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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).

Why Total Inability Must Be Studied Before Evangelism

God is love.  God is forgiving.  God is good.  God is merciful.  God wants the best for us.  These are all arguments I have heard from people when out preaching the gospel when I confront them with the reality of their sins and the fact that they will stand before a holy God and give an account for their lives (Romans 14:12; Hebrews 9:27).  Sinners believe that since God is love (1 John 4:8) and since God is good and kind, they will be allowed (despite their sins and rebellion against Him) into His heaven.  I have shown sinners through the Law that they are lost and dead in their sins (Romans 3:19-20; Ephesians 2:1-3) and yet they still think they will go to heaven because they have heard that God is love and therefore He will ignore their sins and give them eternal life.

The fact is that God is loving and kind and Paul the Apostle said that this is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  God is indeed love as 1 John 4:8 states but we must remember that He is also just.  Exodus 34:6-7 reads:

6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Psalm 33:5 says that God loves righteousness and justice.  The Bible says in 1 John 3:7 tells us that whoever practices righteousness is righteous.  It is not enough to claim that we are righteous in Christ by imputation but ignore the fact that we are to be righteous practically.  Scripture is clear that we are to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14) and to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  This holiness comes both by our standing in Christ Jesus (Hebrews 10:10, 14) and in our walking in the Spirit as His grace enables us (Galatians 5:16-17).  Scripture is clear that a disciple can forsake their sins by God’s grace (Titus 2:11-12; cf. 1 Corinthian 10:13).  I admit that I am not able to overcome sin by my power but only by the grace of God (Romans 6:1-14).

When preparing to do evangelism, I believe that one doctrine that is key that we must place in the hearts of disciples is the doctrine of total inability.  Sinners are unable to be saved apart from the work of God (Ephesians 2:4-5).  Sinners love their sins and do not seek God (Romans 3:10-18).  Sinners hate God and want to serve their flesh and not the truth (Romans 1:18-32).

Arminius wrote that the fall of man brought the domination of sin into our beings.  He wrote:

But man was not so confirmed in this state of innocence, as to be incapable of being moved, by the representation presented to him of some good, (whether it was of an inferior kind and relating to this animal life, or of a superior-kind and relating to spiritual life,) inordinately and unlawfully to look upon it and to desire it, and of his own spontaneous as well as free motion, and through a preposterous desire for that good, to decline from the obedience which had been prescribed to him. Nay, having turned away from the light of his own mind and his chief good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that chief good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life. By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is Under The Dominion of Sin. For “to whom any one yields himself a servant to obey,” (Rom. vi, 16,) and “of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage,” and is his regularly assigned slave. (2 Pet. ii, 19.)

Arminius then went on to write about the free will of mankind by showing that our will is warped by sin:

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.

Anyone then who would claim either that Arminius believed in a pelagian view of free will or that Arminianism is focused on free will would be wrong since Arminius believed that the fall brought corruption to the human race.  Further, anyone claiming to be an Arminian and would deny that we are total unable to come to Christ apart from His grace would not be a true Arminian.  Arminius clearly taught that sinners are incapable of saving themselves or even repenting apart from enabling grace.

However, Arminius was clear that God’s grace enabled sinner’s will to be freed to believe the gospel.  Just as Calvinists would not argue that God forces people to be saved against their wills but He makes them willing to believe, Arminius taught that God’s grace enables sinners to believe and be saved.  He wrote:

“What then, you ask, does free will do? I reply with brevity, it saves. Take away FREE WILL, and nothing will be left to be saved. Take away GRACE, and nothing will be left as the source of salvation. This work [of salvation] cannot be effected without two parties — one, from whom it may come: the other, to whom or in whom it may be wrought. God is the author of salvation. Free will is only capable of being saved. No one, except God, is able to bestow salvation; and nothing, except free will, is capable of receiving it.”

Arminius was absolutely correct here.  Were it not for the grace of God, none could be saved.  Were it not for free will, none could truly receive this gift of salvation.  In fact, salvation could not be called a gift if the willing person is not willing to either receive or reject the offer of eternal life (Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Arminius taught that the grace of God is what enables us to be saved.  This is lengthy but worth reading from Arminius on grace:

In reference to Divine Grace, I believe, 1. It is a gratuitous affection by which God is kindly affected towards a miserable sinner, and according to which he, in the first place, gives his Son, “that whosoever believers in him might have eternal life,” and, afterwards, he justifies him in Christ Jesus and for his sake, and adopts him into the right of sons, unto salvation. 2. It is an infusion (both into the human understanding and into the will and affections,) of all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which appertain to the regeneration and renewing of man — such as faith, hope, charity, &c.; for, without these gracious gifts, man is not sufficient to think, will, or do any thing that is good. 3. It is that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit, according to which He acts upon and excites to good the man who has been already renewed, by infusing into him salutary cogitations, and by inspiring him with good desires, that he may thus actually will whatever is good; and according to which God may then will and work together with man, that man may perform whatever he wills.

In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, “is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace, (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did,) but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.

Grace is what enables us to be saved.  God’s grace was fully revealed in His Son (John 1:17; Titus 2:11).  God’s grace now reaches out to lost sinners through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).  The gospel is a gospel of grace.  The gospel points to the reality that while we are unable to save ourselves (Isaiah 64:6), God’s grace was revealed in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthian 15:1-4).  The gospel focuses on the reality of Christ dying to take away our sins (Galatians 1:4).

We must show people that they are incapable of saving themselves.  Their sins condemn them.  The only perfect one is the Lord Jesus (1 Peter 2:22).  Jesus alone is able to save us by His grace (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  In fact, Jesus is the only way to God because of sin (John 14:6).  The Bible is clear in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 that there is one God and one mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity, Jesus Christ the righteous one.  1 John 2:2 says that He is propitiation before a holy God.  In other words, Jesus turns away the wrath of God against sin.  He is the sinners only hope.

By showing sinners (and disciples) that we are unable to come to Christ apart from His grace and that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3), we are teaching people the truth that God alone saves.  John 1:12-13 is absolutely clear on this issue as is John 6:44, 66.  We see this truth also in the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16:14-15.  The Lord opens the hearts of sinners when the gospel is preached.  When sinners believe the gospel (by His grace), He saves sinners by His grace (Romans 1:16-17; 3:22-24; 10:4, 9-10; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

I pray that we would not give in to the spirit of this age that wants to paint humanity as good and upright and capable of saving themselves.  I pray that our evangelism does not come across as an appeal from a desperate God who is just sitting there waiting for sinners to make the first step toward Him.  We must preach the gospel biblically and accurately as this glorifies God and truly saves the lost.

The Major Problem With Some Evangelistic Methods

I rejoice that there are people who desire to share the gospel with the lost.  I was introduced just this evening to one method that I will not share here but will critique from afar.  Let me state up front that I have no doubt that the heart of the brother who “invented” this method has a heart for the lost.  His desire appears genuine in his appeal to disciples of Christ to obey Christ and go and preach the gospel to the lost as He commanded in Matthew 28:19.  I have no doubt that the method was invented to provide a useful way for disciples to share the gospel with sinners in a quick and easy way.

Yet with this method (and many other methods I see these days), I see a major flaw.  In this case the emphasis on your own personal story of how you came to Christ.  It is designed to help you share Jesus quickly by using your own testimony to point the sinner to the hope that is found in Christ.

But the problem is that testimonies often are very subjected.  The major flaw is the lack of biblical content.  The Bible is what we should be quoting (even quickly) to sinners.  While I rejoice that each of us who are disciples of Jesus have testimonies of His grace and His mercy, each of us are different and often we don’t quote Scripture while sharing our testimony and thus it becomes our subjective view of Christ compared to the sinners view of Christ.  The Bible is the revealed Word of God that the Holy Spirit has given to His Church to preach the gospel with (2 Timothy 3:15-17).  Notice that Paul the Apostle didn’t tell Timothy to share his testimony in 2 Timothy 4:2 but to preach the Word.  The Word of God is what brings conviction as it cuts both believers and unbelievers to the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Paul further preached in Romans 10:14-17 that it is the supernatural revelation of the Word of God that produces saving faith.  Notice his words by the Spirit (NASB):

14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

It is the divine revelation of the Word of God that produces saving faith.  It is not our testimony or pointing to natural (or general) revelation that saves.  It is the power of God’s Word that points sinners to the Savior and to their salvation (Psalm 19:7).

I believe then that what is needed is more quoting from the Word of God when witnessing to the lost.  If the Word of God is effective for destroying the lies of Satan (Matthew 4:1-13), how much more is it useful for destroying the lies of the world and the flesh (Romans 3:19-20).  The Law of God (the Word of God) is our tutor (NASB) to bring us to Christ so that the Law shows us our sins and reveals to us our need for justification by faith in Christ alone (Galatians 3:24).  1 Peter 1:23 (NASB) reads:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

It is the preaching of the supernatural, inerrant, infallible Word of God that brings true salvation.  I pray that I would quote the Word of God more and more in my own witnessing and you would as well.  Let us preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).

Preaching Repentance

I was reading from Luke 24:47 this morning and noticed a difference between the NASB and the ESV over this verse.  The ESV reads:

47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

The NASB reads:

47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Do you notice the difference?

The difference is in the usage of the word “and” in the ESV and the word “for” in the NASB.  The NASB footnotes the verse as saying that later Greek manuscripts read “and.”  I prefer the NASB reading.  The NASB points to the repentance as bringing the forgiveness of sins.  The ESV makes the repentance and the forgiveness of sins as separate.  I agree with the NASB here.  Repentance produces the forgiveness of sins.  This is clear in the rest of the New Testament such as in Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 17:30-31; 20:21; 26:20.  While Acts 5:31 does seem to separate repentance and the forgiveness of sins, it is clear from the Scriptures that repentance does secure the forgiveness of our sins.

Now there is some truth of course to the fact that God grants us both as separate.  God grants repentance (2 Timothy 2:25) and He grants forgiveness of sins through Christ (Ephesians 1:7).  They are not exactly the same but you can’t have one without the other.  Repentance and forgiveness of sins go hand in hand.  One must repent to be forgiven.

This is needed preaching in our day.  Some churches will preach faith in God without talking about repentance.  My boys went to VBS (vacation Bible school) last week at another church and received “gospel tracts” one day.  These tracts talked about “steps to peace with God” but said nothing of repentance.  Not one word.  It talked about faith in Jesus but nothing about repenting of their sins.  Nor did it define sin.  It simply said, “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23) but didn’t show our own personal guilt before God (Romans 7:7).  This is the purpose of the moral law (Galatians 3:23-24).  The law reveals our need for salvation and shows that we are sinful before a holy God.  The law does not save us but it shows our need for salvation.  The law says, “You are guilty!” but leaves us there.  The gospel shows our Savior and our response to that gospel is faith and repentance of our sins.  This brings about the forgiveness of our sins.

We must then preach repentance.  We must preach repentance to all.  We must warn sinners to repent of their sins by showing them their sins by the Law of God.  Repentance is often used in a negative sense but it is in reality a positive event as we see our sins by the Law of God and come to repentance by the grace of God and the divine work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11).  Repentance is the first message the great John the Baptist preached (Mark 1:4) and the first message of Jesus Christ Himself (Mark 1:14-15).  Should it not be ours as well?

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/30/2013 at 12:55 PM

The Defective Gospel by Dr. Michael Brown

Here is a great video from Dr. Michael Brown from the late 1990’s I believe.  It is a video that is powerful and describes where the Church in the United States is today.  May God help us to preach on the wrath of God (Romans 1:18).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/23/2013 at 6:41 PM

Focus on the Gospel (Follow Up Post)

As a follow up post to my last post on evangelism and The Way of the Master, I wanted to emphasis what we should be preaching in our evangelism and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.  His gospel is what saves sinners (Romans 1:16-17).  None of us believes that evangelism methods save sinners.  The “sinner’s prayer” does not save sinners.  The Ten Commandments does not save sinners.  Using signs to make people mad at you does not save sinners.  Merely preaching to a crowd about sin does not save sinners.  It is the gospel that saves sinners.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

He wrote later in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

That is the gospel according to Paul the Apostle.  The focus is on the Lord Jesus.  The focus is upon the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  The focus of Paul was not on the Law or upon questions nor even upon the utter sinfulness of humanity but upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is what saves us.  His gospel is what saves.  His work is what saves.  None of us are saved because of anything or anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18).  He alone bore our sins and He alone makes intercession for us before God (Hebrews 7:25; 9:14, 27-28).

I pray that in our evangelism we make much about Jesus.  Don’t make much about the Law or about the sinfulness of the hearers.  Make much about Christ.  Make much about justification through faith (Galatians 2:15-16; 3:1-5).  Make much about how we receive forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ Jesus alone (Acts 13:38-39).  Focus on the exaltation of the Lord Jesus to the right hand of God the Father.  Focus on how it is through the cross alone that we find forgiveness of our sins and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Make much about how no church or group can save us but only faith in the Lord Jesus (Titus 3:5-7).  Emphasize that salvation is a work of God (John 1:12-13) and while we are called to repent of our sins (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38), the Holy Spirit is the One who brings about true conviction and true repentance (John 16:8-11).

My point here: make Jesus Christ your focus in your evangelism and this glorifies God (John 16:12-15).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/09/2013 at 10:04 AM

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