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Evangelism & Personal Testimonies

There is no denying that a personal testimony of salvation in Christ Jesus is powerful.  Three times in the book of Acts we read of the powerful conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-22; 22:1-21; 26:1-23).  Revelation 12:11 (NKJV) reads: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

So a testimony can be powerful.  I have listened to many people share how they came to faith in Christ.  It always blesses me to see the hand of God leading these sinners to faith in Christ.  It amazes me that people come to faith in Christ in so many different ways (by that I don’t mean different in the sense of the gospel but from many sins and many different places in life).  The Lord continues to save lost sinners from rich people to poor people from people here in the United States to people in China, the gospel is moving!  I rejoice in sinners being saved!

However, I do want to warn us that we must guard against the temptation to make evangelism all about our testimony.  Evangelism must include the gospel and the gospel is found in the Word of God.  The Word of God is the supernatural means by which God converts sinners.  The Word of God cuts sinners (Hebrews 4:12-13) and the Word of God brings about faith (Romans 10:17).  The Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and He opens the sinners heart to the gospel (Acts 16:14-15).  As the gospel is preached from the Word of God, the Lord, by His grace, opens sinners hearts and frees the bound will of the sinner so that the sinner can either repent or reject the gospel (John 1:12-13).  The sinner who repents is saved by grace through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God (1 Peter 1:20-25).  The Lord calls sinners to Himself through the preaching of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).  The gospel found in the Word of God is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16) and God saves those who believe the gospel that is preached (1 Corinthians 1:21).  This salvation is His work (1 Corinthians 1:30-31) that God may be glorified!

We must then preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).  A testimony should never replace the Word of God.  The reason why is simple.  A sinner can hear a testimony from a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Catholic, a Muslim, etc. and each of them can describe how they were “saved.”  They will each talk of the virtue of their religion and how faith in their religion will bring peace, forgiveness, wholeness, healing, peace, etc.  And the sinner is wondering, “They all have powerful testimonies of their religion but who is right and yet who is to say that the others are wrong?”  The Christian, without the Word of God, has nothing to stand on but their subjective experience and each of us has a different experience with life.

The foundation then for the disciple preaching the gospel must not be our testimony.  It must the truthfulness of God’s Word.  The Bible alone is the truth of God (John 17:17).  The problem with the testimony of the above religions (or even atheists for that matter) is that they must borrow from the Bible to make sense of their own experiences.  The foundation for the disciple is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.  It is not our testimony.  Apart from the Bible, the disciple is nothing but a subjective story among others.  With the Bible, the disciple is full of the truth of God and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).  We must be faithful to quote and preach the Word of God to sinners.  When sharing the gospel with a sinner, don’t just share your personal testimony (that is okay by the way) but make sure you quote the Word of God over and over again to show that your testimony is based not on your subjective view of reality but upon the Word of God.  I even encourage you to begin witnessing to sinners with the Word of God before sharing your testimony.  Forgiveness of sins, peace with God, repentance, justification, sanctification, etc. are all based not on our testimonies but upon the Word of God.

Again, I rejoice that people are being saved by grace.  I rejoice that sinners are turning from sin to the Lord Jesus and finding that He is indeed a wonderful Savior but I warn us all to preach the Word of God.  Sinners must hear the gospel to be saved (Romans 10:14-17) and we must preach the Word of God faithfully as God has called us to (Matthew 28:19-20).  The Word of God is the seed to salvation (Matthew 13:18-23).  I pray that our gospel would be full of the Word of God.

When We Think About Open Air Preaching

There are many thoughts that may run through a person’s mind when I say, “open air preaching.”  Some contend that this is not for today, that our society is beyond wanting to hear preaching (which means “raised voice”).  Others feel that we should keep religion a private matter, that the church should be the place someone should go to hear preaching and the church should not go out to preach in the streets.  Some contend that open air preaching pushes people away from Christ instead of toward Him (a point I have blogged on before).  Others feel that we should do more “helps” instead of preaching in order to show people the love of God.

However, I think a simple way to look at open air preaching is not to imagine the crazy man screaming at folks who happen to walk by nor should we envision a man fighting the crowds as he screams about the sins of the society but we should view evangelism as the biblical mandate to simply preach Christ as Lord (2 Corinthians 4:5).  The Bible is clear that we are to be witnesses for Christ (Matthew 28:19) and contrary to some views, we are to actually open our mouths and share the gospel with the lost (Romans 10:14-17).  The gospel is communicated (Acts 1:8; 5:20; 8:4; etc.).  Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 1:21 that God is faithful to save people though the foolishness of preaching.  This doesn’t mean that we must be foolish in our preaching but rather the gospel itself will seem foolish to our hearers apart from the work of the Spirit to open their ears to the truth (1 Corinthians 2:14)

So when we consider open air preaching let us consider two things.  First, the gospel must be communicated.  So is the gospel being communicated?  In some cases, open air preaching is not preaching the gospel but merely agitating the crowds.  The gospel is not “God hates ______” but rather the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Secondly, the gospel calls people to repentance.  This is clear in the words of Jesus in Mark 1:15; Luke 13:5; 24:47.  The Apostles preached repentance in Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; 20:21.  Repentance is not merely saying “I’m sorry” for my sins but a complete change of mind and heart toward God.  True repentance requires the work of the Spirit (2 Timothy 2:25).

I have heard both the crazy open air preachers who seem to just want to make the crowds mad and then proclaim they are being persecuted when the crowds reject them.  Yet I have seen true open air preaching where the gospel is preached and yes people get angry because the gospel is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18).  Our jobs must be to proclaim Christ.  I don’t mind if a person is not an open air preacher so long as they preach Christ.  Do you preach Christ when you feed the poor?  Do you preach Christ when you give money to someone?  Do you preach Christ when you build a person a shelter?  The gospel must be heard to be believed.  I don’t doubt good works open the door for this but preach Christ and allow the gospel to save sinners.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/28/2014 at 11:40 AM

How Prevenient Grace Helps Me Sleep

John MacArthur has a famous sermon that he preached on Mark 4:26-29 on the theology of sleep in which he argues that the doctrine of unconditional election allows him to sleep at night.  He argues that the doctrine that God alone saves gives him comfort because if the salvation of others depended on him, he would not be able to sleep at night.  MacArthur argues that he cannot understand how ministers who deny unconditional election can sleep if in fact the saving of souls depends upon them.

I for one reject unconditional election but I sleep well at night not because I deny the lostness of men nor because I turn a blind eye to their desperate need for salvation.  I sleep well because of the doctrine of prevenient grace.  I agree with MacArthur that salvation is the work of the Lord.  Regeneration is the work of the Spirit (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:5-7).  The entire work of salvation is by the power of God (Romans 1:16-17).  While I believe the Bible teaches that people believe the gospel as a duty (John 3:15), I deny that this belief is works (Romans 4:5).  Sinners are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

However, my job is not to save sinners.  It is the Lord’s work to save sinners.  MacArthur’s appeal to Mark 4:26-29 is right.  The harvest is the Lord’s harvest (Matthew 9:38).  Paul argues this way in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.  While Paul and others did work to tell people the gospel, the Lord is the One who saves sinners.  Our job is to simply preach the gospel.  This is a point that both Arminians and Calvinists can agree.

Obviously, the key difference here then is not over the gospel.  It is not over whether the Lord saves sinners.  It is over whether the Lord treats sinners as people or does He treat them as something else like robots or chess pawns?  I believe God treats people as people who can think, hear, respond.  God is the one who saves and He deals with sinners by His grace.  His Spirit woos the sinner but He does not force the sinner (John 6:44).  The Spirit opens the sinners heart to hear the gospel and be saved (Acts 16:14-15, 30-34; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13-14).  The Spirit is the one who empowers the disciple to first preach the gospel to the lost (Acts 1:8) and then He also is the one who opens sinners minds and hearts to the gospel though He allows the sinner to believe in their own freed will.  Over and over again the New Testament calls the sinner to believe the gospel and repent (Acts 17:30-31).  As the Spirit works, the sinners respond (Acts 2:37).  The sinner either repents (Acts 2:38, 41) or they rebel (Acts 7:51; 13:46).  Those who believe the gospel become the elect of God (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:10).

As Arminians our dependence in evangelism must not be on gimmicks or tricks or rock concerts or skits or movies.  It must be on the gospel that saves sinners!  The Spirit empowers the Church to preach to the lost.  Our dependence must be on the Word of God that saves the lost.  In Mark 4:26 we read of the scattered seed.  In Mark 4:14 the seed is the Word.  The Word brings forth fruit as we preach the gospel!  Our job must then be to preach the gospel (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).

The bottom line is that Arminians can take comfort in the work of the Spirit in drawing sinners to salvation.  Calvinists often contend that the term “prevenient grace” is not found in the Bible.  What they fail to realize is that Calvinists theologians have also used the term for the term means “beforehand” grace.  This is a biblical concept even if we disagree over whether this grace can be resisted or not.  Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm that salvation is the divine work of God and His grace.  While we Arminians would contend that God grants free grace to draw in souls through the preaching of the gospel, the result of regeneration is the divine working of God.

What I Would Like To Hear from Calvinists in Evangelism

I recently watched a video of what evangelism would be like for Mormons if in fact they told their hearers just what Mormons believe about Jesus Christ, the plurality of gods, exaltation to godhood, etc.

Yet this got me thinking about my Calvinist friends who go out evangelizing.  Granted, we both share a passion for the lost.  I rejoice in that.  I praise God for my Calvinist brethren who are out on the streets preaching the gospel to the lost.  I rejoice in Calvinist ministries that are devoted to world missions or to church planting or to preaching to the lost.  That blesses me.

However, what if Calvinist were honest about their theology in their preaching.  I am not saying that Calvinists lie when they share the gospel.  They don’t.  They preach what I preach and other Arminians before me.  They preach the truth that Jesus shed His blood that we might be saved by grace through faith.  Yet they will avoid certain sayings such as “Jesus shed His blood for you” because they just don’t know that.  They won’t tell a person that God loves them because its possible God does not love them and in fact it is possible (and highly likely) that God created them for the very purpose of destroying them in hell for His glory (Romans 9:22-23 according to Calvin).  I have never heard a Calvinist evangelist preach to sinners passing by that they cannot hear him unless they are the elect (John 10:27-29).  I have never heard a Calvinist evangelist preach limited atonement publicly before (the teaching that Christ died only for the elect).  I have never heard a Calvinist exhorting sinners that they are totally unable to come to Christ and repent of their sins apart from God regenerating them first.  I have yet to hear a Calvinist evangelist preaching “have faith now that you have been born again” yet Calvinism teaches that regeneration precedes faith.

In fact, Calvinists preach like Arminians.  They call sinners to repent (though Calvinism teaches that one can never be free from sin).  They call sinners to faith in Christ (a gift from God given only to His elect though they don’t tell sinners that).  They call sinners to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ while leaving out that it is likely Jesus did not die for them.  They preach that sinners will go to hell for their own sins though they fail to tell them that God predestined them before time began even before they had a chance to even do anything evil and it was God’s own sovereign choice to condemn them to hell.  They fail to preach that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass including all sins so that sinners are doing what God wills for them to do by their sinning.

Don’t get me wrong, I have labored with Calvinists for souls before.  Again, I rejoice that Calvinists are often wonderfully inconsistent in their evangelism.  They will even use Arminian phrases.  For example, I heard one Calvinist street preaching and telling the crowd that Jesus loved them by shedding His blood for them.  That is not Calvinism!  That is Arminianism!  If I preach that Jesus shed His blood for sinners, I am preaching my own theology (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)!  When I exhort sinners to repent of their sins, I am preaching my theology because I believe the Holy Spirit works through the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior but He allows the sinner to respond out of their freed will (Acts 2:37-38, 41; 17:30-31; 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2).  When I preach that Christ is sufficient for sinners to be saved, I am preaching the unlimited atonement of Christ that Scripture clearly teaches (1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; Titus 2:11-12; 1 John 2:1-2).  When I preach the universal love of God for the world by the cross (John 3:16-18; Romans 5:8-9; 1 John 4:9-10, 14), I am preaching my own theology.  When I tell sinners that God will judge them for their own sins, I am preaching the truths of my own theology (Ezekiel 18:4, 31; Romans 2:6; 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:15; 21:7-8).

I don’t want to discourage Calvinists from preaching the gospel.  I do want them to preach their theology to the lost.  I want to hear the doctrine of unconditional election preached to the lost.  I want to hear divine determinism preached to the lost.  I want to hear limited atonement preached to the lost.  One Calvinist blogger wrote that Jesus did preach Calvinism in John 6 to the lost.  I have yet to hear a Calvinist evangelist end his preaching to the lost by saying, “Only those who repent are truly the elect of God” (a point I would agree with).  They simply end by pleading with the lost to come to faith in Christ and be saved when in fact they should be preaching, “Those of you who are regenerated, come to faith in Christ as proof of your divine election.”

Thank God that Arminianism preaches well.

Testimonies Change, The Gospel Remains the Same

When teaching people how to share the gospel with the lost, I have noticed that there is often an emphasis placed on personal testimonies for sharing Christ with the lost (or unchurched seems to be the preferred term despite it not being in the Bible at all).  Testimonies are often seen as less offensive, full of hope, often come down on a practical level, and leave the “unchurched” wondering about this Man called Jesus.  While I am not 100% opposed to testimonies when witnessing with the lost (Paul used his testimony after all in Acts 26:12-18), we must be clear in our gospel presentation and must remember that God saves sinners (sorry, I mean the unchurched) by His own power and every person comes to Christ by His grace and His grace alone (John 6:44). Every person then will have a different testimony of God’s saving grace.  My testimony is not like yours but the gospel I was saved by remains forever the same (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

My advice then is to share your testimony but don’t neglect the gospel.  I fear that people won’t to share their testimony because they don’t really know the gospel.  In fact, I have encountered “former” Christians who could share with you both their testimony of how they came to Christ and now their testimony of why they don’t believe in Christ.  Testimonies come and go.  Testimonies often change.  People will add to their testimony or take away from it depending on the situation.  The gospel does not change.  The gospel must be our focus.

The fact remains that every person we share Christ with is lost.  They are not unchurched.  In fact, they hate God (Romans 1:18-19).  People are not seeking after truth.  They hate the truth (Romans 1:25).  People love their sins and they especially love themselves (Romans 1:21-23).  They don’t want the God of the Bible.  They want their own gods.  They want a moral therapeutic God who will solve their problems, heal all their diseases, meet all their needs, and bless their socks off.  They don’t want a holy God who is wrathful against sin (Psalm 7:11 NKJV).  They don’t want a holy God who judges sinners (Romans 2:7-10; Revelation 20:11-15).  They don’t want a holy God who calls out to us to repent and turn from our wicked ways (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Peter 3:9).  They want a loving God, a soft God, a God who will not judge them.  They want to live in their sins while claiming heaven (Matthew 1:21) but they are in error about God’s holy character (Romans 6:23) and His call to perfection (Matthew 5:48).

We must preach the holy wrath of God against sin.  We must open our Bibles and preach the law of God on sin (Romans 7:7).  We must warn sinners that those who break God’s law will be judged by that very law (James 2:10-13).  We must show sinners that the moral law exposes their guilt before God (Galatians 3:23-24).  The law shows us our guilt and the gospel shows us the mercy of God in the giving of His Son for our sins.  Without the preaching of the law, the sinner does not see their desperate need for salvation.  The law prepares the heart of the sinner to see the grace of God.  When the sinner sees their sinfulness before a holy God (1 John 3:4), the beauty of the cross shines forth and the gospel becomes precious to the sinner.

Testimonies don’t always do all that.  Again, I don’t have an issue with sharing with a sinner how I came to Christ.  In reality, He found me (2 Timothy 1:9).  The Bible says that the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  The great Shepherd goes after His sheep (Luke 15:1-7).  The Holy Spirit opens the sinner’s eyes to the gospel and reveals our need for salvation (John 16:8-11).  The Spirit does this through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).  While testimonies can be good to show the goodness of the Lord in saving us, the gospel is what saves (Romans 1:16-17).

One final note.  In Revelation 12:11 we read that the saints overcome the enemy by the word of our testimony and the blood of the Lamb.  Both go hand in hand.  To merely share your testimony is not enough.  We must preach the blood of the Lamb!  Without the blood of Jesus, none can be saved (Acts 4:12; Hebrews 9:22, 27-28).  The blood of Jesus alone cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).  The blood of Jesus alone is what enables us to stand before a holy God (Romans 5:8-9).  We must preach the shed blood of Jesus to the lost sinner.  It is by the blood of Jesus that I am holy before God (Hebrews 10:10).

May we preach both our testimony and the truth of the gospel to the lost (that would be unchurched for some of you).

“You’re Turning People Away From Christ”

I was recently listening to a few brothers talking about evangelism and one of them said that he opposed open air preaching because, in his words, “You’re turning people away from Christ.”  I responded, “What makes you think they are coming to Christ in the first place or that people want Christ?”

The problem is that we have a low view of depravity.  We believe the American church lie that people are basically good and can come to Christ anytime they want to.  People genuinely want to follow Christ is what we hear.  Yet my Bible says that people are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).  I read in the Bible that people do not love God but they hate Him (Romans 1:18-32).  I read that people hated Jesus and will hate us who preach the gospel as well (John 15:18-25).  People are not seeking God yet God is seeking people (John 4:23-24) and He does this through the preaching of the gospel (John 6:44).

Romans 3:10-18 is clear that people are not seeking God.  People are seeking after their flesh.  People do not want to hear about Christ.  It takes the work of the Holy Spirit to bring sinners to salvation (John 16:8-11).  Without the work of the Spirit, none could or would be saved.  This is the free grace of God at work in the world wherein the Spirit works through the preaching to draw the lost to salvation.

The fact is that those who are on the college campuses.  Those who are in malls.  Those who are walking the streets outside of the stadium or the bars.  All these people are not seeking after God.  Their lives demonstrate that.  These people are serving their flesh and their god, Satan (John 8:42-47).  The gospel is a violent interruption into their sinful lives.  The gospel opens sinners up to their sins (Romans 3:19-20).  When sinners see their sinfulness before a holy God, they either repent or reject the gospel.  Those who repent do so by the grace of God (John 1:12-13) and all who come to faith in Christ come to faith because of the sovereign work of God (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

My point then is clear: people must hear the gospel to be saved (Romans 10:14-17).  Jesus makes this clear in all four Gospels calling the disciples to take the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21).  The Lord promised His Spirit would endue us with power from on high for this very purpose of preaching the gospel (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all (Romans 1:16-17).  Sinners cannot save themselves because they love their sins and despise the true God.  Sinners must hear the gospel that shows them their guilt and shows them the goodness of God in the giving of His Son (Romans 2:4; 5:8-9).  This alone is the only hope for lost humanity.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/03/2014 at 3:55 PM

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