Sunday, July 10, 2016

They Will Come to Us

I’m not going to talk about Noah this week. I’m not even going to talk about Genesis. Instead, I want to follow up on something. Last week I said, ‘They will come to us’. I was talking about what I anticipate will happen when the lives of so many around us will fail. At that point they will see how the lives of Christians are working. They will see that, and they will wonder. And, as a result, they will come to us to ask how we do it.  I want to return to that comment and explain it. There are ideas included here that we Christians need to understand so that when the hard times do come we will be prepared to take advantage of them.

I’m going to start by saying something that might sound a bit odd. I’m going to do this so that my main point will stand out all the more clearly. Most of us have been taught that one rather important part of being a Christian is going to people with the express purpose of telling them the Gospel in the hope that they will believe it. We’ve been taught the importance of personal evangelism. We have been told that this is something that all Christians need to do. Here’s my odd statement. That requirement cannot be found in the Bible. It never teaches that Christians are supposed to do personal evangelism.

Now, I’m thinking that that’s something I had better prove. So, consider the New Testament letters. All sorts of topics relevant to being a Christian and being a church can be found in those letters. But think about it. Is there anything in the letters about how important it is for Christians to do personal evangelism? Can you remember anything like that? You can’t because there isn’t anything like that. I find that very interesting.

Now, someone may respond by saying, ‘Oh, but wait. Surely, Jesus had a lot to say about our doing personal evangelism.’ Actually, He doesn’t. When Jesus talked about spreading the Good News He was either talking to the apostles or to what we would call short-term missionaries. He wasn’t talking to what we would call lay Christians.

And what about Acts? Who’s spreading the Word there? Again it’s the apostles and other church leaders. As you look through the New Testament you will not find any basis for telling lay Christians that they need to do personal evangelism.

So, first point. Jesus does not require you to do personal evangelism. This isn’t to say that it’s wrong to talk to people about Jesus and what He has done. It’s just to say that you are never commanded to do that. It’s not a requirement of faithful Christian living.

At this point an obvious question arises. Then, how will the Gospel spread if we don’t go and tell people? That’s the right question. And this is where my comment from last week fits. The assumption of the New Testament writers is that we won’t need to go to them because they will come to us.

This idea is not just something that I gather from the silence of the Bible about personal evangelism. This is actually something that Scripture states. Here’s one example. It’s a prophecy from Zechariah about our times.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ Zechariah 8.23

In the context Zechariah describes how God will be at work in the lives of His people. And news of this surprising work will spread to the nations, to the Gentiles, who then, will come to God’s people with their request. It is God working in the lives of His people, changing them, that attracts this attention. It’s the Immanuel principle at work. And it is because of this that unbelievers will say to the saints,

Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.

They will come to us. This highlights a major weakness in what I was taught about evangelism. The stress was on giving them content. There was little, if anything, about letting them see our changed lives.

The passage that I think is so very clear about this way of thinking about evangelism is found in 1 Peter. Peter is writing to Christians who were trying to live holy lives. But, in one way or another, the sinful responses of the world around them made that very difficult. These saints were suffering, some greatly. Peter’s persistent counsel was to call them to submit to those in authority over them and not to retaliate. He urged them to entrust themselves to their God. Listen to one place where Peter expressed that.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2.18-23

Peter explains that suffering is part of their calling to be Christians. There are holy ways for them to respond to that suffering, ways that not only honor Christ but also advance His kingdom. Submission. No retaliation. Entrusting themselves to God.

This is where Peter’s words about evangelism fit.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3.13-15

Peter tells these saints that their oppressors will see how they respond to the terrible suffering they are enduring. Submission. No retaliation. Entrusting themselves to God. And seeing this response, their oppressors will come asking their question. ‘How do you do that?’ They know that they would not respond in that manner. So, they wonder how these Christians can. At that point these saints are to explain the hope of the Gospel. ‘This is how I do it.’ And as a result, there would be those who would believe that Gospel and join them. Peter is simply establishing the principle: they will come to us. And in the absence of any commands to do personal evangelism this principle speaks loudly.

I think that you can see how this relates to us. Hard times are coming. We are going to suffer because we are Christians. But as we heed Peter’s counsel, our oppressors will see our lives and how we imitate Jesus in our suffering. Submission. No retaliation. Entrusting ourselves to God. And seeing that, they will come to us. The evidence of a life changed by Jesus is so much more potent than a canned pitch about religious ideas.

Now, all of that explains my basic point. They will come to us. But their coming to us is not automatic. There are things that we need to do for that to happen. Peter mentions two. The first has to do with the Lordship of Jesus. Listen again to Peter.

… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts …

If we are going to have lives that will get our oppressors to stop and wonder, we need to grapple with the Lordship of Jesus. He is Lord over everything, including us. So, our lives are not our own. They do not belong to us to do with as we choose. Our lives belong to Jesus for Him to do with as He chooses. This way of living makes no sense to the people of our culture. ‘This is my life, and I’ll decide what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. And no one can tell me otherwise.’ That’s the thinking of the world. But it’s a sad fact that there are so many Christians who pursue life in pretty much the same way. Actually, isn’t that already beginning to happen? 

The Lordship of Jesus is an aspect of the Gospel that is greatly neglected these days. It may be talked about in the abstract, but there are too many who don’t live it in the details. And when the cultural pressure to conform becomes too great, there will be many who will give in and redefine Christianity in ways that our culture will accept. It is submitting to Jesus as Lord that will result in the suffering, and it is appealing to Jesus as Lord that will give hope in the midst of that suffering.

So, we need to be continually comparing what Jesus calls us to be with who we actually are. As we do that we will find many places where we are missing the boat. That’s to be expected. We still sin. It’s what we do once we see that gap that will make the difference. And we’re back to repentance and faith. So, consider the various areas of your life. How are you doing at submitting to Jesus’ calling about who you are to be? How is it going in your marriage or your relationship with your children or the relationship that you children have with your parents? Is the Lordship of Jesus something that shows at the job? You will find many ways that Jesus’ Lordship is already affecting how you live. And that’s good. But you will also find gaps between what is and what ought to be. Respond wisely. We need to grapple with the Lordship of Jesus.

Here’s the other thing to consider when it comes to applying Peter’s counsel to your life. Are you ready to give an answer when they come to you? Giving an outline of the Gospel - God, man, sin, Christ, faith - won’t work. The last thing someone in this culture will want is some canned speech about religion. They will want to know how you do it. How does this Jesus thing make it possible for you to live? How would you answer that question? Peter tells us that we need to be ready to have a good answer to that question.

So, here’s a bit of homework. Answer this question: What difference does Jesus make in your life? Don’t answer that you’re saved and on your way to heaven. People today are not interested in that. And don’t think in terms of some great spiritual experience you had twenty years ago. People will want to know what Jesus is doing in your life now. So, what difference does Jesus make in your life? How will you answer that? Now, let me warn you. I just might ask you what you come up with. So, work on that this week. If they are going to come to us we need to be ready.

Jesus rebuked some people because they could not interpret the signs of the times. We need to understand what is going on in our world. As I understand that, we are in for some hard times. It is my great desire that all of you will be ready for those hard times and for the opportunities that will come with them.

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