Calvinistic Evangelism-Chapter Three-The Great Chasm

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

The Two-fold Problem

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel’s Primary Focus

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Broken Law

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

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

God’s Standard of Righteousness for the Gentiles

Two Commandments

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

Love God

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

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

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

Consider the following statements:

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

2. “. . .or give him thanks (v. 21).

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

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

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

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

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

Love Your Neighbor

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Righteous Standard for the Jews-
The Decalogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Persistent Pursuit of God’s Glory

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

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

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

God’s Universal Beneficence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2 Responses to “Calvinistic Evangelism-Chapter Three-The Great Chasm”

  1. February 25, 2015 at 3:13 am

    But I heard Rob Bell and his wife explain to Oprah that the problem with the church, regarding its failure to fully embrace homosexual “marriage” was that some pastors cling to letters written 2,000 years ago rather than seeing the gospel in the people around them. The culture is the gospel, according to the heretic known as Rob Bell. If we do not cling to the canon of Scripture, we will be dragged down the broad path that Oprah and Rob are so fond of.

    As to “common grace”, I am reminded of the covenant with Noah – by which Creator God promised to provide seasons and produce, etc. for every living creature, until the end of the age.

    And I am reminded that the Word of God will not fail. Praise the name of the Lord!

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