Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Making Christ Known: Sharing the Faith

What is the worst thing that can happen to someone? To go to hell. The worst thing that can happen to someone isn’t to be lonely, poor, or sick; it isn’t to die young or outlive your children. The worst thing that can happen to someone is that they die and go to hell.

So what is the most important thing you can do for someone? It is to tell them how to escape hell. The purpose of all believers is to know Christ and make Him known. To make Christ known, we need to be godly men and women who are ready, willing, and able to share the Faith, defend the Faith, and apply the Faith to our world. After godliness, sharing the faith is the most important aspect. We can live out marvelous lives in front of our neighbors, but if we don’t tell them how to come to Christ, we have failed them – and him.

Many of us fail to share the gospel because we aren’t totally sure what it is – we don’t know what to say. But if you’re saved, you do know the gospel – you just may not feel confident in it.

The Basic Gospel
Here’s the most basic and most important question: Why do people need to be saved? What is it that gets us in trouble? Sin.

Why is that a problem? God is just. He must punish sin.

So are we without hope? No, God is merciful and sent Christ to die for our sins.

So what do we do? Trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as payment for our sins and repent from our wicked ways.

That’s it. That’s the heart of the gospel.

The Need
Let’s look a little closer now at an often under-appreciated part of the gospel: In Mark 10:17-23, a man comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response may seem a little strange to us. Jesus didn’t say anything about having a god-shaped hole in his heart. He didn’t tell him, “I love you and have a wonderful plan for your life.” He didn’t tell him to invite Jesus into his heart. He pointed the young man to the Law. This seeker replied that he had kept all the commandments from his youth, and Jesus pointed out that he hadn’t kept the first one – his money was a god to him.

What was Jesus doing here? Is he suggesting that keeping the commandments would get someone into heaven? No; rather he is using the commandments to point out the man’s sin. Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was, except for the law” (Rom 7:7). He also says “in order that sin might be recognized as sin, [the law] produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful” (Rom 7:13).

The Modern Problem
This is very important to us today. Once, you could pretty much count on everyone being aware of the fact that they are sinners. Today, that is not true. We live in a world of moral relativism. People generally want to believe that there are no hard and fast rules – whatever you believe is good for you, but it means nothing for me. So we get hung up at the first points of the gospel – sin and the coming judgment.

Some people have responded to this by making the gospel about peace with God or completeness or a cure for loneliness. But Jesus did not come to this world to merely give us peace with God or to fill the god-shaped hole in our hearts. Sin is the disease – it is why we need peace and have a god-shaped hole. Trying to make the gospel about anything else is trying to treat the symptoms without getting at the disease. It’s not good medicine, and it’s not good theology.

It’s been said that before people can benefit from the good news they have to be bothered by the bad news. The bad news is that we are all sinners and we will all be judged by a just and holy God. Any “gospel” that does not start from that point is no gospel at all. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all called people to do two things – repent and believe. If we leave out the sin part, we leave out the repent. If we leave out the repent, we fall under Paul’s curse in Galatians 1:8 – “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” That sounds harsh, but we have to realize that if people aren’t coming to Christ because they’ve realized that they cannot be good enough to stand before a holy God and survive, they don’t really think they need Christ. The modern approach at the gospel – which bypasses the whole yucky sin thing – has produced a lot of so-called Christians who think they’re fine but are really headed toward hell.

This may explain why, by and large, self-described born again Christians are almost as likely as non-Christians to cheat on their taxes – or their wives! It also helps explain why over 80% of those who make “decisions” for Christ are living like unbelievers within a year.

It is only when we realize our precarious position as “sinners in the hands of an angry God” that the cross of Christ becomes attractive.

Why am I going on about this? Because I want us all to be out there sharing the gospel, but I want to make sure we’re actually sharing the right gospel.

There’s a lady at work that I’ve been trying to witness to. Some things have come out in our conversations that seemed to really peak her interest. Coming from a Hindu background, she was quite taken with the notion of a God that is personally interested in her. She also showed surprise and interest in the notion that you can be absolutely certain right now about what course your afterlife will take. A lot of people would press those things, urging her to pray a prayer and start a “relationship” with God. But until she accepts that she is not good enough and cannot ever be acceptable to God by her own merits, she can’t have a relationship with God. I’ll keep praying and looking for opportunities, but the gospel cannot be watered down. Hopefully she will one day see her need for a redeemer and come to Christ, but if she doesn’t, she will stand before God knowing that she was warned about that day.

Share the gospel. But share the right gospel. The real gospel. Anything else is doing more harm than good.

"OK, but I don't know how." We'll get into that next time.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I'm Not Godly Yet

We are here to know God and make him known. Making him known properly requires a few things of us; the first and most important is that we be godly followers of Christ.

It's been a month since my last post on the topic. Are you godly yet? No? Not like you want to be? What's wrong with you?

Seriously, though, it's hard. And there are lots of things that get in the way.

What are some impediments to godliness? We may have some habits that are not helpful. They don’t have to be sinful to be an impediment. We may have people in our lives who aren't very edifying. We might spend too much time with the television – it is impossible to have the mind of Christ while filling our minds with the gunk on TV. We may read things that aren't helpful – for example, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition or trashy romance novels. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” The things that hinder in that verse are not sins – but they don’t lead to greater godliness. We all need to sift through our lives and find the things that hinder our growth in Christ. Those things have to be ruthlessly cut from our lives.

Kent Hughes points out in Disciplines of a Godly Man that when we sin, it is usually because we are forgetful of God, not because we are rebellious. Who says, “I think I’ll lie and cheese off God?” We lie because we let it become about us instead of Him.

TV: So what can we do about these things? We need to examine our habits, the people we spend time with, the media influences we allow in our lives, and whatever we may find that hinders us and make the necessary changes. If I may make a suggestion regarding TV watching, if you think you need to reduce your TV viewing – and most American Christians do – a relatively painless way to start is, when a show you watch is canceled as many are every year, don’t replace it. Also, if you can pick out a show or two that you watch just out of habit – maybe they’re not that good or aren't as good anymore – cut them out. A few years ago I watched a couple of hours of TV a night – mostly out of habit. Now, after slashing a few shows and not replacing those that were canceled, there is only a few hours of TV a week that I really watch.

Hedges: Something else we can do to counter those things that hinder and entangle us is to create hedges in our lives. What I mean is that we can create our own rules that, if kept, keep us from breaking God’s rules. As an example, men generally don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll commit adultery today.” It is usually a slow, gradual thing where a man grows too close to a woman who is not his wife, they end up in a compromising situation – going to dinner alone after work maybe – and then one thing leads to another. A hedge that could prevent this would be for the man to intentionally keep other women a certain emotional distance from him. He can also make it his policy not to be alone with another woman – that means if at lunch the only two who want to go out together are him and another woman, they don’t go. A hedge is keeping yourself from putting yourself in a situation where you might be tempted to sin. Some other ideas about hedges might be an internet filter, cutting off certain cable channels, letting your spouse keep the credit card if you have trouble there, or setting rules on when and where you and your mate will have emotionally charged conversations so that they are less likely to get out of hand.

A word of warning about hedges, though. They are a fine, useful tool, but they can be taken too far. Remember that your hedges are your hedges and not binding on anyone else. The Pharisees were really big on making hedges around the Law to keep from accidentally sinning; the problem was that they eventually gave their hedges the force of law, and looked down on those who didn't keep their hedges. Another thing to remember is that the commands of God supersede your hedges; for example, if you have a rule that you don’t travel alone with a woman you’re not married to, and you come across a woman whose car is broken down and needs a ride, do you obey your hedge or do you love your neighbor as yourself?

Prayer: To help yourself to not forget about God, get in the habit of praying every chance you get. 1 Thes 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing;” I believe that is truly possible, but it’s not something done overnight. But we can pray more – lots more.

Jeff Foxworthy says he gives this advice to expectant parents: Sleep! Sleep between meetings, sleep at stop lights, sleep between naps – just sleep! We can adapt that advice to our purpose – pray between meetings, pray at stop lights, pray in line at the store, pray in traffic. Keep your mind focused on God and His kingdom, and it will be harder to forget about God when faced with the opportunity to sin.

A Parable
Why am I going on so much about godly living? Let me tell you a story. A certain man went up from Jerusalem to Jericho, and on the way he was attacked by thieves, beaten, stripped, and left for dead on the side of the road. A Christian walking along the road saw him, said “Jesus saves” and walked on. Another Christian passed by, saw him, said “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and went on his way. A Muslim traveler saw him, had compassion on him and said, “Allah forgives.” The he cleaned his wounds, gave him some food, and carried him to a hospital.

Whose gospel will that man believe?

How well we live our lives, how well we live out Christ’s love, will in large part determine whether or not people are interested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So godliness is the most important part of making Christ known; it is also the hardest. I mean, if it were easy, we would all be doing, right? It is only possible to be more Christ-like through the power of His Spirit. We have to choose to do it, but we have to lean on Him for the strength.

If Jesus worked where you work, how would He be different from the people you work with?

We need to think about how Jesus would be holy at our workplaces, our homes, our neighborhoods, and our church, and we need to emulate that. This is the big application time. What needs to change in my life?
A word about application: We tend to come out of church saying things to ourselves like “I ought to be nicer,” but nothing ever changes. That is because we stop at the warm fuzzy stage of application – the recognition of the fact that we need to improve. To really change, though, we each have to come up with a plan. A good application always includes a plan.

A plan has certain characteristics: It is first person. It is specific. It is measurable. And it has a time limit. “We ought to be more loving” is not a plan – it’s a warm fuzzy. “This week I will mow the lawn for my elderly neighbor” is a plan. It’s first person – I. It’s specific and measurable – you can easily tell whether you mowed the lawn or not. And it has a time limit – this week.

From now until you stand before the Lord, I want you to think of application in these terms. Whether you're reading on the internet, in church, or listening to a preacher on the radio, if you can come away with an idea of something that you need to stop, change, or do then you need to make a plan. Anything less is simply disobedience that makes you feel good.

So for today, think about how Jesus would be if He was living your life and then make a plan.

You've probably heard this quote from Brennan Manning: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” They are watching us. They are watching you. Their acceptance of the gospel depends in large part on how we live out the gospel in front of them. Let’s not let them down.

I don’t anyone to think that I’m looking down on them and telling them to be holy like me. We’re all in this boat together – struggling toward the goal of being more like Jesus. But because we’re all in the same place, we can understand, support, and encourage each other in this Christian life. That is what the Church is all about. If we lean on each other and follow Christ, we will make it.