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The answer to this might seem very easy to some people. The Arminian might respond, “Repeat the words of this simple prayer after me”, or “Just ask Jesus into your heart”.
Others might say, “If someone is not a Christian, then they are dead in trespasses and sins and so can’t do anything”.
I believe what Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” But on the other hand Jesus very frequently told people to come to him, implying that this choice was available to them.
We have to maintain the tension between:
The starting point must be that the Holy Spirit is working in a person, even before they are born again (otherwise they would have no spiritual interest). It is possible to resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51) up to a point, but ultimately God can break through any resistance (e.g. Paul’s salvation).
The second assumption is that the words of the gospel are like seeds which the Spirit can bring to life. So we don’t tell people that they are required to trust in Jesus yet cannot. We tell them to trust him with the confidence that the Spirit is the one who gives power to these words.
The third assumption is that assurance is the work of the Spirit, not our job. So we don’t say, “Now you have prayed this prayer, you are a Christian.” We say, “keep seeking God until you know you have a new spiritual life within you.”
So now back to the question itself—what must a person do? The simple answer is “repent and believe”, but this needs some explanation, and raises an important question, “How much do you need to know to become a Christian—is there a minimum?”
I think there are three things you need to know:
Here are my thoughts, taken from an outline of a sermon on: "What does a person do to become a Christian?"
1. Who God is:[read more...]
The command to repent is right at the core of the Gospel message preached in the New Testament, but repentance sits very ill with today’s self-righteous society. Three possible approaches are:
Unwilling to limit the gospel to the obviously immoral (a), to focus on moralism (b) or to change the Gospel (c), I want to find a way of convicting people of their most important sin—failure to love and acknowledge God as their creator and Lord.
The second target I want to hit is the politically correct pluralism that says: “I am not against your god—he is fine for you. I am not his enemy, I am just neutral in this whole god debate.”
The reality is that we are either for God or against him. But how do you convince people of that?
My suggestion is an approach in which we start with what God is doing—He is involved in a cosmic struggle to root out every form of evil and injustice in the universe. Given this situation, not to be on God’s side is actually to help his enemies.
This is especially true when you consider that the forces of evil are united by one thing: Denial of God’s rights as their Lord.
So if you do not acknowledge God, then you are siding with his enemies[read more...]
Paul is arrested in Jerusalem by the Roman soldiers. As he is being carried away he says to the captain, “I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39)
Remarkably, Paul is given permission. “Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:”
What will he say? Now is his opportunity to preach Christ and him crucified.
…but no! Instead, Paul gives his testimony!! What on earth was he thinking?
I recently listened to a podcast from the White Horse Inn about how inappropriate it is to give one’s testimony when presenting the Gospel. One of the speakers said
So why did Paul not take this golden opportunity to preach “the Biblical Gospel” but instead told his story. Actually it is worse that that—Paul’s testimony is actually repeated no less than three times in Acts. Luke gives it to us, and then Paul tells it on two occasions rather than giving a more cross-centred Gospel message.
So why does Paul do this? The answer is very simple: first and foremost Jesus tells us to be witnesses.
The biblical scholar, Professor A. A. Trites, looked at all the Greek terms in the New Testament used to refer to evangelism and came to the conclusion that the word translated as ‘witness’ or ‘testimony’ occurs more often that all the others put together. He published this in an excellent book entitled The New Testament Concept of Witness.
The book was later republished in a popular format as New Testament Witness in Today's World and in it he states, that the group of related “witness” words appear over two hundred times in the New Testament (p.9)
Paul didn’t just spin an interesting yarn. His testimonies were very focused. If you compare the account that Luke gives us together with Paul’s two accounts, some valuable insights can be gained into Paul’s strategy.
Your main evangelistic responsibility as a Christian is simply to be a witness to Jesus and what he has done for you.
We have several detailed accounts of Paul preaching the Gospel. It is very interesting to see how different his message is when he is preaching to pagan Gentiles as compared with his message to Jews.
The two occasions are:
It is quite remarkable how similar these two sermons are. I have laid the two passages out in parallel here: Paul preaching to pagan Gentiles--Acts 14 and 17 laid out in parallel.
Here are some observations:
The first example of Gospel preaching after the cross was that of Peter. We have five examples of his preaching recorded in Acts.
What is remarkable about these five sermons is that they all have the same outline! In Gospel preaching in Acts: The preaching of Peter I have put all five in parallel and examined the similarities and differences.
I took a somewhat different approach when I preached this, focussing on the second of the five addresses, and thinking about how we can follow Peter’s example in a day when such dramatic miracles are not as common.
Brief notes and audio are here: The Gospel Pt2--The Preaching of Peter
The value of a “redemptive-historical” approach to Scripture is that it does not flatten the Bible and ignore the historical epoch into which the revelation was given. Instead, attention is paid to the progress of revelation.
“Robert Jones said he trusted his navigational system and continued to follow it when it told him the steep, narrow footpath he was driving on was a road.”
What is the Gospel?
Back when I was in my early 20’s a friend asked me how she could become a Christian. I thought I had all the answers and had read all the best Reformed books, but was frustrated at the questions she kept coming up with. There seemed to be a mis-match between the books I read and how it was done in the New Testament.
Years later, when I came to do my M.Div thesis, I thought “this is a chance to really come to grips with this question.” I narrowed the subject down to Gospel Preaching in Acts✽ and systematically analysed the contents of the book.