This page is mostly for personal and spiritual posts (a.k.a. non-fiction).
My fiction-only blog, about my novels and other similar examples of popular art, can be found here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Evangelism: Practical Dos and Don'ts

These are suggestions based on the doctrinal truths explained in the previous article (“Evangelism: Back to Itch”). I say “do” and “don’t” for economy of words and direct application; I am not intending to say these are legalistic rules that everyone must keep in order to please God or be effective in evangelism. They are suggestions, but I do think they are wise and consistent with the biblical “doctrines of grace” I discussed previously. (Note: The original version of this article was written about the evangelism of children, and it has undergone only slight modifications, so you will find it very applicable to them as well as to adults.)

DOS
1. Tell the gospel to those you want to reach, and teach the Scriptures to them, especially the doctrines of salvation—and then tell and teach them some more! You don’t need to have a bunch of “decisions” to know that your work is producing results: God says that His Word will never return void, it will always accomplish its purpose, and its purpose is often to save many of the hearers (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).
2. Tell them that God commands them to repent from their sins and believe in Jesus Christ (and don’t forget to explain what the words repentance and faith mean!). Make it clear to them that unless they repent and believe, they will not be in heaven.
3. Make sure they understand that repentance and faith are matters of the heart, and not some outward action they can perform.
4. Ask them if they have repented from their sins (e.g. “Do you want to obey the Lord in your life?”) and if they believe in Jesus Christ (e.g. “Do you understand who He is and what He did, and are you trusting in Him to save you, and nothing else?”).
5. Always continue explaining and instructing in whatever matters they do not understand and cannot articulate themselves, especially those that pertain to salvation.
6. When they say things like “I believe in Jesus” or “I love Jesus,” encourage them by telling them what blessings God has given them, if what they say is true. Tell them, “That’s great you are saying that you believe. Remember, Jesus said that if you continue in His Word, then you are truly His disciple.”
7. Pray a “sinner’s prayer” with them—but not just one time, giving them the impression that God saves them because of some words they say. No, pray a “sinner’s prayer” over and over again, because a good “sinner’s prayer” is an expression of the continuing faith of a true believer. For example: “Dear Lord, I am a sinner unworthy to enter your presence or expect any goodness from you. Please cleanse me of my sin through Jesus’ blood. I know you will because you promised to do that when we come to you in faith. Please help me to turn from my sins, to trust in you more and more, and to obey and serve you with all my heart. Thank you for your grace to me, that has brought me into a relationship with you forever. Thank you for Jesus, who died and rose again for me. Amen.” Or just use the Lord’s prayer—the Author of it has much more wisdom than this writer!
8. Explain to them that assurance of salvation is not based on something they have “done” at some time in the past, but that it is based on the objective truths about the cross of Christ and the subjective experience of fruit in their lives.
9. Teach them the Scriptures some more! And live the Scriptures in front of them.

DON’TS
1. Don’t neglect or avoid any doctrine of Scripture because you think it might scare them, bore them, or “turn them off.” If God thought doctrines like original sin or predestination were dangerous to anyone, He would not have put them in the Bible. On the contrary, He obviously wants people to know all that He has said. But be careful that other doctrines, even important ones, are never allowed to eclipse the gospel itself in your focus and emphasis (see 1 Cor. 15:3).
2. Don’t have them “pray to receive Christ.” We do not receive Christ through prayer—we receive Christ through faith. If they say that they have repented and are believing in Christ, as you have been teaching them the meaning of those words, then encourage them to express their faith (and gratefulness, repentance from their sins, commitment, etc.) in prayer to God.
3. When speaking to a group, don’t ask “How many of you want to receive Christ?” (or believe, or accept, or whatever) as if that is an action they are going to perform. A better question, if you want some response in a group, is “How many of you want to talk with someone about what it means to be saved?” or even “How many of you want to be baptized, or come to the Lord’s Supper?” (because in the New Testament those are the outward signs of belonging to Christ).
4. Don’t use the following terminology (or at least try to use it as little as possible), because is not found in the Scriptures and can be misleading: “Accept Jesus into your heart”; “Open the door of your heart”; “Make a decision for Christ”; “Invite Jesus into your life.” Any terminology found in Scripture is obviously acceptable—but remember that it is always important to explain the meaning of the terms you are using.
5. Don’t state or imply that someone is saved because he prayed a prayer or “made a decision.” Because many people are impressionable and easily influenced to a confession (especially children), it is important when working with them to say things like, “If you really believe in Christ, then all your sins are forgiven...” Again, don’t give them the impression that God saves them because of something they do. Salvation is something that God does. Tell them they must believe, plead with them to repent and trust Christ—but let God do that work in their hearts according to His timing; don’t try to speed up the process by giving them some easy way to “believe” (like a prayer). Instead, teach them enough about the nature of repentance and faith that they will be able to recognize when they have been born again by the Spirit of God. Then they will have the true assurance that comes from the witness of the Spirit, rather than the witness of men.
6. Don’t ever stop teaching them the Word! Take every opportunity that presents itself, and then teach them some more (Matt. 28:20)…“For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Evangelism: "Back to Itch"

As we begin a month of focus on evangelism in our church, the "how tos" are important and I want to address them soon. But I want to start by going back to "scratch," or even further back to "itch," by first talking about some doctrinal truths that will form the foundation of the practical suggestions that will follow (in my next blog)...

SIX TRUTHS FROM SCRIPTURE THAT SHOULD SHAPE OUR APPROACH TO EVANGELISM:

1) The radically corrupt nature of man (Gen. 6:5; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:1)

As a result of the Fall, every person born into this world is spiritually dead and utterly unable to respond in faith and love toward God, because it is his nature to depend upon his own resources and love himself supremely. We always choose according to our strongest inclination, which is determined by our nature; therefore in our unregenerate state we will always choose to suppress the truth of God (Rom. 1:18), either through an outright denial of the truth or through some form of false religious practice.

2) The gracious choice of God to convert a great multitude of people from their sin and forgive them in Christ (Isa. 43:1-13; John 17:1-9; Rom. 9:22-24; Eph. 1:3-14)

Although God would have been perfectly just to leave all of mankind to our deserved doom of continued unbelief and eternal destruction, He did not (Hallelujah!!). Before the foundation of the world, He decided to demonstrate His love to “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9) by mercifully delivering them from the bondage and consequences of their sin.

3) The perfect obedience of Jesus Christ and His effective, substitutionary atonement on behalf of His people (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12; John 10:14-16, 25-30; Rom. 8:28-34; Acts 20:28)

God accomplished the salvation of His chosen people by sending His Son Jesus to be their representative by living and dying as a man. Just as Adam had represented all mankind in the Garden and had plunged us all into sin and ruin, so Jesus Christ represented all who believe in Him with His perfect life of obedience and His crucifixion, where He bore the Divine wrath that was deserved by sinners. We were condemned to the hopeless bondage of sin by the actions of our father Adam; we are gloriously saved from that bondage by the actions of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12-21). Jesus did not merely “provide a way” for people to be saved; He actually accomplished their salvation on the cross (John 19:30). We cannot add anything to His accomplishment—even our faith. Our faith is merely the means through which God has chosen to give us the blessings of Christ.

4) The effectual conviction and call of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who are being saved (Ezek. 36:25-27; John 3:3-8; 6:44, 65; 2 Thess. 2:13-15).

The benefits secured by the atonement of Christ are applied to God’s people during their lives by the Holy Spirit, who shows them their sinfulness and need for Christ, and then transforms their nature so that they trust in Christ alone and desire to do His will. Without this supernatural work of regeneration, there would be no true faith, regardless of the variety and intensity of religious actions or experiences. And because both true repentance and true faith are a result of God’s work in the heart (2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Pet. 1:1), it does not lie within the power of men to “decide to believe” at any time. God alone has the power and the prerogative to bestow His gifts of mercy whenever He wills to do so (John 15:16; Rom. 9:15‑16). And He does this through the clear proclamation and explanation of the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).

5) God’s continuing work in the hearts of His children (John 8:31; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 3:14, 10:36)

True believers will never stop believing. Their nature has been so radically altered by God that they can now be called “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). Thus perseverance in faith is a condition of salvation in Scripture (Matt. 24:13; Col. 1:22‑23)—not because it is the basis of our salvation, but because it is an evidence that our salvation is genuine (Matt. 13:18-23). True saving faith will also inevitably produce works of obedience (James 2:14‑26), and therefore godly changes in our attitudes and actions are an essential source for a full assurance of salvation (2 Pet. 1:5-11; the entire book of 1 John).

6) The nature of saving faith as a reliance upon the mercy of God alone, with no contribution whatsoever from our own merit, effort, or choice (Luke 18:9-14; John 1:12‑13; Rom. 4:3-8, 9:16).

It is the tendency of our sinful nature to think that we contribute something to our salvation. This is because of our prideful desire to think well of ourselves, and also because the idea that we can do something to secure our destiny is a much easier “road to heaven” than being subject to the sovereign choice of God and dependent on His work of regeneration in our hearts. We also can find assurance much more quickly in a “decision” or “4-step process” because we have now “done it,” and God presumably is obligated to save us because we have “done it.” But when we understand that salvation comes through biblical faith, which is not a one-time act but an ongoing state of the heart that produces a genuine love for God and works of obedience to Him, then we realize that our fate is not in our hands, but in God’s. This truth is quite troublesome to the unregenerate mind (and even to Christians in some cases), but we must be very careful not to accommodate unbelief by redefining faith as a work that someone can perform. There are many Christians today who essentially do this, and although their enthusiasm and good motives are to be commended, their methods and terminology have unfortunately left thousands of people with the impression that because they raised a hand, walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, or performed some other work of man, their eternal destiny is settled forever. So many of those converts, not fully understanding the righteousness of God, have sought to establish a righteousness of their own (Rom. 10:3). Their greatest need, and the greatest need of every sinner, is to be led to “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

Meditate on those truths for awhile and think about how they might practically apply to the way we tell people about Christ. In the next blog I will give you my ideas on that subject...