Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Evangelism And The Call To Response In Acts

In Acts 2:38, where Peter responds to a question posed by those under conviction after his Pentecost sermon, “What shall we do? (2:37), he says: ““Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The Apostle’s response raises a question: What is meant by “Repent and be baptized”? It sounds like baptism may merit our forgiveness of sins. Is this what Peter is teaching?  To answer that question, we must look throughout the book of Acts to see what is taught in its twenty-eight chapters about how a person truly responds to Jesus Christ and also to what are they responding (what is the evangelistic message?). When we understand these two matters, we will not only be able to understand what Peter is teaching here, we also will have very helpful guidance in how we are to reach others for Jesus.

So, let’s look briefly at what we discover.

The Evangelistic Message In Acts
There are two ways we can look at this topic in Acts. First, we can study the sermons or speeches found in the book to see if we can discover a pattern. Second, we can look at summary statements in the book about what the apostles did as they went about proclaiming their message. 

A Preaching Pattern In The Sermons
John Stott, focusing on all the sermons or speeches, concludes that Luke supplies five sample evangelistic sermons total by Peter and five by Paul.[1] Even more importantly for our purpose is that Stott concludes that “there was a core to the proclamation of both apostles….” Stott, in basic agreement with most other Acts commentators, identifies that core or the pattern of preaching this way:
Jesus was a man who was accredited by God through miracles and anointed by the Spirit to do good and to heal. Despite this, he was crucified through the agency of wicked men, though also by God’s purpose according to the Scriptures that the Messiah must suffer. Then God reversed the human verdict on Jesus by raising him from the dead, also according to the Scriptures, and as attested by the apostolic eyewitnesses. Next God exalted him to the place of supreme honor as Lord and Savior. He now possesses full authority both to save those who repent, believe and are baptized in his name, bestowing on them the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit, and to judge those who reject him.

So, in essence, based on the sermons in Acts themselves, the apostles proclaimed to others the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Additionally, they call people to repent and believe in him for forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit—a response the outward sign of which is baptism.

When we look at brief summary statements about the proclamation ministry of the apostles and early New Testament Church, what do we find?

A Pattern In The Summary Statements
Here is what we discover.
1. The apostles and early Christians testified and spoke the word of the Lord (8:25), teaching or speaking it in many different settings (13:4; 16:32; 18:11; 19:10), and including the entire counsel of God—all that is profitable (20:20-21, 27). This Word proclamation was important since it is by the Word people are set apart unto God, built up, and by which God’s people receive their inheritance (20:32).

2. Several of the passages we just cited, when understood in context, demonstrate there was a core to this Bible teaching: the gospel (16:32; 18:11; 19:10). So we should not be surprised that the apostles and early Christians preached the gospel (8:25, 40; 14:7, 21; 15:7; 16:10), also known as the gospel of the grace of God (20:24), which includes the death and resurrection of Jesus (17:22-31; 26:23).

3. This gospel proclamation also included the following:
a. They regularly taught and preached Jesus is the Christ (5:42; 17:2; 18:28).

b. They proclaimed Jesus is the Son of God (9:20).

c. They reasoned from the Scriptures, proving it was necessary for Christ to suffer and rise, also affirming Jesus is the Christ (17:2, 17; 18:4-5, 19), and also persuading hearers about the kingdom (19:8-9). Paul testified to all things surrounding Jesus, including what he did and claimed—both in Jerusalem and Rome (23:11). Here is a clear indication of where apologetics intersects with evangelism. If we base our apologetics on Acts, however, we will eventually seek to focus upon Jesus Christ and proclaim the gospel.

d. They taught the good news of the kingdom, that in Jesus the Christ the kingdom had been inaugurated (19:8-9; 20:25; 28:23, 30-31). In fact, we learn that proclaiming the kingdom is the same as proclaiming the gospel of the grace of God (20:25).

c. Flowing out of this proclamation was also a call to repentance (17:31; 20:21 [toward God]) and faith (20:21 [in the Lord Jesus Christ]), that is, they persuaded others to become Christians, followers of Jesus (26:28-29; 28:23).

In Acts 1:8 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will empower his followers to be his witnesses before other people to the ends of the earth. This is exactly what we find in the rest of the book. The Spirit came upon them to move them out and to empower them to proclaim the gospel of the grace of God. This involved teaching about the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ—and doing this in the context of other Bible teaching (e.g. among Jews: showing that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures). Even when they reasoned with people, sought to persuade them, and dealt with seeking to demonstrate the truthfulness of the fact surrounding the life of Jesus (what today we call apologetics), the ultimate goal was to call people to repent and to trust in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and true life.

The Evangelistic Response In Acts
Since Acts 2:38 and several of the passages we are about to cite include the noun “repentance” or the verb “repent,” we should provide a definition. The terms in the New Testament that stand behind both the noun and verb mean literally “to think afterward,” in other words to “change one’s mind.”  When the Bible calls us to repent it is calling us to change our mind concerning how we view God (he is God we are not),[2] how we view our sin (we should grieve over it rather than take it lightly, and we should turn to Christ for forgiveness),[3] and how we view salvation (we cannot serve as our own savior).[4] It is no surprise, then, that repentance involves our turning toward Jesus Christ to trust him as Savior, and it results in a changed life since we follow him as Lord.[5]

Now that we grasp a basic understanding of repentance, let’s discover what Acts teaches about how a person responds in a saving way to the evangelistic message as we outlined it above.

1. People are called to repent and be baptized, or we see them engaging in this dual response. 2:38

2. People are called to repent, or we see them engaging in this response. 3:19; 14:15

3. People are called to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, or we see them engaging in this response. 4:12; 9:42; 13:12, 38-39; 14:1, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:31; 17:12;18:8; 21:20, 25

4. People are called to repent and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, or we see them engaging in this dual response. 10:43 (in light of 11:18); 11:20-21; 16:14-15; 17:4 (in light of 30-34); 17:30-34; 20:21; 22:16; 26:18-20

5. It is made clear that baptism should follow repentance and saving faith, it does not lead to it. 8:37; 9:18 (see in light of 22:16); 10:43-48 (in light of 11:18); 16:14-15, 31-34; 18:8; 22:16

6. However, baptism so much serves as the outward sign of the inward reality or response that it can stand alone in a text to speak of repentance and/or faith. This not only shows how baptism functioned in the New Testament, but also its importance as a public profession of faith. 8:37; 9:18

Evangelistic Response Conclusions
1. Based on what the rest of the book teaches about responses to Jesus, the command to repent and be baptized in 2:38 cannot mean that baptism saves. This is the only time it is given such prominence in the book. Many places it is not mentioned at all. It is mentioned enough, and with clarity about when it takes place, to know that: It is an outward sign of what happens to us inwardly and thus can stand for one’s response to Jesus Christ; those who trusted Jesus Christ as Savior were baptized as their public profession; baptism follows repentance and faith.

2. Since faith and repentance can be used interchangeably to refer to the same saving response (for example compare 11:18 and 14:27), we conclude that all true repentance includes faith in Jesus Christ and all true faith in Jesus Christ includes repentance.

3. Because of #’s 1-2, Luke and the early church could speak of baptism, repentance, or faith by themselves and mean virtually the same thing. If either of the latter terms stood by themselves, most likely they implied the other one. If baptism stood by itself, the intent is that a person is engaging in the initiatory rite that is the outward profession or sign of what they have done—to repent and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.

4. Any faith that does not involve an outward turning, an outward transformation, should be called into question.

Study Conclusions
Though we have discovered Acts does not teach that baptism saves in any manner, it is an important public profession of faith, an outward sign of the inward reality of repentance and faith. It should function as the public profession that one has trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. If you have not been baptized, you should be as your outward profession and in obedience to the Lord Jesus (see Matthew 28:19).

We also discover that if a person is to respond in true saving faith to Jesus Christ (which includes repentance), they must hear the Word of God, the core of which is the gospel (Acts 18:8). This means we, like the early church, must very much be about teaching the gospel to others and calling them to respond in repentance and faith. This Christ-exalting, gospel-centered approach that is seeking the saving response of others should mark us as a congregation.

The question we are left with, then, is this:  Are you currently involved in any relationships where you are seeking to love a person who may not know Jesus as Savior, praying that you can share the good news with them? Regardless of our place in life, this is the calling of all Christians. But sadly I recently learned that only 1/100 Christians actively pursues sharing their faith. Can you imagine the difference it would make if that became 2/100 or 3/100?  Will you be part of that growing 1-2%?

[1] This and what follows are from John R. W. Stott, The Cross Of Christ.
[2] Acts 14:15; 20:21.
[3] Acts 2:37-38; 3:19; 11:20-21.
[4] Luke 24:47; Acts 10:43 (in light of 11:18).
[5] Acts 2:21, 36; 9:1-17; 20:26.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Where Do I Go From Here?

In two of my last three posts I have talked about motivations for being involved in missions and also how important missions is. If God has moved us in any way to take up the cause of missions, we will ask the question, “Where do I go from here?”  So, here are a number of steps we can take to be engaged in the glorious cause of proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom in all the world as a witness to all people groups (Mt. 24:14).

1. Spend time in prayer, asking God to guide you in how you should be involved in missions. Though God will not direct every Christian to go to another part of the world permanently, he has already directed every Christian to be involved in the work in some manner (Mt. 28:18-20).  We can pray for missionaries and missions needs, we can support missionaries, we can correspond with missionaries to encourage them, we can be involved in reaching out to internationals and international students locally, we can go on short-term trips, and some of us will go to other places in the world permanently.

2. Spend time praying for missions you and/or your church supports. Pray for missions throughout the world. One of the great tools to provide guidance in how to pray for every country in the world in an informed manner is Jason Mandryk’s Operation World (Biblica Publishing, 2010), a book that can be ordered at Some of the information about each nation, set out in a daily prayer calendar, is available on that site. The book, however, has much more information in it and is a treasure house of missions information.

3. Spend time learning about missions, missionaries, and missions needs. God often uses this to prick our consciences and moves our hearts in the ways we can and should be involved. In addition to the book mentioned above (Operation World), biographies about missionaries can be very helpful. For some short free biographies, check out Nothing will aid any more than taking the class, Perspectives On The World Christian Movement. For the class closest to you, check out

4. Determine that you will not give in to the “American Dream.” The driving force for any true follower of Jesus Christ should not be merely to amass as much money and “stuff” as we can, as well as to have the house, white picket fence, and to make sure that our children can turn around and do the same. Our dream should be to infuse within each other a powerful loving producing joy that overflows into a passion to make disciples here and abroad to the glory of God.

5. Look at your gifts, education, abilities, resources, and your experience. Begin to brainstorm and to pray about how you can utilize for the fame of his name among the lost and among the nations what God has given to you. Pretty much every vocation and skill set can be a great blessing somewhere to the cause of missions. Also remember wherever God has you living and working is a mission field for you. Approach it that way.

6. Begin missions where you are. Build relationships with unbelievers, as well as new believers. Win the lost to Christ and help Christians grow into those who can reproduce in others. Again, this is not the calling of a select few, but of all of us. Start by asking God to give you opportunities. Then look for people to be-friend and to love. Be open to how God may lead you to share Jesus with them. You can work this into your daily schedule of work, family activities, time spent with other Christians, school events, and/or meal times.

7. Begin setting goals for how you can be involved in God’s mission, such as: I will befriend one person over the next six months; I will share the gospel with one to two people over the next six months; I will learn how to share the gospel in the next six months; I will pray five days a week for missions and missionaries; I will go on my first short-term missions trip in the next two years; or I will take the Perspectives course in the next year.

8. Finally, remember, to whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). God has given so much to us in the United States. He has blessed us that we might be a blessing to others (see Psalm 67), rather than merely sitting on it for our own comfort.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Eight Glasses Of Water Today?

Being at the stage of life I am is fascinating. For one thing, I can look back at what things were like for my parents and how they have changed for our children—a span of three generations. Water consumption is one subject I find interesting to compare. Mankind has always known water is important. My parents knew water is important. But over the past couple of decades focus on the amount of water we drink has intensified.

Very few of us are now unaware that we are to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. It is important for health since our body’s composition is 50-65% water. When I compare how much water my water-bottle-wielding adult children consume contrasted with my parents, I conclude that this subject has gone from being important to being IMPORTANT!

This change in the view of this necessary life-giving liquid parallels the change I have undergone in my view of the opening up of the tap so that the life-giving streams of the gospel of Jesus Christ can flow to the nations. You see, I have always thought missions to be important. We have always supported multiple missionaries, prayed for missions daily, at times prayed through older editions of Operation World, and sought to be encouraging to missionaries supported by our congregation.  I have always been convinced it is crucial to down a few glasses of cross-cultural H2O here and there.

Over the past two years, however, I have come to see the Bible teaches that the majority of the body of the Church’s purpose is made up of this missional liquid. So a few glasses will not do. It is not merely important. It is IMPORTANT!

To change metaphors, making disciples beginning where we live and reaching to the end of the earth should flow so abundantly through our veins that if you cut us open missions should gush out in large quantities. That is a colorful way of saying that missions should fill and direct all we do as a congregation, as a family, as a married couple, and/or as an individual.

I am now convinced that I did not communicate this to or model it to my children as I should have. I also believe it has not been the priority in my pastoral ministry it deserves. Because of this, I apologize to my family, the churches I have served, and I confess my sin of oversight to God. But I also remember Paul’s words of Romans 5:20: “Where sin abounds, grace super-abounds.” I want to move forward in God’s forgiving and transforming grace to serve the cause of the Great Commission throughout the world. In other words, I want to make sure from now on I down my eight missional glasses a day!

If you have tracked with me to this point, I hope you are asking an important question: “How do you know that the cause of missions is to be so central and important to us?”  Let me provide a small sample of biblical teaching:

  • ·        God created, blessed, and commissioned mankind to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth with God-glorifying God-worshippers. Gen. 1:26-28
  • ·         Over 2,000 years before Christ, when God made a covenant with Abraham, he affirmed his plan has always been to bless all the nations worldwide. Gen. 12:3
  • ·         God’s promises to and his dealings with Israel were designed not just to bless them, but also to create them into a nation that would bless the other nations by showing them the way to the true God. Exodus 19:5-6; Deut. 4:5-8; Psalm 67; Is. 42:6; 49:6; 56:7
  • ·         God’s promises to restore Israel after they faced his disciplining hand of captivity ultimately involved promises that God would bring people from the nations to worship him, the true God, through the teaching and example of his New Covenant people who empowered by the Holy Spirit after being redeemed by the Redeemer. Isaiah 2:1-5; 51:4; 52:7-8, 13-53:12; 56:1-8; 59:19-60:22; 61:1-11
  • ·         God has saved, empowered with the Spirit, and commissioned the New Covenant Church to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world—also reminding us that our core involves putting him on display through our actions and our gospel proclamation work. Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 2:4-10
  • ·         The net effect of this amazing New Covenant Church era in which we live, a time between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ in which we are especially empowered to go out and make disciples, is that eventually the gospel will go out to all the world, as a testimony to all people groups before Jesus Christ returns (Mt. 24:14). Even more than this, as a result, there will be people from every tribe, language, and people group who will be redeemed and worshipping the Lord for eternity before him (Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9-12).

What we taste in this appetizer of Bible texts is that a large part of the work God is doing involves spreading the fame of his name through his people so that someday the entire earth will be covered by his glory and those who glorify him (Hab. 2:14). All of the other purposes God gives to us in life (things such as: work, family, marriage, friendship, recreation, etc.) are ultimately to serve this main end(1 Cor. 10:31).

One last question arises in my mind. How do I go forward with what God has taught me?   Let me share a few thoughts I have had with the hope that these may help you also.

  • ·         I desire my marriage to be many things (full of love, joy, and to be strong), but I also pray it will ultimately serve the purpose of spreading the fame of God’s name throughout the world.
  • ·         I pray for my children and grandchildren to have strong marriages, families, to do well in school, to have employment, but the ultimate purpose of all these other purposes is that they might glorify God by living, loving, and sharing the gospel with others in a way that God’s glorious grace is experienced by more and more people here and abroad.
  • ·         I desire that my job and my finances will be used not only to support us, but also to mobilize others and to propel the body of Christ out into the streets and the nations with gospel hope.
  • ·         I long that I will not settle for merely the good easy life of retirement here, a life of merely recreating, taking it easy and resting (I have eternity for that!). I want to “leave it all on the field,” to have no regrets when I “walk off this life’s court,” to “run all the way through the tape,” that I might have the eternal joy of knowing my life has counted for the most important and lasting of all purposes—the glorification of God through the redemption of the nations.
  • ·         I am committed to battling in prayer daily for these ends to be realized!