostles. We cannot expect God to bless a message that is not only absent from the biblical record but also contrary to the biblical message. Second, since these phrases are the expression of the modern evangelical theological mindset, their absence from the biblical record, calls into question the theological system out of which they have emerged.

God Loves You So Much He Sent Jesus To Die For You.

Many who deny the doctrines of divine election and particular and definite redemption are fond of asking Calvinists how we can sincerely look any sinner in the eyes and tell him God loves him and Jesus died for him. Our answer is simple. We can preach as the apostles preached and never make such statements at all. The gospel does not call on sinners to believe that God loves them or that Jesus died for them. Please do not trust me on this. Search the New Testament Scriptures for yourself. It is difficult to say when such jargon first entered the evangelical message, but it is clear such language was made popular by such Arminian evangelists as D. L. Moody. I recently read a tract titled, “Arminianism—Another Gospel,” by William MacLean. In the tract he cites a critique of an evangelistic campaign Mr. Moody had held in Scotland. The critique was written by a pastor named John Kennedy. One of his objections to Mr. Moody’s preaching was, “. . .that it ignored the supreme end of the gospel which is the manifestation of the divine glory, and misrepresented it as merely unfolding a scheme of salvation adapted to men’s convenience.” He quotes an exhortation Mr. Moody gave to a group of young women he was sending out to evangelize. Here is the message he told them to give to the drunkards of Edinburgh. He said, “Go to the street and lay your hand on the shoulder of every drunkard you meet, and tell him that God loves him and that Christ died for him; and if you do so, I see no reason why in forty-eight hours there should be an unconverted drunkard in Edinburgh” (MacLean,1965, p. 8). The level of unwarranted presumption in such a statement is staggering. First, it presumes to dispense a message that is foreign to apostolic preaching, and then sets a time limit for the germination of the seeds sown. I recently listened to a debate between two well educated men about the extent of the atonement. The man who represented the Arminian position stated that God’s universal love for the entire human race is demonstrated in a unique way in Jesus’ death for everyone. He said, “There is a demonstration of God’s love when you realize that Jesus died for everyone that does not come in any other way.” This was my question. If God wishes to make his universal love known to everyone, and that love cannot be known apart from realizing that Jesus died for everyone, why did the apostles leave the message that “God loves you and Jesus died for you” out of their proclamation? It is time the church returned to a contextual study of the Scriptures. At best, church members have been subjected to topical messages that, though clever, have failed to consider the contextual meaning of Scripture. I have been surprised at the number of “gospel” tracts that have cited Romans 5:8 as a proof-text to show that God loves everyone and Jesus died for everyone. It is difficult to believe anyone could consider that verse in its proper context and believe it has reference to God’s universal love and universal redemption (see excursus on Romans 5:1-11).

Pray to Receive Jesus

It is a simple matter of fact that the so-called “sinner’s prayer” is a relatively modern innovation that has no precedent in the biblical record. There is not a single example of sinners being told to “pray to receive Jesus.” In my view, there is nothing inherently wrong with suggesting to sinners what should be in their minds as they consider the call of the gospel. The problem arises when the person who has suggested such a prayer assures the person who has repeated it after him that he now has eternal life and may be assured that he will go to heaven when he dies. It is neither our responsibility to bring sinners to a point of commitment nor to grant them assurance because they have prayed a prayer.

Make Jesus the Lord of Your Life

Though it seems plain from the biblical record that there must be an acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord when a sinner comes to him in faith, we do not make him Lord by believing. As we will see, the biblical message informs us that he is Lord whether we bow to him or not. The message that he is Lord will either be accepted or spurned. Bow at the Foot of the Cross/Look to the Cross People have become so accustomed to hearing preachers invite sinners to the foot of the cross that it almost sounds like heresy to suggest that such an invitation was never made in the biblical record. Yet, that is the reality of the case. As I shall demonstrate in greater detail, the gospel invites sinners to Christ, not to the cross. If you go to the cross seeking a Savior, you will find there is no one there to save you. God has raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the throne.

Decide for Christ/Choose Jesus

There is no question that when God moves effectually in a sinner’s heart and removes his disposition to continue his resistance to the overtures of God’s mercy, he freely decides to leave his sin and follow Christ in humble submission to his revealed will. The issue is that such language is not found in apostolic preaching and for good reason. They did not use such language because it does not accurately reflect what they meant when they called sinners to repent and believe. The biblical gospel does not inform sinners that God has done all he can to save them but that he cannot do so without their determinative decision.

J. I. Packer has written, It is not likely, therefore, that a preacher of the old gospel will be happy to express the application of it in the form of a demand to ‘decide for Christ’, as the current phrase is. For, on the one hand, this phrase carries the wrong associations. It suggests voting a person into office – an act in which the candidate plays no part beyond offering himself for election, everything then being settled by the voter’s independent choice. But we do not vote God’s Son into office as our Savior, nor does he remain passive while preachers campaign on his behalf, whipping up support for his cause. We ought not to think of evangelism as a kind of electioneering. And then, on the other hand, this phrase obscures the very thing that is essential in repentance and faith – the denying of self in a personal approach to Christ. It is not at all obvious that deciding for Christ is the same as coming to him and resting on him and turning from sin and self-effort; it sounds like something much less, and is accordingly likely to instill defective notions of what the gospel really requires of sinners. It is not a very apt phrase from any point of view.

The Commands of the Gospel

Repentance and Faith

It is difficult to consider the commands of the gospel, i.e, what the gospel calls on sinners to do, in isolation from the promise of the gospel, since these are seldom, if ever, separated in apostolic preaching, but for our purposes here, we will examine them separately. In Luke 24:44-47 Jesus himself left us the broad outline of what must be our gospel message. It is this outline that we see reflected in apostolic preaching. As he was about to leave them to their task he said, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’

This outline contains the following elements:

1. The fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

2. Christ’s death and resurrection.

3. Repentance and forgiveness of sins (included must be the message of impending judgment for those who are impenitent).

4. The message of pardon is to be preached in Jesus’ name (by his authority and through his merit). 5. The message is to be proclaimed universally.


As I mentioned, it is my purpose to deal more extensively with the doctrines of faith and repentance when we consider the doctrinal foundation for evangelism. For now, I simply want us to take notice of the message the apostles preached in obedience to Jesus’ directive in Luke 24 and other passages The demands of the gospel are straightforward. As we shall see, the message preached to the unconverted included no call for them to believe that Jesus died for them. It simply demands that sinners leave their sin and their wicked and misguided thoughts about God and return to his way. It assures them that when they account God to be faithful to keep his promise, he will pardon them in Jesus’ name (by his authority and through his merit). Based on Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the throne, the apostles called on sinners to repent. Along with this proclamation, there was usually some statement about judgment falling on those who refused to repent. For example, Paul, having spoken about God’s intention that his goodness would lead sinners to repentance, speaks about sinners in their hardness and impenitence treasuring up wrath for a day of wrath and revelation of God’s righteous judgment (see Rom. 2:2-5). Consider the following verses as examples of the apostolic gospel call: “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19) “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:26). “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”(Acts 4:11-12). “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31). “And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42-43). “ Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). “And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). “ . . .I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21). “And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance”(Acts 26:15-20).   The apostolic gospel message is not essentially different from the gracious message we find in Isaiah 55:6-9.

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The prophet begins by encouraging his readers with the good news that God may be found. He is not far away so that we have to weary ourselves seeking him. This thought is echoed in Romans 10 and Acts 17 among other places.

Next, he exhorts the wicked man to forsake his way. The gospel does not offer forgiveness to those who persist in following a way that is contrary to God’s way. This is a call for sinners to forsake their sinful life-style that is spawned by their rebellion against God.

The man he calls “wicked” is one who is perpetually perturbed by agitations of the heart and the anxiety that springs from his sinful desires. These desires constantly drive him to fresh offences against God. The prophet describes such people in chapter fifty-seven, verses twenty and twenty-one. He writes, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” Then he calls on the ungodly man to forsake his thoughts and return to the LORD. The Scripture tells us the following about the sinner’s “thoughts” or “devices.” Gen 6:5 These thoughts are only evil continually. Psa. 10:4 God is excluded from the ungodly man’s thoughts. “God is not in all his thoughts [purposes, devices].” Or the sum of his thoughts is “There is no God.” Psa. 50:21 Sinners think God is like them. They want a God who is made in their image. Psa. 94:11 God knows their thoughts are futile or empty. Isa. 59:7 Their thoughts are purposes of lawlessness or unrighteousness. Isa. 65:2 The way in which sinners walk is not a good way but is according to their own purposes (thoughts) that are contrary to God’s purposes. It is such thoughts the gospel is intended to root out and destroy. It is no wonder the apostle Paul describes the goal of gospel preaching as he does in 2 Cor. 10: 4-5, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. . . .” Commenting on these verses, Dr. Philip E. Hughes has written,

Hence it is that the Christian warfare is aimed at the casting down of the reasonings which are the strongholds whereby the unbelieving mind seeks to fortify itself against the truths of human depravity and divine grace, and at the casting down also of every proud bulwark raised high against the knowledge of God. This metaphor emphasizes the defiant and mutinous nature of sin: sinful man does not wish to know God; he wishes himself to be the self-sufficient center of the universe. (Hughes, 1986, p. 352).

We should not consider true conversion as anything less than the subjugation of these high thoughts against God. The gospel demands that the ungodly man forsake his treasonous thoughts against God. Calvin has suggested that one of the ungodly thoughts that keep sinners from God is that we suppose God is no more willing to forgive than we are. He wrote,

God is infinitely compassionate and infinitely ready to forgive; so that it ought to be ascribed exclusively to our unbelief, if we do not obtain pardon from him. There is nothing that troubles our consciences more than when we think that God is like ourselves; for the consequence is, that we do not venture to approach to him, and flee from him as an enemy, and are never at rest. But they who measure God by themselves as a standard form a false idea and altogether contrary to his nature; and indeed they cannot do him a greater injury than this. Are men, who are corrupted and debased by sinful desires, not ashamed to compare God’s lofty and uncorrupted nature with their own, and to confine what is infinite within those narrow limits by which they feel themselves to be wretchedly restrained? In what prison could any of us be more straightly shut up than in our own unbelief? (Calvin, biblestudyguide.org).

When early Christian preachers spoke of repentance toward God, they meant that the wicked should leave their sinful ways and the unrighteous should forsake their wrong thoughts about God and return to him in heartfelt contrition. God’s great plan of redemption is not only about pardon. It is also about recovery and reconciliation. Anyone who claims that God pardons sinners only to leave them in their sin and unbelief demonstrates a profound ignorance of God’s purpose of grace. Faith The verses I have quoted make it clear that the gospel appeal is a call to faith. It is a call to account God faithful to keep his promise of pardon to all who return to him. It is a call to acknowledge Christ’s authority and rely fully on his merit (We are to preach the promise of pardon “in his name”). It should not escape our attention that the apostolic message directed sinners not to the cross but to Christ. In apostolic preaching, there is not a single example in which they invited sinners to believe that Jesus died for them. The call is quite simple. God has promised to pardon all who repent. Sinners are called to trust him to be faithful to his promise. We must not overlook the fact that the apostles did not invite sinners to come to the cross; they called them to bow before Christ’s throne. The Lord Christ has been invested with all authority in heaven and in earth. All the merits of his mediation are now treasured up in him. He is both Lord and Anointed one. When the apostle Paul wrote “. . .we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2), he did not intend that we understand him to mean he preached about a Christ hanging on a Roman cross. The tense of the verb (perfect, passive, participle) emphasizes a present condition or state that has resulted from an act accomplished at some point in the past. Paul went on proclaiming the Lord’s Anointed One who even in his exalted state continued to be the crucified one. In the Revelation 5:6, the Lamb in the center of the throne is one who has been slaughtered but now stands erect and has been invested with all the dignity and authority that resulted from his having been slain. The message of the gospel is the message that the kingdom of God has come. Though Jesus remained under the power of death for a time, death could not hold him. He is the risen, ascended, exalted King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is exalted to be a Ruler and a Savior for all who return seeking his mercy. He is exalted to be a righteous judge to all who persist in sin and unbelief. The good word we preach and the message that sinners are freely called on to believe is that when we answer the gospel call to return to God’s way, there is an exalted Savior who is both able and willing to save us. There is so much more to be written about repentance and faith, but I must be content to reserve further comments for subsequent chapters.

Excursus on Romans 5:1-11

It is not my purpose here to provide a detailed exposition of Romans 5:1-11. I merely wish to survey Paul’s main argument and show how these verses and particularly verse eight fit that main context. In chapters one through four of this epistle he has concerned himself with a splendid explication of God’s prescription for the sinner’s salvation. In one, eighteen through three, twenty he has concentrated on the universal necessity for God’s salvation. In three, twenty-one through the end of chapter four he has provided a brilliant explication of the doctrine of justification through faith alone, based on Jesus’ objective accomplishment of redemption.

Chapter five, verse one begins a new section in this epistle. It is plain in this verse that Paul is addressing justified believers, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith. . . .” It is the apostle’s concern to show that justification is but the beginning of what God has intended to accomplish in redeeming sinners. It was God’s purpose to redeem a people for himself whom he would conform to the image of his Son. It is to this purpose he refers in verse two. There he states three blessings that believers enjoy in union with Christ.

1. Through him we have obtained access by faith, into grace,

2. We have a standing in this grace to which we have been granted access, and

3. We exult in hope [a confident and positive assurance of receiving what God has promised] of the glory of God.

Apart from Christ, we continued to fall short of God’s glory (3:23). We had failed to act as his image bearers to reflect his glory in the world. But now, as justified believers we are assured that God will continue and complete the glorious work he has begun in us. We rejoice in the full certainty of future glory.

Paul’s entire argument from chapter five, verse one through the end of chapter eight concerns the certainty of the believer’s future glory. He states this concisely in chapter eight, verse thirty, “. . .whom he called, . . .them he also glorified.”

His argument in verses one through eleven of chapter five is that our final glorification is certain because through Christ we now enjoy a new relationship with God. “We have peace with God.” In the following section he argues that we are secure and certain to be glorified because we have a new representative before God.

I am not arguing that we are in this new relationship apart from faith. Prior to God bringing us into union with Christ, we were the children of [objects of] God’s wrath just like the rest of humanity. What we must not miss is that if we have come to faith in Christ and have been declared righteous it is because God has called us effectually. “Those he called, he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). We did not become part of his purpose because we believed. We believed because we were called according to his purpose. The order is “purpose,” “called,” [faith] “justified.” It is not “called”[in the sense of invited], [faith], “justified,” “purpose.” In other words, the text does not say you became part of God’s purpose when you “decided for Christ.” You believed because you were called and you were called according to God’s purpose.

When he writes, “. . . we have peace with God, . . .” he does not mean we have a peaceful feeling in our hearts about God. Instead, he means we are no longer God’s enemies. His holy wrath toward us has been fully satisfied. We are able to rejoice even amid the pressures of life because we understand that our deepest and most severe trials come to us, not from the hand of an enemy, but from our pacified God who has richly demonstrated his love for us. “His love has flooded our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (v.5).

Does anyone who understands the Bible believe that when Paul writes, “We have peace with God,” he is referring to every member of the human race? Do we understand the following statements as referring to every person on the planet or to believers? “We have access into this grace in which we stand,” “[we] rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” “We rejoice in tribulation also. . . .” “the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us,” “we have now been justified by his blood,” “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” “we shall be saved by his life,” “we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” “we have now received the reconciliation.” I cannot imagine that anyone could believe these phrases have any application to unbelievers. In every one of these verses, “we” and “us” refers to believers and only to believers.

Now, if every verse I have quoted has reference to believers alone, is it not inconceivable that Paul has interrupted his argument in verse eight to assure sinners universally that God loved them and sent his Son to die for them. Such an announcement would be completely out of keeping with the entire context.

Let us briefly consider what he is arguing here. First, it is important to notice the logical connection between verses five and six that is established by the word “for.” Paul is explaining how the Holy Spirit pours out the knowledge of God’s love in our hearts. “ For” while we were still powerless and ungodly, Christ died for us. This is how the Holy Spirit who has been given to us demonstrates God’s love to us. He testifies about Christ. Are we to assume that those toward whom God has demonstrated his love are different from those to whom he has given the Holy Spirit?

The phrase “Christ died for the ungodly,” would be better translated “Christ died for ungodly ones.” It is not the identity of those for whom he died but the nature of those for whom he died that Paul had in mind. This is the force of Paul’s argument. If God loved us and gave his Son to objectively justify us and reconcile us while we were enemies, how much more can we be confident that we will be delivered from wrath now that we are his friends? If God loved us when we were helpless, ungodly, enemies, and sinners, he will certainly not cast us off now that we are his friends.

Note the distinction Paul makes between “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” and “through whom we have now received reconciliation.” The first refers to an objective accomplishment. It was not effected or activated by our faith. Christ reconciled us objectively at the cross. It was accomplished “while we were still enemies.” The other refers to sovereign application. Having been brought to faith in Christ, we have now received reconciliation.

Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah, http://www.biblestudyguide.org). MacLean, William, “Arminianism-Another Gospel,” http://www.truecovenanter.com, 1965.


The Danger of Theological Isolationism–Paul M. Dohse Sr.–The Lone Ranger

This is not another article about the errors of Paul M. Dohse Sr. It would require a tome of no small magnitude to correct all his theological errors. There was a time when I thought it might be helpful to warn people about those errors, but I have decided that if anyone is so biblically and theologically ignorant as to be taken in by his heresy, they probably deserve to be deceived. This is an article about the danger of theological isolationism.
It is clear that Mr. Dohse has decided that he alone is the arbiter of all things right and good. He has banned from commenting on his blog everyone who challenges his views. He has rid himself of all his commentaries. He doesn’t need to read or hear the opposing views of others.  He still has his MacArthur Study Bible because he likes the cross references. He has left the “institutional Church” and now huddles in his living room with his wife, his mother, and the dogs. This is his “home fellowship.” He sits atop his lofty perch and makes his unchallenged and self-contradictory pronouncements, simply because there is no one left to contradict him. In his view, if anyone depends on the body of Christ to aid in his sanctification he has bought into collectivism and has denied the priesthood of the believer.
The following are just a few of ethe faulty conclusions at which Mr. Dohse has arrived because of his arrogant and stubborn unwillingness to consider that he is not the last word in all things theological.

“The law is the standard for love, not justification.
Jesus did not come to fulfill the law, but to end the law.”

[Elsewhere, Mr. Dohse says that “the law=Scripture.” Did Jesus come to end the Scripture? Does he not understand that “telos” means goal and that Paul was saying that Christ is the one to whom the law pointed forward as its goal?]

“Jesus kept the law perfectly; that is irrelevant to salvation. NO ONE is justified by the law or law-keeping regardless of who keeps it.”

[He has arrived at this conclusion by a misreading of Rom. 3:21. In that verse the apostle is talking about how the righteousness of God, i.e., God’s method of putting sinners right with himself, has been revealed. It has been revealed apart from the law. Instead, it is revealed in the gospel. He is not saying that a declaration of righteousness is apart from law. How else can righteousness be gauged but by law? Condemnation and a declaration of righteousness are set over against each other. A person is declared either guilty or just based on law. How can law be the standard for condemnation without also being the standard for justification]?
“Under law” is the biblical nomenclature for the unregenerate lost. Under law means that sin rules you.”

[But, wasn’t Jesus under the law (Gal. 4:4)? Did sin rule him?]

“There is then no law to judge us, and where there is no law there is no sin.”

[The Scripture says “. . .where there is no law, there is no transgression;” it does not say “there is no sin.”]

“Righteousness is NOT imputed to the Christian not does the Bible state that anywhere. Christians are MADE righteous by the new birth.”
[In what sense, then, has God the Father made Christ to be “righteousness” to those “in him” (1 Cor. 1:30)? Additionally, how can Paul describe God as the one “who justifies the ungodly”(Rom. 4:5] if he does not impute a righteousness to their account that is not theirs ]?
The result of Mr. Dohse’s theological isolationism has been a departure from the biblical doctrine of forensic justification. His pronouncement that believers are MADE righteous by the new birth is dangerously close to the doctrine of Rome.
This should be a warning to all of us. God did not intend for us to live or think in isolation from other believers. If we don’t heed the warning, we might find ourselves, like Dohse, huddled in our “home fellowships” with our close relatives and dogs on Sunday mornings.


Questions About “Free Will”

As I have stated, I believe in free will in the sense that every person is free to choose what he desires. It is not the inability to choose that I deny but the inability to desire. To put it another way, I have no ability to choose what I do not desire. I agree with the statement John Calvin made about free will,

In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! that man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, a voluntary slave; his will being bound by the fetters of sin.

The proponents of libertarian free will argue that if God must regenerate a sinner before he/she will be able to believe, that sinner’s free choice to trust God’s promise cannot be a real and meaningful choice. The choice would only be meaningful if the sinner had equal ability at that point to choose to  remain in his sins. According to their view, at some unspecified point God has granted “free will’ to every individual through prevenient grace. Apparently, this grace [enabling] cancels the effects of Adam’s fall into sin.

But is it true that a confidence in God’s promises is meaningless if it is God who has effected it by grace?

1. It has been my assumption that in the glorified state in the eternal kingdom every believer will be confirmed in holiness. That glorified state will be one in which God’s people are secure and from which we cannot fall. There will be no rebellion or defection from that kingdom. In that state it will be impossible for us to sin. It would seem that once we are glorified there are certain options we cannot choose. That would seem to follow from the biblical description of those believers who have died. Their spirits are referred to as “the spirits of just men made perfect.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory. . . .” (Q. 37). One would assume we would not be less perfect once we glorified.

Perhaps there will be some who will disagree with those statement and who would like to show biblical proof that my assumptions are errant.

2. It has often been alleged by those who argue for libertarian free will that faith cannot be meaningful if God must call sinners effectually and regenerate them before they can believe. If once they are called they will certainly believe, faith cannot be a real choice. Only faith that flows from our free choice [By this they mean a libertarian free will choice not a choice made freely] can be meaningful. It must be our choice to obey by the power of free will that has been granted us in prevenient grace. Apparently for them, a choice that is made freely from a heart that is set free by regenerating grace cannot be meaningful. I must be able to choose to remain in my sins for my choice to be a real and meaningful choice.

It would seem to follow that if God must give us the desire to obey him and if he must enable us to obey him, praise him, worship him, glorify him, etc., that obedience, praise, worship and glorification cannot be genuine and meaningful either.

It should not escape our attention that in Ezek. 36:25-27 God promises to replace the sinner’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh. He promises to give the sinner a new spirit [disposition]. He promises to put his Spirit within and cause  him to walk in his statutes and keep his rules.  Should we assume that obedience is not “meaningful” since God caused it?

When the apostle tells the Philippians that God works in them both to will [i.e., cause them to desire to obey God] and do [give them the ability to obey God] for his good pleasure, should we assume their obedience was meaningless since God enabled it?

3. It appears that God is pleased with the worship of heavenly beings and of redeemed sinners who have been perfected in holiness and who have no inclination to sin whatsoever. Elect angels are confirmed in holiness so that they cannot choose to rebel. Since they are created beings they must be dependent beings. Yet, their choice to depend on God and to praise, worship, and glorify him is the only choice they can make.

4. Must we believe that our joyful obedience, our delightful dependence on God, our exultant praise, and our grateful glorification of God will be meaningless for all eternity since all of this will spring from hearts that have been bound to God by grace?

My conclusions are these:

1. Glorified beings  in the eternal state will not have free will in the sense that we will be free to sin and rebel against God.

2. If those who posit libertarian free will are correct in saying faith, obedience etc. are not meaningful unless we have a free will choice, all we do in the eternal state will be meaningless since our hearts will have been bound back to God by grace.

3. We have every indication that God will be pleased for eternity with our grateful expressions of praise and with our obedience in dependence on him.

4. It is a faulty assumption that faith is only meaningful if it is not enabled by free grace.


Calvinistic Evangelism-Chapter Three-The Great Chasm

I can think of no better place to begin our investigation of the apostolic pattern for evangelism than Romans chapter one. In this chapter we find the theological statement and explanation of the message Paul and other first century preachers proclaimed. Since the apostle considered it his duty and debt to preach this message to people of every nation he wrote this Epistle to justify his Gentile mission. He states that it is his joy and delight to proclaim this universal message because it is God’s prescription for salvation to everyone who believes, whether Jew or Greek. He has stated in the prologue that this gospel of God concerns his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. He now proclaims that it reveals God’s method of declaring sinners righteous in his sight. It reveals God’s covenant faithfulness in reconciling believing sinners to himself.

The Two-fold Problem

In verse eighteen of chapter one he begins to explain the universal necessity for God’s gospel. He writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

This verse provides for us an outline of his entire argument in this section of the Epistle and brings into sharp focus the grave issues that exist between God and sinners. If we do not understanding what this verse teaches, it will be impossible for us to understand the message of the gospel. Additionally, if the message we proclaim does not deal adequately with the issues Paul has raised in this verse, it must be something other than God’s gospel.
This verse teaches us that sin has caused a mighty chasm to exist between God and sinners that the best of human ingenuity cannot bridge. No remedy will serve that does not effectively deal with God’s holy wrath toward sinners and the unholy hostility of sinners toward him. The gospel must not only answer the problem of the sinner’s guilt before God, but it must also address and remedy the problem of the sinner’s hostility toward God and his defilement by sin. The old writers and preachers understood what so many in our day seem to have completely forgotten. Think, for example, of the well-known hymn, “Rock of Ages.” Augustus M. Toplady wrote,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From that wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Some may be better acquainted with the alternate ending, “Save me from its guilt and power.” Both versions indicate a clear recognition that the gospel concerns more than pardon. In the version that speaks about Jesus’ work making believers pure, the emphasis is on God’s remedy for our defilement because of sin. In the version that speaks about his work saving us from sin’s power, the focus is on salvation from sin’s dominion, but both versions draw our attention to what the biblical refer to as “sanctification.”

It is to deal with the sinner’s two-fold predicament that God has revealed his method of putting sinners right with himself. In Paul’s exposition of this divine method of salvation he brings these two problems into bold relief. Not only are sinners under God’s wrath because of our legal liability, but he is engaged against us because of our recalcitrant rebellion against him. As we shall see, our stony hearts have caused us to suppress whatever truth God has revealed about himself—“. . . . who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
It is important that we understand what the apostle means by the word “wrath.” He is not referring to a fit of rage or anger. God’s wrath toward sinners is not a boiling over of fury but his settled indignation against that which contradicts his holy and righteous character. There is no reason to designate any message that fails to address this problem and announce its solution as “good news.”

The Gospel’s Primary Focus

It is important to notice that the order in which Paul states the reasons for God’s wrath shows a priority of one issue over another as well as a cause and effect relationship between those issues. He wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. . .” Charles Hodge wrote concerning the difference between “ungodliness” or “impiety” and “unrighteousness,” “The first represents impiety toward God and the second “injustice” toward men” (Hodge, 1953, p. 53).

Not only does the apostle place impiety toward God before injustice toward men in verse eighteen, but throughout the entire chapter he shows that the sinner’s wrong relationship with his fellow man results from his wrong relationship with God. Romans one, nineteen through twenty-three concern the sinner’s impiety toward God that is evinced by his suppression of God’s self-revelation. These verses speak of the sinner’s failure to glorify God as God and his failure to show him appropriate gratitude for his gracious benevolence. Additionally, they charge the sinner with idolatry since he has exchanged God’s glory for images of created beings. This is a description of impiety. Verse twenty-four describes their unrighteous acts in dishonoring their bodies between themselves. This verse is connected with the foregoing passage by the word “therefore.” The meaning is clearly that God gave them over to unrighteousness as a result of their impiety toward him.

Likewise, verse twenty-five describes impious behavior toward God in exchanging his truth for a lie and in worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. For this reason, God gave them up to unnatural relations between themselves (vv. 26-27). This behavior was unrighteous. Notice the words “For this reason.” They indicate that these acts of unrighteousness resulted from their impious behavior toward God.
We observe the same order in verses twenty-eight through thirty-one. Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, [impiety] he gave them up to a debased mind. The result was that they were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. All our unrighteous actions result directly from our rebellion against God. From this we should understand where our primary focus should be in gospel proclamation.

Now, since this is true, we need to examine our approach to gospel preaching in terms of our primary focus. Too often the focus of evangelical Christianity has been to deal with the sinner’s “felt needs”. Sinners all need to be better husbands, better wives, better sons and daughters, better employees, better bosses etc. Additionally, sinners usually have a self-image that is askew. Often we are told we lack self-love. We just don’t love ourselves enough. In reality, we love ourselves too much and place our self-love above love for God.
Years ago, when I was part of a Christian youth group, there was a great deal of emphasis on Jesus as our friend. Unfortunately, we now have an entire generation or two with a wonderful friend, but no Savior. It is gloriously true that Jesus is a wonderful friend for sinners and that he is the great lover of our souls, but the focus of our attention must be that as our friend he has laid down his life for us.

If you wish to see how this emphasis has worked itself out in practice, visit your local Christian book store. Compare the number of books about human relationships, gospel dieting, dating, how to be happily married, how to understand your teenagers, etc. and how few have been written about the sinner’s relationship with God. It should be the reverse. I am not suggesting these issues are unimportant but that the matter of prime importance is the sinner’s relationship with God.

God’s Broken Law

When we examine the theological basis for evangelism, we will consider the issue of the use of the Decalogue in gospel preaching. For now, I want to observe how Paul’s preaching of God’s law to the Gentiles differed from his message to the Jews.

A message that begins by assuring sinners that God loves them and that Jesus has died to pay for all their sins proclaims peace where there is no peace. It prescribes treatment before spotting the disease. If we would pattern our evangelism after the example of the apostles, we must begin where they began. I cannot find a single example of New Testament preaching that began with a proclamation of God’s universal, redeeming love. Instead, New Testament evangelists began their messages by telling their hearers that God’s wrath is engaged against them because they are both unrighteous and hostile toward him.

God’s Standard of Righteousness for the Gentiles

Two Commandments

Paul and others pressed home this evidence by charging Gentile sinners not with breaking the Decalogue but with breaking the two great commandments of the Law on which the rest of the Scripture depends. Additionally, in chapter two, verse twelve he states, “for as many as have sinned without the law will perish without the law.” As I intend to show later, the Gentiles were never under the law covenant of Sinai. It is for that reason the apostle could describe them as “not having the law.” This does not mean they are without any righteous standard whatsoever. Having been made in God’s image, they have an innate understanding that certain thoughts, actions, attitudes, and desires are right and others are wrong. The reality is that they are under the same righteous standard as were the Jews. God’s law whether written or unwritten only has two requirement—Love God and Love your neighbor.

Love God

Romans 1:18 speaks of the sinner’s impiety. This indicts the sinner for his guilt in breaking the first and great commandment of the Law—“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deut. 6:5). As evidence of this impiety, the apostle shows that in the face of all God’s self-revelations, in spite of all his benevolent goodness and patience, and in defiance of his proffers of mercy, sinners remain recalcitrant and obdurate in their rebellion against him. Here it is patently clear again that the sinner is not inclined toward God and goodness. One could not even draw from the New Testament Scriptures that he is neutral toward God. Instead, the apostle alleges that the sinner hates God and is at cross purposes with him.

In the indictment that follows Romans 1:18, Paul Apostle presents cogent evidence that sinners have broken God’s first and great commandment—we do not love God. In stating the evidence of our sin against God he also defines for us the nature of God’s design in salvation.

The issues with which we must confront the unconverted are clearly outlined here. One of the failures of modern evangelism is that even if sin is mentioned, it is not clearly defined. Often when people are asked if they know they are sinners, they do not even understand the gravity of the question let alone the answer. It is our duty to define what the Scriptures mean by sin; that it is first and foremost an offense against God. Instead of loving and glorifying him, we have lived to please ourselves.. We, like sheep, have turned to our own way. We have sought to find our satisfaction apart from him. We have preferred other things and other people above him. Ultimately, we have lived as if God did not exist. We have been impious.

Consider the following statements:

1. “For although they knew God (from his revelation of himself in the creation), they did not glorify him as God” (v. 21).

2. “. . .or give him thanks (v. 21).

3. “. . . exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and bird and animals and creeping things” (v. :23).

4. “. . .they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, . . .” (v. 25).

5. “. . .they did not see fit to acknowledge God, . . .” (v. :28).

6. “They are . . .haters of God. . . .” (v. 30).

These are our sins against God’s first and great commandment.

Love Your Neighbor

In the same way, Paul indicts sinners for breaking the second commandment. In consequence of their impiety in breaking the first commandment, God gave them over to unrighteousness in breaking the second commandment. Consider these verses:

1. “Therefore, God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity, . . .” (v. 24).

2. “Therefore, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . .” (v. 26).

3. “God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. . . .” (vv. 28-31).

It is important that we understand that when the text tells us God “gave them over to unrighteousness,” it does not mean he made them worse than they were already. It merely means that, as an act of judgment, God withheld from them his restraining grace and allowed them to act out their natural sinful desires. Apart from God’s hand restraining us, we are all capable of the most heinous sins imaginable.

God’s Righteous Standard for the Jews-
The Decalogue

As I have stated, both the Gentiles and the Jews are under the same righteous standard. It is merely that God codified his law, his two commandments, in the covenant he made with Israel. The law is not “summarily comprehended” in these two commandments. These two commandments are the law that is expressed in the Covenant of Sinai. That covenant merely granted greater privileges to Israel than to any other nation on earth because it gave them a fuller revelation of God’s righteous standard.

In chapter three Paul asked, “What advantage, then, does the Jew have?” One would have thought after reading Romans chapter two that his answer would have been, “They have no advantage at all.” Privileges are not the standard for justification before God. Paul’s entire point in that chapter is that God does not show favoritism based on one’s race, one’s religion, or one’s ritual. As far as justification is concerned, it is no advantage that a person knows right from wrong. It is no advantage that one is a member of God’s covenant nation. It is no advantage that one has heard and knows the law. It is no advantage that one has been circumcised as a sign of his covenant participation and blessing. God’s standard is one of unbending righteousness.

The fact that he answered, “They have great advantage in every way, chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God,” merely indicates that they are guilty of an aggravated condemnation. In spite of their great blessing and privilege, they are nonetheless guilty and under condemnation.

In chapter two, verses seventeen through twenty-four the apostle confronts the Jewish people specifically with their failure in regard to the law. It is difficult to know for certain whether in his use of the word “law” in verses seventeen through twenty is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures or to the Mosaic covenant. It could refer to either, but in verses twenty-one through twenty-four there seems to be little question that he is referring to the Old Covenant itself. In doing so, he is demonstrating what he meant when he wrote, “. . .as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law” (2:12).

Ultimately, they are no less guilty than the Gentiles. Paul charges them both with essentially the same sin. The Gentiles have failed to glorify/honor God (1:21). The Jews have dishonored God (2:24). Instead of being a light to the Gentiles, they gave cause for God’s name to be blasphemed among them.

The law not only shows both Gentile and Jew to be guilty before God, but it reveals their hostility toward God. In Rom 3:9 ff. Paul brings his indictment of both Gentile and Jew to a closing argument drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. He not only tells us there is no one righteous, but he also tells us there is no one who understands [spiritual truth]; there is no one who seeks God; there is no one who does good [works] not even one. Here Paul does not deny the ability of sinners to perform deeds that are pleasing and helpful to other people but of works that are pleasing to God and that merit his smile. When a person understands the lofty demands of divine law, his mouth will be stopped in terms of speaking about his ability to merit God’s favor.

A Persistent Pursuit of God’s Glory

Ultimately, God’s righteous standard comes down to this. He requires a consistent and persevering pursuit of a life of well-doing. This pursuit must be focused on a “glory and honor” that is undying and unending (see Romans 2:6-11). Who among us that is honest with himself would suggest that he or she is consistently and perseveringly engaged in such a pursuit?

I am not unaware that there is a sense in which at God’s final judgment the believer’s works will be called in to testify to the reality of his faith, but this does not appear to be Paul’s teaching in these verses. Paul’s purpose in this passage is to show that a person cannot plead privilege as the ground of his acceptance before God. God’s judgment is righteous judgment. It is not Paul’s purpose in this context to show that, when we stand before God in judgment the works produced in our lives by God’s grace will give evidence of the reality of our faith.

The most righteous among us cannot claim that his pursuit of righteousness and godliness has been uninterrupted by sin. Additionally, the pursuit of “glory and honor” about which he speaks is not self-centered and self-serving. This pursuit of “glory and honor” is not about glory and honor for ourselves. The apostle sets this pursuit over against “self-seeking” (v. 8). God’s concern is the manifestation of his own glory. The pursuit of the man whose righteousness will stand the test of God’s judgment must be characterized by an unbroken consistency. It must be uninterrupted and undiminished by any cloud of sin and rebellion that might arise. We must be able to say “I always do those things that are pleasing to him.”
I find Paul’s phraseology here to be intriguing. This is not the only place in the Scriptures where we find the phrase “glory and honor.” It occurs both in Psalm 8 and in Hebrews 2. It speaks not only of that holy image in which God created Adam but also of the ultimate goal of God’s redemptive work, namely, the believer’s restoration to God’s likeness. If our view of salvation involves anything less than the full restoration of God’s glorious image to his chosen people, we have never come to rightly understand that gracious work.
The contrast is between those who are self-seeking and self-serving and are thus involved in a lives of disobedience to God’s revealed truth and those who are seeking accurately to reflect God’s glory and honor and are thus involved in lives of consistent and persevering well-doing.
When we are measured by that standard there can be only one response. Our question must be, “Who shall be able to stand?”

God’s Universal Beneficence

You will search the New Testament Scriptures in vain searching for any statement that resembles the modern jargon to which evangelicals have become so accustomed. Those who believe in the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners are often asked how we can tell every sinner to whom we witness the gospel that God loves them and Jesus died for them. It would certainly be quite hypocritical of us to make such statements they do not accord with our doctrine. The answer to the question is far simpler than most would imagine. We do not include such statements in our message because such declarations are nowhere found in the apostolic message.

As we have noticed, the phrase “God loves you” never occurs in the New Testament record of gospel preaching. Many canned evangelism presentations use verses that were written to believers as if they have universal application. “God shows his love for us. . . .” (Rom. 5:8), refers not to us human beings, but to us believers.
What we do find in the biblical record are statements of God’s universal beneficence and common grace toward people as his creatures. When Jesus spoke of our duty to love our enemies that we might be the sons of our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:44-45) it should be clear to any thinking person that he is referring to God’s universal benevolence and not to his redeeming love.

In referring to God’s universal beneficence we often use the term “common grace.” It is important to understand that we use the term “grace” because every manifestation of this divine kindness is granted to rebels who have merited God’s wrath and curse. We do not use the term to suggest that God grants universal enabling to sinners.

We find the “common grace” theme not only in the book of Acts but also in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. This theme seems to be more prominent in gospel presentations to the Gentiles. God clearly treated the Gentile nations differently than he treated his chosen people, but now he has broadened the tent to include people from every nation. He now commands all people everywhere to repent (see Acts 17:30).

Even in that period during which he showed his mercy primarily to Israel he did not leave himself without a witness among the Gentile nations. Luke wrote, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways, yet he did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Additionally, when Paul reasoned with the philosophers in Athens, he described God as follows: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). Paul wrote to Timothy that God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). It was this universal benevolence and common grace about which Jesus spoke in the sermon on the mount when he said, “. . .he [your Father who is in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). The implication of Jesus’ words is that the Father is merciful and gracious in allowing his creatures to enjoy his sunshine and rain. Note, it is not our sun, it is “his sun.”
In Romans 2:4-5, the apostle Paul teaches us how to apply the truth in the matter of evangelism. He wrote, “or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” In the previous chapter the apostle had indicted sinners based general revelation. That God continues to make himself known to his fallen creatures is an act of mercy that is poured out universally on them. His accusation was that in the face of clear revelation concerning God’s eternal power and divine nature, they had failed to glorify God and were ungrateful for his bounty (vv. 19-22). Additionally, they had exchanged the glorious God for images of created beings (v.23). Finally, they had decided God was not worth knowing (v. 28).

In evangelizing the unconverted we should remind them that their continued existence on earth is due to God’s kindness and patience. They owe their very existence to him. He gives to all life and breath and all things. He allows them to breath his air, walk on his ground, feel his sunshine and drink his water not because they deserve it but because he is kind and long-suffering. This kindness is intended to lead them to repentance, but they have presumed on the riches of his kindness and have lived as if he did not exist. Because their hearts are hard and impenitent they have stored up more divine wrath for themselves on the Day of Judgment.

There is perhaps no clearer evidence of the depth and breadth of the abyss that sin has created between God and the sinner than his reaction to every manifestation of God’s magnanimous kindness. Paul describes this sinful rebellion as the sinner’s suppression of God’s truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Then, he list a number of ways in which God has made himself known to sinners. These acts of God’s benevolence are clear and unmistakable. For example, in Romans 1:19-20 Paul wrote about God’s self-disclosure and states that what may be known about God as creator is “clearly seen being understood from the things that are made. . .so that they might be [or with the result that they are] without excuse.” There is no person in all of God’s creation who can plead ignorance. But, what has been the universal reaction to this general revelation? Paul wrote, “but although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were they thankful. . . (v. 21). In spite of the copious evidence that there is a Creator who deserves our worship and gratitude sinners have suppressed this truth in unrighteousness.

In every case, the sinner’s reaction is the same. It does not matter whether God reveals himself in his creation, in the conscience (see Rom. 2:15), in the commandments (see Rom. 2:17-24), in Christ’s gospel (see-1 Cor. 1:18) or in conviction [or reproof] of the Holy Spirit himself (see Acts 7:51), the sinner in a state of sinful nature always demonstrates the same hostility toward God (see Romans 8:7). This is why Paul summarizes his argument in Romans 3:9-18 as follows:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.””There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Such is the sinner’s plight. When the Bible says sinners are “lost” it does not mean they are merely disoriented and in need of someone to point them in the right direction. Instead, it means they are hopelessly and helplessly lost and need someone to return them to the right path. Otherwise, they will wander endlessly and be destroyed forever. To make matters worse they have ignored every sign encouraging them to return because they have preferred the path of destruction to the way of peace.

Keep in mind that to this point, we are considering the problems presented by the gospel, not their solution. In reality, what we have considered thus far is not good news at all for those who persist in a state of rebellion against God. By omitting this aspect of the message, modern evangelists have unwittingly robbed the gospel of its ability to amaze us. There was a time when grace was amazing; now it is viewed as an entitlement. If we think of God as love and only love, our question will be, “Why doesn’t he save everyone?” If we think of God as holy and just, our question will be. “Why does he save anyone?” The modern evangelist asks how he can present his message so that Jesus will be acceptable to sinners. The concern of the biblical gospel was how sinners could be made acceptable to God.

In his well-known introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ, J. I. Packer contrasted what he called the “old gospel” with the “new gospel.” Commenting on the reason the new gospel does not “answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty,” he writes,

We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man – to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction – and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’, too – more so, indeed, than is the new – but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God (Emphasis mine). But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach people to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed (Packer, 1958, p. 1).


Calvinistic Evangelism–Part Two–The Apostolic Pattern: The Message

I have heard many say that those who believe salvation is a work of God’s sovereign grace should be able to live in unity with those who believe salvation is a cooperative effort between God and the sinner, because, after all, we are all preaching the same gospel. My answer to that is that if we are preaching the same message they are preaching, we should be ashamed of ourselves. I say that because the message they preach has no precedent in apostolic preaching. I contend that if our message is not a reflection of what the Apostles preached, we need to change our message.

There are several themes that are consistently repeated in the message of the first century church. Those themes are so prevalent that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they provide a pattern that we must follow in evangelism if we are to be faithful to the Lord under whose authority we have been sent. It is quite true that those preachers whose proclamations of the evangel have been preserved for us in the New Testament Scriptures did not preach from a uniform script. There were differences in their messages that were dictated by the different needs of the audiences they addressed. For example, when they preached to Jewish audiences, they said little about the attributes of God. One would assume a person who had been well schooled in the Old Testament Scriptures would have known God’s attributes.

When they preached to Gentiles who knew little of God’s character, they spent time instructing them about the God who gave them being and who in his sovereign government of the world, gave them life, breath and all things (see, e.g., Acts 17: 22-31). Additionally, in addressing Gentile audiences their focus was often on God’s common grace and universal benevolence. There is powerful evidence of this theme in the passage just cited. When they preached to Jewish audiences their focus was often on God’s faithfulness in fulfilling the promises he made to the fathers. Paul spent a great deal of time in the Synagogues demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah.
My purpose in this section is to examine those themes in both the Book of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament that seem to form the basic framework of the apostolic message. The following are a few of the questions I intend to explore:

1. How does the Spirit’s ministry of reproving sinners relate to the apostolic proclamation?

2. How and in what sense should we proclaim God’s love to sinners? Did the apostolic message ever begin with a proclamation of God’s redeeming love?

3. How does God’s fulfillment of Old Testament apply to the proclamation of the gospel?

4. What basic spiritual needs must the gospel address?

5. What does the apostle Paul mean when he uses the phrase “wrath of God” (Romans 1:18)?

6. Must we precede gospel preaching with a proclamation of the law of God? How did the Apostle Paul confront sinners with God’s law in his Epistle to the Romans?

7. How does the gospel’s demand for both repentance and faith relate to the sinner’s basic spiritual needs?

8. How should we preach repentance to avoid giving sinners the impression they must rid themselves of sin before God will receive them?

9. What part does the message that Jesus is Lord play in our evangelistic preaching?

10. What should we make of the fact that the Apostles never told an audience of unconverted people that Jesus died for them?

11. What part did Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement have in apostolic preaching and what significance should it have for our gospel witness?

It is my view that a proper understanding of the answers to these questions will radically affect the way we witness the gospel. I would urge you to lay aside your preconceived notions about the gospel message and search the pertinent New Testament passages with a ready mind to find answers to these important questions.
The subject matter of this section will be similar in some ways to the section on the theological foundation for evangelism. The reason for this should be obvious. They preached as they did because they believed as they did. I intend, in this section, first to show what they preached and then, in the following section, examine the theology on which they based their message.

In the introduction to this work, I proposed a definition of what I believe the evangelistic message must include, I suggested three components:

1. It must include a clear communication of the biblical teaching concerning the great chasm that exists between God and the sinner. The sinner needs to know what the Bible teaches about God’s character, his purpose in the world, and his own rebellious condition and guilty standing before God.

2. It should include an urgent call for sinners to obey the commands of the gospel and bow before God’s sovereign throne in humble adoration.

3. It should include a communication of the good news that God has promised to save guilty sinners. It promises pardon through Christ and what he has accomplished to all who call on him

This section will include three chapters:

The Great Chasm
The Gospel Call
The Gracious Commitment

It is my intention to arrange the components we find in the apostolic message under these heads to see how those elements relate to the definition I have suggested. It is my hope that you will not only begin to see how radically the evangelical church has departed from the apostolic pattern, but that you will also purpose to conform your message to the message they preached. Once we have considered these component parts of the gospel message as set forth in the Epistles, I want to consider how they are illustrated in the preaching recorded in the book of Acts.


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