Category Archives: Blog Posts

Irresistible Grace Affects Gospel Purity

Western Christian Culture and Irresistible Grace

In the history of the Church there has probably been no more pernicious heresy than Pelagianism. On-the-surface the heretical view of the monk Pelagius may seem to have little to with Irresistible Grace. However, his errant views are inextricably linked to the resistance of this facet of sound doctrine.

Pelagius, laboring under the weariness of people excusing their sin as a product of their nature, rejected original sin. So how does this tie into Irresistible Grace? As a product of his rejection of Original Sin, Pelagius had to also reject other doctrinal and theological positions.

Consequently, Pelagius began to teach that man was possessed of libertarian freewill. Definitionally speaking this meant that all people are born morally good at best, and at worst they are morally neutral. This inherit libertarian freewill meant that men could at any time choose to do good or evil, sin or not sin, completely independent of their nature.

Pelagius’ rejection of the doctrine of original sin was soundly refuted and declared heretical by the Council of Carthage in AD 418 and again by the Council of Ephesus in AD 431. However, the damage was done and the idea of libertarian freewill had embedded its roots into the culture of the Church even then.

Subsequently, this heresy morphed into other forms and variations. By the mid-1800s in the USA the teachings of Pelagius had gained such a foothold on WCC the time was ripe for the ascendency of Charles Finney. Finney, a full-on Pelagian, openly taught against original sin. He also taught the complete moral libertarian freewill of all people.

Make no mistake, the debate on freewill had raged for hundreds of years. However, every time it reared its heretical head it was soundly refuted biblically by a godly man of the times.

Irresistible Grace and Bondage of the Will

The contention of the debate on freewill comes down to one’s understanding of such terms. When any person throws out the phrase “freewill” it means libertarian freedom. When pressed this person will almost-without-fail, argue that man is free to do whatever he chooses without external or internal influences.

This understanding becomes apparent in conversations with the majority of professing Christians. I was recently following a thread on social media. I observed a well-meaning person, intent on defending God from doubters, explain the presence of evil in the world by blaming man’s freewill. Somehow, in their reading and understanding of Scripture, the defense attorney for God, failed to understand what Luther called the bondage of the will.

The question remains, are Christians allowed presuppositions about Scripture? Furthermore, are they allowed to keep those presuppositions without subjecting them to sound doctrine taught?

The answer to that query is an emphatic no. It is imperative that all believers discard their presuppositions at the door of orthodoxy. This is not to say that we cannot study and shape our theological views and approach Scripture from a well-studied position. However, those positions need to be thoroughly biblical.

Irresistible Grace is biblical. Man, according to Scripture, and argued by the great Dr. Luther, is in bondage to sin. God must act on man in an irresistible way, or man’s will, will carry him to damnation.

…it was not of the merits of Jacob or Esau, ‘but of Him that Calleth that it was said of Sara: the elder shall serve the younger’ Paul is discussing whether they attained to what was spoken of them by the power or merits of ‘free-will”; and he proves they did not, but that Jacob attained what Esau did not solely by the grace of “Him that Calleth”

-Martin Luther

Irresistible Grace and Man-centered Tactics

The spirit of Finneyism is alive and well in the church today. What Charles wrought by teaching his Pelagian beliefs in the 1800s has come to roost in modern WCC. The dregs of his heresy are everywhere. Several years ago, I had traveling evangelist in my home (I mentioned him in a previous article). As we sat eating lunch together I asked him who he thought was the greatest evangelist of all time. His answer was Charles Finney. He went on to state that he had read all of Finney’s works.

This answer left me aghast. Even then I knew that Finney was a rank heretic. It was a shock to my mind to hear this man, so well respected by my local church, espouse such a love for Finney. Hindsight being what it is, I can see Finney’s influences all over this man’s methodologies.

Furthermore, he isn’t alone in being misled. Within WCC there are literally thousands of congregations and pastors that have succumbed to the manipulation tactics of Finneyism. Remember that Finney was the inventor of the modern altar call and such things as the worry bench and the sinner’s seat.

Today the tactics of those who believe whole-heartedly in the freewill of man are maybe more modern, but they are no less manipulative. There are entire denominations designed around meeting the felt needs of the “unchurched”. We have Biker Church, Cowboy Church, Heavy Metal church and church for the non-believer.

The now disgraced Perry Noble, once said that his church wasn’t for believers, it was for unbelievers. He sat in a stage prop giant highchair and acted a fool to make a point. It was disgusting.

To summarize, the refusal to believe in Irresistible Grace has led to a willing abandonment of sound Gospel preaching in WCC.

Irresistible Grace and the Gospel

As hard as it is for us to understand how God can choose, through Unconditional Election, to save all who will believe irresistibly, the fact remains that He does.

When we look to the Word for assurances we often look to all the promises of God found there. No promise is more comforting to the Christian than “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”   And rightly so. To know that our God, our Lord and Savior, promises to be with us always and through all things, is of great comfort.

Yet, are promises such as that more important than the promise Christ tells us about in John 6? When he tells his disciples that everyone who the Father has given Him will come, He is making a promise. Furthermore, this promise isn’t just to Christ, it is to us as well.

Every person who has the responsibility to preach the Gospel (meaning all Christians) has the promise of John 6:37. Granted those who have been given are not coming to us, but to Christ. Consequently, they are coming because of the promise from the Father. This should build confidences in us.

It is my contention that there are two compelling reasons that most professing Christians do not advance the Gospel. The first, is the lack of understanding the prescriptive nature of the command. The most common perception of the command is of it being descriptive. This is erroneous.

The second reason that most fail to obey the command comes down to failure to properly apprehend the significance of the promise that all who are given will come. Freewill theology has so permeated and damaged WCC that it has silenced many Christians. A proper apprehension of Irresistible Grace will build confidence in those who desire to Advance the Gospel obediently.

In Conclusion

The command to Advance the Gospel into the world, is an imperative for all believers. God never allows for an excuse to refuse the preaching of the Good News. Yet, what I readily admit, is that most do not evangelize for lack of sound doctrine and proper training.

Starting with core doctrines, such as Irresistible Grace, will grant the Christian boldness in proclaiming Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. If we can rest on some promises from God in some areas, then we should be able to rest on and trust in all promises from God.

We are reminded that it is God who began the good work in us and will be faithful to complete it in the end. There is no greater confidence than Gospel confidence. We are best served in serving our fellow man, when we are not looking to meet his felt needs, but instead are looking to point him to Christ.

Gone will be the desire to placate the angry person who hates you for pointing out their sin. Gone will be the fear that you didn’t preach the Gospel in exactly the right tone and tenor to prevent offense.

Instead, you will be able to preach with weeping in your voice and tears streaming down your face. As you seek to compel sinners to come in from highways and hedgerows you will be resting not in what you have done, but instead in the promise of God to deliver all He has promised His Son.

This is the confidence that comes with believing sound doctrine. Irresistible Grace is not merely an optional doctrine, it is the great equalizer in the work of Advancing the Gospel. It allows us to preach boldly in truth and love.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Limited Atonement Affects Gospel Purity

Limiting Friends Through Limited Atonement

So far, I have written about the Gospel as doctrine, and the doctrines of Total Depravity and Unconditional Election. Today, I am going to put myself out there knowing I run a risk in alienating a sizeable portion of my base. There has been no single doctrine that has caused me as much conflict than the doctrine of Limited Atonement. It seems that any time I so much as mention this doctrine it inevitably leads to passionate anger.

In one instance, I had a man look me straight in the eye and call me a damnable heretic over this issue. For some reason Limited Atonement brings out the most vitriolic reactions in many people. It ends friendships and prevents others from forming.

However, despite the hostility that is out there over this doctrine it is worth exploring it as a part of Gospel preaching. Moreover, understanding the way that Limited Atonement affects Gospel purity will broaden our preaching in a beautiful way.

I am incredibly thankful for the dear friends I have who disagree with me about Particular Redemption but remain true to our friendship. Heaven knows that someday you will see it the right way…

Everyone Believes in Limited Atonement

 

Yes. I stand by this statement.

None other than Charles Spurgeon, a man beloved by Calvinists and Arminians alike, said this:

“The Arminian insists that Christ died for all people thereby limiting its efficaciousness. The Calvinist insists that Christ died only for believers thereby limiting its scope.” (paraphrase)

So, yes, I stand by this statement.

However, I will not insist that everyone acknowledges that they believe in a limited atonement. As is so often true of our beliefs, more can be understood by what we say than by what we insist.

The person who insists that Christ died for all men, but states that the atoning work of Christ is only applied to those who believes is embracing a limited atonement. Moreover, many who insist that they believe in an unlimited atonement are not consistent.

Conversely, the Reformed Camp has their inconsistent folks as well. We have the Amyraldians. These folks, as much as I love them, are theologically inconsistent. Desiring to strike a middle ground between the orthodox Reformed camp and the Arminians, they have equivocated on limited atonement.

The Amyraldian position states that while God has chosen (Unconditional Election) all who will be saved, Christ’s death paid for all who sinned. Consequently, this means that if a non-elect person were able to muster up faith on their own, Christ will have died for them.

I struggle more with those in this camp than I do with those who insist that Christ died for all. Nothing is more irksome than theological compromise and inconsistency.

The Heresy that the Orthodox Agree On

No matter which position you take on Limited Atonement, the right one or the wrong one, there is one heresy that you must reject. (See what I did there?) This heresy is truly a damnable heresy.

What could this fell beast be? Universalism. Universalism takes the atonement of Christ and twists it so far beyond true as to be thoroughly un-Christian, even as many claiming to be Christian embrace it.

It may seem unnecessary to define Universalism for most of you my beloved readers, but I will do so anyway. Definitionally, Universalism is the teaching that all people ultimately end up in heaven. This is made a reality because Christ did indeed die for literally all people. This means that the sins of even those who spend their lives denying God, are paid for. God then applies this payment to all people. Therefore, having had their sins paid for, all people will be with God.

This heresy often finds its expression in statements such as, “We all find our way to God on our own path and that is all that matters to him,” or, “All roads lead to god.”

This heresy is rampant in our culture today. When, and not if, you encounter the Universalist, you must be prepared to defend against it. Therefore, knowing the doctrine of Limited Atonement well, will best prepare you to refute Universalism. It was none other than Christ who stated no one comes to the Father but through Christ. Additionally, Christ stated emphatically that He came to lay his life down for His sheep.

These two statements by Christ work in beautiful synergistic fashion to refute Universalism through the limiting of the scope of the Atonement. Simply put, Limited Atonement single-handedly kills this deadly heresy.

The Purifying Power of Limited Atonement

Throughout the entirety of the Scriptures we see example after example of the clean being offered for the unclean. When God institutes the first Pass Over in Egypt, a spotless lamb is slaughtered to cover the people inside of the home.

God orders Abraham to offer Isaac on the altar on Mount Moriah. God intervenes and provides a spotless, (read pure) ram for the sacrifice.

Over and over this theme appears throughout the Old Testament. Then the silence falls on Israel during the Intertestamental years. Still, the Israelites recognize the need for the pure to be offered for the remission of the sins of the putrid. Even during the silence, they practice the ordinance of blood sacrifice.

Then comes Christ erupting on the scene in the Gospels. The angel in Matthew 1 announces to Joseph that his step-son should be called Jesus (Jeshua) or Savior. Why? For He will save His people from their sins.

Similarly, John the Baptist comes out of the wilderness pointing to Jesus and announces, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

As I stated in the previous section, Jesus Himself made it clear that He came to lay His life down for the sheep. He didn’t come for the goats. His self-sacrificial death at the hands of men under the wrath of the Father was meant to be sufficient for those who would believe.

He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth. From eternity past Christ came to shed His blood for His people. Therefore, we dwell on this, not so that we can identify in a tangible way, who Christ died for. Instead, it’s so we can preach with confidence knowing that anyone who repents and believes will be washed in the blood.

The Ark as a Picture of Christ’s Limited Atonement

In Genesis 6 we sit back as passive observers watching God respond in righteous indignation as His creatures rebel. He, is disgusted by what has become of mankind and determines to destroy humanity and all the other life left on earth.

However, God mercifully calls on Noah and his family to be the only survivors of His righteous wrath. Consequently, He orders Noah to build the Ark. This isn’t some hobbled together floating barge. It is a calculated and precise design meant to house all the animal kinds and the sole surviving humans. The detailed account of the size of the Ark and its dimensions foreshadows the Tabernacle and the Temple. As with each of these structures the design of the Ark communicates things about God to us.

Scripture calls Noah a preacher of righteousness. For the 120 years that Noah built the Ark he was proclaiming the impending judgement of God against mankind for their wickedness. However, he didn’t stop there. He preached that there was salvation to be found from that wrath. Noah warned people to flee from the wrath of God and the means of that salvation was always before their eyes.

The Ark served as a staggering warning of what was coming. Furthermore, it is completely acceptable to speculate that the people of the Antediluvian era considered what Noah and his family were doing to be utter folly.

Yet, the fountains of the deep opened; the ground split along with the firmament, the wrath of God was clear. The only means of salvation was the Ark, and God had closed the door with His own hands. There was no climbing aboard the Ark from the outside and being saved from the wrath. The protection of the Ark was only for those God had placed onboard.

Limited Atonement in Exodus

Maybe the most stirring example of the doctrine of Limited Atonement is that of the Passover Lamb. Most of us are familiar with the account of the plagues of Egypt. We are almost so familiar that we tend to “pass over” the Passover with little thought. Here is this marvelous and awe-inspiring act of God used to eventually deliver His people from their captivity. Usually, we read it as a narrative to get to something better, more interesting if you will.

However, there is such rich depth to the story. We once celebrated a Seder dinner in our home for a unit that our children were doing in their studies. This dinner was full of rich depth and meaning. Moreover, it was moving to take part in something that has been celebrated for thousands of years. Perhaps it has lost its depth to those that celebrate it every year simply out of rote tradition. However, for our family it was poignant and emotional.

Each aspect of that meal is designed to signify something about the original Passover. Furthermore, each aspect points us to the Paschal Lamb as He was prophesied as far back as Genesis 3. The most powerful thing that I believe we can take away from the Passover account is the depth and the extent of the atonement.

Here is this lamb brought into the home to live with the family. Then on the appointed time that lamb was slaughtered and roasted. Its blood was caught in a bowl. Then a brush of hyssop was used to paint the blood of the lamb over the door posts. The angel of death passed over any home with blood applied.

Not one single person outside of the home was covered by that blood. The lamb died to protect those inside.

Limited Atonement and Preaching the Gospel

I will never insist that one must preach Limited Atonement to be able to preach the Gospel. Conversely, one must simply preach the atonement with a mind to glorify Christ. Here is my caution to you my beloved reader; please refrain from preaching the Gospel by boiling down the atonement to “Jesus died for you.”

I won’t say that I have never said that phrase. I am certain I have. However, if you listen closely to my evangelistic encounters and my open-air preaching, you will make note of something. I labor to reserve the death of Christ for those who believe.

I’m often be heard to say, “You can know Christ died for you if you come to Him in repentance and faith.” I simply cannot affirm Christ’s death on the part of those who die rejecting Him. I will never compel someone to turn to Christ and live by falsely appealing to the propitiatory work of Christ on their behalf.

Just as we cannot know who the elect may be before we see them repent and believe. We dare not tell an unrepentant sinner their debt has been paid. Some of you reading this right now are seething through your teeth at such a statement. You are so convinced that Limited Atonement is false you fail to see the danger in an ostensibly unlimited atonement.

To preach the Gospel consistent with an unlimited atonement, you must teach your hearers that their debt has been paid in full by Christ. Consequently, this makes God unjust as He punishes the unrepentant sinner a second time for sins already paid for by Christ.

Yet, may it never be that we wrongly, even if by accident or misunderstanding, make God out to be unjust.

In Conclusion

In the mid-1800s Elvina Hall penned the words of one of the most beloved hymns of all time. This beloved hymn touches a bit on the doctrine of Limited Atonement. The following stanza and the subsequent verse are particularly poignant:

“For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”

While I may take some exception with the thought that we wash our garments in the blood of Christ, I can allow for poetic license. However, the core concept of the atonement is there and set in place for us. It is the blood of Calvary’s Lamb that was shed for the believer and washes them clean of their sin against God.

Consequently, we do owe a large debt to Christ for what He did. He did pay it all on our behalf. Furthermore, the all he paid was meant to satisfy a very particular debt owed by those who God had chosen from before the foundation of the earth.

It is never wise to build one’s theological position off a song. Yet it is beautiful when we see doctrine saturate the music and lyrics we lift to our God in praise. Similarly, it is vastly more beautiful when those same doctrines permeate our Gospel preaching to the lost.

One needn’t believe in the doctrine of Limited Atonement to accurately preach the Gospel. However, the preaching of the Gospel takes on a beautifully narrowed focus when we understand the pin-point accuracy of that atonement.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Unconditional Election Effects Gospel Purity

Unconditional Election the Ban of Rugged Individualism

So, in my article about Total Depravity I mentioned a congregation close to where I live. The pastor of that church stated his congregants struggled more with Total Depravity than they did limited atonement. My experience has been that Irresistible Grace comes in a close second to LA with Unconditional Election a close third. People like to believe that in some way, God is obligated to save them.

Unconditional Election meets opposition because most in Western Christian Culture want to be fully in charge of their fate. Conversely, this doctrine leaves God in the driver’s seat, and rebellious people hate it. None-more-so than Christians.

Because of WCC rugged individualism we have summed up the Christian faith to trite statements meant to affirm the individual. Statements such as “Love God and love people” have become confessions of faith without any substantive understanding.  Feel good preachers cater to the rugged individualists bent on their personal success.

Consider Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church and the little creed he recites at the beginning of his program:

“This is my Bible. I am what it says I am, I have what it says I have, I can do what it says I can do. Today I’ll be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive, I’ll never be the same, in Jesus name.”

This is nothing more than self-help garbage that serves to stroke the egos of the hearers. Moreover, it places God in a position to be beholden to man for these self-proclaimed promises.

The bible says that man is wicked and rotten. Furthermore, the only things that man can do is sin against God and displease Him. This is not the root of Osteen’s a-biblical creed nor the of others of his ilk.

Just What Exactly is Unconditional Election

How many of us have had conversations with fellow Christians that claim to embrace election? How often have we heard, “It’s in the bible so of course I believe it,”? However, what does it mean to believe in election?

There is a massive disparity in the understanding of election in WCC. The majority believe that election means that God foresaw who would believe. This fore-sight means that having looked down the corridor of time God chooses us based on our choice of Him.

Yet, is this what the doctrine of Unconditional Election truly is? Does this understanding give God the glory?

The truth is no. The clear majority of WCC does not define Unconditional Election biblically. Furthermore, this failure to define Unconditional Election biblically leads to massive misunderstandings about the nature of God.

Unconditional election can best be understood this way:

God determined before the foundation of the world those who would become believers. This determination was based not on any personal merit or actions by the believer. Furthermore, the decision to choose all who would believe was an act of the sovereign will of God according to His own good pleasure and for His own purposes.

As difficult as this doctrine is for us to embrace, it is incumbent upon us to do so. Any resistance that we have to this doctrine does violence to our relationship with God. Ostensibly, we are lifting our fists to heaven and shaking them at God. We are screaming out, “What right do you have to make such decisions. It just isn’t fair.”

Oddly enough, those who protest the loudest against this doctrine rarely if ever assert that it is unfair of God to choose anyone at all for salvation. Conversely, they seem to believe that God should choose all people.

Unconditional Election Isn’t  The Straw Man of Double Predestination

I will be brief here.

It is necessary for us to understand what Unconditional Election is not. Some opponents of Unconditional Election have erroneously labeled the Reformed View of election “double predestination”.

We cannot misunderstand this doctrine to mean anything other than how I defined it in the previous section. Too many detractors build up a strawman accusing anyone who believes this doctrine of believing something they do not.

Simply put, all people are born dead in their trespasses and sins; already on the road to hell. God simply passes over some and chooses others. Left to our own devices, we would all gladly go to hell in our love for our rebellion against God.

As Voddie Baucham says so succinctly, “I do not have to defend what I do not believe.” Furthermore, if you meet any Christian who insists that God forces unwilling people into hell as much as those in heaven, rebuke them. No person who goes to hell does so devoid of a certain level of willingness. God is just to send all of the unregenerate to hell and they go there shaking their fists at the heavens.

Why Unconditional Election is Important to The Gospel

So many people have made profound statements about Unconditional Election and the preaching of the Gospel. There are almost too many to choose from, and lore tends to blend their comments together.

The story is often told of one of Spurgeon’s detractors asking him why he preached the Gospel in the public square if God elected those who would believe. Spurgeon being who he was replied rather humorously.

“Good sir, if you could lift the shirt of each person to show me the yellow stripe that marks them as elect I will gladly preach to them. Until then, I will preach to each one that passes.”

That statement is nearly sufficient enough to end with.

We preach the Gospel because we are commanded to. Consequently, we preach not because we know who the elect of God are, but because we know God has elected. This gives us the freedom to be bold and unflinchingly uncompromising in preaching the truth.

Because of Unconditional Election we do not need special gimmicks, heartfelt emotional manipulation to produce results. We rely on the full counsel of God and the power of the Gospel message. We trust that God will save who He will save through the foolishness of preaching.

What’s-more, not only do we not need to compromise the message of the Gospel, we also need not allow it to be needlessly hostile.

Unconditional Election, in its full glory, builds confidence in us, knowing that God will have the results that He intends. In 2 Corinthians 2 we are encouraged to stand firm. We know that because of Unconditional Election our preaching will work to save some and harden others in their sins. Yet, in knowing that, we are to plead with tears for the lost to turn to Christ and live.

In Conclusion

The more we understand the command from Christ to Go and preach the Gospel the more we come to understand its core doctrines. The Gospel does not exist outside of context. Likewise, the context of the doctrine of the Gospel is built line upon line, precept upon precept.  Each doctrine I have already wrote about and the ones I will address in the future, are foundational to how we preach.

If we fail to properly grasp so much as even one of them, we fail. The doctrine of Unconditional Election is no less important than the doctrines of the Gospel or Total Depravity. One does not simply get to by-pass it because others get it wrong.

Our task is to stay on point. The doctrines that God has revealed to us in His Word keep us from wavering. As I have said before, you may never mention this doctrine by name while preaching. However, the fact that the hearer doesn’t need to understand the doctrine to be saved, doesn’t make the doctrine unimportant.

We can disagree on certain doctrines, others we cannot. Matters such as the deity of Christ, the Trinity and the Resurrection are paramount. Yet, there can be room for us to disagree on others. However, one thing remains, preaching the Gospel requires fidelity to what God has revealed. If you walk into a Gospel encounter without your feet firmly planted in election, you will be tossed about by your own emotional reactions.

No matter which view of election you hold, it should drive you to preach the Gospel to all people. Like Spurgeon, you have not the faintest idea who the elect may be. This one truth mitigates against your disobedience to the Great Commission.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Total Depravity Affects Gospel Purity

What Total Depravity is and isn’t

Years ago, I spoke to the pastor of a tiny Reformed Church of America in Greenleafton Minnesota. I asked him which of all the points of Calvinism, did his congregants have the hardest time embracing. I was expecting that his answer would be Limited Atonement (we will discuss this in a future article). However, he flatly stated Total Depravity.

You could have knocked me over with a page of Bible paper. I wasn’t expecting that answer. However, the more I speak to Christians in Western Christian Culture the more I discover this is not abnormal. As I have mused in previous articles, Christianity has become inextricably embedded into an anti-intellectual mindset. (Something that I plan on writing about in the future.) Subsequently, this anti-intellectual movement has caused people to become pervasively shallow in their understanding of theology and doctrine proper.

When the average person in WCC hears the phrase Total Depravity they haven’t the slightest idea what it means. What it doesn’t mean is that people are as evil as they can be. I have heard that given as an ill-informed explanation of Total Depravity. No person alive is as wicked as they could be. Even men like Hitler and Pol Pot, as bad as they were, could have been worse. You, before your conversion, were not as bad as the worst person you can imagine, because God restrained you.

Total Depravity is, in the simplest way, the truth that every aspect of a person is tainted by sin. Furthermore, this tainting, affects every single action we take. Accordingly, the Imago Dei, that means all people from the womb to the grave, are touched by the effects of sin. We are all subject to the curse, being children of Adam.

Why is Total Depravity So Important?

Total Depravity is intertwined with the doctrine of original sin. Consequently, Total Depravity and Original Sin are so inextricably linked that to try and understand them separately would be to do harm to both doctrines. This is not to say that they are exactly the same doctrine.

Original sin is the doctrine that helps us understand the extent of the sin curse laid on mankind at the fall. Total depravity is the doctrine that helps us understand the effects of that sin curse on the individual person. To understand the totality of sin; its far-reaching effects on all creation, we must see these two doctrines intrinsically united. Man, sins because he is born a sinner. Man, sins against his fellow man and chiefly against God, because it is in his fallen nature to do so.

We must understand these truths at the core. If we fail in rightly understanding Total Depravity, we fail in rightly understanding everything about Christ. How can this be? What compels me to say such a thing?

It is the doctrine that motivates our apprehension of the purpose of the sacrifice of Christ. If man is basically good and capable of pleasing God on his own, then there is no need for a sacrificial lamb. If there is no need for the Lamb of God, then Christ died in vain. Additionally, if Christ died in vain, then Scripture is full of lies, and the blood of the Lamb is wasted.

You, my beloved reader, must understand this. Every time a professing Christian speaks the words, “So and so is basically a good person.” they are standing in stark opposition to the clear teaching of God. No person is basically good. Moreover, God’s Word bears witness that no one is good but God.

 Preaching the Gospel without Total Depravity

It is my contention that no person can preach the Gospel to another without preaching the doctrine of Total Depravity. Consequently, as I stated above, it is vitally important that we understand the doctrine with extreme prejudice.

Therefore, no presentation will ever truly be the Gospel without talk of Total Depravity. By-no-means am I implying that one must ask the unconverted person if they understand the doctrine. What I am stating, is that the doctrine itself must be peppered throughout your entire Gospel presentation. To fail to include this doctrine is to change the Gospel and commit a Galatian level heresy.

I can give anecdotal examples of people that truly believe they are preaching the Gospel when they say things such as:

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, you just need to believe.”

“God made you they way you are and loves because you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

“You are a precious piece of artwork made by God.”

“Jesus died for you because of how valuable you are.”

I have heard all of these and more. However, these statements are not examples of biblical good news. Moreover, they are bereft of contextual truth.

Does God love the person that you are speaking to? Yes, in a broad sense He does. However, there is a narrower scope to God’s salvific love. To blatantly tell a God-hating, Christ-rejecting sinner that God loves them, is to do injustice to the meaning of “The Good News of the Gospel.” The Good News is not good news to people who consider themselves to be basically good. It isn’t Good News to those who consider that they are God’s artwork and therefore worth the sacrifice.

Total Depravity is the springboard for the Good News.

Total Depravity Leads to Repentance

Therefore, when we understand the doctrine of Total Depravity we are more likely to preach the Gospel properly. When we focus narrowly on the sins of the person we are talking to it sheds the light of the Word onto them with pinpoint precision. All-too-often the well-meaning “evangelists” broadens the spotlight out to the wider world. Consequently, they will speak biblical truths such as “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This allows the intended to target to scamper away from the severity of their very personal sin against God.

If we think of the account of the prophet Nathan with David we see Nathan paint a powerful picture. Once David expresses outrage at the very personal sin of the rich landowner against the poor man, Nathan pounces on him uttering these chilling words, “You are the man!”

Hence, we later meet David alone in his room broken before God. The scene is set and we find David weeping so profusely his bed is soaked with tears and he cries, “Against you and you alone I have sinned.”

Nathan narrowed the focus of spotlight of God’s law tightly onto David and didn’t allow him to run away from it. This narrow focus worked godly sorrow in David and he repented.

Subsequently, we see Christ use this tactic repeatedly. No time is more profound than the woman at the well. Instead of casting a broad light on her and the other villagers, He narrows down on her adultery. She has the same response as David. She’s convicted and confesses Christ.

As tempting as it is to soften the blow of sin for the sake of preserving dignity, we cannot. We must remain on point and focused. Total Depravity has to be made real. Repentance will follow.

In Conclusion

It would be impossible to capture the importance of each intertwined doctrine that makes up the preaching of the Gospel. To do so would be to produce a theological dissertation and not an article. My desire is not overwhelm you my beloved readers. Conversely, my desire is to encourage you by narrowing my own spotlight onto individual threads of doctrine.

Please make sure that you understand the totality of the Gospel. Moreover, ensure that you have been fundamentally touched by the message of the Gospel as well. It would be a great joy to know that even one person was delivered from being a false convert if the doctrine of Total Depravity opened their eyes.

It is imperative that each of us understands that doctrine matters. Thus, we pull the thread of the multi-chromatic Gospel off of the spindles of singularly colored core doctrines. These diverse threads weave a beautiful tapestry that reflects the redemptive work of Christ on Calvary. If your desire is the salvation of souls, study the thread of Total Depravity and pull it through the heart of the sinners you meet.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Knowing the Gospel: Lives Depend on It

Knowing the Gospel Because it is Doctrine

One of the most frequent arguments made about doctrine is that it divides. This flows from the same logic that leads people to say, “No Creed but Christ.” Which is itself creedal. The driving force behind such statements is the lack of intellectual engagement in Western Christian Culture (WCC). The predominant mindset of WCC is that of emotionalism and emotional engagement. This has led to an abandonment of the study of doctrine. This lack of study has also led to a large percentage of people in WCC not knowing the Gospel.

If there is any doctrine as important as the doctrines of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ it is the doctrine of the Gospel. Therefore, we need to know the Gospel. Moreover, I am not simply speaking about knowing the Gospel as it pertains to salvation. I am specifically speaking about knowing the Gospel from the perspective of doctrine.

Knowing the Gospel is of utmost importance to the believer as much as it is for the unbeliever. What prompts me to say that? As believers we live the Christian life because of what God has wrought in us through the completed work of Christ. That message, the Gospel, should be ever on our minds. It works to keep us in a position of humble service to God. Furthermore, it has the effect of drawing us out of ourselves and into the lives of others.

Knowing the Gospel from the perspective of doctrine also works to cause us to relate to the world biblically. If we take our eyes off the what the Gospel says to us about man our focus becomes centered on man. Instead, knowing the Gospel compels us to keep our eyes on God as we look to what the Gospel has to say about humanity.

Knowing the Gospel Builds Confidence in God

One of the things that plagues many Christians is doubt. We doubt our salvation. We doubt God’s love. Moreover, we doubt the truth of Scripture when we are in the depths of our weakest moments. Knowing the Gospel becomes pivotal in these moments because it refreshes our trust in God.

Furthermore, with a refreshed or renewed trust in God, we gain, or grow, in our confidence. However, not in ourselves, but in Him. The natural, or default setting of the human heart is self-reliance. We strive to be free of the constraints of dependency on others. Our greatest desire is most often found in rugged individualism that cries, “Look at what I have done!”

Yet, the Gospel destroys that independence and thrusts us to the floor on our knees before God. In those moments, with our wretchedness utterly laid bare, we come to appreciate what God has done. However, this is not only a one time event, it is a daily, or maybe even hourly. If we rightly understand the doctrine of the Gospel, we grow, according to God’s grace, in our dependence upon Him.

We come to a place where knowing the Gospel leads us to say with Paul, “It is no longer I who lives.” We lean into God when He tells us that it is He who has begun and will complete the good works in us. It becomes a joy to know that it was God working according to His good pleasure to lead us to repentance. We cherish the truth that before the foundation of the earth it was God who chose us to be conformed to the image of His Son.

It is God who reminds us that we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus. Therefore, knowing the Gospel, builds these confidences.

Knowing the Gospel Builds Confidence in the Face of Opposition

The more we live, work and generally interact with others as Christians, the more we will face opposition. Opposition from varied directions and in many shapes. Often opposition comes when we take hard stands on incredibly sensitive subjects. Yet, knowing the Gospel, makes our positions sure.

When faced with an incredibly delicate decision, the Christian bakery owner in Colorado, stood his ground. He wasn’t angry. Moreover, he wasn’t hostile and abrasive, he simply rested in the promises of God. Those promises find their fulfillment in God in the same way that the Gospel does. In particular, God saves utterly wretched people unworthy of salvation. Therefore, how much more so will He keep the promises He has made to those same people?

This is the nature of knowing the Gospel. It builds this type of confidence. We must understand that God has worked to build into the Gospel, promises. Not only the promise of being delivered from His wrath, but also the promise of being made different than the world. This molding and shaping of us brings with it the reality of hatred from the world.

Why do we marvel when we face opposition? Didn’t Christ promise us these types of problems for the sake of the Gospel? Knowing the Gospel delivers us from fear of the unknown to confidence in the promise. Knowing the Gospel drives us to faithfulness not despite opposition but for the sake of opposition.

Penultimately, it is knowing the Gospel that brings us to a place where we actively pursue living our lives according to the promise. It is knowing the Gospel that allows Peter to tell us to be ready to answer for the hope within us during persecution. Knowing the Gospel isn’t about being saved, it is about embracing everything God has promised.

Knowing the Gospel Intimately Motivates Obedience to the Great Commission

The more familiar we become with the doctrine of the Gospel the more we will be moved to obey it. Knowing the Gospel is much the same as knowing a mathematical formula. One may struggle to understand a math problem and how to solve it. However, once the formula for the that problem, is learned, studied and employed, the problem becomes less intimidating. A common example of this mathematically is the formula used to find percentages:

Part/whole = %/100

This is simple enough to me now. However, years ago when I was first taught this in elementary school I struggled to understand it. Once I grasped it I had no trouble understanding its usage.

So it is with knowing the Gospel. When you first came to saving-faith I would guess that you struggled to accurately explain the Gospel to anyone. I know I did. I had to follow a formulary to even mumble through it. Yet, as time passed, and I studied the Word more and practiced proclaiming the Gospel, the more intimate I became with it. The more intimacy I had in knowing the Gospel the more natural it became. Furthermore, the more natural it became the easier it worked into conversations.

This may seem simple to you as you read. However, ask yourself, does the seeming simplicity of it motivate your obedience to the Great Commission? If it doesn’t, why doesn’t it?

As is the case with any doctrine that we study, the knowledge of that doctrine should motivate us toward an end. Knowing the Gospel as doctrine should motivate us toward obedience to proclaiming it. The Gospel communicates powerful truths about mankind, God and how those entities relate to and interact with one another.

Therefore, understanding those “interrelational” realities compels Gospel centered compliance to the Commission of Christ.

Eternal Life Hangs on Knowing the Gospel

Knowing the Gospel may indeed drive us to be humbly submissive to the command contained in the Great Commission. However, knowing the Gospel also drives us to preaching it correctly. Paul was deeply concerned for the foundational truths of the Gospel. In Galatians Paul anathematized the preaching of any message that purported to be the Gospel but wasn’t pure.

Paul makes it clear that such a message is perversion. However, why is it so important? Why does Paul take it so seriously?

The Gospel is a matter of life and death. Knowing the Gospel well and communicating it effectively means the difference between salvation and damnation. The Judaizers had come into the church in Galatia and had begun to add certain works to the message of the Gospel. These men were making things like circumcision a necessity for salvation.

Moreover, they were heaping up these burdens on unsuspecting souls and leading them into death. Paul would have none of it. He drove at the heart of the Gospel message. Paul emphasized the need for a doctrinally pure Gospel message.

Similarly, we must pursue knowing the Gospel to ensure doctrinal purity. We must preach a purely unadulterated message that leaves no confusion that results from our lack of Gospel clarity. This is not to say that those who have heard a Galatian heresy type message in the past won’t be confused. However, this should open the doors for us to take the Gospel we know and bring it to bear on the false Gospel they have heard.

Consider not only the cults such as the Mormons and the JWs and their false gospel messages.  However, also the droves of so-called “Christian” denominations that teach works as part of the Gospel. The Church of Christ and her baptismal regeneration come to mind.

In Conclusion

As I have emphasized in so many articles, the Great Commission is not optional for the true convert. They will by nature of their relationship to God strive to preach the Good News to their neighbors. However, it is fundamentally important that we not let novices go out into the world unprepared for the preaching of the Gospel.

Furthermore, love for neighbor and for fellow Christians, commends us to the study of the Gospel. Knowing the Gospel intimately requires that we help others know it in the same way. I recently read of a church body in the US that requires any person approaching for membership or baptism to articulate the Gospel. Any struggle to articulate the Gospel clearly and biblically leads to further discipling. Then the question is revisited. This is repeated until the individual is able to demonstrate that they know the Gospel.

This is the picture of what a healthy church body with healthy members looks like. There is no equivocation in knowing the Gospel. They will not brook any sloppy or lazy doctrine in something so fundamentally important to Christian faith.

My dear beloved readers, does this sound like your congregation? Moreover, does this sound like you? How familiar are you with the Gospel? Is it the air your breath and the water you drink? Or is the Gospel something that you heard once and then believed to escape the consequences of your sin?

My call to you, to me, to all of us, is to examine what we know about ourselves. Examine what we know about this fundamental doctrine of our faith. If we cannot demonstrate how knowing the Gospel is changing us and motivating us, then perhaps we need to stop and ask if we truly know it all.

 

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

 

Doctrinal Perspectives Affect Gospel Purity

“I Just Love God, not Doctrine”

In most of my conversations with other Christians the topic of doctrinal perspectives often come to the surface. There are moments where I find myself in the presence of a person that shares my views completely. There are even more moments where I am in the presence of a true brother or sister with whom I have some stark disagreements. However, quite often, I am faced with a person that will boldly proclaim their abject hatred for all doctrinal discussions.

These people come from varied denominational backgrounds. Lest one think I only affirm the Reformed, many of those that reject my doctrinal perspectives, frequently attend ostensibly Reformed Churches. So many Christians that I meet will quickly fall back from any mention of doctrine.

“I just love God not doctrine.”

“Doctrine just causes problems. Why can’t we just read the bible and love God?”

“I love people the way God wants me to. I don’t concern myself with doctrine.”

Oddly enough, each of these is a doctrinal perspective that relays on understanding a doctrine. I have encountered these comments and variations of them many times. The sad reality is that most Christians today hate doctrine. This is at their own peril and it has allowed them to be poisoned, and to poison others.

Does Doctrine Matter to God?

Does doctrine matter to God? Do doctrinal perspectives really have an impact on us in practical and tangible ways? Is the purity of the Gospel truly impacted by distinctions and doctrinal perspectives?

The answer to those questions is yes. Moreover, the answers to those questions are doctrinal in nature.

If one denies that doctrine matters to God, they in turn deny the passages that teach us about doctrine. Consider Paul’s words to Titus in chapter 2, “Teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” Paul, an apostle, is conveying to Titus that his role as an elder on Crete, is to teach sound doctrine. Consequently, we can deduce from Paul that doctrine is to play a large role in the lives of all believers. Moreover, we are left with the conclusion that Paul was presupposing knowledge of doctrine on the part of Titus.

Any position that a Christian may take, is by nature, doctrinal. Therefore, even stating, “I don’t study doctrine,” indicates that the Christian has a doctrinal perspective. Similarly, a Christian taking a doctrinal position that stands in contradiction to established doctrine, is standing on doctrine. Every position a Christian takes, on any issue, is a result of their doctrinal perspectives.

Moreover, our doctrinal perspectives expose our views on God. So, when a Christian says that they don’t love doctrine, they are tacitly stating that they do not love God. How can I say this? Because God has stated to us in many ways that doctrine matters to Him.

All one need do is read Jude or Galatians. Familiarize yourself with the words of Christ on the topic. Consider what He said about false teachers in Matthew 7. Yes! Good doctrine matters to God. By proxy it should matter to us.

Doctrinal Perspectives and our View of Sin and Man

Let’s consider the matter of the doctrines of sin and man. These two doctrines have a profound impact on the Gospel. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to properly preach the Gospel if your doctrinal perspectives on sin and man are wrong.

Consider the doctrine of original sin. Paul (amongst others) teaches us that we are all in Adam (our first father) and therefore we are all in sin. Furthermore, having not only Adam’s sin nature, we are also sinners in our own right and therefore rightly condemned.

Consequently, we can understand that we are without escape from sin and its deleterious effects. What do I mean without escape from sin? I mean to say that rightly understood, the doctrine of original sin makes it impossible for us to ignore the truth that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Moreover, misapprehension of this doctrinal perspective opens the floodgates of error and insists on modification of the Gospel. Consider the Pelagian view of sin. Pelagius and his disciples posited that man is left untainted from the sin of Adam. Moreover, Adam served as an example to man but not as a father, in-regard-to passing on sin. Thus, in the Pelagian view, it is not only possible, but probable for man to live without any sin.

Take note of this doctrinal position. This view, taken to its logical conclusion (Reductio ad absurdum) dismisses the need for Christ to have died. This errant view equips man with the ability to remain sinless and therefore enter heaven through their own righteousness.

Consequently, proclaiming the Gospel becomes almost impossible for the persons who would hold such a view. Generally, the committed Pelagians that I encounter are rare. However, when pressed, many professing Christians hold Pelagian views. Why? Poor doctrinal perspectives.

Doctrinal Perspectives and the Godhead

Perhaps no doctrinal position is as fundamental to the Christian faith as that of the Godhead. Everything from the deity of Christ to the Triune nature of God are essential doctrines for Christians. If you allow even one of the core elements of the Godhead to be peeled away, you attack the nature of God.

Furthermore, when the nature of God is peeled away, you whittle away at the basis of everything that we understand about creation. Consider the eternality and the aseity of God. God by His nature must be both eternal and self-existent. If God has a cause outside of Himself that means one more powerful than He exists. Moreover, if this true, we can no longer trust the Word He has given us. Accordingly, when we lose our ability to rely on His Word, we have no basis at all for any knowledge we claim to have.

Now take-into-account how certain Christian cults view the Godhead. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach Christ is not God Incarnate but merely Michael the archangel. Mormons teach the Jesus is not only a created being but that He is a brother to Lucifer. Furthermore, Mormons teach that God the Father, Elohim, was not God from eternity past, but became a god. These doctrinal perspectives make preaching the Gospel all-but-impossible.

Even within what many would consider “orthodox” Christianity, there are aberrant views of the Trinity. Oneness Pentecostalism teaches Sabellianism or Modalism. This view is that the nature of God is not three persons but three modes of existence. So that while Christ was on earth, there was no God in heaven.

All these errant views are fundamental fatal flaws that preclude one from being Christian. These doctrinal perspectives are vital. It is of utmost importance that we understand why these doctrines are so important.

Doctrinal Perspectives and the Road to the Gospel

When we consider just the small cross-section of what I have discussed thus far, we are forced to make conclusions. We cannot allow those we love and the Christians we meet to ignore the importance of doctrine. Doctrine is vitally important, and for may reason. However, no reason is more fundamental than how we bring the Gospel to bear on the world.

If we start with a flawed view of the Godhead, we cannot arrive at the Gospel. Any variance in our understanding of the sinful nature of mankind and that we have inherited it from Adam is error. That error means we cannot preach the Gospel as it was intended to be preached.

While the preaching of the Gospel is not meant to be a doctrinal thesis statement, preaching the Gospel requires doctrine. Moreover, the Gospel itself is a doctrine. When we meet Christians that insist that we not concern ourselves with the study of doctrine we remain steadfast. It is incumbent upon us to instruct them in sound doctrine. Why? Because without sound doctrine we cannot preach the true Gospel.

I do not mean to say that a non-Reformed type cannot preach the Gospel. Furthermore, I will not suggest that only Calvinist have all the theological ducks lined up. On any given day any one of us may be in error as it regards doctrinal perspectives.

Therefore, when pursuing the lost with the Gospel, it behooves us to ensure we are doing so with accuracy. We must bring our doctrinal perspectives into submission to Christ’s Word. This is the only way we can pave the road to the Gospel with any confidence.

In Conclusion

Do not let yourself be conned into the mindset that doctrine is optional. Furthermore, do not ever believe that doctrine is only for theology nerds, Neo-Reformed hipsters and modern Pharisees. Doctrine is for every believer. It isn’t just for the religious types and this video shows how far gone the study of doctrine is.

Doctrine simply means teaching. Granted the word doctrine has taken on a weighted meaning today, but that weight comes from Holy Writ. Scripture is replete with commands and admonitions to pursue sound doctrine. Moreover, every believer is expected to not only know sound doctrine, but also teach it to others. We do this formally and informally. The Church takes part in this through singing and organized teaching. Mothers teach children. Husbands teach wives. Older women teach younger women and older men teach younger men.

Elders teach the local church. Accordingly, older saints take younger elders under the wing and walk with them to ensure sound teaching. Consequently, the entire local body is to be Berean and hold the elders accountable for what they teach.

Yes, my beloved reader, doctrine matters. Moreover, doctrinal perspectives not only impact how we live and function, but also affect the preaching of the Gospel.

Moreover,  I will not allow the Gospel to be divorced from doctrine. Instead, may I stand out of the way and allow the understanding of Gospel as doctrine to drive my pursuit of the lost.

In the next few weeks I will be offering several articles about specific doctrines and how they relate to advancing the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Objections: How To Use Them To Advance The Gospel

What Are Objections?

If you have spent any time at all advancing the Gospel into the world around you, you’ve met with objections. I cannot think of a time where I have shared the Gospel where I did not meet with resistance. Moreover, these objections are often thrown out early in the conversation. Whether I am attempting to share the Gospel in a relationship or in a public setting, I meet naysayers.

At times the push-back I receive is well-meant. Some folks have genuine confusion over the Gospel because they have been misinformed by contemporary Christian culture. However, more-often-than-not, the objections I hear are merely excuses to continue in sin.

Furthermore, most objectors know this, and they relish it. Objections are predominately, the sign of a hardened heart and seared conscious. My hope in this article is to address both types of objections. Additionally, I hope to show you how to get past the protestation and turn it into a tool to preach the Gospel.

The Well-Meant Objection

The resistance you are least likely to meet is from the well-meant objector. This is often the poor person who has had an over-abundance of contact with cultural Christians. Cultural Christians are the bane of Christianity in the West.

Let me explain. Cultural Christians will espouse a plethora of different clichés meant to convince people to become Christian. This can be something as simple as “Jesus loves you just the way you are.” Or even worse, “The god I believe in would never send someone like you to hell.”

Cultural Christians are resolutely convinced that all people are basically good and just need a little fixing up. These are the same people that have given us the language of “broken” instead of sinful. It is this mentality that gives the well-meant objection its legs.

The person who has interacted with the cultural Christians will readily object to any presentation of the Gospel that calls sin, sin. Why? Because they have not been told about God’s Eternal Moral Law, or His Holiness. Instead they have been taught about the amorphous ethereal genie god that exits to make their lives better.

“But I was told…” is often how the objections begin. From there any number of other statements follow. This person isn’t objecting out of hardness, they are truly misinformed. Moreover, they are most likely to sit and listen when you try and explain why their objection is misplaced.

What the well-meant objector needs is patience and understanding, not a hard rebuke. You must be long-suffering with this person, and bear with them as God bore with you.

How To Respond To The Well-Meant Objector

I often think of the woman at the well from John 4 when I think of the well-meant objector. Here is this Samaritan woman, born and raised learning misinformation. Is she culpable for her own sin?   Of course. However, she was not to blame for having been misinformed about the Messiah her whole life. Moreover, the question and objections she raised with Jesus were not meant to excuse her sin.

This lady was genuinely convinced that what she had learned all her life was true. Accordingly, Christ cut past that and went to her sin. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t attack her faulty presuppositions. He simply and profoundly revealed Himself to be the promised coming Messiah she had asked about.

Consequently, this should be our response to those we meet who are victims of faulty teaching. Jesus and Paul didn’t castigate the victims of false teachers. Instead, Christ took a dim view of those who led the uninformed astray. He told them they would be better off having mill-stones tied to their necks and tossed in the sea. Paul wished for false-teachers to emasculate themselves instead of teaching false doctrine.

Subsequently, we should respond in kind. We need to be gentle and kind to these people who literally know no better. Instead of beating them up with how wrong they are according to Scripture, we should walk them through the Word. We should kindly and gently take them to that place where their sin is exposed. We must model Christ’s methodology in these moments.

Objections Meant To Excuse

Most people we will encounter when engaging in Gospel work will use objections as means to excuse their sinful state. These are the folks that will tell you about the “god” they believe in. Generally, these are the folks that make statements like “only God can judge me,” or “Who are you to judge?” Perhaps my favorite of all time “God and I have an understanding.”

Usually, these objections are meant to deaden the piercing work of the Gospel message. The proponents of such statements want to remain untouched by conviction. Moreover, these people do not need understanding in the same vein as the well-meant objectors. They need a loving but sharp rebuke.

Consider how Jesus dealt with the rich young ruler. What was his approach? Was Christ as gentle in His approach to this man as He was to the woman at the well? Not hardly.

When considering the accounts of Jesus interacting with the lost we build a narrative in our minds of his demeanor. We know He was gentle and loving to many. Yet, He was also the one who fashioned a scourge and chased people out of the temple, twice!  Jesus had pity on the rich young man. Yet, he was none-the-less firm in His approach. He would brook no excuses, and the rich man was full of them.

Jesus cut immediately to the heart of the matter with him. “Go and sell all of your possessions and give the money to the poor,” He commanded the man. Christ wasn’t falling for the man’s self-righteous justifications of how he lived. He knew what would hurt the man and He aimed for it with precision.

What was the result? The man went away saddened because he was a man of great means.

How To Tell Which Objection You Are Facing

This can be the hard part of any evangelistic encounter. Moreover, our tendency as Christians is to want to err on the side graciousness. Certainly, this is a wonderful trait. Yet, it isn’t always helpful.

Transversely, we may find ourselves wanting to give a pass to some and a rebuke to others. Consider how you interact with the kind and generous Mormon Missionary you meet. They are genuinely decent folks. Christians tend to be hard on the Mormons they run into. I can give account after account from LDS missionaries that have had insults hurled at them or had doors slammed in their faces by Christians.

Yet, is this really the way we should be interacting with Mormons? Sure, they come bearing false-doctrine. Moreover, they are certainly guilty of their own sins. However, they are not guilty of creating the false-doctrines they bear. These teachings have been heaped up on them as heavy burdens on the unsuspecting. Some of them are raised in Mormon homes and have no choice in what they are taught. Others till have been duped into believing that Mormonism is Christian.

What of the atheist you meet? How should you respond. I recently had cause to listen to an interview with an atheist. He stated that something that angered him about Christians is how they assert that he has no morals. Why would Christians attempt to address atheists this way? Where does that come from?

Is the atheist culpable for sin? Sure! Do we address every atheist in the same manner? Certainly not. Many atheists today have no idea why they believe that they believe (or don’t believe.) Attacking their outward moral character isn’t addressing the heart of the issue.

Simply put, the best way to ascertain which objections you are dealing with is to listen.

Listen To Understand Not Refute

I was once told that God gave me two ears and one mouth, so I could listen twice as much as I talk. (Thank you Grandpa Schmieder) It took me years to understand this; I am not sure that I fully grasp it to this day. I will say that when I am doing evangelism I tend to try and remember this admonition. My natural tendency is to want to destroy the arguments of those who raise objections. So basically everyone.

I want to point out something to myself and anyone who is reading this. The desire to destroy arguments flows from pride. We want to display our intellectual superiority over the naysayers. I touched on this in my article on apologetics. This trait is common amongst people who engage in Presuppositionalism. There is no better feeling in the flesh than dismantling an atheist’s arguments against God.

However, our desire should be see ourselves in the lost person we are speaking to. Moreover, we should be seeking to understand what they are objecting to.

Anecdotally, a while back I was evangelizing in the bar district of a small city near me. As I and a friend stood speaking to several young ladies a man came out with a sign. That sign directed us to go to a different location. My friend engaged with the man and it quickly became apparent that the man was a homosexual. The man stated something to effect of “I suppose you hate gays.”

This caught my attention and I had to engage. Yet I engaged by asking questions and listening. It would have been easy to jump down this man’s throat and attack his sin. Yet, what would that have accomplished? Nothing in the end.

We must learn to listen as much as we refute.

The End Goal

You may feel as if you are receiving the short shrift in this article. Perhaps you were expecting me to go objection by objection and give all the biblical counter-arguments. That was never my intent. Simply put, the best arguments of any man can be refuted by another man.

When I was an only child my dad used to love to watch Monday night football. I can still hear the distinct voice of Howard Cosell as he gave the color commentary for each game. One of the things I remember Cosell saying is that in any given game any given team could beat the other. This may seem less-than profound, but it was poignant. Cosell wasn’t stating the obvious, he was arguing the truth. What he was telling his listeners was that stats don’t matter. It all came down to drive and determination.

This should serve as a reminder to us when we are engaging in Gospel Advancement. Chances are that when you engage in evangelism you won’t be the most intellectually superior person present. Moreover, no matter how smart you are there is always someone smarter. In the back of your mind in every engagement you should be reminded of the biblical truth that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.

That truth alone will humble you and drive you to listen to the person you are talking to. What is your drive and what is your determination? If it is anything other than the conversion of souls, you are forgetting your purpose. God has called you out of darkness and into the light for His ends. God has called you to salvation to be the means by which the Gospel is advanced into the world.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Self-esteem and the Gospel

What is Self-esteem

The word self-esteem has become far more than a catch phrase today. It has become a way of life for the western world. Merriam-Webster defines self-esteem this way: confidence and satisfaction in one’s self. Society has taken the concept of self-esteem to such levels that it is nearly impossible to escape.

There are classes to teach self-esteem to people who lack it. There are tests to measure self-esteem. Moreover, there are counselors and therapists that offer treatment for a lack of self-esteem. There are even links between self-esteem and a handful of mental health diagnosis.

In short, self-esteem has become the one gauge of a person’s worth, and ability to succeed in modern society. Moreover, it has come to dominate the message of Western Christian Culture (WCC). My goal is to come to understand self-esteem, why it is wrong, and how it affects the preaching of the Gospel. Furthermore, I want to bring the Gospel to bear on the topic and mold our preaching to reflect a biblical view.

What Self-esteem Truly Means

I want to discuss the two words that make up the phrase self-esteem.

First, we have self. The word self is defined as an individual’s character or behavior. As basic as this may be it needs discussion. We are what we behave like. Our character marks us as what we are. An individual is the sum of their parts and their conduct. Therefore, a man who beats and rapes his wife and children on a regular basis is an abuser. That is that man’s definition of self.

Moreover, the ability to conceal that behavior from the world, does not redefine who he is in secret. Furthermore, he may not identify himself as an abuser, but he remains one all the same.

Second, we have esteem. Esteem has several usages. However, for the sake of the societal definition of the phrase I want to address the most commonly held definition. To esteem means to set a high value on or regard highly and prize accordingly. Now, one can also esteem something or someone in the sense of giving an appraisal.

If, we were to consider self-esteem to be the act by which an individual assesses or appraises one’s character and then appraises it accordingly, I would agree. This would, hopefully, result in healthy and fair introspection. However, the definition of self-esteem is a far cry from self-appraisal and healthy introspection.

Functionally defined, self-esteem in contemporary culture should be perceived thusly. The act whereby the individual considers self as more valuable and important than others. Thereby placing self in a position of high regard.

If you disagree with this assessment of the functional definition of self-esteem I will hear you out. However, all one need do is look around society today and find that this is exactly the intent of the phrase.

Pride, the Fruit of Self-esteem

What if anything does the Word have to say about self-esteem? Is the Word silent on the topic?

My answers to these questions are far more complicated than mere affirmatives or negatives. While a positive concept of modern self-esteem is not found anywhere in Scripture, the topic is discussed in some detail.  Moreover, Scripture is full of people and groups of people that were possessed of rather high opinions of themselves.

Self-esteem is nothing more than pride in oneself. This is biblically untenable for creatures. The first created being to display an over-inflated view of self-worth was Satan. Satan viewed himself as important enough to challenge God for rule. In his pride he rose up and made war on God. In his pride he was struck down, but he did not learn humility.

From that moment, Satan would spend the rest of his days attempting to and succeeding in, convincing others of just how important they were. What was his ploy with Eve? He appealed to her to think that she could not only be like God, but also have His omniscient nature. Satan hadn’t learned his lesson.

This same infection infiltrated our First Parents, (Adam and Eve), and they passed it on to us. Sin is hereditary and finds its roots in pride. Pride, as I said before, is nothing more than self-esteem. Make no mistake, pride isn’t the consequence of self-esteem run amok. Pride is self-esteem revealing its ugly nature.

Consider the Greek myth of Narcissus. Think about how even the Greeks saw the danger of such vain reflection upon one’s self and the consequences that it could bring. If a people group noted for self-centered thought and action could recognize the dangers of narcissistic behavior, how much more should we be able to do the same?

A Biblical Perspective on Self-esteem

I contend that God despises the modern-day emphasis on self-esteem. However, I don’t contend that we walk around with our proverbial tails between our legs kicking ourselves. There is a stark contrast between responsible and godly views of ourselves and morbid self-loathing. (This is something that I must guard against.)

Paul writing in Romans 12 tells us to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God. He goes on to command us not to think too highly of ourselves. Paul compounds this command by taking it a step further in Philippians 2. What does he say there? He tells us not to look out for our own interests, but instead we are to look to the interests of others. However, he doesn’t stop there, he tells us to consider others as better than ourselves.

This is the very antithesis of self-esteem. Self-esteem requires a higher view of self than should be had. Self-esteem doesn’t suggest loving self-more than others, it requires it. Moreover, the very idea of self-esteem produces idolatry in the individual.

In Exodus 20 God has summoned Moses to Sinai to speaks to him. He gives Moses the Ten Commandments, the written embodiment of His Eternal Moral Law. God reveals to us the importance of loving Him above all other things. He opens with these words, “You shall have no other gods before you. You shall not make idols for yourself and bow down to them…”

In our day this could read “Do not worship any other gods. Do not lift yourself up or esteem yourself the way you believe you should be esteemed” This is the crux of the matter. As the WCC embraces the secular ideology behind self-esteem, it has also rewritten the Ten Commandments.

WCC and the Idolatry of Self-esteem

I cannot count the number of times that I have heard, “You can’t love others until you love yourself.” This phrase spews from the mouths of professing Christians with well-practiced ease. Consequently, I have had conversations with professing WCC Christians that insist it is the Greatest Command.

I know this sounds absurd. Moreover, every time I hear it, I am shocked. Yet, what it proves to me is just how inculcated the self-esteem mindset is in WCC. It is taught everywhere. It has even permeated the way we view evangelism or preaching in the worship service.

Here is just a smattering of statements that I have heard:

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

“You are so special to God, Jesus had to die for you.”

“God can’t bear the thought of someone like you going to hell.”

“God is waiting on you to finally realize how precious you are to Him”

I could go on with these ludicrous statements. There are dozens and dozens of variations of them. These statements tickle the ear and appeal to the self-esteem of the hearer. Consequently, what we see are people content to see God removed from His rightful throne in heaven. Furthermore, they perceive themselves to be the center of created order.

Therefore, WCC excels at the preaching of this model. Books such as “Your Best Life Now” and others are dependent on self-esteem to be successful. They latch on to the desire of modern culture to be the pinnacle of creation. No one wants to be abased in the way the Bible describes. Worse yet, many in WCC will tell you that it is fundamentally important to affirm people where they are. Ever hear this one, “God loves you just the way you are”?

Self-esteem, Satisfaction and Confidence

As I began this article I gave the definition of self-esteem. Part of that definition is to be confident and find satisfaction in one’s self. This position is untenable biblically. In fact, it is antithetical to sound doctrine.

Scripture teaches us that we are to desire only God. In Psalm 73 the psalmist is clear that his over-riding desire is God. Moreover, he states that even if his flesh and his heart fail (physical death) he will be satisfied in God. Any other object or person that supplants God as our over-riding satisfaction is an idol.

Furthermore, God condemns confidence in ones’ self, going so far as to call it foolishness. Jeremiah 17:9 is not a mere reminder it is a condemnation of finding satisfaction in self. Your heart is deceitful and unknowable. Every action of your flesh, apart from the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, is evil. Yet, you want to have confidence in yourself?

What type of foolishness is that mess? Paul writing in Philippians makes it clear that Christ is our hope, our stay, our confidence. Moreover, having been exposed to the truth of how wretched we are, why would we continue to encourage people towards self-esteem.

No. Self-esteem is indeed the very antithesis of Christ-like love and conduct. Instead, self-esteem compels us to look to our own interests. It compels us to grasp those things that we want to hold on to selfishly.

Therefore, we need to look to what Paul said about Christ in Philippians. We need to consider His willingness to let go of the treasures of heaven and His rightful inheritance to identify with us. Does that sound like someone who is modeling self-esteem to you? Does “not considering equality with God a thing to be grasped” sound like self-esteem?

The Gospel Wrecks Self-esteem to Esteem Christ Instead

If you are desire to preach Christ and lean on WCC for your example, then you are not preaching Christ. The very act of preaching the Gospel is indicative that you esteem others more highly than yourself.

What your focus in preaching should be is the absolute debasing of the hearer. I do not mean to say that you belittle the hearer, but that you destroy their grounding. In modern vernacular it seems hateful to call for the debasing of the hearer. However, I posit that no person who is not humiliated before Christ will ever respond positively to the Gospel.

Furthermore, Christ is our example. We see how humiliated He was, hanging naked on a cross. In this we see what the sinner needs. The sinner needs to be humiliated before the cross of Christ, not exalted as self-esteem will have us do. The sinner needs to feel the weight of their sin and the cost of cherishing that sin.

Consequently, any act that does not debase the self-esteem of the sinner in favor of exaltation of Christ, is not Gospel work. The Gospel will destroy the self-esteem of the individual. In its place Christ is lifted-up as the most cherished of confidences.

In Conclusion

My dear reader, if this does not describe you, can you truly say you have come to know Christ? If you have never been brought low before Christ, can you claim Him as your Lord? If you have not been disabused of any notion of your own righteousness or value, you do not know the Gospel.

Therefore, examine yourself, examine the message you preach. If it leaves the hearer exalted and believing that it was their value that compelled Christ to die, you have not preached the Gospel. You have preached self-esteem. Esteem Christ instead.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

 

The Nations: They are Already Here

The Gospel for the Nations

At the end of Matthew in chapter 28 Jesus is speaking to His disciples. As He addresses them He leaves them with the command to make disciples of the nations. This, the Great Commission, has echoed throughout the ages. The only mission given to the church, greater than the making of disciples, is the worship of God. Yet, even the making of disciples has the worship of God as its end goal.

Christ made it clear that the Gospel was for the nations. Yet, how are we to understand the word nations? Who or what are the nations? For the modern western church, the nations, has come to mean far off lands. These lands are geo-political centers delineated by borders and regions. We have come to model our idea of missions work after the great evangelists William Carey. Carey, often called the “Father of Modern Missions” labored in India as he preached the Gospel to a pagan people. Carey’s work inspired countless untold others to follow in his footsteps, launching what we know as missions work today.

As brilliant and dedicated as Carey was, I would posit that he would be appalled at what has become of his legacy. Today, the modern western church has almost completely forgotten evangelistic work outside the context of foreign missions. We have grown to view missions as strictly work we do in the context of far-off geographical places. We have misunderstood Christ’s use of the word nations in Matthew 28.

The word translated nations in that passage is the Greek work ethnos. The word ethnic or ethnicity is derived from this Greek word. It is more properly translated people groups or people. This understanding of the word nations should guide our understanding of missions work.

 Come with me now as I explain.

Did Carey Intend to Establish a Modern Model

When Carey landed in India he was there for the long haul. As I mentioned in a previous article, he labored for seven years before he saw his first convert. When Carey traveled to India he traveled unsupported. After a short-time there he realized that he was woefully unequipped financially. However, even in that Carey rejoiced in the work and labored on. He was eventually invited into a Dutch controlled region of India and things became marginally better.

Eventually Carey took on work to support his family and himself. He then used that work to support his missions work in India. He would preach the Gospel in the open air and hand out tracts. Carey understood his duties (often fallibly) to both his family and to his fellow Imago Dei.

If we look at the modern model for missions work, we would see stark contrasts between Carey and others. However, I do not mean to imply that Carey was a paragon of perfection in his work. I believe that he neglected his family in some regards. Love for the lost in foreign lands is laudable. Moreover, an excellent way to communicate Christ’s love to the heathens and pagans is to sacrifice for your own family. Isn’t this a picture of the Gospel that Paul says marriage is supposed to be?

With that in mind, I want us to look at what Carey modeled for the Church at that time. Furthermore, I want us to think on whether what Carey modeled then is for now. By all accounts Carey faced massive opposition from his denomination at the time. One older pastor called Carey out for his passion for the conversion of the pagans. This older man ostensibly told him to sit down and shut up because he was too emotionally invested.

Therefore, we need to consider the admonition Carey received, and we need to ask ourselves what our investment is. Moreover, are we invested at all? Subsequently, if we are invested, what does that investment look like on an individual basis?

Sadly, Reaching the Nations is Different Now

If we consider Carey’s work, the good and the bad. We will find ourselves astonished at the depth of his impact in India. Certainly, a man who labored for 7 years before seeing his first convert shows spiritual fortitude. Furthermore, such a man shows great dependence on God for all things. Carey wasn’t just trusting God for converts, he trusted God for providence. In many ways he was much like George Mueller.

So how does modern missions work look compared to the work of Carey? Certainly, missionary families today commit to spending long periods of time in far-off foreign lands. There is no doubt that they give up many of the creature comforts of living in the USA or other western nations. Often, they find themselves in third world countries that lack even the basic of needs for all but the wealthiest. However, there is a staggering difference between William Carey and the missionaries of today.

Today’s missionaries spend months, sometimes years, travelling across the country speaking at local churches. What is their reason for this? Is it to stir up others to go out into the world and preach the Gospel to all creatures? Are they calling others to lay down their lives and creature comforts to join them in going to the nations? No. Most of them are drumming up support.

I recently listened to a message on line. The speaker was a missionary speaking at a local Baptist church not far from where I live. This man and his family have been supported by this church for nearly a half a century. He has lived off the support of other Christians for almost fifty years. Able bodied and well enough to travel, but not working. Does that sound like William Carey? Furthermore, would Carey recognize this?

When Going to the Nations Becomes an Excuse

Look, I don’t have an issue with international missions. I am not completely opposed to funding foreign missions work. Moreover, I believe that there is biblical precedent for a certain level of foreign missions work and funding.

What I do not support is the idea of fulltime missionaries who move to a region and camp out for years and years. Furthermore, I don’t believe that the Bible allows for it either. What I have observed with increasing frequency in the west, is the move towards missionaries being under fulltime support even here in the States. We have taken a model of missions, imposed it on Scripture, and then superimposed it into a context closer to home.

I believe that the way the Church has come to view missions has created a maelstrom of evangelistic laziness. It is bad enough that people view supporting stateside missionaries as part of fulfilling the Great Commission. Worse yet, we take it out further and see sending missionaries to the nations as the penultimate evangelistic work.

I respect and am humbled by the work of Carey. However, I don’t believe that we should seek to point to him as THEE model. I believe that the model we should pursue is contained in the earliest accounts of the Church. We need to look in Acts and other New Testament letters.

The early Church did not grow rapidly because believers in Jerusalem got together and formed inefficient missions boards. It grew like wildfire because it carried the Gospel to the people they lived next to. Consequently, the message spread in concentric circles from Jerusalem to the nations. It spread by word of mouth to other regions. Certainly, Paul was the apostle to the gentiles. However, what does that mean for us?

Recognizing the Nations are Here

There was a day, in the not too distant past, when the nations were still far off for American Christians. Moreover, to some degree, the western church misapplied the Great Commission to itself. The rise of a certain aberrant systematic theology, caused American Christianity to see itself as a latent version of Israel. This theology gave rise to American Churches quoting “If my people called by name would humble themselves and seek my face…” as applying to not only the Church, but to the nation. America was “thee Christian nation”. Moreover, in some circles, America was God’s nation.

This egocentric perspective by the Church, and subsequently the nation, caused us to look outwards from our borders. Ordinarily, this would not be entirely bad. However, it was breeding ground for narcissistic self-righteous smugness and American pride. It was this that drove American Churches to begin to export “American Christianity” to the nations.

Furthermore, during the Victorian age in the USA, the American Church exported her Victorian values to other countries. Stories are told of American missionaries travelling into villages in Africa and South America and Asia and imposing standards of dress on people that were literally foreign to them.

So why do I bring this up? During this time, when a person or a family immigrated to the USA there were certain expectations that came with that. You would learn the language and adopt the practices. Many of the immigrants that came were ostensibly Christian.

This is not the case any longer. Even now as I write this, massive caravans of people with staggering differences in cultural practices are rushing towards the borders of the USA. Entire neighborhoods of some cities look nothing like the America of even 20 years ago. The nations are here. They are our neighbors.

Responding to the Nations that are Here

This is not a boast. I spend quite a bit of time taking the Gospel to the lost in public settings. From pubic streets in downtown areas to college campuses and outside of abortion mills. I’ve met literally hundreds if not thousands of people through public evangelism. Consequently, one thing has become clear to me, the nations are here.

In the case of just one local community college in a city of 18,000 I have witnessed to people from the following places: Egypt, South Sudan, Spain, South America, Central America, Germany, Italy, Micronesia, Asia

I have witnessed to people of various religious backgrounds on the same campus. Everything from Muslims to Buddhists to Eastern Transcendentalists. I have engaged in incredibly challenging philosophical conversations with atheists on the same campus. However, it isn’t just this campus. Compound it by several others and you will see patterns I have been observing. The nations are here.

My fellow Christians, it is beyond time for us to embrace the truth that we have sat back and been idle for too long. We have been so focused on sending people out to the nations that we have missed that the nations have come to us.

Moreover, hotly contested political battles aside, I believe we need to set aside our nationalistic fervor as Christians. Am I arguing for an abandonment of our national sovereignty? Not in the least. However, as Christians it is imperative for us to remember that this world is not our home. We are the true Sojourners in this country. We are ambassadors of a far better kingdom than the one we are temporarily in.

As ambassadors of Christ, we should be relishing the opportunities to go to these people as they arrive and preach Christ crucified to them. Romans 8:28 holds true even here.

The Nations: My Conclusion

I do not want this to be seen as an argument against foreign missions. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want us, the true Church, to be about Advancing the Gospel into the whole world. For far too long too many of us have sat back leaving the work of evangelism in the hands of a few. Some of those few spend long years, even decades, laboring for the nations overseas. Then a few more labor for the nations here near our homes.

Sadly, most of us don’t ever labor at all. Paul Washer is famously quoted as saying “If you aren’t going into the well, at least hold the rope for someone who does.” I want to say that it is high time that we start going into the well together and holding rope for each other.

The nations are here. They have been for quite some time. Moreover, the nations are continuing to rush toward us. There is something about America that calls out to people. As the poem inscribed in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We hold a far brighter and more powerful light than that colossus in New York Harbor ever will. We hold the light of Christ. The very light of the world. It was He who came into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it. Our Lord left us with the command to carry His light into the world. To the nations. We were once the homeless tempest-tossed sinners that yearned for His Freedom.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

Tax Collectors and Sinners: What was Jesus Doing with Them

The Argument

Irony of ironies it is all ironies; to paraphrase Solomon. I hear from people quite often that Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners. They often substitute prostitute for sinner to really drive home their point. The compelling reason for this argument stems from a desire to build a case against what many call contact or cold evangelism.

Furthermore, they seem to think that referring to Matthew 9 makes their case for them. The greatest irony is that they clearly miss the point of what was happening there. Moreover, I think the use of tax collectors and sinners is an easy go to. Not that it is from laziness, but instead from lack of confidence in their understanding of Scripture.

Where the Problem Lies

Contemporary western Christianity has been inculcated with the idea of relationship first, then the Gospel. One can hardly blame the individual people that make up the Church Universal for something that they have been taught. Especially if it has been taught to them wrongly.

Much of this stems from the faulty presupposition that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion. Furthermore, when one hears this from the pulpit and from esteemed Christian speakers frequently, it becomes the norm. As with any cliché that enters Christian vernacular, once ensconced, it is incredibly difficult to remove.

Consider these phrases:

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“God never gives you anything you can’t handle.”

“Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

“God told me…”

“Where two or three are gathered we are having church!”

Not one of these phrases has any biblical backing. However, they and many others, are riddled around the landscape of the modern western church.

Even more troublesome is the willingness of the Church to embrace anything that sounds right. When a well-meaning believer tells me “Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners.” I have no doubts that they also recite “It is a relationship, not a religion.”

This is truly where the problem lies. Men (and sadly now women) in positions of authority in the broader church, have lost the dogged determination that once marked the way the Church communicated her message. We have become accustomed to sound bite preaching. Moreover, the hearer has come to expect “theology on the half-shell”. For the preacher to keep their audience they must cater to short attention spans. Consequently, those who once were responsible to correct error, now foster that error for the sake of numbers.

Who Were the Tax Collectors and Sinners

In the Jewish society at the time of the Roman occupation tax collectors were the dregs of the wealthy. These men were the ancient Jewish equivalent of a mob boss making it big. When Rome took over a region the emperor would impose taxes on the land. It wasn’t always logistically easy to send Roman tax collectors into the region so there needed to be a solution.

Therefore, the solution was to sell the right to collect taxes to the highest bidder. In come the tax collectors. These people would pay the tax to the Roman governor ahead of collecting it. This purchased them the right to collect that tax from their fellow Jews. After the emperor was satisfied the tax collectors could collect as much money as they wanted to recoup their costs.

Consequently, these tax collectors were viewed as traitors and sellouts to their own people. They were profiting off the misery and “slavery” of their fellow countrymen. The religious system offered them no relief and they were outcasts. Wealthy, but unwelcomed.

The sinners of the tax collectors and sinners societal set, were often the “moral” dregs of society. Any person who flaunted the law of God and used their sin to earn money. The sinners could have been those who charged a usury or prostitutes. Moreover, these folks were often considered unclean and untouchable.

When Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the publican He was speaking about the tax collectors and sinners. The publican was nice combination of the two to illustrate a point. These were the people Jesus was often seen with. These outcasts and rejects of Jewish society were the ones who were often rejected by polite society. Yet Jesus went to them.

But why?

Why the Outrage when Jesus was with the Tax Collectors and Sinners

In a previous article, Bars and Strip Clubs, I spoke of the somewhat Pharisaical mentality that permeates the western Church. Today the more conservative congregations tend to have a very dim view of people who frequent such places. The Pharisees and those who followed them had the same dim view of tax collectors and sinners. Moreover, the protests of the Pharisees resemble the same protests that are offered by conservative evangelicals.

A prim and proper religious elitist of Christ’s day wasn’t to be seen in the company of such dregs. The people who were looking to discredit Christ were more than happy to point out how He and the disciples had defiled themselves by hanging out with the enemies of God.

How could anyone call Jesus rabbi after seeing Him with such rabble?

This was the reason for the outrage. The Pharisees would never lower themselves to such depths, nor would they counsel their disciples to reach down to these rejects. In the eyes of the religious elite these folks were beyond hope. Jesus didn’t see it that way.

It is clear from Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus was there for a purpose. That purpose was not lost on Christ’s disciples, and it should not be lost on us.

Reading into the Tax Collectors and Sinners

Today, the less biblically literate crowd reads into the account of Jesus being seen with tax collectors and sinners. They see this account as justification for continuing their attempts at lifestyle evangelism. Even worse, they justify their own sinful lives. When they see the attitude of the more biblically conservative crowd toward modern day tax collectors and sinners, they rejoice to go the opposite direction. They see themselves as being more Christ-like.

Moreover, they fail to read the whole account in context and narrowly focus on the part they deem most important. Their presupposition is that Jesus was just living life with these folks and demonstrating that He lacked the judgmental heart of the Pharisees. This appeals to them emotionally because it feels good to hang out with outcasts rejected by the uptight conservatives.

Consequently, both groups miss the bus. They are both wrong. The Pharisees saw Jesus defiling Himself and they were appalled. Today, the crowds who tell street evangelists that they are doing it wrong and that we are to just hang out with tax collectors and sinners, fail to recognize that Jesus was on mission. He was with those folks for a reason.

They simply, but errantly, see Jesus as just hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners affirming them. These are the people I mentioned in a previous article that send women into a strip club to hang out and chat with strippers. Their goal is to only befriend them. They see Jesus as the epitome of this activity, because they have failed to fully understand what Christ was saying to the Pharisees when they questioned Him.

Taking Truth to Tax Collectors and Sinners

When the Pharisees questioned Jesus for rubbing elbows with the tax collectors and sinners, He didn’t really defend Himself. Christ didn’t reply with the responses I hear today. “These people need to know how much I care before they will care how much I know.” “How can I tell them about having a relationship with Jesus if I don’t have a relationship with them first?”

That wasn’t the view of Christ at all. Jesus was sitting amid these wretches and eating with them, but it wasn’t all fun and frivolity. His response to the Pharisees was quite public and deeply poignant.

“Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners,” the Pharisees asked the disciples. Moreover, there was every chance that these working-class disciples would have been taken aback by Jesus as well.

Jesus doesn’t even give His disciples a chance to reply. He is reclining at the table in the middle of a meal with the worst of the worst. Without getting up or missing a beat, He responds with the most mood-killing reply He could give. “I didn’t come to take care of you “righteous types”. I came for these nasty sinners.” (Forgive my paraphrase.) Jesus dealt a death blow to any burgeoning friendships He was hoping to build. He made it clear that He agreed with the Pharisees, the tax collectors and sinners were rotten people. However, He also pointed out the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Pharisees. No one in the room was getting off the hook.

Jesus was there to preach the Gospel and He wasn’t shy about it at all. He was going to point out the wickedness of the people that had gathered with Him. The bonus was that the Pharisees showed up to take a verbal rebuke as well.

Let’s be Honest, appealing to Jesus Here is an Excuse

Let’s just get it out of the way. As much as I rebuked modern religious elitists, I want to rebuke those who misuse this account from Jesus’ life. You are intentionally misreading this because it allows you to excuse your desire to be comfortable.

Sure, there is a time and place for hard Gospel conversations. Sitting down at the Christmas dinner gathering and calling out Uncle Bob for shacking up with girlfriend #6 isn’t going to end well. Especially when he already knows where you stand on the matter. Furthermore, Jesus doesn’t command us to make every conversation about the sins of others.

However, and this is a big however, Jesus doesn’t excuse our lack of Gospel preaching because it gets uncomfortable. He understood our frailties and the fragile nature of our relationships. He knew what it was like to have people turn on Him for preaching truth.

In Matthew 8 Jesus casts the demons out of a man and the entire village shows up to tell Him to leave town. He knew what it was like to be unpopular even when He had the best interest of people in mind.

We need to be brutally honest with one another and with ourselves. We hate being uncomfortable around others. No one likes that awkward silence that comes with being recognized as the “religious zealot” in the room. Therefore, many point at this account of Jesus with tax collectors and sinners and make it about relationships. They fail to see that Jesus was concerned with their spiritual condition and not in forming a relationship with them.

Tax Collectors and Sinners Were His Mission

Jesus came into the world to call sinners to repent. That was His mission. He came and modeled that mission perfectly. Christ wasn’t interested in improving their socio-economic standing. He certainly wasn’t concerned with raising their level of popularity and acceptance in society. He warned His followers often that they would be persecuted for the sake of His name.

Moreover, He made it clear that the will of the Father was His motivating purpose. Having relationships with tax collectors and sinners meant nothing if He wasn’t preaching about sin and salvation to them. He was starkly distinct from the Pharisees in this regard.

Consequently, He could speak truth to the situation as we see Him do in John 3. “I did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it.” Christ was the perfect balance of what it means to live in relationship with people while preaching the Gospel to them. This is what our focus and our goal should be. Are we seeing people in the most despicable places as a mission field in need of Gospel preaching? Or are we seeing them as projects to be befriended and cultivated for the sake of our comfort?

In Conclusion

Look, I can’t be the Holy Spirit to you. I am not able to judge or ascertain when and where you should be engaging in Gospel conversations. However, I can tell you who. Everyone!

As I have said repeatedly, we should be front-loading the Gospel into all our relationships. That is best place to start. Once you have that foot forward, follow it with the next. The best place to start is right where you are. Don’t make excuses. Please don’t allow modern Christian clichés such as “It is about relationship and not religion”, to stifle your obedience to the Great Commission. Furthermore, certainly don’t misuse Scripture to excuse your lack of obedience. Learn from Christ and you won’t need excuses.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd