Monday, February 9, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Mission (1 of 2)

The first few disciplines in this series (Bible Intake, Prayer, Worship) are largely concepts easy to digest for a Christian. Of course, digesting the thought does not mean we do them, or do them consistently. But this week begins a transition to some disciplines which most everyone might agree are necessary, but are inclined to say they apply more to someone else – perhaps because someone else might do it better. Yet, the Disciplines are not a matter of comparison or competition. Each Discipline is a matter of obedience to God. The Disciplines are about us Becoming Like God. It is about training for godliness (1 Timothy 4.7-8). We need training...we need to exercise these disciplines in our lives to become godly people. So, this week, we review the next discipline in the list – the discipline of evangelism.

First, we must understand, evangelism is expected. Jesus commands us to share the message. (See Matthew 28.19-20; Mark 16:15;  Luke 24.46-47; John 20.21; Acts 1.8). All of these have an aspect of discipleship to them, but discipleship starts with evangelism. And as God’s chosen people, it is our responsibility (cf. 1 Peter 2.9-10).  If we have received God’s mercy, shouldn’t we tell others about it?

So if evangelism is expected, let’s make sure we know what evangelism is. What is evangelism? It is simply to communicating the gospel – and the gospel simply means “good news.” JI Packer provides a more robust definition. Evangelism is “presenting Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to sinful people in order that they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to receive Him as their Savior, and to serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church.” (I will return to this definition in the second post.)

Secondly, evangelism is empowered. Imagine an author that asked you to tell His story without any knowledge of the story. Now certainly, a name might suggest the type, or at least some characteristic, of the story. For instance, the name Dr. Seuss brings one type of story to mind. Stephen King’s name means something quite different. But God is more than just a story writer. He is a story maker. And we are a part of His-story – History. And as if that wasn’t enough, He gives us the Holy Spirit to help us tell His story. Re-read Acts 1.8. And yet we don’t. Why? Well, let me give you four of the most common reasons with a couple of thoughts on each.

“I might be rejected.” Yes, you might. But the reality is that heaven and hell are at stake. We forget that. And we should worry about rejection, but not from the person(s) in front of us. Jesus said, in Matthew 10.28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Jesus also said, if we don’t acknowledge Him before men, He will not acknowledge us before the Father. Who would you rather reject you? Your family? Your neighbor? Your coworker? Or Jesus?

“I might fail.”  What is success in evangelism? Sharing. The only way you truly fail is not to do it. Let me ask it this way: Do you think Jesus ever failed at sharing what people needed to do to receive eternal life? No, of course not. Read Mark 10.17-22. Jesus told the man what to do. But the man didn't do it. Did Jesus fail? No. Then if you share, you can’t fail either. Here’s another analogy. What is the single most important task of the postal service. Getting the mail delivered! The job isn’t to make sure the mail gets opened, or dealt with properly. It is simply to make sure the message gets delivered. That is our job too. The acceptance of the message is up to God. The person cannot respond without faith – Ephesians 2.8-9. But faith comes from hearing the gospel – Rom 10.17.
Other people know what I have done.” Good. Then it can show what God has done even more. If people know we sin, and yet we go to church, and follow God, etc. then the Holy Spirit can use our story for His glory. It isn’t about us, it is about Him. After all, isn’t that what happened to Paul? The early church was deathly afraid of Paul – and for good reason. But some people may not have been able to relate to people like Peter or John or others. After all, they had been with Jesus. But Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 that he was the least of the apostles. In Ephesians 3, Paul wrote he was the least of all the saints. And in 1 Timothy 1, he says he was the foremost of sinners. Paul couldn’t deny God made him an apostle or a saint. But he also couldn’t deny that he was the chief of sinners. And if Paul has the title of the chief of sinners, then all of us fall under that. We are still sinners. But we are still saved by grace. We are still imperfect people. BUT GOD, loves us anyway. And we don’t come to church because we are perfect, we come because we are still learning to be what He wants us to be.

Finally, and perhaps the most common expression is:

“I don’t know enough.” Simply put, we are not confident in our knowledge of God and His Word. The reality is that most Christians know far more than they believe they know, we just don’t do what we know to do. Yet, we use an excuse of not knowing enough, we are giving too much credit to people that have never read the Bible. Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t be asked hard questions – including questions we don’t know the answer to. But, any reasonable person will give you an opportunity to get back to them. We must just make sure we follow through as planned.

Remember, point 2 is about being empowered. By the Holy Spirit. The four excuses above have one thing in common - a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit. Yet Scripture provides one example of a man who didn’t even know of the Spirit and could have used any of these excuses much more legitimately than you and I...but shared Jesus anyway. The story is found in John 9. The story is about a man who had been blind from birth and waited daily for charity. But one day, as Jesus passed by, this man was healed after Jesus sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam.

What happened next? Everyone started talking about him. Isn’t this the guy who used to beg (a half-hour ago!)? So they took him before the Pharisees – the people who knew more about God than anyone, or so they thought. And the Pharisees questioned him, in part, because the healing was on the Sabbath. But the guy didn’t know anything. He told the pharisees that the man must be a prophet. He didn’t know anything else. He said in 9.25, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” When they kept questioning the man, the man asked the pharisees, “Do you want to be His disciples?”

Think about this: Everyone talked about the man’s past. They were rejecting him and even put him on trial as a possible fraud. The man did not have any real knowledge – certainly not anywhere near the knowledge of the Pharisees. And he didn’t even know who had helped him. Yet, he proclaimed the name of Jesus. Oh, and it was only after this, that the man truly learned who Jesus was.

The man simply told others what Jesus had done for him. That’s the least that we can do. We may not know who will be affected or when, but God’s Word, and God’s work will impact others. Evangelism is like if everyone hearing the message was carrying around a lightning rod. We may not know who or when, but someone will eventually be struck.

In the next post, I will review evangelism as a discipline and provide options for applying this discipline to our lives.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

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