Friday, November 02, 2007

If Faith Comes From Hearing, Then Who Have You Told (Part 2 of 4)

The Gospel Must Be Spoken Truthfully

The gospel must be spoken truthfully. Proverbs 14:25 says, “A truthful witness saves lives, but he who speaks lies is treacherous.” Now, this proverb speaks about dynamics within the judicial system. But it has application in our present context.

As a deputy sheriff, I testified hundreds of times in court. And for twenty years I monitored significant cases throughout the American justice system. And what Proverbs tells us is true. One honest man or woman taking the witness stand can literally save the life of someone wrongly accused. No piece of circumstantial evidence, no piece of wrongly interpreted physical evidence has the power of words that proceed from the lips of one honest man or woman.

Sadly, what I saw all too often in the courtroom were liars applying, sometimes with great skill, their treachery in order to circumvent the integrity and power of the judicial system. Witnesses (albeit not all of them) lied. Attorneys (albeit not all of them) lied. More often than not such treachery was committed in an attempt to protect a criminal from rightful prosecution, not to see an innocent person convicted of a crime he or she did not commit.

Just as is the case in our earthly courtrooms, so it is true in evangelism. A truthful witness saves lives. A truthful witness, speaking the truth of the gospel, can be used by Almighty God to draw a person to repentance and faith in Christ, and thus save them from spiritual death and eternity in hell. Jesus said, “”If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31b-32).

But, again, as is the case in earthly courtrooms, in evangelism we must tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Many Christians struggle with this. Many Christians, if they speak at all to unbelievers about eternity, do not speak the whole truth.

They focus entirely on the love of God and the forgiveness of God and the grace of God, but they never bother to tell people about their sinfulness and the fact that by breaking God’s Law, not once, but every day of their sin-stained lives, they are God’s enemies and are facing, at any moment, God’s just, holy, and fierce wrath.

James wrote: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (John 6:24).

The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them” (Colossians 3:5-7).

He also wrote this to the Ephesians: “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:3).

And he wrote this to the church in Corinth. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

John the Baptist said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

We must warn people about the reality and severity of hell. Why? We should warn people because that’s what Jesus.

Again, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “”You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

A little later in the sermon, Jesus said, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

While receiving the revelation of the new heaven and the new earth, Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, said this to His apostle, John. “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:6-8).

The recent firestorms are still fresh in our minds. You might even be able to smell the smoke all over again, just thinking about those few precarious days. Having spent two full days running from fire to fire, warning people of the pending danger, I can assure you that most people, while concerned, did not leave their homes until I, or another deputy, or a firefighter told them it was time to go. They did not flee from the flames that were moving very quickly toward their home until someone told them it was time to go. They saw the flames, but that wasn’t enough. They needed someone to tell them to leave.

Some people were awakened from a very sound sleep. For many of those who eventually lost their homes, had someone not cared enough about them to awaken and warn them, they would have perished in the flames. Before the good news of the gospel will make sense to people who are dead in their sin with no idea that God’s wrath abides on them, someone will have to tell them that they have sinned against Almighty God, they have broken His Commandments (His Law), they are facing God’s righteous and holy judgment, and they will experience the full fury of His holy wrath when He sentences them to eternity in hell.

Is God loving, merciful, gracious, and kind? Yes. But if that is all we tell people, then, at best (or at worst), we will convince people to make a false profession of faith in Jesus because they have been convinced that they can try Jesus on for size and that “accepting” Jesus will cost them nothing. Or they will blow off the message as foolishness because what they were offered was no better than what they believe they already have as they love the world and indulge their sin.

Having told people the truth about their own sin and the consequences for their sin, then we must call people to repentance. We are not telling people the whole truth if we are not calling them to turn from their sin. To tell people that God loves them just the way they are is heresy and will lead people to a false profession of faith. God loves us in spite of who we are, not just as we are.

To tell people that God loves them just the way they are is to imply that they can come to Jesus without turning from sin. While we should make sure to tell people that if they try to clean up their act before getting right with God they will never get there (because we are saved by grace through faith, without any works on our part whatsoever); if we fail to tell people to turn from their sin we are presenting them with a message that differs from the message of Jesus, Peter, and Paul.

Jesus preached, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

When Jesus was questioned about a horrific event in which Pilate had mingled the blood of slain Galileans with the blood of sacrifices, Jesus said, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus declared, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

In Peter’s second sermon, he said, “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, he has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:17-19).

In Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill (a great example of open-air preaching, by the way), he said, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Paul said this to King Agrippa. “Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:19-20).

We must also tell people about the cross. There can be no authentic gospel presentation without talking about the cross of Jesus Christ. We are not telling people the whole truth unless we tell people about the perfect, sinless, sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. If our message is laden with promises of what Jesus will do for them in this life, and we make no mention of what Jesus did on the cross so that they can have eternal life, then we are not speaking the truth. We’re no more than salesmen of a commodity, instead of ambassadors of the King.

Paul wrote to the Romans: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Paul wrote to the Philippians: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

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