The World’s Trouble: Chapter 11

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 11

Many efforts have been made to distill Christianity to its irreducible essence. Can we find the one or two things to point to that are essential? Of course, there has been no consensus on the conclusions of such searches. I can’t speak for everyone’s motives who have taken up the task, but I am suspicious of the effort. No one has a moist and beautifully iced piece of cake set before them and wants to know the one essential ingredient and just have that instead of the whole piece. The whole piece has many ingredients that have been mixed together, baked, cooled, and iced. To speak of the essence of the cake is to make no sense, for it all put together and on the plate is the point. Just as there is no getting the spilt milk back in the jug, there is no breaking down the baked cake and just getting the salt out. It all hangs together.

So, when I speak of breaking down the atonement into four parts and considering them, I’m not making an effort at finding irreducible essence. I’m not making a case for any one of the parts standing alone. In keeping with the confectionary analogy, I’m not trying to get the salt out of the baked cake but rather trying to explain the part the salt plays, or the reason it’s mixed in to begin with. I don’t know why I’m talking about cake so much. Perhaps I’m hungry. Nevertheless, I better leave off this analogy because I don’t know what part salt plays in baking a cake and am frankly surprised that it’s an ingredient at all in something that is supposed to be sweet.

At the heart of salvation is the truth of substitution, by which I mean the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the place of the sinner. Though it is a hard truth, it is also a beautiful truth. Various cultures throughout history have recognized the beauty of sacrifice—one laying down his life for another. Oral and literature traditions celebrate it as noble. Not all see it this way. Well known atheist and writer, the late Christopher Hitchens, used to denounce what he called “vicarious redemption” as immoral and evil 1. He had an uphill battle to convince people that the concept of sacrifice for another was ugly as an immoral evil and his charge petered out before he made the first bench.

The early teaching of the law in Scripture was the necessity of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. The author of Hebrews emphasized this when he wrote, “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). He pointed out the necessity of sacrifice, such that without it there is no remission or forgiveness. The law identified different kinds of sins and the sacrifices that had to be made for them.

And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing; And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.
– Leviticus 5:5-6

And the priest shall make an atonement for him as touching his sin that he hath sinned in one of these, and it shall be forgiven him: and the remnant shall be the priest’s, as a meat offering.
– Leviticus 5:13

The Levitical system was a repetitive system of sacrifice with all the regular sacrifices and the Day of Atonement sacrifices, which were repeated annually. The author of Hebrews pointed out that the Levitical system made a remembrance of sins and did not do away with sins since the sacrifices had to be continually repeated.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
– Hebrews 10:1-4

He went to say that if sins were actually forgiven by these substitutionary sacrifices, then there would be no more need of sacrifices (Hebrews 10:18). The blood of bulls and goats was not an acceptable substitution for men and women. Therefore, the law shows the need for a better substitute and a better sacrifice.

The prophets foretold of the coming Messiah who is the perfect substitute and who would make the perfect substitutionary sacrifice. Isaiah wrote of him as being the one who could bear sins in the place of people to secure actual forgiveness of sins and the blessing of the new covenant that sins are done away completely and remembered “no more” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
– Isaiah 53:3-11

Jesus made clear he was the promised Messiah and substitute for sinners. He said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He went to say more explicitly, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). All those whom Jesus laid down his life for will have “eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:28). He is the perfect substitute and only needed to make one sacrifice to secure eternal salvation (Hebrews 10:12, 14).

The substitution of Jesus Christ in the place of sinners is at the heart of the Gospel. Paul wrote, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Paul further explained this substitution, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is no greater news than that there is a Savior who is able to take our place by bearing our sins and satisfying the wrath God that through believing in him we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God (Colossians 1:14; John 3:36).

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

If you wish to read all the chapters in order you may do so here.

Notes:

  1. Hitchens, C. & Wilson, D., Is Christianity good for the world? (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2009), 22-23.

Sovereignty Can Be Taxing

Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
~ Romans 13:7

. . . At least to the brain anyway.

By sovereignty, I mean God’s supremacy in power and purpose over all his creation. We can produce various well-known passages that attest to the fact (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Isaiah 46:10-11; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11). The bare assertion of God’s sovereignty doesn’t evoke many complaints among a lot of professing Christians. However, when we begin to press implications of it, people start moaning. When we bring human responsibility alongside it, there is generally weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The “problem” of reconciling God’s sovereignty with human responsibility is not a new one. The oldest book in the Bible is the book of Job and it wrestles with these questions throughout. Every preacher, theologian, professor, and pew-sitter has wrestled with this question. History has produced a lot of words on the subject. We tend to think the question ought to be settled by now or else it cannot be this side of eternity. I don’t think it really is the problem it’s made out to be. I’m not being flippant, so let me explain.

It is not a problem

Let’s get the problem before us. Since God is sovereign and works all things according to his own will, then he has willed all things concerning me. He has willed my birth, death, and all the happy or unhappy business in between. How then can I be responsible and accountable to him? Since God has sovereignly chosen from before the foundation of the world all those who will be saved (Ephesians 1:4-6, 11-12; Romans 8:28-30; 9:11-16; Acts 13:48), how can he hold accountable those who are lost? And why should we then preach the Gospel to every creature? There are other questions along this line, but the problem is thus far sufficiently represented.

This problem though is not a problem theologically or exegetically. By theology, I mean the summarizing and systematizing of the Bible’s teaching on a given subject. We do this when we speak of the doctrine of the atonement, or the doctrine of regeneration, etc. We can summarize and systematize the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty. Doing so produces no internal inconsistencies within the category. The Bible teaches in whole that God is absolutely sovereign, does as he wills, cannot be thwarted, and is under no obligations to his creation. We can also summarize and systematize the Bible’s teaching on the responsibility and accountability of man toward God. The Bible teaches in whole that man is responsible to acknowledge God as God, worship God as God, and to obey God as God. The Bible also teaches in whole that man is accountable to God for his failure, neglect, or refusal to acknowledge, worship, and obey God. This summary of Bible teaching produces no internal inconsistencies in the category. This is why I say there is no problem with God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility theologically.

There is also no problem exegetically. By exegesis, I mean the proper interpretation of a passage of Scripture according to context, grammar, setting, etc. Any individual passage we properly interpret will teach God is sovereign. Likewise, any individual passage we properly interpret will teach man is responsible and accountable to God. There is no passage properly interpreted that says God is not sovereign or man is not responsible. We cannot find any two passages that contradict each other on this subject when they are properly interpreted. This is why I say there is no exegetical problem.

It is a problem

If it is not a problem in the Bible, then why all the fuss and bother? I grant there is a lot of fuss and bother. There are a couple of ways the problem is a problem. It is a problem philosophically. When we think on the two teachings and try to bring them together in our minds, we have a problem. Every Christian wrestles with this problem at some point if they think about it at all. However, if anyone comes to an existential crisis over it, I assure you, it’s all in your head.

I realize that could be a fantastically rude thing to say to somebody in anguish over this problem, so let me illustrate my point to show you it isn’t really a problem. All Americans know April 15th is “Tax Day.” This is the deadline for filing state and federal income taxes. I assume my readers are law-abiding citizens who filed their taxes by the deadline. Bear with me a little in my folly here, but what is involved in filing taxes? You know the routine. You have to scrounge around under the floor mats of the car, between the cushions on the couch, and behind the desk to find all your receipts. You have to access your records. You have to assemble them in some order, fill in the forms, and file them electronically or by mail. You may also hire someone to do the last part, but you still have to do the first part.

So, why did you do it? Some will say, “It’s the law. I have to do it.” Yes, yes, but why did you yourself do all the work that is involved in filing taxes? Why didn’t you just leave off all that work and worry because if God willed for your taxes to be done they would be done and you wouldn’t have to worry about it or do anything? Is there anyone who struggled with their taxes and came to a crisis because you wanted to do your taxes but weren’t sure if God willed for your taxes to be done and you didn’t want to violate his will?

You probably dislike doing taxes and may have grumbled in many ways, but you didn’t have a problem doing your taxes because of the sovereignty of God. This is why I say the problem of sovereignty and responsibility is all in your head and isn’t a real problem. Does anyone wake up the morning and remain motionless in bed because if God willed for you to go to work, that will happen whether you did anything to that end or not? No, you don’t do that and I don’t do that. Neither one of us then has a real problem with sovereignty and responsibility.

I have also found it often to be a problem of convenience. When men want to rationalize their disobedience, say to the commission to evangelize for example, they attribute their lack of doing it to a great respect for God’s sovereignty and their desire to not go against his will. I call foul. The Bible unambiguously and consistently teaches men are responsible to obey every word of God and will be held accountable for not doing it. This includes the command to preach the Gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8).

An Evangelism Story

I am a debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and the unwise.
– Romans 1:14

An encouragement with practical helps.

Most Fridays I work from home instead of going into town where my office is. Not last Friday. I was behind on things and needed to get caught up and have access to my printers, so I went to the office. About the middle of the day, I was getting hungry. I went to the store to get some lunch meat and cheese to make a wrap back at the office. When I got back to the office, there was a man I had never seen before raking leaves in front of the building. I greeted him with a smile and went in.

I was putting away my things and preparing to make my lunch. It had only been a couple of minutes since I had come in and I heard a knock on the door. It was the man I had seen earlier. He asked if he could ask me a favor. He went on to explain that he was trying to get a job and he needed to get home so he could go get his ID. He told me how he had been trying to find work and the other man that worked there was the only one that had helped him out. (He was talking about the owner of the building. Apparently, he had paid him something to rake up the leaves around the building.) He told me that he felt like he had already done so much for him, he hated to ask him for anything else. I asked him where he lived and he told me. It was across town. I told him I would give him a ride and asked for just a couple minutes to put my things away and get my coat.

I put my stuff up quickly and rummaged around in my office but I didn’t have any more tracts. I hurriedly pulled one up on the computer and printed it out. I hurriedly texted a couple of brothers to ask them to pray. I grabbed my coat and stuck the tract in my pocket. I went out to the street and we got in my truck. I asked him his name and told him mine. As I pulled away from the curb I knew that we could spend the time in idle chit-chat or I could use the time to witness to him. He had already asked me what kind of work I did there and I had told him. In order to put myself thoroughly in the soup from the outset, I told him, as we were pulling away, that I was also a pastor. I told a little about our church, described where it was by the landmarks he knew, and invited him as best as I knew how so that he would know that he was welcome to visit.

I asked a couple of questions and he told me that he had been in prison for ten years and recently got out. He told me he had four children and twelve grandchildren in another state. He talked about his struggles and how hard it was as he was trying to get his life together. I told him I had seven children and knew that it can be hard to keep above water sometimes. I told him I would be praying for him and that I would tell the church and we would all be praying for him.

He had mentioned God a couple of times and kept talking about trying to get his life together. I told him that I did not believe in accidents. I believed God had brought us together that day. I asked him directly, “How is your relationship to God?” He admitted that it was not very good. He went on to talk about how he was trying and he needed to do better. I told him that no matter who we are, we can never do enough to make ourselves acceptable to God. I couldn’t do it and neither could he. I told him that sometimes people think we need to clean ourselves up in order to pray to God and be forgiven. I told him that one of the amazing things about the Gospel is that we don’t clean ourselves up in order to come to God. We come to him as we are, confessing our sins, repenting, and trusting only in Jesus Christ. I told him God cleans us up by washing us in the blood of Jesus Christ who died that sinners could be forgiven. I explained the Gospel to him as well as I could in a couple of minutes.

I asked him if there was anything specific we could pray for him about. He mentioned work again and that he really needed a job. He asked me to drop him at the corner, so I pulled over. I said if he had just a minute I wanted to pray with him before he got out. He agreed. I took off my hat, bowed my head, and called out to God to have mercy on him, to open his eyes to Jesus Christ and to find forgiveness in him alone. I asked God to manifest himself to him by opening the door for him to get the work he needed.

With tears in my eyes, I invited him to church again and told him I would be happy to see him there. I had never seen him before in my life and may never see him again. God knows. I came back to my office and prayed. I hope the Lord saves him. I hope that my motives were right and I left a blessed memory (Proverbs 10:7) where he will know that he needed help and he met a man on the street named Jeff who helped him and cared about him. I pray he will come to praise and glorify God because of it.

Why tell this story?

I do not tell you this story to make myself look like a hero. I could tell you about many failures. I have not done as much I should in life. A year or so ago I was leaving my office to get to church for the Wednesday service. While walking to my vehicle, I met a man that asked me for help and I told him I was sorry but I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have anything, not even a dime on me. I got into the vehicle and immediately felt a weight of rebuke on me. I pulled out and went down the street to find the man, determined to do what I could for him and to share the Gospel with him. I drove all around two or three blocks and didn’t see him anywhere. I have no idea where he could have gone in such a short time. I drove away knowing I had neglected my responsibility and an opportunity.

I tell this to encourage and I want us to encourage one another. I was overwhelmed by the encounter I had that Friday. I have had others that didn’t go that well. I couldn’t seem to think of good things to say or couldn’t get the conversation to go right. Honestly, every one of us knows enough to have the conversation I had. I had not prepared beforehand. In fact, I had been distracted with my mind overwhelmed all week long. I know it wasn’t the greatest evangelism encounter in the last 100 years, but I believe the Spirit helped me in one of the most powerful ways I’ve experienced in a long time. I don’t know all God’s purposes in it, though I know they will be accomplished.

A few lessons learned along the way

Let me try to encourage by sharing some things I see in this encounter and others that will help us in our personal evangelism. These are just some practical things I’ve learned. My goal is to help someone get started. I am thinking mostly about cold-contact evangelism on the street where the encounter may be a one-time event.

     • We have to be willing to do it. We have to be willing to talk to people and especially the kind of people society teaches us to avoid. The example I have given is where someone came up to me to ask for help. I have found that people who really do have a need are much more open to talk to. People that come up to us may only be looking for a handout or may even be trying to swindle us with a fake story, but it is an opportunity handed to us to witness the Gospel to them.

     • It takes humility to connect with people. If we think of ourselves as better than them on some level, we will be condescending and they will know it. We have to be sincere in what we are doing.

     • We must be willing to listen to what they are saying, empathize with them, and respond to what they are saying. In other words, we need to have an actual conversation as far as we can and not give them a door-to-door salesman’s pitch. This goes along with the previous point and we must be concerned about the people we talk to. Evangelism is not a quota to meet.

     • We can have a hard time turning conversations sometimes. We initiate contact and quickly get sidetracked and struggle to bring the conversation to the Gospel. One way to help this is to step right in it early on. Tell them your first name, and that you are a Christian, and invite them to church. Give them a tract or card. This way you have at least put the conversation on a certain track quickly and also committed yourself to it.

     • We can sometimes get an opening to talk further by telling them we’re going to pray for them and then asking them if there is some specific need we can pray for them about. Again, we must be sincere and not trying to use a gimmick. We should be prepared to pray for them if we can right there. It’s a way of disarming a person and sometimes it opens the flood gates.

     • If we have listened, there have probably been a few cues we can use to bring the conversation to the Gospel. I noticed how the man I met kept talking about trying to get his life together and I used that to talk about how we cannot get ourselves together before God. It led easily to the Gospel and our need for repentance.

     • As a general rule it’s probably not a good idea to give money to people on the street. If someone tells me they need gas, food, or something like that, I usually offer to go get it for them. Few take me up on that offer. Some have. There is no playbook for how things are going to go. We should at least try to get something of the Gospel to people in every encounter.

Our job is to sow the seed and trust God for the results. Some people will refuse to talk or take anything from you. Some may want to argue with you. Some may be indifferent. Some may seem interested and give you openings to talk further. Remember we have successfully evangelized when we have made the Gospel clear to another person. We should always be inviting them to church. We also have to be willing to follow up. We have to be willing to receive them when they show up at church. We certainly must pray for them that God will work effectually in them.

The rest of the story

So what happened to the man I talked to that day? He came to our service the Sunday after I had met him. I was encouraged by that. I had a fairly long conversation with him after service that was mostly disappointing. He told me a lot of things about himself and his life. I don’t know if they were true or not. He may have been partially honest with me, completely honest, or lying about everything. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since.

We also have to realize we are going to have disappointments. Sometime we may invest in a person over a long time only to have them fall away. It can be painful. I pray for him. I am concerned about him. I have no idea what will happen with him. I am thankful that I at least had the opportunity to give him the Gospel and I pray God will use it to his salvation even if I never see him again.

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