The Gospel Pt.6 - What do you tell a person do to become a Christian?

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:

  • on the one hand that God is sovereign, salvation is his work, and he saves whom he will,
  • and on the other hand that we are both responsible and active in the process. (We do not wake up in the morning to discover God has made us a Christian overnight.)

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:

  1. Who God is
  2. What God offers
  3. What God requires

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:

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The Gospel Pt.5 - How do we Preach Repentance Today?

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:

  1. Concentrate on preaching to those with obvious moral failings
  2. Spend time going into more and more detail about the required perfection in our thought life etc.
  3. Edit repentance out of our Gospel

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

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Gospel Pt.4 - Should we give our testimony instead of preaching the Gospel?

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

“My story may be interesting but it has nothing to do with the Biblical Gospel”

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.

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The Gospel Pt3 - The Preaching of Paul to Pagans

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:

  • Acts 14:8-20 at Lystra
  • Acts 17:16-34 at Athens

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:

  • Both contexts describe an idolatry that is excessive to the point of being ridiculous
  • There is no reference to the Old Testament Scriptures at all
  • Paul particularly addresses their context and meets them where they are
  • Both the Lystrans and the Athenians mis-interpreted Paul’s statements by interpreting them within their own framework
    • To quote Cornelius Van-Til:
      We must surely do what Paul did, tear our garment when men would weave our message into the systems of thought which men have themselves devised. We must set the message of the cross into the framework into which Paul set it... the doctrines of creation, providence and the consummation of history in the final judgement.
  • One of Paul’s main concerns is to distinguish himself radically from this conception and to show that the God he proclaims is utterly outside their own framework.
  • In both cases it was the idolatry that provided a point of contact for Paul.
  • In both cases, Paul appeals to two witnesses to substantiate his preaching. They are the same in each case and are:
    1. the creative work of God,
    2. his providential care.
  • How does Paul’s example help us in our own efforts to preach the Gospel to a largely pagan society? I believe Paul is very helpful to us.
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The Gospel Pt.2 - The Preaching of Peter

The first example of Gospel preaching after the cross was that of Peter. We have five examples of his preaching recorded in Acts.

  • Two to the crowds in Jerusalem, explaining miracles that had just happened
  • Two in front of councils after he was arrested
  • Finally, one to Cornelius’s household

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 Gospel pt1- Preaching of Jesus: "Follow Me!"

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.

  • This has huge implications for understanding the Gospels
  • The preaching of Jesus does not include an explicit proclamation of substitutionary atonement
    • The reason being, of course, because it hadn’t happened yet!
    • (Although some places, like the Son of Man being “lifted up” in John 3:14 do hint at it)
  • For this reason, Jesus’ preaching is generally pretty much ignored when people discuss the Gospel message
  • However, according to R.H. principles of the progress of revelation, what is revealed first is foundational and not lesser in value
  • My conclusion is that the study of Jesus’ preaching is of immense importance
    1. The key phrase is “Follow me!” which Jesus unpacks as “repent” and “believe”
    2. The concept of the Kingdom is much more prominent
    3. The only thing “missing” is an explanation of the mechanism by which a just God can forgive us—the cross
      • This will be supplied later in the apostolic preaching, but it is not necessary to understand it precisely in order to follow Jesus

Following Jesus

  • The word Follow is very interesting because to follow someone or something is a combination of trusting and obeying
    • The whole “Lordship controversy” would have been avoided if everyone had examined the preaching of Jesus
    • (This relates to the idea that you can accept Jesus as Saviour without accepting him as Lord, and still be saved.)
  • I came across an English news story recently that illustrates the word “follow”:

“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.”

driver on cliff edge

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Preaching The Gospel, New Testament Fashion

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.

  • I found there were 49 places where there was explicit or implicit preaching of the Gospel
  • I narrowed the list down to places where there was substantial content recorded and was left with:
    • 5 addresses by Peter
    • 2 addresses by Stephen and Philip
    • 7 addresses by Paul
  • I was surprised by:
    • the remarkably strong patterns of similarities between these messages
    • and how they differed from preaching today
    • for example, Peter could not preach without the resurrection being one of his points
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