Let me run something by you. To you it might be a bit ethereal, or it might seem theoretical, but to me it is where the rubber of Christian mission meets the road of this world.
I think our outreach has been hampered by a half-hearted passion for the lost. Because I believe we have a distorted view of the gospel message and how it affects the work of salvation in the world. It seems as we have slipped into certain theological constructs, our effectiveness at Kingdom expansion has waned. Let me begin with the caveat that “God brings the increase.” He is sovereign over the movement of his power. But it seems that He has put a work in place that we are to join.
As I preached through Romans last year, several thoughts have been flowing through my mind that has challenged my thinking about the gospel and how God is working through it. My thinking is anchored in the verses of Romans 1:16-17 “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
1) The power of salvation is not in the “free will” of man. The way free will is often portrayed is that the human heart is neutral and it gets to choose. There are some real problems with that! The human heart is not neutral when it comes to sin and unrighteousness. The human heart is sinful, it is deceitful, it is wretched and powerless when it stands on its own. In Romans 6, Paul is clear that the human heart is enslaved to sin.
Looking at the world, we cannot say there is free will for all. The world is filled with people who never get to hear about Jesus. They are entrapped in cultures and religions that they could never “choose” to break out of.
Let’s be honest, there is no genuine free will. No one’s will is free!
2) The power of salvation is not in the “choosing” of God. God chose the church and entrance to it comes to anyone who places faith in the promises of God. It is for Jew and Gentile (not certain Jews or Gentiles). It seems to me if God has decreed the salvation of certain individuals and the damnation of others, there is no need for a powerful gospel message. The power would be in the “predetermined choice” of God, not the message of God.
3) The power of salvation is in gospel message and is made available through the preaching of that message.
a. The preached message is imbued with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it becomes the channel through which the Spirit-birth takes place.
b. The preached message enables a real choice for the individual. The parable of the 4 soils in Mark 4 highlights the relationship of the “word”, or gospel message and the soil. Someone can prepare soil all day long. It will never produce a crop until the seed is introduced. The power of life is in the seed, not the soil. But the point of the parable is that the soil has a real responsibility to receive the seed unhindered.
4) What difference does it make if the real power of salvation is in the message of the gospel?
a. Proclamation is essential! We can’t be nice to people and have them respond to Jesus. They must be told, because the power of salvation is in THIS message: there is a righteousness that is by faith and it is in Jesus Christ!
b. God doesn’t “save them anyway.” Our distortion of God’s sovereignty is often used to remove our real responsibility as the church. After all, why would he trust us? Read Acts 1 & 2 again. That’s exactly what He did and that’s why He’s given His Spirit to us to empower us. He has given the church His empowered message. There is no other hope under heaven.
c. We have everything necessary to bring salvation to everyone who needs it. We don’t need to wait around for something else. Our programs and our methods might help in our effectiveness and efficiency, but we have what we need to truly offer salvation to others.
d. The effects of rejection are real. When someone rejects the message of hope, it isn’t because of some inability on their part, which would limit their responsibility. It is a decision they make after the Spirit of God has made faith entirely available.
All this to say… the gospel is essential! It must take center stage again. And the church must rest on no other message. It is the world’s only hope!
What do you think about the way God works through the gospel? Does it change your approach to witnessing, if the power is in the message – not the presenter? Would it change your approach if the outcome wasn’t “predetermined”?
Would love to read your comments!