Friday, November 02, 2007

If Faith Comes From Hearing, Then Who Have You Told (Part 1 of 4)


An entire theology and philosophy has been built upon a single sentence. Maybe you’ve heard it. “Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words.” The statement is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.

I did a Google search of the sentence and found 1,260 entries. It is a very popular statement. Pastors, ministries, and Christians around the world hold up this statement as a biblical mandate to live the Christian life as another, even preferable, form of evangelism. In other words, in lieu of bringing the verbal or written gospel message to lost people, the best thing to do is simply live the Christian life until people ask you what’s different about you. Sound familiar?

Regarding the popular sentence attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: he never said it. Catholic theologians and researchers have poured over the writings of Assisi, as well as the earliest biographies about the monk. No evidence has been found linking Saint Francis to the overused and misused statement.

However, unwilling to let go of their unbiblical, philosophical pearl, proponents of the statement have said, “While Assisi may not have uttered the words, the sentence captures the spirit of the monk.” Well, not if Assisi read and believed the Bible. If Assisi was a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, then he would have agreed with the Bible and not with the wisdom of men.

This morning we are going to ask and answer the following question. If faith comes from hearing, then who have you told? In order to prepare our hearts and minds to honestly answer this question, we are going to study Romans 10:17. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

The Gospel Must Be Spoken

The foundation upon which all evangelism is built is the gospel—the word about Christ. And that’s where we must begin. We must begin with the very source of one’s faith (which itself is a gift from God)—the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of Romans 10:1-16 is summarized in verse 17. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Salvation comes to those who hear the gospel, the word of (or about) Christ, and respond by faith.

So, what is faith? Well, one thing it is not is intellectual assent to whatever a person believes is true. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote: “Assent to truth is regarded by some as being the whole of faith—but it is not. Faith also includes an element of confidence, a readiness to commit oneself to it.”[i]

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith this way. “Now faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith, in a general sense, is the conviction of the truth about anything. Faith, in a spiritual sense can likewise be the conviction of the truth about anything. But faith is only as reliable as the object of faith.

If you are here this morning and you have placed your faith and trust in anything or anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ, then your faith is in vain and it cannot save you. Apart from faith in Jesus Christ, who alone is the Savior, you are a child of wrath; not a child of God.

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that God exists and that He is the Creator of all things.

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that there is only one God who is both Lawgiver and Judge; there is only One who can both save and destroy (James 4:12). God, and God alone, determines who will spend eternity in heaven, and who will spend eternity in hell.

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that God and God alone has provided the only escape from His just and holy wrath, which He will justly execute against people who have sinned against Him and have done what is evil in His sight.

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that while God is perfectly holy, righteous, and just; He is also merciful, loving, and kind. So merciful, so loving, and so kind that He provided Himself, through the person of Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—the sinless Lamb of God, as the only means of escape from God’s perfect judgment.

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that forgiveness of sin and salvation from God’s wrath comes by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that the Word of God is true and that Jesus Christ is the Living Word—the same Living Word that said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that Jesus is the resurrected Lord, who is alive today and will return at the precise time of the Father’s choosing.

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that those (and only those) who, by faith, have turned from their sin and received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will receive the free gift of eternal life and spend eternity in perfect joy and fellowship with the King of kings and Lord of Lords.

For the Christian, faith is the conviction that the only eternally good news is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is what I’ve just shared with you, in the preceding series of affirmative statements. “True faith is not based on empirical evidence but on divine assurance, and is a gift of God.”[ii] Ephesians 2:8 tells us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

A Christian does not come to faith in Christ because of what he or she has seen. Remember what Jesus said to his disciple, Thomas? “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29).

No, a Christian comes to faith in Christ because of what he or she has heard. The apostle John wrote: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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 20:30-31).

The divine gift of saving faith comes by hearing, and not hearing just any message. Only one message is used by God to bring a person to repentance and faith, and that is the gospel. That is why the apostle Paul wrote: “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” (Romans 1:16).

Faith in Jesus Christ comes as a result of hearing a message, not by being entertained or moved by a method. The manner in which we bring the message to people can vary. But it is not our methods that save lives. Only the message, only the gospel has that power.

A church’s ability to entertain young people during a mid-week meeting or during a so-called “outreach” event or concert will never bring a single, young soul to repentance and faith. Oh, it might lure a lost, young person to come to church. It might convince a lost, young person to join the Christian club. But meetings and events, in and of themselves, will not save that young person.

A sad and glaring example of this truth was seen just a few weeks ago when a mega-church hosted a “Battle of the Bands.” The youth pastor who spearheaded the event was quoted the following day in the local paper. He said, “We just wanted to do something that would appeal to high school students and every kid that loves rock music . . . We want them to know God loves them for who they are, and God’s arms are wide open to them . . . We want them to realize that church may not be what they think. We’re trying to break stereotypes . . . They don’t have to come here and sit here bored listening to a long speech. We want them to come to church to experience something cool.”

Am I against large or small-scale outreach events geared toward young people, or any other people group, for that matter? No. But if the goal is to get kids to come to church so they can experience something cool, it is neither outreach nor evangelism, especially since more and more churches are not preaching the gospel from the pulpit. Spiritually speaking, such events are utterly powerless when the gospel is not preached. When the gospel is not proclaimed, such events are often man-centered, not Christ-centered.

Christ is never glorified when His gospel is set aside so that the world will think the church is cool. This event in particular, and such events generally, can be used to see people come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ; but only if the gospel is clearly and unashamedly proclaimed.

Another method that is often stripped of any power or effect is the practice of friendship or lifestyle evangelism. Christians have been led to believe that if they live a holy and Christ-honoring life, unbelievers will see Jesus in us and be drawn to faith in Him.

It’s a nice sentiment; but, unfortunately, it’s just not true. Listen closely to how this sounds. “I’m going to live my life in such a way that people will see Jesus in me and come to faith in Christ.” In such a mindset, where does the power lie? It lies in the fallible, sinful Christian trying, yet often failing, to honor and glorify Jesus in his or her life. You will not see a single person anywhere in Scripture coming to repentance and faith by observing Christians living their lives. How arrogant of us to think that we, through nothing more than the example of our lives, can lead anyone to Christ!

Now, should we live our lives in such a way as to cause a lost and dying world to glorify our Father in heaven? Absolutely! Jesus told us to. During the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

However, the unbeliever is spiritually blind. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Paul also wrote: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 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” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

The only way a spiritually blind unbeliever is going to see that how we live is a reflection of the salvation we have received, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ—by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone—is if we explain and proclaim what Jesus has done in our lives, as we share with them the Law and the Gospel. And, again, the reason they must hear the gospel is because a spiritually blind person cannot see the gospel.

And let’s be honest. How well are we really doing each and every day to live our lives in such a way as to bring obvious attention to our God and Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ? Isn’t it true that many times, many days in our lives we look more like the unbelieving world around us, than like our Lord and Savior? I know it shouldn’t be that way. And I know we don’t want it to be that way. And I know many of us are taking steps in order to grow and mature in our faith and godliness. But honestly, when comparing our physical lives to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which shines brighter? Which reflects more of the beauty and holiness of our great God and King? Which is more powerful—a life changed by the gospel that is still a work in process; or the gospel that changed the life?

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The gospel is a message that must be spoken (in either verbal or written form) to be heard.

How Should We Speak The Gospel Message?

So, how should we speak the gospel message? While it is vitally important that we all come to the understanding that the gospel is a spoken and written message, that is not enough. And it’s not enough to know the content of the message. Millions of people around the world know the content of the message, but they are not saved. They have merely given intellectual assent to the truths of the message, but they have never turned from their sin and, by faith alone, received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Sadder still is the fact that more and more churches and Christians these days are living and speaking as though they have no idea what the true gospel message is. Just turn on so-called Christian television or read some of the writings of the emergent church gurus and you will see that there are many people who profess to know Christ, but have absolutely no idea what the true gospel message is.

No, in addition to knowing that the gospel is a spoken and/or written message, and in addition to knowing the true content of that message, we must know how to preach, proclaim, and share this all-important, all-powerful, life-saving message. So, for the rest of our time in God’s Word, we are going to focus on the how of gospel proclamation. The gospel must be spoken truthfully, boldly, and lovingly.

[i] Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn: God the Holy Spirit. Wheaton, Ill. : Crossways Books, 1997, S. 144
[ii] MacArthur, John Jr: The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed. Nashville : Word Pub., 1997, c1997, S. Heb 11:1

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