09
Mar
15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phrases Not Found in the Biblical Record

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

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

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

Pray to Receive Jesus

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

Make Jesus the Lord of Your Life

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

Decide for Christ/Choose Jesus

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

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

The Commands of the Gospel

Repentance and Faith

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

This outline contains the following elements:

1. The fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

2. Christ’s death and resurrection.

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

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

Repentance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excursus on Romans 5:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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