Rather, it’s like a massive ship making a 90 degree turn. It happens slowly but surely, and the key to a ship’s turn is its rudder. When it comes to transforming the evangelistic culture in the body of Christ, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that rudder. The Gospel brings about a different direction of life, and when the Good News is leading a church—slowly but surely—that body will move from Point A to Point B.
There is a precise illustration of this transformation found in the life of the apostle Peter. If you recall, there was a time when Peter was afraid and ashamed of Jesus Christ. Even though Peter proudly announced his great loyalty to the Savior, he found himself turning his back on the Son of God when challenged by a young, lowly servant girl (Matt 26:69–75). Jesus won’t have one of His leading disciples be like this—fearful, proud, and timid. After His resurrection, Jesus takes Peter aside for a pep talk. However, the motivational speech doesn’t involve threats, guilt, or manipulation. Instead, Jesus kindly and graciously asks Peter, “Peter, do you love Me?” (John 21:17) This question contains the answer to any and all Gospel witness!
When we realize that we have been restored to the God of the universe by the sacrificial death of Christ—and despite our many failings, that He still loves us and cares for us—our hearts will be motivated to love Him and then, we will desire to talk about Him to whomever we meet. This is exactly what happened to Peter under the power of the Holy Spirit. Later in Acts, the same disciple who denied Jesus Christ three times is standing toe-to-toe with the Jewish leaders. When they threaten him to stop preaching the Gospel, he retorts, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20) That’s beautiful, and that’s the power of God to transform dull, non-witnessing hearts into hearts that just can’t help but speak of the one person we love the most… Jesus Christ.
The Example of Church Leaders
Paul told the church in Philippi to “join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil 3:17). Paul knew that simply writing a letter about Christian conduct wasn’t enough; the Philippians needed a real life example to follow. Paul offered himself as their example and directed them to watch others who walked in a similar manner. In the same way, evangelism is best studied by observation. All the books on evangelism in the world can’t produce a heart for evangelism. Yet observing and following a real-life example is an excellent teacher. Leaders in the church (i.e., elders, deacons, lay leaders, or parents) should be examples in their love for the lost, as well as in their willingness to share Christ with others. As believers seeking to share Christ and grow in our evangelistic passion, we ought to seek out those who are examples, follow them, and learn and grow from their love for the lost and evangelistic heart. At the same time, we can seek to honor Christ and thereby become examples ourselves in our hearts of love for those who do not know the Lord.
Encouragement in Evangelistic Efforts
As we both lead and follow in evangelistic efforts, we can be helped along by encouragement. Sometimes evangelism can be a struggle: the person we are sharing with is unwilling to hear, we find ourselves tongue-tied by a question, or we share and the person rejects. These can all take the wind out of our evangelistic sails and leave us in the doldrums of self-pity and doubt. One of the greatest ways out of these straights is through mutual encouragement. The body can support, uphold, and encourage one another as we press on together toward greater growth in evangelistic endeavors. We should be marked by encouragement, especially where there is evident desire to initiate Christ-centered conversations and Gospel-related relationships. In moments of discouragement, we can remind one another that all true spiritual fruit is born only by the Holy Spirit. In moments of triumph, we can remind one another of the power of the Gospel that is evidenced in changed hearts. In times of discomfort or even persecution, we can remind one another that if God is for us, no one can be against us! And day by day we can remind one another that Christ is with us and He will never leave us or forsake us (Rom 8:31; Heb 13:5). These and countless other situations can result in greater effectiveness and increased fervor for evangelism for the glory of Christ. Christ set the model by sending the disciples out in twos (Luke 10:1). We can link arms with one another, encourage one another, and press on for the sake of the glory of Christ.
Praying for Each Other
A crucial way to cultivate a heart for evangelism is through prayer. In Colossians 4:2 Paul calls the Colossian saints to devote themselves to prayer. Immediately following this, he calls upon them in verse 3 to pray for his evangelistic ministry that God might “open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ.” In verse 4, he calls them to pray for clarity as he proclaims the gospel. Yet the same principle still applies: even if the great church planting Apostle Paul asked for prayer for his evangelistic ministry—so we should as well! What is also interesting in this text is that after calling on them to pray for his ministry, Paul then encourages the Colossians in their own evangelistic proclamation in verses 5–6. He moves seamlessly from praying for his evangelism to engaging wisely in their own evangelism. This is a good pattern for us to follow: pray for one another within the church for gospel opportunities… and let that flow naturally into praying personally for gospel opportunities and sharing the gospel ourselves.
Taking Evangelistic Opportunities
Practically speaking, we cultivate a greater heart for evangelism by taking opportunities to get involved in sharing the gospel. As we engage with the lost, our heart for them grows and as we proclaim the gospel regularly, we grow in our skill and ability in sharing. All of us have evangelistic opportunities throughout our daily lives as we interact with unsaved friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, and even perfect strangers. The church also seeks to provide opportunities for evangelism through short-term missions trips, evangelistic services at Christmas and Easter, and outreach activities. Some of these activities include weekly visits to two care centers, evangelism on college campuses, and ministry to men being released from prison (and their families). It is our hope that even more of these evangelistic opportunities will develop within the body through members of FBC pursuing opportunities that arise from areas about which they are passionate. Different occasions to share the gospel with unbelievers will appeal to different people and families, but if you haven’t found a place to get plugged in and share your faith, pick something and give it a try!
Talking about Evangelism
One way a church grows in its passion for evangelism is by talking about evangelistic opportunities. As we hear of other brothers and sisters in the Lord faithfully proclaiming the gospel, it stirs and encourages our hearts to do the same. A great example of this is found in Philippians 1:12–14. Paul is writing to the Philippians of his imprisonment, which at first glance seems to be quite a hindrance to Paul’s evangelistic ministry. However, in verse 13, Paul declares that his imprisonment has actually served to advance the gospel, not hinder it. Paul states that those in the guard were able to hear of the reason for his chains, namely the gospel, and as a result, the rest of the believers were encouraged to speak the Word of God without fear (v. 14).
Now you may be thinking, “I am no Apostle Paul and I am certainly not in prison; how can my gospel opportunities encourage others to do the same?” At this point, it’s important to remember the thrust of Philippians 1:12–14. Paul’s joy about the advance of the gospel comes not from his own ability to share it, but from his understanding that it is God who has caused the gospel to spread despite the difficult situation he was in. It is the same for us today. No matter how or when we share the gospel, it is always by the grace of God through His Spirit that we are able to communicate the good news to others. It is His sovereign providence that opens up gospel opportunities, and we only take advantage of them by His power. Therefore, it doesn’t matter who you are, because the same God that providentially worked through Paul also works through you! So next time you share about a gospel opportunity you had with someone else, or next time you hear a brother or sister share about their gospel opportunities, you can be encouraged and have confidence not in their ability to proclaim the good news, but in the power and faithfulness of God to make His glory known.
We hear testimonies all the time; they are everywhere – billboards, TV commercials, magazine ads, you name it. Their purpose is to remind us of the practicality of the product (whatever it is) being advertised. They remind us that the car we want is not an ethereal, abstract “car”, but a real, physical machine that can take real people wherever they want. In the same way, testimonies about how people have come to know Christ can convince us of the reality and truthfulness of God’s power to save.
Discussions of theological matters, whether about end times or evangelism, can often be left “in the clouds.” They usually connect with our minds, but sometimes remain in the intellectual realm, such that we forget that theology impacts every aspect of our lives. As we hear the testimonies of other believers, our hearts and minds cannot help but remember that our great God saves and intervenes in people’s lives in a tangible, life-changing way. Have you ever had a time where you shared the gospel only to be rejected? If you’re anything like me, this happens the majority of the time. Consequently, it is easy to get discouraged and forget that our God loves to save and change people’s lives. Yet when I hear how God turned a man or woman’s life around after someone shared the gospel with them, all of my discouragement and sorrow goes away, for in that moment I am reminded that God really does save and that His love and grace are not abstract theological terms, but tangible and actual realities.
Why is the Gospel offensive? Because the Gospel reveals the sinful nature of man. God is honest about sin and rebellion, and no one in their flesh likes to be told they’re wrong, let alone in danger of going to hell because of their sins!
So what can we do? If we genuinely love people, we long for them to see their sin and understand that Christ has come into the world to SAVE sinners! (1 Tim. 1:15) But we’re afraid to offend and uncertain of the possible outcomes—rejection, anger, and certainly offense! We don’t want to ruin what seems to be a good relationship by bringing up topics like sin, repentance, and the Gospel.
However, even the most anxious and offense-conscious person in the church knows that a relationship built solely on discussions about the weather or a favorite sports team—but that never moves to the Gospel—is not helpful. Sinners we meet are in danger of HELL! We MUST tell them and point them to Christ.
What we need in those moments is boldness.
But where is boldness to be found? How can we overcome our own insecurities, society’s expectations, and even others’ responses to be able, in love, to share the offensive message of forgiveness for sinners?
Paul gives us a personal example of the answer in Ephesians 6:19 when he asks the Ephesians to “pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel.” Paul knows that sometimes he can miss opportunities for the Gospel because of his own inner concerns (2 Cor. 2:12-13), and so he asks the Ephesians to pray for him to have boldness.
Now, how does God answer prayer for boldness? I don’t think He does it by making us brash or unruly or disrespectful. Those attitudes would ruin Gospel witness (2 Cor. 6:3). Instead, God gives boldness through the one source that overcomes our fears and anxieties—the glory of Jesus Christ in His love for us.
Paul tells us that his own Gospel ministry is compelled by the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14-15). He absolutely must share the Gospel, knowing the love that Christ has for him, and seeing deeply the great need of salvation in all those who have not been forgiven. Therefore Paul asks for prayer, that boldness would be given to him to make the Gospel known to those whom God has sovereignly put in his path. When the love of Christ overwhelms our hearts, we are moved and motivated by this same love to share the Gospel with others, regardless of the consequences to our own well-being. Since we have been so loved, we joyfully love others through Gospel witness.
We all meet many unbelievers—at restaurants, the barber, the grocery store, movie theaters, soccer teams, baseball teams, airplanes, and on our streets—we are surrounded by lost souls who are in desperate need of the free gift of forgiveness.Like Paul, let’s pray that in our weaknesses, brokenness, and stumblings, God would give us boldness through the love Christ has shown us to speak up and share the good news of Christ. And let’s trust that those we meet day by day are sovereignly placed in our path for the sake of the Gospel so that Christ may receive the reward of His suffering!
Granted, there are other reasons that we fail to share the gospel with the people around us (fear, selfishness, insecurity, etc...). Yet, despite these other reasons, we cannot ignore our lack of compassion for the lost. We must recognize that this lack of compassion is an ever-present reason for our lack of passion in sharing the gospel. I know this is the case in my own heart.
So why do we struggle to have a genuine and heartfelt compassion for the lost? On the one hand, we can look with self-righteousness on others as “sinners” and view their future judgment as just and right—they are getting what they deserve. Instead of seeing them as sinners who desperately need a Savior, we see them as sinners who should have known better, should have made different choices, and are now lying in the bed they made. When we look through the lenses of pride and self-righteous judgment, all compassion for the lost is erased from our hearts.
On the other hand, there is a more subtle way that compassion for the lost is eroded: we fail to see people as condemned sinners in the first place. We may look at our unsaved friends, family members, coworkers, or neighbors and merely see a really nice person. Maybe we see someone who gives and shares with others. Perhaps we see someone who seems to have their life together: they have a great job, a nice family, financial security, a nice home. Maybe they even go to church or participate in religious activities or charity events. Moreover, when we only view them this way, our heart does not well up with compassion… in fact, it may even well up with jealousy or envy.
So what can we do to cultivate a compassion for the lost, the kind of compassion that will motivate us to share the gospel with those around us? What we need most is a deep-seated and heartfelt conviction of basic gospel truth. We need to remember that every unsaved person we meet—no matter how nice and comfortable their life may seem—is a sinner condemned under the full weight of the everlasting wrath of God. Romans 3:10 states “There is none righteous, not even one.” Apart from Christ, by our very nature we are all “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) and one day Christ will “tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God” (Rev. 19:15) and repay all sinners for their cosmic treason against their Creator. God’s wrath is real and terrifying and it is the eternal fate of all who reject Christ. In fact, God’s wrath is already being revealed against those show reject Him (Rom. 1:18). They cannot free themselves from the wrath of God, so even now they live separated from God’s mercy, unable to know His glory, and unable to commune with Him.
When we truly believe these realities about our unsaved friends and family members, our hearts cannot help but break with compassion. What they need is the gospel of Christ that can save them from their sin and the righteous wrath of God. We must see them through the lens of Biblical truth… not the world’s or the society’s perception of them. And we must acknowledge biblical texts that speak about God’s wrath and consider that such is the reality and fate of people whom we love if they continue to reject Christ… let’s let that truth sink into our hearts and weigh heavily upon us.
If we are struggling with self-righteousness that strips us of compassion for the lost, we must remember that we too were once children of wrath, just like they are. And the only reason we are not in the exact same spot is because, by the grace and mercy of God, someone shared the gospel with us! That should cause our hearts to break and motivate us to want to share the Good News with them.
So as we look at our unsaved friends and family, let's not see good people living happy lives. Let's look through the lens of Scripture and see souls that are separated from their Creator and headed for everlasting wrath. They lack the one thing that can make them truly happy and can save them from the eternal wrath of God–the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let’s remember that we have the Good News of a precious Savior who died on the cross and rose again to save sinners just like them… and just like you and me. When we live in the reality of these gospel truths, we will be motivated to share the same gospel truths with those around us.
There are certain topics that can instantly cause the believer to feel guilty—lack of prayer and lack of evangelism often head the list. But should we share our faith because we have to? Should we be motivated out of guilt? Is the external act of evangelizing the lost God-glorifying even if the heart is cold towards the gospel? I believe with all my heart that there is indeed a much better way to evangelize: gospel-motivated evangelism is God-glorifying evangelism!
Here’s what I mean. To be “gospel-motivated” means that the believer has been gripped by the person and work of Jesus Christ. He just can’t get over his own salvation and the exquisite cost Jesus paid to redeem His condemned and guilty soul. All he can do is respond to God’s amazing love by loving Him in return. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:14–15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” This is what motivated Paul to appeal to the lost (v. 20).
Ephesians 2:1–10 is a short text that clearly portrays the power of the Gospel. Earlier in 1:19–20, Paul prays for the readers that they may be enlightened to know “what is the surpassing greatness of His power” toward them who believe. The power Paul is talking about here is the power of the Gospel he describes in 2:4–10. However, before talking about the power of the Gospel, he points out the power of sin that literally controls the lives of unbelievers. In other words, in order for us to know what the power of the Gospel is, we first need to be reminded of the power of sin that dominated our life before our salvation.
In 2:1, Paul writes that before salvation the Ephesians were continually dead in their trespasses and sins. He is talking about spiritual death. But what does that mean? Paul explains this in the following verses. First, it means that unbelievers live according to the principles of this world, which is in opposition to God’s will and holiness (2:2a). Second, it means to live under the power of Satan and his influence (2:2b). Third, it means to live under the power of the flesh-—the sinful nature that dominates the life of unbelievers (2:3). Furthermore, unbelievers are described as sons of disobedience and children of wrath (2:2–3). To be spiritually dead ultimately means to be under God’s condemnation by nature (i.e., by birth). Paul wants us to see clearly how hopeless and helpless our condition was before salvation. Only when we grasp how miserable and irremediable our spiritual condition was, may we realize how powerful and indispensable the Gospel is for salvation, and thus how critical evangelism is.
After portraying the spiritual death of unbelievers, in v. 4 Paul writes, “But God being rich in mercy.” He is emphatically contrasting who human beings are with who God is. Dead people need God’s mercy and love, love that was demonstrated in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for those who put their trust in Him alone. When we neglect evangelism, we ignore to proclaim the mercy and love of God as the only possible means for salvation. Spiritually dead people need divine supernatural power in order for them to be rescued from their condition. Putting it shortly, evangelism is powerful and crucial for the world!
Paul reminds the readers that even when they were still dead in their sins, God made them alive together with Christ through faith alone (2:5, 8). Salvation is about being made alive on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is powerful, then, because of the perfect and sufficient work of Christ. When we talk about the power of the Gospel, we refer not to a mystical power, but to the power of Jesus Christ. He Himself is the Gospel.
Last and importantly, Paul writes to the Ephesians that God saves in order to show in the ages to come the surpassing riches of His grace (v.7). Therefore, when we proclaim the Gospel we give glory to God by making known to the world His undeserving love for children of wrath.
In conclusion, let us confess that our weakness in evangelism is due to a low view of the power of the Gospel. In fact, if we believe that the Gospel is powerful to save anyone regardless of who he or she is, we will be bold and eager to evangelize in any circumstance without fear of man. Brothers and sisters, may we be encouraged to pursue evangelism, fixing our eyes on the power of God, centered on the sufficiency and efficacy of Christ’s work, yet acknowledging how deficient we are and how spiritually and totally incapable unbelievers are to save themselves.
Yet God’s heart is made so evident to us in the Scripture. The call of the Gospel for sinners and the free gift of salvation in Christ rings throughout the Bible. Paul tells us that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19) and the Lord cries out through the prophet Isaiah, “Come unto me, all the ends of the earth and be saved…for I am God, and there is no other!” (Isa. 45:22). Clearly, our Lord longs for us to go with the message of salvation through the one true God, and the peace and forgiveness available for all men in Christ! In fact, Christ Himself said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." (Matthew 11:28-30). We have the most glorious message the world has ever known, and we have every opportunity to preach it! And yet, we struggle and are powerless and confused.
Well, in hopes joining our hearts together with God’s heart for the lost, we’re putting together a blog series for the summer months regarding evangelism. There’s no way to cover everything, but we’ll be writing about topics such as the power of the Gospel, the motivation for evangelism, ministries of mercy, some practical how-to’s, and overcoming timidity. As a team, we recognize our own weaknesses in these areas, and so these posts are really reflections about our own failures and the power of Christ to overcome them. We hope they’ll be used by the Holy Spirit to empower us as a church to reach out with the joy and grace of God! Our prayer is that the glory of God’s love in Christ would emanate from our church in such a way that many would be brought to the Savior through us!
So we’d encourage you to take some time… read… and pray with us! And let’s see how God might use us for His glory in our neighborhoods and among the nations!
Galatians 1:3-5 says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
|When I was 13 years old, my family and I were vacationing in a well-known seaside town in Argentina, and we were staying at a friend’s apartment two blocks from the ocean. Needless to say, we spent every single day at the beach; that’s what happens when you were born in a city that was eight hours away from the closest body of water. One afternoon, I was swimming in the ocean and the tide came back and though the water was waist-high, I started to be sucked into what appeared to be a vortex of water. No matter how fast I swam, I couldn't get anywhere, until my dad came and extended his arm to me and pulled me out of what I indeed thought was a sure death! After that, I spent the rest of the vacation treating the ocean with much more respect than I had before that moment.
That was the imagery that came to me when I read Galatians 1:4 a couple of months ago. In the letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul was eager to defend the true gospel to a church that had quickly deviated from it. In fact, in verses 6ff, he forcefully confronts them from quickly departing from the true gospel. He even writes that if anyone “should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Paul was serious about this problem in that church.
However, in the first few verses of the letter in Paul’s salutation, he says the following in verse 4: “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Paul explains the true gospel in the first 5 verses before confronting this church for their departure from it. In verse 4, we see immediately that Christ gave himself up for our sins, he died to deliver us from the present evil age, and he obeyed God’s will.
This about the second of these three elements that we see in verse 4. Christ “died to deliver us from the present evil age.”
There is a question that always lingers in the mind of the believer: Why did Jesus die? Did he die to save us from hell? Did he die to bring people to heaven? Did he die because he felt sorry for us? YES, to all! But I think that Paul gives us a more important reason as to why Jesus died, “[Jesus] gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” Jesus died to save us from this present evil age.
Let’s look at two questions: 1) What is this present evil age? 2) How should this truth impact us?
The present evil age – Paul says that Jesus died to save us, to deliver us. In the Greek, the word used here carries the force of removing someone or something from a certain context, taking someone or something out. Christ, by dying for us, removed us from this present evil age. But, what does that mean? By using this phrase, he is not talking about the year he lived in, or a time period in the future. Rather, Paul was talking about the system that we all live in, the worldly system that is ruled by Satan and his angels. The apostle is referring to the power of the present evil age in the believer’s life—though eventually we will be delivered from the world itself—our standing before God and the defeat of sin’s power over our lives. This is all because Jesus’ death canceled that power.
Just like my dad pulled me from the strength of the water, Christ has saved us from the power of this age. Though we are still in the water, the power of Christ protects us from what is swirling around us. Jesus is our strength and protection from the riptides of wickedness that threaten to pull us down. And there is no one stronger! My dad could have slipped, but the hold of Christ will never loosen—He holds us perfectly, forever, with the might of the power of the One who MADE the ocean!
So what? How should this truth impact us? We need to live as though this truth is actually true. We must cling to the promise that Jesus died to free us from this present evil age and live lives that reflect the reality that sin no longer has power over us.
Believer, when you are tempted to sin, remind yourself and believe—wash your mind with the thought—that Jesus has already paid for the price of your sin and that this sin and its worldly system has no power over you. You have the very power of Christ at your disposal. The currents of the world can be resisted by trusting in the strength of Christ to hold you against all that the world can throw at you!
As the great hymn write once wrote, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free.” You have been set free! Your Father extended his arm and saved you from the vortex of sin. Live clinging to that truth!
1. changing frequently, esp. as regards one's loyalties, interests, or affection.
It’s kind of an old word, but we still talk about things that are fickle. The weather is fickle, especially in Denver where I grew up. The sun can be out and within a minute or two there can be a blinding thunderstorm because of the Rocky Mountains.
The sea is fickle, or so I hear, not having sailed much.
Sometimes friends can be fickle, though we hope not.
And often I am fickle. My affections for God – my love for Him – changes day-by-day and even sometimes moment by moment.
Love is a difficult thing. We love things, by and large, that we can see. Some of us love meat. We love our families. We love our country. We love our church.
But love for God is different. Though we’ve seen Him with the eyes of our hearts (see John’s post on 2 Cor 3:18 a couple weeks back here), nevertheless, we are often tempted to love other things. Our affections grow cold. Sometimes you might even doubt whether you love Him at all.
We often think of God as being like us… fickle. We doubt His affection. We may even have good reason from a human perspective to doubt! Maybe we’ve sinned against Him in the same way SO many times that we think, “I would NEVER forgive someone like me!”
And what I’ve found is that when I’m doubting His love – when I think of Him as fickle – I lose joy, I stop loving Him, and soon, my obedience to Him falters dramatically (John 14:15). As I’ve noticed this trend, I’ve wanted to change. I’ve wanted to be more consistent in my love for Him. I’ve wanted to grow more in love with Him – less fickle – and more devoted.
But of course there’s a problem. How can I MAKE myself love God? How can I will myself to change my heart’s affections? I could look at God’s benefits to me, and that might make me love Him, but not during hard times. So how can my heart be changed? What moves me to love when I’m not loving?
I’m convinced the Apostle John knew that struggle. He knew what it was to WANT to love God, but to be found lacking love for Him – he knew what it was to be fickle. And so he wrote something 2000 years ago to bolster us, and to point us to where love is born and hearts are changed.
1 John 4:10 ~ In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
What’s so wonderful about this verse is that love – real genuine Christian love for God – finds a fuel source. Like a fire that’s grown cold, John tells us that love is NOT our love for God first, but God’s love for us! John takes the whole question – “How can I grow in love for God?” – and removes us from it entirely. And praise God that He does!
We can’t love God as we ought. Why? Because as sinners, we’re fickle.
But change is possible! How? By the love God has for us. John puts the weight of Christian love on God Himself. The duty to love God CAN’T be satisfied by you! Only God can do that work in us – and He does so by pouring lighter fluid on the dim coals of our love for Him. He ignites love by showing us His incredible, unconditional, sacrificial, forgiving love time and time again. He is love. Like a dear cherishing father who unconditionally adores his children (Luke 15), God’s loving heart for us folds us close to Himself. From that place of love, we love Him. How could we not, after all? He’s wonderful.
And, lest we question God’s love, John puts the proof in the next phrase – God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin – the propitiation, the wrath payment, the blood covering, the anger bearer. God poured His (perfectly fair) anger and wrath for our sins ALL out on His own Child – the perfect pleasing one, Jesus. Is there any greater proof of love? Of course not.
So, if you’re feeling fickle, or if you want to grow, keep yourself out of that equation. Instead, look…look in the text of Scripture at the cross and see a Savior – holy, harmless and undefiled – whose blood was shed to cover your filthiness. In this is love. Believe it.
And the glory of that Gospel truth can’t HELP but make you love Him, no matter how fickle you are!
Romans 8:1 ~ Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Most likely, at some point in your life you have dealt with feelings of condemnation. Some of us are prone to quickly condemn ourselves for things we said, thought, or done. Other times, our condemnation stems from a long, drawn-out battle with sin when it feels like we will just never gain victory. It may be that a specific sin seems too overwhelming or too big for God to simply forgive…so we begin to condemn ourselves. Some people, though, find themselves not on the receiving end of these feelings of condemnation, but rather, on the giving end. We can be quick to condemn others and disapprove of them for a whole host of reasons. At the core, though, all of these scenarios have one thing in common for the believer in Jesus Christ: they all stem from a wrong view of our justification.
Romans 8:1 is perhaps the shortest, yet most poignant verse in the New Testament that deals with the issue of condemnation. Despite is brevity, it is incredibly rich with theological and gospel truth…and it is loaded with practical implications for the life of the believer. Contextually, it is carefully placed in the book of Romans. Chapters 1-5 are filled with gospel truth and deep theological insights. Chapter 6 introduces the first commands in the book of Romans and they deal with the issue of sanctification. In Chapter 7 Paul deals with the reality of the believer’s present struggle with sin (a struggle that is real despite the truths of chapters 1-5 and the commands of chapter 6). But Paul doesn’t end with the struggle…he comes right back to the gospel in Romans 8:1.
Paul proclaims confidently that, for the believer in Jesus Christ, there is absolutely no condemnation. This is an incredible gospel truth in light of the first part of the book. Romans 1:18 says that God’s wrath is being revealed against sinners. Romans 3:10 says that there is none righteous, not even one. Romans 3:23 and 5:12 say that all have sinned. And Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. Thus every person born on this planet is a sinner who is rightly condemned to physical, spiritual, and eternal death.
Yet somehow, Paul confidently asserts that all who are in Christ are now free from all condemnation. How could this be? It is by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 2) and the sacrificial cross work of the Son (vv. 3-4). Jesus fulfilled the requirement of the Law, died as a sacrifice for the sins of all who believe, and rose again on the third day. Thus, all who are in Christ are fully free from the wrath of God and from all condemnation because Christ already bore it. When we embrace the reality of being in Christ, we find that the implications of “no condemnation” run deep.
First, there is no condemnation in our relationship with God. God is not looking down from heaven angry and disapproving of who we are and what we have done. He loves his children and views us through the lens of the righteousness of Christ. It is not that He is unaware of our faults and failures, but rather He sees those as fully paid for in Christ. And He sees the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.
Second, because God does not condemn us, there is no place for self-condemnation. Christ’s work on the cross is fully complete. This is why God does not condemn me. Thus I have no right to condemn myself as is if my own feelings of guilt or self-punishment would somehow justify me by subsidizing or completing the work of Christ. Later in vv. 33-34 Paul asks “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?” The answer to the questions is not “me.” There is no place for me to condemn myself, beat myself up, or carry around the guilt of my confessed sin and failure. The reality of “no condemnation” is so freeing for the life of the believer!
Third, because God does not condemn us, there is no place for us to condemn one another. There is no room for our pride to condemn others. It is not right for us to rest in gospel grace for ourselves, yet withhold forgiveness and grace from our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. There is no condemnation for them either…Christ has paid for their sins in full at Calvary. Our relationships with one another need to reflect this. They are to be filled with forgiveness, patience, and grace. We live together as those who have been forgiven in Christ.The reality of “no condemnation” is freeing and is glorious as we live each day battling sin and facing the reality of our flesh. The fact that we are justified and forgiven does not mean that we simply ignore our own sin or the sins of others, though. Rather, the reality of “no condemnation” does two things. First, it directs our hearts to the gospel when we do sin so that we trust in Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. Second, when we live in the reality of “no condemnation”, our hearts desire is to obey God and pursue Christlikeness. We have been forgiven and justified from our sin by a gracious and loving Savior…living in the good of this does not make us want to sin more, but rather to live a holy life…free from sin and marked by obedience. So as you fight sin today, remember this glorious truth: there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!
2 Corinthians 3:18 ~ But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
The greatest person in the universe is God. He is transcendent, eternal, infinite, self-sufficient, sovereign, just… He is the all-knowing and all-wise being to whom the angels cry out day and night, “Holy, holy, holy!” These holy angels who’ve never sinned and have remained in their perfect created state need to shield their faces from the brilliant radiance of His glory (cf. Isa 6:2). If He were to unleash the fullness of His splendor upon us right now, we would all fall dead instantly (cf. Exo 33:20). So when Paul states in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that believers are able to behold God’s glory, we scratch our heads and wonder what he means. Is it possible for saved sinners to actually see the glory of God?
This verse has transformed my life. I’ve probably read it hundreds of times. But it was only when I studied it and took the time to ponder it, that by God’s grace, the amazing truths packed into this one verse changed everything – truths of God’s glory, faith, sanctification, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray it will grip your heart and light a passion in you for the glory of Christ! Look with me at three profound truths from this single verse.
The first truth is that all believers have access to the glory of God. Paul states, “But we all, with unveiled face.” Earlier in verses 14-16, Paul says that believers have had the veil of their hearts taken away through faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, the very moment we are saved, the veil has been lifted from our eyes so that we can see the glory of God for the first time. And this access to see Him is never impeded, but always available to us as His children (cf. Heb 4:16).
This ought to give our hearts great hope! No matter where we are at, no matter how “stuck” we feel spiritually, no matter if we haven’t seen His glory in a long time, if we belong to Him, we have had the veil removed from our hearts and we can behold His glory once more!
The second truth is that the glory of God is the supernatural source for our spiritual transformation. The grammar of this verse proves this point (Let’s go back to grade school grammar, shall we?). The subject and main verb of this sentence is: “We all… are being transformed.” Then there is a participial phrase that shows how this happens: by “beholding the glory of the Lord.” So how are believers transformed? By beholding the glory of the Lord. But how can we behold it without dying? And where can we go to see it today?
A few verses later in 4:6, Paul describes where the glory of God is revealed… “in the face of Christ.” In other words, the glory of God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and specifically, according to 4:4, “the gospel of the glory of Christ.” The Gospel encompasses the great work of Christ in His death and resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-4). So according to Paul, the glory of God can be clearly seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But why is this so? Why does the death and resurrection of Christ reveal God’s glory most clearly? It’s because no other event in human history reveals the love, grace, and mercy of God more than the Cross work of Jesus. John Piper writes…
“All things are created and guided and sustained for the glory of God, which reaches its apex in the glory of His grace, which shines most brightly in the glory of Christ, which comes to focus most clearly in the glory of the Cross.”
Therefore, seeing the beauty and wonder of God’s love and grace for sinners like us through the excruciating, agonizing, shocking death of His beloved Son is the means for our spiritual transformation. Paul says we “behold” it, which simply means we believe it (cf. John 6:40). We trust in it. We walk by faith in “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). And when we do, the supernatural power of God through the Holy Spirit changes everything about us – our motives, our desires, our attitudes, our affections, our thoughts, our words and our works (cf. Gal 5:22-23).
This leads us to the third truth… true spiritual transformation takes place from the inside out. The word “transformed” is where we get our English word “metamorphosis.” It speaks of a total and complete change in a person’s fundamental character. It’s change at the deepest level of our being, at the heart. And this internal transformation will inevitably and joyfully lead to obedience to the will of God. There is no room for “cheap grace” or licentious living when we’re dealing with God’s powerful grace.
When we continue to behold the glory of God in the gospel work of Jesus Christ, our hearts are transformed with a profound love for Christ! And this love motivates us to joyfully live for Him, no matter what the cost may be. Just as the forgiven woman in Luke 7 endured the public shame and ridicule at the home of Simon the Pharisee so that she could demonstrate her loving devotion to Jesus Christ (v. 38), our hearts will be willing and longing to do anything in order to please and glorify Jesus!
So there you have it. Yes, we can behold God’s glory today. Not visibly with our eyes, but with the eyes of our hearts. We can see the amazing, everlasting glory of God in the truth of the Cross-work of Jesus Christ. Maybe your Christian life has been on “cruise control” and you’re not sure how to get out of the lukewarm rut you’re in. Maybe you’re suffering under a heavy trial and you’re responses aren’t very godly. Maybe you’re battling a recurring temptation to sin… again. Maybe you’re doubting God’s great love for you because of the weight of sin’s guilt. Whatever the struggle may be, know this truth, that Jesus Christ can bring instant and powerful change to your heart and life.
So run quickly to the resurrected Christ. Gaze into the depths of His sufferings. And think of what He did in order to demonstrate the infinite depths of His love for great sinners like us!
John Piper, “Why Did God Create the World,” Sermon Manuscript from Desiring God (http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/why-did-god-create-the-world), March 21, 2013.