‘Let Go and Let God!’

Updated again!

One of my memories from the time that I was a prayer counselor for the Rex Humbard ministry back in the late 1970s and early 1980s was how wrapped up many Christian parents and, sometimes, Christian leaders would get in the lives of their children and even other adult believers. I can remember how one sister in Christ, with sons of her own on her heart, telling another mother quite compassionately, “Let go and let God.”

That’s an old Alcoholics Anonymous expression, but it does speak to the exaggerated sense of responsibility that many believers, often Christian parents, take for the lives of other people. They become interfering ‘helicopter’ parents in the lives of others, usually their own children, but sometimes others as well. Many times Christian leaders fall into this trap of over-responsibility, when they come into a kind of stubborn self delusion that they know what is right for another believer. They may then fall into very devious and sinful ways of trying to force another adult into what they believe is right for that person. For myself, I can think of at least three fellow pastors to whom I have felt a need to say, “Let go!” There was one of them in particular that I really felt that this was a message that God had for him. Out of these experiences, I developed my own twist on the First Spiritual Law from Campus Crusade for Christ’s list of the Four Spiritual Laws: “God loves you, but everyone else has a wonderful plan for your life!” I think that often we fail to emphasize that God brings no one into our lives, especially another believer, as the vehicle for our own ambitions and plans but that together we may all follow his plans for our lives.  As for myself, I have kept and will always keep the final responsibility to discern and follow God’s will from his Word for myself (II Timothy 3:16-17, Romans 14:9-12, II Corinthians 5:10, Philippians 2:12-13), and I think that’s really God’s plan for every adult and every person who is growing into adulthood.

I don’t see this sense of over-responsibility and surrogate over-parenting which I have mentioned in the Bible, either in precept or example. I first mentioned this in an earlier blog post (We’re Not Your Parents!):

How unreasonable this is can simply be seen by looking at the scriptural pattern and God’s design for the world in his creation and providence: God only gives parental authority and position to those who have children by birth or adoption, and parental authority is only given to them over their own children and ceases when their children become adults. We need to recognize anything else as a self serving deception.

Jesus calls us away from all that attitude of self exaltation over another two sentences later: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). His call is away from any path to or self justification of power over others for the sake of my own pride and self satisfaction to the way of Christlike servanthood and humility. In this age of self serving pride, this is the way to show the reality of our salvation and our ongoing relationship to the Son of God who took on the form of a servant and humbled himself even to the death on the cross (Philippians 2:1-11).

Rather, especially in Jesus, I see a turning back of the responsibility to follow God’s Word back on adults who already have that responsibility. I can see much more the entrusting of the people for whom they had concern back to God, often in an explicit commitment of them back to God in prayer. That, in fact, is often part of the meaning of the nice little benedictions that close the New Testament letters like Jude 24-25: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy . . .” It is the point of statements like Paul’s in his farewell to the Ephesian elders at Troas: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

Many of the Christian parents that I knew in the past had come to the place where they had entrusted the lives of their children to God, and took pains to leave them there, as they themselves often said. They could pray in faith for them and trust God for them without attempting to interfere in their lives, control them, or enmesh themselves in their lives and wrap themselves in their lives. Those who dedicated them publicly to God before the church sometimes bring back the memory of that act to bolster them when they are tempted to fret or become over involved in their lives Even more, I believe that this kind of entrusting someone into the care and keeping of God above all is necessary for every believer, every Christian leader, to do with everyone with whom they are tempted to do so the same. So, if you have any kind of anxiety or concern about anyone’s life, do not discuss it with anyone else, and make it a subject of gossip.

What this comes down to is that we need to be careful to treat other people in age appropriate ways if we are to be truly loving as Jesus has loved us, and this means making sure that we treat adults as adults much more often. “ . . . love does not act in inappropriate ways . . .” (I Corinthians 13:5).  I believe that often a controlling, helicopter parent takes these tendencies into his or leadership style if he or she becomes a leader in a local church, denomination or or other evangelical institution. Too often it seems like this is often neither recognized nor rebuked, even among the official leaders of churches, when they begin to act as surrogate parents, even in the lives of other adults. Again, I have seen this tendency most often among church leaders when they have been helicopter parents. When they become empty nesters there is a real danger that they become helicopter people. It’s not hard to recognize the characteristics that this obsessive, unwanted and unwelcome interference in the lives produces in the lives of those who are consumed with it: hovering, intrusive, interfering, fearful and obsessively observant about the life of another adult.

There was once an an egregious example of how destructive this kind of helicopter parenting can become in the classic film Now, Voyager. In this film Bette Davis showed her tremendous acting ability as the youngest daughter of a tyrannical mother who tried to rule her every possible, miniscule way. In the film Claude Rains played the psychiatrist who diagnosed her character with a severe mental illness and managed to get her away from the tyranny of her mother. Nowadays, her character would not be diagnosed with mental illness but arrested development and psychological injury due to repeated verbal and emotional abuse. The mother would be recognized as being more pathological than the character which Bette Davis played. Her character, before the psychiatrist pulled her away from her toxic home life, showed a life which could be described as prematurely aged and emotionally exhausted, robbed and ransacked through having to deal with her mother’s tyranny over her life.  Unfortunately, though, it’s not often one parent but both spouses in a marriage who get caught up in this kind of treatment of others. This is an extreme example, and rarely comes to this, but I do want anyone caught up in this kind of treatment to understand that the personal and emotional consequences can be quite destructive. Here is the portrayal of what this treatment brought to this still young woman.

This is not where God has called us, brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather, follow the scriptural path of entrusting the people in our lives entirely to God and renouncing any kind of over-responsibility or interference in their lives. Learn to leave them in the hands of God if you are ever tempted to try to over-reach in responsibility and criticize and sabotage decisions and actions that they have made with full responsibility before God and man. Confess any previous meddling or controlling actions as sin before God (I John 1:7-10, I Peter 4:15 – note the word ‘meddler’).

  • Admit before God that you act as a surrogate parent to feed your own ego and your own reputation and to avoid your own fears, needs and disappointments, and that you have not been willing to step back and allow God to work in the lives of the others but have tried to play God yourself in the lives of other people. Admit that you have not seen God the Father but yourself as the perfect parent, that you have not recognized the Son of God but yourself as the one who should be in charge of someone else’s life, and that you have not realized that God the Holy Spirit is the one who brings about real changes in another person’s life and not yourself.
  • If you are an empty nester parent and you finding yourself being drawn to play the part of the self appointed surrogate parent, admit that you miss your own children and that you obsessively watch for  and prey upon the real, supposed or exaggerated weaknesses of others to try to enlist them to be in the place of a child so that you can keep on playing the part of a parent in someone else’s life.
  • Thank God for every moment that you have had with your children, and work on your own relationship with your children. Explicitly renounce control of them and entrust them to God.
  • Work on your own marriage if you are married. If you are obsessed with controlling any other person, there is a good possibility that your spouse is being cheated out of the proper attention, respect and affection by that obsession.
  • Develop healthy, respectful, non controlling relationships. Keep on reminding yourself that Jesus is Lord, not you for as long as it takes for the message to sink in. If it helps, develop a habit of seeing Jesus as standing between every other person you are tempted to try to control and yourself.

In addition, if you are tempted to keep on meddling and hovering around some other believer, pray, confess and do nothing but thank God for that person and praise God that he is working out HIS will in that person’s life. Do not talk or complain about that person any longer, and go to those you have expressed your ‘concerns’ and retract what you have said as out of place, unnecessary, self serving and most likely distorted!

End your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

In case you just immediately missed or dismissed or ignored what was just written, end your meddling and gossip.

In case anyone else advised you to miss, dismiss or ignore what was just written, end your meddling and gossip.

In case you are bristling at what was just written and your habitual stubbornness has arisen when as it usually does when you are confronted with your bossy, meddling and gossiping ways, understand this: you still need to end your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

In case you are now calculating how ending your bossiness, meddling and gossip will damage the exaggerated reputation that you have tried to construct for yourself through talking yourself up and talking down that other person, understand this: you still need to end your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

If you are now trying to say that God has led you or led anyone else to encourage you to speak and act in these unscriptural ways, understand this: you still need to end your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

If you cannot get the picture out of your mind that that other person is immature and needs your help, understand that immaturity is not necessarily a permanent, lifelong state, that what you think is immaturity in that other person may not now and may never have in fact existed as a long term problem, and that your immaturity and your own long term problem is your bossiness, meddling and gossip. Rather, thank God for whatever ways in which he guided, protected and preserved you in spite of yourself and your own immaturity and find some humility in recognizing all the ways in which you have failed, messed up, sinned and fallen short of all your own desires and expectations. So you still need to end your bossiness, meddling and gossip.

Then, find the way to pray for the person with which you have been wrapped up in getting your way in that person’s life. Getting your way in that person’s life is not an item on God’s agenda for that person’s life.  Give the almighty, all-wise and all-loving God the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing and can do in the life of another person, and be prepared to give that other person the benefit of the doubt if you are or have been praying for him or her and he or she has been making choices that may not fit your ideas but which do not violate scripture. Here are some ways to pray for a fellow believer, whether your child or someone else’s child – but still God’s child — who needs to be entrusted into the ultimate keeping of the almighty, all-wise and all-loving God:

  • Pray for that person to be built up and established in the Word God, in faith, love, witness and maturity (II Thessalonians 1:11-12, Colossians 2:6-7).
  • Ask that that person grow to maturity in Christ, in life, service, and fruitfulness (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  • Request that God fill that person with spiritual insight, to be receptive to the Word of God and in first hand, personal knowledge of God (Colossians 3:15-17, Ephesians 1:15-20).
  • Pray that that person be filled with the love of Christ through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-21, Philippians 1:9, I Thessalonians 3:12, Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25).
  • Ask that that person be filled with the Spirit of prayer in the name of Christ, to become a person of constant prayer (Romans 8:26-27, Ephesians 2:18, 3:12, 6:18).

Here are some ways to pray for someone for whom you may be concerned who is not a believer:

  • Agree with the gracious desire of God himself that that person come to salvation in Christ (Ezekiel 18:23, John 3:17, I Timothy 2:4, II Peter 3:9).
  • Reason with God that the salvation of that person is the fulfillment of the purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 12:23-24, I Timothy 2:5, II Corinthians 5:14-15, Romans 14:9).
  • Ask that that person come into contact with a daily witness with an open heart (Acts 2:47).
  • Ask that Christ be made manifest in the gospel to that person through the Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 4:6, Isaiah 9:2, John 6:44, 15:26-27, 16:8-11, I Thessalonians 1:5, Psalm 83:16).

If you are a pastor, then, learn to let go when people leave your church for any reason. Pray over them as I have just mentioned. There may be problems that they have had with you or your church, or even other problems with which they have been suffering in silence at your church. It may well be that they need to get away to deal with them. People rarely run away a loving church with sound Bible teaching, but they do run from interfering, controlling and even abusive people in churches. If that person is not you, you may still need to let them go to find a safe haven. While scripture does call us to remain in fellowship with other believers, I cannot find anywhere that it says we must remain in fellowships where interfering, controlling or abusive people continue to wreak their mischief and pain upon a believer, especially if the leaders in the church tolerate, encourage or even participate in that same interference and abuse.

If people leave your church, do not:

  • Try to track them to any churches where they may be attending, or ask anyone that you know is a friend of that person to keep an eye on them and report on what happens to them. (This may in some cases violate anti-stalking laws.)
  • Keep on trying to get them back to attend your church again, especially if they have become involved in another church.
  • Express any concerns about them publicly or privately, or write any letters or have any discussions about them with people at a new church if they start attending one.
  • Especially do not share any of your concerns or perhaps personal disagreements or quarrels with a fellow pastor, even if it’s in a letter or email and under the guise of a referral. (This may meet the legal definitions for libel, slander and defamation of character.)
  • If you know of any medical treatment that this person has undergone – and this includes counseling and psychotherapy – be extremely careful what you say. You might be opening yourself up for legal action under HIPAA regulations.

If you are a pastor and another pastor does something like calling you to tell you things about someone who has started to attended or sending you letters or emails about that person, here’s what I would advise:

  • Let that pastor know that you are prepared to let that person know everything that is said or written, and that he or she will get a copy of the letter or email for his or her consideration.
  • If that pastor starts to backtrack and try to get you to stop you from doing any such thing, then ask for a complete retraction of everything that was said, especially if it was done in a letter or email.

Some years ago V. Raymond Edman wrote about the tremendous damage that can be done through the letter writing campaigns that many had brought much suffering to many believers, both pastors and otherwise. In a previous blog post, Recommendations, References, Evaluations and Slander, I wrote about how this can cause problems in finding employment and other unnecessary vocational obstacles, and I do believe that many of the files of our pastors, churches and denominational offices do contain documents which amount to de facto slander against fellow pastors and fellow believer. Over the years I’ve also met those in our churches and among our leaders are extremely vulnerable to receive and pass on slander, hearsay and rumor. The very least that any leader in the church of Jesus Christ can do is to refuse to receive it and act on it, especially if they themselves have been devastated when it happened to them.


During my time in the pastorate, I found that there was usually at least one controlling person trying to hold the reins in a stagnant and declining church – and often this was a married woman going into or past middle age. Often I found that in families where patterns of addiction are entrenched that there was a person who had been trying to control others for years or decades. In an earlier blog post (Controlling Others As Counterfeit Love), I dealt with the issue of trying to control other people. I still think that we have not dealt often or loudly enough about this tendency to try to control, rooted in human pride, the desire to play God in someone else’s life, in our preaching and teaching. Here is some of what I wrote then:

Biblical, Christlike love is servanthood, not control:. . . serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:14). It is seeking the highest good of another person according to the standards of the Word of God. Attempts to control others pollute love, sabotage their God given responsibility for their own lives, and may eventually destroy the relationship. Here are some of the self deceptions of the person who attempts to control others in their lives.

1. Self Deception: “I believe that a person who changes to my specifications will be a better person.”

Reality: This is a dangerous arrogance of personal authority and presumption of personal knowledge of what is best for another person. Only God can be the real judge of what is best for another person.

2. Self Deception: “I am responsible to make another adult do what he should do.”

Reality: Each adult has his own responsibility before God to follow his will, and will answer personally to God for how he has fulfilled that responsibility.

3. Self Deception: “God has given me special insight and capability to help this person make necessary changes in his or her life.”

Reality: This is mistaking the voice of obsession for the voice of the Holy Spirit, and is a rationalization of attempts to play the Hoy Spirit in another person’s life. The real agenda of the Holy Spirit is different than that of another human being, and he does not originate nor stand behind obsessions.

4. Self Deception: “I would be happier if this other person changed.”

Reality: Happiness is dependent upon your personal choice of the will of God.

5. Self Deception: “I meet my emotional needs by exerting power over others.”

Reality: God wants you to find satisfaction in a humble walk with himself.

6. Self Deception: “I am overprotective of those whom I love.”

Reality: God alone is sufficient to protect and defend his people. . . .

  • “Results in another person’s life are not my responsibility.”
  • “My preconceived notions of what the end result of my helping may be far from God’s actual intentions for another person.” .
  • “I cannot change another person, no matter how much I care and want to help.”
  • “No strings of control are to be attached to my gift of love.”
  • “I am not needed in the role of Messiah.”
  • “I must never underestimate my own human vulnerability.”
  • “I must never overestimate my ability to know what is best for another adult.”
  • “I am not superior. I am just a friend, a person who has chosen to love.”
  • “Only eternity will reveal the fruit of love I have sown in other’s lives.”
  • “When I love another person, I offer it as a gift to Christ.”


Here are some other posts in which I dealt with this issue of over-responsibility and control, and the results that it may have in the lives of others. The issue of escaping the control of a hovering, controlling parent is something that has often been mentioned in the lives of young people when they leave our evangelical churches. Again, I think that we need to keep on talking about the need to go beyond a childhood version of one’s faith, or a second hand or heirloom faith, as a part of growing to maturity in Christ and as an adult.

All scripture references taken unless otherwise indicated  from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers

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Fool Proofing Our Churches

A few weeks ago, I read through Jan Silvious’s book Foolproofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life. It is a wonderful book, based in the scriptures, and it does have a lot to say about dealing with a person, even a Christian or a Christian leader, who fits the Biblical definition of a fool in some way.

The question that I came away with was: Why are there so many in our churches who live like the Biblical definition of a fool? Why do they find it easy to live like fools in the middle of a church which ostensibly believes the Bible and follows the Bible? Is there some sense in which our churches function as fool factories?

I confess that I do not have much of an answer at this point to that question, but there is a situation from my pastoral experience which comes to mind. Some years ago, a young husband attended my church who was experiencing deep problems in his life and marriage. It came out over the course of time that he had had at one time a connection with a fellowship of believers and had even been on at least one overseas mission trip with that fellowship, though he had left any kind of regular church attendance and involvement before he was married. His profession of being a Christian was quite over-the-top, we may say; it was beyond assertive to be quite defiant, oppositional and antagonistic to be a kind of personal power trip, that when he went into a kind of short term self immersion in what he thought was Christian behavior that he felt strong and powerful and superior. Naturally, this kind of behavior was a tremendous provocation to his wife, since it was almost as if he was trying to be a Christian version of the cartoon character He-Man and his Christianity was a kind of strutting, crowing and and immersing himself in an in-your-face psycho-drama that ‘I have the power!’

It came out that when I shared the two diagnostic questions from Evangelism Explosion that he had never really come to a Biblically based saving faith. His outward profession of faith was all about him living up to what he thought was a manly, powerful Christian, but no trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and for eternal life. This was no conclusion that I had to force upon him at all, but when I gently and caringly shared the questions and then led him to such passages as Ephesians 2:8-9 he came to that conclusion himself. He was visibly shocked and astonished when he himself realized that he had never really even understood the gospel in the first place and what it meant to be saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. There were some hopeful signs at first, since he did pray with me to express repentance for his sins and trust in Christ as his Savior, and there was enough of a change at first for his wife to show up at church wondering what had happened and wanting to know for herself. Unfortunately, someone who attended my church with ambitions to be a pastor and an elder (but who would not submit to any educational course of pastoral preparation nor to any evaluation by any established denominational licensing and ordaining council but who would simply try to copy little things he saw pastors doing) showed up at his door, and we never saw him again at church, and my efforts to visit him again were unavailing.

I’m not losing any sleep over my church losing the attendance of a grown man who had all the resources of any number of easily understandable Bibles and the gospel preaching churches of North America to get the gospel straight and follow Jesus. I have prayed for him and his wife and I would rejoice in the news that he and his wife found a stable, Bible believing church and have been growing in Christ. Rather, I think that there are several things right here which indicate why our churches may seem to be fool factories.

First, we often seem to accept people who show up and say some of the correct things to have been truly saved. It is neither intrusive nor rude to ask someone gently and lovingly  who attends our church and seeks to be a part of the fellowship about the nature and history of his or her profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that our body language can be of great help to draw people out to disclose what is really in their hearts; if we don’t stand in front of them and stare right into their eyes with an expectant, pressurizing smile that seems to be demanding an immediate answer, but sit beside them and let them speak freely, we can often find out their basis of trust for salvation. It’s usually possible to find out fairly easily those who have experienced a change of opinions and association from those who have experienced the saving power of Jesus Christ by faith in him alone for their eternal salvation. Jan Silvious does mention in her Foolproofing book that many fools who profess to be Christians were probably never saved to begin with, and I would definitely agree. I know that there are risks in putting numbers to this, but I would personally estimate that probably about a third, if not more, of the fools who profess to be Christians fall into this category. (And this brings up a problem that I think there has not been sufficient prayer and scriptural discussion: the problem of North American evangelical nominalism. I’ll leave the pastors and other Christian leaders who read this to chew on that for a while.)

Second, in addition, I don’t think that we say it often enough and loudly enough that our reception of the salvation of Jesus Christ does not make us in ourselves better than any other human being. The very heart of true repentance, the abject humility of the broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), which is part of the Biblical reception of salvation, in itself entails the renunciation of any self pretensions of superiority, since it involves the admission of personal sinfulness, and this cannot include any pretensions to be a better person than any other sinner on this earth. In the classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, in fact, John Bunyan made this awareness of personal sinfulness as the difference between a Mr. Faithful and a Mr. Talkative, and someone who came into the kingdom of Jesus by the Wicket-Gate of repentance and faith and someone who tried to slip in by some other way.

Even more, we need to say it much more often and much more assertively that  the fruit in our lives which comes after we have received salvation by faith in Christ is not something that we can crow about, but it is for the glory of God, to demonstrate his power and glory and not our own (John 15:6, Ephesians 2:10). Even more, if we find ourselves in a position of leadership in the church, it can never be about ourselves and our personal glory (“looking good” in front of fellow believers). This was something that I tried to make clear in my earlier post Who Is the Greatest?, and I would repeat: In Christ we are blessed with all his spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and there is no indication that there’s anything in being a leader that adds anything on to all the spiritual blessings in Christ with which we have already been blessed.

As a final note, I want to go back to a point that I was making in my earlier post, Called to Follow, Not to Be Radical, that we need to back off of the hype and rhetoric about being radical and extreme as Christians. Quite frankly, I think that such hype may very well feed an underlying sense of self superiority and a foolish power and superiority trip such as I described earlier. It may well be a good idea for youth pastors and other leaders in the church now to issue an apology and disclaimer to the previously fashionable rhetoric and hype about being extreme and radical. It’s not about being radical or extreme – and no believer can find anything to crow about in whether he or she thinks that he or she is a radical or extreme Christian, and especially not if this includes any sense of being superior to any other believer or any other human being. Rather, it’s about denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following him (Luke 9:23).

Charles Finney On Parents Praying For Their Children

“ Prayer, to be effectual, must be offered from right motives. Prayer should not be selfish, but dictated by a supreme regard for the glory of God. A great deal of prayer is offered from pure selfishness. Women sometimes pray for their husbands, that they may be converted, because they say, “It would be so much more pleasant to have my husband go to meeting with me,” and all that. And they seem never to lift up their thoughts above self at all. They do not seem to think how their husbands are dishonoring God by their sins, and how God would be glorified in their conversion. So it is with parents very often. They cannot bear to think that their children should be lost. They pray for them very earnestly indeed. But if you go to talk with them, they are very tender, and tell you how good their children are, how they respect religion, and they think they are almost Christians now; and so they talk as if they were afraid you would hurt their children if you should tell them the truth. They do not think how such amiable and lovely children are dishonoring God by their sins; they are only thinking what a dreadful thing it will be for them to go to hell. Ah! unless their thoughts rise higher than this, their prayers will never prevail with a holy God.”

“The temptation to selfish motives is so strong, that there is reason to fear a great many parental prayers never rise above the yearnings of parental tenderness. And that is the reason why so many prayers are not heard, and why so many pious, praying parents have ungodly children. Much of the prayer for the heathen world seems to be based on no higher principle than sympathy. Missionary agents, and others, are dwelling almost exclusively upon the six hundred millions of heathens going to hell, while little is said of their dishonoring God. This is a great evil; and until the church have higher motives for prayer and missionary effort than sympathy for the heathen, their prayers and efforts will never amount to much.”

What REALLY Turned Off Many Young Atheists

Some years ago, Art Linkletter told the story of a young boy who dragged his leg when he walked. His horrified mother then took him to an endless round of doctors and medical specialists to find out the problem. They couldn’t find anything wrong with him, so finally one sat down beside him and asked, “Son, why do you drag your leg when you walk?”

The boy replied, “I’m Chester. I work for Mr. Dillon.” (FYI: Chester Goode was the lame deputy of Marshal Matt Dillon in the classic television Western Gunsmoke, and the veteran actor Dennis Weaver played him in the series.

It seems to me that much of the reaction of the evangelical church to the young atheists that may come from an evangelical background and probably many of the millenials who have left the church is the same kind of reaction. All sorts of specialists, especially in the area of apologetics have been called in to treat the problem, but there is a simpler explanation when you simply talk to the person. Eric Metaxas mentioned this in his Breakpoint commentary, and he refers to the article by Larry Alex Taunton in the Atlantic Monthly. Here are the links to these articles.

I wrote this comment on the Breakpoint Facebook page:

To me, it seems like these young atheists that had a severe disappointment with the evangelical church came up across a problem that every generation of young people who come to be passionate about Jesus encounters: offense at nominal and carnal Christians among the professing church. In terms of the parable of the Sower, it’s like they become the seed sown on rocky ground by offense at the seed sown on the path and the seed sown among thorns and they then miss that there really remains the seed sown on good ground. I think that no one really who is passionate about following Jesus will ever not experience frustration with nominal and carnal Christians throughout one’s own lifetime, but there needs to be that realization that the reaction Jesus expects is for us to take up our cross, deny ourselves daily and follow him regardless.

The Gospel of God in the Power of God

Updated!

The missionary James Fraser, while he was preparing to preach in SW China,  decided to go through the New Testament, especially Acts, to see how the gospel was preached. As he read through the New Testament again, he was struck by the simplicity of the gospel. So he went throughout the marketplaces of the different towns, and explained it to the others that he would meet. What he had found, when he looked for not just, “What did Jesus do?” but “What did Jesus and the apostles say, do and teach?”, was that the center of the gospel was the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and he made this the center of his own evangelistic efforts. Even more, he noted that the gospel included the call to repentance and the promise of the forgiveness of sins, and he kept these as the expected response and the promised benefit as well.

So, this takes us beyond the simple inquiry of approaching the gospels about evangelism with just the question: What did Jesus do? Here are the questions which form a starting point for a deeper, more robust inquiry:

  • What did Jesus command?
  • What did Jesus preach as the gospel?
  • What did the apostles do?
  • What did the apostles command?
  • What did the apostles preach as the gospel?

  And eventually, you will consider the question: What did Jesus teach in his post resurrection teaching? And then you come up with the outline of the gospel that James Fraser found and then the one which apostles used as they entered into the worldwide mission to spread the gospel throughout the world. The Lord Jesus himself supplied the basic outline of the gospel. In fact, he made it a central part of his teaching to the apostles during the 40 days after the resurrection, before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost. This summary of the gospel was the center of his post resurrection teaching, which was the capstone of and culmination of his earthly teaching ministry. In this post-resurrection teaching ministry it can truly be said that Jesus Christ was personally and literally bringing his church into being through his Word, and giving the apostles all that they would need to begin their mission after his ascension. It can truly be said that this often underemphasized post resurrection ministry lay behind the majority of the preaching and teaching in the book of Acts, and carried through to the New Testament books written by Peter, Paul and others.

So then, the center of his post resurrection teaching was the explanation of all that had happened in his life, ministry, death and resurrection according to the Old Testament revelation of himself as the Messiah , and then the constant reinforcement of his great concern for the spreading of the good news which centered on his own suffering and death. That was his constant command to the apostles, and to all who had become his disciples, who had witnessed his resurrection, to begin their mission. This has likewise been the continuing mission to those who have received his salvation ever since.

The need since then has ever been for the people of God to go back to his Word, and to get the message of salvation straight. The message of salvation is the gospel of life, the acquittal from the guilt of our sins by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. It is not something that we have made up, our own opinion, or religious idea, nor is it something that we have any authority or freedom to modify. It is something that we need to keep in our understanding and deepen our understanding, because we need to be sure of it to be sure of our own eternal salvation. And this is often the reason why over the years, when the church, meaning the leaders and the people in the institutional churches, there has often been a struggle within the churches with the problem of nominalism, the person with a connection to a church, but who has never truly gotten the message straight in his or her own life, and often has truly never received salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

But once we have that message straight, the need then is for the church to get it out. For the church to get it out means that we need  to make it plain to others, to witness to Jesus Christ. This means that we take the message, when we have it straight,  and share the gospel of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus Christ himself has commanded his people. 

“And he said to them, ‘This is what is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance to receive the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And, look, I am sending upon you the promise of my Father; stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:46-49).

 THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST IS THE SOLE MESSAGE OF SALVATION. The Lord Jesus himself gave us the outline of the message of salvation that he wanted for his people to explain and proclaim. It is his offer to the whole world of himself as Lord and Savior, and the message originates with him. It is not a Western, white man’s gospel, but it comes from a man from the Middle East, who grew up there, lived there, and died at the hands of an occupying army, and who rose from the dead beyond all expectations. He then gave the whole world the message of who he is, and what he has done for us in his life, ministry, death and resurrection, and it is the only message that he has given his people as the basis of eternal salvation.  And because it is his message, no one afterward has the right or authority, especially among those who would claim to be his followers,  to change it, edit it or try to suppress it by any means.

Of course, gospel means ‘good news’, and Jesus Christ himself is the center of the good news of the gospel. The only gospel that the Bible contains and recognizes has Jesus as the summary and the entire message. Therefore, to evangelize means to explain and emphasize the crucified and risen Lord as the scriptures present him to us. To try to put another message in its place is to attempt to present a Jesus or a Messiah other than the one which the Bible has presented or one which Jesus himself did not mention or recognize.

This is how Jesus himself summarized his gospel: “This is what is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (v. 46). The summary of the post-resurrection teaching of Jesus was himself, as he fulfilled the scriptures, and he was himself his own visual aid and living proof of all that he explained. First, he explained all that the disciples had seen and experienced with him in the context of the Old Testament revelation of what the Messiah would be. This is part of the prior context of this statement, of the teaching about himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:26-27 and immediately preceding this statement in Luke 24: 44-45. All that he said cannot have been forgotten in the days afterwards; it beggars belief for anyone to think that anyone would not remember the the words of someone so familiar to them standing in front of them, whom they had seen die but were now seeing risen with the scars of his crucifixion upon him. And in his words he first of all explained how all this was in fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures, which they had known intimately from their earliest childhood,  as the Messiah of Israel. They would remember how during his preaching and teaching ministry before his crucifixion in Jerusalem how he had so often then presented himself as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world through the gospel. But there was a difference now, all that he had said and done was now for them to have as the center of their message, the only Christ who saves, the Son of God of the New Testament. Among them, children of the most assertively monotheistic nation of the ancient world, he had credibly presented himself as the Son of God, and was now standing before them and making sure that they saw, knew and recognized that he was the center of their message. For two thousand years, since God first spoke to Abraham, then, the tutorial of the Jewish nation that there was one holy God who created and ruled the world was now finding its fulfillment in the person of his Messiah, who had come to present his salvation to the world.

The message that Jesus Christ gave, the gospel message which he gave, is the message which his people, from the apostles onward, has needed to get and to keep straight. The church has never been the origin nor the judge of the message, but rather the steward of the message. And it is correct to assert along with the Reformers that the church is not the source of this gospel but rather that Jesus Christ creates the church through his gospel. And even more, the gospel will therefore include every implication and application of the death and resurrection of Jesus also throughout the New Testament, since the emphasis is not just on the fact but upon its meaning in the life of the world and its call to every person upon this earth. This then means what the apostle Paul called the scandal, the stumbling block, of the  cross to his day and age, the truth that all have sinned in this lost and dying world, and that there is no salvation in our own wisdom, speculations or attempts at good deeds, but only through the Jesus who died and rose again according to the scriptures, as Jesus himself has outlined in his gospel. This gospel is the only message which Jesus has given as the basis for saving faith, the message about himself, and the only message to which his Holy Spirit will bear witness. Therefore the only real witness, the only missional statement, the basis of scriptural evangelism and missions, is Jesus Christ himself, crucified and risen.

The method that the apostles used, then, to proclaim Jesus did not seem to be a rote memorization of an outline with supporting verses. Rather, they seemed to be immersed in the truth of the gospel, had the  passages which Jesus himself probably explained to them deep within their hearts, and had a number of talking points to explain the gospel. They seemed to be knowledgeable enough to give a clear and understandable reference and allusion to a verse during preaching and teaching, even if it was more of an explanatory paraphrase. But the center of their preaching and teaching was still Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, crucified and risen. And the centrality of the cross, the Messiah who had suffered, filled their preaching and teaching as the heart of the gospel.

It is, then, the gospel message itself, the truth of the saving Christ, that brings his church to life, and it is not the other way around. In fact, one of the signs of a church or denomination that has begun or has the potential for a deep decline is when anyone gets an idea that he or she can fiddle with the gospel of Jesus and the message of the crucified and risen Messiah in any way. The decline of a church, Christian organization, then, comes with  the infiltration of people into positions of leadership who are not sold out completely to the gospel of salvation in some way. Maybe they do not indulge in a completely outright denial, perhaps, but usually comes down to the consideration and acceptance idea that there might be or is some other way to salvation other than Jesus Christ himself. What happens is that these people start to substitute their own speculations and superficial reasonings for the plain statements of Jesus Christ and the apostles in the New Testament. What this often comes down to, then, is that they try to figure out how to make it something with which we are comfortable and that we think that we can control and something that we think will be acceptable to the type of unbelievers that we want to become a part of our churches. The gospel of a living Lord who died for us is certainly nothing that that we can either find easily comfortable nor anything that we can control, but it is certainly something with which we can find full assurance, as something with which we need not be embarrassed before anyone in this world: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . .” (Romans 1:16-17).

Lately, then, I’ve also been seeing a confusion creep back into the evangelical church of evangelism with ministries of compassion, where evangelism is equated with actions like feeding the poor and homeless. For a generation since World War II this confusion was mercifully absent from the ministries of the evangelical church, where it was recognized as an unscriptural equivocation and foreign import from old mainline liberalism. That following Jesus means compassionate concern for the poor and downtrodden has really never been much in dispute in the evangelical church; the deliberate confusion of compassionate work for the poor with evangelism in terms of communication of the gospel has always been something that those serious about Biblical authority and who have examined the scriptures have rejected.  And it’s easy to see that the apostles themselves did not consider concern for the poor (Galatians 2:10) and evangelism (Galatians 2:7-8) to be the same thing. And the truth is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is as much for the up-and-outer – for example, the divorced rich man, for instance, living in an ornate home but drinking himself to sleep every night – as it is, for example, the skid row alcoholic, the down and outer, the homeless man in tattered clothes who likewise self medicates through alcohol in one of the many paths to self ruination of fallen human nature. And the problem with this confusion of evangelism with ministries of compassion is that it usually ends up destroying evangelism, and the ministries of compassion end up being small efforts with which busy and self absorbed church members feel comfortable. I do not think that it’s too much to say that this eventually becomes humanitarianism without a Savior and without a cross.

The promise, then, of the scriptural gospel  is salvation. It is the forgiveness of sins to those who repent of their sins. Salvation from the real guilt of sin before God, therefore, is the promise of Jesus Christ himself, to those who come to him in repentance. And the fact that Jesus himself outlines repentance as the expected response to his gospel and the forgiveness of sins as the promised result shows that neither of these can be excised from the preaching of the gospel, from scriptural evangelism or from Biblically based missions upon any earthly, human authority. Rather, these are part of the scriptural gospel from beginning to end, as undersigned by Jesus Christ himself.

In verse 47, then, Jesus went on to state, “ . . . and that repentance to receive the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” By his own words he made the promise of scripture that his gospel brings forgiveness of sins, and from the very heart of the Middle East, the city of Jerusalem, this promise would be made known and available to all the world. His name, the name of the crucified and risen Son of God, would be the signature upon the pardon available to all those who had sinned, upon the response of repentance. His death and resurrection that he had paid the price for the forgiveness of sins and his authority as Lord of all meant that he had the eternal right to grant forgiveness of sins to the whole world. And consider this, that the crucified and risen Lord presented this as the fundamental need of the whole world: not of political or economic liberation, nor physical sustenance, though those may be real needs in themselves for some in this life, but that the problem was sin and the solution was the forgiveness which he had come to provide. That need was so important that he had gone to the cross to make it available.

It is also, then, within the very same sentence, the word of Jesus that repentance is part of the reception of his salvation. Repentance in itself cannot be an earning of salvation, but rather it is a change of allegiance, a turning from one’s own way and a life in disobedience to God, which keeps the forgiveness which came at his own death from becoming a permission to sin. It is his expectation that his granting forgiveness of sins once, completely and forever, would be received with a change of direction from one’s own sin and selfishness to the entire, wholehearted commitment to the will of God, to the Son of God as Lord of one’s life from then on. And this would also include a change of heart toward Jesus himself , of repentance from the sin of rejecting him as Messiah to faith in him as one’s Savior and Messiah once and forever. At it worked itself out, then, in the apostolic preaching and teaching of the gospel, repentance led to living as a disciple of Jesus with Jesus as Lord over one’s life. (For more on the relationship of saving faith and repentance in the scriptures, see John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and the Imperative Mood in Evangelism.)

The promise of the forgiveness of sins addresses the need that everyone everywhere in the world will always need first of all, the need to get right with God because of the guilt of their sins. Even more, the need of repentance as this response means that the forgiveness of sins that Jesus offers cannot be cheap grace, the permission of continuing in the sin which offends and alienates God, which treats God as a fool in offering a forgiveness which requires no change of life. Because people are naturally sinners by nature and by choice, there is that  condition of repentance, a change of heart before God and his will and a rejection of sin as the ruling power and authority in one’s life. This forgiveness of God then is not the geniality of an easy going God, but the gift of the God who hated sin and loved sinners to the point of providing the death of his Son on the cross and who raised Jesus to life to be Lord of all. The need of reconciliation with God, of a complete turnabout from sin to God to receive his salvation addresses the real need of people everywhere at every time. There may be some felt needs associated with this need for forgiveness, but the gospel then goes through to the real need of forgiveness of sin and salvation in Christ of everyone everywhere. And right here Jesus joins together both a gospel command – repentance – with a gospel promise – forgiveness of sins. So it’s normal, within the practice of Jesus himself, to join together both the commands and promises of the gospel with the presentation of the gospel, and Gospel commands and gospel promises were certainly presented together as during New Testament evangelism.

First, then, if anyone everywhere is ever to have any assurance of eternal life, it will be through the acceptance of the scriptural gospel, through becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. If anyone anywhere has been truly saved, it is because he or she has repented and received the forgiveness of sins upon the personal signature of Jesus Christ himself in his gospel. Getting the message straight, then, will first of all mean that the power and truth of the scriptural gospel will become and continue as a part of one’s own personal experience first of all. It will mean that one can tell others about the power of God to save through the gospel of Jesus Christ because that person has already experienced the saving power of the truth of God.

Second, the forgiveness of sins Jesus promises speaks to a need of the human heart which other religions address in some way, but never with a complete pardon based upon repentance. For instance, often people who claim to be Christians in the USA may in some way ascribe to the reincarnation and karma in a kind of syncretism with Hinduism on these matters. It has amazed me personally how much Hinduism resembles the pre-Christian religions and philosophies of the pre Christian West, the old Roman empire, which Christianity basically destroyed, such as Pythagoreanism with its emphasis on reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, the pantheism of Stoicism and mythologies with the multiple gods and goddesses and occult and magic of pagan religion. Hinduism even is based in part on the Vedas, which are more like the ancient Greek epic poems the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Theogony, which event the ancient Greek pagan writers, such as the poet and philosopher Xenophanes credited for the portrayal of the gods and goddesses of old paganism, and which even contain the old Indo European sky god Dyaus, who is known as Zeus among the Greeks and Jupiter among the Romans.   It seems like many Christians never realize the extreme contrast of all that there is from the Old Testament to the New Testament with what there is in Hinduism. Historically and theologically, Hinduism resembles much more the old philosophies and religions of the early Roman empire, the pre-Christian Western paganism, than what we find with the gospel of Jesus Christ that arose in the strict monotheism of post-exilic Palestinian Judaism. With Jesus, though, we have a real person lived in history, of the unabashedly monotheistic Jewish race and religion which continues today, and who lived in an easily verifiable time and place in history. We have someone whose teachings were not philosophical speculations and who offered not repetitious mantras but an approach to God in prayer as a loving Father and as the same person and personality that he created you to be. We have a Savior who died on a Roman cross and came to life with many witnesses in a historically verifiable time and place. And he offers the complete forgiveness of sins through his own death and resurrection instead of a continuous series of millions of reincarnations through various forms of life to wipe out the sins of an undefined past karma. And the gospel and promise of Jesus is is not the religion of a colonial power but the power of a man who lived, died and started the mission to reach the world in the heart of the Middle East, in a city under the domination of the world empire of that period.

So then, the Lord Jesus has given his message to the world, to be communicated by those who have received his salvation. But that is not all that he has given those whom he has called to be his witnesses. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls for messengers filled with the Holy Spirit. The communication of the supernatural gospel of salvation was never left up to the natural abilities of anyone. The message calls for messengers, and the risen Lord has given his requirement and promise that it is not to be left up just to the human abilities of the messengers. Even more, he has promised the supernatural promise of the Holy Spirit to his messengers, so that they can take it beyond where they would naturally be able to go of themselves and speak it with a power that no one of them would ever have in themselves.

First, the declaration of the Lord Jesus is that his followers are to be his witnesses, and this declaration is both a statement of fact and a command. Those who receive his salvation are to be the messengers of his salvation. It is not too much to say that this expectation of the risen Lord himself is that every believer has already been appointed a missionary in the part of the world where he or she lives regardless of the opinions of any human mission board or agency.

In verse 48, then, Jesus simply states, “You are witnesses of these things.” The first witnesses were the apostles, who were the prime eyewitnesses of his death and resurrection. But this declaration has never been understood to apply simply to the twelve apostles, but to everyone who has received his salvation thereafter. Here he makes the simple appointment of his followers to be his witnesses. Since then every believer in Jesus Christ, who has come to know the Lord of salvation, has been responsible to be a witness to the Savior. This simple declaration of Jesus Christ himself appoints all his followers in all ages as his witnesses. No one in any kind of church hierarchy can therefore override his simple appointment.No ordaining council, no laying on of human hands, no certificates or letters of recommendation from anyone nor underground opposition even from other believers else is either necessary to endorse his declaration nor can they contradict his declaration or appointment.

The believer in Jesus Christ who has experienced the salvation of Jesus Christ and who knows the living reality of the Savior in his or her life can therefore testify to the Savior and the reality of his salvation. The power of his salvation in our lives is our testimony, backed by the truth of the gospel events in the Bible and the historical trustworthiness of the Bible, and even more by the power of the gospel through the Holy Spirit. The present day believer is still responsible to explain the way of God’s salvation as in the Bible and to be a witness to the salvation of Jesus which he or she has already received, or otherwise, the reasonable conclusion is that he or she is not a believer at all if he or she has no Savior or no salvation to which he or she can testify. From all that there is in the New Testament, from the words of Jesus himself before and after the resurrection, each believer is called to be a witness to this world of the salvation that he or she has received or he or she is not a follower of Jesus Christ. It is as A. B. Simpson once said: “We are missionaries, every one of us with a commission and trust as definite as those we send overseas.”

So then, evangelism comes down just to simple obedience to be a witness to Jesus. I’ve heard over the years some strange justifications for evangelism, such as those who seek to lead lots of outward decisions for Christ, because they thought that the person would never then be lost – this is based upon an underlying belief in the eternal security of the believer based in a kind of pop Calvinism. Or, those who may have a prior underlying belief in a pre-tribulation rapture to try to get as many decisions for Christ before the rapture, and even presenting the pre-tribulation rapture as itself being a reason to pray the Jesus prayer, so that you won’t be left behind. But these kinds of justifications are really never necessary, since Jesus simply gives his people the assignment to be his witnesses, and his people simply need to be obedient to his assignment.

A reasonable application of this assignment would be for each believer in Christ to make it a goal for one’s life to be a witness for Jesus Christ anywhere in the world.  This would entail first of all, becoming as consistent a disciple of Jesus Christ as possible and to know the Word and the gospel clearly enough to be able to share it with someone else. Furthermore,  churches need to see evangelism training not only as swelling their numbers locally, but also as training for evangelizing cross culturally. And certainly the official leadership of the church needs to understand its own role to equip the church for this according to their own assignment in Ephesians 4:11-12 and never, ever to let anyone in the professing church to get away with trying to put any kind of obstacle in the path of anyone who seeks to be a witness to Jesus Christ anywhere in the world.  And in view of the fact that persecution may strike and scatter a church at any time, such as in Acts 8, it is crucial to make this a consistent part of our ministry in the body of Christ, since unexpected persecution may lead to a growth in the church by scattering the witnesses.

Here are then some suggestions as to how a person in a relatively affluent culture such as in North America, Europe and developed nations such as Japan, or perhaps anyone who is in a nation with some kind of educational system. Early in life, there are some preparations that a person can make to be available and prepared as a witness from very early in life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Learn other languages, whether within a school system or even as a family and personal project. Take linguistics courses if possible and learn the cultures as well as the languages. These languages in particular may prepare you for being a witness in parts of the world where the gospel has not been communicated thoroughly: Hindi, Russian, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Farsi. Then do such things as get a Bible and memorize key evangelistic verses in those languages and write your testimony and translate it or even familiarize yourself with gospel literature in those languages.
  • Get a passport for international travel and keep it current.
  • Develop and keep job skills that are both marketable and useful worldwide, that could prepare one for vocational ministry throughout the world. Engineering and software development are two areas of expertise which could open doors to personal ministry worldwide now. (For parents seeking to motivate children in languages, science and math, that these subjects may help to open doors for ministry worldwide if they lead to vocational expertise in worldwide demand may help.)
  • Learn to live frugally in terms of resources and resiliently in the face of deprivation and difficulties.

To those who will be his witnesses, then, God promises the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. Those whom Jesus Christ has appointed to be his witnesses have the power of God available to them through the Holy Spirit, and this is his basic spiritual equipment to spread the gospel.

Jesus then concludes his instructions to the apostles in verse 49: “And, look, I am sending upon you the promise of my Father; stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” His instructions were to remain in Jerusalem for a little while until the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and all this is expanded upon in the book of Acts, chapters 1 and 2, with the results continuing through chapter 28 of the book of Acts. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church would then come upon the church by the authority of Jesus himself to those who had prepared themselves by uniting in prayer. This shows the scriptural emphasis of the day of Pentecost: it is not so much the ‘birthday’ of the church, in that phrase borrowed from Augustine and repeated since then. Rather, it is the empowerment of the church to spread the gospel to all nations. And this is explained in the words of the risen Jesus to the apostles in Acts 1:8: “But you will received power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the furthest extent of the earth.”

This, then, is the highest and most scriptural reason for anyone to welcome, seek and receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit in his or her life: to glorify God through being a witness to Jesus Christ anywhere in this earth. So many people may seek to know the power of the Spirit of God to experience happiness or to try to be something in themselves or to accomplish something to make themselves look good in front of other people. Rather, the highest scriptural reason to seek the power of the Spirit of God, from the words of Jesus himself, are to have the full spiritual equipment to fulfill the mission that he has given us to be his witnesses. This is why so many, when they give themselves in full consecration to God receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, since that consecration includes the consecration of oneself to be witness in the power of the Spirit – and if it doesn’t, then that full consecration is not complete, because something of such supreme importance is being held back. Therefore the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the enduement of spiritual power from God himself, the power in which Jesus himself spoke and ministered throughout his earthly ministry, is the primary qualification for evangelism and ministry, as it has been throughout all the ages of the church and everywhere in the world.

Clearing up this one point can often be a spiritual breakthrough to new life and ministry for many, many people. For instance, a church elder once asked Charles Finney, “Mr. Finney, what would you think of a man who was praying week after week for the Holy Spirit but could get no answer?”

Finney replied that he thought that such a person would be praying from false motives. So the elder asked the further question, “But from what motives should a man pray? If he wants to be happy, is that a false motive?”

So Finney continued with his reply, “Satan might pray with as good a motive as that,” and he quoted Psalm 51:13: “’Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will be converted unto thee.’” And Finney concluded, “The Psalmist did not pray for the Holy Spirit that he might be happy, but that he might be useful and that sinners might be converted to Christ.”

Shortly afterward, Finney went out and when he returned later, he found out that the elder had come to this conclusion about himself: “What you said forced upon me the conviction that I had never really been converted, that I never had any higher motive than a mere selfish desire for my own happiness.” This conclusion had broken him, and he became a new man through true repentance and receiving the forgiveness of sins and the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

So then, if you are today a believer in Jesus Christ, it is because someone else was faithful enough to his or her assignment to have shared the gospel with you. Someone else was gracious enough and cared enough to share with you the greatest news in the world to meet your greatest need. And thus you are likewise called to be a part of the chain of witnesses around the world and across the centuries, to bring the gospel to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So this then brings to us the question: have we – each of us, not just some of us – really every put in the time to seek and to receive all the ministries of the Holy Spirit that are involved with spreading the gospel and with empowering our witness? Consider further what Jesus had to say about this: “When the Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who is from the Father, he will witness about me; and you yourselves will bear witness, since you have been with me from the beginning . . . if I go away, I will send him to you, and when he has come, he will convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, since I am going to the Father, and you will no longer see me; and of judgment, because the rule of the world has already been judged” (John 15:26-27, 16:7-11). There is obviously more exposition of these scriptures that could be done, but this shows us that Jesus spoke about the conviction of the Holy Spirit not as some kind of magical guilt-trip mist but connects his work of conviction with the ministry of the gospel through his disciples. But even more, we can trust the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, will then make us as passionate, confident, forthright and loving in the communication of the gospel as Jesus himself.

So then, this brings back the question on whether the churches in the USA have been sidetracked away from this that Jesus has spoken with the ‘seeker friendly, church services for seekers’ mentality since the early 1990s. Personally, the more I think and pray about it, that mentality gave far too much credit to fallen human nature, that anyone apart from Christ knows what he or she is seeking but is spiritually shy about it, and far too little to the seeking and saving initiative of God in Jesus Christ through his people. It often seems to assume that the real need is for the shy seeker is just some information offered in an entertaining and non-threatening way, and that the shy seekers may come to Christ if they just have several questions answered. Rather, what scripture says about fallen human beings is that, “  . . . if our gospel has been concealed, it is concealed among those who are perishing, in whom the god of this world has blinded their minds so that they cannot see the light of the the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God . . . and we ourselves were dead in our trespasses and sins, in which we once went about according to the fashion of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the children of disobedience; in whom we once conducted ourselves by the desires of our human nature and acted on the wishes of our human nature and our own understanding, and we were by nature children of wrath as the rest of mankind . . .” ( , II Corinthians 4:3-4, Ephesians 2:1-3). And who among us can give any real amount of credence to our having received salvation to our own seeking and receiving information, as much as to the reality that “ . . . God, who said, ‘Out of darkness let light shine,’ is the one who has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).

Scripturally, the gospel of God in the power of God can bring a person to salvation in a very short time, and no protracted times of seeking or conviction are really necessary. Rather, the gospel of God in the Spirit of God can take a hardened sinner into salvation in a very short time. For instance, does anyone really think that the 3000 saved on Pentecost were really just seekers after salvation in Christ, and just needed several questions answered in order to come to repentance and find salvation in Christ? Did the apostles ever use community theater as a normal evangelistic method? Even more, though there will be seasons of openness to the gospel in the lives of many throughout their lives, there is really no scriptural necessity that gospel of God in the power of the Holy Spirit must wait for those period of openness in the lives of others. Rather, many, many times gospel of God in the power of God through the Holy Spirit has opened up hearts and in an astonishingly short time from the perspective of man.

The call of the Lord Jesus to witness continues to come to us today through his Word. He himself has already done the most essential part in his death on the cross when he took the penalty for our sin that we deserved. His death is the reason that through the gospel God offers forgiveness instead of his wrath. The living Lord then stands by his people now who are his witnesses with all the power of the Holy Spirit, and so his plan is that we should share the life changing message that all need to hear, the life changing message that we share out of love for the Lord and for others who have the same need what we have had for the Savior.

If you, then, have already received Jesus Christ as your Savior in repentance and faith, then you have already received the first and greatest qualification to be a witness to his salvation. Moreover, the Lord Jesus himself extends the assignment to you personally. So consider and address every excuse that you may have as to why you cannot witness to him now, since you will one day come face to face before him to give account for all your life, and that includes your assignment to witness to him. Consider that the acknowledgment of him as Lord and Master means that acceptance of his assignment to be his witness. Make it your personal act of submission to him to be his witness out of love to him, and seek from him the opportunities for witness. Accept no message coming from you life other than the scriptural gospel of salvation. And furthermore, consider it to be unacceptable for you or any other believer to in any try to set any kind of obstacles or stumbling blocks to anyone else seeking to witness for Jesus Christ.

In addition, then, if you have been born again of the Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ, make it your goal to be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit. The fullness of his Spirit is the power to love and to witness to Jesus Christ beyond anything that we are in ourselves, and he takes us beyond any of the fear, intimidation and self concern and self consciousness before a world that is often hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, don’t leave home without him.