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God’s Sovereignty and our Responsibility to Evangelize

Introduction

How should we understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility to evangelize? J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, is a helpful book for those considering this important question.

God’s Sovereignty and our Responsibility

Packer gives various examples of the sovereignty of God. He points out that just by praying to God we acknowledge His sovereignty.[1] Packer points out that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught side by side in Scripture.[2] And “far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility—indeed, the certainty—that evangelism will be fruitful.”[3]

God’s sovereignty is a great means of encouragement to us in our evangelism. Packer helpfully says that in our evangelism we

have every reason to be bold, and free, and natural, and hopeful of success. For God can give His truth an effectiveness that you and I cannot give it. God can make His truth triumphant to the conversion of the most seemingly hardened unbeliever. You and I will never write off anyone as hopeless and beyond the reach of God if we believe in the sovereignty of His grace.[4]

So, we are responsible for sharing the gospel but God is sovereign. A proper understanding of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility is important and practical. It is important for us to realize, as Packer says, that “it is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument that He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: It is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument.”[5] So, “the belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the necessity of evangelism.”[6] Will Metzger, in agreement with Packer says, “We should not consider… sovereignty and responsibility as enemies but rather see them the way the Bible does—as friends!”[7] So, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility may seem at odds but they are really not, although we may not understand.[8] We must remember that the secret things belong to the LORD but the things that have been revealed belong to us that we may do what God has called us to do (see Deut. 29:29).

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The Crash of the American Church?

Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking. 

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Tools for Effectiveness

Below I list out resources that I have sought to leverage for optimal efficiency and effectiveness. We have amazing resources and also unprecedented distractions. Here are some things I have used to try to make the most of my time:

evernote Evernote

I have found Evernote very helpful. It allows you to create shelves, notebooks, and pages so that you can keep various lists and thoughts on any number of topics. It also allows you to tag everything. It has helped me be more organized and it has been very helpful because it is always with me and accessible. Actually, the first draft of this post was written on Evernote over the course of a few days. [free]

Advice: Use Evernote. And take the time to learn from the tutorials. It will be worth it to organize your notes and be able to find and track your thoughts. 

unnamed Pocket

I have found this app very helpful. You can save articles in Pocket, tag them for quick recall, and even share on social media. My favorite thing about this app is that it will read to me! I can now drive and “read” articles. [free]

Advice: Don’t spend all your time pocketing things, actually read stuff. Second, there’s no way to underline or make notes so screenshot the parts you want to capture and add them Evernote. 

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Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 1)

We see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians[1] that Christians are to put on the new self with new practices, new characteristics. And Paul tells us about the unprecedented unification and reconciliation that happens in Christ between all sorts of different people. Paul says, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14; Gal. 3:26-27).

But will this really work?! Paul is talking all this big talk but can it ever be practiced. He says, here there is neither slave nor free, and yet there truly were slaves and freemen. There really were Greeks and Jews. There were and are people that are in the world and see the world in all sorts of different ways. How can they be united? Is it really possible? And if so, how?! Read More…

Giving to the Church

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Why do we give?
       …because God gave
We are to give out of the abundance of joy that is produced in us as we remember what Christ gave for us (see 2 Cor. 8:1-9). So we give cheerfully what we have decided to give out of an overflow of worship, not because we have been constrained to give by a command (2 Cor. 9:7).[1]

       …because the Lord is worthy
The expectation that we see for us in Scripture is whole life commitment. The Lord is worthy so we offer all we are, our own selves, as living sacrifices because that is a reasonable response to His abundant goodness (see e.g. Rom. 12:1). We count everything as trash compared to Him (Phil. 3:8).

       …because it’s an eternal investment
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19 cf. Matt. 6:19-21)

       …because everything is God’s
All over Scripture, we see God owns everything. Everything has been graciously given (and entrusted) to us by God (Deut. 10:14; Job 41:11; Ps. 50:10-12; 1 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 11:35).

       …because we are stewards
I am not accountable to you and you are not accountable to me. We are accountable to God. We must all ask what God wants us to do with what He has given to us. We must realize that God calls different people to manage different things in different ways; the Bible is replete with examples of this. God has entrusted us with different levels of responsibility for the gifts He has give us (Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 12:48; 1 Pet. 4:10) The common denominator between managers is not that they manage the same amount of stuff but that they are accountable and must be faithful. It is before God that we will be judged, not man (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). Be faithful. But realize there are no exact standards prescribed so we should not prescribe them.

Where should we give?
Our priority should be to give where we are fed (see 1 Cor. 9:7-11; Gal. 6:10, 17; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). This makes sense, because if we eat at Chick-fil-A we don’t pay at Chipotle.

Helpful Resources
Randy Alcorn’s book, The Treasure Principle
Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s “A 20 Day Study in Stewardship

Discussion/Application Questions
1) Does meditating on the gospel of Christ motivate you to want to give?
2) Do you typically give with a cheerful heart that flows out of joy from the gospel?
3) Do you think it is legalistic to say that you must give to the church?
4) What does it mean that we are stewards/managers? Do you ever reflect on whether or not you are being a good steward of what God has entrusted to you?
5) Why is giving to the local church important? Or, do you think it is? What responsibility do you have to the local church?
6) Are you aware that everything that you have is a gift from God?
7) Materialism may be the single greatest pull away from authentic Christianity (cf. Deut. 6 esp. v.10-13). What do you think?
8) How can we purposely invest in heaven and not drift into the service of other “gods”?

 

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[1] It is instructive to look at the practice of tithing in Scripture. In the New Testament, Jesus does not command that we tithe but he does tell the Pharisees that they ought to tithe (cf. Matt. 23:23). In the Old Testament there was a tithe for Priests and Levites (Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21-24), community celebrations (Deut. 14:22-29), as well as a tithe for the poor every three years (Deut. 14:28-29; see also Lev. 19:9-10). This equals out not to 10-percent but 23.3%, averaged over a three-year period. This does not take into account the first fruit offerings (Lev. 19:23-25; Num. 15:17-21) and free will offerings (1 Chron. 29:1-9). However, it should be noted that we are in a different governmental and religious situation then the Israelites. All that being the case, the question should never be, “are we to tithe?” or “how much must we give?” but rather “how much will we have the privilege to give to Christ who gave all so that we might have all?”

Living in Light of the Majesty of Christ

 

Introduction
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul is seeking to bless and encourage the Philippian church. He has encouraged and wants his friends in Philippi to be bold (1:14), receive joy in the faith (v. 25), and live a life worthy of the gospel (v. 27).

So, how is Paul encouraging the Philippians (and us) in this passage (v. 18b-26)? Paul is showing the Philippians, and us, what is worth living for. Paul gives himself as a prime example.

So, what is worth living for? I mean, what is ultimately worth living for? And, what do you live for?

Let’s look at Philippians 1:18b-20 and see what we should live for:
“Yes, and I will rejoice [because Christ is proclaimed], [19] for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this [the present situation] will turn out for my deliverance, [20] as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

What is Paul saying here? Paul is saying that he rejoices in the midst of the struggles and trials of life because he expects to magnify Christ through them. So, we see we too must…

Magnify Christ in all of life (v. 18b-20)
First, it is important that we ask, “What was Paul going through? What was the situation he was facing and how did he magnify, honor, glorify God in the midst of it?”

      The situation
Paul was in prison (1:7, 13) and it seems since he was in prison the question of death was on the table (v. 21, 23). Since Paul was in prison he must have had many physical concerns. Paul was suffering. His situation was not easy. Paul acknowledges that he needs help. He knew he needed the Philippian’s prayers and “the help of the Spirit” (v. 19). Paul knew he would need to “not be ashamed,” he knew he would need to have “full courage.” Paul was aware of the difficulties that awaited him but he was very sure that he would be able to be faithful (v. 20).

Paul believed the truth of Matthew 10:

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved… And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell… So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:22, 28, 32-33).

      What Paul did
Even in suffering, Paul’s concern was not his own welfare. Paul cared about Christ being honored (v. 20) and the church receiving joy in the faith (v. 25). So, Paul boldly shared the gospel with the Roman guards and he encouraged others to also be bold. And Paul served and encouraged others. Actually, he wanted to depart and be with Christ, that’s what he wanted to do, but he said it is better, even “necessary” that he remain so he could be a means of joy and encouragement for his friends in Philippi.[1] That’s why Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians in the first place. Paul modeled what it means to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (2:4).

“Paul’s deepest hopes for his own immediate future turn neither on the bliss of immediately gaining heaven’s portals nor on returning to a fulfilling ministry and escaping the pangs of death, but on what is best for his converts. Often we are tempted to evaluate alternatives by thinking through what seems best for us. How often do we raise as a first principle what is best for the church?”[2]

So, what did Paul do? Paul sought to live his life—through thick and thin—to magnify and honor Christ and encourage the saints.

      What about us?
We, like Paul, should seek to magnify Christ in all we do. Yet, this is very hard. How can we?

Let’s look at Philippians 1:21-26 and see how we can live for Christ:
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. [22] If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose [between life and death] I cannot tell. [23] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [24] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. [25] Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, [26] so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

What is Paul saying here? Paul is saying that he rejoices in the midst of the struggles and trials of life because he is motivated by the majesty of Christ. So, we too must…

Be motivated by the majesty of Christ (v. 21-26)
If we are to be motivated it is important that we understand how. So, first, how was Paul motivated by the majesty of Christ?

      Paul’s motivation
Paul saw Christ as so awesome, so majestic, so worth it, that he would give up all for Him, live for Him, die for Him. Paul cared about Christ. Paul saw Christ’s glory in an amazing way and it radically changed him.

If Paul lived, who would he live for? Christ! Paul said, “If I am to live in the flesh that means fruitful labor for me” (v. 22). Paul said, “to live is Christ.”[3] That’s what life was about for Paul. Paul even said that he wasn’t sure which he would choose, life or death? Paul said, he desired “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (v. 23). How is departing, dying, “far better”? Because he would get to be with Christ! Everything, for Paul, is about Christ (see also 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 14-15). 

      What is our motivation?
Our motivation is often success, beauty, fun, etc. But it should be Christ. He alone is worthy. Yet, it is so easy to get distracted. Of course, success, beauty, fun are not bad. But they are not ultimate. They can’t and won’t fulfill. We shouldn’t live for those things. Only Jesus is worthy.

“In the logic of the gospel, there are no alternatives to Christ. Every other option is no option at all. When everything considered valuable in life is seen to be nothing in comparison to the glory of Christ, you learn rather well that Christ alone is worth living for. Christ alone is worthy of an entire life’s affections and devotions.”[4]

      What does understanding the majesty of Christ lead to?
For John G. Paton, it meant to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Paton who was a missionary to the South Sea Islands (where Fiji water comes from) was told, “You will be eaten by Cannibals!” Paton responded:

“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”[5]

We must know, as Paul did, that “There is a greater day coming, a greater reward coming, a greater life coming, and the purpose of life while we are alive is to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, which hold the promise of life everlasting.”[6] We will be more alive than we are now![7] We shall have life and peace beyond what we can imagine. We shall be at perfect peace with God and see Jesus!

Death is “far better” for us too!

Conclusion
Paul encouraged the Philippians (and us!) to live a life worthy of the gospel and in verses 18b-26 he gives us an inward look of how he hopes to live a worthy life: treasure Christ. Christ was Paul’s controlling core. Paul loved Christ and so he lived for Christ.

God is calling us to also love Christ with all we are and live for Him with all we have.

So, what do you live for? What motivating, explosive force, is at the core of your life? What propels you to do what you do?

And notice, if we get it wrong here, we will carry out all sorts of destructive actions.

What is at your core?

Can you say your life is motivated by the majesty of Christ? Can you truly say, “To live is Christ, to die is gain”?

A few questions
1.  Paul said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” What do you think about that? Should you be able to say that as well?
2.  What’s at the motivational core of your life?
3.  How will you stay on track through the temptations and struggles of life?
4.  Do you currently feel purpose in living for Jesus Christ?
5.  How was Paul impacted by having Christ at his motivational core? How would you be impacted with Christ at the motivational core of your life?
6.  What about Christ is so majestic and beautiful and awesome that makes Him worthy of first place in your heart and life?
7.  How will you keep Christ at the motivational core of you life with all the other things that fight for that place?
8.  Read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 14-15 and pray that you would be motivated to live for Christ because of the majesty of Christ.

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[1] This is very hard for us to understand in our current society and situation. It “can only strike us as strange in the modern church if we have allowed the comforts of our present physical existence to usurp the place of Christ in our lives as our chief priority” (Frank Thielman, Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary, 83.

[2] Carson in Basics for Believers, 30.

[3] “In the context, ‘to live is Christ’ surely means that for Paul to keep on living here means ministry, Christ-centered ministry, Christ-empowered ministry, Christ’s presence in his ministry” (Carson, Basics for Believers, 29).

[4] Matt Chandler, To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain, 36.

[5] As quoted by Carson in Basics for Believers, 31.

[6] Matt Chandler, To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain, 37.

[7] I concur with what C.S. Lewis says in The Last Battle,

“We can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: NY: Harper Collins, 2002), 228).

I believe we, upon arrival to the new Eden, will exclaim with Lewis’ Unicorn: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it to now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia [“old creation”] is that it sometimes looked a little like this” (Ibid., 213).

The Church & Social Responsibility

C.H. Spurgeon said, “Nothing but the Gospel can sweep away social evil… The Gospel is the great broom with which to cleanse the filthiness of the city; nothing else will avail.”[1] Spurgeon experienced the truth of that statement in his city and Scripture attests of its truth over and over again.

Look at Acts 19:18-20 for a prime example of the social change that took place because of the gospel. Also look how faith changed Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). He no longer defrauded people but restored fourfold those whom he had defrauded. He also gave half of his belongings to the poor. It should therefore not be our first goal to enact political and social change but spiritual change that takes place through the receiving of the gospel.[2]

If the gospel is truly received social change will follow. I do not believe in the social gospel[3] but the gospel will inevitably bear fruit in the social realm. The gospel is necessarily social; that is, it has unavoidable implications on society. As Carl F. H. Henry has said, “A globe-changing passion certainly characterized the early church… A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity.”[4] We must show and tell the gospel if there is to be a full and effective presentation.

The Lausanne Committee accurately said this of Christian social responsibility:

“We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.”[5]

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[1] C. H. Spurgeon, the soul winner, 247.

[2] Thomas r. Schreiner says, “Jesus did not call for political revolution; he trusted in the power of the word of God (mark 4:28) and focused on the need of the nation to repent and turn to God… what will change society is individuals turning from their sin and committing themselves wholly to God” (Schreiner, new testament theology, 52-53). However, that is not to say that political involvement is wrong (mark 6:14-20; matt. 14:1-12; acts 16:35-39; 24:25; 1 Tim. 2:1-4) only that we should not set our hopes on it. The gospel is the power to salvation and therefore the power to change (cf. Rom. 1:16; 1 cor. 6:9-11). Note, however, that john the baptizer was martyred like many other Christians, for biblically informed political convictions (I think of Bonheoffer and Martin Luther King Jr. Notice, also that they gave their life and did not take life). 

[3] The social gospel movement was a movement started by Walter Rauschenbusch in the early 1900s. It emphases social justice over and against the gospel and has a defective view of the kingdom of God (among other things). Contra the social gospel movement the kingdom of God, though ushered in by Christ’s coming, does not find its fulfillment until Jesus brings it down from heaven. However, in revolting against the social gospel we should not be guilty of revolting against the Christian social imperative (see carl f. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, 22)

We don’t bring in the Kingdom, God does (cf. Rev. 21:1-2; dan. 2:44-45).

However much we try or even succeed in our responsibility to secure greater economic justice, Christians can look beyond this world, with all its tribulations and inequities, to the restoration of all things at Christ’s return (acts 3:21). Our faith is not pinned or limited to humanity’s capacity to share generously; for it is only at the second coming that our full humanness will be restored. This does not mean that we cease our efforts to improve this world however. On the contrary, it is because we cherish the vision of completed humanness in the end that we must all the more promote human dignity today (www.lausanne.org).

[4] Henry, The Uneasy Conscience Of Modern Fundamentalism, 16.

[5] http://www.lausanne.org (italics mine). See: Acts 17:26, 31; Gen. 18:25; Isa. 1:17; Prov. 13:31; Ps. 45:7; Gen. 1:26, 27; James. 3:9; Lev. 19:18; Luke 6:27, 35; James. 2:14-26; Jn. 3:3, 5; Matt. 5:20; 6:33; 2 Cor. 3:18; James. 2:20.

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