Biblical Priorities for the Life of the Church: Biblical Priorities For the Life of the Church (10) – Biblical Evangelism

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on February 11, 2007

Matthew 28:18-20

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The Lord’s Day Morning

February 11, 2007

Matthew 28:18-20

Biblical Priorities for Church Life

Biblical Evangelism

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew 28 as we continue to work through this series of messages called “Biblical Priorities for the Life of Our Church.” We’re not simply talking in the abstract here; we’re talking about wanting to be a more faithful biblical local congregation of believers, and we’ve been looking at some of the things that the word expects the local church to be characterized by.

We’ve said in the course of this series that a healthy local church is a church characterized by members who understand the times. They know the particular challenges to the Christian faith and to godliness which are brought about by the context in which they live and serve.

We’ve said that a healthy local congregation has a passion for rich, biblical preaching of the word–for God-glorifying, Christ-exalting worship. And a healthy local church has a passion for truth and for godliness.

We’ve also said that in addition to a passion for truth and godliness, a zeal which is evident in the lives of the congregation individually and collectively…that a healthy local congregation knows that that zeal for truth and godliness, that experience of the transforming work of God is by God translated to the next generation, and throughout the congregation, through the family in the ordinary means of grace.

We said that a healthy local church has an understanding of the gospel. They understand the message of the gospel. They understand the centrality of the gospel, not just to evangelism but to discipleship. The gospel itself is central to the work of the church, to the service of the church, to the lives of believers; and, consequently, that conversion — conversion to Christ — is something that characterizes a healthy local congregation. It’s filled with believers who don’t simply profess faith with their lips, but who have been radically and dramatically transformed by the work of God’s Holy Spirit so that they have a new heart, a new trust, a new desire, and a new life. And it sets them apart from the world around them.

If that’s the case, then it’s also true that a healthy local congregation will have a concern for evangelism. A healthy local congregation will have a concern to make disciples, to spread the news with a view to having men and women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation come to faith in Christ, become His disciples, and experience the same radical transforming work of God’s Holy Spirit that we have experienced. And that’s what we are going to talk about today: Evangelism. And as we do so, I want to draw your attention to four particular things. I want us to make sure that we understand precisely what we’re talking about when we define evangelism. What do we mean by evangelism?

Secondly, I want to make sure that we understand what the proper biblical objective of the Christian is in evangelism. What are we aiming for when we do evangelism? What’s our aim? What’s our goal? What do we want to see result from our faithful evangelism?

Thirdly, I want us to look at the manner — or the way, or the mode — that we are to do evangelism. We need to be asking ourselves, “What are we supposed to do? What is God asking us to do in His word as we do evangelism?”

And then, finally, I want us to understand very clearly what the power is in evangelism. What is it — or who is it — that brings about the results that we so long to come from our own efforts in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ? We’re going to look at all four of those things. We’re going to begin with Matthew 28:18-20. We’re also going to look at Acts 1 and a couple of other passages that are related, but before we read God’s word, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, we are coming to a passage that is very, very familiar to many, many people that are sitting in this room today. Perhaps not all of us, but many of us have heard this passage read not just once or twice, or even dozens of times, but hundreds of times. Perhaps we have literally heard dozens of messages on it, or that referred to it, and so we are in danger of looking over it and of missing glorious truth in it that You have waiting for us. By Your Spirit, keep that from happening, O God. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in even this very familiar, but gloriously important, passage of Your word. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of God:

“Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

All true Christians care about evangelism, because all true Christians care about Jesus’ last command. And Jesus’ last command, the command that we’ve just read, is that we make disciples. So if we love Him who first loved us, if we are truly disciples of Him who first loved us and who gave Himself for us that He might be our Savior, if we truly love Him, we will care about His last command. If we’re His disciples, we’ll care about making disciples, and so all healthy local churches will have it as a priority to be witnesses to Christ and to be faithful to His last command to go and make disciples. That is, healthy local churches are committed to evangelism.

But perhaps when the word evangelism pops into your mind, you’re immediately thinking ‘Oh, that’s what Billy Graham does.’ Or ‘That’s what Jim Stewart does.’ Or ‘That’s what those folks who take Evangelism Explosion [or “EE”]–that’s what they do.’ But maybe you’re not thinking that evangelism is what you do. But if you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and you are a part of a healthy local church, guess what? God has called you to be a witness and to do evangelism–every single one of us. It’s not for ministers only, elders only, experts only, people who have taken special courses only; it is for all believers to be witnesses and to do the work of evangelism.

Now, if that’s the case, we need to think about evangelism for a few moments, and I want to think about it in four categories. First of all, I want us to make sure that we understand what we’re talking about. What is evangelism? Then I want to think about the goal or the objective, the aim of our evangelism, because I think it will actually help encourage you to get involved in this work if you understand what your goal is. Thirdly, I want us to think about the means: how is it that God wants us to do this? And then finally I want us to realize the power that is at work in evangelism, because I think that too will encourage us. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the task of evangelism, and if we’ll remember the power that is at work in evangelism then we will be encouraged to go into it, even in our own weakness.

I. What is evangelism?

So let’s begin by thinking about what evangelism is. When we say evangelism, what do we mean? How are we defining that? What is it that we are being asked to do when we are being asked to be involved in evangelism?

First of all let me just tell you evangelism is a twentieth century word. It’s not a word that Christians often used in that specific form, even in other languages, prior to the twentieth century. It’s a twentieth century term attached to a New Testament idea. But there is a very good definition of evangelism penned at the beginning of the twentieth century. Under the influence of a godly Archbishop of Canterbury named William Temple, the Anglicans, who were getting together in the early 19-teens to organize for a work of world evangelism, came up with a definition, and that definition goes something like this:

“Evangelism means to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that people may come to put their trust in God through Him; to accept Him as their Savior and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of the church.”

Now that’s actually an excellent definition of evangelism. It entails five components that we’re going to look at in just a few moments. But, hear it again:

“Evangelism is to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that people may come to put their trust in God through Him; to accept Him as their Savior and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of the church.”

What are the components of that definition of evangelism? Five things. Let me point you to them.

First of all, notice that that definition of evangelism says that evangelism is telling the truth. It’s telling the truth about Jesus Christ. It’s presenting the truth about Jesus Christ. In other words, before you can even begin to do evangelism you have to understand the gospel, and you have to be able to communicate the gospel. That, by the way, is why the most important hours for evangelism training in the church every week are Sunday morning and Sunday evening worship, because one of the things we’re trying to do is get a better grasp of the gospel so that we can better communicate the gospel to friends, family, and others who need to know the saving truth about Jesus Christ. And so evangelism begins with telling the truth.

Secondly, notice that this definition makes it very clear that evangelism is presenting a person. Notice how it puts it: “…to present Christ Jesus.” That is, Jesus Christ will be the focal point of the message of evangelism. Our purpose will be to explain who Jesus is and what He has done. Our focus will be to explain how we must respond to Him in faith and in repentance. Jesus Christ will be at the very heart of the message of evangelism. Evangelism isn’t just about the vagaries of God’s love, but it is about the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, in evangelism our goal is not to give someone a system, but to present to someone a person; to bring them to the person of Jesus Christ so that they personally encounter the risen and reigning Lord Jesus Christ, who died for sinners.

So evangelism involves telling the truth and presenting a person, but it also involves depending on God. That’s the third thing. Notice again how they put it: “…to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, in evangelism we are utterly dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit to produce the result that we desire. We are utterly incapable of producing the objective that we are aiming for in evangelism.

Now, my friends, that is so counter-cultural for Americans. We are “can do” folks! I can remember my mother. When I was a boy, I’d say, “Mom, I can’t…” and before the word can’t got out of my mouth, she’d say, “Can’t never did anything…won’t!” And what she meant by that was, “Ligon, you’re saying can’t, but what you really mean is that you won’t do it–not that you can’t do it. You’re just not trying hard enough.” And that’s how Americans are. We think that you can do anything if you just try hard enough.

Well, counter-cultural, counter-intuitive idea, American! God in evangelism calls you to do something that you cannot do. Your aim in evangelism is to see someone become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you can’t make that happen. All you can do is tell the truth. The rest is God’s job. God does not call you to produce the result that you long for; He calls you to be faithful to telling the truth, to presenting the person of Jesus Christ, and depending on Him to produce the result. And by the way, just that one truth would free so many people to be more faithful in sharing the gospel. So, this definition of evangelism involves telling the truth, presenting a person, depending on God.

And, fourthly, aiming for faith and repentance. In other words, in evangelism the person who is sharing the gospel knows that a person cannot become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, cannot become a follower of Jesus Christ, cannot be a person transformed by God’s grace apart from faith and repentance. There must be faith in Jesus Christ; there must be repentance for sin. And listen how the definition puts it:

“…to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit that people may come to put their trust in God through Christ, and to accept Him as their Savior.”

Did you hear both faith and repentance? Christ as the Savior of our sins…so there is repentance, faith in God through Christ. In evangelism we’re not simply wanting someone to assent to a presentation. We’re not just wanting them to say yes to our presentation. What we long for them to do is to put their trust in God through Christ, and to turn from their sins to Christ as their Savior.

And fifthly and finally, additionally to this, in evangelism we are aiming for discipleship in the church…for discipleship in the church. In other words, what we are aiming for is not individualistic. We are not calling people to be spiritual Lone Rangers. What we are doing is we are calling them to be disciples, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, with all the other followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, together with those followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in the local church, and together to magnify the name of the Lord, to grow in grace, to become more like Christ, and to go and to make more disciples. Notice how it puts it in that definition:

“…to serve Him as their King [there’s the discipleship] in the fellowship of His church.”
And so we’re aiming for discipleship in the church.

Now, this definition that I’ve read to you is not from the Bible, but that definition is very biblical. Let me draw your attention to a couple of aspects of that. Look back at a passage we just read. Notice that Jesus says that we have the job of making disciples–and what is the first thing that He says that we are to do? Baptize them. Who does that? The local church. What’s Jesus saying? The place where discipleship is going to happen is the local church, so that the gospel call that goes out that results in disciples being made also results in those disciples being formed and enfolded into, welcomed into the body of Christ–not just universally, though that’s true–but particularly and specifically in a local fellowship and congregation of believers, where they will grow together, where they will serve together, minister together, and tell the truth together as well as live that truth together. And so Jesus, by saying “…make disciples, baptizing them….” Is making it clear that the place where Christian discipleship, where the life of the Christian is to take place, is in the context of the local body of believers. There can be no discipleship apart from the local body of believers. That’s the place where discipleship occurs: in the context of the fellowship of His church. So when we are doing the work of evangelists, our desire is not simply for someone to pray a prayer or sign a card; we want to see them — what? — enfolded into the life of the local church, because that’s the only place where there are disciples. Disciples are not on their own. They’re in the context of the local church.

So that is what evangelism is.

Now we need to say very quickly what evangelism is not.

Evangelism should not be confused with the result of evangelism. We just said this, but let me say it again another way. To evangelize, John Stott once said, “To evangelize does not mean to win converts; it means to announce the good news, irrespective of the result.” Do you understand that? God is not calling you to change another person’s heart. That’s really good news, because you and I can’t do that. No one in here has the power to change another human being’s heart…only the Holy Spirit. But God doesn’t call you to change another person’s heart. God calls you to present Christ. God calls you to share the gospel. God calls you to point people to the word of the cross. God calls you to introduce people to Jesus. He doesn’t call you to change their hearts, to convert them to Christ, to make them into disciples. Yes, it’s your goal that they would become disciples, and so what you do will have a view to their becoming disciples. But it’s His power alone that converts the heart and that makes disciples. If we just understood that, I think many of us would be much more encouraged to be faithful in sharing the truth.

Evangelism is also not social action or cultural influence. All Christians in this room are called to be salt and light in this dying world. All Christians in this room are called to love our neighbors. All Christians in this room are called to love our neighbors, including our unbelieving neighbors, in such a way that we do good to them, we treat them fairly and justly and kindly, that we serve them as we are able. And many Christians in this room are actively involved in loving and serving our community just like that, and it’s very important for evangelism that we do that–but that is not evangelism. It’s related to evangelism. It provides a context. It makes it clear to unbelievers that we really do love them and care about them, but it’s not to be confused with evangelism. Evangelism always involves telling the truth, not just doing these deeds of love and mercy, not just being salt and light…being a positive influence on our culture. As Christians we are called to do that, but in evangelism we are called to tell the truth. These things are related, but they’re not the same thing.

Another thing that evangelism is not is your personal testimony of how God has changed your life. That may be a very encouraging thing to share in the context of bearing witness to Christ with someone, but your testimony is not the same thing as evangelism. In your personal testimony, very often you’re pointing to what? What God has done for you. In evangelism, you’re pointing to what Christ has done, not the results of what Christ has done in you. Now, sharing the results of what Christ has done in you may well be a great encouragement in the context of a gospel conversation with someone else, but if we don’t point to Christ we haven’t done evangelism.

It’s very interesting: the testimonies that are spoken about in the Book of Revelation are not testimonies about what God has done in us, but about our witness to Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done.

So evangelism is not the same thing as our personal experience or our testimony about it; it’s not the same thing as social action or cultural influence, or being salt and light; it’s not to be confused with the result.

But let me say also that evangelism is not imposing our beliefs on other people. It’s not an act of coercion. That’s very important, because in our supposedly tolerant culture there is a tremendous intolerance for anyone suggesting that everybody must believe a truth or they will not be with God forever. That is incredibly offensive to our supposedly tolerant society, because they say that’s intolerant…and so you are coercing, you are imposing your beliefs on others when you share the gospel.

Well, my friends, far from it! First of all, they’re not our beliefs. They’re not our beliefs. We didn’t think this up. These truths were told to us by God through Jesus Christ. I didn’t make this up on the way to church today. I read it in a book that Jesus gave me. And so I haven’t come up with some system that I’m now imposing on the world. God has given me a message and He’s told me to share that message with the world. That’s a very different thing. This isn’t something that we Christians have cooked up, and now we’re going to impose it on the world.

Secondly, our desire is not to impose this on anyone, because we know that you can’t force someone to have a new life. You can’t force someone to have a new heart. You can’t force someone to have a new trust. Only God the Holy Spirit can do that, and so our desire is simply to tell the truth and let God be God and do His work. We’re not imposing on anybody. We’re not coercing anyone. But we are going to faithfully tell the truth and let God do His work.

Now, my friends, even telling that truth is offensive to our culture, and so we must be very, very clear that we tell the truth because we love these people. They may not love us, but we love them. Our desire is to participate in a grand conspiracy: not to subvert them, not to dominate them, not to undermine them, not to rule them, but to bless them. Our desire is that they would be with God in everlasting joy forever and ever, and therefore we tell them the truth. But evangelism is not coercion: it’s proclamation. It’s not a means whereby we leverage our influence and control over other people. It’s the means whereby they are set free from bondage. That’s what evangelism is. Evangelism is presenting Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that people may come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Savior and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of the church. That’s what evangelism is.

II. What is the Christian’s objective in evangelism?

But what’s our aim? What’s our objective in evangelism? That’s the second thing that I want to talk with you about for a few moments this morning. The goal of evangelism (and Jesus gives it to us in verse 19) the goal of evangelism is making disciples. Notice what it is not.

The goal of evangelism is not fattening the church rolls of First Presbyterian Church, putting a few more warm bodies on the pews, adding a few shekels to the coffer. That’s not the goal of evangelism. The goal of evangelism is not trying to get people to answer the five questions of membership at First Presbyterian Church. The goal of evangelism is not trying to get somebody to sign a card or pray a prayer or make a decision. The goal of evangelism is not decisions or professions.

The goal of evangelism is that there would be disciples made. Jesus says it Himself. He doesn’t say ‘Go ye therefore and get decisions’; He says, “Go ye therefore and make disciples….” and those are two very, very different things. This means that our aim in evangelism cannot be achieved apart from the local church, because where are disciples made? In the local church. Where does discipleship begin? In baptism in the local church…professing Christ in the church, receiving baptism, taking the Lord’s Supper, growing under the word and sacraments. These are the things that God has given to foster our discipleship, and in evangelism our longing is not simply that someone will pray a prayer, but that they will be united to the people of God, that they will profess Jesus Christ, that they will become a disciple who wants to obey Jesus.

And what is a disciple? Jesus defines it for you in verse 20. ‘Go make disciples…’ What do disciples do? What is the first thing He says in verse 20? What do disciples do? They “…obey all that I commanded you.” Now friends, you can’t sum that up in five minutes! Jesus said a lot of stuff! What is a disciple? Someone who obeys all that He has commanded. That takes a long time, to teach somebody everything that Jesus commanded. Where does that happen? The church.

Our goal, you see, in evangelism is to see real disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you look at Acts 14:21…it’s a fascinating passage. Paul has been preaching the gospel, and then he talks about people becoming disciples. But in that context, if you glance at it you will notice that what has just happened to Paul is because Paul has been preaching the gospel he has been stoned. Not stoned as in inebriated…but people have thrown rocks at him. In fact, they’ve thrown rocks at him to the point that they think that he is dead, and they dragged his body outside of the city. And while all the disciples are standing around looking at him and no doubt wondering ‘What in the world are we going to do? Paul is dead!’ he gets back up and he goes right back into the city again. And we’re told that when he does that, one of the things that he does is he goes about “strengthening the disciples” —those people who have become disciples. Now no wonder, because Paul, because of proclaiming the gospel, had people throwing rocks at him. He had to strengthen those disciples, because to be disciples in that city they were going to have people throwing rocks at them. And you know there are a lot of people that will sign a card and pray a prayer that are not ready for rocks to be thrown at them. But our job is to make people who will be ready for rocks to be thrown at them. That’s our aim.

III. How Christians are to “do” evangelism.

Now let me say it again: we can’t produce that, but that’s what we’re aiming for. Only God can do that. There are things that we can do. We can get a person to sign a card or pray a prayer, but we can’t make somebody who will stand there when the rocks are flying. Only God the Holy Spirit can do that. That’s our goal, though, to make disciples. How do you do that? How do you do that? What does God expect us to do in order for that to happen?

Martin Luther sums it up in one word. Remember how he says it in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God? “One little word shall fell him. That word, above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth.” The word of Christ, the word of the gospel. On the human side, the only tool that God has given to us concerning our duty and our responsibility for evangelism is the word, the gospel, the message. No technique; just the word. Just the gospel message.

What does Paul say in Romans 1:16? “The gospel is the…” what? “…the power of God to salvation.” What does he say in I Corinthians 1:18? That the word of the cross is the power of God. What does he say in I Corinthians 1:24? That the word of Christ is the power of God. Even though it’s like foolishness to the world, it is the power of God, not some special technique. It’s in sharing that word, telling that truth, pointing them to the cross of Jesus Christ. That is our duty. That is the message. That’s the motive. That’s the manner. That’s the way. That’s the “how” of how we’re to do the work of evangelism.

Now, my friends, it’s very important for us to understand this, because very often we confuse the “how” of evangelism in the simple telling of the word of God and believing that it is the power of God unto salvation with techniques. And Americans are particularly bad at doing this, because we are really into techniques.

In the middle part of the twentieth century, it became very popular to use business and sales techniques to help Christians learn how to share the gospel, and all sorts of manuals and systems were created for pastors and for church members in order to learn how to share the gospel. And, my friend Mark Dever, the pastor of Calvary Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., has a copy of one by a man by the name of C. S. Lovett…not to be confused with C. S. Lewis, I want to quickly say!…a pamphlet called Soul-Winning Made Easy. And here’s what Mr. Lovett says that we need to do in order to be more effective in soul-winning. These plans are based on the sales techniques of the time in which he wrote (1959), and he says:

“You are in command. The trained soul-winner can bring his prospect to a decision for Christ. There is no middle ground as he moves with surety and deftness right up to that point of salvation. It is his conversation control that makes this possible. He knows exactly what he is going to say each step of the way, and can anticipate his prospect’s responses. He is able to keep the conversation focused on the main issue and prevent unrelated materials from being introduced.

“The controlled conversation technique is something new in evangelism, and represents a real break-through in soul-winning.” [Oh, if we’d only had this for the last 2,000 years! He goes on to say how you are to press for your prospect’s decision.]

“First,” he says, “get your prospect alone. Lay your hand firmly on your subject’s shoulder or arm, and with a semi-commanding tone of voice say to him, “Bow your head with me!” Note: Do not look at him when you say this, but bow your head first. Out of the corner of your eye you will see him hesitate at first; then, as his resistance crumbles, his head will come down, your hand on his shoulder will feel the relaxation, and you will know when his heart yields. Bowing your head first causes terrific psychological pressure on your prospect.”

The word. Not a technique. Just the word.

I remember hearing Randy Pope talk to a class of ministers that were taking a class in a discipleship and evangelism course with him, and he was sharing how he went about sharing the gospel with businessmen in Atlanta. And as he kept repeating the stories (not unlike the stories that Harry Reeder told us a couple of weeks ago), he kept talking about writing an outline on napkins. And after the class was over, all the ministers rushed up to him…and what did they want to know? “What was the outline?” And he said, “Men! It was not the outline that brought those people to Christ. It was the gospel, and it was the Holy Spirit. I don’t have some secret outline that works every time. There are lots of ways to outline the gospel.” He just had a very simple gospel presentation that he would write down on a napkin, but it was the word that brought them to Christ. It wasn’t some secret technique that he had…some special outline that nobody else had…some “hermetically sealed secret on the front porch of Funk & Wagnall’s” (if you remember the old Johnny Carson spiel). It’s just the gospel, shared in a particular way.

But so often we’re looking for some silver bullet, some secret weapon other than the word of God. And God says that word may seem like it’s foolishness to the world, but it is the power of God to salvation. My friends, it is up to us to believe that: to believe that God’s gospel can and does convert. God’s gospel can and does save. It’s simply our job to clearly and faithfully tell the truth.

IV. The power in evangelism.

Now. What’s the power? The power, then, you see, is not in our technique. The power is not in our system. The power is in God.

In total contrast to that story from Mr. Lovett of how we go about evangelizing, let me share with you a story about 110 years earlier. It was during a time of religious revival in Savannah, Georgia, and Benjamin Morgan Palmer, who later because the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, was preaching a series of evangelistic sermons there. And a man came to his office a couple of days after he had heard Benjamin Morgan Palmer preach an evangelistic sermon. And the man came to his office and wanted to ask him some questions. And Dr. Palmer says that the man came into his room and said this:

“Dr. Palmer, you preachers are the most contradictory men in the world. Why, you said in your sermon that sinners were perfectly helpless in themselves and utterly unable to repent or believe, and then you turned around and said that we would be damned if we did not.”

And Dr. Palmer is sitting at his desk, he’s writing a letter; and he tells us that he didn’t even look up at the man. He simply said this:

“Well, dear sir, there is no use in our quarreling. Either you can, or you cannot. And if you can repent and believe, then all I have to say to you is that I hope you will just go and do it.”

And then Palmer says this:

“I did not raise my eyes from my writing, and so I had no means of marking the effect of my words on this gentleman until after a moment’s silence, with a choking utterance, a reply came back: ‘I have been trying my best to repent and believe for three whole days, and I cannot.’

“Ah! [Dr. Palmer said] That puts a different face upon your question. We will go and tell this difficulty straight to God.”

And so the two of them knelt down, and they

“…prayed as though this was the first time in human history that this problem had ever arisen; and that here was a soul in the most desperate extremity, which must believe or perish, and hopelessly unable of itself to do it; and that, consequently, it was just the case for divine intervention.”

And upon arising from prayer, Dr. Palmer offered him not one single word of comfort, advice, or assurance. He left his friend, he said, “to his powerlessness in the hands of God as his only help.” And in a short time, he reports, the man came through the struggle, rejoicing in the hope of eternal life.

You see the point that Dr. Palmer is trying to make. He could not give that man a new heart. He could not give that man faith. He could not give that man gospel repentance. But God could. And there was no technique in the world…no inflection of tone, no hand upon the shoulder… that could have produced those things. Only God could. But, boy, can God do it! And so he told the truth, and he prayed to God for help, and he waited for God to do the work, and God did.

My friends, God does not ask you to change the hearts of other human beings. He’s called you to tell the truth, to long for them to be changed, to long for them to be saved, to long for them to come to Christ, to long for them to experience the same grace that you have experienced. But it is God’s business to change the heart.

And that is strangely encouraging, isn’t it? He has not called you to find some technique whereby you can produce converts. He simply says this: ‘Bring people to My Son using the word of the gospel, in utter dependence upon Me, and watch Me make disciples.’

A healthy local church understands that. A true Christian understands that, and so has a zeal to tell others about Jesus.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the power of the gospel. We ask, O Lord, that You would make us faithful to telling the truth about it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Would you stand for God’s word of blessing.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

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