Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Gospel Outlined

Last Saturday I was privileged to address students ranged in age from middle school to college, and my topic was sowing the seed of the Gospel. (Which explains my previous post!) This post, and perhaps another one, are parts of an information packet which I distributed to the conference attendees.The four questions and answers listed below are from Greg Gilbert's marvelous book What is the Gospel?

Saving faith is based on basic truths of the Bible. The presentation of these truths must be clear and accurate.

Four Critical Questions

  1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
  2. What is our problem? In other words, are we in trouble and why?
  3. What is God’s solution to that problem? How has He acted to save us from it?
  4. How do I – myself, right here, right now – how do I come to be included in that salvation? What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else?

Four Crucial Answers

  1. We are accountable to the God who created us.God
  2. We have sinned against that God and will be judged.Man
  3. But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us.Jesus Christ
  4. We take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus.Response

An outline of the Gospel will help you clearly and accurately present the Gospel. Do not think that you must memorize this outline and regurgitate it in order to evangelize. But you must be able to communicate the truths of the Gospel to evangelize, and an outline will help you do that.

Who is God?

He is the loving Savior.

The Bible teaches in 1 John 4:8, 16 that God’s very nature is love. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah wrote that God loves us with an “everlasting love.” God is loving, kind and merciful. He is also…

He is the just Judge

Psalm 75:7 teaches that God is the judges of all men, and He will judge truly (Psalm 11:7; 33:5). Exodus 34:6-7 shows that God is compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger; that He is full of love and forgiveness. It also clearly teaches that He will “by no means clear the guilty.” God’s love does not cancel out His justice and righteousness.

He is the Creator

God created all things and therefore owns all things. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork,” (Psalm 19:1). The world and everything in it sprang from the mind, word, and hand of God! Colossians 1:16, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” Because He created us, God has the right to tell us how to live. (Romans 9:20-21)

God loves man and wants to show him mercy. God is just. He cannot and will not overlook man’s sin.

What is man’s problem?

Man is guilty because of his sin nature.

Every man is bound to sin because every man is a born sinner. “There is none righteous; no, not one…For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:10; 23). Just like dogs lick their vomit, and pigs roll around in the muck; man sins. Sin is our nature. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” (Romans 5:12; c.f. Psalm 51:5).

Man is separated from God because of sin.

God is holy and detests the sight of evil (Habakkuk 1:13). Man is a sinner, therefore sin causes a great separation between God and Man. Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid [his] face from you, that he will not hear.” By sinning, man has earned spiritual death (separation from God), and physical death for himself (Romans 6:23). Every person is born spiritually dead; in need of being spiritually reborn. Every person will eventually experience a physical death. The person who dies physically never having been reborn spiritually will die eternally, but that eternal death is not eternal sleep or annihilation. It is eternal punishment in a very real and awful place called hell (Mark 9:43-49; Revelation 20:10).

The bad news of man’s sin and God’s just judgment is not the end of the story. We are all sinners destined to be condemned, but God has acted to save sinners!

What has God done?

What is the solution to man’s problem? There is only one, and that is Jesus Christ, who conquered sin, death, and the grave on the cross.

Who is Jesus Christ?

He is no ordinary man. Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah prophecy recorded in Matthew 1:23, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Jesus is both completely human and completely God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28). Being completely human and completely God, Jesus lived a perfect life. He was tempted in every possible way, but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is the Messiah-King. The one promised in 2 Samuel 7:11. The one predicted in Isaiah 9:6-7, and the one presented in Luke 1:32-33; 2:7.

Jesus died on the cross in our place.

Jesus is not just the King, He was the suffering King. Jesus said that He came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). John the Baptist declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). Jesus died on the cross, but He was no mere martyr. He was the only acceptable sacrifice for mankind’s sin. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The apostle Peter wrote that Christ bore our sins while He hung on the cross (1 Peter 2:21-24; c.f. Isaiah 53). He suffered there for us so that we would not have to experience the wrath of God in hell forever. He was our propitiation; in other words Jesus Christ’s substitutional sacrifice on the cross satisfied God’s just and righteous judgment on sinful man (1 John 2:1-2; 4:10).

Jesus has risen from the dead!

The death of Jesus was not the end of Jesus. All of this is good news because King Jesus the crucified is no longer dead (Luke 24:5-6). He rose from the dead, conquering sin, death, and the grave. The resurrection proved that every claim Jesus made was true. The resurrection proved that Jesus’ substitutional sacrifice was accepted by God. The resurrection is a key component of the good news (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Speaking of the Lord Jesus, Paul wrote in Romans 4:25, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” And he also said, “Who [is] he that condemneth? [It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us,” (Romans 8:34).

This is good news; the best news, but it raises a significant question: “How does someone come to be included in that salvation?

What must man do?

Christ has paid mankind’s penalty for sin. He has risen from the grave in victory, but this does not make men automatically free from their sins. The finished work of Christ on the cross is only for those who personally receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Respond with faith in Christ…

Christ’s own words are, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” Mark 1:15. The command to repent and believe is the only right response to the good news. Faith is not believing in something you cannot prove. Biblical, saving faith is reliance; a rock-solid, truth-grounded, promise-founded trust in the risen Jesus to save you from your sin. Abraham exhibited this kind of faith, and it is described in Romans 4:18-21. Saving faith is not just knowledge, because even the demons believe and understand truths about Jesus (James 2:19), but no demon will be saved. True faith is a careful decision to trust in Christ finished work on the cross and what He teaches in the Bible (Luke 14:27-33).

…and in repentance from sin.

Faith is turning to Jesus and relying on Him alone for salvation, repentance is the flip-side of that coin. It is turning away from sin, hating it, and resolving by God’s strength to forsake it, even as we turn to Him in faith. As Peter preached, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,” Acts 3:19. Repentance involves both turning from sin and turning to God (Acts 26:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Repentance does not mean an immediate end to sinning, but it does mean that you will no longer live at peace with your sin. A believer will continue to struggle with sin until he is glorified. Genuine repentance is fundamentally a matter of the heart more than it is a mere change of behavior.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved!

Recommended Reading

  • The Holy Bible – by the Holy Spirit – Read it to learn it. Learn it to live it. Saturate your mind and your heart with this book, and you will become a soul-winner.
  • Becoming a Soul Winner – by Darrell W. Sparks – An excellent booklet of 13 doctrinally sound and practical lessons that encourage the proclamation of the Gospel.
  • What is the Gospel – by Greg Gilbert – Are you able to clearly communicate the good news of Jesus Christ? Small, short, and clear, this book will help you to plainly and Biblically explain the Gospel. This book is useful whether you have been a Christian for a week or seven years.
  • The Gospel for Real Life – by Jerry Bridges – Like more of the above. Useful book.
  • One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven – by Mark Cahill – This author is passionate about sowing the seed, and his book has plenty of interesting accounts and practical guidelines for sharing the good news.
  • The Master Plan of Evangelism – by Robert Coleman – Classic, practical book on making disciples.
  • Tell the Truth – by Will Metzger – Teaches “God-centered” rather than “me-centered” evangelism. The appendices are loaded with practical tools for sharing the Gospel.
  • Talking with Catholic Friends and Family – by James McCarthy – Useful resource if you are trying to reach anyone who is Catholic or has a Catholic background.
  • The Gospel and Personal Evangelism – by Mark Dever – Biblical, practical teaching from a man who practices what he preaches.
  • Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God - by J.I. Packer - Modern classic which deftly and Biblically handles the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • ACTive Evangelism - by Derek Prime - Practical exposition of the book of Acts; "putting the evangelism of Acts into practice."

Keep in mind that reading books is like eating fish, you have to pick out the bones! Only the Bible is 100% reliable and infallible. I do not agree with or endorse every idea in the books listed above except for the Bible, but I have benefited from them. I think you will too. Read with an open mind, and check everything against God’s Word.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sowing the Seed

The scene of a farmer with a seed bag slung over his shoulder, walking up and down the furrows of his field broadcasting his seed, would have been a familiar one to all who heard this parable. They may have even been able to see this very sight off in the distance as Christ spoke. The point is this: the figures which Christ used in the parable were recognizable. Jesus was taking the known and laying it next to the unknown so that those who had ears to hear might learn the mystery of the kingdom.

Mark 4:14-20:

The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive [it], and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred

The Seed

“The sower soweth the word.” The word of God is the seed. Luke is just as explicit about that in his account of this parable. Luke 8:11, “The seed is the word of God.” This is foundational! This is critical! The only thing we have worth sharing; worth sowing in this world, is the seed of God’s Word. This means it is important for us to understand that we do not manufacture our own seed; we simply and exclusively use the seed which God has provided. The power of new spiritual life is in the Word, just as the power of plant life is in the seed. Remember what Peter wrote, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23).

It is the truth of the Gospel that saves and that truth alone.

A few years back I heard a religious story done on the NPR program Morning Edition. The story was about “a new kind of Sunday school, where families from a range of religions gather to teach virtues to their young children.” I am all for Sunday school, and I believe virtues are wonderful. I am not, however, all that crazy about the teaching of the “Sunday school” featured in NPR’s piece. Read this excerpt from Barbara Hagerty's story:

Layli [the teacher] calls the children to the dining room table. In front of each child sits a little lamp shade.

“Remember how we talked about how religions are a lot like lamp shades?” she asks the group. “They may look different, they may be different colors or sit in different rooms, but they all have the light of God inside of them.”

The kids glue symbols of various religions onto the shades — a Christian cross, a Buddhist wheel, a star and crescent for Islam. Then Layli calls out, “Come to the light!” And the children, one by one, place their decorated lamp shades on a light bulb. (Emphasis mine)

That sounds charitable and peaceable, but it is actually damnable. It is a counterfeit gospel. Jesus Christ is the only Light of the world; not one light of many, and His light cannot be distorted or altered with any lamp-shade of man’s religion. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3? Nicodemus was using the lamp shade of Judaism, but Christ said “You must be born again.” In order for Nicodemus, or anyone else, to be born again the Son of man had to be lifted up on the cross; that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Whosoever believes in him should not perish but will have everlasting life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Christ said (John 3:18), “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The only light worth coming to is the One True Light Jesus Christ, and whoever comes to Him will never be cast out.

The Sower

The seed is the Word of God, in particular the good news of salvation by grace through faith. The sower is any believer who broadcasts the Gospel seed. That seed may be sown by any number of methods: preaching a sermon, teaching a lesson, conversation over coffee (or whatever you drink), or sharing your salvation testimony. It may be communicated in an email, a letter (Anyone write those anymore?), in the break room at work, walking down the school hallway, at a friend’s house, or over the dining room table after supper. The seed should be sown everywhere and all the time. This doesn’t mean always “witnessing.”

This does mean that the Gospel must be proclaimed from your lips and with your life. In other words, the seed should be sown…

  1. Purposefully – our evangelism should be intentional and not only accidental. Sowing seed is every believer’s responsibility and privilege. It is a way of life and not only a church program. (Mark 16:15; 2 Timothy 4:5)
  2. Passionately – Christ wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41; 13:34); displaying His tender heart for the people who, for the most part, rejected him. The is a good reason why Psalm 126:5-6 is so well worn, because it displays the very heart of Christ – “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves [with him].”
  3. Patiently – No seed which is planted bears fruit overnight. James illustrated the Christian virtue of patience with a farmer in 5:7, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.”
  4. Perspectively – (Yes I created an adverb for this post.) The Christian’s responsibility is to sow the pure seed of the gospel. We are not in charge of making it rain, making it take root, or making it grow. We are only accountable for sowing the seed. As Paul said to the church at Corinth, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
  5. Prayerfully – Christ taught us how to pray in this area. He said, “The harvest truly [is] great, but the labourers [are] few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). As we pray for lost souls our prayers should be focused on God’s people, starting with me, being busy in the field.

Each Christian has the blessed responsibility to sow the seed of the Word. We are not responsible for producing the seed, the soil, or the fruit. We are only accountable for faithfully sowing the seed as far and as wide and as often as possible.

The Sowing

Mark 4:26-29:

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

The parable of the growing seed is unique to Mark’s gospel, and it supplements Mark 4:14-20. The parable in verses 26-29 reminds us that we are to sow, sow some more, and continue sowing! This is the sole responsibility, authority, and privilege of the Lord’s churches! We are to be groups of Gospel seed sowers; scattering the gospel seed anywhere and everywhere; regardless of the soil’s condition. According to this parable we have no power, ability, or even awareness of whether or not the seed will grow, or, for that matter, how the seed grows. We are simply called to ceaselessly sow the seed. Our ignorance of how it works and our inability to make it work requires that we exhibit patience and trust in God, as well as His seed.

Farming requires faith, patience, and hard work. (I know this from observation, not experience.) A farmer has zero control over the environment. He can prepare the ground, plant the seed, and cultivate the field, but he can no more make the seed grow than he can make the rain fall. He can only do what he can do when he can do it and patiently trust God with the rest. That is why the following passages are a couple of my favorites.

Galatians 6:8-9

“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

1 Corinthians 15:58

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

We are able to not grow weary in well doing because we know that God has the power and the secret of life. I love what commentator John Philips wrote in his commentary on this passage:

The biologist can dissect the seed and expose and name its various parts. The geneticist can go even deeper into the structure of things and define the seed’s genetic code. He can clone and produce identical plants. He can breed and produce hybrid plants. But if no life is there it is all in vain. The most zealous believer can no more convert a soul than he could create a star.

Conversion is a miracle, as is all life. It is certainly no commonplace occurrence, and it is not something which should be taken for granted. Life is a miracle and it is owed to God. He has seen fit to use His churches to sow the life giving message of Christ crucified, buried, raised, and coming again. May we purposefully, passionately, patiently, perspectively, and prayerfully sowing the seed!