Archive for the ‘Reformed Evangelism’ Category

Is Reformed Theology Harmful?

October 31, 2007

We must beware that in our theology and evangelism that we don’t go around declaring “Peace, when there is no peace” (Ezekiel 13:10). We are so prone to assuming that if a person says nice words about Christ that person is converted. We think that if a person shows some sorrow for sin or makes a moral reformation that person is surely converted. We have confidence that a person is converted if that person agrees with us theologically. But if it is true as some leaders have said that a vast majority of professing believers in America are not converted, then there are certainly many people practicing false evangelism and are calling “peace, when there is no peace.” The SBC is not immune to this either and it may be that it is as bad or even worse at this than others. The Reformed people are also not immune to this especially since they generally practice the same evangelism as do the Arminians.

Imagine this scenario. Person X visits a church or attends a home study of some sort. Person X hears about sin and knows that s/he is a sinner. Person X hears about hell (not taught a lot in our day) and becomes a bit frightened. If person X does not hear about hell then person X might hear about how wonderful Jesus is in giving us a great life now. Then person X hears about how Jesus died for him or her and this brings tears and so person X prays a prayer. Person X now attends church services, makes a moral reformation and begins to study theology. In most Arminian churches person X would have been thought to have been saved from the earliest prayer. Reformed people might have watched to be sure that there was a change in life. Reformed people would have been especially delighted and assured if the person began to study theology. But we must know that a person can do everything mentioned above and even more from an unregenerate heart. The Pharisees did all the above and a lot more.

“Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you,” declares the Lord GOD. 9 “So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord GOD.
10 “It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; 11 so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash, that it will fall. A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall; and a violent wind will break out. 12 “Behold, when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked, ‘Where is the plaster with which you plastered it?'” 13 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “I will make a violent wind break out in My wrath. There will also be in My anger a flooding rain and hailstones to consume it in wrath. 14 “So I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the LORD. 15 “Thus I will spend My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it over with whitewash; and I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and its plasterers are gone, 16 along with the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’ declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 13:8-16).

If my analysis is at all correct, it can be seen what is going on in the churches of America. There is a huge problem with Arminian theology and practices and so some think that a little whitewash of Reformed theology will cure the problem. The wall of Arminian theology with its Pelagian practices is not strengthened by a whitewash of Reformed theology, but all it does is hide the corruption and impending storm of wrath from some people. The wall that is being built in America is rotten to the core because it is man-centered in its theology and practices. Reformed whitewash is nothing but whitewash if it is not thoroughly God-centered in all ways. Many offer fine words of praise for theologians now dead but actually do not like what they really taught. We must go back to our Bibles and focus on the living God. We must also focus on what depravity really is. We may not have much time.

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Total Depravity & Evangelism

October 29, 2007

Last time I spoke of dealing with “T” (total depravity) and ran out of space before I got to it much at all. Total depravity does not mean what the caricatures set it out to mean, but is instead the doctrine of how depraved man is in light of who God is. We must never forget that the reason we show human beings the true nature of their depravity and sin is not to make them feel bad, it is to show them that they must be broken of their pride and despair of anything within themselves in order that God may give them life by grace. If we continue with the focus on human beings, we have fallen far short of what we are to do. A person will desire to escape hell and will never be delivered from his own strength and so believe in his own strength and be damned. Sinners must see their depravity in the light of the glory of God in order to be delivered from their own strength and then by the work of the Spirit hope in God and His glory through Christ and Christ alone.

Romans 5:6 tells us this about depravity: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Whatever language people use when describing depravity we can know that human beings are helpless and without strength. Sinners are helpless and without strength and so Christ died for them as the ungodly. When does the Holy Spirit come to them and make them alive? It is while they are dead in sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1-7). So Christ died for sinners while they were helpless and without strength and the Spirit makes them alive when they are dead in sins and trespasses. In our evangelism we must take these things into account. Sinners are spiritually dead and so have no strength in the spiritual realm. What are we to tell them to do? What is being done today is that we tell people to do what they cannot do and yet we don’t tell them anything about the fact that they cannot do it. To put this in different words, when a person is spiritually dead and does not understand that and another comes along and tells the person to do something without telling the person that s/he is dead, that person will respond with a work of the flesh and think that s/he has in truth believed. The “T” is not a theological point that is just there to fit with tulip, but it is a vital truth about human beings. If we do not get the “T” right in theology and evangelism, we will not practice biblical evangelism and we will not teach people the truth about the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and the new birth. Being God-centered is at the heart of all of this.

We go out and do evangelism without God at the center of it and think we are doing the will of God. That can be something like the Pharisees who traveled over land and sea to make converts and made them twice the sons of hell that they were (Mat 23:15). Where is God in our evangelism and in all the other things we do? Do we really believe in sola scriptura any longer? If so, where do we find a Scriptural mandate for what we are doing? Could it be that those within Calvinistic circles who are professing Calvinists and hold to the five-points of Calvinism actually practice evangelism with the same methods and virtually the same theology as the Arminians do? How could that be? Where is the God-centeredness in that type of evangelistic methodology? If you are following the flow of thought, you will see something very important. It is that the heart of Arminian evangelism which is based on Arminian theology and view of the Gospel can be virtually the same as that practiced by the modern Calvinists. In fact, there are Calvinists who use the evangelistic programs of Arminians. There is no wonder, then, that many modern Calvinists can be at peace with Arminian teachings and practice the same evangelism. The reason is that their Reformed theology is not applied at this point and so there is virtually no difference with the Arminian view at that point. But if there is no difference at that point, where is the real difference? Where is God in reality in what Calvinists and Arminians are doing other than the use of His name at a few points? If the doctrine of total depravity is virtually set aside in evangelism, then the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion will be virtually ignored and the emphasis will all be on what the sinner must do. Of course some might give lip service to this but unless we teach men that they are dead in sin we will not teach them what it means to be helpless and without strength. We will then not teach them what is needful for them to be broken and trust in Christ alone.

What Moves the Will?

September 29, 2007

In setting out the ability and inability of man we see how pernicious the true nature of inability is. The enmity man has with God cannot just be taken away by a mere choice, prayer and/or decision. Man must be born from above in order to truly believe. This enmity is not taken away by a choice, but by a new heart. This sets out the Gospel by grace alone. Man does nothing in terms of work for salvation and does nothing but what grace enables him to do. We must never let these things slide away or we will have allowed the Gospel to slide. Man’s inability is from his enmity with God and even a hatred of God. Man will always fight with God until God changes man’s heart. Until the heart is changed, man will always be at enmity with God and will not love God. Until all the enmity has been removed there will be no faith because there cannot be love.

Here the issues are clear. Does the will move by grace and all of grace or does it move by some power of man? Can we say we are saved by grace alone if in fact there is an unaided part of the will that works in salvation? Even if there is an aspect of the will that is aided to a degree but not completely, is that grace alone? If there is an unaided part of the will that acts in salvation, then there is something in man that is not fallen and is able to love God apart from grace alone. Romans 4:5 speaks to this with utter clarity: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” We must stop working in order to be one that does not work. Faith is opposed to any work at all in terms of the Gospel. It is after a person is converted that faith works but at that point it works by love (Galatians 5:6). Any unaided part of the fallen will of man will be a part of the will that is at enmity with God. That would require a person to have some hate for God with part of the will and then love God with the other parts of the will.

The will is not moved by grace to any degree other than it is moved by love. We must note this carefully. God always works in His people love for Himself as that is what is best for His glory and their good. It is also because the only thing acceptable to God is love for Him in line with the Greatest Commandment. To believe that God savingly loves a person is not possible unless His love is in the person and giving that person a love for Him. It is not that we have to believe that God loves us and so believe in the Gospel and are saved, but we have to know that His love is in us and giving us a love for Him. It is not that we must force ourselves to believe that God loves us, but as I John 16-17 teaches: “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.” In this text we see that we have come to know the love of God because of God who is love abiding in His people. In this case we believe because that love is in us. In this case as in all cases the love of God in a person is because of grace.

In the moving of the will or the soul to Christ, is this part of the sovereignty of God or of a free-will with ability that is not under the sovereignty of God? In this question we can see the battle in its real nature. Is man free from the sovereignty and dominion of God because of the ability of free-will or not? Is there some part of man that is powered by self and is not under the sovereignty of God? This is at the heart of the real issue. How free is man or is he in complete bondage to his sin and completely at the mercy of God to show mercy or not to show mercy? Here man wants to retain just enough power in order to decide for himself. But notice, in saying that man decides for himself man is also saying that God does not and perhaps cannot decide. If the will is indeed free, then it is free from any sort of help from God at all and of any hindrance from Satan too. There can be no such thing as free-will in salvation. The devil does not leave the will alone from any influence as he is always working to deceive. If God does not step in and move the will by grace, there will never be a soul that flees to Christ for salvation. There is no such thing as a human being that is free at any point from outside influence. The natural man is under bondage to sin and is under the complete dominion of the evil one. The will is not free from the evil one at any point until God frees it and makes it His slave.

The Gospel comes to people who are in bondage to the evil one. Part of that bondage is an illusion of freedom. As long as man is under the illusion of freedom, he will not see his bondage and be broken of all hope in himself. As long as man has hope in himself he will not fully hope in Christ alone. It is utterly vital that human beings see their true nature and their true state before the true God. As long as they don’t see this, they are in bondage to the evil one and are under some illusion. It is only Christ that will set sinners free and that is by grace alone.

A Spiritual Nature is Needed to Exercise Faith

September 27, 2007

Let us now look at other aspects of faith and see if they are part of man’s fallen capacity. If they are not, we will see that man as fallen cannot believe of himself and needs a new principle in order to believe. In the previous BLOG we looked at faith as an act of man as either a spiritual act or the act of the natural man. It is clear that man cannot look to Christ with saving faith from the capacity of his fallen nature. Instead, man must have a spiritual nature given to him which has the capacity to see Christ as the outshining of the glory of God (II Cor 4:4-6). It is the deep conviction and love that the sight of God’s glory brings is that which tells us what true saving faith is.

Faith is also a trust in Christ and nothing else but Christ. In other words, for a man to believe in Christ alone for salvation that man cannot believe or trust in anything else for salvation. During the time of the Reformation the doctrine of Scripture was set out that one is saved by faith alone in Christ alone. The term “alone” is surely self-evident, but we must draw attention to it for a moment. To have faith alone would mean faith without anything else but faith. To have Christ alone means to have Christ as the object of faith without any other object of faith at all.
The word “alone” should teach us that nothing that comes in our own strength and power is acceptable in terms of trusting in Christ alone with faith alone. The natural man’s fallen nature has no capacity to exercise anything that is acceptable to God. True faith is spiritual in nature and all of grace. Man’s fallen nature cannot assist in this.

At this point we can see that humility is an absolute necessity for faith. Habakkuk 2:4 shows this: “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” In this text it is the proud one that is not right and it is the righteous that have faith. Pride is opposed to faith which shows that humility is necessary for faith. Matthew 18:3 also shows this: “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’ words were to the disciples who were acting from pride in the preceding verses in desiring to be great in the kingdom. Jesus tells them that instead of being great in the kingdom they must be turned or converted and become like little children to enter. Humility is the proper place of the creature before the Creator and that is to be on our faces empty of self. In order to believe in Christ from humility one must be empty of self and all trust in self and the power of fallen man at all points.

Faith comes from the work of the Spirit rather than the capacity of fallen nature. To see this we must see that man must be raised from the spiritual dead. A person that is spiritually dead has no spiritual nature or capacity (Eph 2:1-4). Yet true faith requires us to believe Christ which requires us to see the glory of God shining in Him. Hebrews 11:13 shows us this: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” This is the practical application of verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The people in verse 13 had faith which is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. They had faith because they saw and welcomed the promises which they could not see with their physical eyes. It was because their faith operated within the spiritual realm that they could see the true nature of the promises. This leads us to verses 24-26 where we see that the faith of Moses saw into the spiritual realm: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.” This shows the need of a spiritual capacity.

Scripture sets out true faith as something that is of a spiritual nature and can only be exercised from a spiritual capacity. This is not possible for the person that is dead in sins and trespasses and has no spiritual life at all. If faith is a spiritual act it must come from a spiritual nature and that must come to human beings based on grace and grace alone. Faith is a trust in Christ alone without any trust in self at all, so again this shows us that faith cannot be a mere act of a free-will or the act that comes from the power of self. Faith is the deepest conviction of the soul and is always accompanied by love and in fact works by love. We know from the book of I John that love is how to see if one is converted even though justification is by faith alone. Love must be the pure act of God in the soul as God alone is the source of true love (I John 4:7-9). If faith is a spiritual act done without trust or help from self at all, then the fallen will cannot assist in the matter in the slightest. If faith must see the glory of God in order to rest on Christ, then this is also not within the capacity of the fallen soul. If the Holy Spirit must open the eyes to see, then this is not in the capacity of fallen man. Human beings have no ability in themselves to savingly believe. As long as we trust in self for salvation, even a little, we will not have it because we must trust in Christ alone for all things.

Natural Man Cannot See God’s Glory

September 25, 2007

We can now move into a discussion on the issue of faith. With the last BLOG in mind, we can question if faith is either a spiritual act or the act of the natural man. Man must believe in Christ, true enough, but what does that mean? Does it mean that man has the capacity within his fallen nature to believe on Christ and be saved? Is man commanded to do what he has in his natural power to do? We know that all the commands of God are really ways that men are to love God. While man has the capacity within his fallen nature to do the outward commands of God, man does not have the capacity in his fallen nature to love God in doing the outward commandments. While it is true that man may have some capacity to have an external belief in some way in Christ, it is not true that man can believe in Christ from a love for Christ. Only the faith that is accompanied or consists in love is saving faith.

Many believed in Christ in biblical times but were not converted (John 2:23-25). They saw a miracle or heard His words and believed in some way, but were not converted. Nicodemus was told that he must be born again to see the kingdom. In John 6 Jesus fed thousands and the people believed in some way and sought Christ. But they did not seek Him out of love for His Person; they sought Him for more free food. By the end of the chapter they had all left Him. They believed in a sense but their deepest convictions and loves were not for Christ but self. What we must see, then, is that true faith operates in the spiritual realm. The Gospel is not just a list of historical facts; it is the display of the glory of God. A person cannot just have some sort of historical belief in Christ that the natural man can come up with, but that person must see the glory of God in Christ in order to savingly believe. Man cannot believe in Christ with a love for Christ while maintaining a core belief in and love for himself.

One cannot believe in Christ apart from believing who He really is. Christ was the very temple of the glory of God and the very outshining of the glory of God. To believe in Christ is to believe in Him as the display of God. To believe in Christ in truth is to see Him as the shining forth of the glory of God. To believe the Gospel is to see the glory of God in the Gospel. No man has natural ability to do this; it is the work of the Spirit of God. This is clear in other texts, but especially clear in II Corinthians 4:4-6 which teaches us that the Gospel is the shining forth of the glory of God in Christ. Faith in Christ is not the kind of faith that the fallen man has the capacity for, but instead this kind of faith is one that requires man to have a spiritual capacity given to him. One must have the capacity to see the glory of God in Christ and so the Gospel is far more than a belief in some historical information, it is a change of heart so that one trusts in Christ alone because one has been changed from a self-centered heart to one that loves Christ and delights in the glory of God in Christ as it shines in the Gospel.

The natural man is bound up in self-love and cannot see the Gospel of God as good news if he has to repent of his self-love. To believe the Gospel of the glory of God requires that man no longer be the center of his own love. The Gospel requires that man die to self and repent of his selfish actions and even die to the very core of his self-centered being in order to love and believe in what is truly good news. No natural man will ever believe in the Gospel of the outshining of God’s glory in Christ. Men hate God. If we change the Gospel to make man the center of it, then men will flood to it. If the Gospel is presented to where man is still in control just a little and make it all about him, then man is not humbled and brought to a point where he is even able to trust in Christ alone. Man has to stop trusting in what he can do in his fallen nature and that capacity. Man has to look to Christ alone with spiritual eyes and that only happens by grace and grace alone. A true faith from a spiritual capacity will only happen when man does not trust in himself to believe but is given a true faith in Christ with a spiritual capacity.

Faith is either an act of the natural man and is within the fallen man’s capacity or it is the act of a man made new in Christ with a spiritual capacity. We must force ourselves to look at this in this way. If it is an act of the natural man and can be done within the fallen man’s capacity, then we will have to instruct man or evangelize him in that way. If saving faith is not within the fallen man’s capacity but instead is something that man does by a new capacity given to him by grace alone, then we have to evangelize and instruct man in accordance with that. If man does not have the capacity within his fallen nature to savingly believe, that instructs us in regards how to instruct the people we speak to. If we teach people in a way where they believe they have that ability to do from a capacity that they do not have, then we are instructing them falsely and in a way that can and does lead to many being deceived. Jesus told us that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). In the next verse he tells us what is meant by that. It is the Father teaching them. It is only those who hear and learn from the Father that will come to Christ. That is not the same thing as having the capacity to do it themselves. We must teach this.

Evangelism, Part 11

May 7, 2006

I received an email regarding the newsletter last week and it asked a few questions and made a few statements. They are important questions and I thought that others might have the same ones. The questions were related to using justification by faith alone as a paradigm in evangelism. The questions were basically two and are as follows. One, Paul was teaching believers about the salvation that they had already received and this is not what unbelievers need to have preached to them in evangelism. Two, this seems contrary to the Gospel of John since it was written so that people would believe and it does not mention justification by faith alone. I will respond to these questions in the order that they are listed above.

The book of Romans is considered by many as being the most profound theological book in the Bible. Paul wrote it to set out the glorious truths of the Christian faith. In chapter one he says the following: “14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Now it appears from this text that Paul wants to go preach the Gospel, but to both the saved and the unsaved. The Gospel is to be preached to believers and unbelievers. In fact, Paul said that he was eager to preach the Gospel to those in Rome. Why? Because he was not ashamed of the Gospel. Why? Because the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The power of salvation is of God and it is through the Gospel.

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. That is a statement that every preacher should have ringing in his ears and perhaps written on the walls of his study. It is not the wisdom and manipulations of man that bring people to Christ, it is the Gospel itself. It is not a canned message that allures people to Christ; it is the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation. The Gospel must be preached if souls are to be saved. Then Paul goes on in Romans to show that Jew and Gentile alike are all under sin and that their mouths must be shut. In chapters three and four he gives the essence of the Gospel. It is my belief that Paul crystallized the Gospel in the book of Romans as it was given to him by inspiration of the Spirit as the sent-one of Christ. The book of Romans was written to people in Rome and it contained believers and unbelievers. The Gospel is preached to unbelievers in order that they may be saved and the Gospel is preached to believers in order that they may glory in it. So what Paul wrote was not just instructing believers about the salvation that they already had, but also to people who were not saved about the Gospel which was and is the power of God for salvation.

The doctrines of the Gospel that Paul taught in Romans 3-4 are as follows:

  1. The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ
  2. Justification
  3. Grace
  4. Redemption
  5. Propitiation
  6. Justification by faith apart from works
  7. Imputed righteousness
  8. The resurrection

Now if we look at these teachings in Romans, we can ask what is taught in John. First, we want to see what John taught in 20:31. “30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John is not claiming in this verse to have written to present the whole of the Gospel. The context of this verse is focused on the signs and these were evidences that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John said that there were other signs that Jesus performed, but that these (signs that he wrote about) were written so people could believe. So from the context we see that the signs were given so that people would believe, but there is nothing specifically of the Gospel mentioned in the context. We should also consider that “Christ” really means “the Messiah.” So to prove Jesus as the Messiah would have included what the Old Testament taught about the Messiah and what the Messiah would do.

The Gospel of John was written so that people would believe. We also have several places in John where people believed and yet were not converted. We see in John 2:23-25 that many saw the signs which He was doing and believed. But it is also clear (from vv. 24-25) that these people were not truly converted. In John 3 we see that the reason that Nicodemus came to Jesus was because he saw the signs and knew (even believed) that Jesus was a teacher sent from God. However, Jesus told him that he needed to be born again. In chapter 6 Jesus fed several thousand people from a few loaves of bread and a few fish. The people certainly believed when they saw the sign (v. 14) and wanted to use force to make Jesus king (vv. 14-15). The people then sought Jesus after He left that night. However, He told them that they only sought Him for food (6:26). Jesus continued teaching them and many of the ones who believed grumbled (v. 41), argued (v. 52), and finally withdrew from Him (v. 66). This shows that many believed in some way but were not truly converted.

In John 8:30 we see that many came to believe in Christ as He spoke to them. However, in v. 31 Jesus told those who believed in Him that they must continue in His work if they are going to truly be His disciples. In His teachings following that verse, the same people were picking up stones to throw at Him in the last verse of the chapter. In chapter 11 many saw the sign that Jesus performed in raising Lazarus from the dead and believed. However, some who believed that Lazarus was raised from the dead went to the leaders and told them about it. The chief priests evidently believed that Lazarus was raised from the dead and believed that Jesus did it and yet they wanted to kill Jesus and Lazarus because of it (John 12:9-11).

It should be clear that people can believe in some way because of the signs and still not be converted. Many today have some form of belief about Jesus and yet they have no real love for Christ and the glory of God that shines in Him. The real issue in John and in Romans is that people must see the glory of the Gospel and of Christ in order to be saved. One can believe in mere facts and not be converted as is clear from the examples I have given in John. We can look at II Corinthians 4:4, 6 to see this. “4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

In these texts we see that until a person sees the glory of Christ the Gospel has not been seen. People can believe by seeing signs, but that does not mean that they see the glory of the signs. The people who received the free food loved the free food and believed what Christ could do, but they did not see the glory of God shining in the face of Christ. They saw the glory of free food but they did not see and understand the glory of the Gospel. This helps explain other passages in John as well. John 2:11 says this: “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” Here we see that His glory was manifested and the disciples believed. Evidently they saw more than just the physical actions; they were enabled to see the glory of God shining in Christ. In John 11, the story of Lazarus and Jesus raising him from the dead, we see the intent of it all: “4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it. Then later in the chapter we see what true faith does: “40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”” Here we see that the glory of God in Christ is the main issue and people with true faith will see the glory of God. In John 17 Jesus uses the word “glory” three times to show His eternal glory and His desire for His disciples to see that glory.

How much of the Gospel is in John? It depends on how one looks at it. John appears to have been written mainly to Jews and informed Gentiles. As such, there is much of John that is written presupposing an Old Testament background. John 1:1 starts off the same as Genesis 1:1. John 1:14 speaks of Christ as the tabernacle and as the glory of God. John 1:17 speaks of Christ in contrast with Moses and all that was taught by Moses finds its reality in Christ. In John 1:29 Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world which is a fulfilling of the sacrificial system. In 1:45 Philip told Nathanael that he had found “Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth.” In 1:51 there is an allusion to Jacob’s ladder and as Christ being that ladder to heaven. Throughout John there are constant allusions and direct teachings to the Old Testament and Jesus fulfilling or being the reality of those things. In light of that, there are many teachings about Jesus in John that those familiar with the Old Testament would have understood. If we understand that the Gospel was in the Old Testament, then we can see that Christ fulfilling the Old Testament means that the same Gospel that Paul taught was understood in John. One reason for this is that Paul built his doctrine of justification from the Old Testament. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was not new with the physical coming of Christ, but fulfilled or brought into reality by Christ.

Jesus Christ is the very outshining of the glory of God and that glory is full of grace and truth. So a Gospel to the glory of God is clearly a Gospel of grace. The teaching of John on the new birth is clearly all about grace. The teaching that Christ as the Messiah is the Lamb of God would surely bring to listening ears thoughts of the glorious teachings found in Isaiah 53. There we have some of the clearest teaching on propitiation found in Scripture as it sets out the fulfillment of the book of Leviticus. Throughout John we see that salvation is by and through faith. John knows nothing of a works for salvation scheme. In John, for the Old Testament readers, the cross and resurrection would not have been misunderstood. The same writer in I John set out the teaching of propitiation in 2:2 and 4:10 in that book. Though he did not use the same language, the teaching is there. Jesus told the Jews that they were in bondage to sin and the devil and that the truth would set them free (John 8 ). Surely that is redemption without using the word. When we see that men are to seek the glory of God and not that of themselves, surely we can see that they must trust in the righteousness of another to do that (John 5:44).

Lastly, Paul said that if “we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal 1:8). He then went on to repeat pretty much the same statement except this time he said “if any man.” For this reason I believe that the Gospel taught and preached by Paul is the Gospel that I should be preaching and evangelizing with. The Gospel Paul taught was also developed from the book of Genesis which is so widely used or alluded to in John. I do not believe that John and Paul are at odds with each other and the Gospel is the same in both though they used different terms. In light of these things, I must respectfully assert that the Gospel we should evangelize with is the Gospel that Paul set out in Romans 3-4 because anything contrary to it is not the Gospel and because only the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Evangelism, Part 10

May 7, 2006

Doctrine and evangelism are not often linked together, but they should be. For example, Protestants have historically said that the Gospel is basically defined by justification by faith alone. But is that necessary to teach people in evangelism? If it is the Gospel then perhaps it is. But we have substituted for the Gospel a message about Jesus followed by an appeal to pray. If justification by faith alone is the heart of the Gospel, then we must teach it to people that we are evangelizing. Justification by faith alone is a message for those that are under conviction of sin and know that they must have their sin dealt with. If people are not under conviction of sin, they will view the Gospel from an intellectual view only. The Gospel goes to the heart. It is easier to tell people a message about Jesus than it is to teach them the Gospel, but Jesus never promised us that making disciples would be easy. That is why He said in the Great Commission that He would be with those who do this. We must speak to people of what it means to be justified. We must tell them that God must declare them just or righteous or they will not be saved. Notice that we have just moved from focusing on what the person can do to what God does in salvation. That is one reason why people don’t like this; it is hard to tell a person that God must do the work. But justification is a work of God. What does man do in justification? If justification is a forensic or declared justification, then God must declare a man just. Man simply receives and believes the truth.

But how do we escape the Roman Catholic argument that God cannot declare a man just who is not really just and that the Protestant doctrine is a legal fiction? When the whole Gospel of God is proclaimed it is clear that this is not legal fiction. Romans 3:19 through chapter four is a declaration of the Gospel and its glory. The Gospel comes to man at the point of man’s only real need and that is to be saved from the wrath of God. If man thought about this apart from his self-centered motives, he would wonder how God could be just and still justify the sinner. Romans 3:26 answers this question for us in its context: “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” This text tells us that the Gospel is such that God can be just and righteous and still declare those sinners who have faith in Christ righteous. God can do this in a perfectly just way and the sinner can be declared perfect in God’s sight. This Gospel is worth proclaiming to sinners and this is why Paul calls it the Gospel of God (Rom 1:1).

If a person has seen that God must declare him righteous before he can enter into God’s presence, he has to know that he can never be righteous from himself. People must feel the weight of this and know that God will never allow anything impure or unholy to enter heaven. God’s holiness will never allow this. To those who feel the weight of this, the Gospel is good news. To those who feel the weight of their sin, the Gospel of God is good news to them. This is more than someone bigger than them in heaven who just can’t live without them and begs them to come home to Him, this is a God who is sovereign over men and has saved His enemies in a way that allows Him to be just and display His glory before all of creation. So how can God be just and still justify a person who has committed innumerable sins against Him and His law? God sent Christ to be a sacrifice in order to remove the wrath of Himself from sinners. I am not convinced that anyone understands the Gospel apart from propitiation. If the word is too big, at least the concept is should be taught. In this great doctrine we see the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Here we see God in human flesh taking the wrath of the Father upon Himself so that God’s justice would be satisfied and sinners could be saved from hell. Does this need to be understood and received for sinners to be saved? Indeed it is. This is what Christ came to do and this is the glory of the cross and of God.

We can see how justification by faith alone is the Gospel of God and is how God saves sinners to the glory of His name. We have seen how sinners must see that God must be just and yet must declare them righteous if they are to be saved. We have seen how through the cross God has removed His wrath from sinners in such a way that He can be just in doing so. But how does the sinner enter heaven? On what basis is the sinner able to enter heaven? Even if Christ has taken away the wrath that was due unto the sinner and delivered him from hell, which would not automatically enable the sinner to enter heaven. What allows the sinner to go into heaven? Romans 4:6: “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” Here we see that God credits (reckons, imputes) righteousness to sinners. How does that work? Is this important to know?

We are still speaking of the glorious Gospel by which God is just and saves sinners. He does not just deliver them from hell and not deliver them to heaven, but He purchases heaven for them. In other words, the Gospel is about delivering from hell and purchasing heaven for sinners. This is how God can be just and justify sinners. He sent Christ who suffered for the sins of sinners in order that they would not perish. But He also sent Christ in order to give His gift of righteousness so sinners would enter heaven. The Gospel through Christ does not deliver from hell and that is it; it takes them into the gates of heaven and into the arms of Him who is eternal and infinite love.

But how does one take Christ and His Gospel? Assuredly that is by faith alone or faith without works. But how is it that a person who has faith can be saved and a person who does not have faith is not saved? What is it about faith that saves? There is nothing about faith itself that saves. Salvation is about Christ and faith is how one has Christ. The sinner is united to Christ as his representative or head. All are born in the flesh and have Adam as their head. By union with Adam a person is guilty of original sin by virtue of his representation. But when a sinner is united with Christ, that sinner is seen as one with Christ. The Church is the body of Christ with Him as its Head. So when a person is one with Christ as in marriage, all that bride has (sin) is His and all that He has (righteousness) is His bride’s. This is the great exchange and it shows how God can be just and have Christ be the Head of His people.

Faith is either that which flows from a new heart and union with Christ or it is that which a natural man is able to come up with. Faith is a spiritual act and cannot be done by a natural man. The Gospel is foolishness to the natural man and so he is not going to believe and love it. Faith is that which apprehends the glory of God and the spiritual realm. Believers walk by faith and not by sight (II Cor 5:7), which is to say that they walk in a way where they apprehend the will of God and do not walk according to the world. Ephesians 2:8 is very clear that faith itself is a gift of God and is not something that is worked up by man. So are we to teach this to people? If we don’t, they will think that they have the ability to do it themselves. Faith is the gift of God and men need to hear this in order to deliver them from trying to make faith a work.

Because of space I did not deal with the fuller expression of justification. It is justification by grace through faith alone. The teaching of grace is essential to justification as set out in Romans 3:24 where we are told that justification is by grace. But in Romans 4:16 we are told that salvation is by faith in order that it may be by grace. The Gospel is declared to men and men are saved to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:6) and it is by grace that men are saved (Eph 2:8). The Gospel is all of grace in order that it may be all of Christ and come through faith. Sinners are not saved by faith as if faith is a work, but through faith as a way of simply receiving grace and Christ. So the Gospel is really all about God saving sinners to the glory of His name.

But are these things really important for evangelism? Is it the Gospel or not? To repeat, if justification by faith alone is the heart of the Gospel, can we evangelize in truth without it? Can we bring the good news to sinners apart from the good news itself? Can we preach the Gospel apart from the Gospel? Can we teach and preach the Gospel of God apart from teaching of God and how He works in the Gospel? For the Church to return to its roots, it must return to the Gospel of Scripture as it thundered forth from the lips and pens of Luther. The Church must learn to evangelize with the Gospel itself and not watered down portions of it. People must come to faith through the proclamation of the glory of God in the face of Christ through the Gospel. But in most methods of “evangelism,” the Gospel itself is not really there and the doctrine of God is not really dealt with.

We must face reality whether we like it or not. If we are bringing people in the church when we have not really taught them the Gospel, that harms the church and them. If we are evangelizing people apart from the Gospel, what are we doing? If we are evangelizing in a way where God is on the periphery, are we really telling people the Gospel of God? If we tell them some basic facts of Christ and do not proclaim the glory of it, are we really telling them the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (II Cor 4:4)? A message that does not declare the glory of God and of Christ is not the Gospel. It may have some elements of the Gospel in it, but it is not the Gospel. The Gospel is all about the glory of God in Christ saving sinners by the Gospel of justification by grace through faith alone. There is no other Gospel. Surely these things are important in evangelism if we are to do more than inoculate people to the truth. A man-centered evangelism is a false evangelism leading to false conversions which man thinks is all about him. This is simply a method of inoculating people to the true Gospel of God. The natural man, though a false convert, loves to hear of a God who is all about him. But he does not want to hear about the glory of God who saves to manifest His own glory. Maybe this is one reason that the church is so weak. People are evangelized with a man-centered message and so come to church thinking that God and church is all about them.

Evangelism, Part 9

May 7, 2006

The last two weeks we have critiqued two tracts. A critique is rather easy to do, but setting out something positive is a different thing altogether. So this week, in an effort to speak about good tracts, we will deal with the nature of evangelism first. A tract that is used evangelistically should, after all, be in line with true evangelism.

WHAT IS EVANGELISM?

Here is a very important question and it is not asked often enough. The way it is answered to some degree determines the way evangelism is done. For example, if we think of evangelism as going to a number of doors and unloading a message on the people before the door is shut, then we must have a canned message that can be fired quickly. If we think of evangelism as a messenger focused practice, then we will be concerned about the “me” in the practice of disseminating information. If we think of evangelism from a human-centered viewpoint, then we focus on the person being “reached.” If we think of evangelism as something that is done primarily to aid in the growth of a church, then pressing the people to a decision and to attend church quickly is the focus. Without doing an exhaustive survey of this, I hope that the point is clear. Evangelism must be done in a way that brings the truth of God to the people and deals with them as a sinner in need of the Gospel. The claims of God must be pressed home to them so that they see the need of the Gospel that is proclaimed to them. Evangelism is essentially dealing with a person in a way where biblical truths are pressed home to the person.

EVANGELISM MUST BE GOD-CENTERED

I would propose that evangelism should be done from a God-centered approach. The primary motive in evangelism should be out of love for the glory of God (I Cor 10:31). With this motive in mind, we will not water down the message of the Gospel since our chief desire is to see God glorified. It is also the case that we cannot love our neighbor without loving God so this also helps us to see that to love our neighbor we must tell them the truth about God. The Gospel is really all about the glory of God in its many facets and so we cannot truly preach the Gospel unless we are setting out the glory of God. We cannot love the Gospel unless we love the glory of God that we are to be speaking about.

EVANGELISM MUST DEAL WITH PEOPLE HONESTLY

A true messenger of God will talk honestly to a person about his or her sin. One can proclaim some of the Bible without the biblical background and make the person think that God is centered on nothing but human beings, but that is to use the sin of self-centeredness in the human being as something good rather than something to repent of. If we are going to evangelize in truthfulness and honesty, we must deal with souls as they are. They need to know about their sin and how they are at enmity with Him (Rom 5:10; 8:7; Col 1:21). They need to see what sin is in order to count the cost and to have a true repentance. They need to see their helplessness before God in order that they may go to Him in utter humility crying out for grace to turn them. If a person comes to God on his own strength, that is not really coming to God. Jesus said that no one had the ability of himself to come to God (John 6:44). So if a person comes to God on his own at our encouragement, we have misled him.

EVANGELISM MUST PROCLAIM CHRIST

Evangelism must be about Christ in His works and offices. There is no Gospel apart from the perfect life of Christ, the cross as the perfect sacrifice that propitiates God, a perfect righteousness given as a free gift, and a resurrection that declares who Christ is and that His sacrifice was accepted by God. The resurrection of Christ is a guarantee of the coming judgment of all (Acts 17:30ff). We are to proclaim Christ as eternal life Himself (I John 5:20) and as the embodiment of the glory of God which is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We are to proclaim Christ as the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Christ must be proclaimed as Prophet, Priest, and King. We must proclaim Christ as the way of reconciliation to the Father and that He is the Intercessor for the brethren. Christ must be proclaimed as the way for the guilt of sin to be punished but also as the way for the power of sin to be defeated. What a glorious Gospel that is, though in a short form.

EVANGELISM MUST DEAL WITH PEOPLE PERSONALLY

Now if evangelism involves all of the above things, we should think of evangelism as something that is done in many ways. Evangelism should include coming to church and hearing the Gospel preached. It should include personal teaching and appeals from individuals. It should not be seen as distinct from discipleship. But the point I am trying to make is that evangelism should be thought of as personal when it is practiced by individuals in the church. Individuals should bring people to church as part of evangelism, though not the whole. So when we begin to evangelize people, we should not think of this as a one time message and then it is over. We must deal with people personally. The Gospel is a supernatural message and the natural man cannot accept the things of God (I Cor 2:14). So we must be prepared to deal with rejection and ridicule in evangelism, but if we are dealing with people on a personal basis, they will see some real concern (if we have it) and not be so quick to call names and persecute.

When dealing with people on a personal basis, we are to deal with them about their sin and the Gospel in general conversation and with Bible studies. We are, after all, dealing with people who have spent their whole lives building upon an unregenerate nature and suppressing the truth by bad arguments and reasons. While indeed God can and may overcome their resistance quickly, He may use the means of His people over a period of time. So I am trying to stress the need to deal with people as individuals that God has made. He has made people differently and has brought us as individuals to them at His sovereign appointment. We are to deal with them as individuals because God made them and us that way. Therefore, we can try to define evangelism (loosely) as a way of bringing the Gospel of our glorious God to people that are at enmity with Him and in a personal way as ambassadors bring them the message of His demand for them to repent and love Him rather than themselves. But how does this fit with tracts? It can work very well.

TRACTS AND EVANGELISM

Tracts are a wonderful way to enhance or enable us to start practicing evangelism. But remember, with tracts the goal is to personally deal with individuals. While it is true that we can plant seeds with tracts and never deal with people, that is not really evangelism. That is planting seeds and while it is a good thing, it is not really evangelism. So a tract that is planting seeds may not be the best tract for dealing with people personally. A tract that is simply planting seeds should be a good tract that is sound theologically and deals with the nature of God, sin, and the Gospel itself. It is far better to deal with people personally, but having good tracts to hand out is better than doing nothing. The least we can do is to plant seeds, and if we do that we want to use good tracts.

Another method that I have seen that is beneficial is for people write their own tracts that include their personal testimony. Some have written out their own testimony in tract form with something of a Gospel presentation to go along with it. It would be good to have someone who is astute with the Gospel check the tract, but people will more easily take a tract if it is personal. One can also write their own testimony and then hand out other tracts that deal plainly with the Gospel. I wrote a tract several years ago because I was so frustrated in trying to find a tract that dealt with the character of God. I would tell people that I had written this and ask them to read it. I handed out hundreds of those and never had one rejection as far as people taking it. It is hard for people to reject a person who is handing them something that he or she has written. Whether they read it or not is another thing, but I think it is more likely that they will read something from someone they have met.

Since evangelism is tied in with the process of discipleship, we must realize the limitations of tracts. A tract is great to start with, but people must get into the Bible fairly quickly. While church may be knocked by some, if we want people to hear the Gospel in a fuller way, they need to hear biblical preaching. Even if people are converted, they still need to hear the Gospel and to hear it in a deeper and deeper way as time goes by. They never outgrow the Gospel. For the best tracts that I have seen, go here: http://www.intoutreach.org.

Evangelism, Part 8

April 15, 2006

Last week we dealt with a tract that is being used in Kansas (if not other places). This week we will deal with another tract that is being used by the same group(s). I have personally received this tract while walking in downtown Lawrence, but I will discuss that later.The tract starts off with this: “God wants you to be 100% certain that when you die you will go to heaven. That´s why the Bible says. ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.’ I Jn 5:13.” This verse, I John 5:13, is a famous verse that is used for the purpose of giving people assurance. What is shockingly obvious, however, is that there is not another verse from I John in this tract used to show what John wrote in order that people may know they have eternal life. This is what happened to me when I was approached by two groups of two people just minutes apart. Each time I asked the speaker what things John said that would tell me I had eternal life. Both times the speaker went to Romans 10:13. So I asked them if they thought I John 5:13 was referring to Romans when he said “I have written these things.” Both of them said that indeed that was what John had in mind.

This is hard to believe for those steeped in hermeneutics and who actually use the context of a verse, but this is also what the tract does. So, without a context from I John, the writer of the tract goes on: “What must you know from the Bible to be 100% sure?” The writer then lists eight things for people to know in order to obtain 100% certainty that they are going to heaven:

  1. You are a sinner and don´t deserve to go to heaven. Romans 3:23
  2. The only way you can pay for your sins is by spending eternity in hell. Romans 6:23; Rev 20:14
  3. We can´t do anything good enough on our own to merit heaven. Titus 3:5
  4. Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins. Romans 5:8
  5. Jesus not only died, but also rose from the dead! I Corinthians 15:3,4
  6. Jesus freely offers salvation to you with no strings attached. Romans 6:23b
  7. You accept the gift by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by confessing Him with your mouth. Romans 10:10
  8. You are 100% certain simply by believing the PROMISE of God. Romans 10:13

“Why not be 100% sure today? Would you just pray this prayer from your heart? Lord Jesus, I know I´m a sinner and that you died and rose from the dead for me. Please forgive me from my sin and take me to heaven when I die. Thank you! AMEN”

Many of the criticisms offered last week are certainly applicable to this tract. But this tract is much worse since it encourages people to have assurance of salvation based on false teaching. There is a massive danger for people if they arrive at assurance of salvation before actual conversion. In what follows I will give several quotes from a book on the subject, Self-Deception (International Outreach). “There is an awful probability that the deceived professor of religion will remain deceived until probation closes, and all opportunity of salvation ceases for ever” (Jacob Helffenstein). “I believe there is no instance recorded in the Bible of a sinner´s being rescued from a false hope unless it was founded in the belief of a false religion. In the short period which I have had to make my observations, I recollect very few instances of persons apparently renewed after they had settled down for years upon a false hope and with that hope had joined the church. Indeed, I remember but one. We read of tares, we read of foolish virgins, but we never read of their conversions” (Dr. Griffin). “Speaking of those who imagine themselves to be converted when they are not, President Edwards remarked that he had “scarcely known the instance of such an one in his life that had been undeceived.” The confident hope of the hypocrite, he says, is “in one sense much more immoveable than truly gracious assurance.” Without going into the issue, note that Edwards believed that true believers can be more shaken than those with false assurance.

If it is that dangerous to arrive at a false assurance, then evangelists and preachers of the Gospel need to be extremely careful in this regard. I John does set out excellent ways to arrive at assurance, but it requires close examination of the life and soul. That is not quick enough for “productive” street evangelism where numbers need to be counted quickly and all is in the power of the people being evangelized. In training people in evangelism, we must be aware of how dangerous false conversions are and evangelize accordingly. Now, let us look at some of the issues with this tract. I John 5:13 does not say that John wants the people to know 100% for sure that they are going to heaven. What he does say is that he wrote (the book of I John) for this purpose: “so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He did not use this in an evangelistic way, which is what the people who wrote this tract use it for. John wrote this for people who believed already. What does it mean to believe? John uses the term “believe” and its corresponding words eleven times. At no point in I John does he tell people that to say the words or to pray a prayer was what it meant to believe.

The content or object of their belief was “in the name of the Son of God.” What does it mean to believe in the name of the Son of God? John uses the term “Son of God” or refers to the Son in the context of God nine times and refers to the Son 22 times in the book of I John. If a person is to believe in the name of the Son of God, it would be helpful to determine what John meant by looking at the book. I John 5:20 tells us this: “we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” To grapple with this is to realize that people must believe that Jesus is fully divine and that He is eternal life itself (or Himself). We can look at I John 4:8-16 and understand the concept of love. We can also look through I John and see the biblical context of the cross which is propitiation, not just a concept to get people to pray a prayer. Those who have the Son have true love and true life, but we don´t see that a prayer enables people to have 100% assurance of salvation.

The reason John wrote the book was so that people who believed in the name of the Son of God “may know that you have eternal life.” John does not refer to them going to heaven, he wants them to examine themselves and know that they had eternal life. There is a huge difference between the way the tract uses I John 5:13 and the way John uses the verse. The writer of the tract uses the verse so that people who pray a prayer in can be 100% certain that they are going to heaven. John wants people who believe in the name of the Son of God to know that they have eternal life if they examine themselves. The tract would have us to believe that a saving belief is exercised or seen in saying a prayer. That is patently false. Many people pray without saving faith in Christ. The demons prayed and their prayers were answered when He allowed them to go into a herd of pigs.

A person must not just have an intellectual belief or want to believe, but really have a deep faith in Christ. Many have a belief in Christ and believe they are going to heaven. However, John is asking if a person has eternal life. It is only when people have eternal life (the life of Christ) in them that they can have true assurance. The text (I John) does not even use the word “heaven” at all. In the book of I John “heaven” is not used in the NAS and only once in the KJV (I John 5:7) where it is referring to the three witnesses who bear record in heaven. The book of I John is all about people examining themselves to see if they have eternal life, not if they believe. A person can know if he has eternal life by the evidence of life, but he cannot know the distinction between a true belief and deception by looking for belief in himself. This tract does not address this vital issue at all.

This tract is useless in pointing out the glory and majesty of God. The Gospel is all about the glory of God in the face of Christ who lived a perfect life, went to the cross, and was raised again to the praise of the glory of God. Whenever a message that pretends to tell people the Gospel and the glory of God is not displayed, the Gospel has not been preached. There is nothing of the glory of God in this tract and nothing to show people what sin really is which is against God and His glory. There is nothing in this tract that talks about sharing in the life of God or of Christ living in the person. Again, there is no talk of the new birth. This type of tract is focused on making intellectual converts (give assent to information) rather than dealing with the souls of men.

So what can we conclude? This type of “tractateering” is built on a false theology and practice. It is sad that people do this, but it is even worse for the many that arrive at a false assurance based on evangelistic appeals like this. There is no real Gospel presented in this tract and no biblical way of arriving at assurance. It is a method that appeals to man´s fears and then gives man something to do that he can do when he wants to and under his own power. It is a tract that is very man-centered in focus and content and as such it makes God out to have less power than man. Let us flee from this type of theology and methodology. Let us try to undeceive people from this type of cheap evangelism which is to the destruction of their souls.

Evangelism, Part 7

April 7, 2006

There are many evangelistic tracts on the market today. Some of these are written well and are helpful to get across the Gospel. There are others that are harmful and destructive to the Gospel and the souls that read them. If we are to be faithful in the proclamation of the Gospel, the literature we hand out must be faithful to the Gospel too. The article this week is a critique of a tract that is being handed out in at least the Manhattan and Lawrence areas of Kansas. This tract is an example of what to do if you want to get people to pray a prayer and become an intellectual convert. It is also an example of a tract that is a virtual denial of the Gospel. It is entitled: HOW TO GET TO HEAVEN FROM KANSAS.

This tract gives us three things to realize. The first thing is to “realize you are a sinner. No matter where you are physically, everyone starts the same place spiritually. All are sinners. ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ (Rom 3:23). Man comes short of Heaven (the glory of God) because of sin!” The second thing: “Realize there is a penalty for your sin. Not only does sin keep you out of Heaven, but it also condemns you to Hell. Romans 6:23 says, ‘For the wages of sin is death…’. Sin brings both physical and spiritual death. ‘And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.’ (Rev. 20:14)” The third thing: “Realize Jesus paid the penalty. Jesus Christ´s death, burial, and resurrection provided a way for you to go to heaven. ‘But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Rom. 5:8). Since Jesus was the only One who could pay for our sin, He is the only Way to Heaven.”

Then it gives us one thing to do: “Repent of your sin and receive Jesus as your Saviour. The final part of Jesus´ directions is to repent and receive Him. Acts 20:21 says, ‘Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.’ In order to go to Heaven from KANSAS, you must accept Christ by calling on Him in prayer. He tells us in Romans 10:13, ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Follow Christ´s directions by praying in faith the following prayer, or one similar to it, to receive Him now: Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, please forgive me of my sin, and take me to heaven when I die. I believe that you died and rose again for me. I am trusting you completely and nothing I can do. Thank you Jesus!”

It is sad to think of people being deceived by tracts like this because of the great danger to souls who are misled about the Gospel by such teachings. It is hard to imagine, but people leave solid churches to go and hear this deceptive “gospel.” If Paul were here today, what would he say? Is this a different Gospel? Remember what Paul said in Galatians 1 about teachers of a false Gospel. A love for the Gospel demands that we point out such serious errors. I am not making fun of those who write or hand out such things. This is an attempt to expose the egregious errors presented in this tract and help some see that a tract is not necessarily a harmless thing.

Observation 1: People need more than a realization that they are sinners; they need to be convicted of sin. This tract does not teach the truth about sin and only once attempts to define sin. That attempt is wrong. If no real concept of sin is given, then how are people to repent? The text (Rom 3:23) defines sin, but the writer of the tract defines sin differently than the text. The text says that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The writer says that “man comes short of Heaven (the glory of God) because of sin!” Indeed man misses heaven because of sin, but that does not make God´s glory and heaven the same thing. Coming short of God´s glory is the definition of sin. God created man for His glory and man has lived for his own honor and glory instead of God´s. When man falls short of the glory of God (glorifying God), man commits sin. Scripture also tells us that sin is lawlessness (I John 3:4). But there is nothing in this tract to even give a hint of these things.

There is nothing in this tract that gets beyond the outward aspect of sin. This is what the Pharisees did. They focused on the outward acts and never arrived at the true intent of the law which is the heart. In doing this, the tract is not dealing with sin of the heart. This means that the Gospel is undermined and the focus is on seeing or recognizing that one has sinned rather than dealing with the issues of the heart. True evangelism deals with the heart. Souls are misled if they only given a passing reference to sin and that to some outward actions. Only those souls that the Spirit convicts and gives a real conviction and sorrow for sin really fly to Christ.

Observation two: simply realizing that death and hell is the punishment of sin does little if anything. Hell must be explained and driven into the hearts of people. Simply mentioning hell does not give any sense of the real idea or meaning at all. Just realizing that there is a penalty for sin does not get across any meaningful information and anything that would reach the heart unless many other things are dealt with. Just hearing of a penalty does not assure a person that he or she will suffer that penalty even if they do many good works. Many people do not believe that God will actually enforce the penalty for sin, and perhaps at any moment.

Observation three: simply realizing that Christ died is to do no more than the devil. Just because Jesus is the only one who could pay for sin is no evidence that He did. It is also a very impoverished view of the Gospel since there is no mention of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. Even if someone did pay for sin, that delivers a person from hell, but does not obtain heaven. The only mention of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is that the events happened. This is to skimp on the truths of the Gospel that even believing them is not a belief in the Gospel. Anyone handing out this tract should realize that it does not have enough information to do anything but make people like me sad and deceive others who think that it is the Gospel.

When we reach the directions on what should be done, we are told to repent of sin and receive Jesus as Savior. First, there has been no concept of sin given so no one could possibly know from this tract what sin is and how to repent from it. Repentance is not explained and so no one would know about it either. The Bible does not tell us to “accept Christ by calling on Him in prayer.’ Throughout Scripture we are told that we must have faith in Christ in order to be saved. A prayer is not a sign of faith, but to really pray one must already have true faith.

Ironically enough, what is given here is a works gospel. Jesus never told people to pray a prayer of faith, He told them to believe (have faith). Salvation by prayer is not the Gospel of grace. One must have faith in Christ and not faith in a prayer to Christ. Romans 10:13 does not contradict Romans 3:11 which tells us that “THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD.” No person really seeks God in and of himself. A person must have faith if he is going to pray in faith. So if a person prays with true faith, then the person is already saved. Romans 10:14 says “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?’ You do not call or pray unless you have believed already. The deceptive thing about this is that if a person has head knowledge of facts and prays this prayer, he will believe that he is praying in faith. If the message of this tract is followed, a works Gospel is the result. A person is told that he must pray in order to accept Christ, but in the prayer he is told to pray that he is trusting in nothing of himself. This is utterly and frightfully deceptive to naïve souls.

This tract falls far short of the Gospel and its corresponding truths in many areas:

  • It does not present the truth about sin and repentance as from the heart
  • It does not present the truth about Christ and the cross
  • It does not present the glory of God and of Christ
  • It does not speak of justification by grace alone through faith alone
  • It does not speak of the new birth which is utterly necessary to enter the kingdom
  • It speaks of salvation as being a decision or a prayer rather than by faith alone
  • It does not make any demands on people such as self-denial, taking up the cross, or counting the costs

This tract is a classic example of how to deceive souls by making intellectual converts. This method, however, is one that many people (even Reformed?) follow as the basic model of evangelism. Why do I say that? Some basic information is given and then pressure for a decision is applied. We don´t see anything like this in all of Scripture. What we see in Scripture is Jesus telling people to count the cost. We see a true repentance from sin taught and a real hell proclaimed. We see sin and the heart being dealt with. So any evangelism that does not deal with sin and repentance from the heart is mirroring this tract in some way. A type of evangelism that pushes people to pray a prayer mirrors this tract in some way. Do we see a sinner´s prayer in Scripture? This should lead us all to examine the way we do evangelism. Surely the great and glorious doctrines of Scripture would lead us to do evangelism much differently than this tract sets out. For some really good tracts, go to www. intoutreach.org.