It’s not a gift, it’s a command (John 4)

Some years ago when Tom Savage was the student ministries pastor here, he told me about the first pastor that he had worked with in what was, I think, a Southern Baptist Church near where he grew up in the DC / metropolitan MD suburbs. He marveled at this man’s gift for evangelism. Tom said that visiting in a home with this fellow, it seemed like he went from chatty small talk into leading them to Christ in about 90 seconds of time.

Back in high school I had a “gal pal” with whom I had worked at the same Christian camp in south Jersey. We later ended up working in Cape May at the same Bible Conference and were often together around town in the evening. She had a passion for lost people, a capacity to know no strangers, and the Biblical knowledge to converse with anyone – even at age 17. We would meet total strangers on the boardwalk, talk about the Gospel, and some would respond in faith. It was an amazing time of life.

These are people with great gifts. Most of us don’t just naturally do this; we find ourselves worrying too much about not looking pushy or overbearing on issues deemed personal and private. It is best to just let the folks with this sort of gift do most of the evangelizing, right? After all, that’s their job; it is what God gave them to do.

While we recognize that some people have a special ability that has been given them, and though that skill looks about as easy for them as eating ice cream is to the rest of us, the fact is that we all have a responsibility to be people who share the Gospel message of Good News with other people.

When Jesus ascended back to heaven, he didn’t say, “And those of you who have the special gift of evangelism will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and unto the ends of the earth, while the rest of you simply tithe your money to support these people who are actually doing the ministry.”

We need to think of outreach and evangelism as a COMMAND, more than we think of it as a GIFT.

Let me say three things in preparation for this week’s theme – “Myth 4: Sharing the gospel is best left to pastors and missionaries”

We need to be aware … In John chapter 4 we encounter the story of how Jesus had struck up a conversation with the most unlikely of people – a sinful Samaritan woman. He was energized by it, confusing the disciples who did not understand where he had gotten anything to eat.

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

We need to be aware that of the two groups of people in the world – those who are of God’s family, and those who are yet to receive the message and respond in faith – the latter is like a vast field at the point of readiness for harvest. And God wants us to be reapers for his glory. But we don’t tend to see it this way, as we tend to believe there is no such work around us … that everyone is totally happy in their sin and contented with their lives as they know it. Not true.

We need to care …

The Bible teaches clearly of a literal hell and lake of fire that is the eternal abode of those who do not know Christ. Hellfire preaching is out of vogue in 2015, but the truth remains unchanged.

Earlier in that same chapter four of John’s Gospel, Jesus said …

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

And the same writer – John – penned near the end of the Bible in Revelation 20 …

Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

As we will talk about on Sunday, think of all the things you would do to prevent someone from suffering a pending accident of some sort – even people you don’t know at all. So why would you not be willing to go to extreme efforts to communicate God’s truth with people whom you do know and love who are in danger of eternal separation from God?

We need to share …

How many people who love you genuinely and care for you deeply and earnestly do you hate because they have been too overbearing in your life?  I’ll bet you can’t name any. It is difficult to despise someone who obviously loves you and has made that clear in their concerns for you, even if you don’t agree with what they have said to you when expressing that concern. You may think their viewpoints are a little bit nuts, but you just can’t dislike someone who so genuinely loves you.

It is easy to hold the truth to ourselves and never really get around to sharing it. We need an intentional plan and a thoughy-out ability to be ready on those occasions where, God willing, the quality of our lives and hope in Christ in a crazy world will even lead to discussions upon the questioning of others.

In 1 Peter 3 it says …

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect …

Always be prepared … so are you prepared?

Our study this week, along with the accompanying class at 11:00, makes a shift and turn into a truly practical category of knowing and planning what to say and how to say it. So don’t miss it.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

8 thoughts on “It’s not a gift, it’s a command (John 4)

  1. It is a rather worrisome theology that you were taught … and if true rather unsettling. Since entire nations, tribes, peoples and languages have come and gone, before even Jesus was even born, this theology of all who don’t know Jesus going to the lake of fire would be alarming but straightforward understanding of what you wrote, implying that none ignorant of Jesus will be in the Kingdom of God. They didn’t know Jesus →They will all be judged by Jesus at the Resurrection as bad and then go to hell. There will be entire nations, tribes, peoples and languages with no one representing them in the Kingdom of God.

    You and I have emailed about this topic before and as you know I’ve looked into this topic for decades, Your belief on this matter, you told me, is very similar to that held by R. C. Sproul. I think, even he, was open to the idea that the “light of creation” isn’t just a baseline to smack people over the head with and send all those ignorant of Jesus to hell, but that Jesus might occasionally find that someone adequately responds to that “light”. I am paraphrasing him. I know R. C. Sproul strongly leans to the view that you hold … but I also know that he waffles a bit. At the Ligonier website he writes, “God may grant his mercy unilaterally at some point, but I don’t have any reason to have much hope in that.” Notice his words “much hope”. He didn’t write that “I don’t have any reason to have ANY HOPE in that.”

    Not to drop names, but Billy Graham and he knows something about Evangelism, has also changed his view somewhat on the fate of those who haven’t heard the gospel.

    And there is a statement by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, Here is what C. S. Lewis wrote,

    “”Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is that God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

    That quote (incidently) I pulled from a search that landed me at a webpage at Word of His grace ORG written by Peter Ditzel who proceeded to slam C. S. Lewis for that viewpoint.

    When Paul talked about his motivation for preaching the gospel, he did talk about being servants of those he was sent to. He did though say “Woe unto me, if I don’t preach the gospel” his motivation wasn’t stated as “Woe unto them” … which appears to be why you think we should be motivated to share the gospel. And when Paul presented the gospel to people he told them that God had overlooked the past … but now that they have the message — it is game time.

    There are a number of really, really good evangelists who hold out hope that God will reach people now or later in the resurrection. Just to throw off the expected charge of universalism, I look at how Jesus judges people based upon what they know. Whether it be the parable of Lazurus and the rich man, where the culture of the time only could point to “Moses and the prophets” as sufficient to help people change from their self-centered lifestyle and the just punishment for such behavior or Jesus talked about nations being resurrected in Matthew 25 and being sorted into the two categories called “sheep” and “goats” — the criteria for the judgment was spelled out — it doesn’t match what you wrote above. I don’t feel the parable has to be rewritten to embrace narrow modern Evangelical theology.

    The final resurrection will have more people in the Kingdom than those that follow the narrow and straight way today in this life.

    The reason for this differentiation is made clear in many scriptures. Jesus frequently talked about the concept of ignorance, blindness, they do not know what they are doing, — as ameliorating guilt and punishment. He also talked about traits in the beatitudes that God will reward. Paul talked about there being no sin when the law isn’t present … he talked about people (himself actually) not sinning but rather sin living in him causing the sin.

    I believe that you will happy at the judgment when Jesus who will be the judge of the world will excuse many “ignorant” people for certain wrong actions, because he knows the deepest parts of each person … far beyond our ability to judge. It is the only thing that makes sense scripturaly to me. Otherwise everything that Jesus said about judging … will fall to pieces. In a sense people have an ingrained sense of fairness. In that respect it makes sense what Jesus repeatedly said about us being judged by the way we judge others. If we judge others for stealing and then steal ourselves, we are violating the law in our conscience that God gave us.

    In any case, this is a huge, huge topic and God alone judges the heart. I remember reading a reference to a modern theological body gathering and getting close to passing a statement of belief that all who haven’t heard the gospel will be in hell. Then someone pointed out that, then, all young children who died without knowling about/accepting Jesus will be in hell too … the theological body dropped the matter and didn’t pursue that statement of belief anymore.

    If I believed what you believed, I would certainly “hate theology” though I might still love Jesus … — if the theology didn’t skew my view of Jesus too much.

    If you can’t accept that your viewpoint is wrong, maybe you can except that in today’s culture, it is tactically better to evangelize like the apostle Paul where he pointed to love that God displayed in creation by giving rain and food and joy to people rather than focus on Evangelical theology that says all the people and their ancestors who didn’t accept/know about Jesus are now or will be in a very bad “eternal abode”. Tactically, that approach worked for Jonathan Edwards, but when Paul preached to unbelievers (at least in those sermons recorded in Acts) … he didn’t take that angle. Again, though I totally believe without doubt my position, I’m saying that as far as a tactical consideration in scripture, that maybe you might consider how Paul preached as a model for better reaching a skeptical generation. Since, I know how much you love theology ☺ Let’s continue this discussion at the resurrection. ☺ Or if I missed the scripture that says, “preach to them otherwise they go to hell” I’ll take a serious look at it.

    If anyone more debate oriented than you are is inclined to jump in here … I just ask they be respectful and perhaps read what I wrote several times, so they can address what I posted.

    Whether Randy wants a public forum on this topic on this topic here … I don’t know. Probably few are going reread old blog entries though.

    • It is true, and I confess to being guilty of believing the simple words of Christ that he is the only way, truth and life; and that I believe the assertion of Peter and John that there is no other name under heaven by which men may be saved.
      It is true, and I confess to being guilty of standing in the Reformed tradition and history of the Christian faith as evidenced in the Westminster Confession, succinctly stated in the answers to questions 19 and 21 of the Shorter Catechism – “All mankind by their fall lost communion with God are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.
      The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ…”

      It is true, and I confess to being guilty of affirming point three from the Statement of Faith of The Evangelical Free Church of America (and thereby of TSF) about the human condition … “We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.”

      Regarding those who lived before the time of Christ, I of course believe their salvation to be based in grace through faith, as stated so well in chapter 8, article VI of the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689…
      “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and today and forever.”

      I do not therefore find my theology troubling or worrisome, but rather to be grounded in the historic faith in God’s great grace in Christ, and in the obligation of all of us who have known this grace to be witnesses of it, in accord with the Savior’s final words, until he comes or takes us home to him.

  2. I’m not Catholic, but the ancient creeds have been accepted by them.

    They seem officially have a more accepting viewpoing than many Evangelicals though.

    Here is a quote from the Catholic Catechism as quoted at Faith Alone dot org by Bob Wilkin.
    =================================================
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says,

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation (#847).
    ==================================================

    At a catholic answers website, a Catholic gives the following answer.
    ==================================================
    Albert —
    Acts 4:12 says merely that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, and that anyone who is saved,
    is saved by Christ and his life-giving sacrifice on the Cross. They may or may not explicitly know Christ, but it is Christ who, in his grace, accepts their prayers and devotion and saves them from their sins. Hence, if any Muslim is saved, he is saved by Christ; so as well with any Jew or pagan.

    The Catholic position on salvation of non-believers is that it is possible for those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of Christ and His Church to be saved if they seek God, responding to his grace, and faithfully follow the dictates of their conscience. Explicating this from Scripture would take a whole book but for a start, look at John 9:41, which says,

    ‘Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” ‘

    Thus, we are only accountable for what we know. The concept of conscience excusing or accusing those outside the fold (Gentiles) may be found in Romans 1:14-16. However, the most assurance of salvation can only be found by faith in Christ and communion with the Church which is his body.

    It’s sorta like asking, can a homeless man survive a winter night without shelter?
    Sure, it’s possible, but wouldn’t you want to give him shelter and food and protection and wouldn’t he be more likely to live, if he received it?

    [irrelevant deleted]

    We can never judge anyone’s soul, including our own […irrelevant…] See 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, Matthew 7:1, and Luke 6:37. We know neither whether Gandhi was saved or condemned. He seemed to be attracted to Christ but ultimately repelled by Christ’s followers.
    ================================================

    Or I just read another approach a leading evangelical organization takes.
    ————-
    When I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ we were instructed to answer the question about those who’ve never heard in a different but related way. Whatever God does for the heathens in Africa, Papua New Guinea or wherever else people have never heard, He will be fair. But you have heard. You are clearly accountable even under your own premise. So the question is, what are you going to do with Jesus? Are you going to believe in Him for the life He promises? Or are you going to walk away from everlasting life?
    ————-

    I, Randy, can not get around the scriptures that show God loves certain qualities in some people.Some show love in response to the way God showed them his kindness through nature. (Acts 14:17) and so it makes sense that “whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in him.”

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
    Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat 5:3-12 NIV)

    The only way I reconcile your theology, that I can think of with the promises in this scripture is to believe that no non-Christians are merciful – otherwise they will be shown mercy, rather than hell. And that can’t happen.

    The poor in spirit … theirs is the kingdom of heaven. NOPE … or they will have it for a moment until God realizes they weren’t Christians and then he will send them to hell.
    Ditto for those who are persecuted because of righteousness, those who stood up for good, no matter what their background was and then maybe killed or tortured for their good deeds. And then at the resurrection Jesus will lean over and ask Calvin … and Calvin will tell him to send the guy to hell.
    The pure in heart will see God. Only to be then punished.
    Peacemakers will called sons of God. but still be sent to hell.

    Despite what “Calvinists” or “Lutherans” believe, … I find the notion that God will eternally condemn all those who didn’t hear about Jesus to be contrary to the grace shown throughout scripture and I don’t find the apostles or anyone else in scripture saying that.

    God has allowed his truth to be hidden for a time and for his purpose. When revealed even the people of Sodom will recognize the truth of God for its transformative power. Jesus said as much, saying that the city would still exist if he had talked to them.

    So maybe R. C. Sproul was right that “God may grant his mercy unilaterally at some point”.
    Do you think there is absolutely no chance that you are wrong on this point?

    There are all these weird scriptures that are hard to understand about Jesus preaching to the dead etc … Jesus talked about a particular sin as being neither forgivable in this age or in the age to come. At the resurrection, different people of different ages who didn’t hear about Jesus when they lived, even the people of Ninevah, will condemn the people of Jesus day, who didn’t listen to Jesus. And yet Jesus said that he talked in Parables so that even they would not understand. (Matthew 13:10-17) I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Rom 11:25 NIV)

    Clearly at the resurrection people will learn about Jesus. You are telling me that these people who clearly hear and learn about Jesus at the resurrection and some come to honestly love him and believe in him will then be punished by Jesus forever?

    Or do you find this extension of God’s mercy to be too much in the last hour of the figurative work day … to warrant Jesus being kind to them and showing them the same reward as he showed us? Is your problem with God showing mercy at the resurrection to previously spiritually unknowledgeable people who don’t know their figurative right hand from their left hand because you believe you have worked so hard for him all your life … and that Him showing mercy to others is unfair to you? Are you thinking “what is the point of serving and loving God now, if I can slip in at the end and recieve God’s grace at the resurrection? (I truly hope you don’t think that☺)

    Not knowing God in this life, is a punishment and a great loss. Many people go through life searching, but not finding. As Jesus said, “For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Mat 13:17 NIV) Many Christians think there is a rule in heaven somewhere that everyone who desires the truth, will have a vision and then an apostle or minister of the gospel will be sent to him to tell him the truth. As Jesus said, – there were many righteous men who wanted to hear about him but did not.

    “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psa 84:10 NIV)

    I’ll teasingly sum up my response to your response. I believe God has more grace and love through Jesus than you believe he has. ☺

    I cannot argue that your belief is not “orthodox” in some circles. Keep in mind that many of these theologians who came up the belief you hold, pondered these questions at a time when belief in Christianity was running very high and they didn’t have to wrestle with questions about ignorant people around the world, or people who were in their culture but indoctrinated into another world view. Now, from remark above when Campus Crusade trains others for evangelism, they are instructed to say that God is fair, and will treat them fairly. Yet what they really believe from their statement of faith is this. “15. At physical death the unbeliever enters immediately into eternal, conscious separation from the Lord and awaits the resurrection of his body to everlasting judgment and condemnation.”

    Randy, can you explain to me, besides saying “they are stupid,” as to how someone can be eternally separated from the Lord, when later it will be Jesus who will judge them? Even if Jesus decides to send every unbeliever or ignorant person to hell … he still has contact with them. That ISN”T eternal SEPARATION. Even those going to hell will have the opportunity to ask basic questions, like “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (Mat 25:44 NIV) I don’t see how Jesus can turn down meaningful displays of faith – even from outside the fold. He was only sent to the Lost Sheep of Israel, but still had mercy on others who had great faith, … I guess you think in the judgment he won’t have any mercy when he talks to people who weren’t Christian in this life.

    Your type of theology is difficult to market to people besides children or those who grew up believing it. Maybe that is one reason that Evangelicals have such a hard time reaching older folk and seem to have most success evangelizing the youngest people. Older people have seen too much good outside of Christianity and too much wickedness inside Christianity, to believe that God only works with and only loves Christians.

    Grace and peace … TD

  3. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Tit 2:11 NIV)
    If that is true, than all have the opportunity to hear about (or recieve) God’s grace either in this life or the next.

    “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance
    (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”
    (1Ti 4:9-10 NIV) I believe that Jesus is the Savior of all men and especially of those who believe. It did not say “exclusively of those who believe” or “only of those who believe”.

    And the Apostle John writing to the church says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1Jo 2:1-2 NIV)

    I am familiar with your thought that the “whole world” here refers not the church but to the gentile Christians … but this isn’t James writing to the 12 tribes. It is the same John (isn’t it?) who uses the phrase “the Jews” about 66 times in his gospel. The point is that John was capable of spelling out when he was looking at things from a racial/ethnic/background point of view. John’s letter (1 John) was filled with church orientated phrases and doesn’t discuss the Jew/Gentile issue. A search on both words show no “hits” on either word in first John through third John. Instead 70 times in the gosplel of John the term the “world” is used and looking at all of them suggests that in no way does the term have a specified meaning that doesn’t include “Jews”.If that was the case then when Jesus died for the “world” then it suggests he didn’t die for Jews. The term the “world” is used about 23 times in 1John. In which instance among any of these 90 usages does the Apostle John lead you to believe that the term refers to the Gentile believers? Since there are none – can you rethink your argument that this phrase refers to the Gentile believers? Is this a Dallas Theological Seminary thing?

    John calls his readers “my dear children” (1 John 2:1) and “Dear friends” (1 John 2:7) “you believe in the name of the Son of God”. In 1 John 5:19 he wrote, “the whole world is under the control fo the evil one”. How then can John be calling Gentile believers the “world” if all of them are under the control of the evil one?

    If scripture teaches one thing and DTS another … are you going with the view of your seminary teachers? That in my opinion is one reason Jesus cautioned about following traditions and teachings of men. He also wants people to go to the Bible rather than believe humans have some sort of authority. As Jesus said “… you have one Teacher, the Christ.” (Mat 23:10 NIV)

    It is very easy to get attached to some viewpoint of a singular scripture or cluster of scriptures and be so confident that you are right that you dismiss a mountain of scriptures to the contrary.

    You will probably be blind to these scriptures for the rest of your life … and so maybe God doesn’t want me to keep pestering you about them …

    Maybe you are mostly attached to the idea of “salvation” as being only some phrase that deals with “entering into heaven”. But I think it is a larger phrase. I think it has to do with knowing God now and living in the light now. I think it has to do with being transformed to be like him. … a narrow view of “being saved” makes it hard to see how God may take someone who shows no to little transformation in this life, and allow that person to be in the Kingdom. But “God is love”. 1/3 of the angels rebelled against God. Do you think God’s interactions with humans are such a failure that he will have to send some 90% of humans to hell? If God wanted to he could give every human being a vision and talk to them all personally. He did it with Paul. The exceptions should not be assumed to be the norm.

    How do you know when to “preach the gospel” and how do you know when talking to unbelievers is “casting pearls before swine” or “giving what is holy to the dogs”? Probably, what Jesus said about taking the plank out of one’s own eyes might be an answer to that question. Then people can see clearly enough to remove the speck from their brother’s eye.

    I’ll post this. Maybe somebody will get something out of it.

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