Evangelism 101 – Know Your Sins

In our Sunday evening worship services I have been preaching a series on Evangelism. We’ve looked at what it means to share the gospel, the pitfalls many encounter when giving a testimony, and will soon be considering (when the weather allows us to come back together) what is essential in sharing the faith.  Within that greater conversation, I thought I would share this excerpt from the Memoirs of Robert Murray McCheyne.  This is a letter he wrote as a pastor to a young girl who has inquired about whether it is necessary to be convinced of one’s sins before salvation.

I think this worth sharing because it is a completely different approach to how many do evangelism today.  We tend today to focus on the benefits of salvation, without ever really explaining why we need salvation in the first place.  Telling people they are sinners, and sinners to the very core of their being is unpalatable, offensive, and not the preferred method of witnessing today. Yet, as McCheyne points out, almost 180 years ago, “you will never go to Christ, the heavenly Physician, unless you feel that your soul is sick even unto death.”

To a Soul Seeking Jesus—No. I.
Seek to Know Your Corruption
Dundee, 1841.

ACCORDING to promise, I sit down to talk with you a little concerning the great things of an eternal world. How kind it is in God that He has given us such an easy way of  communicating our thoughts, even at a distance! My only reason for writing to you is, that I may direct your soul to Jesus, the sinner’s friend. “This man receiveth sinners.” I would wish much to know that you were truly united to Christ, and then, come life, come death, you will be truly and eternally happy.

Do you think you have been convinced of sin? This is the Holy Spirit’s work, and His first work upon the soul (John 16:8; Acts 2:37). If you did not know your body was dangerously ill, you would never have sent for your physician; and so you will never go to Christ, the heavenly Physician, unless you feel that your soul is sick even unto death. Oh! pray for deep discoveries of your real state by nature and by practice. The world will say you are an innocent and harmless girl; do not believe them. The world is a star. Pray to see yourself exactly as God sees you; pray to know the worth of your soul. Have you seen yourself vile, as Job saw himself (Job 42:5, 6); undone, as Isaiah saw himself (Isa. 6:1, 5)? Have you experienced anything like Psalm 51? I do not wish you to feign humility before God, nor to use expressions of self–abhorrence which you do not feel; but pray that the Holy Spirit may let you see the very reality of your natural condition before God!

I seldom get more than a glance at the true state of my soul in its naked self. But when I do, then I see that I am wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). I believe every member of our body has been a servant of sin (Rom. 3:13, 18)—throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, eyes. Every faculty of our mind is polluted (Gen. 6:5). Besides, you have long neglected the great salvation; you have been gainsaying and disobedient. Oh, that you were brought to pass sentence on yourself, guilty of all! Hear what a dear believer writes of himself: “My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination, like an infinite deluge, or mountains  over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. When I look into my heart and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deep, and yet it seems to me that my conviction of sin is exceeding small and faint.”

Perhaps you will ask, Why do you wish me to have such a discovery of my lost condition? I answer, that you may be broken off from all schemes of self–righteousness; that you may never look into your poor guilty soul to recommend you to God; and that you may joyfully accept of the Lord Jesus Christ, who obeyed and died for sinners. Oh, that your heart may cleave to Christ! May you forsake all, and follow Jesus Christ. Count everything loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. You never will stand righteous before God in yourself. You are welcome this day to stand righteous before God in Jesus. Pray over Philippians 3:7, 9. I will try to pray for you. Grace be with you.

Bonar, Andrew A., and R.M. McCheyne. Memoir and Remains of R.M. McCheyne. electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996. Print.

Six Short Rules for Christians

This week I came upon the writings of Brownlow North, one of the great evangelists of Scotland in the 19th century.  Born in 1810 into a family known for its history of Parliamentary and Church leaders, Brownlow lived a worldly life, a sportsman, soldier and country gentleman.  A biographical piece from Banner of Truth writes,

as a youth he was sent to Eton where he became known as ‘Gentleman Jack’. Life was one long round of self-indulgence. He grew up as a constant smoker, a heavy drinker and a notorious gambler and admitted, ‘My greatest idea of pleasure was to shoot grouse and catch salmon.’

After 44 years of turning his back on God and defying the Church, Brownlow wholeheartedly “gave his heart to Christ,” after what’s best described as a near death experience.  You can read more of his biography here.

The story goes, after he was saved, he became good friends with his pastor, as was asked on one occasion to preach in the pastor’s absence.  The congregation was so upset that Brownlow would be preaching, they left a letter in the pulpit documenting all of his public sins.  Humbly, Brownlow read the letter to the congregation, and told them there were many more sins that Christ had forgiven as well, and that if Christ could forgive him those great sins, Christ could forgive them also.

As we have been encouraging continued maturity and spiritual development here at Lennox Ebenezer, I thought I’d share with you what are known as Brownlow North’s Six Short Rules For Christians:

  1. Never neglect daily private prayer; and when you pray, remember that God is present, and that He hears your prayers. (Heb 11:6).
  2. Never neglect daily private Bible reading; and when you read remember that God is speaking to you, and that you are to believe and act upon what He says. I believe all backsliding begins with the neglect of these two rules. (John 5:39).
  3. Never let a day pass without trying to do something for Jesus. Every night reflect on what Jesus has done for you, and then ask yourself, “What am I doing for Him”? (Matt 5:13-16).
  4. If you are in doubt as to a thing being right or wrong, go to your room and kneel down and ask God’s blessing on it. (Col 3:17). If you cannot do this, it is wrong. (Rom 14:23).
  5. Never take your Christianity from Christians, or argue that because such and such people do so and so, therefore, you may. (2 Cor 10:12). You are to ask yourself, “How would Christ act in my place”? And strive to follow Him (John 10:27).
  6. Never believe what you feel, if it contradicts God’s Word. Ask yourself, “Can what I feel be true if God’s Word is true”? And if both cannot be true, believe God and make your own heart the liar. (Rom 3:4; 1 John 5:10-11).

One in Christ

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12–13

We have our annual congregational meeting tonight, a time to give thanks to God for His grace that has brought us thus far, and a time to recommit ourselves as a church to trusting in that same grace to lead us forward in ministry together.  

As I was preparing for my Pastor’s report for the meeting, I came upon my notes from when I read through Jerry Bridges’ book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia.  Bridges does a fantastic job of defining koinonia (a Greek word that is best translated as “fellowship”) to mean more than just the social activities of the church, but has more to do with the idea of community in Christ.

Bridges writes:

It is not the fact that we are united in common goals or purposes that makes us a community. Rather, it is the fact that we share a common life in Christ. There are many organizations, both secular and Christian, whose members work together to pursue common goals. Some of these groups may call themselves communities. But biblical community goes much deeper than sharing common goals, though it ultimately involves that. Biblical community is first of all the sharing of a common life in Christ. It is when we grasp this truth that we are in a position to begin to understand true community.

We share the life of Christ together as the Church.  It is wonderful to have a place that cares for you, that shares in the joys and sorrows of your life; a place where everyone knows your name.

But the Church, the true fellowship of Christ, must go deeper. The Church is one, not because of a shared interest in music, or because of the local projects and activities it offers. The Church is one because it is in Christ, and Christ must be at the center of our fellowship, of our life together. 

Bridges goes on to write:

How different is our present-day concept of fellowship? Take those typical times of “coffee fellowship.” We discuss everything else except the Scriptures. We talk about our jobs, our studies, our favorite sports teams, the weather — almost anything except what God is teaching us from His Word and through His workings in our lives. If we are to regain the New Testament concept of fellowship within the community, we must learn to get beyond the temporal issues of the day and begin to share with each other on a level that will enhance our spiritual relationships with one another and with God.

I am thankful to be able to serve Christ’s Church, and to serve a Church that loves to share in one another’s lives. Let’s be intentional about that this year. As we meet for fellowship, get caught up on the kids and their lives, but also be sure to ask about what the Lord has been teaching them as they’ve been reading Scripture this week, or what they learned from the sermon that morning.  Encourage one another to come to Bible Study or Sunday School, find out how you can be praying for one another.  Let us celebrate the blessing of being one in Christ, and may we grow in our shared life together.

Grace and peace!

Excerpts from: Bridges, Jerry. True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia . Navpress. Kindle Edition. 

Return to Me…

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;  and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12–13)

Last week I shared from the prophet Hosea what is often considered the Gospel of the Old Testament – Hosea chapter three.  It is the story of Hosea redeeming his wife, Gomer, from a life of infidelity and adultery, as an illustration of the way in which God has redeemed His people from their sins and idolatry through His love in Jesus Christ.

Turning this week to the prophet Joel, we hear again the heart of God calling us to repentance for our sins.  The word of the Lord comes to Joel as a message of judgment and destruction in the Day of the Lord. The punishment is extreme, as locusts destroying the harvest, or deep famine reaching across the land.  The Day of he Lord is a day of wrath for the sins of the nations.

Yet in the midst of the destruction there is a call from the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart…”  This is a call to repentance, given to the elders down to the nursing infants.  All are called to repent, that they may escape the coming judgment.

In the two verses given above (2:12-13), I see three keys to genuine repentance:

  1. Repentance is always a response to the call of the Lord.  Notice in Joel that it is the Lord who calls the people to repentance, to return to the Lord.  This isn’t Joel’s pleading with the people, but the Lord Himself calling His people back home.
    This is essential. No one may come to Christ unless the Father calls them (John 6:44), no one seeks the Lord unless He first draws them unto Him. Apart from God’s gracious call, no one would return to Him.  Our repentance always follows the gracious call of the Lord, the effectual call of His Holy Spirit.
  2. Repentance must be genuine.  In the Scriptures tearing your clothes was a universal sign of anguish and repentance, mourning over calamity and distress.  But it was simply that, a sign.  It signified something happening within, a sign of the heartfelt sorrow and grief over sin or trouble. The sign of torn cloths meant little, what was essential was the contrition of the heart.
    How many times is our “repenting” merely a sign, never really reaching to our hearts?  We confess sins, generally, but never bring ourselves to utter those sins that have their hooks in our hearts.  We’re comfortable keeping our repentance on the surface, “God I am a sinner,” but rarely will we get real in rending our hearts, “God, I am an idolator, I am a fraud, I murder with my thoughts and words.
    God calls His people to repent, and that repentance must be genuine and sincere.
  3. Repentance turns us to the grace and mercy of God. We must never forget that our repentance is a turning from sin and a turning to God. A repentance that dwells in the valley of the shadow of death, mourning sin but never getting past it, is only a partial repentance.  God calls His people to return to Him, for “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Too often we miss out on the joy of salvation repentance brings because we don’t really believe that God will be gracious.  We allow our repentance to make us dour, sour Christians, which is no Christian at all.
    The promise of Joel 3:1 is for all who are in Christ, all who, having heard His call to repent, having turned from their sins, look to the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father.  The promise is that God will restore their fortunes, He will establish them.  As Psalm 126 says, “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

SDG

We are Gomer

The following is an excerpt from James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Minor Prophets.  I’m beginning this year by reading through the minor prophets first, and was immediately reminded of Boice’s love for this chapter as I read through it today. First, read through Hosea 3, then read Boice’s commentary on the chapter. Enjoy!

Hosea 3 (ESV)

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

The Greastest Chapter in the Bible – James Boice

The third chapter of Hosea is, in my judgment, the greatest chapter in the Bible, because it portrays the greatest story in the Bible – the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for his people – in the most concise and poignant form to be found anywhere. Our study of Hosea’s story has already shown that it is a pageant of the love of God for Israel, indeed, for his people in every place and age. But when we ask, “Where in the whole of human history is that love most clearly seen?” the answer is obviously, “At the cross of Christ.” It is that cross and the work accomplished on that cross that is portrayed in this chapter. Hosea 3 shows us God’s work of redemption – the work by which the Lord Jesus Christ delivered us from sin’s bondage at the cost of his own life – portrayed in Hosea’s purchase of his fallen wife from slavery.

Hosea owned his wife. She was his property. He could do anything he wished with her. If he had wanted to kill her out of spite, he could have done it. People might have called him a fool to waste his money on a worthless woman. She might have suffered far more as a slave to some beautiful woman where she wold have been obliged to fetch and serve and carry and watch and never enter into the kind of pleasures that brought her to her state in her first place. Still Hosea could have killed Gomer if he had wanted to. Yet he did not, because at this point Hosea’s love, which is an illustration of God’s love for us, burned brightest. Instead of seeking vengeance, he put Gomer’s clothes on her, led her away into the anonymity of the crowd, and claimed that love from her that was now his right. Moreover, as he did so, he promised no less from himself.

Does God love like that? Yes, God loves like that! God steps into the marketplace of sin and buys us out of sin’s bondage by the death of Christ. We read in our Bibles, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16). We ask, “What does so mean?” The answer is in Hosea’s story. When we see Hosea standing in the marketplace under orders from God to purchase his wife, who had become an adulteress and a slave, we recognize that this is the measure of God’s love.

We are Gomer. We are the slave sold on the auction block of sin. The world bids for us. The world bids fame, wealth, prestige, influence, power – all those things that are the world’s currency. But when all seemed lost, God sent the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, into the marketplace to buy us at the cost of his life.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets: Vol 1 An Expositional Commentary Hosea-Jonah. (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Books, 1983) pg. 31-36.