Tag Archives: gospel

Missions Emphasis Message by Bro. Nicholas J. Rafael

“As His followers, we are His hands, we are His feet, we are His mouthpiece. And it is our duty to make His word known.”

Recently at our church, we had a missions emphasis night with our students. We focused on unreached peoples, we prayed, and we heard a great message from Bro. Nicholas J. Rafael from Murphysboro, IL. This was a great message on missions, and I invite you to take a few minutes out of your day to listen/download his message below:

Be sure to check him out on Facebook, and to listen to our panel discussion that also took place that night by clicking here.

WATCH THE MESSAGE BELOW:

3 Things Essential to In-Home Church Groups

“. . . Teaching you in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20)

Let’s imagine for a moment that, since the birth of Christianity as recorded in the book of Acts, no one ever built a church building. Never. No one took into consideration that a large number of believers could meet in a large building for worship. But believers still need to meet for worship because it’s biblical . . . So where would they meet? The most convenient place would be in homes. That’s the next best thing to gathering for worship in a church building, isn’t it? Bible study and worship in your own home. Well, that’s exactly where the early church met for worship before there was ever one brick laid in construction of a church building (Acts 2:46; 20:20; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2).

Many churches are still following this model for “doing church” even today, and they should be because it is both biblical and strategic for reaching people for Jesus Christ with the gospel. First it is biblical. It is biblical because it is usually only a smaller version of our regular corporate worship gatherings at our own local church. The Bible commands and exhorts us to meet together with other believers (Psalm 150:1-6; Matt. 18:20; Heb. 10:25; 1 John 1:7). You cannot be a growing, thriving believer if you’re not attending and participating in a local church somewhere. So meeting in a home for worship and Bible study, or meeting in a community center or restaurant is only a condensed version of what you would normally do with more believers in a larger setting and building. Second it is strategic for reaching people for Christ. Most people today, especially today, have their preconceived assumptions about the church. With this in mind, people are far easier to reach with the gospel in your home or out in public, than they are in the church. When you think about it, that is actually essential to the way evangelism is supposed to be done. People will respond more positively to an invitation to your home than they will an invitation to a church they know nothing about. You can reach them with the gospel in your home, and then they are far more likely to attend your church and continue attending your church. We need to be reaching people with the gospel and bringing them into our churches in non-threatening ways. We’re not changing the message of the gospel, only the means through which we present it. We can have a bonfire at the house, a cookout, we can meet for lunch with a couple of friends, and the list goes on and on – there are several available options for meeting places, which makes it that much more strategic for reaching people for Christ.

So you want to start doing this. You want to get this thing going. You want to be biblical and you want to reach people for Christ through our own home and community. Well, there are at least three things essential to these “in-home” church groups. Three things that you need to keep in mind in order to start and sustain groups in your community or home:

1. Focus. You need a missions-focused church that is on board and ready to do smaller churches in homes. I believe we should excite our church members by sharing with them this model of doing church, and encouraging them to participate in and support it. If no one else in your church is concerned about outreach, you should be concerned about your church – they are destined to close their doors. Your entire church needs to be focused on reaching people with the gospel in this way. It might take some time to get members informed about this, and excited to participate, but your time will be well spent if you do so. This is something that should be consistently promoted in your local church. Both you and your church should have a continual focus on meeting in homes, so that members can participate and do the same thing you’re doing.

2. Training. You need people who are trained, at least in some way, to teach the Bible – leading those Bible studies, able to answer tough questions, able to lead others to Christ, and things of that nature. Someone in your church may have an earnest desire to be involved in small groups that meet in homes, but if they haven’t ever taught a Bible study, they need some type of training where they can learn how to do so. It doesn’t need to be formal Bible college training per se, but they need to know the basics because one day they will teach someone else to be a teacher of the word. You and your church should have people who are fully prepared.

3. Resources. Anytime something like this is done, you need resources. You need financial resources, literary resources, and a place to meet. Your home should be a place where you can meet for Bible studies. If it’s a one bedroom apartment, it’s probably not the best place to meet. Perhaps you can meet in your local park or in a restaurant or coffee shop. You also need literary resources: Bibles, Bible study booklets, books on the Bible, gospel tracts, etc. Those things will contribute to your overall outreach. Many people you will have in your home or meeting place do not have resources like this. All of this will require some type of financial support. Are you financially able to carry out a continuous small group Bible study? Are you financially able to have cookouts or snacks around the table when you meet for fellowship?

Those are a few things to keep in mind as you have “in-home” church groups. Is there anything else would you add?

3 Important Theological Pillars for Missions

If you’re like me when you hear the word missions, you probably think back to the Great Commission that Jesus gave the church (Matthew 28:19). Or you might think of those fighting for social justice, or those who sweat and work for years at building projects and digging wells, and feeding the hungry. But missions is even more than that, and missions does not originate with man’s desire for social good, and it doesn’t even originate or begin in the Great Commission. The idea of missions is rooted in the Bible and weaved carefully throughout it’s pages. The Bible teaches us that missions is not man’s idea. Missions is within the nature of God, it is Jesus’ chief reason for coming to earth, and it is the goal of the church. I believe the Bible reveals this to us by way of three major pillars, if you will. Let’s take a look:

I. God is Missional

The Bible teaches that God is missional in both His nature and being, and His plan for mankind. These are inseparable. We see throughout the biblical account that as God seeks after man, His mission is to redeem him. This originates from God’s own character and nature, and is revealed in His promises of redemption in the Old Testament, and the work of redemption culminated in the New Testament. We can see that God is seeking after man to redeem him in just the beginning chapters of Genesis. After Adam had sinned, God came looking for him once he had sinned (Gen. 3:9-13), and then promises future redemption (3:15).

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God in relationship to the patriarchs and to His people, the Israelites—but only because He sought them as His covenant people that He would one day redeem from the curse of sin through His promised Redeemer, Christ. This very truth is promised to Abram (later in Genesis) that through His covenant people who would eventually bring forth the Messiah, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). So while God first sets the Israelites apart as His chosen people, it is clear from the Old Testament and especially the Psalms, that God is seeking for “all the nations” to praise Him (Psalm 66:4; 67:3; 117:1). The narrative of the Old Testament would be enough evidence to say that God is a missional God who is seeking His people for a covenant relationship with Him.

But the New Testament attests to this fact as well. We read that God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God’s missional nature and plan climaxes at the highest point through the coming of the Lord Jesus, God Himself, who takes on flesh and bears the penalty for sin in order to accomplish redemption (Luke 19:10; John 3:17; Rom. 3:24).

II. Jesus is Missional

Secondly, it is evident that Jesus is also missional. The Bible implies that Jesus is missional in His purpose for coming to earth, and His work of redemption on the cross. First, the purpose for Jesus’ coming to the earth is missional. Jesus Himself testifies that He has come to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and that He came into the world “in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Indeed, the Gospels depict Jesus’ main purpose for coming to earth was to redeem man, and the Epistles explain the implications of this redemption, revolving around the truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).

Second, the work of Jesus is missional. He accomplished fully His purpose for coming into the world by dying on the cross and resurrecting in order to reconcile man to a seeking God. His death and resurrection accomplished the mission of God to redeem mankind. Jesus’ work on the cross results in reconciliation to God (2 Cor. 5:18-19), and now believers are “brought near [to God] by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13; cf. Col. 1:21-22). Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth was missional—He came to redeem mankind. And His work was missional—it did redeem mankind, reconciling us back to God through faith in Christ.

III. The Church is Missional

Finally, the Bible teaches us that the church is missional. The church, being the body of redeemed believers everywhere, is missional in its very structure and origin. The only way that the church can grow is through the goal of missions: making disciples. Jesus commissions His few disciples in Matthew 28 that they are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (v. 19a). This would not happen by keeping to themselves and being apathetic about sharing the gospel. Empowered by the Spirit, they made disciples and the church grew in only a short time to “about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

The church is missional because the only way it can grow is by disciples making disciples. It is within the context of the church that believers are equipped through the teaching of the word, in order to do “the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). It is the mission of the church to bring the ultimate message of missions—God’s mission to mankind, to others so that God can “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5).

You’ve Got Questions: Can a Personal Testimony be Used for Evangelism, All by Itself?

A testimony  is defined as “evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.” An example would be, “his blackened finger was testimony to the fact that he had hit it with a hammer.” But in the Christian realm, what we usually mean by testimony is our personal story of conversion, how we came to faith in Christ. It is our testimony of how we came to Jesus.

Many Christians share their testimony with their coworkers, family, and friends – recounting the events that led up to their salvation, and what their life is like now because of salvation. Some Christians aren’t sure how to share their testimony, and many simply do not because of fear of rejection. With that in mind, should we even share our testimony as an evangelistic effort? If we do share our testimony for evangelistic purposes, are there certain things we should keep in mind? Can a personal testimony be used for evangelism?

I would say, yes with certain qualifiers. A genuine salvation testimony will have in it the essential components of the gospel message. If it is a true conversion story, it will tell how conversion takes place. That is, how the gospel transforms sinners. It should include those basic elements of the gospel: realization of the need for Jesus, repentance from sin, and receiving Jesus as your Savior. For example, when I share my story, I make note of the fact that I realized I was a sinner, a turned away from sin once and for all and then placed my faith in Jesus and His finished work for my salvation and eternal life.

I understand, if we were to share our story in a hurry or with someone who we assume knows us personally, we may be tempted to leave out the gospel’s key elements for convenience. It might be a simple, “Jesus changed my life,” or “I gave my heart to Jesus.” However, it seems strange if we were to go through our testimony in a detailed manner with someone, and leave out the essential elements of the gospel message.

So then, a personal testimony “by itself,” should already have the key gospel elements included in it, but a testimony shared carelessly without those elements is not a good means of evangelism. It’s not evangelism at all if it doesn’t include the gospel.

And perhaps it is helpful to add at this point that while a personal testimony should already include the key gospel elements, I think it should lead one to share the key gospel elements as a separate conversation. We should use our own testimony as a bridge to sharing the truths of the gospel. We should begin with listening to someone’s story, sharing our own, and then sharing God’s story. With that being said, sometimes all we have time to share with someone is our own testimony, but if that is the case (and sometimes it will be), I believe we should place much more emphasis on God’s testimony about His Son: the gospel.


Do you have a question about God, Jesus, or the Bible? Submit it here: Ask A Question

Those Jesus Never Knew (Matt. 7:21-23)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 12th day of October 2014: 

John Giles, Convict

Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay was home to the former federal prison of Alcatraz. This prison was in operation from the mid-1930s until the mid-1960s as our nation’s leading federal prison. It housed only the most dangerous criminals like Al Capone, George R. “Machine Gun” Kelly, and many others. Alcatraz was considered an inescapable prison—though 6 inmates attempting escape were never located. Prison records recorded them as drowned in the bay. Others dispute that claim saying they made it to freedom.

The US Army used to send laundry to Alcatraz to be washed. John Giles was an inmate who worked at the loading dock where the laundry was delivered. He was sneaky—piece by piece, he was able to steal over time a complete army uniform. Then on July 31, 1945, he merely dressed in the uniform and walked aboard an army boat, pretending to be an army officer. However, the boat was not headed for San Francisco as Giles expected, as he stepped off the boat on Angel Island, where Fort McDowell was, which was a major processing location for troops during WWII. He was arrested immediately.

He may have fooled the officers on the boat for awhile, but he couldn’t pull of the impersonation forever. He may have worn the uniform of an army officer, but on the inside he was still John Giles—criminal, convict.

One of the most sobering truths in all of Scripture is that not everyone who professes to be a Christian is truly a Christian. That there are some people wearing Christian uniforms on the outside, but are in reality unregenerate, unsaved sinners on the inside. They may fool people for a time, but they will not fool the Lord who knows His own. This theme runs throughout all of Scripture, but in Matthew’s gospel (which we are looking at today), there are some very powerful descriptions:

John the Baptist to the face of the Pharisees and Sadducees:

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).

A winnowing fork was a tool used to separate wheat from chaff, by throwing it into the air so the heavier grain/wheat can fall back on the ground . . . And the chaff which would only be on the surface, would be separated from the wheat and the farmers would gather the wheat into their barns, but burn the chaff because it was useless. One day Jesus Christ is going to clear out His threshing floor. He is going to gather into His arms the saved, the elect of God, but there are going to be those who were only on the surface but appeared to be part of the wheat—and they are the unbelievers and according to 2 Thess. 1:9, . ..“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Jesus in the parable of the weeds:

“He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:37-42).

What do you do with weeds in a garden? You take them out because they don’t belong—they contribute nothing, they are of no value to the rest of the garden, they may grow together, but the fruits and vegetables are the real thing. Back in 13:30, Jesus said that both grow together. There are those who profess faith in Christ, appear to be Christians but because they never had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and were truly justified by faith—they will not go to heaven, but to hell forever, and they will be surprised to find that out. These are those described by Matthew as those Jesus never knew, and we are going to look at this text together this morning.

The Text: Matthew 7:21-23, ESV

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

I. They Professed Him (v. 21)

The first thing to notice is Jesus’ introduction to this passage where He talks about the profession of these people: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus points out a limitation on those who say to Him, “Lord, Lord.” In Jesus’ time, “Lord, Lord” would have been a title of immense respect (like “revered teacher”). There may be those who say “Lord, Lord,” who proclaim His name, who highly respect Him, that will enter the kingdom of heaven—but according to Jesus, “Not everyone who says to [Him], ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He tells His audience that there is a restriction from heaven, to some who use that title.

But Jesus’ point is not in the use or misuse of His name/title. Indeed, we are to respect His name and boldly proclaim it; the foremost problem is not the use of the title, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but the fact that the people Jesus is describing leave it at just that—it is only a profession of His name. The problem is claiming His name (as they do three times), but not living His way. They simply say in contrast to those who do the will of God (v. 21b). According to Jesus, these who simply profess faith “will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This means they are not going to be born again through profession of faith, and they will be denied entrance into God’s heaven because they never truly believed—it was only a profession; it wasn’t transformation. It becomes clear as you study this passage, that these people were never truly saved; These are not Christians who lost their salvation—that’s an impossibility.

The important thing to notice is the contrast Jesus makes between those who “say” and those who “do” here in v. 21. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In contrast to the one who professes faith, Jesus says that the only person that will enter “the kingdom of heaven” is “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

If doing the will “of [the] Father” is what was lacking in those who professed faith, and it is required of those who go to heaven, then what does Jesus mean by doing God’s will? I believe Jesus’ meaning here is two-fold, but inseparable:

A. It is God’s Will for You to be Saved.

Jesus is talking about salvation in this passage. Salvation is needed to go to heaven, after we die. And while not everyone will receive salvation because of rejection of God, it is still God’s desire for all to be saved:

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

B. It is God’s Will for You to Do God’s Will.

But inseparable from salvation, if we are truly saved, our changed lives will be the sure result. Following salvation should be the desire to do God’s will and carry out His commands. Paul writes,

“ . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), but in that same text says “it is God who works in you . . .”

A changed life, and living by God’s will is the outworking that we have truly been saved.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3)

Sanctification involves growing in the faith, being delivered daily from the presence of sin. It is God’s will for us to continue in the faith (Col. 1:23), and our lives had better show evidence of our repentance and faith, or we never had repentance and faith.

Doing God’s will involves living by His principles, obeying His commandments, serving Him faithfully. Something doesn’t make sense when our actions deny our beliefs.

Thomas Linacre was physician to King Henry VII and Henry VIII of England. Late in his life, Thomas studied to be a priest and was given a copy of the four Gospels to read for the first time. Thomas lived through the darkest of the church’s dark hours under the rule of Pope Alexander 6th, who shamed Christianity with his murder, corruption, incest, and bribery. Reading the Gospels for himself, Thomas was amazed and troubled: “Either these are not the Gospels,” he said, “or we are not Christians.”

Our lives must demonstrate true belief in Christ—or we do not have true belief.

Does your life reflect what you say you believe? Your behavior is a reflection of what you truly believe. If it doesn’t there’s a problem—either you’re not saved, or you’re not being obedient to Christ. If you’re not saved, you can be—by repenting of your sins and turning to Jesus; placing total faith in His finished work on your behalf. If you’re not being obedient to Christ and doing God’s will—God can give you the strength to. You just need to surrender completely to Him. Whatever is stopping you from living out the faith you say you believe—it will be worth it when you get it out of the way so you can fully surrender to God.

II. They Defend Themselves (v. 22)

Not only did they profess Christ, but the second thing to notice here is how they defend themselves: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” (7:22).

A. “The Day of the LORD.”

Jesus says, “On that day.” What day? He is talking about the Day of the Lord, when all will stand before God in final judgment, where He will separate the wheat from the chaff—and will gather into Him His church, and the unsaved will depart into everlasting fire . . . where He will separate the weeds from the good seeds, where He will separate the believers from the non-believers.

The Old Testament referenced it:

“Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:13).

“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:17-18).

Also, Jesus and the New Testament writers warn of it:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).

So Jesus is creating the setting for what He’s talking about here. “On that day” of judgment where He will reign as judge (Acts 17:31), He says, “ . . many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”

Jesus doesn’t say that this is a select “few” who will say to this to Him, but “many.” How do they defend themselves? “Lord, Lord, did we not . . .” You can hear the tone of surprise in their voices—“Did you see what we did Lord? Did you forget? Did we not . . .” They are still saying the same thing as while they were on the earth (‘Lord, Lord’)—that means nothing has changed. They have not been born again, they are still sinners in need of a Savior.

The very fact that they defend themselves is an indicator that they are not saved. Because with Jesus, He’s all the defense you need. He took your case to the cross and settled it. On the Day of Judgment, all you’ll be able to say is “By grace I was brought to faith!” So then, this demonstrates that they were depending on something of their own merit, which they say: “did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” They list off three things to defend themselves. There’s no doubt that they did these things, even Satan and his followers can perform miracles. Even Judas cast out devils in Mark 3:14-15, and he appeared to be a disciple, but it was shown that he was not. They even claim authority behind their deeds: “in your name” is mentioned three times.

But Jesus isn’t denying that they did indeed do these things—the paramount problem was that these sinners are trusting fully in their own merit—they are defending themselves by pointing to their works. And notice the high standard of their works—I can’t remember the last time I prophesied can you? I can’t remember any time I ever cast out a demon, can you? Those things are things that most people don’t even do or try to do in their lifetimes. But I think that’s Jesus’ point here: It doesn’t matter how great your works are, how high they are—they will not even get you near the presence of God. What if you plant a church on a foreign mission field? Nope. What if you lead thousands to Christ? Nope. What if you give up all you have and serve the poor? Nope.

B. Why Works Won’t Work

Why wasn’t their works enough (they did “mighty works”)? Why aren’t works enough?

1. It’s not the way God saves. (Jesus reveals later the chief problem was “I never knew you.”) It’s not the way God saves, so don’t try to get in that way! The only work you need is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross: “Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent” (John 6:29). Jesus also tells His hearers in the Sermon on the Mount, that they must have a righteousness that is greater than outside-righteousness: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). We need His righteousness, and true heart transformation. If you’re going to be saved—it must be God’s way, the only way.

2. Good works cannot justify. We have sinned against God (Rom. 3:23), this demands holy punishment and wrath (Rom. 1:18; 6:23). Good deeds cannot satisfy the wrath and demands of a holy God. Only a perfect substitute can propitiate God’s wrath, and justify us in God’s sight. This substitute was Christ. His perfect work in becoming sin for us, and giving us His righteousness in exchange is enough (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul writes, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). Again, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

3. The spiritual state of man. The current threat that is causing fear among peoples of the world is the spread of the fatal virus, Ebola. The latest report on the death toll of Ebola is 4,033.¹  But there is a worse spiritual Ebola that has claimed more lives than any other disease in the world. That disease is sin. The Bible says that we are “dead in sins” (Eph. 2:1). If you remain spiritually dead throughout this life, even if good works are done, but nothing changes about your spiritual deadness—then you will go through the second death and be thrown into the lake of fire. We must be born again (John 3:3; Titus 3:5). God must do a supernatural work in you—replacing your heart with a new one, giving you a desire for Him, and breathing into you spiritual life.

I’ve heard many well-meaning evangelists and preachers use this illustration before: “Salvation happens like this: You are struggling at the top of an ocean, wanting to be rescued, and then God throws you a lifesaver and you grab onto it.” But that is a fatal misrepresentation! You have already sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and drowned to death—and God must reach down, pull you out of the water, perform spiritual CPR on you and breathe new life into you. You were dead in sins. You cannot be saved by works because you’re still in a state of spiritual deadness.

On January 1985, there was a large, unmarked and unclaimed suitcase discovered at the customs office at the Los Angeles International Airport. When U. S. Customs agents opened the suitcase, they found the curled-up body of an unidentified young woman. She had been dead for a few days, and as the investigation continued, it was learned that she was the wife of a young Iranian man living in the US. She was unable to obtain a visa to enter the US and join her husband so she took matters into her own hands and tried to smuggle herself into the country. The officials were surprised that an attempt like this could ever succeed. She tried to get in, but it was not only foolish, but fatal.

And if, by good works, we try to get in to heaven our own way, it will prove not only foolish but fatal—with unquenchable fire waiting at the doorstep of our eternity. As a Christian, rest in the cross, your case is settled. Depend on Christ—that gives you true freedom (Gal. 5:1); because you fail too often to depend on your own “goodness” (which is no goodness at all; Rom. 7:18; 14:23). If you are a non-believer, you need to make things right with God—works will never get you to Him. Depend completely on Christ.

III. Jesus’ Dreadful Declaration (v. 23)

These false believers professed Christ, on the Day of Judgment they defend themselves, and then in response to their confession, Jesus confesses something to them: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (v. 23).

Jesus reveals to them what the fundamental problem was: “I never knew you.” Wait a minute. Doesn’t God know everything? Of course He does. He’s omniscient. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here comes from the Greek word for “know.” It’s ginosko, and it’s used here to describe an intimate knowledge—a relationship knowledge—similar to the intimacy between a husband and wife. . . And Jesus is saying that’s what their problem was—there was never a personal relationship. They never knew Jesus as their Savior, so He never knew them as His child—God knows who are His: “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”” (2 Tim. 2:19).

They were committed to the power Jesus represented and the status they thought they had, but they had never allowed the will of God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to control their actions.

Jesus also says to them, “depart from me.” These are the words no one wants to hear from Christ—but by this time, at the day of judgment—it’s too late. This is the final destination of those who are not truly saved—eternal departure from the presence of God. The tragic part about it is not that they are surprised about this judgment, the tragic part is not that they cannot see their Christian friends in heaven, the tragic part is not even that they cannot go to heaven—the tragic part is that they will be separated from God forever.

Jesus tells them their fundamental problem, they never knew Him in a personal relationship. He tells them to get away from Him. Third, He calls them “workers of lawlessness.” They thought they were workers of righteousness by their deeds, but in reality they were workers of lawlessness because their deeds apart from spiritual transformation are of no value, and God takes no delight in them if inner faith is missing. Outward acts of righteousness without inner faith is an abomination to the Lord. In Isaiah this is depicted vividly: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me . . .” (Isaiah 1:13).

These who simply profess faith are those described by Jesus in Matthew 15:8, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” They are those who enter through the wide and broad gate that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14); They are those who bear bad fruit (Matt. 7:15-20); They are those who built their house on the sand because they didn’t heed the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). They are those described by Paul, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). They are those who need Christ to save them through a personal relationship. Is that you today? Do you know Jesus? There’s a difference between knowing about Him and knowing Him. He wants to have a personal relationship with you, He wants to forgive your sin—just repent and trust the Savior.

Conclusion: Charles Waterman

We’ve seen today that there are those who simply profess faith, but will be surprised to find that their works were not enough for salvation—they will on the Day of Judgment finally be separated from God’s eternal presence. The good news is that God saves those who come to Him in repentance and faith—there is hope! God knows your past, He knows what you’ve done, and He is willing to forgive if you’re willing to come to Him. Is God drawing you to come to Him?

From a home with one brother and one sister, Charles Waterman’s urge was to see the country. This took him to hitchhiking on the railroad to California. He was influenced by the worldly crowd and gave himself to become an alcoholic. Even as such, he worked his way up to become an engineer on the steam locomotive. He married Anna, who had a Christian background and did what she could to keep the testimony before him. Anna was discouraged at the path her husband followed because it was causing him to miss work on some of his hangovers. So she asked a lady in her town in California to meet with her and help her pray for Charles to be saved. His wild life went on for three or more years and one night he became frightened while under the influence and when he finally arrived at home, he told Anna he wanted to be saved. She immediately called her friend who came over to their home and they led him to the Lord. He begged the Lord for forgiveness and to clean up his life, which the Lord did.

The happiness that followed caused Anna to write the song Yes, I Know! with these words:

“Come, ye sinners, lost and hopeless,

Jesus’ blood can make you free;

For He saved the worst among you,

When He saved a wretch like me.

And I know, yes, I know

Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.” ²

Do you know Christ today? Are you depending on your own goodness and works? Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour? Come to Christ, and He will not turn you away.


 

1. NBC News, Ebola Death Toll Rises to 4,033
2. Hymntime, Yes, I Know! 

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens to Someone Who Never Hears of Jesus?

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens to Someone Who Never Hears of Jesus?

The Bible teaches that people can only experience God’s salvation through Jesus Christ: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The Bible also teaches that everlasting judgment awaits those who reject Christ: “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). But what about the people who have never heard the gospel? Are they without hope? Will God judge them anyway? Some people suggest that those who never hear the gospel might still receive salvation if they respond to God’s ‘spiritual light’ in nature. That since God has revealed Himself through creation (Rom. 1:19-20), people who never hear the gospel can still be saved because there is evidence of God in creation. While it is true that God has revealed Himself generally through creation, the Bible gives no indication whatsoever that creation is of salvific value to sinners. The Bible gives no indication of any other way of salvation but through Jesus Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But if we are going to answer this question, we need to keep three points in mind:

Salvation by works is impossible. If we can earn our salvation, then Christ did not need to die (Gal. 2:21; 3:21).

God has indeed revealed His power and being through the beauty and order of creation. However, people suppress that truth and choose sin instead (Rom. 1:18-23). All of mankind, whether they be in North America or some undiscovered tribe, have a sense of what God requires and a knowledge of God (Rom. 2:14-15). So the problem is that they have rejected the knowledge of God that they already have, not that they have no knowledge of God at all.

The Scriptures assert that Christ is the only way to God and salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and that rejection of God is to subject yourself under God’s divine curse and wrath (John 3:36; 1 Cor. 16:22).

Our concern for the lost should drive us to reach the unreached with the message of the gospel. Rather than dwelling on “what ifs,” let’s get busy!

Finally, we are not ultimately in a position to judge God’s actions as fair or unfair. Some think it is unfair to express judgment on sinners who have never heard of Jesus. What’s more, some people would consider it unfair that they were “force-fed” Christianity their whole lives, while others could say it was “unfair” to hear the gospel from Christians who tainted the message by being abusive or hypocritical. In other words, even those who hear about Jesus may hypothetically complain that they didn’t have a fair chance! In the end, however, we know that God is just and that no sinner will be able to honestly protest to God that he wanted to know Him but was not allowed.

 

You’ve Got Questions: Can I Know God?

You’ve Got Questions: Can I Know God?

The Bible teaches that God is knowable. While God can never be exhaustively understood, He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed Himself so that He can be truly known. The multiplication of grace and peace in our lives is dependent on knowing God (2 Peter 1:2-3), and this knowledge provides sufficient resources for life and for becoming the people God wants us to be.

Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). It is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11-12); it was Paul’s primary goal (Phil. 3:10); and it leads to godly love (1 John 4:7-8). God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about Him that are absolutely true, so much that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of Himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say he lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.

What are the implications of the knowability of God? Well, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not to live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. This increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and please Him with our lives.

Justification: It’s for Teens Too

The following message was delivered at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in West Paducah, KY on April 28, 2013.

Approval in American and Islamic Culture (and Twilight)

We naturally crave acceptance and approval from others. I believe that to be true for a number of reasons, but there are many things that we may do to gain acceptance or approval from others. We may join a club to feel acceptance or gain it. We may change our style of clothing. We may change our language and the way we talk. We might join in on a dirty joke because it gains us some approval. We may get the latest Tablet, iPad, or iPhone. We may start playing a certain sport to gain acceptance. We might bully and slander and look down on others to look “cool.” We might even do drugs to gain acceptance. We may join Twitter to earn approval.

There are many things we may do to earn approval maybe because we want to fit in, maybe because “everybody is doing it,” or because it’s “swag?” Just look around you. A few people start using Instagram and now everyone is using it. Are they really interested in the social networking photograph program itself or the approval they get from using it? This isn’t the case in American culture alone. This type of thing is happening all over the world. In many countries where Islam is the national religion, if you don’t worship Allah and follow the teachings of Muhammad, you are disowned both by your family and society. Many join the Islam movement simply for acceptance.

This cultural reality hit me when I heard David Nasser, an international Christian speaker, preaching at a youth conference that I attended back in November 2011. He said he faced a great deal of opposition when he told his family about becoming a Christian. His parents were devout Muslims. He writes concerning his conversion, “I stepped down into the warm water of the baptistery, not realizing that a baptism by fire was waiting for me at home. When I got back to the house, Mom and Dad were sitting in the living room, waiting. ‘Give me your house key,’ he said. As I reached in my pocket, Iranian curse words came gushing out of him, as if all this emotion had been brewing while I was gone. My entry had broken the dam, and it was all pouring out now. His son had disobeyed a direct order. To him, this was if I had spit in his face. I had dishonored him, and what’s worse, I had done it in front of my mother.” (Jumping Through Fires, 2009 by David Nasser) David was pressured to give in to the culture of Islam for acceptance in the eyes of his parents. So this craving of acceptance happens everywhere.

Even in my own life. Okay, I know I’m going to lose man-cards for this, but I watched Twilight. Yes sir. I feel like a woman. I mean, I didn’t want to see the movie at all. In my judgment, Cast Away with Tom Hanks and “WWWWIIIIILLLLSSSOOONNN” was a far better love story. But I wanted to see that movie so I could satisfy my girlfriend, gain her approval and really to say that I watched it so I could be a critic like everyone else. Even in my Christian life, I make sure I’ve got the latest Christian books off the press, and stay updated with what’s going on in the lives of my favorite Christian artists like Lecrae, Chris Tomlin, or Jeremy Camp. Why do we do that? Why do we do so much to gain other’s approval? I think we naturally crave acceptance in the sight of others. And some of it can be good. For example, some of it can help build your identity. The real question is this: Who’s approval ultimately and supremely matters above all? Please ponder these thoughts as we examine this passage of Scripture.

The Text

“18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18-21 ESV)

Examining the Text; Two Teams

Let’s look at some facts about the book of Romans before we dig into the meaning of the text. When you desire to understand a text, it’s always important to ask questions like: “Who was the author? Who was the original audience? What was the purpose of writing?” That is important because before the Bible means something for us today, it meant something specific to a certain group of people. So the purpose of Romans was to introduce Paul to the Romans and to give a sample of his message before he arrives in Rome. The author of course is the apostle Paul. The original audience to whom Paul was writing to were the Christians in Rome. Though Paul does spend some time greeting people in Rome at the end of the letter, he wrote Romans as an organized and carefully presented statement of his faith. It doesn’t have the form of your average letter.

Digging into the text, in v. 18 he says, “Therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all men. . .” What is that “one trespass?” The sin of Adam. The “one trespass” of Adam, as the representative of the human race, brought condemnation and guilt to all people. So we are sinners by nature and by choice. All of us are naturally rebellious against God. Therefore, His wrath rests on us. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:7 ESV) Therefore, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against us. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV) And according to Ephesians 2 we are “by nature children of wrath” (v. 3), “sons of disobedience” (v. 2), and “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1).

Now what does Paul mean by the second half of the verse? “. . . so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” In a similar way that Adam’s “one trespass” lead to guilt and condemnation for all, Christ’s “one act of righteousness” gives righteousness and life to all who belong to Him. Paul talks about two teams here. Not only in this verse, but in this chapter as well. Let’s take a look.

Because of Adam’s disobedience, all people were caused to be sinners. Paul just continues to say what he said in v. 18; that all are sinners and are born with a sinful nature. All of us are set in the mold of Adam’s sin. So we’ve got a problem. Our rebellion against God is total. In our total rebellion, everything we do is sin. “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23 ESV) Our inability to submit to God and do good is total. Our rebellion is totally deserving of God’s wrath. Paul also mentions here and everywhere he writes, that God did something about it: through the gospel.

The Gospel

The gospel is the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ. The gospel can be easily explained in four parts: God. Man. Christ. Response. First, God is holy and just (Isaiah 6:3; Acts 3:14) Second, man has sinned and therefore God in His holiness, must punish sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Third, Christ died in our place and rose from the grave the third day. He paid our penalty. He took the punishment for our sin. He justified us (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:8). Fourth, we must respond. We must receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord through repentance and faith (Acts 3:19; John 3:16; John 1:12)

My Focus: Justification

My focus of preaching this morning is the heart of the gospel. My focus is on how what happened on the cross deals with our greatest problem. And that is justification. Now we will shift back to what I said earlier about approval. While we may do things to earn or gain the approval of others, the most supremely important acceptance has nothing to do with earning. Nothing. And that’s God’s acceptance. That’s where justification comes in. Justification is the process by which sinful human beings are made acceptable to a holy God. You do not gain this approval by joining a church like you would join a club. You do not earn this approval by changing your style of clothes. You do not gain this acceptance by any good thing that you do. It’s all about the gospel and it’s something God did for you.

Let’s talk about it a little further. The word “justified” appears in multiple places throughout Romans 5. Verses 1, 9, 16, and 18. When God justifies, He charges our sin to Christ, and credits the righteousness of Christ to us. “Not only are our sins counted as His, but His righteousness has been counted as ours.” (God is the Gospel, John Piper 2005 by the Desiring God Foundation) Thus, you have Romans 5:18 “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (NLT) God’s holy standard of righteousness has been fulfilled! Here’s why justification deals with our greatest problem: We are not merely alienated from God but are under His wrath (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 5:9; Gal. 3:10). This means that what must change fundamentally is God’s anger toward us because of our God-dishonoring sin (Rom. 3:23). We are not capable of changing God. We cannot pay our own debt. So God, in His great mercy, put Christ forward to absorb God’s wrath and the curse we deserved.

There are two sides to justification: Removal of our sin because Christ bears the curse, and the giving of His righteousness. J. I. Packer writes, “The judge declares guilty sinners immune from punishment and righteous in his sight. The great exchange is no legal fiction, no arbitrary pretence, no mere word-game on God’s part, but a costly acheivement.” (Justification in Protestant Theology, J.I. Packer) John Calvin defines justification as “the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin 1960 by Westminister Press) Similarly, Luther (who called the doctrine of justification the belief that determines whether the church stands or falls) affirmed both these aspects of justification: “Christ took all our sins upon him, and for them died upon the cross,” and “they are righteous because they believe in Christ, whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them.” (Cited in Packer, Justification in Protestant Theology)

Justification is Good News Because. . .

Ask yourself, what makes justification good news? You may say, “Being forgiven is good news because I don’t want to go to hell.” That’s true. No one should want to go to hell. You may say, “Being forgiven is good news because a guilty conscience is a horrible thing.” Indeed, forgiveness relieves your conscience. You may say, “I want to go to heaven,” “The alternative is painful,” “My family is there, I want to see them,” “Because sin will be no more and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.” What’s wrong with these answers? They do not treat God as the final and highest good of the gospel. They do not express a supreme desire to be with God. God was not even mentioned. Only His gifts were mentioned. These gifts are precious. But they are not God. And they are not the gospel if God Himself is not cherished as the supreme gift of the gospel. That is, if God is not treasured as the ultimate gift of the gospel, none of His gifts will be gospel, good news. And if God is treasured as the supremely valuable gift of the gospel, then all the other lesser gifts will be enjoyed as well. Justification is good because it wins access to the presence and pleasure of God.

My Plea: Rest. Rejoice. Sacrifice and Sing.

What is my plea to you? Rest and rejoice. Oh that you would rest and rejoice knowing that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you have done that makes Him love you any less! Rest and rejoice in the hope that “does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5 ESV). Rest and rejoice knowing that you don’t earn God’s approval. Clear knowledge of God from the Bible is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. One of the most crucial kinds of knowledge you can have is what God is like in salvation. That’s where justification comes in. Let the truth of that sweet doctrine pierce your heart and penetrate the depths of your soul so that your joy in God is overflowing and spilling out in the schools, the workplace, the grocery store, the home, and the church! Respond. Sacrifice and sing. “Proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

Now think on this. This big awesome God who spoke the universe into existence, this big awesome God who created billions of galaxies and calls every star by name. Who never had a beginning and will never end. Whose ways are inscrutable and Whose judgments are unsearchable. Whose thoughts are as different from ours as the heavens are from the earth. When “the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15), this big awesome, amazing God who doesn’t need us, did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of Jesus, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself. That’s the beauty and majesty of the doctrine of justification.