Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

God’s Sovereignty in Salvation by Means of His Word, and Our Responsibility in Evangelism


[The following is adapted from part of an outline for a lesson I delivered in the Sunday afternoon service at Kosmosdale Baptist Church on 4/27/07.]

22 Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it--He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nation of men to live all over the earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live, 27 so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' 29 Being God's offspring, then, we shouldn't think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 30 "Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has set a day on which He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:22-31 HCSB)

God’s sovereignty is established in creation as we read in Acts 17:24, The God who made the world and everything in it--He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands.

God is presented as the Sovereign Creator at the beginning of Scripture in Genesis 1:1, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

God is presented as the Sovereign Creator again when creation is spoken of in light of Christ in John 1:3, All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.

God’s sovereignty is demonstrated in His sustaining power over His creation as we read in Acts 17:28, For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'

God’s sovereign control of His creation is not a static phenomenon. God is not a clockmaker who builds and then leaves His invention to run according to the mechanics He has set in place. Nor is He an absentee parent who only visits on occasional holidays. Nor does He even act within our lives often. Rather He is constant- like the very breath we breathe and the beating of our hearts- the activity of nerves carrying information from our minds and the contracting and relaxing of our muscles- providing all power necessary for our every action- “For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). So when the Bible declares, “He is before all things and by Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) we can be sure that without Him all things would fall apart into oblivion. And God is not like some computer program that simply allows a video game to run- neutral to the outcome of the game- He is not passive in His sustaining power. Rather the Bible declares that He is the “One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will”(Ephesians 1:11). And this is to our great benefit as He works all things “together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Bible teacher R.C. Sproul, in his classic work Chosen by God, magnifies God’s sovereignty in governing His creation:

God is sovereign over His entire creation. If something could come to pass apart from His sovereign permission, then that which would come to pass would frustrate His sovereignty. If God refused to permit something to happen and it happened anyway, then whatever happened would have more power and authority than God Himself. If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God.
If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that one maverick molecule will lay waste all the grand and glorious plan that God has made and promised us. If a grain of sand in the kidney of Oliver Cromwell changed the course of English history, so our maverick molecule could change the course of all redemptive history. Maybe that one molecule will be the thing that prevents Christ from returning. (26-27)

So, we have seen that God is sovereign over His creation in general. But there is a commonly held view that God has limited His sovereignty when it comes to human choices. This popular view is due more to human philosophy than to God’s revelation, for the Bible clearly declares God’s sovereignty over the human will.

God’s sovereignty in the will of believers is demonstrated in that God is presented as sovereign over our hearts’ desires in Psa 37:4, and God is specifically presented as sovereign over our desire to do His will in Phil 2:12-13.

God’s sovereignty in the will of the lost is demonstrated in Scripture as well in that God is presented as sovereign in judging the wicked by hardening their will against His Word in Rom 9:17-18 and that God is presented as sovereign in the saving His elect from their lost condition by the intervention of His Word in Acts 9:1-6.

Here it should be noted that God is consistently presented in Scripture as exercising His sovereignty by His Word. And we see, in particular, that “God’s people have always been created by God’s Word.” As Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church has written, “From creation in Genesis 1 to the call of Abram in Genesis 12, from the vision of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, to the coming of [Jesus,] the living Word, God has always created His people by His Word.”

In our cultural context today, when we speak of God working in His world by His Word, it is important to stress that God’s Word is a communication of propositional truth. The Princeton online dictionary defines “propositional truth” as “a statement that affirms or denies something and is either true or false.” John MacArthur, in his book, The Truth War, speaks of “propositional truth” as a clear, inflexible establishment of something as reality. We can see how the idea of God’s Word as propositional truth is vitally important in a culture that tends to deny truth claims altogether in favor of pragmatic or emotional considerations. In other words, people today, when evaluating a belief system, do not ask themselves, “Is it true?” as much as, “Does it work?” or, “How does it make me feel?” People that cling to pragmatism or emotionalism in religion and reject the idea of God operating in His world by propositional truth claims fail to understand the importance of God speaking understandable words in Scripture. For when one speaks an understandable word or phrase, that act of speech (if communication is to be effective) serves to eliminate all ideas not associated with the chosen word or words. So, the Bible does not express God’s omnipotence by presenting Him as merely thinking the universe into existence, but instead He speaks everything into being. And God does not merely say, “Hocus Pocus, abracadabra, or ala kazaam,” but He uses understandable, verifiable language.

We must see, however, that in employing propositional truth, God does not just give purely intellectual statements of fact: He is not a computer or a Mr. Spock in the sky. When God speaks, He communicates with His entire being: His heart as well as His mind. This is why, for example, prophetic statements concerning God’s future judgment of people and nations are full of such angry emotional language. This is also why His promises of future blessings for His people are full of such loving, fatherly metaphors.

God’s “total communication” is perfectly seen in the earthly ministry of Jesus. In Christ, we see the Word of God in sadness and anger bringing judgment to those rejecting true worship (Luke 19:41-46). In Christ, we see the Word of God in compassion bringing life to God’s friends: John 11:18-45
The physical presence of Jesus is no longer with us, being ascended to the right hand of the Father in glory, but the Church, as the body of Christ, is now God’s means for spreading His Word throughout the world. We must follow our Lord’s example, giving the clear propositional truth of the gospel, refusing to do so in any kind of emotionally detached way, but rather with anger against and grief over sin, in love and compassion for those who are lost.

As ambassadors for Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5:20), what are believers to do in order to be faithful to our Lord in regard to evangelism? Two considerations in particular come to mind:
A. We must present all the propositional truths of concerning the gospel, not holding anything back simply because it may be deemed offensive (i.e., the sinners’ guilt or the blood of Christ).
B. We must serve God with all our heart and soul as well as our mind and strength in evangelism: Acts 20:31

God has appointed not only the what of the gospel (the facts about the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus according to the Scripture), but He has also appointed the how of the gospel (the way that we present the Good News of Jesus Christ). So while our presentation of the gospel must certainly contain the facts of the gospel and therefore be based on objective truth, we must also present the gospel with what I have termed "total communication;" that is, the gospel must be reflected in the way that we live our lives, in the seriousness of our demeanor- especially when discussing spiritual matters- and in the passionate urgency by which we call sinners to repentance and faith.

That prince of doctrinally sound gospel-centered preachers in the English-speaking world, Charles H. Spurgeon, illustrates this principle of "total communication" wonderfully in his classic work on evangelism, The Soul Winner:
I have heard of a man who was dying, and he sent for the minister to come and see him.
When the minister came in, the dying man said to him, "Do you remember a young man walking with you one evening, some years ago, when you were going out to preach?" He said, he did not. "I recollect it very well," replied the other. "Do you not remember preaching at such-and-such a village, from such-and-such a text, and after the service a young man walked home with you?" "Oh, yes, I remember that very well!" "Well, I am the young man who walked home with you that night; I remember your sermon, I shall never forget it." "Thank God for that," said the preacher. "No," answered the dying man, "you will not thank God when you have heard all I have to say. I walked with you to the village, but you did not say much to me on the way there, for you were thinking over your sermon; you deeply impressed me while you were preaching, and I was led to think about giving my heart to Christ. I wanted to speak to you about my soul on the way home; but the moment you got out you cracked a joke, and all the way back you made such fun upon serious subjects, that I could not say anything about what I felt, and it thoroughly disgusted me with religion, and all who professed it, and now I am going to be damned, and my blood will lie at your door, as sure as you are alive:" and so he passed out of the world. One would not like anything of that sort to happen to himself; therefore, take heed, brethren, that you give no occasion for it. There must be a prevailing seriousness about our whole lives, otherwise we cannot hope to lead other men to Christ.
Christians reading this post: we are responsible to speak God's truth holding nothing back either in terms of the gospel content we proclaim or in terms of our own heart-dedication to the truth of the gospel. I plead with you to examine yourself in this area, that we may all soberly evaluate ourselves to see if we are faithful to our Lord in evangelism.

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