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EVANGELISM--WHAT IS THE MESSAGE?
By Cameron Paine
This meditation is written to demonstrate that ‘evangelism’ may be understood or assumed to be either of two very different ideas. Either of these ideas excludes the other idea--according to our rules of logic.
One conception of evangelism is telling them of God’s gracious dealings with believers--effectively calling them out of darkness into his marvelous light which means bestowing upon them salvation--eternal life.
This concept of evangelism is proclaiming the truth that the death of Jesus saved every believer from the punishment that his or her sins deserved; the bestowal of salvation.
The other conception of evangelism is telling individuals how they can acquire the status of ‘being saved’ and making oneself an heir to God’s gift of eternal life.
This second answer assumes the truth of a fact which I believe is contrary to what the Bible teaches; namely, that every person on earth has the power to make the choices that God rewards with eternal life.
It is the purpose of this meditation to show some of the truths set forth in the Bible which (I believe) show that the belief that the power of sin, the control of sin over every individual is invincible--unless God has delivered him or her from the control of sin, from the ‘prison house of sin’. This truth is considered in greater detail under "underlying assumption #3" below.
Underlying assumptions, which are unexpressed assumptions, have a tremendous ‘influence’ on the meaning of evangelism. The major divisions of the reasons why I believe that Christians may have different conceptions of what ‘evangelism’ means are connected to the assumptions that underlie the practice of evangelism. The underlying assumptions are:
#1 Believing that everything that God does or says is to be believed only if it conforms to the rules of human logic
#2 What we believe about God--that He is or is not in control of his creation.
#3 Believing that believing is a choice that the hearer (of the evangelistic message) has the power to make
#4 Believing that more exposure to God’s word (hearing or ‘reading’) is an indication of a ‘call of God’ or a growing belief
What is evangelism? Is it proclaiming what God has done? Or is it telling people what they can do? After looking at some of the beliefs and assumptions that evangelism is based upon, prayfully, the reader will have more ideas to be taken into consideration before answering that question.
It is important to remember that each of the assumptions listed below may be connected to, overlap, or be intertwined with other underlying assumptions--(probably many more and in subtler ways than I have ever thought of).
Heading 2 UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION #1
BELIEVING THAT EVERYTHING THAT GOD DOES OR SAYS IS TO BE BELIEVED
ONLY IF -- IT CONFORMS TO THE RULES OF HUMAN LOGIC
Another way of expressing this assumption would be to say that God’s statements and actions are considered valid only if human standards or human criteria are met. But I say, human logic is not a law or principle that God and his revelations has to conform to. Human logic often says ‘if this is so’ the opposite cannot also be true. Is there anyone of us who has not often learned such truths as ‘if Billy has one apple and he gets another, then he has two apples. Now he has more apples, not the opposite-fewer apples. But many statements in the Bible according to our rules of logic seem to be doing just that--saying the opposite of other statements in the Bible. The truths that God reveals in his Word are not limited to just those conclusions that our finite laws of logic ‘say’ are acceptable. An example of such a statement is the statement of Jesus about ‘Abraham seeing my day’ (John 8:56-58). More about this statement of Jesus, how far ‘beyond’ our logic the truths of the Bible, and how crucial this concept is is discussed in more detail in the next heading-’Underlying Assumption #2). Another of the many examples of how far God’s truths go ‘beyond’ what our logic would allow is the fact that according to the New Testament there were believers in Old Testament times. They were saved and believed in the eternal dimension ('the city of God') as much as believers believe in the eternal dimension (heaven) today. They were 'saved' before the event that saved them--the redemptive death of Christ and before his resurrection had taken place in ‘time’, in earthly history. (Hebrews 11:1-39; 12:1-2; see also Ephesians 1:4) There are many statements in the Bible that don’t fit into our framework of human logic. What does God say? "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9; cf. Romans 11:33; 2 Peter 1:10; 2 Peter 3:10) Many of God’s truths and ways are more than we can understand but that fact does not make them untrue.I believe human logic puts limits on our ability to even conceive what God has revealed. I believe human logic puts limits on our ability to think, to reason, to understand what God has revealed. But human logic does not put limits on God. Human logic does not limit the Creator of the universe, the Creator of life and death. The idea that human logic could limit God is ridiculous, far more ridiculous than the idea that an earthworm could stop an erupting volcano from causing devastation. Human logic does not limit or make impossible the truth of God’s declarations. To believe that God’s revelations must conform to the rules of human logic is to limit God. Is it right to think that the eternal must conform to what we whose brains and bodies are not eternal can understand? Is it correct to think that the realities which will be present in the eternal dimension must make sense to us who have never been in (or come from) the eternal dimension? (cf. John 3:12,13) Many individuals do not believe in ‘heaven’ or the eternal dimension. They cannot go beyond the logic of this world. Therefore (according to the logic of this world) they cannot believe in Christ or Christianity. But thank God that God's ways are mysterious and God can do the impossible! Is there anybody he cannot call out of darkness? Is there any individual God cannot rescue from the control of sin?While God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9; Ro 11:33) we live in a world in which time and space are realities which are basic concepts, basic components of the ‘framework’ in which our existence takes place; these basic components are components we cannot do without. They are components which we have to use to make the world around us comprehensible to us. We cannot even think or imagine a reality where concepts of ‘time’ and ‘space’ are not needed to make sense of the world around us. We cannot conceive of a world without 'time', a world without 'before and after', a world without sequence, a world without change or growth or death? We cannot form or conceive of a reality--a universe where time and space are not the framework--but the Creator God can. The Creator God in his word speaks of realities where time and space do not seem to exist or be relevant. (e.g., John 8:56-58 above; 2 Peter 3:8) Perhaps the most awesome truth about God’s truth, his purposes, his accomplishments is the mysteriousness of them. What does the Bible say? --"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2.9) There are so many declarations in God's word that reveal glimpses of the 'enormousness' of God and his creation--which includes the eternal dimension. God is too ‘big’ to be analyzed and described. The Bible warns believers about thinking and speaking about the eternal creator God as if we could penetrate him and understand everything about him. Believers are told: "God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." (Ecclesiastes 5.2)We cannot ‘out think’ God. His ways our ‘better’ than any ways of ours, better than anything our logic or reasoning may ‘suggest’. Being obedient to God’s word always leads to what God knows serves his purpose. In the Bible perhaps the clearest example of an individual choosing to be obedient to God even when he couldn’t understand God’s purposes and ways is the time when God told the 100-year-old Abraham to slay his only son (Isaac).In Genesis 22:2 we read God’s words to Abraham: "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." According to our logic heeding this command of God would seem to undermine or make a previously given promise of God to Abraham impossible of fulfillment. Back in Genesis 17:4-7 (when AbramAbraham was a mere 99 years old!) God had said this to AbramAbraham--"As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram your name will be Abraham for I have made you a father of many nations 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you." (Genesis 17:4-7)
The display of extreme faith/obedience which Abraham displayed on that occasion is referred to in the New Testament. In the book of Hebrews, we are told this about Abraham: "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son,18 even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned’. (Genesis 21:12) 19Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death." (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Yet, despite the conclusion that logic ‘proclaimed’ to him, Abraham chose to obey God’s direct command to slay his only son. When Abraham had started to slay Isaac, God stopped him by providing a substitute sacrifice and saying, "Do not lay a hand on the boy," ... Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." (Genesis 22:12) I am reminded of a phrase the apostle Paul used to describe the Abraham’s faith. That phrase is ‘Against all hope’. "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." (Romans 4:18) The apostle could have said, ‘Against all logic’, or ‘against all reasoning’. The apostle Paul, speaking about Abraham’s faith in general, said this--"he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." He (Abraham) is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." (Romans 4:20-21) Obedience to God’s commands overrides ‘logic’ and all reasoning that might ‘say’ some other objective is more important than to obey the commands of God. How beyond logic are God’s ways! What we consider ‘contradictions’ are permitted. How beyond comprehension are God’s ways! No, God’s ways certainly do not fit into our logical slots. The apostle Paul himself acknowledged how awesome are God’s ways, saying, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33)(Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this fact that in so many important areas of life God’s ways are ‘unsearchable’ (= are beyond human understanding), is set forth in the another section of this meditation--‘underlying assumption #3’. There, the fundamental issue of whose actions (God’s or man’s) are decisive or controlling in the matter of salvation are discussed.)What God says, not the rules of logic, is the standard of what is true! The word of God-the-Creator is over all: "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." (1 Corinthians 1:20-21)This concludes the 1st underlying assumption--believing that nothing that God does or says can be true--unless it conforms to the rules of human logic. This is not so. God’s ways are so much ‘bigger’, so much more awesome than what our earthly logic will allow.
Now let’s move on to the second assumption which necessarily underlies and influences the practice of evangelism.
UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION #2
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT GOD--THAT HE IS OR IS NOT IN CONTROL
OF WHAT HE CREATED (WHICH INCLUDES HUMAN BEINGS)
Our conception of God is assuredly the most basic assumption that shapes and controls our view of evangelism. Our conception of God necessarily ‘colors’ our view of evangelism. How could our conception of God not shape our understanding of evangelism? Is God the Creator and Master of us? (The Greek word for ‘Lord' means 'master'.) Or is our will the determiner of our destiny? Is the believer the ‘master’ of his or her own fate in this world and in the next? Who is the servant and who is the master? Who gives commands? Is God our servant? Is God our genie? Or are we believers slaves of God? How we view evangelism is to a large extent shaped by the way we answer these questions. Do we have the ‘ear of the man upstairs’ as many people of this world put it? Do we have an ‘in’ with God? What does the Bible say? "Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." (Ecclesiastes 5.2) Neither God or his truth is limited to, or by, those conclusions that the ‘laws’ of logic (reasoning) that sinful, short-lived creatures have devised.God’s truths and realities are not limited by what our logic permits. A clear example of this is the statement Jesus made to the Jewish leaders--"Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." In response to this statement of Jesus the Jewish leaders then pointed out how Jesus’ statement was a logical impossibilty. They said to Jesus "You are not yet 50 years old and you have seen Abraham!" Jesus’ response showed how God’s truth is ‘bigger’ than logic. " 'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ " (John 8:56-58) The Bible warns believers about trying to make the eternal God fit into a box constructed by sinful, creatures of God. How many times do we believers need to be told: "God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." (Ecclesiastes 5.2) [For a more detailed discussion of this subject see ‘Underlying Assumption #1]Who came first, the chicken or the egg? Who came first God or what he created? Who ‘initiates’ the process of coming to God? Who is the active party? Who is the one who is free to makes the choices? Who chooses to be rich? Who wins the lottery because heshe chose to win the lottery? Is every human being ‘free’? "The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe." (Galatians 3:22) Does the Bible say that individuals are under the control of sin but at the same time they have the power to choose when ever they want that they will no longer be a prisoner of sin? Who is saved because he chooses to be saved? Who is saved because on a date in the past heshe chose to be saved? Who chose his or her parents? Who chose when or where he or she was born? "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." (Jeremiah 13:23) Jesus said, "Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me." (John 6:45) Think of Jesus’ statement: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ 45 Becoming a believer requires a ‘hidden miracle’ which only God can bring about--a new birth, being made a new creature, an immortal creature. (John 3:3,5) Nobody can call on God unless heshe has the desire to do so. Nobody can truly obey God’s commands unless heshe has already been made a new creature by God. What did Jesus say? "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin." (John 8:34) And who creates the desire to call on God? Does the sinner create the desire to believe in God? Can a sinner create any desire? To incorporate the language of an English idiom ‘Can the sinner pull himself up by his own bootstraps’? Does the Bible say that an individual can call on God in whom he/she does not believe? Hardly! "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)
UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION #3
BELIEVING THAT BELIEVING IS A CHOICE THAT THE HEARER
(OF THE EVANGELISTIC MESSAGE) HAS THE POWER TO MAKE
Do individuals believe because they made a choice to believe? Is this what the Bible means by ‘belief’ ? Is believing a mental choice individuals make? Can a believer create belief in himself? Who chooses to believe whether a plane will stay up or whether an elevator will not fall? Can any individual lift an armored tank because he chooses to do so? Can any individual lift an armored tank because he says he believes he can? Who chooses to believe that a bolt of lightning will not hit him? If a person wins the lottery is that the result of an individual choosing to be a winner? "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:14) "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews.11:6) Faith precedes commitment. Faith is not product of commitment. Nobody can choose to believe any more than he or she can win the lottery by choosing to do so. It was Jesus who said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44; cf. 2 Peter 1.1) There are many verses in God’s word which speak about who/what determines who is saved and who is not saved.
1. The first collection of verses speaks about the condition which individuals are in before they are ‘saved’ "But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe." (Galatians 3:22) "Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you." (Psalm 143:2) "What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles (that is, everybody else) alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’ " ; (Romans 3:9-10) "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:18)Ÿ "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23)Ÿ "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—"
(Romans 5:12) "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44) "He went on to say, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.' " (John 6:65) "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their yes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them." (John 12:37-40) "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." (Jeremiah 13:23)Ÿ "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:34) "the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."
(Romans 8:7-8) "Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!" (Job 14:4) Jesus spoke of unbelievers, saying, "He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."
(John 8:47) And again, in John 10:25-27 we read Jesus words: "The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." And who are God’s sheep? Those who made a choice to be God's 'sheep'? Love in not a choice. To love God is not a choice. What the apostle Paul says about his own situation ‘before’ and after coming to faith provides more information about the issue but there is still a mystery. "But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:23-25) "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."
(Romans 8:7-8) "Ÿ "But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." (Romans 6:17-18) There is mystery here.2. Yet another category of verses in the bible which speak about who/what determines who is saved and who is not saved are those verses which speak of individuals who are currently (already) in the saved condition, that is, people who are believers now. Even these individuals who are Christians or believers now did not make the choice to believe or decide to become believers.
Ÿ What does God say to and about the believers in Ephesus? "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live
when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we
were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were
dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:1-5) The mystery continues.3. Another category of verses in the bible which speak about who/what determines who is saved and who is not saved are those verses which indicate that it is the ‘quality’ of the message, not the quality the person giving the message, that is important. The following verses have already been quoted but not this context. Even if the message of evangelism is spoken by the ‘perfect evangelist’ --Jesus himself faith or belief in the hearer may not arise. Why did everyone who heard Jesus’ words and saw Jesus’ miracles not respond with belief? Because the control of sin is complete. (Galatians 3:22) Because God had not called those hearers out of the control of sin yet. God had not made the ‘soil’ good yet. (Matthew 13:4-8)Ÿ Jesus spoke of unbelievers, saying, "He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."
(John 8:47)Ÿ And again, in John 10:25-27 we read Jesus’ words: "The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26 but you do not believe because you
are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." And who are God’s sheep? Not those who made a choice to
love God but those who do love GodThe mystery of God’s ways never disappears..4. Another category of verses that deal with the issue of who does the ‘saving’, who turned individuals from being unsaved individuals into saved individuals are the many verses in which believers are spoken of as individuals that God ‘called’.Ÿ "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make
you strong, firm and steadfast." (1 Peter 5:10)Ÿ Speaking of God, the apostle Peter says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him
who called us by his own glory and goodness." (2 Peter 1:3)Ÿ "...but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:24)Ÿ "To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:" (1 Corinthians 1:2)Ÿ The apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth says, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by
human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth." (1 Corinthians 1:26)Ÿ In the book of Romans the acts of God are listed. And one of those ‘acts’ is God’s ‘calling.’ "And those he predestined, he also called; those he
called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." (Romans 8:30)Ÿ "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus
Christ:" (Jude 1)Ÿ "And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ." (Romans 1:6)Ÿ "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)Ÿ "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ."
(Romans 1:7)Ÿ "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—" (Romans 1:1)Ÿ "God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Corinthians 1:9)Ÿ "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—" (Galatians
1:6)Ÿ "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of
many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12)Ÿ "While they (the church at Antioch) were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to
which I (God the Holy Spirit) have called them." (Acts 13:2)Ÿ The apostle Paul often referred to his status, saying, "But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased..."
(Galatians 1:15)Ÿ "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes," (1 Corinthians 1:1)Ÿ The apostle Paul spoke of his purpose and aim in life, saying, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward
in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14)Ÿ "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." (1 Peter 3:9)Ÿ What knowledge did the apostle Paul pray that the saints would have? He said, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order
that you may know the hope to which he (God) has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints," (Ephesians 1:18)Ÿ "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has
died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." (Hebrews 9:15)Ÿ God is the one "who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time," (2 Timothy 1:9)Ÿ Why behave in ways that please God? Because every individual who feels grateful for what God has done for him or her wants to please the God
who saved him or her: "just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;" (1 Peter 1:15)Ÿ "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9) In the last book of the Bible we read of believers as the ‘called’ ones: "They will make war against the Lamb (Christ), but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers." (Revelation 17:14) "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:39) God’s action is needed... "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins," (Colossians 2:13)
God’s action is needed...Listen to how the apostle spoke to the believers in his letter to the Thessalonians: "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief inthe truth." (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
Over and over again in the Bible we hear or read of God’s call. Who did the ‘calling’--God? Or did the individual ‘call’ himself or herself?
5. There is yet another group of verses which ‘say’ who did the ‘calling’ or the ‘appointing’ or the ‘choosing’. While these verses do not use the term ‘call’ they point to actions of God, not to the decisions made by human beings as being the actions that brought about the deliverance of individuals from being under the control of sin/Satan and making them citizens of heaven.
What did Jesus say to his disciples? "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." (John 15:16)
"When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48)
"For he (God) has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31)
"Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God." (1 Corinthians 4:5)
"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him (Christ) to be head over everything for the church," (Ephesians 1:22)
"For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
"And of this gospel I (Paul) was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher." (2 Timothy 1:11)
"but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." (Hebrews 1:2)
"For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31)
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins," (Colossians 2:13)
This is not to say that every time we encounter the word ‘call’ in the Bible it refers to God’s ‘calling’. Far from it. The word is used frequently in the Bible in many of the ways it is used in everyday conversations. (Revelation 6:10; Luke 16:24; 18:38; 23:46; Matthew 21:13; 23:18; Luke 1:32, 76; John 10.35; Acts 11.26; Romans 9.26)
Here as elsewhere in God’s word there are many mysteries. Many times God’s ways go beyond the bounds of our logic or our understanding.Ÿ Jesus spoke of unbelievers, saying, "He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." (John 8:47)
And again, in John 10:25-27 we read Jesus words: "The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."
Listen to how the apostle spoke to the believers in his letter to the Thessalonians: "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth." (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus," (Ephesians 2:6)
The words of the apostle Paul--"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8)"
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:24-26)
"Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." (2 Corinthians 5:1)
"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves," (Colossians 1:13)
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-3)
And who are God’s sheep? Those individuals who chose to be God’s sheep? Can anyone choose to love God? Can individuals choose to love him whom they have never believed in?
Many times God makes statements that according to our logic appear contradictory to other statements he makes. For instance, God says we are in bondage to sin so we are not free to choose his ways. God says, "the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." (Romans 8:7-8; see also Galatians 3:22) In this verse, the Bible says sinners are not free to obey or submit to God’s law. Yet the Bible is full of God’s statements about how people should behave. (For example, the ‘10 commandments’) Why has God placed his standards, his laws, before us if we have no power to conform to them? Seems contradictory. (But God’s ways are not limited to what we can understand. Often God’s ways are beyond our ways or our understanding. (see God’s own statement about his ways in Isaiah 55, quoted below) Despite the logical impossibility of unbelievers, (that is, individuals who are still under the control of sin) responding to God’s ‘call’ (Romans 8:7-8), accounts of people hearing and believing God’s word are common in this world and in the records of the Bible. God is not bothered by the ‘impossibilities’ which our logic creates.
Furthermore, over and over again in the Bible we hear of God’s Call of his people. God’s calling is not just a pretty expression but is a very definite event (even though it cannot be seen, heard, or felt). Is it not through ‘evangelism’ that God’s ‘call’ is heard? And is not the New Testament full of exhortations and commands directed at believers telling them to spread the message of what God has done? The New Testament is full of commands and exhortations addressed to believers telling them to evangel ize, to proclaim the ‘good news’ (the English meaning of the biblical term ‘gospel’ or ‘evangel’). Is not this the very point that the apostle Paul makes in Romans 10:14--"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
"Perhaps what the apostle Paul says about his own situation before(?) and after(?) coming to faith provides an answer--yet--the mystery remains: "But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:23-25)A truth that plays a part in making God’s words and actions mysterious to us is that God’s works are often hidden from the eye of man and from man’s gadgets (such as x-rays, microscopes, telescopes, etc.) Many times God’s ways are totally ‘quiet’, totally invisible, and totally beyond our understanding. God’s ‘call’ cannot be seen, heard, or felt--even by the individuals effected by God’s actions. And even when other expressions which often are the equivalent ‘God’s call’ are used, expressions such as ‘appointed to’ (Acts 10:42; 13:48; 17:31; Ephesians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Hebrews 1:2), ‘elected to’ (2 Peter 1:10), ‘made heir of’ (Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29) the actions of God are still hidden; they cannot be seen, or heard or felt. The actions of God reveal and hide the truth at the same time in the same way that Jesus’ parables did. (Matthew 13:10-11, 13)
In the Old Testament Job put it this way--"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens--what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave--what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea." (Job 11:7-9)
It is essential to remember that we cannot put God or his ways in a box. Applying our logic to God’s ways gets us in trouble because the statements of the eternal God/Creator cannot be fit (even squeezed) into the framework of logic that earth-bound, short-lived, sin-bound creatures have constructed to make sense of this world of time and space. Don’t try to force God’s truths into the confines of our logical framework. The greatest(?) theologian, the apostle Paul put it this way, saying, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33)
But the greatest and clearest statement about God’s ways is what God himself says about his truths--that his truths are on a different ‘level’ than our thoughts. God says, " 'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.' " (Isaiah 55:8-9) The Bible clearly says that it was the sacrificial death of Jesus that accomplished the deliverance of individuals from the power of sin and Satan. (John 3.18) The Bible says it was the sacrificial death of Jesus that delivered believers from death and eternal separation from God. Eternal life is what God ‘purchased’ for us. Immortality. Life ‘forever’ in God’s kingdom. No cessation of existence. What an enormous difference Christ’s death made in the eternal destiny of a certain class of individuals--those called saints, believers, Christians, etc. But, for everybody else --those individuals who did not choose to believe--was Jesus’ sacrificial death a meaningless event, a waste of time, a waste of Jesus’ life? Since the evangelist does not know who is going to choose to believe can heshe proclaim the sovereignty of God in salvation? Can heshe avoid saying (and thinking) that the sacrificial death of Christ, the sacrificial death of Son of God, was a meaningless act unless the proper human decisions are added to the actions of God?
UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION #4
BELIEVING THAT MORE EXPOSURE TO GOD'S WORD (HEARING OR READING IT)
IS AN INDICATION OF A 'CALL' OF GOD OR A GROWING BELIEF
Seeing miracles sometimes plays a decisive role (in ‘leading’ individuals to belief) but often seeing miracles plays only a ‘supporting role’ by making the evangelical message seem more reasonable. Seeing miracles may keep some people interested, may keep a ‘following’--people who listen but that is not enough; it does not necessarily produce belief or indicate that any existing belief is growing. (John 6.1,26,35)
Think of those individuals who had been followers of Jesus for many months; they had heard Jesus’ perfect words and seen Jesus’ perfect works--but still they left him.Ÿ Jesus was speaking--"On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit
gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit n and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe." ...65 He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." (John 6:60-65)
Remember Judas. With his ears he had heard so much of what Jesus said; with his eyes he had seen so much of what Jesus did --yet he betrayed Jesus.
Think of the apostles--individuals who had heard the gospel message many times from Jesus’ mouth and had even seen Jesus work many miracles--yet when they saw Jesus calm a dangerous storm they were amazed and said of Jesus ‘who is this?’ Didn’t they know? What did the apostle Peter, who at one time had said to Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16), do?
After Jesus’ arrest, three times the apostle Peter denied even knowing or having any connection with Jesus. (Matthew 26:69-74) Another of the apostles (Judas) even betrayed the Son of God! Even though the message is absolutely true and spoken with clarity, the Bible shows it does not always produce a response of faith. Not every individual is in the condition to become a believer because he saw miracles or heard the word. The parable of the different soils illustrates this truth. If the seed falls on the wrong ‘ears’ eternal destinies remain unchanged (even if the sower of the seed was Jesus himself!).
Jesus spoke a great deal of the time in parables. He says why---"The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" 11 He replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.’ 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah’: "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears,and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them." ’ " (Mat. 13:10-15)
This is one of the many obvious places in Scripture where the mysteriousness of God’s ways is apparent.
Another reason to believe that salvation is not entirely dependant upon the choices individuals make is the statement in the Bible that Satan blocks the evangelistic message of God which leads to the birth of an immortal creature: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4.4)
Even individuals who are believers now were previously in that state--under Satan’s control before they were called out darkness by God (1 Peter 2:9) The apostle Paul in his letter to the believers in the congregation at Ephesus, says, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:1-4; cf. Colossians 2.13; Romans 6.6)
The Bible does not say that unbelievers are unbelievers because they made a decision to be unbelievers or because of ignorance.
"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." (Titus 3:3)
The apostle Paul put it this way, saying, "I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness." (Romans 6:19-20)Ÿ Is the difference between being dead and being alive the result of choice? Did believers choose to be dead and later chose to be alive? "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins," (Colossians 2:13)
"for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him." (2 Peter 2:19)
"For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—" (Romans 6:6)
In his letter to the believers at Corinth the apostle Paul declared the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. He then enumerated many activities that such people indulge in. Then he said this: "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11)
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing." (2 Corinthians 4:3)
To the believers in the church in Colossae the apostle Paul said, "You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived." (Colossians 3:7)
"For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry." (1 Peter 4:3)
Evangelism: Is it proclaiming the truth that the death of Jesus saved every believer from the punishment that his or her sins deserved and bestowed upon him or her an inheritance of eternal life? Or is it telling individuals how by their own choices and actions (strength of character) they can deliver themselves from the jurisdiction of sin and turn themselves into heirs to the inheritance that God promised to all those he called out of darkness. After looking at some of the beliefs and assumptions that evangelism is based upon, prayfully, the reader will have more ideas to be taken into consideration before answering that question.
Will this ‘world’ last forever? After the 'end' which the Bible mentions frequently (e.g., Mt 10:22; 13;39, 40, 49; 1 Cor 1.8; 15.24; 1 Pet.4:7, etc.) time and history seems to disappear. "Then the King (the risen Lord) will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." (Matthew 25:34) Physical light will be replaced by spiritual light --"The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb (a reference to Christ) is its lamp." (Revelation 21:23) A few verses later we read:"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 22:5) How awesome are the features of the ‘beyond-the-death-of-the-body-inheritance’ that all believers, all saved individuals, look forward to--features which are totally ‘other worldly’, that is, totally ‘beyond’ any conceivable extension or expansion of realities that we have experienced or known of in this world. The benefits of salvation are far, far, beyond anything that compares with the ‘life’ we experience on earth before the death of the body. (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:6-8)
Were (and are) the decisions of human beings powerful enough to transform sinful beings into possessors of the promises of God? Or was the intervention of God needed to bring about this result? Perhaps an even more thought-provoking question would be to ponder whether the decisions human beings make are so ‘mighty’ that they can make null and void the accomplishments of the eternal God and Creator of everything that exists?
What is the message we are to give when we evangelize? Does it say anything about ‘life’ in the eternal dimension, the dimension on the other side of death that the Bible says is real ‘life’? (John 5:24; 1 Timothy 6:19) Does the message that is proclaimed make the individuals who hear the message of evangelism think about the inheritance that only those people God called out of darkness, only those individuals that God qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (1 Peter 2:9; Colossians 1:12-13; cf. John 8:47; 10:25-27 ), are entitled to look forward to because only such people will ‘experience’ it?
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory (the Lord in his risen state), and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. "Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." (Matthew 25:31-32, 34)
What does the Bible say to believers? "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.4 When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4)
What is evangelism? Is it proclaiming what God/Jesus the Christ has done? Or is it telling unbelievers what they can do to become entitled to the inheritance, to the eternal blessings that the sacrificial death of Christ earned? The difference is enormous. Which is it?
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