Now that we have examined the message the apostles preached we will move on to a consideration of their methodology in evangelism. This examination will necessarily be less extensive than our examination of their message since their methods of evangelism were very simple. There was no elaborate plan, no script to follow, no “how to” manual. There is no evidence that they organized city wide evangelistic campaigns or series of protracted meetings called “revivals.” There were no clever tactics or psychological techniques calculated to elicit decisions from their hearers. They simply proclaimed the message Jesus had given them and prayed that God would use their preaching for his glory. There are several characteristics of the New Testament method of evangelism to which we should give our attention and that we should emulate in all our evangelistic efforts. I would like first to consider this issue negatively, i.e., What did the apostles deny about their methodology? Then, I would like to move on to a consideration of the positive characteristics of their methodology.
The Issue Considered Negatively
The apostle Paul wrote a great deal about the methods he and his companions had rejected. For example, in 1 Corinthians one he made it clear that he did not even consider altering his message. He knew full well that neither the Jews nor the Greeks wanted to embrace the message he was preaching, yet he went on preaching the message of a Christ who had been crucified (see verses 22-24). He reiterated this thought in chapter two where he stated that he had refused resort to human wisdom and plausible words in an effort to make his message more palatable to his hearers (see verses 2-4). He wanted to be sure that their faith was not a spurious one produced by clever words and tactics but a genuine faith produced by the sovereign and saving power of God (see v. 5).
Along this same line he wrote in the second Corinthian Epistle, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (1 Cor. 4:2). Though it is true he could have been referring to the manner in which he has lived his life in general since his conversion, he draws the issue to a fine point by stating that he has refused to tamper with God’s word but has openly stated the truth. It should be clear his is talking about his evangelistic ministry in contrast to the deceitful practices of the false apostles. He had not used clever and underhanded tricks. He had given no thought to using psychological manipulation to evoke a response to his message. He had not sought to stir his hearers to an emotional zenith so that he might “strike while the iron was hot.” I would like to return to the phrase “open statement of truth” when I discuss the positive characteristics of biblical methodology, but here I want to draw your attention to the contrast. He was, by implication, accusing the false apostles of using subterfuge to accomplish their devious ends. We must, like the apostles, renounce all such chicanery. I will never forget the day I listened to a pastor who was soon to become quite well known speaking to a class of young theological students. He was asked whether he believed in God’s sovereignty in the sinner’s salvation. He answered, “Yes, I believe that stuff, but you can’t teach that and build a big Sunday School.” By that he meant it is impossible to achieve what he called “success” by teaching the whole counsel of God. One must conceal some of the more difficult truths God has revealed because carnal minds will not receive them very well. There was nothing of this kind of spirit among the apostles. Hugh Latimer was much more in keeping with the spirit of the apostles. When he was summoned to give an account before King Henry VIII, he began his message as follows:
Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the King’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease! And then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence comest thou; upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God! Who is all present! and Who beholdeth all thy ways! and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.
It is not the preacher’s prerogative to decide what part of God’s message he will proclaim and what part he will conceal. That issue was settled when all authority was given to the Lord Christ. If we conceal any part of God’s message, we are in open rebellion against him. There is no question but that the apostles would have rejected most if not all of the innovations to which the modern evangelical church has become so enslaved. It is little wonder that today’s church is so effete and ineffective in accomplishing her God given tasks. She has forsaken the fountain of living waters and has hewn our broken cisterns that can hold no water. Commenting on 2 Corinthians 10:4, the late Philip Hughes wrote,
The armor of Saul, though splendid in the eyes of men, cannot avail to overcome the Philistine giant. Only the panoply of God will serve for this purpose (Eph. 6:11ff). Only spiritual weapons are divinely powerful for the overthrow of the fortresses of evil. This constitutes an admonition to the Church and particularly to her leaders, for the temptation is ever present to meet the challenge of the world, which is under the sway of the evil one, with the carnal weapons of this world—with human wisdom and philosophy, with the attractions of secular entertainment, with the display of massive organization. Not only do such weapons fail to make an impression on the strongholds of Satan, but a secularized Church is a Church which, having adopted the standards of the world, has ceased to fight and is herself overshadowed by the powers of darkness (Hughes, 1986, 350).
Similarly, in commenting on this verse, Charles Hodge wrote, “In the war in which Paul was engaged, his confidence was not in himself, not in human reason, not in the power of argument or eloquence, not in the resources of cunning or management, but simply and only in the supernatural power of God. ‘We war not after the flesh, for our weapons are not carnal’” (Hodge, 1997, 250).
We do not need to seek far and wide for the remedy to this problem. It is near at hand. We must examine the biblical pattern and reject any method that does not conform to it. A belief in libertarian “free will” will drive people do gimmicks, and it has. A belief in God’s sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners will drive us to our knees and to him.
The Issue Considered Positively
Now that we have considered the methods the New Testament evangelists rejected, let’s consider the methodology they employed and its characteristics. I think you will find a stark contrast between first century methodology and the methodology of the modern evangelical church. Consider the following characteristics.
It was Characterized by Simplicity
In reading the New Testament, one is struck by the simplicity of first century evangelism. It consisted in only two elements. It involved a clear presentation of God’s message either in the market place or in a home (See Acts 20:20 for example), and it involved earnest prayer that God would bless by converting those who had heard the message. There were no elaborate plans, no major campaigns, no entertainment, no “soul-winning” programs, and no planning committees. There was simply a clear presentation of the message that Jesus has risen and has been exalted to the heavenly throne. It was a call to turn from wickedness and ungodliness accompanied by God’s promise that he would forgive all who repented. The apostle Paul described it as “an open statement of truth” or a “manifestation [unveiling] of the truth.” In terms of its basic content, the message was not, nor did it need to be, embellished or altered to suit its auditors. It simply stood as the naked and unvarnished truth of God.
It was the Work of the Entire Body
The early church understood that the work of ministry, whether it be evangelism or some other aspect of that work, is not a work for the few. In one way or another, every member of the body was to be involved in the work. That is not to say that every member stood in the market place proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Most were likely involved in the work without ever opening their mouths. Not every member of the body is a mouth. Not everyone in the early church had the gift of teaching or proclaiming the good news, but they were no less valuable to the cause than those who proclaimed God’s truth. Perhaps they were watching and entertaining toddlers while their parents were listening to the message. It could be they were showing mercy to some poor outcast soul or extending a helping hand in Jesus’ name to someone who was in need. Perhaps they were teaching shepherds whose task it was to equip believers for the work of service. Whatever their gift may have been and whatever their task, they understood that everything was moving toward one great end. It was that God might be glorified in the proclamation of his truth. Peter wrote,
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God [Would this not indicate that not everyone was to be involved in the speaking aspect of ministry?]; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
I believe it was a grave error for anyone to have taught that if a person really loved Christ he would be out beating the bushes and cramming the “Romans Road” or some such system of canned “evangelism” down people’s throats. Everyone should be involved in some way in the war effort, but not everyone is a sharp-shooter.
It was Characterized by Extemporaneousness
It seems that much of the evangelism that occurred in the early church just happened as people were going about their business. Jesus struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman because he was thirsty and wanted a drink. As the conversation progressed, he turned it to eternal issues. In reality, from the divine side it was not extemporaneous at all. Jesus was keeping a divine appointment, but it occurred in the most ordinary of circumstances and flowed naturally in the context of the situation. Peter and John were going into the temple when a poor, lame man asked them for a gift. They did not go there for the specific purpose of evangelizing this man, but when the opportunity arose, they were armed and ready. Evangelism is to be the natural overflow the fullness of God in our hearts. When the opportunity arises we will speak out of the overflow of his goodness and grace. Being a witness is not so much what we are called to do, as it is what we are called to be. If we are a witness, speaking a fitting word in due season will be no problem for us.
It was Characterized by Dissimilarity
One cannot read the New Testament record carefully without noticing that the early gospel preachers were not merely reciting a previously memorized system of evangelism. Jesus did not say the same things to the Samaritan woman that he said to Nicodemus. His message to the rich young ruler was from his message to the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15. Paul did not preach the same message to the philosophers in Athens as he did to those gathered in Jewish synagogues. Different people have differing concerns, differing manifestations of their hostility toward God, differing excuses for remaining in their sins, differing fears. A cookie cutter approach to evangelism will not serve them well. Our evangelism needs to involve listening to the individual’s concerns and then applying the healing balm of the gospel to their specific needs and concerns. There is no question that the basic facts of the evangel are the same for every sinner, but we need to understand that simply eliciting a positive response to a series of general and usually meaningless questions does not constitute meaningful evangelism. A person may well agree to the proposition that Romans 3:23 is true without any comprehension whatsoever of the gravity of his situation before God or the depth of his antipathy toward God. If we are going to be involved in evangelism, we must learn to listen to the specific issues that concern the individuals we are seeking to win. Only after we have listened to their questions and come to understand their personal issues can we speak meaningfully to their concerns.
It was Educational
Modern evangelists seem to assume their hearers understand what they mean when they use words like “God,” “sin,” “faith” etc. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament record makes it clear that the early Christian evangelists spent a great deal of their time instructing their hearers. Consider just two examples. One describes Paul’s ministry to Jewish people; the other to his ministry to Gentiles in Ephesus. Notice that Paul was doing the synagogue in Thessalonica what “was his custom.” Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,–explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”–(Acts 17:3). Addressing the elders of the Ephesian Church, Paul reminded them of his ministry while he was with them and of the way in which he had executed that ministry. This is a part of what he said to them. “. . .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). These verses help us to understand the characteristics of apostolic methodology in several ways. First, they make it plain that early evangelism was instructional in nature. He was “explaining and proving.” He was “teaching” publicly and in houses. Secondly, they teach us there was no tyranny of the immediate. They were not focused on rushing their hearers to a commitment. Instead, they focused on a clear communication of truth. They knew the work in which they were engaged was God’s work. They understood it was their duty to bring the truth to people’s ears, but only God could bring it home to their hearts. Their focus was on making the message plain and not on pressing their hearers to make a decision. When Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians one, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the gospel. . .” He was not in any way denigrating the importance of baptism as an open profession of faith in Christ. Instead, he was emphasizing that bringing people to faith or to make an open profession of that faith was not in his position description. Thirdly, their evangelistic instruction was extensive. It was not a superficial skimming of the surface but an in-depth explanation of God’s truth. Paul said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.” By modern evangelical standards, we would have to consider Jesus and the apostles very poor evangelists since they often let people walk away without drawing the net. Many seem to believe if you fail to close the deal with every sinner you meet, you must not be a very good “soul-winner.” But, the Bible informs us that after Jesus had clarified the issues regarding eternal life for the rich, young ruler, he allowed him to go away sorrowful (See Mark 10:22). After Paul had preached the gospel to the philosophers in Athens, Luke tells us that “some mocked and some said we will hear you again about this” (see Acts 17: 32). Yet, Paul did not insist that they come immediately to faith. He knew that was not his business but God’s. That we live in an age of biblical and theological ignorance demands that we follow the apostolic practice of educational evangelism. It will serve no good purpose to talk to sinners about God if they are ignorant of his attributes and character. They will not understand what we mean when we talk about sin unless we spend time teaching them how the Bible describes it. If we would evangelize, we must be willing and able to explain God’s truth.
It Involved an Indiscriminate Proclamation
There is not the slightest indication that the first century evangelists sought to determine whether their hearers were good candidates for salvation or not. Jesus described the gospel preacher as “a sower” who scatters the gospel seed indiscriminately (Matt. 13:3). A biblical evangelist does not target one group above another. We do not seek out “key kids” or “awakened sinners” and preach the good news only to them. We are to say to the most hardened sinner we meet, “God will pardon you if you repent and trust Christ.” The gospel call is not to elect sinners but to sinners as sinners. It is a call that must be made even to sinners who feel no need for salvation. It is not to be our concern how God intends to use our gospel proclamation. That is his business, not ours. The Canons of Dort, the definitive statement of Calvinism, Second Head, Article 5 states the issue as follows:
Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.
It was Characterized by Dependence on God
There is no biblical evidence that any of the first century preachers were characterized by the cocky self-confidence of the modern evangelist. The apostle Paul confessed that when he came to Corinth he was not effervescing with self-confidence, nor was he depending on his eloquence of speech, his ironclad logic, or the depth of his philosophical understanding. Instead, he came to them in weakness and fear and in much trembling. His speech and his message were not with persuasive words of human wisdom (See 1 Cor. 2:3-4). He did not rely on his own skill either as an orator or as an apologist. All his confidence was in God’s sovereign, saving activity. His assurance that the gospel would be successful was founded on the demonstration of the Spirit and of divine power. His desire was that their faith would not rest in human wisdom but in divine power (See vv. 4-5). He understood that the work God had sent him to do was far above his ability to accomplish. Bringing sinners to saving faith in Christ requires a mighty demonstration of divine power.
In his second epistle to the Corinthians he asserts that Christ always leads him and his associates in triumph while they are faithful in proclaiming God’s message. It may be that their message would result in life for their hearers or it could result in aggravated condemnation and death for their hearers. Either way, they would be successful as long as they were faithful to the truth and not like some cheap hucksters and peddlers of the word (see 2 Cor. 2:14-17). He is careful to guard against leaving his readers with the impression that he felt any sense of self-sufficiency in the face of his mammoth task. He asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?” How different is this attitude from that of the slick charlatan evangelists whose methodology virtually guarantees “results.” Instead, Paul understood that any sufficiency he had for the task Christ had assigned to him was from God. He did not feel that he was sufficient even to think anything as of himself. All his sufficiency was from God (see 2 Cor. 3:5). Paul described the gospel he preached as a treasure he carried in a clay pot. He intended to emphasize the utter disparity between the inadequacy of the observable means employed and the supernatural effects that are produced through the use of those means. God’s purpose in employing such means is that it might be patent that the marvelous efficacy of the gospel is from him and not from us (see 2 Cor. 4:7).
Summary of Part Two—the Method
The early preachers of the gospel gave little attention to their methodology in evangelism. They were content to proclaim God’s message in the confidence that he would use it to accomplish his purpose in making his glory known.
Their methods were very simple—they proclaimed God’s truth, and then prayed that he would bless it to their hearers. They simply went about their business with hearts filled with a knowledge of God’s goodness and glory. There evangelistic activity simply resulted from the overflow of hearts filled with God.
Their methods included utilizing the gifts God has given to every member of the body of Christ. We should not expect every believer to function in the same way in the work of evangelism. Each member of the body should see to it that he/she is faithful in exercising the gift or gifts God has given them. First century evangelists were concerned to give their hearers a clear explanation of the message. It was not their concern to rush their hearers into a commitment. Even if those to whom they preached continued in their unbelief, these preachers wanted to be certain they had given them an accurate account of the issues involved.
They were sensitive to their hearers’ level of understanding. There is no evidence that they every used a “one size fits all” approach to evangelism. Instead, they assessed where their hearers were in terms of their knowledge and understanding and tailored their messages to answer those needs.
These early evangelists made no effort to determine if their hearers were among the elect or if they were awakened sinners. They proclaimed the same promise to everyone they encountered.
Finally, their methodology was characterized by a complete dependence on God. They did not resort to cheap tricks or psychological manipulation to “get decisions” from their hearers. Instead, they depended on God to accomplish his sovereign purpose through their faithful proclamation of the message.
“The Sabbath before the command”, a sermon by Voddie Baucham
reviewed and analyzed by Stuart Brogden
This review is not intended to malign or condemn my dear brother and friend, Voddie Baucham; it is to expose the errors one can be led to if presuppositions are left unexamined, if documents other than Scripture are held too tightly. This sermon sums up much of what caused me to withdraw from Grace family Baptist Church; it violates many of the basic rules of hermeneutics that Voddie taught me, apparently having his view distorted by his “confessionally colored glasses” as Bob Gonzales put it.
To the sermon, which can be listened to here: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=410151353280
Early in this sermon, Voddie asserts “Israel mirrors New Covenant people.” This is fundamental to the message of this sermon, but is it true? A mirror is intended to give an accurate image of the object, as when Scripture says Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) and He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1:3). Israel, however, is NOT a mirror image of the church which was purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus. Israel was a type, a shadow – providing a useful but imperfect image of the antitype, the church (Hebrews 8:1 – 6). They were a mixed seed of mostly unregenerate people. While the local church will have wheat and chaff growing side-by-side until the reaping (Matt 34:31; Rev 14:15), the universal church is pure and undefiled in any way (Eph 5:27). This cannot be said about Israel; it is NOT a mirror of God’s redeemed people. But it’s important for Voddie’s entire message that we agree that we are Israel (as he points out later), because the Scriptures tell us that the covenant was made with Israel and the words written on the stone tablets testify of that covenant (Ex 34:27 & 28). Moses emphasizes (Deut 5:2 & 3) this covenant was made with national Israel, not the patriarchs. And not – by implication – with Adam or the redeemed. As we will see, if Israel is not a mirror of the church, this message fails.
Still early in the sermon we are told, “Understanding the Sabbath is one of the most important junctures in our theology.” I agree with him on this. It will be apparent, however, I do not agree with his understanding of the Sabbath. Then he says, “Is it 8 of 10 or 9 of 10 who deny a Sabbath commandment?” It’s clear he simply made up this number, apparently to demonstrate the pitiable condition of the apathetic saints who disagree with him. Before getting into the substance of his argument, I am compelled to point out a subtle but glaring aspect of his repeated description of non-Sabbatarian Christians as those who deny or do not believe in a Sabbath command. Speaking for myself, I do not deny that the Bible has a Sabbath command. I believe in the Sabbath command. I simply look to the Scripture to inform me as to the subjects of this – and other commands. I deny that the Sabbath Command is binding for people in the New Covenant. I openly agree that it IS binding on those in the Mosaic Covenant, but not all men universally. By phrasing it as if we deny that the Bible commands some people to keep the Sabbath, Voddie implies though we cut objectionable parts from our Bibles. It is more likely, as we will see, that sabbatarians add parts to the Bible – reminding me of an author who describes dispensationalists as people of the invisible Scripture. Voddie taught me to tackle the best argument of those I disagreed with, as any victory over a weak argument would be meaningless. He appears to have forgotten this counsel, as this sermon engages only weak (or made up) positions.
One of the main tenents of his argument is that the Decalogue, as a unit, is equal to God’s moral law. This is not explained or defended from Scripture. As his beloved Second London Baptist Confession states in chapter 19, paragraph 3 (referring to the tablets of stone mentioned in paragraph 2), “Besides this law, commonly called moral …” and not one single verse is referenced. As one author I recently ran across observed, when theologians don’t have a biblical defense for something they assert, they use phrases such as “commonly called”. This is an appeal to a false authority – a logical fallacy. This is another aspect of preaching Voddie taught me – do not fall into the use of logical fallacies to make your point. Doing so lessens the authority of the message.
Therefore, he concludes, as a moral law, the Sabbath is binding on all people. From this position, He mocks 7th day Sabbatarians, whom he describes as 1 of the 10 who don’t get “truth” as he defines it. Another 10 percent hold to the idea of a “Christian Sabbath”; the remaining 8 of 10, a huge majority of Christians, deny the “Christian Sabbath” and are unable to explain why. Voddie is well aware of scholarly works by credible Christians who provide solid biblical defense for why the Sabbath is for Israel and not the Christian. D.A. Carson’s From Sabbath to Lord’s Day and Terrence O’Hare’s The Sabbath Complete are two such books that I know he is aware of. Is it sophistry to assert that, in general, all those Christians who deny the “Christian Sabbath” cannot explain why they hold that position. I betcha 9 of 10, or maybe 10 of 10 people who believe the Decalogue equals God’s moral law cannot explain it from Scripture. This is because Scripture does not define “moral law” nor does it equate that concept to the Decalogue. That correlation is simply not found there. That’s why the Westminster and Second London Baptist Confessions say the Law given Moses is “commonly called” the moral law. This is a concept originally put down on paper by Thomas Aquinas, the same one who developed the triad view of the Mosaic Law.
Baucham makes the interesting observation that since the Sabbath command was introduced in Exodus 16, chronologically before the law was given to Moses, and because it is allegedly rooted and grounded in a creation ordinance, it transcends the Decalogue. This is a double assertion based on his confessional presuppositions, not found in Scripture. When YHWH instructs the infant Hebrew nation about the Sabbath, using manna as the object, it is clear they were not familiar with the Sabbath, it was something new to them. This is the first record of the Sabbath in Scripture. It is another argument from silence to claim the Sabbath was known, kept and enforced from creation. The mention of the 7th day in the Decalogue does not establish a creation ordinance; it is given by God as an example for Israel to help them understand His command. John Calvin, John Gill, and John Bunyan each held a high view of the Lord’s Day, but dismissed and argued against the idea of a Sabbath creation ordinance. Circumcision was part of the Mosaic Covenant given before the Decalogue – does it also transcend the Decalogue and bind all people?
Voddie asserts that the 7th day of creation sets the pattern for work and worship. He later calls this God’s rhythm for life. I completely agree that YHWH was demonstrating for us our need for rest from work in sanctifying the 7th day of creation to Himself, as a minimum. Since all creation and the gift of work were soon to be cursed by the Fall, I also see the 7th day rest pointing to the One Who will do away with the ravages of sin and provide true and eternal rest for weary souls. Scripture tells us that God gave the Sabbath to the Hebrew people through Moses:
You came down on Mount Sinai, and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them impartial ordinances, reliable instructions, and good statutes and commands. You revealed Your holy Sabbath to them, and gave them commands, statutes, and instruction through Your servant Moses. You provided bread from heaven for their hunger; You brought them water from the rock for their thirst. You told them to go in and possess the land You had sworn to give them. Nehemiah 9:13-15 (HCSB)
YHWH gave the Sabbath to Israel as part of the ordinances, instructions, statutes, and commands, through His servant Moses. When Nehemiah continues on to describe YHWH’s kind provision in the desert, giving the Sabbath command to them is not listed. But taking the command in Exodus 16 into account, we can be sure YHWH taught and revealed His Sabbath to Israel at that time – but it was not given as the sign of the Mosaic Covenant until Sinai. There was a Sabbath before the commandment. It began as a teaching of the concept to the Hebrew people, not as a continuation of something they knew for generations since Adam taught Seth. In Exodus 16, when Israel is rebuked for trying to gather manna on the Sabbath, God tells them the Sabbath is to be kept by the families staying in their homes. There is no corporate worship, nothing standing as a type for the “Christian Sabbath”.
Voddie tells us, “Whenever you see Israel messin’ up – stop and insert yourself. That is you and me before we came to God. Forget generalities – this is you and me.” Again, the notion that Israel is a mirror of New Covenant saints shows up and seems innocuous. Voddie also taught me to be careful about inserting self into a Scripture passage, often using Jeremiah 29:11 to teach this. It appears he forgot this lesson. While all Scripture, including Exodus 16, is for our edification (1 Cor 10:6; Rom 15:4), not all Scripture can be applied directly to us. Israel is typological of all sinners, but that is NOT the same as saying you and I are Israel in this passage. Being less than careful in this matter can lead to serious errors – as when people drink poison and handle snakes by inserting themselves into Mark 16:17 & 18.
He quotes Ian Campbell from Why Easter makes me a Sabbatarian. This is an interesting article, easily found on the Internet, providing a defense of the Westminster Confession’s view of the “Christian Sabbath”. Despite Campbell’s assertion to the contrary, the pre-command for Sabbath-keeping in Exodus 16 is given only to Israel, not all people; same as the Decalogue. Nothing in the context of either scene comes remotely close to including Gentiles. Voddie admits the Decalogue summarizes the Mosaic Covenant, yet declares “the Sabbath was not just for Israel.” His continued conflating God’s moral law with the Decalogue leads him to impose the Decalogue universally. “If the Decalogue is a communication of God’s righteousness, then everyone is responsible for upholding it.” If by upholding it Voddie means we are bound by it (as the 1689 says), then he will run into myriad problems throughout the Bible as God’s righteousness is revealed and communicated in ways that even Christian Sabbatarians would claim. The crime and punishment of Achan in Judges 7 comes to mind.
If everyone is required by God to keep His Sabbath, why is the only record of the Decalogue we have contained in the monologues by Moses, communicating this law (the summary of the Mosaic Covenant) to that people? If it was commonly practiced from creation, why is there no Biblical record of anyone other than Israelites being instructed about the Sabbath or punished for violating it? There is plenty of punishment meted out on people for murder, theft, idolatry, etc., before the Decalogue is published, giving warrant to the notion that there is a moral law at work in all humanity. Yet nowhere in Scripture is the Sabbath held up in this light; it is a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. The tripartite view of Mosaic Law is difficult to demonstrate, as when we try to separate moral law from ceremonial in Leviticus – they are interwoven everywhere one looks. Principals of moral law and ceremonial and civil law are there to learn from; but they are not neatly defined and set aside (sanctified) as separate records.
Voddie claims Sabbatarians are the only people who see all men responsible before God for keeping His law. Others say man must voluntarily enter into covenant with God to be held accountable. This is another logical fallacy – the Excluded Middle: assuming there are only two alternatives when in fact there are more. Are Sabbatarians the only ones who embrace God’s sovereignty and monergistic work of justification, and the Christian’s responsibility to pursue godliness? Reading from Luke 6, wherein Jesus makes the claim He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Voddie asks, “would Jesus claim to be Lord of something that was abolished?” What if the Sabbath is by design a type of the rest we find in Christ as He redeems us? We are told to rest in the Lord (Psalm 37:7) and are invited by the Lord Jesus to find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28 – 29). If He gives us spiritual rest when we come to Him in faith (which He graciously gives His elect), is He not, in this way, continuing as Lord of the Sabbath? No one enters into His rest unbidden by Him – He is Lord of the Sabbath! Jesus does not promise the pale imitation of the rest provided for by temporal respite; He gives the eternal rest that can be found nowhere else. Baucham then runs to Hebrews 4:9 to claim THAT as a Sabbath – the weekly “Christian Sabbath.” For each of the types spoken of in Hebrews 3 & 4, the Spirit recounts how the infant nation of Israel failed to enter His rest in Canaan because of unbelief (Heb 3:7 – 19), how we who do believe enter that rest (not in Canaan, but in Christ; Heb 4:3), and He speaks, again, how Creator God rested from that work on the seventh day (Greek word hebdomos, #G1442; Heb 4:4), and how the (spiritual) rest promised to those who believe is different than the (temporal) rest Joshua promised (Heb 4:8). Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10 (HCSB)) This rest, sabbatismos (Greek word G4520) is used nowhere else; it is found only in verse 9. If it were to be a weekly Sabbath, we would expect to see sabbaton (Greek word G4521) which is used 68 times in the New Testament, overwhelmingly to describe the Jewish Sabbath. If the temporal rest Joshua sought was singular occurrence and the rest from creation was a singular occurrence, why would the rest believers gain when we are adopted by God be a weekly event, rather than a singular, ongoing rest in the finished redemptive work of Christ Jesus? The Jewish Sabbath was a pale ceremonial rest from work to demonstrate their trust in YHWH, not an instruction to develop corporate worship. As a command to rest from that work which provided food for themselves and their families, the Jewish Sabbath serves a wonderful type for Christians – to rest from that work which seems to earn God’s favor and find true rest in the finished work of Jesus, the antitype; not a weekly spiritual respite.
Where does the Sabbath command include worship? This question is never asked nor answered in this sermon. One might think it central to the idea that the command to rest from work had been changed not only in the day in which it is to be observed, but as to its practice. We are to assume worship is commanded; Voddie does, and then strains to accommodate the change in day: “The commandment is 1 day in 7, not the 7th day.” This is simply not true. If it were true, each tribe of Israel could have established their own day of the week to honor the Sabbath given by God as a sign of the covenant. We know they did not do so. The commandment is “the 7th day”; the example from creation is “the 7th day.” Exodus 20:9-10 (HCSB) You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. From Strong’s Hebrew dictionary: Number 7637, shebîʿâ, is found 98 times in the KJV and means “seventh” 96 times, “seventh time” once, and “seven” once. Since this word is used myriad times to describe the Jewish Sabbath (there being no other kind in Scripture), how could it mean any day in a given week? Our English translations (NIV, NASB, ESV, HCSB, KJV, and many others) all say “the seventh day.” I didn’t find a commentary written by men in either camp who interpret this word as “one day in seven;” they universally interpret it “the seventh day.” And as with creation, the day after the sixth day is specified as the day of rest, not worship. But Voddie says “8 out 10 Christians do not believe that there is a Sabbath command … this means that going to church is optional.”
In truth, we see clearly a Sabbath command; we don’t see it given to anyone other than national Israel and we don’t see it commanding worship. There’s a HUGE difference! He continues to portray only two extremes – you believe in the “Christian Sabbath” or you believe worshiping God with His people is not important. This is another example of the Excluded Middle fallacy. There are many Christians who understand the Sabbath command to be a sign of the Mosaic Covenant and yet eagerly and willingly participate in regular corporate worship with the saints. People indwelt by the Spirit of God will increasingly desire to please Him and will not degrade into the slouches Voddie posits as the end of all who neglect his idea of Sabbath keeping. Being burdened by a law from the Mosaic Covenant will not transform them. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) was emphatic on this point:
some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!” (verse 5) … Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? (verse 10)
In this comparison between the Christian Sabbatarian position and those who do not agree with it, Voddie lumps all non-sabbatarians in with Ed Young’s horrible Easter Sunday extravaganza. “This command, which has been place since the creation of the world…” Again, there is no record of any Sabbath command or Sabbath keeping until Israel was instructed in Exodus 16. Law against murder is clearly in view, for example – yet NOTHING about Sabbath until the Exodus. There is no command or instruction to move the Sabbath to the 8th day. Christian gatherings on the 8th day (prayer, praise, preaching, and fellowship of the saints) have no connection to the commandment – which was to stay in your house and rest from your work. The false contrasts continues. H states that only Sabbatarians give the Lord every Sunday, and everyone else only Easter. Voddie heavily expounds, “the timeless command is observed by us on this day speaks volumes.” And “As God’s people, this is what God commands of us” – to gather twice as much manna on Friday so we won’t gather on the Sabbath. “But if you believe there is an obligation for God to be worshiped on this day, ‘but you do whatever to rid yourself of the guilt of playing sports on Sunday’ … is the day His or is it not?” “That’s the question – is the day His or is it not? We cannot embrace the blessing of the Sabbath without embracing the fact that it is a command.” He implies the “Christian Sabbath” is the only means by which saints can gather and participate in the ordinary means of grace our Lord has given us.
A long quote from B.B. Warfield’s sermon on the “Christian Sabbath”, pressing the command and obligation of the Sabbath, with no exegesis to show how this command is binding on Christians as is claimed. Voddie touts the notion that we must be commanded to worship each week because the world does not see its need to worship God – sounding just like Walter Chantry’s pragmatic plea to keep the Sabbath as a means of redeeming the culture (Call the Sabbath a Delight). Paraphrase: ‘Only if you get the “Christian Sabbath” as a command do you get the blessing God intends for you in this day.’ How ‘bout this, as an alternative: Jesus kept the law of Moses and the prophets, not just the Decalogue. He earned the right to be our lamb who takes away sin. We find the blessing of our rest in Him and His finished work.
He laments, ‘Failure to attend church regularly will cause your soul to shrivel. Failure to give God this day is to your great harm and detriment.’ Again – Christians want to gather and worship our Lord; the command does not command worship.
‘What does the Sabbath teaching in Exodus 16 tell us about Israel and us? First, it was commanded and very specific. Gather twice the bread on the 6th day … As the people of God, this is what God commands us. Again, 8 of 10 Christians do not believe the Sabbath command means they think going to church is optional.’ I agree with Voddie that we who claim Christ must trust Him to provide for us and not view work as an ends to be pursued to the detriment of our souls. This principle is taught us by the Sabbath command given the Hebrews. This is how types are interpreted, discerning the way they apply to us, rather than assuming equivalence.
“Ancient writers wrote about how extraordinary Israel was where in 1 day out of 7 everything stopped.” He doesn’t tell us the name of one of these ancient writers, but the official record of Israel’s history, the Scriptures, tell us Israel routinely profaned God’s Sabbath command and were punished many times (Ezek 20 & 22 for example). “This 1 day in 7 set them apart inwardly.” FAIL! Only the Spirit of God can do this! He presumes equivalence between “the Lord’s Day” and the “Christian Sabbath” and assigns spiritual blessings to Christians for keeping of the Law of Moses – which the Apostles declared a burden no man could bear.
“This is the day when we let everything else stop!” And yet – Voddie has repeatedly taught that it’s OK for people to enjoy sports and recreation on Sunday as long as it does not conflict with church. The Christian values the community of faith on Sunday, but meets with God every day. It’s not just the 8th day that is God’s – every day is. Our Sabbath rest is found in our Savior, not in a shadowy ceremonial type that was fulfilled in the person and work of our Lord.
FINALLY he tells us our day of rest is the rest we find in Christ (IAW Heb 4:9, perhaps?); but it’s still only a weakly (no misspelling!) rest for Voddie, rather than the ever increasing rest we enjoy as He sanctifies us. “He gives you six days – do you not believe He can multiply your bread on the 6th?” We mostly work 5 days in this country and ought to trust in our provider more than our employer – but that work is as much as ordinary means of grace as any other provided for us.
Voddie condescendingly dismisses rules for Sabbath keeping, pointing to Exodus 16:23 – they were permitted to cook the manna on the 7th day, just not permitted to gather (the text does not say they were permitted to cook manna on the 7th day). Therefore, he declares, there are no lists for what it means to keep the Sabbath! But what says the Scripture? There we find many rules for Sabbath keeping – not only those made up by the religious rulers. Exodus 31:15 (death for working); 35:1 – 3 (which forbids kindling a fire); Numbers 15:32 – 36 (death for picking up wood); Leviticus 25 (describes the Sabbath Year – why do Christian Sabbatarians not practice this?); Numbers 28:9 – 10 (burnt offerings); 1 Chron 9:32 (bread of the presence); 2 Chron 23:8 (military guard); Neh 10:31 (showing the Sabbath applying to Israel, not others); Neh 13 (God’s wrath promised to come on Israel for their profaning the Sabbath); Jer 17(prohibition of bearing burdens). No rules for Sabbath keeping, no penalties for breaking those rules? No lists for what God means to keep His Sabbath? Contrary to what Voddie says, the biblical Sabbath has rules, penalties, and lists. If the “Christian Sabbath” he holds to does not, it does not bear witness to the Sabbath in Exodus 16 he is pressing upon his flock.
Voddie claims the typological aspect of the Sabbath comes into play after the first resurrection. It’s only a weak weekly observance until you die. He declares that the work of ministry is permitted on the Sabbath and then says his Sunday ministry (preaching) is not work – it’s worship. Preparation for preaching is work. Why, then, defend the work of ministry on the Sabbath if that is not work? A day off to rest his body is fine, but he will not dare call it a Sabbath, “because the Sabbath is the Lord’s Day, not mine.” Every day we live is the Lord’s Day, not ours – just as every good thing we have is a gift of God and not our own (1 Cor 4:7).
My dear brother gives us many good reminders about the value of Christians gathering for corporate worship – yet no exegesis showing how the 8th day is defined by the 4th word. He simply gives a naked assertion that the 4th word “goes all the way back to creation.” The Scriptures are silent on this topic in that era; it violates Sola Scriptura to teach that it does. No argument from me that to work six days and rest one is a God-given rhythm for life. The Sabbath command teaches this – it does not teach nor require worship. “This is what we must learn, saints – that God will give us 7 days of provision in 6 days of work.” IS THIS THE APPLICATION OF THE 4th WORD FOR CHRISTIANS? I rather treasure the surety of my soul! Just as God rested from His work of creation to show us a pattern for life and point us to the promised seed, Christ rested from His work of redemption to provide us an eternity of rest – rest that starts as soon as He redeems us and gets better every day until He returns to bring the ultimate glory to His name by recreating the heavens and earth and putting a final end to sin for His saints. That’s my Sabbath – the God-man who is Lord of the Sabbath, He bids me find my rest in Him.
To borrow from Kim Riddlebarger’s Reply to John MacArthur (located here: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/a-reply-to-john-macarthur/), This is hard to say, but in his sermon Pastor Baucham set up and repeatedly attacked a straw man. His was a pyrrhic victory over a phantom foe.
It is my purpose in this chapter to examine the apostolic message in three different gospel presentations to demonstrate how the apostles themselves brought these themes together. It should be evident that though the same basic themes emerge in all their proclamations, they did not preach a “one size fits all” message. Though the most basic needs of their hearers were universal, they altered the emphases of their messages to fit the specific needs of their hearers. We will consider three gospel presentations: 1. Peter’s somewhat impromptu sermon on the occasion of the Spirit’s outpouring (Acts 2). Paul’s passionate plea to his brothers according to the flesh in which he expressed his “heart’s desire for Israel . . . that they might be saved” (Rom. 10), and 3. Paul’s address to the pagan philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:31).
Peter’s Pentecost Sermon
We should keep in mind that much of what we find recorded of apostolic preaching in the New Testament Scriptures was not scripted or planned. Often their messages were unrehearsed responses to situations that had arisen. Peter did not arrive at the Feast of Pentecost with a prepared text. There is little question he had given some thought to the Old Testament prophesies about the Spirit’s outpouring in “the last days,” as a result of Jesus’ promises to send the Spirit after he “went away,” but he was not on the roster as an invited guest speaker on the day of Pentecost. Instead, he stood with the other apostles to explain the phenomena that accompanied the Spirit’s torrential effusion.
As we have seen, fulfillment is a strong theme in apostolic preaching. Peter began his message by saying, “This is what the prophet Joel was writing about” (v. 16). He was announcing that “the last days” have come. That age which all other ages were anticipating has dawned (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1; 9:26). “This is that. . . .” The accomplishment of that work without which the inheritance could not be granted has been accomplished and the “first-fruit” of that inheritance has been granted. Peter continued to expound the prophetic Scripture to show that this one whom they had crucified must have been the Messiah and that God has exalted this very Jesus whom they crucified to the throne of glory. He shows that David could not have been referring to himself in Psalm sixteen, since his body has been buried and has decomposed. He must ultimately have been referring to God’s Anointed One. He reasoned that the Messiah was to have been resurrected. This Jesus whom you crucified has been resurrected; therefore, Jesus must be God’s Anointed One (see vv. 29-32). Finally, he shows that Psalm two has been fulfilled in Jesus’ exaltation to the throne. Peter must have remembered the words Jesus had spoken on the last day, the great day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Additionally, he must have shared John’s understanding of those words. Jesus had stood up and cried out saying, “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believes on me, as the Scriptures have said, out of his inner-most being shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). John’s editorial comment in verse thirty-nine is quite instructive. He wrote, “Now this he spoke about the Spirit, whom those who believed on him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Peter, understanding this truth, reasoned that since the Spirit had been given, Jesus must have been glorified (see verse 33). It should not escape our notice that when the Spirit was given, Peter did not preach about the Spirit but about Jesus. Jesus had told his disciples that when the Spirit of truth came, he would glorify him (see John 16: 14). If our preaching is guided by the Spirit, we will also seek to glorify Jesus.
Preaching Jesus’ Death
As we have observed, instead of proclaiming to sinners that God loved them so much he sent Jesus to save them, they spoke about Jesus’ death in an entirely different way.* They spoke of his death in terms of the sinner’s culpability in rejecting and crucifying him. Consider, for example, Acts 2:22-23: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” See also Acts 3:13-15; 4:10-12; 5:30-31; 10:36-43; 13:27-32. Of course, we must keep in mind that Luke did not necessarily record everything the apostles proclaimed in their messages. For example, he informs us in Acts 2:40, “. . . and with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them. . . .” Still, Luke has more than likely recorded for us the more salient features of Peter’s message in an abbreviated form. What is clear from all these examples is that the apostles began by charging their hearers with high treason against the God of heaven in crucifying the Lord of glory. The emphasis of their proclamation was on the resurrection and enthronement of Christ that resulted from his finished redemptive work rather than on the death of Christ’s itself. These verses also clearly imply that this one who was lately in their wicked hands to treat as they wished had now been exalted to the throne to be their judge. They were now in his hands and at his mercy. We must never forget that those wicked men who crucified Jesus acted no differently than we would have acted, apart from God’s restraining grace, had we stood in their place. We must be ever mindful that we are of such a nature that, if we could, we would drag God from his throne and trample him under our feet. When the psalmist penned the second Psalm, he was describing all of us. He wrote, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” (Psalms 2:1-3). We would have cried out, “Crucify him, Crucify him. We will not have this man to rule over us.” We must be ever mindful that, as sinners, we are not neutral toward God. We were not waiting eagerly and with open hearts to hear our gospel. By nature, we are not lovers of God but hostile toward him (see–Rom. 8:7). Apart from God’s restraining grace, we would have been among those who nailed him to the cross. Bethany Dillon and Matt Hammitt wrote, Behold the Man upon a cross, My sin upon his shoulders Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, Call out among the scoffers.
The Spirit’s Reproving Ministry and Peter’s Preaching
There are few biblical doctrines that have been misunderstood so badly as the doctrine of the Spirit’s work of “conviction.” Usually, when people talk about “being under conviction by the Spirit” they are referring to a feeling of guilt that is produced by the Holy Spirit. In reality, this work does not refer to a feeling at all. It is an objective work of the Holy Spirit in which he presses the evidence of a sinner’s guilt against him. Jesus used the word translated “convict” or “reprove” in John 8:46. He said, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” He clearly did not mean, “Which one of you makes me feel guilty for sin?” Instead, he meant, “Which of you can produce sufficient evidence to prove me guilty of sin.” A sociopath or a psychopath may sit in a courtroom as the accused. He may sit quietly as he listens to the damning evidence against him and yet feel not the slightest pang of conscience. The work of the prosecutor is not to make the defendant feel guilty but to prove him guilty by a cogent presentation of the facts of the case. This is the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the proclamation of the gospel. It should not escape our attention that the proclamation of the New Testament evangelists followed the pattern Jesus set forth in describing the Holy Spirit’s ministry in John 16: 8-11. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Consider how these three aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work are reflected in Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.
“He will reprove the world of sin, because they do not believe on me” (John 16:9).
God Approved Jesus—You Crucified Him (Acts 2:22-23).
Peter’s message began with a denunciation of sin. His message is not a condemnation of sins in general but of the crowning sin from which all other sin flows and of which every other sin gives evidence. The Spirit presses on sinners the evidence of their guilt for the greatest possible sin. If the greatest commandment in the Law is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37), the greatest sin must be our failure to love God. These words in John 16:8-11 about the Holy Spirit’s ministry occur immediately following Jesus’ prophecy to his disciples about the world’s hatred for them and their message (John 15:18). He has told them the world’s hatred for them is not a personal matter. The world hates them because it hated him first. If the world rejects our message, it is because it has rejected him and his message and this in the face of clear revelation. Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. . .If I had not done among them the words that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father” (vv. 22-24). He does not mean they would not have been sinners in the absolute sense had they not seen and heard him. It was because they were sinners that they reacted to him as they did. What he intends to say is that their reaction to him and to his message and miracles gives evidence that they hate God. He said, “Whoever hates me, hates my Father also” (v. 23). This concept of sinning with full knowledge against clear revelation is another theme we see repeated in the proclamation of Jesus and the Apostles. Consider a few examples: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (John 10:24-26). “Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me’” (John 10:32). “When Jesus said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still not believe in him” (John 12: 36-37). “. . .Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).” “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For the invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God. . . .” (Romans 1:19-21). I would like to examine this in greater detail in the next chapter in relation to the sinner’s reaction to the universal benevolence and common grace of God.
“. . .concerning righteousness, because I go to my Father and you see me no more” (John 16:10). You Crucified Him–God Raised Him ( see-Acts 2:23-24).
D. A. Carson has suggested that these words refer to the Spirit’s continuation of Jesus’ earthly ministry in which he exposed the true character and expounded the true nature of righteousness. (see–Carson, 1991, p. 538). Since Jesus was going to the Father and they would see him no more, the Spirit would continue this ministry that Jesus had begun. Peter, under the guidance of the Spirit, makes it clear that whatever their views of righteousness may be, they did not possess it. Thus, he continues Jesus’ ministry of correcting false views about righteousness.
This is without a doubt true, but I believe there is more in the text than that. The Spirit bears witness to Jesus’ righteousness as evidenced by the resurrection. We should not in any way depreciate the importance of the cross in obtaining our redemption, but the cross would be absolutely meaningless apart from the resurrection. If Jesus is still in the tomb, ours is an empty message that is void of reality and ours is a groundless faith that will leave us hopeless (see—1 Cor. 15:14). Peter said, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). It is in statements like this that the Holy Spirit presses the evidence of Christ’s righteousness. Implicit in this statement is the idea that Jesus’ redemptive work has satisfied all the righteous demands of God’s law so that death could not hold him. In 1 Corinthians 15:56, the apostle Paul wrote, “The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law.” Death has no sting (pains or pangs) apart from sin and sin has no strength apart from law. If law has been satisfied, sin loses its power; if sin has been conquered death loses its sting. Jesus’ resurrection is his vindication. It declares that he has fully satisfied the demands of that Law under which he was born. In full identification with his chosen people, Jesus had come under the power of sin, not in the sense that he ever succumbed to its temptation, but in the sense that he who knew no sin was made sin for them (see Rom. 6:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:21). He has exhausted God’s penal demands for sin. In union with him, the believer stands vindicated before the law. Our future hope is secure because he has risen. It is not simply that his resurrection guarantees ours, but that he and his people are all part of the same resurrection. He is the first-fruits, we are the full harvest.
“of judgment because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:11).
God Has Made Him Both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36)
Jesus had promised his disciples that the Spirit, as part of his ministry of reproof, would press the evidence of coming judgment on sinners and this “because the ruler of this world is judged.” It is interesting that in the Fourth Gospel, the crushing of the prince of darkness is associated with Jesus’ being “lifted up.” Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31-32). Jesus employs deliberate ambiguity in regard to this term “lifted up.” He uses it to mean not only to be lifted up on the cross but also, by means of cross, to be lifted up to glory. In this sermon, Peter has argued that David could not have been speaking of himself as the ultimate fulfillment of his words in Psalm sixteen. God had promised to raise up one his descendants to sit on his throne (see 2 Sam. 7:12-16; 1 Chron. 17:11-14). He, along with those of his regal line, were “anointed ones,” but his prophesy looked forward to one who would be the fulfillment of what these kings were as shadows or types of the Anointed One. This Messiah was to be recognized by his resurrection from the dead. He now completes his argument by identifying this “Anointed One” [Messiah/Christ] as “this Jesus whom you crucified.” He was lately in their wicked hands to do with as they wished; they are now in his hands to dispose of as he pleases. God has exalted to the throne as sovereign Lord and Christ this Jesus you crucified. The gospel is a proclamation that Jesus is King. He has sovereign authority to bring his foes into judgment. Peter clearly seemed to see a connection between Jesus’ exaltation as a result of his humiliation (also see this teaching in Phil. 2:5-11), and the certainty of coming judgment. It seems clear that his hearers understood this connection as well since when they heard these words they cried out, “Brothers, what shall the law. What a terrifying prospect it must have been when it came home to them with force that they had crucified their Messiah.
A Message of Repentance and Pardon
It should not escape our attention that Peter’s first mention of pardon came in conjunction with God’s demand for their repentance. He could well have said, “There is no hope for you. Since you have sinned against clear light and acted wickedly in crucifying Jesus, you are doomed.” Instead, he proclaimed to them God’s promise of pardon upon their repentance [change of mind] and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. His proclamation does not attach any saving efficacy to the rite of baptism; it was simply to be an outward profession of their inward change of mind and their reliance on God’s promise. It was to be in Jesus’ name. J. A. Alexander explained the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” as follows, “i.e., by his authority, acknowledging his claims, subscribing to his doctrines, engaging in his service, and relying on his merits” (Alexander, 1857, p. 85).
A Universal Proclamation and Promise
Peter closed his message by reminding his hearers that God’s promise was universal in the true, biblical sense of that term. God’s promise had been that he would pour out his Spirit “on all flesh” (v. 17). By this we should not understand that every human being would receive the Spirit, but that people from every nation would receive the promised Spirit. Peter now reminds them that the promise is to all whom the Lord our God shall call, even extending to “those who are far off,” namely, the Gentiles (v. 39). Both Peter and Paul followed this same general outline in all their proclamations (see Acts 3:17-26; 4:10-12; 5:30-32; 10:36-43; 13:26-39). * In noting the absence of any statement in apostolic preaching that Jesus died for you or even that he died for sinners, I am not suggesting that we should not proclaim the good news that Jesus died as a substitute for sinners who will believe the gospel. In the doctrinal expositions of the great truth of justification, the apostles made it clear that the believer’s acceptance before God’s throne is based on Jesus’ substitutionary work. It is God’s good news that we are “justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). But, the message of the gospel we preach to sinners indiscriminately is not that Jesus died for them, but that God has promised to forgive repenting sinners. The message that Jesus died as a satisfaction of God’s wrath toward sinners is not intended to be among the first items of information we give to sinners in evangelism. Instead it is the good news we are to proclaim to believers to explain how God can be just and at the same time justify sinners who trust in Jesus (see–Rom. 3:25-26). As an aside, the question of whether Jesus redemptive work was universal or limited should never have become an issue relative to evangelism. If those who have proclaimed God’s message had simply followed the apostolic pattern, no one would have ever felt the need to tell sinners indiscriminately “Jesus died for you.” Many could not imagine being able to proclaim their gospel unless they could tell every sinner “Jesus died for you.” Yet, there is not a single apostolic message in which the preacher offered sinners this assurance. Every passage that states that Jesus died for our sins or that Christ died for us is addressed to believers. Robert Haldane wisely remarked, “It is the gospel, that Jesus died for the most guilty sinner who will believe, not that he died for every sinner whether he will believe or not.” The gospel is not an appeal to sinners to make the work of Christ effectual for them by letting Jesus come into their hearts. It is a proclamation that his work was effectual and has been accepted as a satisfaction of divine wrath for every sinner who will repent and believe. We do not proclaim the possibility of salvation; we proclaim an accomplished work. In the gospel, God summons sinners to bow before his sovereign throne and promises to pardon them when they repent.
If we have adequately explained to sinners God’s truth about his own character and about their guilt and depravity, their question will be, “How can such a God forgive such a sinner and remain just himself?” C. H. Spurgeon wrote,
When I was in the hands of the Holy Spirit, under conviction of sin, I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden. It was not so much that I feared hell as that I feared sin; and all the while I had upon my mind a deep concern for the honour of God’s name and the integrity of His moral government. I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly (Spurgeon, All of Grace).
It is to explain how God can be just and at the same time the one who justifies the ungodly that we must proclaim that believers are “. . . justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Paul’s Passionate Plea Concerning His Jewish Brothers (Romans 10: 1-13)
Romans 10:1-13 is helpful in that it provides some insight into the theological foundation that undergirded Paul’s gospel appeal. This passage occurs in a larger context in which the apostle is dealing with the issue of God’s promises to his blood relatives according to the flesh. He has begun by showing that God’s ultimate design in making promises to Abraham and his offspring did not concern Abraham’s natural offspring but his spiritual offspring. Not everyone who is Jacob’s [of Israel] offspring is of Israel—“For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, . . .” (Rom. 9:6-7). His argument then turns to the prerogative of the sovereign potter to condemn whom he wills and save whom he wills. God chose We must never forget that God is not unjust in granting to some and withholding from others what no one deserves. In chapter ten, he turns from his emphasis on God’s sovereign design in the sinner’s salvation to the sinner’s responsibility to respond rightly to the gospel’s demands. It should not escape our attention that he has placed these two emphases side by side. We should never think of divine sovereignty and human responsibility as contradictory doctrines. Additionally, it should be clear that Paul’s strong predestinarian understanding of God’s ways with men did nothing to deter him from an unfettered proclamation of God’s good news to recalcitrant sinners. In verse one, he has stated his heart’s desire that his brothers according to the flesh be saved. It seems only reasonable that this expressed desire reflected the desire of the God who had sent him and the Spirit who had inspired him to write these words. Interestingly, this chapter closes with the reminder that God has, throughout Israel’s long history, persisted in stretching out his arms to a disobedient and rebellious people. If they perish, it is not his fault but theirs. God had every right to demand that sinner’s go somewhere and do something to atone for their guilt. He could have demanded that we endure years [indeed an eternity] of pain and suffering to satisfy his righteous wrath. In reality, sinners would be more prone to embark on such a course of agonizing obedience than to submit to the terms of the gospel. The Jewish people were quite zealous in their attempts to assuage God’s anger and merit his favor, but all such attempts fall short of obtaining his saving approbation. Paul wrote, “I bear them witness that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10: 2-3).
The Message Itself
These efforts on the part of Paul’s Hebrew brethren gave evidence that they had misunderstood God’s design in giving them his law. His intention was not to secure their obedience to a long list of rules. I am not suggesting there was anything wrong with a godly Hebrew endeavoring to be obedient to the God he or she loved. The evidence of their God-given love was to be obedience to his covenant. What I am suggesting is that seeking to obtain God’s favor through legal obedience indicates a total misunderstanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. Law-keeping was not the goal of the law for righteousness; Christ was the goal of the law for righteousness. This verse does not merely inform us that Jesus has brought the law, the old covenant, to an end but that he has done so by fulfilling all its types and promises. During his earthly ministry he often reminded his hearers that the Scriptures are about him (See e.g., Luke 24:25-27, 44-45; John 5:39). Our evangelistic message must not only call sinners away from their ungodly path; it must also call them away from all their vain efforts to justify themselves by their own works of obedience. The apostolic message did not call sinners to obey the law that they might live before God. Its principle was not “do this and live.” Instead, its message was embodied in Jesus words on the cross when he cried out, “it is finished [stands accomplished].” The gospel never requires sinners to go somewhere and do something. One does not need to ascend into the heavens to bring the Christ down from above or descend into Hades to bring him up from the abyss. The gospel simply calls on sinners to account God faithful to fulfill his promises and acknowledge that he has finished the work of salvation for all who will believe. The message Paul articulated in these verses is particularly aimed at the objections raised by his Hebrew brothers. They had denied and continued to deny two basic truths. They had denied that their Messiah had become incarnate in this man named Jesus and that this Jesus had been raised from the dead. He tells them these are the two basic truths they must believe if they wish for God to accept them as righteous in his sight. You do not need to ascend into heaven to bring the Messiah down from above. God has already sent him. The emphasis of this confession is not that “Jesus is Lord” but that “Jesus is Lord.” This one whom you denied and crucified is the sovereign Messiah. One does not need to descend into Hades to resurrect him. God has resurrected him already. One must but trust God’s declaration of truth.
The True Universality of God’s Purpose
There is a true universality to the gospel message. The message is not that God loves everyone equally and in the same way but that he has chosen to show his saving mercy to people of every nation. This was a recurring theme in apostolic preaching. Though the principle theme of this passage concerns the issue of God’s saving purpose regarding Israel, the apostle reminds his readers that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (v. 11). Everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved (v. 13). This message that we seem to take for granted was revolutionary during the first century. Even Peter needed to be convinced that Gentiles, as Gentile, were to be admitted to the assembly of God´s people (see Acts 10). This idea has been obscured by the Arminian insistence that the words “all” and “world” are primarily intended to refer to every individual on the face of the earth. The true force of these terms was intended to emphasize the true universality of God’s purpose. There is now no distinction between Jew and Gentile. God has concluded all in unbelief that he might have mercy on all, i.e., on both Jews and Gentiles who trust his promise.
God’s Sincere Offer of Grace
As we have seen, the emphasis of this chapter is on the sinner’s responsibility to respond rightly to the gospel call. It is not necessary for us to go anywhere or do anything to be justified before God. We only need to call on the Lord’s name. If anyone is saved, it will be owing to the free grace of God; if anyone is lost it will be due to his sinful rebellion against God. Paul makes this clear in the final verse of this chapter when he quotes Isaiah and reminds us that God has continually held out his hands to a disobedient and contrary people. The problem of sinners remaining unpardoned is not God’s unwillingness to save but our unwillingness to repent. In Acts thirteen, forty-eight, Luke does not shy away from stating that those who believed had been disposed to do so by God’s sovereign grace. They had not disposed themselves to do so by the power of autonomous sinful nature. Nevertheless, he is quite bold in recording the words of Paul and Barnabas words in regard to the sinner’s culpability in unbelief. “And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. . .(Acts 13:46). If sinners are lost, it is though their own fault; if they are saved, to God be the glory.
Paul’s Message on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31)
There are several lessons we can learn from reading Luke’s account of Paul’s preaching in Athens. Though there are several elements this proclamation of the gospel shares with other examples we have examined, there are some aspects of this gospel presentation that are absent in most of those examples. I would like to examine those elements of Paul’s message to the philosophers in the Areopagus and suggest why they are not a part of his gospel presentation to other groups of people. Additionally, I would like to consider how our understanding of this passage should impact our proclamation of the gospel. Before we consider the aspects of this message that we have not found in many of the other gospel presentations in the book of Acts, I would like to make what I think is an extremely important observation relative to our gospel preaching. This observation can be drawn not only from this passage but also from several others. There is probably no single factor that has inhibited evangelism as much as the modern idea of toleration. I am not suggesting that we consider intolerance a virtue, but that we be careful how we define “toleration” and how our understanding of it works out in our lives. If by “toleration” we mean that we grant to every individual the right to hold his own views and express his own opinions and we have no right to try to “convert” him at the point of a sword, we clearly believe in toleration. If by this term we mean that everyone has his or her own “truth” and that even if “your truth” is completely contradictory to “my truth,” both may be equally valid. If we should grant such a proposition that flies in the face of clearly established and widely accepted canons of logic, all efforts at evangelism must be considered unloving and indeed futile. If the apostle Paul had been infected with this erroneous idea, Luke’s account of his early missionary activities would have read quite differently. Imagine reading the following in Acts seventeen, “And while Paul waited in Athens he saw all the idols the pagans were worshiping and was happy that at least these were religious people. He understood that they had just as much right to their religious views as he had to his. For this reason, he decided to remain quiet and keep his views to himself.” If he had thought this way, he would never have preached the good news to anyone. Instead of this, he was deeply disturbed and irritated when he saw the city completely given over to the worship of idols (Acts 17:16). We will never become biblical evangelists until we are so convinced of Christian truth that we are deeply disturbed by any contradictory teaching or practice.
Truths in Common with Other Gospel Presentations
There are several truths in this gospel presentation that we have found in other such proclamations. For example, Paul was preaching “Jesus and the resurrection” (vv. 18, 31-32). He proclaimed God’s common grace in making himself known to people of every nation. We do not need to go anywhere to seek after God. He has revealed himself so clearly that only the willingly blind and ignorant could fail to see him and know him (vv. 26-28). What Paul preached to these philosophers is parallel to what he wrote in Romans one. The reason sinners are under God’s wrath is not that God has hidden himself from them; it is because they have willfully rejected his clear revelation of himself wherever that revelation may be found. Additionally, as in other gospel presentations, repentance and judgment are central themes in this passage (vv. 30-31).
The Unknown God
There is one aspect of Paul’s message in Athens that we do not find in most of his other messages. We find Barnabas and Paul preaching a similar message in Lystra (Acts 14:15). In that passage as well, their declaration about the living God is made in contrast to what these people knew about the pagan gods they worshiped. We could cite such a contrast as the reason we find this teaching in these gospel presentations and not in others in the book of Acts. It seems to me, a more compelling reason is that, unlike the Jewish audiences to which Paul and others preached, these people had little if any understanding of God’s attributes and of his true nature. For them, Jehovah was “an unknown God.” I have been exposed to many “soul-winning” courses over the years, but I have yet to find one that suggests we should begin our gospel presentations with careful instruction about the nature and character of God. We must not assume that our hearers know anything about God. We are living in a day in which even the average Evangelical “Christian” is woefully ignorant of God’s nature and character. This is true to such an extent that if they are introduced to the God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures, they do not like him very much. If this is true of the average church member, what would we have to say about the raw pagan? When we speak to him about God, we may as well be speaking a foreign language. I believe this passage teaches us how we should begin our gospel presentations to those who are ignorant of God’s attributes. We need to begin by teaching them about “the unknown God.” Consider the basic truths Paul sets before them.
God is the Creator of All Things
Contrary to the doctrine of the Epicureans that matter is eternal and that all things are controlled by blind fate, the apostle presents to them a God who is the creator of all things and the controller of all things. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. We owe our very existence to him. Additionally, as Paul has shown so clearly in Romans one,, “the things that are made” bear eloquent testimony to his power and deity. He is not one of many but the one and only God.
God is Lord of Heaven and Earth—He is Sovereign
Jehovah is King. Having wisely decreed everything that will occur in human history, he now governs all his creatures and all our actions according to his wise decree. “He does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can hold back his hand or say to him, ‘what have you done’” (Dan. 4:35). The psalmist has instructed us to declare among the heathen that Jehovah reigns (Psalms 96:10). The Bible nowhere even hints at the popular idea that in his sovereignty, God has relinquished his control to the libertarian free will of the sinner. If God has relinquished his control to anyone, he has ceased to be God. The apostle continues to press this thought in verse twenty-six. He tells his hearers that it is this sovereign God who has fixed the appointed seasons and has set the bounds of their habitation. It is God who raises nations and kings to fulfill his purposes, and it is he who brings them down. Men and nations are not self-determining. In verse twenty-eight he presses on us the basic truth that we are completely dependent on God. Commenting on this verse, H. B. Hackett wrote, “We derive our existence solely from God; we depend on him every instant for life, activity, being itself. Without him we should neither continue to live, nor be such as we are, nor have been at all”(Hackett, p. 208, 1882).
God is Immense
Paul tells his hearers that God does not dwell in hand-made temples. When Stephen made a similar statement (see-Acts 7:48), he cited Isaiah 66:1 as support for it. Isaiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” Having built the Jewish temple, Solomon said, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built” (1 Kings 8:27).
God is Self-sufficient
Additionally, Paul told these philosophers that God is not needy. He does not dwell in hand-made temples nor is he worshiped or served with men’s hands as though he needed anything. Contrary to the pagan notion that their gods were to be nourished by their worshipers, our God is in need of nothing. A. W. Pink wrote,
There was a time, if ‘time’ it could be called, when God, in the unity of this nature (though subsisting in three Divine Persons), dwelt all alone. ‘In the beginning, God.’ There was no heaven where His glory is not particularly manifested; There was no earth to engage His attention. There were no angels to hymn His praises; no universe to be upheld by the word of His power. There was nothing, no one but God; and that, not for a day, a year, or an age, but ‘from everlasting.’ During a past eternity, God was alone, self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied; in need of nothing. Had a universe, had angels, had human beings been necessary to him in any way, they also had been called into existence from all eternity. The creating of them when he did, added nothing to God essentially. He changes not (Mal. 3:6), therefore his essential glory can be neither augmented nor diminished (Pink, no date, p.1-2).
In Psalms 50:9-12, God says to his people, “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.’” We can only offer to God what he has first given to us. In Romans 11:35-36. Paul, echoing Job 41:11, asks, “’Who has first given him a gift, that he might be repaid?’ For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
God is a Self-disclosing God
As the apostle made clear in Acts 14, “God has not left himself without a witness.” He has revealed himself in the creation around us. His fingerprints are on everything we see. His goal in thus making himself known is that people might seek after him (see verse 27). His purpose is that sinners should seek after him and find him. The goodness of God in making himself known is intended to lead sinners to repentance.
God is Omnipresent
God is not far from any one of us. Wherever we are, God is. It is not that part of God is everywhere at once but that all of God is everywhere at once. C.H. Spurgeon stated the teaching well when he wrote, “God’s center is everywhere; his circumference is nowhere.” God is the Ever-living Source of All Life and All Good It is based on this revelation of God’s character that Paul calls on his hearers to repent of their wicked idolatry. This conclusion is introduced by the words, “Forasmuch then” (verse 29). If all that Paul has been saying is true, it is ludicrous for sinners to bow down to lifeless, helpless, motionless images of silver and gold. If we are his offspring and we are beings that live and move and have intelligent and responsible being, it would be incongruous to reason that God is inanimate, non-rational, and powerless to save. The implications of this gospel presentation should be patent to us. It is less than useless to converse with people about God and the gospel if they are ignorant of the God about whom we are speaking to them. Our evangelistic task has been made exponentially more difficult by the silence of the church regarding the attributes of God. Spooked by the specter of being “non-relevant” or “non-practical,” the false shepherds of the church have bartered the biblical message for one that was more calculated to tickle the ears of their hearers, than to pierce their hearts. Summary of Part Two Our investigation of the apostolic pattern of evangelism has led us to (or at least should have led us to) several important conclusions. It should be fairly obvious to any honest observer that most of what the evangelical church has considered sounds biblical gospel preaching and methodology cannot be found in the apostolic record. We have already considered several common evangelistic utterances that would never have passed the lips of the New Testament evangelists. Instead of focusing merely on what modern evangelists are doing wrong, I would like to conclude this section by contrasting modern evangelism with the apostolic pattern. The following are the contrasts we have observed:
1. Instead of beginning their message with the assurance of God’s universal, redeeming love for sinners, they began with the news that sinners remain under God’s wrath as long as they continue in their rebellion.
2. Instead of telling sinners that Jesus died to save them, they preached the cross as the crowning evidence of the sinner’s hostility toward God. You killed the Lord of glory because you hate the Father who sent him.
3. Instead of inviting sinners to kneel at the cross, they commanded them to bow at Christ’s throne. It is to the Anointed one who has been crucified but has now been vested with sovereign authority as Lord and Messiah that we invite sinners in the gospel.
4. Instead of preaching God’s universal, redeeming love, the apostles proclaimed the universality of his self-revelation and his common benevolence that is intended to lead people to repentance.
5. Instead of telling sinners that Jesus died for all their sins but God cannot forgive them unless they believe, they proclaimed God’s promise to pardon all who repent and believe his promise to save them for Jesus’ sake.
6. They did not proclaim a Savior who is helpless to save sinners unless they “decide for him.” They never described him as a forlorn beggar knocking at the heart’s door and “waiting to see if sinners will open the door.” They proclaimed a sovereign Lord who will dash rebels in pieces like a potter’s vessel when his wrath is kindled but a little, unless they kiss the Son in faith and repentance.
7. They did not proclaim a Savior who would pardon our guilt but leave us in our sins. They proclaimed a Savior who came to turn his people from ungodliness.
The time has come for those who call themselves servants of Christ to conform our message to the biblical pattern. It is to the Lord of the Church that we must give an account. God pity us if we trifle with his message.
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
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.