July, 2018

Evangelism – Celebrating the Image of God

Assistant Pastor Chris Diebold

For the next four weeks, we will build on Pastor Donny’s presentation of evangelism from the biblical-theological, systematic, and practical perspectives. The framework we’ll use comes from Rico Tice, one of the co-producers of Life Explored: Celebrate, Serve, Ask, Exit. This week, we begin with Celebrating the Image of God.

In the last book of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins and his faithful servant Samwise Gamgee discover that their guide through the dark land of Mordor, Gollum, has always had evil intentions against them. Though they’ve suspected it for some time, the revelation of their guide’s depravity is too much for Sam. Nevertheless he cannot take the life of this wretched creature. In part, this is because Sam knows something of the evil that has infected Gollum after travelling through dark places himself. But there is also a theme throughout The Lord of the Rings that points to the mercy and pity that Gollum repeatedly receives on account of an inherent dignity that he hasn’t yet lost amid all his evil. At the point of decision, Sam spares Gollum’s life because he takes pity on Gollum.

When we translate this into theological terms in the real world, this points to the fact that every man, woman, and child is made in the image of God and thus deserving of dignity. For a brief proof of this truth, remember that mankind was made in the image of God at creation (Gen 1:26). That man did not lose the image of God after the Fall was confirmed in the time of Noah (Gen 9:6). Finally, this truth was carried into the New Testament as a foundational truth (1 Cor 11:7; James 3:9). Humanity was, is, and will be made in the image of God.

But when we’re honest, we can admit that we’re prone to deny certain people the status of image bearer. Adolf Hitler is a good, if not extreme, example. For all the terrible and inexcusable death and destruction that he caused, he was no less made in the image of God than you are. But it doesn’t take much to view Hitler as less than an image bearer, does it?

The reality is that all of humanity, even the worst of it, possesses inherent dignity simply for the fact that all of humanity was, is, and will be made in the image of God. That is something to celebrate. Your family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers are made in the image of God, and at least for that reason you need to take an interest in them. One way we take interest in people is to concern ourselves with their physical and spiritual health. We’ll develop this point next week when we consider what it looks like to serve fellow image bearers.

But we can extend our understanding of the image of God one step farther and say that, while each individual is made in the image and likeness of God, only the totality of humanity can fully reflect the image of God. Herman Bavinck explains:

Not the man alone [Adam], nor the man and woman [Eve] together, but only the whole of humanity is the fully developed image of God, his children, his offspring. The image of God is much too rich for it to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be. It can only be somewhat unfolded in its depth and riches in a humanity counting billions of members.[1]

Bavinck reminds us that humanity is not merely a loose collection of bodies, a “heap of souls on a tract of land.” Humanity in its variety and expanse expressed as an organic whole reflects the height and breadth and depth of God. This variety extends to both people’s associations with each other and each person’s work. “Belonging to that humanity is also its development, its history, its ever-expanding dominion over the earth, its progress in science and art, its subjugation of all creatures.”[2] Our life and work and play are all connected to the idea of what it means to be image bearers.

None of this is meant to minimize the sinfulness of mankind. The doctrine of total depravity is a reminder that there is nothing inside of us by which we can be saved. It is, though, meant to be a reminder that total depravity doesn’t mean that someone is as bad as they could be. If we are mirrors, we have been broken beyond self-repair. But we still reflect, no matter how distorted, because that’s what mirrors do.

What does this have to do with evangelism? Before you can share the good news of Jesus Christ, you must know that your family member, neighbor, friend, or coworker is made in the image of God; he or she possesses inherent dignity. You must have an attitude that celebrates the way that his or her life is wrapped up in what it means for humanity to be made in God’s image. You must see the surpassing worth of this image bearer.

And when you do, you will understand all the more deeply why you need to share the gospel with him or her.

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2003), 1:577.

[2] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:577.

Evangelism – A Practical View

The overall sweep and story of the Scriptures is of a God who graciously and generously gives of himself to his people. He draws all nations, tribes, and tongues to a redeemed fellowship with himself. The gospel is a global call to union in Christ. The Scriptures also detail that there is both an outward and inward call of the gospel. Outwardly, this message of repentance and faith is to be proclaimed universally and liberally to the world. Inwardly, the Holy Spirit will enliven and regenerate the hearts of the elect, so that the outward call will produce the fruit of the repentance. But practically speaking, what does this mean for the average church member? What are the practical out workings, the day-to-day reality, for regular folks? What does evangelism look like?

The Book of Acts provides us with some very practical and real-life instruction for how we are to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel. This book displays God’s plan of salvation for his people and God’s purposes in fulfilling his plan. God is sovereign in his election and providence. He will ordain scenarios to fulfill his purposes. His people will be in the right place at the right time to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ. In his time, he will empower his people to take the good news of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Acts 8:26-40 gives an excellent example of this theme.

As we have seen, the Scriptures from the beginning have pointed to the fact that God’s glory will be seen among the nations. Through either an inward draw or the outward push, the gospel will go out to all nations. Psalm 68 speaks of the global reign of God’s Anointed. Verse 31 points to the promise that all nations will come to know God as Savior and King. Specifically, it notes two nations. “Nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush [Ethiopia] shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God” (Ps 68:31). This promise is partially fulfilled in the scene between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8. This is the gospel going to the end of the earth. God ordained a gospel conversation so that this Ethiopian would hear the good news and be saved. We can learn a good deal about the role we are to practically play in God’s global call to the gospel.

God ordains for Philip to be in a particular time and place. He does this by sending an angel to guide Philip. And he leads him to an Ethiopian eunuch who had come to Jerusalem to worship but is now on his way back home. In our lives, we see something similar. God’s providence is at work through the myriad of choices and events that result in our being exactly where we are. It is no coincidence that you are where you are. It is no coincidence that you are in relationship with the people around you. God has you were you are supposed to be, surrounded by the people you are supposed to be surrounded with. Don’t underestimate this.

It may also be beneficial for us to realize that this story takes place in the desert. Philip was given a command by the Lord without an explanation of why. The purpose for his being in the desert was unknown to Philip. It is unlikely that Philip longed for that situation, but he was faithful to God’s leading, trusting that the Lord would fulfill his purposes through him. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we do not prefer. Perhaps you find yourself in some situation that is unwanted. Perhaps you’re surrounded by people you assume would never be open to the gospel. But God will place you in the desert for a reason. Sometimes the door of divine opportunity opens in unlikely places. John Calvin explained that sometimes God will deal with us in this manner to prove our obedience. He will give us the command but keep the reason from us. We must, therefore, be content with the command alone. Even if the reason is not plainly expressed, all the commands of God contain a hidden promise, so that if we obey, all we do will turn out well. No matter what your current situation is, God is opening doors for gospel conversations with people around you.

The Lord instructs Philip to speak with this Ethiopian man. It so happens that the eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. And he had questions about it. Now this might seem remarkable to us. We might think, “No one has ever asked me what this passage from Isaiah means. If they did that, well, of course I’d be ready for a gospel conversation.” But the truth is that more often than not we are sitting at the traffic light after it has turned green. The cars behind are honking their horns. And we’re just waiting for some sign before we go. We should pay closer attention to the signs people give us. People are asking all sorts of questions, making all sorts of statements, that reveal their longing to know Jesus. We just need to pay attention.

The final practical point from Philip is seen in how he responds to his God-ordained circumstances. “Then Philip opened his mouth…” (Acts 8:35). What did he do? He simply opened his mouth. He saw the opportunity and he stepped out in faith by opening his mouth. Philip spoke about what the Bible says about Jesus. He led the Ethiopian to repentance of sin and faith in Christ. This might seem intimidating to you. But the key is to simply have the courage to open your mouth. The Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration. You’ll never persuade someone with your eloquence to believe in Jesus. But the Holy Spirit will use your semi-coherent ramblings to draw someone to faith. We give the outward call but the Spirit makes it effective by his inward call. We are simply to respond to our circumstances with obedience by opening out mouths.

 

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

 

Evangelism – A Systematic View

A friend once challenged me to read through the Bible with a highlighter. He said, “Everywhere you see something in the Bible about evangelism or sharing the gospel with the nations, highlight that.” Then he quipped, “If you do this, you’ll run out of highlighter before you run out of Bible.”

He’s right. The Bible is thoroughly focused on missionary and evangelistic endeavors. But this makes total sense because we know the Bible is fundamentally and primarily about God. It is about the glory of God being proclaimed through all of creation. It is about how sin has robbed God of that glory, but how God in his mercy is redeeming that which is lost so that sinners may be brought back into the glory of his holy presence. The Bible is fundamentally and primarily a book of God’s glory displayed in the Triune work of God giving God through God that we might be made sons of God. So, by definition, God’s grace in giving himself is an outward focused evangelistic event.

Theologians have described this outward expression of how God brings the blessing of God to sinners as “the calling.” Wilhelmus À Brakel defines the calling as, “a gracious work of God, whereby He invites the sinner by means of the gospel to exchange the state of sin and wrath for Christ, in order that through Him he may be reconciled to God and obtain godliness and salvation. By means of this calling He also, by the Holy Spirit, efficaciously translates His elect into this state.”[1] When the Bible speaks about evangelism, it is speaking of this calling.

There are two different aspects to this calling that should be discussed. There is an external and an internal call to the gospel. Both come from God. Both occur by means of God’s Word. Both are presented to human beings who are by nature sinners. But there are key differences. This distinction is not explicitly termed in Scripture, but is easily deduced. Herman Bavinck explains with five reasons. First, not all people respond the same way to the calling. All are sinners (Rom. 3:9-19; 5:12; 9:21; 11:32). All are dead in their trespasses (Eph. 2:1-3). They are darkened in their understanding (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 4:18; 5:8). On their own they cannot do good (John 15:5; 2 Cor. 3:5). So, the different response among people requires there to be at least dual aspects to the calling. Otherwise, either all would be saved or none would. Second, simply the preaching of God’s Word is not enough. The Old Testament bears witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration (Isa. 32:15; Jer. 31:33; 32:39; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26; Joel 2:28). As does the New Testament (John 15:26-27; Acts 2:1-4). Third, the work of redemption belongs to God. It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God (Rom. 9:16). It is a divine work, so the calling must not only be the Word but the Spirit. Fourth, what is wrought in the heart by the Spirit is too great to be explained as an intellectual convincing by the preaching of the Word. Fifth, Scripture speaks of the calling in a dual sense. It speaks of a calling and invitation in which there is no positive response (Isa. 65:12; Matt 22:3, 14; 23:37). The gospel is proclaimed and yet some people remain in their obstinacy, “to one a fragrance from death to death” (2 Cor. 2:16). But others hear and believe, “to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 5:16).[2]

The explanation for the different responses to the call of God is that there is an external and an internal call. The external call happens by means of the Word. It is hearing the apostolic message concerning the Christ. It may result in a knowledge of God, even a true knowledge about God. But it does not necessarily result in saving faith. The internal call, however, is the work of the Holy Spirit who, in conjunction with and by means of the Word of God, operates upon the heart of man. His eyes are opened (Eph 1:18). His will is turned to Christ (Phil. 2:13). He is made alive (Eph 2:5-6). He is brought out of darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). It brings true knowledge of the apostolic message concerning the Christ together with personal trust in the same Christ. Both the external and internal are necessary for salvation.

God’s glory is displayed through his grace by giving himself for sinners. Because of this all Christians are to participate in the proclamation of this message. There is a universal offer of the grace of God. The external call is to be broadcast universally even if only some will respond with an internal call. The Scriptures are clear that the gospel is to be preached to all people. God will save those whom he will save. That is not our prerogative. It is to come to all people without distinction. We do not know whether one will respond in faith. We only know that the outcome is determined by God’s perfect will. But because we trust in God’s perfect will, we know that the preaching of the gospel will bear fruit. It will neither be ineffective nor useless. It will always accomplish its purpose (Isa. 55:11). And this purpose is not primary about man’s salvation but the glory of his name.

[1] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), II.192.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic, 2008), 4.43.

Evangelism – A Biblical Theological View

One of the consistent drumbeats of the Scriptures is that the Good News of Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed to the world. A heart to share the Gospel with others should flow out of a church committed to the Scriptures because the natural result of the work of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures is a desire to share Christ with others. John Stott says:

It is the Bible that lays upon us the responsibility to evangelize the world, gives us a gospel to proclaim, tells us how to proclaim it, and promises us that it is God’s power for salvation to every believer. It is, moreover, an observable fact of history, both past and contemporary, that the degree of the church’s commitment to world evangelization is commensurate with the degree of its conviction about the authority of the Bible.

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a call to Christians to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the lost. As we prepare for our outreach through Life Explored, we hope to give a thoroughly biblical basis for why we share the Gospel.

The Great Commission (Matt. 26:19-20) is important for the call to proclaim the gospel to the nations. But it is but one passage that reflects the consistent message of whole of Scripture. The story of God presented in the Scriptures is that of a God committed to glorifying himself in the redemption of the lost through the mission of the church.

The God of the Old Testament is a missionary God. The Old Testament begins with the pre-existence and immanence of God. Before there was anything, there was God. And all things that exist come about by the power of his word. All of creation proclaims the glory of God (Ps. 19:1, Rom. 1:20). God is Triune. He exists in perfect fellowship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He needs nothing and creates out of no deficit. He simply creates by his grace and for his glory. God creates man as the crowning glory of all creation (Gen. 1:26-31). In his image and with the ability to fellowship with him, God creates man. And he instructs man to fill the earth with more image-bearers. He is to populate and subdue the whole of creation. He is to cultivate and exercise dominion over all things. God’s original purpose and design for man was to fill the earth with worshipers of God.

The fall of man (Gen. 3) did not change this purpose, though it changed the path. Because of the alienation from and enmity with God caused by sin, man needed atonement and redemption. God in his infinite wisdom and grace promised a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15). The promise of atonement and redemption would come through God’s anointed. This Chosen One would come through the line of Abraham. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). This seminal promise of atonement and redemption is unfolded and expanded throughout the Old Testament. From Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to the people of Israel, the promise of a land, a seed, and a blessing continues. The promise is not snuffed out by their slavery in Egypt, instead a redeemer is raised up in Moses. And the global reach of the promise continues to grow.

The scattering and confusion of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11) is slowly undone by the centripetal force of God. The nations are drawn into the people of God. The nation of Israel was never just the ethnic people of Israel, but it always included the sojourner, the alien, the fatherless, and the slave. The promise of God had a gravitational pull that drew in the nations.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many people shall come, and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’ (Isa. 2:2-4, Micah 4:1, 2).

The house of the LORD will be made the highest of mountains, but notice what happens on this great peak; the nations flow up to it. Rivers and streams flow down mountains. They don’t flow up. They only flow up if there is something at the top with a tremendous force of attraction. The God of the Old Testament is a missionary God who draws the nations to himself.

The God of the New Testament is a missionary God. The Gospels display the transcendent God stepping into humanity to walk among us. The fullness of God comes to dwell in the fullness of man. The Christ of the Gospels is God on a mission to provide atonement and redemption for God’s people. The book of Acts displays the Holy Spirit coming to dwell among the Church. The Spirit descends upon the people and the curse of Babel is reversed at Pentecost (Acts 2). Suddenly, the centripetal force which drew the nations in toward God explodes outward. The movement of the gospel becomes centrifugal as the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ is broadcast outward into the world. The epistles of the New Testament display a church that exists to mature the faith in believers and to proclaim the faith to non-believers. The gospel is meant to be received, accepted, and then passed along. And the book of Revelation displays the climax of the missionary purpose. As man was given a mandate in creation to fill the earth with worshipers of God, that purpose is fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth as “a great multitude, that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, … crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9, 10).

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a call to Christians to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the redemptive focus of the Bible. If we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, then the Church needs to be about the mission of the Bible. A church that does not embrace the missionary and evangelistic call of God in the Scriptures is not a church. Let us heed the call and lift up our voice to proclaim that message.

Introducing Life Explored – a tool for evangelism

Fear. Fear of man, in particular, is the number one reason cited by Christians for why they do not evangelize. Some say that they are fearful because they do not know enough theology (though I’m inclined to believe that knowing a lot of theology can be a greater hindrance to effective evangelism). Others say that they are fearful of the reaction of their family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers when they talk about their faith. Whatever the specific cause of it, fear tends to paralyze us when we think about evangelism.

Lest you think that your pastors are immune to this fear, let me assure that I, too, experience this fear. Far too many times than I care to admit, I have let an opportunity to testify to the good news of Jesus Christ pass by. I fail to speak up when I know that the time is right to give glory to God.

The root of this fear is a lack of faith. When I fail to speak up, I am actually failing to believe that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). That is Paul’s summary statement after he levels three rhetorical questions at the reader. He says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Our family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers need to hear the gospel in order to call upon the name of the Lord. We need to have the faith to evangelize them in spite of our fear of man.

That we should evangelize is plain. How we evangelize is another matter altogether. There is a place for what some have called “confrontational” evangelism. After all, Paul himself reasoned (or argued with) those in the synagogues; he reasoned with the everyday people in the market places; he reasoned with the academics in Athens. This kind of evangelism is still done today with enduring effect, e.g. at the Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, NJ.

However, it is not the only method of evangelism. Moreover, it is arguably not the most effective. Some surveys have indicated that “relational” evangelism was the method used in more than 75% of conversions. This kind of evangelism focuses on leveraging personal relationships as the gospel is proclaimed to the world.

Within this kind of evangelism, there are many tools to help believers evangelize the lost in their midst. One of those tools is called Life Explored. This tool, which is produced by Christianity Explored Ministries, provides an occasion to present the gospel and to work through the questions of unbelievers. I have seen this tool used in other churches, and I have heard from more that it has been an effective tool in encouraging congregations to evangelize the lost around them.

What exactly is Life Explored? Before I answer that question, I want to give one important reminder. No tool or method of evangelism is a cause of conversion. God converts the heart of a sinner through his Word. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Tools and methods are analogous to what time we worship on the Lord’s Day. There is nothing special about 10:35 am. It is a circumstance, a tool, for accomplishing our chief end, glorying God and enjoying him on the Lord’s Day. Nevertheless, setting a time for worship, or settling on one tool or method for evangelism, helps us to keep in mind our goal. We have chosen to introduce Life Explored because we think it will be a helpful way to encourage you to evangelize.

With that said, we can now address what Life Explored actually is. It is an evangelism program based on a series of gatherings of believers and unbelievers for the sake of presenting the gospel message and engaging with the inevitable questions that arise. Church members invite a family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, etc. to a series of evenings during which a meal is shared, a short video is played, a time for discussion is given, and a final short video is played that presents the gospel. Life Explored is a tool, a means to stimulate discussion with the family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker whom you brought along.

Three things need to be highlighted from what has just been said. First, it is most effective in small groups in which honest discussion is encouraged. Second, it is most effective when a meal is shared before digging into the content of the videos. It is much easier to make relational connections with someone with whom you’ve just broken bread. Finally, Life Explored is far more effective if a believer personally invites—and attends with—an unbeliever. It is important to maintain at least an equal ratio between those who know the gospel and those who don’t. Too many believers in a group can stifle conversation.

Over the next couple months, these reflections will take up the topic of evangelism. Our aim is to prepare you to participate in our first Life Explored series by giving you theological and practical underpinnings for why it is important to evangelize. During this time, please pray earnestly about who God desires you to invite to Life Explored. Then invite them.