God’s Law Shows Us As Wise

Reading Deuteronomy 4, I came across something that grabbed my attention in a very strong way. It is one of those paragraphs that feels wrong in our culture. But it is absolutely perfect.

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 – 5 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

When God sent Israel into the land, he told them to keep his law. One reason for them to keep his law is that doing so would show the people of Israel as wise to the watching pagan world around them. People would see a people who were different from them in a thousand ways, and that difference would be notable.

This paragraph stands as an indictment against our modern American culture. God is clear that lost people should see the people of God who live according to the commands of God and find it wise. Lost people should see how we deal with worship, with family, with community, with justice, with charity, and they should be amazed at how orderly and wise is the word of God. It is a black mark against America that we as a nation no longer express respect for the justice and wisdom of the word of God.

And this stands as an indictment against the modern church. We as the people who claim the name of God today in America—I’m here talking about big evangelicalism in general—have failed to cling to the word of God in the face of society. Church after church and organization after organization has let go of the word of God. Bit by bit, standard after standard, people who say they love God are letting Go of God’s word and God’s ways so as to look pleasing to our culture. We fear that our culture will not like us, will not accept us, might even persecute us if we do not show them that we are willing to adopt their ways. And thus we deny that the word of God is clear that the people of God, living in accord with the word of god, will ultimately amaze the watching world with the wisdom of God’s word and ways.

Church, let us love and obey the word of God. Yes, that will make us look different from the world. That is, after all, the point. There is no value in winning someone to a gospel that has let go of the word of God as if that is any sort of gospel at all. We must look, think, and act differently than the world around us. And we reach out to that world with the grace of the God whose word we obey. God will use that word to convict others of sin and draw them to himself. And we must never pretend that following the Lord looks just like the rest of the world, only with a little cross attached somewhere.

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Evangelism as Warning

In the world of the modern church, I can think of few places where pastors beat up their church members more than the area of evangelism. I have known pastors who can be sweet and encouraging toward people who are hurting, who are kind to those who are slow learners, who are patient with those who just can’t seem to throw off a habitual sin, but who will absolutely grind you to powder if your practice of evangelism does not match theirs—or what they wish theirs was.

Let’s be sure we have a couple of things clear as Christians. God certainly commands us to go and make disciples. Evangelism is a right, loving practice. When you share the gospel, you love God, love your neighbor, and benefit yourself. Preaching Christ matters.

Part of the problem for us could be that we have mistaken the outcome of evangelism with the command to evangelize. We think that we are commanded to make people believe. Thus, we are afraid that our practice of sharing the gospel will do harm and not good. This is a theologically illogical view, but it is common.

But let me remind us that the true success in evangelism is honoring God by obeying his commands and speaking the truth. We are to tell people the truth and leave the results to God. That does not mean we are passionless or unconcerned regarding the souls of our friends. But it does mean that we do not bear the weight of responsibility regarding their response or the hidden workings of God’s Holy Spirit.

Consider the watchman passage from Ezekiel 33.

Ezekiel 33:1-6 – – 1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, 3 and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.

What is the watchman’s job? The job of the watchman is to sound an alarm. He is to give a warning. He is to tell the truth. The Watchman is guilty if he has knowledge of danger that he refuses to share. But the watchman is not guilty if he shares and people do not care.

I think we would do well to remember that in many cases, our job is to warn of real dangers. We are to play the watchman role. We are to tell the world around us that there is a danger they face and a solution to that danger. We do not have to own responsibility for their responses. But we do need to carry the weight of knowing the truth and the need to share that truth with those who will hear us.

In fact, I wonder if the warning motif might be a helpful way to share the gospel. We often attempt to share with others by trying to convince them of all the neat benefits they could have if they would just be in the faith. And, of course, the benefits of knowing the Lord are infinitely wonderful. But what about a kind warning? You think about it. What would it sound like to offer a friend or family member a caring warning for their souls? How would it be different if the conversation began with, “Because I care about you, I want to let you know about a danger we all face?” This is not the conversation that says I am good and they are bad. Nor is it me offering an opinion about what I think about modern ethics. It is simply me saying that God’s word gives us clear data, and we need to be under his grace if we are to avoid his judgment.

If they respond with a lack of caring about the word or the message, I do not have to continue a major argument. But what I can do for sure is know that I have offered an honest warning of a real danger. I can be sure that people understand that my warning comes from me caring about them and not from me feeling superior to them.

In our world, I hear warnings from people regularly. People love to tell us what too much social media does to our brains. People tell us what too much sugar does to our bodies. People tell us that gluten is pure evil. Why not be willing to sound a simple alarm about the need to be under the grace of God?

A Prophet Has Been Among them

There are some single lines in the Bible that ring in my ears every time I hear them. One such line is found in Ezekiel 2. I hear the sound of this sentence, and it sort of has the impact of hearing the Rocky theme for a preacher who cares about what he is doing.

Ezekiel 2:3-5- 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.

God is sending Ezekiel to a people who have been stubborn and disobedient. His job will be to tell this rebellious people the word of God. And any preacher would wonder what he should think about the mission. What if I’m not successful? What if they will not listen?

God says to Ezekiel, and this is what rings in my ears, “And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” No matter what they do, whether they listen or not, they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Christians, does this not set your blood aflame? We are in a stubborn and fallen world. We have a gospel to proclaim. They may not listen. But do we not want them to know that there have been preachers of God’s word among them?

And pastors, does this not set your heart aflame? We will stand in pulpits. We will bring the word of God to a people, some of whom care and some of whom are ticking a box on their to-do lists. But you and I, we can preach the word. We can tell the truth. We can refuse to compromise. We can make sure they know that a prophet of God has been among them.

Motivated by Eternity

What makes the lives and values of Christians different from the lives and values of those around them? In that question, I’m not declaring that all who claim to be Christian are nicer or better in any way than anyone else. What I am pointing to is the fact that true Christians have a different value system than the world around them. True Christians live by a morality that is different than the world around them.

The concept of Christians holding to a different morality or a different meaning for life is an offensive thing to the world in which we live. When Christians declare that something is a sin that the world does not call a sin, the world is deeply offended. The world accuses the Christian of being hateful if the Christian and the world see a moral imperative differently.

There are certainly people in the world who would call themselves Christians and who are hateful people. But those who love God and his word would not truly be categorized as hateful. Yet, those who love God and his word will certainly honestly declare that there is such a thing as sin, that the morality of our culture is no longer in line with that of the Lord, and that repentance is necessary if we are to avoid destruction. Loving Christians must not be silent, even if the world receives loving warnings as hateful declarations.

Have you ever stopped to wonder, however, why it is that we keep on? Why do Christians continue to say what we say in a world that does not want to hear us? Why do we continue to risk our own comforts, sometimes our own freedoms, so that we can keep declaring the truths of the word of God? Why do we live valuing things the world hates? Isn’t it hard?

1 Corinthians 15:30-32 – 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul shares with the church a moment of painful honesty. Paul says he dies every day. Every day of his life in Ephesus, at least over a season, was a heart-piercing challenge. Paul refers to his opponents as wild beasts, nasty, aggressive, evil men sent on his destruction. Why did Paul keep it up?

The context of this discussion is a fundamental discussion of life after death. Some in Corinth were declaring that there is no resurrection of the dead. And Paul, in the light of that craziness, says that if there is no resurrection from the dead, if there is no literal life to come after this one, then he might as well join the pagans in their debauchery.

In that, we are reminded of a motivation for our living differently. Why do we press on even when the world is going to hate us for not agreeing with their morality? The answer is that we keep on because there is life after death. There is an eternity to come in which we will all continue to exist. There is a heaven. There is a hell. There is a God we face. And the reality of eternity keeps Christians leaning into hard things in this life.

If all my morality consists of is a personal preference as to what is good and what is icky, I have no reason, no motivation to share it. If all I have is what I think is a better system to pass our years on earth before ending into nothingness, then I have no reason to share it. But, if what I have is the true word of God, a word that declares a life after this one—a life that will last infinitely longer than this one—I have a real reason to share it. I want to honor the God who has given me grace. I want to have the joy of speaking his truth even if others cannot tolerate it. I want to call on others to turn from sin and surrender to the Lord for his mercy. I want to see people saved for eternity. And that eternity that exists beyond this life, that eternity is what will continue to motivate Christians to declare the gospel of Christ to a world that does not want it.

Why tell people what is sinful? We tell people things are sinful so they can see that they need the Savior. Why risk offending people with our morality? We risk it because we are declaring the standards of the God who made us, who will judge us, and who understands true morality in a way that sinful humans cannot. Why go through the hardship when we know the world will mostly reject it? We go through the hardship to honor the Lord and because we know that some who hear the message, by the grace of God, will see their sin, see the grace of Christ, turn away from sin, turn to Jesus, and be saved for eternity. We press on, motivated by eternity.

They Need Scripture, Not Miraculous Evidence

When we have friends, neighbors, or family members we want to see saved, we may find ourselves wishing for a supernatural occurrence to help them to believe. I’m not here talking about the work of the sovereign God on a heart to draw someone to Christ. Rather, I am thinking about something that is considered amazing, miraculous, and somehow a proof of the truth of the gospel. We want our family members to see a healing, to have a dramatic impression of the presence of God, or be miraculously preserved from a car accident. Then we think that they will let that evidence lead them to faith.

But such a belief is not in accord with the very words of Jesus. Our Savior did not say that the lost need a dramatic experience of evidence. Nor did he say that they need a really good argument. Jesus said that the lost, if they are to be saved, need Scripture.

In Luke 16, Jesus gives us the story of the lost rich man and the beggar, Lazarus. The rich man is in hell and Lazarus in paradise. The rich man has a conversation with Abraham, and that conversation represents the teaching point. First the rich man asked for relief from his torment, but that was not possible or proper. Then the rich man asked for Abraham to send Lazarus to be a miraculous witness to his brothers so they could avoid hell.

Luke 16:2931 – 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

Note what is said here. The rich man wants something miraculous, something dramatic, something that feels like irrefutable evidence. Abraham says they have Scripture. The rich man does not think Scripture is enough. Who would ever expect that just continuing to quote the Bible, continuing to preach verse after verse, would somehow have an impact.

But what does Jesus tell us through the mouth of Abraham in this account? If they will not hear the word of God in Scripture, nothing will make them believe. They will not believe, even if a person rises from the dead. Of course, Jesus knows a thing or two about people rising from the dead in front of the lost.

Christians, may we see that the word of God taught by the Son of God here tells us that what the lost need is not a sign. The lost do not need to talk with the dead. The Lost do not need an irrefutable argument. After all, you and I have all seen people ignore irrefutable arguments. What the lost need is the clear presentation of the word of God. Because, if they will not believe the word of god, they would not believe if they saw a dead person resurrected before their eyes. That is what Jesus said, and it is still true today.

No, this does not make me anti-apologetics. What it makes me is one who recognizes what apologetics can and cannot do. Apologetics might make someone stop yelling at you long enough to listen to you. Apologetics might make a person think you less of an idiot than they originally thought you to be. Apologetics might gain you a hearing in a person’s mind. But, friends, at the end of the day, the only thing that will bring a person to salvation is the word of God spoken and the power of God sovereignly bringing a dead heart to life.

Sovereignty and Evangelism II

If you have wrestled with the issue of God’s sovereignty in salvation, election, reformed theology, or whatever else you may want to call it, you have surely run across different objections to the concept. Some struggle with the issue of why God might do things this way. Some struggle with the way that some verses in the Bible seem very clear on the topic while other verses do not. Some struggle with the fact that teachers they love or the denominations to which they belong oppose this teaching. And some wrestle with the question of how a belief in election will impact one’s view of evangelism.

 

That last objection crossed my mind as I read through Acts 16. Watch, and see if you can see with me how God’s word points to his sovereignty in salvation on the one hand while still making a global call to faith in Christ on the other.

 

Acts 16:14-15 – – 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

 

This account is the salvation story of Lydia. She had been a worshipper of God in the Old Covenant context. But any reader should see that she needed the gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved. Lydia heard, believed, and responded to her new faith with believer’s baptism. Lydia here is saved.

 

But notice the detail of the sovereignty of God. Why did Lydia believe? The word tells us, “The Lord opened her heart.” This is why Lydia believed, God did a work first in her heart to enable her to do so. God opened her heart so that she would pay attention to Paul, so that she would believe, so that she would be saved. Thus, the ultimate credit for her salvation is the Lord’s.

 

Now, the big question comes. Does such a view then make Scripture put the brakes on evangelism? Well, first we see that it does not, because Paul was openly proclaiming the gospel. Though Luke, with Paul at this point, saw that the salvation of Lydia was due to God opening her heart, that did not stop Paul from sharing with all he could.

 

And then notice what happens later, once Paul is in jail for preaching.

 

Acts 16:30-31 – 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

 

Assuming we accept that verse 14 speaks to us of the sovereign hand of God at work in Lydia’s salvation, it is then instructive to see how Paul speaks to the Jailer. When the man asked how to be saved, Paul’s answer was very direct and very simple. Believe in the Lord Jesus. That is how we are saved. Paul does not make any extra qualifications that the Lord chose to record for us. Paul does not tell the man that this belief requires the hidden hand of God to cause. I think Paul knew that God must do a work in the heart of anyone who is saved. But Paul, when speaking to the man, simply told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

 

There is one gospel. The good news is that if we believe, we will be saved. Genuine faith in Christ, faith that changes us and leads us to repentance, is saving faith. Yes, we believe that God causes such faith. But we also honestly and boldly tell the world, everyone we can, that God commands the world, all people, to repent and believe. And we tell everyone that all people who repent and believe will be saved.

 

I believe that these 2 passages show us that there simply is no way that there is a biblical case that the sovereignty of God prevents evangelism. Verse 14 shows us that God’s sovereign hand opens hearts. Verse 31 shows us that all who believe are saved. The actions of Paul and his companions show us that the call of God is to take the message of Christ to all people, indiscriminately, to call them to faith. 

Sovereignty and Evangelism I

In Acts 13, we see a beautiful scene. Paul preaches the gospel with clarity. People become curious. Some rebel against the word of God. But some believe and are saved.

 

In the middle of that scene, we have the biblical explanation of what happened, and the wording of the text is significant.

 

Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

 

There are many questions that must be answered from that verse which will help us to consider the sovereignty of God in our salvation, human responsibility, and evangelism.

 

Who believed? The answer is that as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. Who appointed them? There is nothing that indicates that these people appointed themselves to eternal life; that would make no sense. The ones who were saved are the ones God appointed to eternal life. There is a clear claim of the sovereign election of the Lord here. The chosen were saved.

 

How were they saved? People were saved when they believed. That is still true and still significant. The command of God is for people to believe in Christ for salvation. The word of God tells us that all who believe will be saved. All who do not believe do so by their free choice. All who do believe also believe freely, but they have been granted that ability by the Lord who appointed them to eternal life.

 

So, is God sovereign here, or is man responsible? The answer is both. God sovereignly elects, appointing people to eternal life. But the people are fully responsible for their choices. God did not prevent anyone from believing in this passage. It was the sinfulness of the individual that prevented many from believing. But those who did believe did so by the grace of God. God is sovereign. Man is responsible.

 

Does this doctrine prevent evangelism? Did it prevent evangelism for Paul? Of course not. The apostles boldly declare the gospel. The gospel is the call of God that tells us all that everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved. The gospel includes the command to all people to turn to Jesus in faith and repentance for salvation. That call is genuine and important. And, any person who loves the Lord and loves the word of God will obey God’s call to share this gospel with others. The idea of election has never been a genuine reason to avoid being evangelistic. If you love God, you share. If you love people, you share. If you obey the word of God, you share. You do not have any insight as to whom God has elected, so you share. You know, however, that God has the ability to grant faith to people, even people you would never expect to believe, so you share with all the people you can.

 

Isn’t this an unimportant doctrine that just causes conflicts? I do not think so. I think the question of who gets the glory for salvation is extremely significant. And I think the question of glory in salvation is the question we answered earlier: Who appointed people to eternal life? Ultimately, you either have to say that people appointed themselves to eternal life by their own choice to believe or you must say that God appointed people to eternal life by his sovereign election. You must either give the final bit of credit for salvation to the one who believes or to the Lord who elects. I think it is clear that giving the final glory to God magnifies him more. Thus, I think this doctrine is important, as I do not desire to take to myself any glory that rightly belongs to the Lord.

 

What if we disagree? I hope that, if we disagree on this doctrine, we can do so graciously. There are many mysteries here. There are many parts of election that are not easy to explain. At the end of the day, God still calls us to love him, follow his word, share the gospel, and make disciples. So, if this doctrine is not something you love, I would happily talk with you about it if we could do so in a kind way—that means in person, not on Facebook. And if you do not embrace this doctrine, I will not be nasty to you or put you down. I would ask the same of you as we all seek to honor the Lord according to his word.