Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Declare~chapter 2

Declare ~

God’s Power in Our Weakness

Sovereign Grace believes the Gospel is not only the message but the means by which we declare Jesus Christ to the World.

As I have been thinking about and praying about Sovereign Grace and the evangelical church in America in general, I have been thinking about our sin with regard to the Great Commission. We have been commanded to share Christ with every man and woman; yet, we often don’t! How many of us have told someone about Christ and his Gospel in the last week, month, year, ever? We have the greatest message any man could ever hear and we hide it under a bowl (Matthew 5:14-16)! This is our mission, and it is being ignored as we build nice, conservative, family-friendly, and socially pragmatic churches to spend time in! We should be telling everyone about the hope we have in Jesus! Why is it that we do not declare the superior delight of Jesus Christ?

I believe there are three major hindrances that oppose and impede our mission of spreading the glory of Jesus Christ. Each of these hindrances can keep us from proclaiming the Gospel of our Lord even though it is that very Gospel itself that overcomes them! These three hindrances, these three fears, to be precise, that plague our efforts to declare are: self-righteousness, distrust, and selfishness. We can find the Gospel’s answer to all of these fears in Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus.

I. The Hindrance of Self-Righteousness

Self-righteousness keeps us from declaring the Gospel. When we consider ourselves righteous by our own power and not by God’s we naturally fall into two lines of thinking in regard to sharing the Gospel.

Self-righteousness keeps us from those that need the Gospel

First, we avoid sinners (the people that need to hear the Gospel most!) because we’re afraid that we might become like them; we fear that to be around unrighteous is to taint our own righteousness before God. We treat them as an unclean, corrupting influence to be avoided. This is the very tactic the Jews in Jesus’ day took. Look at Luke 19:7: “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” In an effort to maintain their own righteousness, they refused to associate with such unrighteous tax collectors as Zacchaeus. The tax collectors of 1st century Judea were the lowest of the low in society, and Zacchaeus is the chief of them! Their job was to take the taxes levied by the Roman government – an honest job in itself – but the tax-collectors extorted above and beyond what the government required, robbing their fellow Jews. This is why the people hated them as traitors in way somewhat equivalent to drug dealers of our own day. Yet the self-righteous attitude of the Jews blinded them from seeing Jesus’ ministry to the unrighteous – they failed to grasp the central element of the Gospel: the fact that it was for sinners! Self-righteousness obscures the Gospel by deceiving us that we are already righteous and worthy of God’s pleasure. The Jews succumbed to this lie, and we, the church of America, often do too. How many times have we passed up an opportunity to declare Jesus Christ because we self-determined that this or that person was too unrighteous to receive it, as if we were never that unworthy? And when we consider the Gospel going out to the most hated people in society, we also have the propensity to grumble and say “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner”, claiming that we and we alone are worthy enough to entertain the Lord of Righteousness, Jesus Christ. We too can fall prey to the self-righteous indignation that God cannot possibly care about desperately wicked sinners who truly deserve every ounce of our hatred. Self-righteousness in the Christian cuts off any impulse to declare the glory of the Gospel.

Second, sinners avoid us in our self-righteousness. When we express our self-righteousness to unbelievers, they quickly realize our hypocrisy. Self-righteousness is an imaginary righteousness, and unbelievers see right through the illusion. Even if we might try to explain the Gospel to them, even if we might live the Gospel in front of them, the phony nature of a self-righteous spirituality will crumble from whitewashed walls into the ruins of a meager hypocrisy of religion. The illusion of self-righteousness impinges any effort to declare the Gospel since it offends every unbeliever fortunate enough to see our self-righteous folly. It is only by the righteousness that comes from God that anyone will ever truly see the Gospel declared.

The Gospel kills self-righteousness

Sovereign Grace, self-righteousness ought not be true of us! We, like our Lord, should be the ones hanging out with the worst of sinners. The Gospel is for sinners, not righteous people! Did not Jesus say, “I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners” (Matthew 9:13)? We too must call out the sinners to repentance in the Gospel as our Lord has. Yet how do we combat the self-righteous hindrances that come against Jesus’ command to declare?

First, know that we all were once sinners. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians 2:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-4)

We too, like Zacchaeus, were enemies of God, traitors to His goodness. We whole-heartedly rejected Him in rebellion and although we knew God, we did not honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). To kill self-righteousness, we must recall that we too were, on our own, dead in our unrighteousness! We were once called “Not My People”, but now we are called His people (Hosea 2:23)! The prophet Ezekiel delivers the Word of God to Israel put an end to any self-righteousness boasting they may claim:

“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 16:63)

Sovereign Grace, we too must “remember and be confounded” at the grace God has shown us in atoning for the atrocities of our sin. We have no righteousness apart from our atonement in Jesus Christ; thus we must close our mouths to any contrary boasting. There is no room for self-righteousness in the Gospel of our God! We were once just like those that we pass up in our evangelism! In fact, we may have been worse. The apostle Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, the chief of the self-righteous law keepers, says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (I Timothy 1:15). If we are to carry out the great commission of evangelism in our neighborhood, in our city, in our country, or throughout the entire world, we must kill self-righteousness by a steady and fixed contemplation and remembrance of the abounding mercies of God that overcame the abominations of our sins in the Gospel that we declare. Remember that Jesus came and stayed at Zacchaeus’s house, not the Pharisee’s; the Physician came to heal the sick, not the well. Self-righteousness seeks to offer up works of the law to God as recompense for sins when God requires the true, contrite repentance of a humble and broken sinner, over whom there will be much rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:7). Declare to the sinners!

II. The Hindrance of Distrust

The second hindrance to declaration in the Christian and the Church is the hindrance of distrust. We often pass up opportunities to share the Gospel or fail to pursue an unbeliever further doubting that God has the power to save them. While we may not necessarily admit this to our fellow believers, we express it nonetheless in our attitudes of lethargy in evangelism.

Forsaking trust in God’s power impedes declaration

There are two central questions that proceed from a distrusting heart when it comes to declaration. The first is, “Who am I? I can’t possibly share the Gospel well enough!” We think that our inability to articulate somehow inhibits God’s ability to save. We lose trust in God’s power to save when we think it is only by our power in communication that people believe.

The second question is, “How can that person be saved?” The Pharisees expressed this same attitude when they grumbled and complained against Jesus going to stay with Zacchaeus. They saw Zacchaeus as the sinner of sinners, the least likely person to be saved. Not only did they doubt that he was worthy of salvation, they doubted even the possibility of it! If anyone’s heart was going to be changed, it was not his! We are guilty of this when we abandon our task of declaration because we determine someone as far too wicked to hear the Gospel thinking, “how could their heart ever change?” Yet it is these least likely people that Jesus stays with because He knows that the power of the Gospel, His power, can change any heart.

God’s Gospel is more powerful than our fears

When we doubt the fact that it is God who is responsible to bring results from our declaration and put our hopes in ourselves, we believe that we will fail to declare. Moses doubted in this same way when God called him to lead the people out of Egypt, but God said to him, “But I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:11-12). God is with us, and He brings the power. Understanding that it is by God’s power that our declaration is successful will remove the hindrance of distrust! God’s Word will not fail:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout… so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

God’s Word is powerful and it will not fail. Our responsibility is not to bring people to salvation (that depends on God, Romans 9:15-16), but to simply bring forth the good news to everyone. “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” Romans 10:14-15. Did not Paul struggle with the same thing? He says in I Corinthians 2:3-4, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom.” Yet though he struggled to articulate the Gospel, it is not that Paul doubted God’s power; for he says that it was so “your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Cor. 2:5). The Gospel is the power of God. Rest in the power of God to bring the effect of the Gospel for His glory and boldly declare His name!

But what about when we encounter people who demonstrate exceedingly hard hearts, hearts so hard, we doubt that they will ever be saved? If God’s Word will not fail, how could there be a heart so hard as to keep Him from succeeding? Didn’t the power of His Gospel save Zacchaeus? Look at Zacchaeus’ response: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Zacchaeus was a very rich man because he defrauded everyone. Yet he gave up everything in response to his salvation! And what does Jesus say to him: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (v. 9). The sinner of sinners, Zacchaeus, was changed by the power of God’s word! Despite all of the Jews misgivings and doubts, God demonstrated His power once again in salvation! When Jesus gave his life on the cross he brought every bit of grace necessary to save God’s people. This includes the grace and mercy to change men’s heart, open blind eyes, and raise the spiritually dead! Meditate on the Gospel, know that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to save all God’s people – Jesus did not fail! Then, you can be confident you can never fail because you only have to share the message; God does all the work!

God is in the business of changing hearts, and we are merely privileged participants in that great work through our declaration. It is not our responsibility to change men’s hearts; our responsibility is to trust God to work powerfully through our declaration. Whether we doubt our words or God’s power to save, or both, we must return our minds to the Gospel we declare. The Gospel is God’s power to save. Trust Him Sovereign Grace, His Gospel, His power. Then tell people!

“So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come” (Psalm 71:18).

III. The Hindrance of Selfishness

Seeking joy in ourselves becomes the third hindrance to declaring the Gospel. Our selfish joy distracts from the joy of seeing sinners saved; thus, there becomes little value in declaring the Gospel. Yet Jesus’ joy, and the Father’s joy, was in seeing sinners repent and come to salvation.

Selfishness keeps the Gospel to ourselves

Because of our sin, our hearts have become naturally turned inward. Our natural tendency is to be self-consumed, seeking our own pleasure before any other. Like an object falls toward the earth by the force of gravity, our hearts cave-in on themselves in their native sinfulness. As believers we have the spirit dwelling within us, giving us new Christ-like desires. Yet this is not to say that, while we live in this life, we do not struggle with our old sinful desires any more. Paul describes this conflict in Romans 7:21-23: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members”. Our sinful nature still lies close at hand to keep us from declaring the glory of God by engaging in the perverse pleasure of selfishness. When our hearts are turned away from delighting in God we become dull and apathetic when it comes to declaring. It doesn’t matter how many people around us may be dying only to suffer the eternal wrath of God’s judgment, our hearts will not be moved because of the inward blindness that comes from turning inward on ourselves. We won’t care because we won’t see.

The Gospel turns our joy back to God

The Gospel is the very thing that kills our selfish pleasures that hinder our declaration. Jesus’ joy was to see the Father rejoice as the lost were saved! Look what he says in Luke 19:5:“I must stay at your house”. Why? Look at verse 10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”. Jesus came to seek and save the lost! Jesus must stay at his house, because Jesus must seek and save the lost, He must do this because the Father’s joy is to save the lost! Consider Luke 15. Jesus tells three parables that all conclude with the joy God has in seeing sinners saved! Jesus is essentially saying, “I want nothing more than the joy of seeing my Father rejoice; nothing gives me more joy. That is why I must stay at Zacchaeus’s house!” We are called to live the same way as Jesus did! We are to complete his mission for the same motive that he was on mission. Our turned in hearts must be turned outward to declare the glory of God. We are to rejoice in preaching the Gospel to every man and woman because it is Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost; it is the Father’s joy to see them saved, and, like Jesus, we should delight in His joy!

IV. In Whatever You Do, Declare!

In the last chapter I dealt sufficiently with personal evangelism, but there’s one more point I want to make clear before we end our discussion about declaring. Now that we’ve discussed what it means to declare, and how we are to overcome hindrance to that declaration, we must consider, in very practical terms, how we are to live this out as members of the body of Christ. Many people have the notion that to truly declare the Gospel one needs to be in full-time ministry as a pastor or missionary. That is not true! We can declare the Gospel in every vocation and activity in which we find ourselves.

In Your Vocation

At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church, and consequently the majority of Europeans, believed that a monastic life or an ecclesiastical life was the only true calling. Everyone else’s work was unimportant or unworthy. Yet the Reformed preachers began instructing their congregations otherwise. The Reformers often spoke to their congregations regarding how they should live as Christians declaring the Gospel in their jobs. They often put these teachings under the category of “vocation”.

Martin Luther was once asked by a new convert, a shoe-maker, how he should live now that he was saved. Luther asked him in return, “Are you a good shoe-maker?” He replied, “Yes, people know as the best!” Luther gave him this answer, “Then make good quality shoes, and sell them for a reasonable price.”[1] While most of us may be surprised that this learned theologian would give such a mundane and common answer, there is a very simple truth to what Luther said. God is honored when we do the work given to us well. Part of our task in declaring is to do whatever we do well. Paul says in Colossians 3:23 that “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” The first venue for our declaration ought to be in our work, in whatever God has given us to do in life. God is pleased when we complete our work well. In Psalm 90, Moses’ desire is that God blesses Israel’s work (v. 17). He is speaking of ordinary, day-to-day work. God is concerned not just with the pastors and missionaries, but also with all of His children! Therefore, part of our honoring Him part of our declaring Him to others is to do our work well; for we “are serving the Lord Christ”!

One does not have to go to the jungles to declare, although that is certainly a worthy mission. Simply put, to live a life of declaration is not to retreat into a monastery in order to declare Jesus privately, but it is instead to declare Jesus publicly in our vocation in addition to our words. A declaring Christian makes his words as well as his works an extension of the Gospel in which he delights.

[1] Horton, Michael. Where in the World is the Church. P&R Publishing, 2002, (20).

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