Sunday, September 15, 2013

Recognizing the Gospel

Today we will be considering what the Gospel is and what it isn’t so we can think about what to share and how to share it.

There are a lot of different ways to approach this but I want to start by looking at Acts 15. First a little background – start with verse one. 

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. – Acts 15:1-6

We can see here that people have called the nature of the Gospel into question from the beginning of the Church even while the people who actually been with Jesus personally were still alive. Some important things to point out is that people wanted a Gospel based on what they thought was important. In this case: what they saw as the basis of Judaism – the Laws of Moses in general and the custom that all men must be circumcised in particular. Every single heresy and cult begins with corrupting the Gospel.
Look at the form of the argument given in verse 1: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This is a pattern.  “Unless you are ________, according to the custom taught by _______, you cannot be saved.” The only difference between all other heresies is that they just fill in the blanks differently. For example, historically, Mormonism had said “Unless you are a Mormon, according to the custom taught by Joseph Smith, you cannot be saved.” In Islam: “Unless you are a Muslim, according to the custom taught by Muhammad in the Quran, you cannot be saved.” You can summarize every worldview and every religion in a similar way. 

Just like the First Century Christian, we have to combat heresies today because they lead people away from God. Let’s take a look at what the Apostles did. They held on to what the Gospel fundamentally is. Look at verses 6-11

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Peter starts by showing what God has already validated that Gentiles did not have become Jews to be Believers by treating Gentile believers no differently than the Jewish Believers. Peter defines the Gospel: Salvation through the grace of our Lord Jesus. This is the same as taught throughout the New Testament. Paul, Peter, James, John, and all those following Jesus taught this. More importantly Jesus said of Himself!

23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” – John 8:23-24

The first century church was just stating what Jesus had already said. We must do the same today. Therefore let us define the Gospel the way we are supposed to. It is stated in various ways but always the same thing: We all deserve death because of our sin but we are saved from sin and death by faith alone though Jesus alone, according to Scripture alone. Here is one of my favorite ways of stating the Gospel and what it means to us.

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

People try to deny and avoid the Gospel. Part of witnessing is disarming their defenses and pointing them back to Jesus. One objection that keeps getting raised is the fact that we come to Christ by faith. The world objects to the Gospel by trying to redefine faith into something the Bible never tells us to believe. “Faith” is not believing something or anything despite a lack of evidence or contrary to reality. God does not condone it nor commands it. Many people you may find yourself witnessing to might try to use this objection. Don’t fall for it. Also we have to know what “Faith” is for ourselves. Let us look at an example of what real faith looks like and how it should be applied.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:6,7

We know from Hebrews that Faith is trusting in God, but not without evidence. Or continuing and deepening relationship with God is part of that evidence. What we need to focus on right now is why is “Faith” contrasted by the sense of “sight”. We know from Hebrews 11 that faith is the evidence of things we cannot see.  This points out how unreliable our eyes and how we process that visual information we get from them truly is. Ironically the sense of sight is the faculty we rely on most but the most easily fooled. This is why we are told to hold onto our faith and trust in God’s word not on what we see or think.  Our eyes are not ultimately trustworthy. I’ve got some proof of that. 

Look at this image: All the hearts are actually the same color. Our brains fill make the hearts different colors

We live in a 3D world, right? How do you know? Do you see in three-D? Nope….not with our eyes. You cannot project a 3D image on a 2D surface – which is the on the back of the eye. Our minds fills in the third dimension because we know it should be there. This is also a blessing of having two eyes instead of one – perceiving depth and distance – it’s not a coincidence. But let me show you how easy we can be fooled if we go on our eyes alone

See 2D moving image that look 3D. (Yeah, I could have chosen other images but I want to make sure y’all were paying attention.)

Such effects are everywhere. In all our media. Taking advantage of how our brains work so our  minds think we are seeing what really isn’t there. Here is another example.  

 So the take-home point is that you can’t trust your  eyes alone to understand reality. This why the Bible says we need faith! Here is another example of such an effet!
Let’s look at two quick videos on how some of Brothers in the Lord are doing witnessing.

Let’s look at two quick videos on how some of Brothers in the Lord did some witnessing.

Old School – Dr SM Lockridge

Current  – Dr James White  and Ivey

This is what the people we witness to have to deal with – the Gospel. We all do. No matter what. As you sit in your seat today, what have you done with the Gospel? Have you gladly accepted it? Do you live by it? Is it more precious to you than anything else? If you cannot answer “Yes” to any of the above questions, you need to find out why you can’t and make some changes so that you can. Jesus loved us so much that He proved it. We cannot do any less. 

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