God’s “Yes” and “No” in Christ

One of my favorite ways to explain the gospel is state how the Father communicates a resounding “yes” and “no” to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

The “Yes”

“Yes” is shorthand for a longer, amazing thought: “Yes, God loves you.” John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 1 John 4:9–10 states it like this: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Stated simply, God loved us so much that He sent only Son to die for our sins on the cross. That’s God’s loving “yes” to you and me.

The “No”

“No” is shorthand for a longer, terrifying thought: “No, God cannot overlook sin.” As much as God loves us, our God is a righteous God who does not overlook our sin. We are “by nature children of wrath,” that is, the eternal wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). “The wages of sin is death,” that is, eternal death and separation from God forever (Romans 6:23). Our sinfulness and sins render us guilty before God and worthy of eternal punishment. God justly says “no” to our sin.

“Yes” and “No” Together for Us in Christ

Though God says “no” to our sin, we see “that Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Only the Lord Jesus Christ—both man and God, sinless and perfectly obedient—only He could give “Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6) and merit a righteousness that is declared as ours when we place our hope and faith for salvation in Him. Our penalty for sin is paid by Christ, and Christ’s perfection is ours as well.

So, even for believers, God still says “no” to sin. However, God’s “yes” of love to us is to let Christ have taken the penalty for our sin on Himself at the cross. God’s “yes” of love to us is furthermore to declare His Son’s righteousness as ours by faith.

Putting it all together, God says “no” to sin, and emphatically so through the death of His sinless Son on the cross. At the same time, this death was God’s “yes” to you and me, His loving means of salvation in sending His Son to die in our place.

What a terrifying thing it is to contemplate the consequences of our sin. What an amazing thing it is to know of God’s love for us in Christ. May each of us say “no” with God to our sin and “yes” by faith to His Son who was lovingly sent for us!

All quotes ESV

Jesus’ Example for Evangelism in John 4:1–26

In John 4:5–42, we have two examples of evangelism—one in Jesus and the other in the Samaritan woman. She invited others to meet Jesus, they came, and many believed in Him. However, what follows below are five practical points for evangelism from looking at Jesus Himself in His example of giving the truth to the Samaritan woman.

First, speak to someone no matter who they are.

Jesus spoke to a woman who was a Samaritan. Her gender and ethnicity were two characteristics that typically would have resulted in prejudice and a non-conversation between a Jew and a Samaritan. She herself was surprised that Jesus spoke to her in light of these characteristics (John 4:9), and the disciples were surprised at the conversation as well (John 4:27). But Jesus looked past these matters and saw her for what she was—a sinner in need of salvation in Him.

Second, use something in your conversation to transition to the gospel.

The woman spoke of water. Jesus turned the conversation to living water (4:10). She did not understand right away, but He persisted in steering the conversation to dealing with her sin and what she thought of Himself as the Messiah. While we don’t want to rudely force an unwanted conversation onto someone, it may be that gently turning the conversation to the gospel is what God uses to save others through us.

Third, point out man’s alienation from God.

The woman could not drink this life-giving water and turn to God unless she also turned from her sin—a life of living with someone other than a spouse and that after having previously lived with five husbands (John 4:16–18). Jesus answered her request for living water in John 4:15 by focusing on her sin in John 4:16–18. No one finds salvation in Christ without repentance for his sins.

Fourth, answer any objections.

The woman tried to object that her heritage had its own religion at their mountain, and the Jews had their own as well in Jerusalem (John 4:20). However, Jesus cared nothing for geography. All men were to now worship the Father, wherever they may be (John 4:21–24). He even flatly denied any validity to her religion: “You worship what you do not now” (John 4:22 ESV). Answering objections may mean eventually stating that the reasons for an objection are simply wrong.

Fifth, point the unbeliever to Christ.

Jesus concluded by pointing the woman to Himself as the Messiah. She believed, brought others to Him, and they believed in Him as well (John 4:25–26). Evangelism is simply not evangelism if it does not point the sinner to Christ. Salvation is found in Him alone.

The above is condensed and follows the points from Don N. Howell, Jr., The Passion of the Servant: A Journey to the Cross (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009), pp. 48–51.

Motivation for Making Disciples: Jesus’ Words to Paul in Corinth in Acts 18:9–10

Jesus encouraged Paul in Corinth, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9–10). These words are encouraging to us today as well, giving us multiple motivations to give the gospel to the lost.

We are motivated to make disciples by the presence of the Lord.

Paul could be fearless and vocal for the gospel because Jesus promised him, “I am with you.” As seen in the Great Commission (Matt 28:18), this promise is to us today and for exactly the same reason—making disciples. The presence of the Lord is that of the Lord Jesus who possesses universal authority and accompanies us until He comes again (Matt 28:18, 20). With His help, who can be against us to thwart His purposes?

We are motivated to make disciples by the protection of the Lord.

Paul was uniquely promised, “no one will attack you to harm you,” and Paul therefore suffered no injury in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:11–17). Already in the book of Acts, however, the apostles had been arrested and beaten, Stephen and James had been martyred, and the church experienced other persecutions as well. While we wish we could claim physical protection at all times when we go out for the sake of the gospel, sometimes God allows His servants to fall to an unholy sword. Even then, however, our soul is eternally safe. We should therefore “not fear those who kill body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28), even if it means suffering physical death. Being willing to uphold the name of Christ shows one’s faith to the end, and Christ Himself will acknowledge such a one before His Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32).

We are motivated to make disciples by the people of the Lord.

Paul was told in advance that some of the Corinthians yet to be evangelized were part of the “many” that were “my people,” that is, people who belonged to God (Acts 18:10). God knows the beginning from the end and who would respond to the gospel in faith. Their faith was patently certain and could be promised as such to Paul. Paul simply needed to give the gospel in order for them to believe. While we may wish that Christ would identify the cities where disciples will be made, we already have His promise to go to the nations of the world wherein He will build His church (Matt 16:18; 28:19). We simply need to give the gospel and make disciples of those who believe.

And First Place for Christian Convert Goes to….

If you had the opportunity to give the gospel to only twenty people, who would be on your list? Who would be “first place” on your list of hopefuls for salvation?

Please don’t misunderstand—I am not advocating giving the gospel to only those who you like or those who are like you. Such a narrow field of evangelism reeks something of favoring the rich over the poor in James 2:1–12. Instead, we realize that God desires the salvation of all men (1 Tim 2:4), that Christ has commissioned the church to take the gospel to all the world (Matt 28:18–20), and that we therefore go to all men everywhere, telling them to repent in light of Christ’s soon return (Acts 17:30–31).

But no individual can reach billions of people. So then, practically speaking, who would be some of those billions that you could reach with the gospel?

While we could easily look around us and fill out our list right away, a look at the example of Cornelius in Acts 10 helps to cement the obvious for us from Scripture—start by giving the gospel to the people you already know.

Acts 10:1–8 records Cornelius’s encounter with an angel. Cornelius was commanded to send for Peter and did so by sending three men. When they reached Peter, we then find out that the angel told Cornelius to send for Peter, as the three told him, “to hear what you have to say” (Acts 10:22 ESV). When Peter met Cornelius, Cornelius let Peter know that he and others were gathered “to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33 ESV). When Peter related these matters to the church in Jerusalem, he recounted what Cornelius had told him of why the angel commanded him to send for Peter—because “he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved” (Acts 11:14 ESV).

“A message by which you will be saved”—does that strike you in the heart when you think of the lost that you love? It should because you as a Christian have that saving message!

It certainly struck Cornelius this way. The angel told him that the message was not just for him. It was for “you and all your household” (Acts 11:14 ESV). So, as anyone who desired the salvation of his household would do, he gathered them together in preparation for them to hear the gospel at Peter’s arrival. In fact, he gathered more than that—“Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24 ESV). When Peter’s time to speak had come (cf. Acts 10:34–43), he “found many persons gathered” (Acts 10:27 ESV).

His “household,” “relatives,” and “friends,” altogether being “many persons”—do you know a few folks like this? Unsaved members in your immediate family? Unsaved relatives? Unsaved friends?

If you do (and everybody does), as a Christian, you don’t need angels, visions, or a Peter to walk in your door for their conversion. The gospel has been going to the uttermost ends of the earth for 2,000 years, and you yourself have the saving message by which these dear, lost loved ones can come to Christ. In carrying out the Great Commission, be like Cornelius and give the gospel to those you know. Share his zeal, and you just might be able to fill a room with people that you have given the gospel over time.

May we all be like Cornelius and invite many to hear the message by which they will be saved!

When Belief in Christ Breaks the Home Apart

In Mark 6:4, Jesus is rejected by His listeners in Nazareth and quotes the well-known proverb: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

Notice how He specifies three groups and narrows the group each time―hometown, relatives, and household. Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected by His family for the gospel He preached and is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” accordingly; He is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Whether the temptation was frustration, anger, or whatever―Jesus was tempted to react sinfully towards His family for their rejection of Him. It is no surprise that “he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:6), but He did not sin, an example for us today.

Jesus warns us elsewhere that our belief in Him sometimes breaks a home apart: “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt 10:36; cf. 10:34–35). But, as we love Him more than those who hate Him (even family members), we lose our lives for His sake and find life eternal by bearing such a cross (Matt 10:37–39). The proof of this love is often shown in difficult day-to-day choices that we make as we interact with these family members. Jesus shouldered His family’s dishonor and continued to preach the gospel.

Jesus’ sympathy in this situation encourages us all the more to “hold fast our confession” of Christ and “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” in prayer (Heb 4:14, 16). Even when family rejects you, continue to confess Christ and ask Him for grace and strength to endure.

We should also pray for our family members who reject Christ that they would come to believe. Jesus’ family once said “He is out of his mind” (Mark 7:21), and later it says, “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). However, we find out that they believed in time. Those praying in the Upper Room before Pentecost were the apostles, “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Speaking of missionary travel, Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Cor 9:5).

Mary always believed in the truth about her Son (cf. Luke 1:28, 38), but her sons did not at first (John 7:5), and all of them at least occasionally misunderstood Jesus during His earthly life. Nonetheless, all came to properly understand Him in time, and His brothers even became evangelists for the gospel they once rejected. As we pray for grace to interact with the lost we love so much, we should also pray for their salvation to see what God may do in time.

The Power of the Spirit in Conversion

We have a guest speaker this Sunday at my church. He’ll be preaching from 1 Thessalonians 1, and this is a blurb I’ve pulled from my dissertation and added to our bulletin to complement his sermon.

Paul reminded to the Thessalonians that “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:5). Four phrases in 1 Thess 1:5 describe the manner of how Paul and his companions preached (“in word,” “in power,” “in the Holy Spirit,” and “with full conviction”).1 Paul’s “not only . . . but also” construction emphasizes that what is described in the latter three phrases bolstered his confidence in God’s choice of the Thessalonians more than what is described in the first phrase, that the gospel came to them “in word.”2 The parallelism of the latter three phrases indicates that one is not subordinate to the other.3 This being the case, that the “gospel came . . . in the Holy Spirit” likely means something in addition to how the gospel came “in power”4 or “with full conviction.” In context, Paul is describing how his company preached; “in the Holy Spirit” thus describes the empowering source of their preaching.5

The Spirit also works in the listener in the work of conversion as well. Paul did not rely on “plausible words of wisdom” to convince his listeners that the content of his preaching was true (1 Cor 2:4).6 The “demonstration”7 of truthfulness to his listeners was by the Spirit whose demonstrative work was an exertion of the power of God (1 Cor 2:4).8 The Spirit worked through Paul as the Spirit worked through those who heard the Word. And once the Spirit enabled them to see the spiritual truth of the gospel, the listener accepted them and was gloriously converted (1 Cor 2:14; cf. 2:12–13).

In short, as the gospel is given, the Spirit works through both preacher and listener, and a sinner may come to Christ. What an amazing work of God!

  1. D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians (NAC 33; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 58. []
  2. Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 79. []
  3. Cf. Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (PNTC; Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2002), 96. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 35. []
  6. Timothy H. Lim, “‘Not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power’ (I Cor. 2:4),” NovT 9 (1987): 146. []
  7. Lim, “‘Not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power’ (I Cor. 2:4),” 147, defines “demonstration” (ἀπόδειξις) as “. . . a technical term in rhetoric which means a demonstration or cogent proof of argument from commonly agreed premises.” []
  8. Paul’s emphasis on his own weakness in 1 Cor 2:3 likely rules out the Spirit’s means of convincing the Corinthians through miracles as in Rom 15:18–19 (cf. 2 Cor 12:12). See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 95. For a survey of suggestions as to what Paul’s trembling and weakness may have been, see David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 85–86. []

Matthew the Tax Collector

In NT times, tax collectors were assumed to be unbelievers (cf. Matt 5:26; 18:17) and were associated with “prostitutes” and “sinners” (Matt 21:31–32; Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1). Extra-biblical literature likewise associates them with “robbers” and “brothel-keepers.”1 It was scripturally noteworthy that tax collectors could be so sinful and yet believe the gospel (Luke 3:12; 7:29; 18:10–14).2

Why were tax collectors so despised? Searching Scripture further, we see that John the Baptist exhorted tax collectors to collect no more taxes than necessary because they, like Zacchaeus, had abused their role to tax citizens above and beyond their required due for the sake of personal gain (Luke 3:12–13; 19:8).3 Like corrupt politicians in our own day, they often bought their office in order to benefit from the illicit gain.4 Besides such extortion, Matthew would have been particularly distasteful to his Jewish countrymen by collecting taxes for a Gentile nation.5

Despite such a background, we know Matthew as one of Jesus’ disciples. Apart from the synoptic Gospels’ record of Matthew’s call to discipleship (Matt 9:9–13; Mark 2:13–17; Luke 5:27–32), the biblical mention of Matthew is limited to general stories and the specific lists of the twelve disciples (Matt 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). At the same time, Matthew wrote the lengthiest of the Gospels, showing his writing style, use of words, etc., all of which gives us a small window to his personality. Though called Levi by others (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), he called himself Matthew (Matt 9:9). He was a tax collector who immediately left his job and followed Jesus when beckoned to do so (Matt 9:9). Just as Matthew followed Jesus, of the tax collectors and sinners at Matthew’s house (Luke 5:29), “there were many who followed him” as well (Mark 2:15; cf. 2:14), thanks to Matthew’s hospitality.

Though there seems to be but little Scripture to describe Matthew, the record of his call and the subsequent feast he hosted in honor of Jesus show an excellent example for believers today. Follow Jesus immediately, and then introduce Him to everyone you know! He quickly learned what Jesus said elsewhere, words for you and me today: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).

  1. Thomas E. Schmidt, “Taxes,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 805. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid., 806. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Ibid.; see also L. M. Sweet, and G. A. Gay, “Tax; Tribute,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 4:742. []

We work. God grows.

More than anything, I wish I could simply share my faith with others all day long. I wish they could come to Christ as a result. Everywhere I go in this lost and dying world, I immediately see people through the filter of whether they know Christ or not. There are so many people who are unsaved, so many people who need Christ, so many people that God desires to rescue. What a grief it is to know that some will never even have the opportunity to hear the gospel. What a grief it is to see people reject Christ when they hear of His salvation.

And so we work.

Paul said to Timothy what I believe he would say to any pastor today: “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). One lexicon gives “occupation” or “task” as alternate translations for the word work (ἔργον, ergon) in 2 Timothy 4:5 (BDAG, p. 391). What a privilege it would be to be a Philip whose work it was to give the gospel all the time (Acts 21:8; cf. 8:5ff.). And what a privilege it is to know that my calling as a pastor is to also “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5).

As a wise man once said, “Work is work. If it wasn’t work, they would call work work.” Evangelistic work is just the same. It means enduring rejection. It means suffering. It means scattering the seed over long periods of time and waiting on God to give the growth.

What a precious promise it is to know that God will give the growth. I love how Paul speaks of ministry in 1 Corinthians 3. One plants, the other waters, and God gives the growth (1 Cor 3:6). Because God gives the growth, He is everything, and we are nothing (1 Cor 3:7). Moreover, we are rewarded not according to growth, that which comes by the sovereign hand of God, but for our labor: “He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor” (1 Cor 3:8).

We sow the seed, we water the seed, and this is our work. God gives the growth, and all glory goes to Him. Let us do the work of an evangelist so that God might save the lost through us.

 

 

 

Do the Work of an Evangelist: A Personal Post

For my installation service at my present church, I covenanted with the church, among other things, that I would do the work of an evangelist. Two primary tasks that bartered for my attention for the past year along these lines were getting to know the folks in my church and finishing my PhD. I know our folks relatively well at this point, but I’ll never know these wonderful people well enough. The PhD is done, and I am glad to have this off my plate. This being said, I can now focus better on doing the work of an evangelist.

I said to our folks this past Sunday that I’ll no longer be in the office on Thursdays. I’ll study in town at coffee shops and wherever the hubbubs of conversation may be in hopes of meeting people, making friends, and giving the gospel. As Paul would often do, I’ve asked our folks to pray for me to be bold to give the gospel, just as I pray for them (1 Thess 5:25; 2 Thess 3:1; Eph 6:18-19; Col 4:3). I told them I wanted them to know where I was on Thursdays so they would hold me accountable to endeavoring to give the gospel.

I post this all online because, quite frankly, I want the world to know there is a gospel that needs to be heard and to encourage others to proclaim it with me. I realize that the “www” for websites doesn’t mean everyone in the world will read my posts, but it’s here for all to read. If I say anything on a blog named “ProclaimChrist.org,” it should be about the fact that I proclaim the person and work of Jesus Christ. For the sake of my own soul, I will post each week how my evangelistic endeavors have fared.

My question at this point to any readers I may have is this: what are you doing for the sake of the gospel? Especially if you are a pastor, what are you doing to be an example to your people in leading them to give the gospel?

May we all lift our eyes to see that the fields are white for harvest and do the work of an evangelist (John 4:35; 2 Tim 4:5), and may we pray for one another as we carry out the greatest mission, the Great Commission, and make disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Hall of Tyrannus: A Model for Evangelism

Paul spent two years in Ephesus “reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). A few manuscripts add “from the fifth hour to the tenth,” which would have been from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Even if this addition was not part of the original text, it likely served as a commentary for when Paul’s time in the hall took place. Regardless, Paul’s ministry was so effective “that all of the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).

What was “the hall of Tyrannus”?

The Greek word for “hall” is schole, which sounds similar to our English word scholar. A hall in Paul’s day would have been a public auditorium of sorts that was used for lectures. Tyrannus was the person who either owned the hall or was one of its notable teachers, thus labeling it as “the hall of Tyrannus.”

What was Paul doing?

Paul was “reasoning” (Greek, dialegomai), and the result was “that all of the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” Dialegomai is used to describe Paul’s preaching in the synagogues (e.g., Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8) and to the church (Acts 20:7, 9). This word is used to describe how the disciples “argued” with one another (Mark 9:34) and Paul’s claim that he was not “disputing” with people (Acts 24:12). Paul “reasoned” with Felix about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). From these references, we see that the way the word “reasoning” is used in Acts 19:9 indicates Paul was in the hall of Tyrannus teaching the truth of the gospel, interacting with his listeners, and showing God’s Word to be true when faced with objections.

What can we learn from Paul’s example?

We can learn at least four lessons from Paul’s example of evangelism. First, it can be helpful to evangelize people somewhere in the public square. Paul used a public building to teach the truth. Second, it is helpful to teach truth to people for an extended period of time. Paul taught for two years. Third, it is necessary to interact with unbelievers and answer their objections with truth. The word for “reasoning” likely implied Paul met their objections with truth (cf. Mark 9:34; Acts 24:12). Fourth, evangelism is not done by one person alone. Paul “took the disciples with him” and taught in the hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Though Paul led the discussion, these disciples likely shared their faith with others as well.