Lesson 1: Financial Freedom (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
Preachers are notorious for preaching about money. Maybe it’s because their income depends on the generosity of God’s people. But I hope it’s for a different reason, namely, that they’re preaching the Bible, which has a lot to say about money. Of the 38 recorded parables of Jesus, 16 deal with money or possessions. In the Gospels, one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
Perhaps the reason the Bible puts such an emphasis on money is because, in Jesus’ words, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). I would have thought He would have said, “Where your heart is, your treasure will be also.” But your heart follows your treasure. If you put your treasure in the things of this world, your heart will be in this world. If you put your treasure in the kingdom of God, your heart will be there. Since your heart and your money are so inextricably bound together, it is crucial to your spiritual life to study what Scripture teaches about money.
We begin today a brief series on “God, Money, and You.” In the next five weeks, I want to develop four qualities which God wants to enlarge in the life of every believer. Each quality is in opposition to the world’s perspective:
- Freedom (from bondage to greed and debt). The world says, “I want more and I’ll go in debt to get it.”
- Integrity. The world winks at cheating and dishonesty.
- Faithfulness. The world is marked by irresponsibility.
- Generosity. The world says, “Hang onto it!”
Because your attitudes toward money are closely tied in with your heart, I’ll probably offend you at some point in this series! If I do, before you stomp out mad, please stop and consider that: (1) This stuff applies to me as well as to you, so I’m struggling to apply it just as I hope you are; (2) It may be God, not me, stepping on your toes. If it’s just me, I apologize. Feel free to disagree with me. But if I’m true to Scripture, please don’t shrug it off. God calls us all to be doers of the Word, and there are few of us who don’t have room to grow on this important topic.
Today I want to talk about financial freedom. God wants us to be free from bondage to money which takes two forms:
God wants us to be free from bondage to greed and debt.
Greed and debt are two main ways we become enslaved to money. God’s answer to greed is contentment; His answer to debt is control.
1. God wants us to be free from bondage to greed.
Greed is a major danger whether you are rich or poor. Many who are rich got that way because the love of money was the driving force in their lives. Many who are poor love money just as much as the rich do; the problem is, they don’t have any! Of course the root problem which causes both rich and poor to be greedy is the love of self. Money (including the power, prestige, and possessions it brings) is just the means through which the person who loves himself more than God and others thinks he can live comfortably. Since we all battle the love of self, we all must be on guard against greed.
A. Greed enslaves all who do not master it.
Jesus drew the line and put us all into one of two camps when He said (Matt. 6:24), “You cannot serve God and mammon.” (“Mammon” comes from an Aramaic word meaning “wealth” or “property” and refers to material riches.) If Jesus is not Lord of all your life, you are enslaved to money and greed! That sounds extreme, but Jesus didn’t allow for a middle camp, where God is sort of your Lord, where you can drop $10 in the plate whenever you feel generous, or even where you can give ten percent, but the rest is yours to spend as you please. Jesus was quite radical: “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Either God or greed is your master; not both.
The main way greed enslaves us is through deception. If it marched up and diabolically said, “I am greed and I want to control your life,” few would fall for it. But Satan uses the desire for riches to appeal to our love of self and gradually entrap us. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained the seed sown on the thorny ground as “the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19). The thorns of greed can choke out the seed of the Word and make you unfruitful. This deception operates in at least four ways:
(1) Greed can deceive us by gradually becoming our master. In Jesus’ parable, the thorns are different from the birds that stole the seed and the sun that scorched the plants in that thorns grow more gradually. The birds steal the seed immediately. The sun can scorch the young plants in a day or two. But it might take weeks for the thorns gradually to strangle the plant.
None of us would say, “I’m going to make money my master.” Rather, it is a gradual, subtle process. “As soon as I get the business on its feet, I’ll have more time for my family and for the Lord. But right now I need to give it some extra time.” Sure! Each one of us needs to ask ourselves honestly: Is God or is mammon my real master?
(2) Greed can deceive us by making money our focus for happiness. Paul said (1 Tim. 6:9-10), “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.” Note the deception (“snare”; “pierced themselves”; “wandered away”). Nobody deliberately steps into a snare, pierces themselves through, or gets lost. They get trapped or pierced or lost before they know it.
The delusion is based on a desire--to get rich. People often want to get rich because they think that if they just had more, they’d be happy. But how much do you need for happiness?
One of the best modern parables on this is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl [Bantam Books]. A young man on a Pacific island dreams of finding the perfect pearl and of the happiness it will bring him and his family. One day he finds it, but he discovers that instead of happiness, it makes life miserable. Everyone is after him to steal his pearl. It almost costs him his life; it does cost him his son’s life. The pearl becomes the dominating thing in his life, his master, until ... (you’ll have to read it!).
(3) Greed can deceive us if we make money our present source of trust. (See Deut. 6:10-12; 8:11-14, 17-18.) When Israel was in the wilderness, they were forced to trust God. If the manna stopped, or if God didn’t bring water from the rock, they all would have died. The spiritual danger increased when their economic danger subsided. It’s easy when you have plenty to trust your plenty instead of the Lord who can give or take away your riches.
(4) Greed can deceive us if we make money our future hope for security. “As soon as I get enough for the future, then I’ll kick back a bit,” we say. “I just want myself and my family to be financially secure.” But what is financial security? How much is enough? Those are questions every Christian must ask honestly before God and in light of His Word.
It is not wrong, and, in fact, is quite right, to save for future contingencies and needs such as retirement, illness, emergencies, and death. But how much is enough? Larry Burkett reflects the balance when he writes, “Those who make no provision for their families are clearly outside of God’s plan and suffer as a result. Those who hoard and live lavishly are also outside of God’s plan and suffer accordingly” (Christian Financial Concepts, p. 67).
Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). He then told the parable of the rich man who thought he would obtain financial security by building bigger barns to store his produce. But God required the man’s soul that very night and called him a fool because he didn’t plan for riches in heaven.
A modern version of that story is told, where a businessman had an angel visit him who promised to grant him one request. He asked for a copy of “The Wall Street Journal” one year in the future. As he was studying the stock prices and gloating over the killing he would make through his view into the future, his eye glanced across the page to the obituaries, where he saw his own name. Suddenly, that financial killing lost its significance.
The Lord is our only true source of security. With that in mind, we should prayerfully and prudently answer the question, “How much is enough?” Greed can enslave us through deceitfulness. You are either the servant of greed or of God. Be on guard!
What is God’s answer to the bondage of greed?
B. God wants us to develop contentment in Him.
After warning of those who think that godliness is a means of financial gain and before warning of the danger of pursuing wealth, Paul states (1 Tim. 6:6-8), “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” In Philippians 4, Paul says that he had learned to be content in all circumstances.
I must be brief, but contentment counters each of the four ways greed can subtly enslave us:
(1) Make God the master of all you are and have. We do not have the right to use anything as if it belongs to us. All our money and everything we have belongs to the Lord; we only manage it for Him. His Word gives us the wisdom we need to be faithful in managing His resources. If we constantly reaffirm God as the owner, we will avoid the gradual encroachment of mammon as master.
(2) Make God your focus for happiness. We are to rejoice in Him whether we have much or little (Phil. 4:4, 10-13). If we think, “I’ll be happy as soon as I get ____” (fill in the blank), we’re serving mammon, not God. If we rejoice daily in the Lord, then we can be happy with much or with little.
(3) Make God your present source of trust. If you are doing well financially, be especially careful! That’s when the danger is the greatest of shifting your trust to your bank account. If God is your trust, you won’t anxiously be seeking the things the world seeks (Matt. 6:25-34) nor will you be resting comfortably in your financial security.
(4) Make God your hope for the future. Hebrews 13:5 commands us, “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you.’” Scripture directs us to make reasonable financial plans for the future (Prov. 6:6-11). I believe that providing for our family (1 Tim. 5:8) includes carrying a moderate amount of life insurance, having a will, and enough savings or liquid investments to cover normal emergencies. But God must be our hope for the future, not our investments or financial planning.
If we will develop contentment in the Lord, we can remain free from the bondage of greed. But there’s a second form of financial bondage:
2. God wants us to be free from bondage to debt.
A. Debt enslaves us to the lender and hinders the development of key Christian character qualities.
Proverbs 22:7 states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” First Corinthians 7:23 instructs us not to become slaves of men. Romans 13:8 states, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Going into debt puts you in bondage to pay off those debts. It makes you the tail, not the head (Deut. 28:43-44). While it would be too strong to say that the Bible forbids all debt, it does strongly caution against it.
There are a lot of definitions of debt (take your pick). I’m referring to spending more than you are taking in. If you are paying monthly installment interest on credit cards (half of American families do), in my book you’re in debt. A 1980 survey disclosed that the average American family in the 25-35 year-old bracket was spending $397 a month more than they earned. A 1975 Reader’s Digest article stated that one-sixth of married couples in the U.S. owed (apart from home mortgages) more than they earned in a year.
Debt goes hand-in-hand with greed, because it feeds off greed and self-gratification by giving us what we want now, rather than making us wait for it or work for it in advance. It reflects impulsiveness and hinders the development of discipline and self control (a fruit of the Spirit). Debt runs counter to waiting on the Lord in prayer and faith to provide what we need, reflecting a lack of pa-tience. Debt presumes on the future (our ability to repay), which the Bible says is arrogance, since we don’t control the future (James 4:13-16). Debt often reflects mismanagement and irresponsibility with the Lord’s resources. And debt creates unnecessary tension in your life and marriage. It truly is a form of bondage!
Debt also prevents us from giving generously to the Lord’s work. Ten years ago Larry Burkett stated that the average American family paid $1,000 a year in interest (not counting their house mortgage). If they were out of debt, they could give that money to the church. If only 40 families in this church gave $1,000 more per year, we could pay off the mortgage on the property next door the first year and then have more for ministry and mission needs every year after that!
If you get so far in debt that you can’t repay what you owe, it’s a bad testimony (Ps. 37:21). How can you default on your debt and tell your creditor about your Savior? Bankruptcy may be the easy way out (due to our legal system), but it doesn’t honor the Lord. What is God’s answer to debt?
B. God’s answer to debt is control.
Here’s a simple principle: You won’t get into debt if you don’t borrow! Control your spending habits so that you live within your means. I can’t go into detail on the pros and cons of borrowing for a home mortgage or other expensive purchases, such as a car. But on home loans, be very careful; on cars, avoid borrowing unless it’s absolutely necessary (which it seldom is). A lot of things we think are necessities are really luxuries. Christian financial counselor Ron Blue states, “Getting in debt is as easy as getting down an ice-covered mountain. Getting out of debt is just as difficult as climbing that same mountain” (Master Your Money [Thomas Nelson Publishers], p. 59).
If you’re already in debt, the only way out is to discipline yourself to spend less than you make and to use the difference to systematically meet your obligations until you’re free from debt. You can also sell off needless items and use the money to pay down your debts. Then you must continue living with self-control so that you can build up a surplus for expected future needs. If you can’t control credit card spending, do plastic surgery: Cut all your cards in half and throw them in separate trash cans so they can’t spontaneously reunite!
If you can get free from the bondage of greed and debt by developing contentment and control, you will realize a number of benefits. Here are three:
(1) Personally, you will be free from anxiety and pressure over money matters. Jesus showed the anxiety that results from living for things--worry about moths, rust, and thieves (Matt. 6:19-33). Debt and the pressure of how to hold off your creditors also causes anxiety. You don’t need that! It’s great to be free from money worries.
(2) Maritally, you will be free from strife and tension over money matters. Money is one of the leading causes of domestic unhappiness and divorce. There are enough pressures in marriage and the family without having money pressures.
(3) Spiritually, you will know that you are pleasing the Lord as His faithful steward. Pleasing God (not the other benefits) should be the primary motive for developing contentment and control in the financial realm. Also, you are free to give generously to the Lord’s work. There is the satisfaction of knowing that you are laying up treasures in heaven as you give. God promises to bless the effectual doer of the Word (James 1:25).
Are you financially free from the bondage of greed and debt? Do contentment and control characterize your financial life? If not, the only way to please God is to confess your sins, turn to His way, and begin to walk in obedience. It may take a long time and a lot of work, but you can commit yourself to begin the journey today.
- Does being content mean that I shouldn’t work toward improving my financial condition? What does it mean?
- How much is enough? At what point do we violate Jesus’ command not to lay up treasures on earth?
- Is it wrong for Christians to live in luxury? How can we tell if we have a problem with greed?
- Since God is to be our security, are things like insurance or investments wrong?
- How can an impulsive spender develop self control?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 2: When No One Is Looking— Integrity in Money Matters (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
A story is told about a not-too-honest judge who was trying a case involving two railroads. When he received the briefs from the two lawyers, they both contained bribes. The first lawyer had sent a check for $10,000. The second lawyer’s check was for $15,000. The judge looked at the two checks, thought a moment, then called his secretary. “Make out a check for $5,000 and send it to the second lawyer,” he said. “We’re going to decide this case on its own merits.”
Integrity in money matters is a rare thing. But God wants His people marked by financial integrity. The English have a saying, “A gentleman is one who uses the butter knife when he is alone.” In other words, what someone does when no one is looking indicates their true character. Integrity in money matters has to do with being honest and upright when no one is looking. It means acting according to biblical principles, even if you think you’ll never get caught, because you know that God is watching and you want to please Him.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary ([Merriam-Webster], p. 589) states, “Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge.” If you take that definition strictly, no one has integrity, because no one is incapable of being corrupted. We’re all susceptible to temptation. But we don’t need to yield. God’s Word is clear:
A Christian must act with integrity in financial dealings.
We live in a dishonest, corrupt world. In 1980, the IRS estimated that it lost up to $26 billion a year in unreported taxes. When I worked as a room service waiter, the other waiters told me not to report all my tips or it would tip off the IRS that all the other waiters were cheating! On more than one occasion I’ve been urged to falsify loan information on real estate deals, being assured, “Everyone does it.” Since we live in that kind of world, our financial integrity as Christians will stand out and give us opportunities to testify to the transforming power of the gospel.
I would like to share four aspects of financial integrity:
1. Integrity means having a clear conscience in all finan-cial dealings.
This is foundational to all of life, including finances. Note Paul’s testimony (Acts 24:16): “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” In view of what? Verse 15: In view of having a hope in God and in view of the fact of the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked! Because Paul kept in view the certainty of standing before God, he maintained a clear conscience.
The conscience is our inner warning system (“faults” alarm) that goes off when we violate our standards. A mother helping her son with his spelling words asked if he knew the difference between “conscious” and “conscience.” He said, “Sure, Mom, ‘conscious’ is when you’re aware of something; ‘conscience’ is when you wish you weren’t.”
The popular saying, “Let your conscience be your guide,” is not completely sound advice, because the conscience must be shaped by knowledge of and obedience to Scripture. If you vio-late your conscience and don’t repent, your conscience becomes hardened or calloused. If this continues unchecked, you reach a point where your conscience is seared--insensitive to right and wrong (1 Tim. 4:2). I read of a mafia hit man who said that he didn’t have the slightest twinge of conscience when he shot a man in the face at point blank range. And, although it is rare in our day, some people are on the other end of the spectrum with an over-sensitive conscience.
My associate pastor in California was standing in line at the 7-11 convenience store behind a man who had recently started attending our church. This guy was buying a six-pack of beer and $5 worth of lottery tickets. The cashier only charged him $1 for the lottery tickets. He told her that she had undercharged him and then turned and said to my associate, “After Steve’s sermon, what else could I do? I have to be honest!” His conscience wasn’t totally shaped by Scripture yet (with regard to drinking and gambling), but at least he’s was growing!
You can see Paul’s conscience in money matters in 2 Corinthians 8:19-21. He was appealing to the churches in Greece and Macedonia to raise money for the Christians in Judea who were hard hit by a famine. There were a lot of religious hucksters in Paul’s day (as in ours). It would have been much easier then than it is now to get away with unscrupulous practices. There were no laws governing contributions for charitable causes nor agencies to track down fraudulent operators. Paul easily could have skimmed from the collection for personal expenses.
But he was scrupulous to avoid any charge of profiteering from the gospel. He had the church appoint several respected men to travel with him and help administer the funds so that no one could accuse him of impropriety. He was concerned not only about what is honorable “in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (v. 21).
It is important not only what God thinks about your financial dealings, but also what people think, because it affects your testimony of the gospel. It saddens me, but I often hear comments like, “If a guy claims to be a Christian businessman, I take my business elsewhere!” Or, I’ll hear about Christians who don’t pay their bills. Integrity involves having a clear conscience before God and man in financial dealings. If you’ve done something wrong, you need to get it cleared up first with God, then by making it right with the ones you’ve wronged.
2. Integrity means total honesty in financial dealings.
Note Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore [because you are a new person in Christ, created in righteousness and holiness of the truth], laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Technically you could argue that this verse only applies to relationships between Christians. But in our relationships with the world, we represent the Lord Jesus who is the Truth (John 14:6); therefore we must be honest in all our financial dealings. Those in the world may never read the Gospel of John, but they read the gospel according to you!
There are at least three factors in total honesty:
A. Total honesty means telling the truth, even when it hurts.
I’ll tell you from personal experience, “It hurts!” It will cost you financially to be totally honest. It has cost me many times. Once I had some car repairs done and was charged for the parts but not the labor. I had to argue with the cashier to get her to see how she had undercharged me! But when she saw it, she thanked me profusely, because she would have been fired. Sometimes it will be just a few dollars you’ve been undercharged; sometimes it will be substantial. In each case it not only costs the money, but it’s inconvenient and time-consuming to have to go back and make it right. You’ll be tempted to think, “The Lord has provided this extra money for me!” But total honesty involves telling the truth, even when it costs you.
I try to use such occasions as opportunities to bear witness for Christ. People will often say, “My, you are an honest person!” I could say, “Aw, shucks, it’s nothing” and take the glory for myself. But I come back with, “No, I’m a greedy crook. But Jesus Christ is my Lord and He’s the reason I’m honest!” If I can I leave them with a gospel tract.
It’s easy to make true statements, but to omit part of the truth that would damage your cause. For example, you are selling a used car. The mechanic has informed you that a major transmission overhaul is imminent, and you have decided to unload it. The person who has come to look at it doesn’t know much about cars, and innocently asks, “Does it run well?” You reply, “The engine’s in great shape. It was rebuilt just 10,000 miles ago. And it has new tires!” But you don’t mention the transmission.
I’m not saying that you have to go out of your way to point out every minor flaw on the car. But it seems to me that Christian honesty would mean telling the prospective buyer, “Most likely the transmission is going to need an overhaul soon.”
B. Total honesty means no cheating or stealing, even in small things.
(See Eph. 4:28). It’s easy, even for Christians, to cheat and steal. The opportunity to cheat brings out the “best” in the human ability to rationalize: At tax time we excuse our dishonesty with, “The government is so wasteful. And besides they’re ripping us off because inflation has pushed me into a higher tax bracket. And no one else reports everything, so why should I?” Or at work we think, “The company is so big, they won’t miss this little item. Besides, I work hard and they don’t pay me what I’m worth.” Or when we shop, if the checker fails to ring up an item, we excuse it by thinking, “I shop here a lot and give them a lot of business. And besides, their prices are too high anyway.”
With regard to taxes, I believe in taking every legitimate deduction. Otherwise you’re giving the Lord’s money to the government. But that does not mean knowingly cheating the government out of taxes we owe. The Bible is clear that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And stealing pencils from work or small items from the store is still stealing. If you cheat or steal in little things, chances are you would succumb to bigger temptations if you thought you wouldn’t get caught.
C. Total honesty means resisting all bribery.
It is wrong to take or make bribes. This may not be a problem for many of us because we’re not in a place where this sort of thing goes on. But some of you may be in such a place. In some jobs, bribery is almost standard operating procedure. It’s a problem for missionaries who live in countries where bribes to government official are expected.
God’s Word acknowledges that bribery often works (Prov. 17:8; 18:16; 21:14), but in the same context condemns it as evil (Prov. 15:27; 17:23; see also, Ex. 23:8; Ps. 15:5; Dan. 6:4). Integrity means maintaining a clear conscience and total honesty in all our financial dealings.
3. Integrity means not taking advantage of anyone in financial dealings.
This point stems from the many biblical injunctions to love our neighbor. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). It also flows out of the quality of contentment regarding material things. If we are content with what we have, we will be less likely to take advantage of someone to make a profit than if we are greedy for gain. A godly man even “swears to his own hurt, and does not change” (Ps. 15:4). This principle means that if you can make a killing on a business deal, but you know that someone will be taken advantage of, you don’t do it. You can’t disregard the command to love others just because you can make a profit.
One way the modern church violates this principle (in my estimation) is by giving special honor or power to those who are large donors (see James 2:1-4). This passage means that if someone offered to give the church $500,000 to purchase a building, it would be wrong to treat him differently than anyone else in the church. That’s why I’m against naming buildings or rooms in honor of a donor. It’s wrong to cater to a big donor’s preferences so that he won’t take his money elsewhere. To do so would be to take advantage of him and to despise a poor donor, who may be just as faithful and generous in the Lord’s sight. I deliberately do not know what anybody gives to the church because I don’t want to play favorites. Each person should give as to the Lord, not to gain prestige or influence in the church.
Thus being a person of integrity in the financial realm means having a clear conscience, being totally honest, and not taking advantage of anyone.
4. Integrity means not being involved in gambling.
The Bible does not directly say much about gambling. But gambling violates a number of Scriptural principles and must, therefore, be avoided by Christians. According to a 1989 poll, 63 percent said they had placed at least one be in the past year; 23 percent reported playing the lottery weekly. More than half of all Protestants and nearly half of those who said religion is very important to them reported having gambled at least once in the last year (Christianity Today [7/14/89], p. 54). Here are five reasons gambling is wrong:
A. Gambling appeals to and feeds greed.
The lure is, “Get something for almost nothing! Strike it rich! Today may be your lucky day!” This is opposed to the contentment which is to mark the Christian and it makes money the focus. But whenever material gain becomes uppermost in our minds, Jesus Christ has been dethroned.
Gambling feeds greed. You see somebody hit the jackpot at the slot machines or you hear about the guy who wins $1,000,000 in the lottery and you think, “That could be me! Think what I could do with all that money!” Your thoughts are seldom, “Think of all the missionaries I could support.” But Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
B. Gambling is opposed to the Christian work ethic.
There is a principle in the Scriptures of work and of being rewarded for honest labor (1 Tim. 5:18). Gambling is the idea of getting something for nothing. It treats money lightly (“Easy come, easy go”) instead of attaching the value of labor and the responsibility of stewardship to money.
C. Gambling denies the principle of stewardship.
Our money is not ours. All we have is entrusted to us by God, to be managed for Him. We must give an account to Him someday of how we have used the things He has entrusted to us. If I entrusted my funds to you to manage for me while I was on a lengthy trip, would you be a good steward if you gambled with it? Hopefully, you would take good care of it because it did not belong to you. Gambling is opposed to good stewardship.
D. Gambling glorifies risk and chance and denies God’s sovereignty.
Our God is not a God of chance. Evolutionists believe that we are the product of chance, but we believe that we are the product of divine choice. There is no such thing as luck for the Christian. To gamble is to deify luck and chance above the sovereign God and thus fall into idolatry.
E. Gambling takes advantage of people.
It takes advantage of those who lose. To attempt to make a profit out of somebody else’s loss is the antithesis of loving our neighbor. And gambling takes advantage of those who become enslaved to it. In 1980 there were already over 500 chapters of Gamblers Anonymous in our country. To be involved in a practice which enslaves so many and which potentially could enslave you is dangerous at best.
Thus for these reasons I believe that Christians, as people of financial integrity, should be opposed to all forms of gambling.
God wants us to be people of integrity in our financial dealings. Following God’s way will cost you financially. But it will give you a clear conscience before God and men. Your family will respect you because of your convictions and will follow your leadership in other areas as well because of that respect. Your children will see the reality of your faith and follow your example. And you will have true joy which money cannot buy.
Here are some practical steps of action:
- Clear your conscience of any wrongs in this area. Confess your sin before God and appropriate His power to obey Him.
- Discontinue any corrupt practices you are now engaged in. You can’t pray for God’s blessing and continue to do wrong.
- Seek forgiveness and make restitution to any you have wronged. If you have stolen, you need to pay it back. Use your confession as an opportunity for witness.
- Make a prior commitment to total honesty. You cannot wait until the situation arises to decide whether or not you’ll be honest. You must weigh in advance the cost of discipleship and commit yourself to it because you believe in the living God and His Word.
- Make a prior commitment to abstain from gambling. You need to be ready when the office football pool hits you up for your share. If it’s a raffle for a good cause, then buy the ticket and view it as a donation. But I can’t understand why a committed Christian would want to go to a place like Las Vegas to gamble.
- Develop a testimony to share when opportunities arise. Think it through in advance so that you aren’t tongue-tied when you take a stand for your convictions. Let people know that Jesus Christ is the reason for your behavior. People may be shocked and they may ridicule. They may test you to see whether you are true to your convictions. But if they see you as a person with convictions, they will ultimately respect you and perhaps be open to hearing about the God you serve.
An evangelist preached with great zeal on the text, “Thou shalt not steal.” He pressed upon his audience the necessity of absolute integrity in all things. The next morning he boarded a bus and gave the driver a dollar bill for his fare. Counting his change, he found that he had received an extra dime. He could have said, “No big deal, I’ll just forget it; anyway, it wasn’t my fault.”
But without hesitation he went to the driver and said, “You gave me a dime too much.” “Yes, I know,” was the reply. “I did it on purpose to see what you would do! Last night I was in your audience and heard your sermon. I’ve always been suspicious of Christians. So when I recognized you this morning, I said, ‘If he practices what he preaches, I’ll go hear him again, but if he keeps the dime, I’ll know he’s a fake.’” That man did go back to the meetings and yielded his life to Christ as Savior and Lord. He was won by a ten-cent testimony! (From “Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1978.)
The world is often looking, even when we aren’t aware of it. And God always is looking. That’s why we must be people of integrity in all our financial dealings.
- How can I know if my conscience on money matters is rightly “tuned” to God’s Word?
- Is dishonesty always a sin? What about covering a friend’s wrong? What about lying for the boss?
- If it’s okay to smuggle Bibles why isn’t it okay to bribe officials if it leads to the spread of the gospel?
- What is the difference between gambling and playing the stock market (if any)?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 3: Financial Faithfulness— Can God Trust in You? (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
Around the turn of the century a magazine editor needed a bit more copy for an issue. So the night before the deadline, he sat down and typed out an article. He ran it on the back page, without a title.
He didn’t think much more about it until a few weeks later, when requests for that issue of the magazine started to pour in. When he checked as to why that issue was so popular, he discovered that people wanted that titleless article he had hastily banged out the night before his deadline.
The trickle of requests turned into a stream and then a flood. He got requests for 10, 100, 1,000 copies. He was just a small-time operator, and soon it looked as if he would have to be running full-time just to meet the demands for the back issue with that particular article. Then he got a request for 100,000 copies from the president of a large railroad. The editor replied that it would take him two years to fill that order. The railroad president persisted until he obtained permission to have the article printed at his own expense.
Somehow the article found its way into the hands of a Russian army officer, who ordered copies for every member of the Russian army. The Russians were at war with the Japanese at the time, and the article found its way into the Japanese army, where again it was printed for every soldier. In the final analysis, millions of copies of this article were distributed around the world.
What subject could possibly elicit that kind of response? Why did so many leaders want that article for those who served under them?
The article subsequently gained the title, “A Message to Garcia.” It concerned an incident in the Spanish-American War. The President had wanted a particular message delivered personally to a general named Garcia who was in the interior of Cuba. A man under the President had just taken the message from the President and, without fanfare, without questioning why, without procrastination or complaining, had taken the message through enemy lines, into the difficult mountainous terrain, had found Garcia, and delivered the message. The article was simply an essay extolling the faithfulness of that unnamed man who did his job well without anyone needing to harangue him about it.
The reason there was such an overwhelming demand for the article on the part of leaders in business and in the military was because there is such a lack of people who are faithful enough to pick up a task they have been assigned, to do it well, and to follow through without complaint or harassment.
This rare quality--faithfulness-should not be rare among God’s people. It is, in fact, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22); and, it applies directly to our handling of money. Not only do we need to trust in God; He should be able to trust in us because we have proven ourselves to be faithful. The testing ground for faithfulness is money:
Christians must be faithful in financial matters.
Here are four biblical facets of financial faithfulness:
1. To be faithful in finances, I must operate as the manager, not the owner.
The psalmist proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1). Jesus pointedly said that our money is not ours, but “that which is another’s” (Luke 16:12 in context), namely, God’s. God is the true owner of everything and everyone. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (= material possessions, riches; Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). He clearly means that either God or money is our master, but not both. There is no middle ground.
Thus one of the fundamental biblical principles in the realm of money is: I do not own anything; I only manage the money and possessions that God has entrusted to me. God does not own just ten percent, so that I’m free to spend the rest as I please. He owns it all, money and possessions. This concept has several ramifications:
A. As manager of God’s assets, I should be responsible.
Paul said that it is required of stewards (managers) that one be found trustworthy (1 Cor. 4:2). I was taught that if I borrow or use something belonging to someone else, I should treat it more carefully than even my own things, so that I can return it to the owner in good condition. That is especially true if the owner is God!
Proverbs 27:23-24 exhorts us, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations.” In other words, possessions do not manage themselves. You must take care of your money and possessions, even if you are a king, or you will lose them. To be irresponsible with money or things is to be an unfaithful manager.
I’m often shocked by the way that Christian parents fail to teach their children to respect both their own and others’ property. We built a new church building in California, and I once saw some boys having a contest to see who could put a scuff mark with their shoes the highest on the wall! Someone gave me several large bags full of “gummy bears” candy, which I thought the kids would enjoy. I ended up throwing most of it away, because instead of eating it, the kids used them for ammunition (so that they got trampled into the carpet) and for sticking to the walls.
One couple, who graciously let the high school group meet in their home, told me that the kids would often step onto their couch to climb over it in order to get to another part of the living room, rather than walk around! Why aren’t parents teaching kids respect for property? Church buildings and property as well as personal possessions and money do not belong to us, but to the Lord. We need to treat these things responsibly. The fact that we are not to live for money or things does not imply that we are free to be negligent or irresponsible.
B. As manager of God’s assets, I am relieved from pressure.
As long as I’m being responsible and careful with what God has entrusted to me, when something beyond my control happens, it is not my problem. It’s God’s “problem”!
Many years ago, my office was at home. A woman from the church had been to see me. I watched out the window as she backed up her big car, and I winced as I saw my beautiful Mustang get bumped. Apparently she didn’t even realize what happened, because she just drove off. I went out and looked, and sure enough, there was a fresh crease in my fender. This woman had enough problems that I didn’t feel I should talk to her about what she had done. I remember feeling more grief than anger, because I thought, “Lord, this is Your car, and if that’s how You want to treat it, that’s Your business!” If it had been my car, I would have been a lot more bothered! Seeing it as God’s car relieved the pressure.
C. As manager of God’s assets, I have the opportunity for advancement.
Note Luke 16:10-12. Jesus’ point is not, if you’re faithful with a little money, God will give you more money to manage. Neither is His point that if you’re faithful in some trivial job, God will give you a more important job (although both statements may be true). To interpret this passage correctly you must see that money is the “little thing” and that the “much” is the “true riches,” namely, heavenly riches which can’t be taken away. In the context of the parable, true riches are the souls of people who have been won to Christ through your faithful and wise use of money.
In other words, God views our faithfulness in managing the money He entrusts to us as the practice game. Money is a “little thing” to God, although it’s not to us! If we goof off in the practice game with the little thing (money), God isn’t going to put us in the big game (entrusting us with spiritual oversight of the souls which Jesus purchased with His blood). That’s why one requirement for elders is that they be good managers of their households, which includes finances (1 Tim. 3:1-7). If they aren’t faithful with the little matter of money, they won’t be faithful with the big matter of souls.
This means that if you desire to be used of God in evangelism and discipling others, you need to get your financial life in order. It also means that God will not bless our church with converts and solid growth unless we, the members, get our financial houses in order. If you want to advance in terms of responsibility in God’s service, prove yourself faithful in money matters and the Lord will give you true riches. To be faithful in finances, I must operate as the manager of God’s resources, not as the owner.
2. To be faithful in finances, I must keep the Owner’s objectives in mind.
Managers must know and carry out the will of the owner. Managers are not free to take a business any way they choose, unless the owner has given them that prerogative. They must work closely with the owner, under his direction, to find out how he wants his business managed and then to carry out his purpose.
In Luke 16:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the unrighteous manager (or steward). Many have puzzled over this story in that, at first glance, it seems that Jesus is praising a crook. But Jesus explains the point in verse 9: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, use your money to win souls.
Jesus praised the shrewdness (not the crookedness) of the steward because he took the long-range view. He saw that his stewardship was quickly coming to an end. Thus he used what had been entrusted to him in the present to secure a comfortable living for himself in the future. Even so, our stewardship of this life is temporary; “unrighteous mammon” will fail. We will soon give an account of our stewardship. If we (“sons of light”) were as shrewd as the “sons of this age,” we would use “unrighteous mammon” (money and possessions), entrusted to us in the present, to win people to Jesus Christ, so that in the future when this earthly stewardship ends, we will be welcomed into heaven by all those who have been won through our wise use of money.
This means that a primary way that the Owner wants His managers to use their money is to further His kingdom. Years ago, Billy Graham received a copy of a letter sent by a young man to his fiancee, breaking off their engagement because he had become a Communist. It said in part:
We Communists ... live in virtual poverty. We turn back to the party every penny we make above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive.
We Communists don’t have the time or the money for many movies or concerts or T-bone steaks or decent homes or new cars. We’ve been described as fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor--the struggle for world Communism. We Communists have a philosophy of life, which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty, personal selves into a great movement of humanity, and if our personal lives seem hard or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the Party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind. (Billy Graham, Call to Commitment [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association], pp. 1-2, cited in Teacher’s Manual for the Ten Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity [Campus Crusade for Christ], p. 389).
I wonder, could somebody tell by looking at your checkbook and the way you spend your money that are a manager for the Owner who is not willing that any should perish, but wants some from every tongue and tribe and nation to come to faith in Jesus Christ? A faithful manager keeps the owner’s objectives in mind.
3. To be faithful in finances, I must be hard-working and obedient to the Owner.
No owner is pleased with a lazy manager who doesn’t follow directions. To please our Owner, we must work hard and follow the instructions He gives us in His Word about money. I touch briefly on four areas:
A. To be faithful, I must be industrious, not lazy.
See 2 Thess. 3:8, 10-12; Acts 20:34-35; Prov. 6:6-11; 24:30-34. Hard work should not be mistaken for overwork! The Bible extols working hard; it condemns making a god out of your work. But so many people have never learned to work hard when they work. They play at their work, wasting time with unproductive things; and then they feel guilty when they take time off, so they don’t enjoy that.
B. To be faithful, I must provide for my family and have extra to give to those in need.
See 2 Thess. 3:6-12; Acts 20:34-35; 1 Tim. 5:8. We are responsible before God to work hard to provide for personal and family needs and to have extra for someone unable to work due to physical inability. If we do not provide for our families, Paul says that we’re worse than unbelievers, since even those who have never heard of Christ work to provide for their families.
C. To be faithful, I must be orderly with finances.
See 2 Thess. 3:7, 11 (“undisciplined”); Luke 14:28-30 (building a tower, count the cost in advance); Prov. 27:23 (“know well”; “pay attention”). If you owned a company and your manager didn’t keep good records of business transactions, everything would soon be utter chaos. You wouldn’t know whether you were making a profit or a loss, whether money had been set aside for taxes, whether employees’ paychecks would bounce, or what inventory you had.
Yet many Christians are disorganized when it comes to personal finances. If they had to give account to the Owner, they’d get fired! Being orderly means having some sort of family budget, so that you’re not wondering where the money went; you’re telling it where to go. It means having a filing system for records (not a piling system!), so that you can give an account to the government at tax time. It means having a current will, so that your family is cared for in case of your death. It means giving in a systematic, planned way, not just when the impulse grabs you. It means saving for needs that will arise (like car repairs).
D. To be faithful, I must be resourceful.
The principle of not wasting God’s resources runs throughout the Bible, but is personified in the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 (esp. vv. 13, 14, 16, 19, 24). By resourcefulness, I mean being thrifty and efficient, not wasting things, shopping carefully, getting the most for your money, and fixing things rather than throwing them away whenever you can. While it can be carried to extremes, Christians should be concerned about ecology. Wasting the earth is a violation of good management.
Thus financial faithfulness means operating as the manager, not the owner; keeping the owner’s objectives in mind; being hard-working and obedient.
4. To be faithful in finances, I must follow through with the Owner’s plan.
See Matt. 24:45-46. It doesn’t do any good to start as good managers if we get sloppy and don’t follow through. Setting up a budget is a start; sticking to it and making it work is financial faithfulness. Promising to give systematically is wonderful; doing it is faithfulness to the Owner. Jesus said that the faithful servant is the one whom his master found doing his job when he returned.
A pastor was asked to define “faithful church involvement.” He replied: All I ask is that we apply the same standards to our church activities that we apply to other areas of life. If your car started three out of four times, would you call it a faithful car? If your paper boy skipped Mondays and Thursdays, would you call him faithful? If you didn’t show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day every now and then, would you say, “Oh well, it works most of the time”? If your water heater greeted you with cold water one or two mornings a week when you were in the shower, would you say it was faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year’s time, would your mortgage company say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad”? And yet we’re hit and miss about our giving, our involvement in ministry and worship, and we somehow think we’re being faithful!
When we talk about giving our life for Christ, it sounds glamorous. We think of something big, something dramatic, maybe like Corrie ten Boom’s story, or some adventurous missionary saga, maybe even martyrdom. Someone put it this way, “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table: Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.”
But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there: Listen to the hurting person’s troubles, rather than saying, “I’m too busy.” Going to a committee meeting when you’d rather stay home. Giving a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory. Its harder to live faithfully little by little over the long haul (from Leadership [Fall, 1984], p. 47).
Your response to this message may be to feel overwhelmed. Your management of the finances God has entrusted to you is so bad that you don’t know where to begin. Don’t let the enormity of the task make you procrastinate. Ask God to help you pick the most important area first, and begin there. Perhaps you’ve been acting as the owner, squandering everything on yourself; you need to turn your finances over to the true Owner and start managing it for Him. Maybe you need to work on a budget that is in line with the Owner’s priorities. Perhaps you need to set up a filing system or a will. Maybe you’re sloppy about giving to the Owner’s cause.
Whatever the area, start being faithful there. Remember, if you’re not faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, God will not entrust the true riches to you (Luke 16:11)! If you are faithful, you will someday hear the joyous words, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).
- 1. How can we know where to draw the line on personal things, such as homes, cars, entertainment, etc.?
- 2. When does hard work become overwork? Is it wrong for Christians to aim at financial success?
- 3. If a Christian is financially successful, is it wrong to live “well”? Must he give away everything above basic needs to the cause of Christ?
- 4. In view of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, is welfare right? Should the church help those who don’t work?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 4: Why You Should NOT Tithe (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
“It would be political suicide to give that speech,” said an aide to his boss. “He’s right, Senator,” chimed in another aide. “It’s just one clear-cut statement after another” (Morrie Brickman, Reader’s Digest [4/83]).
It’s probably suicidal for a pastor to preach on why you should not tithe! It’s risky at best, because some may hear the part about not tithing and block out the rest of the message! I would guess that if everyone who came regularly to this church gave ten percent to the church, our income would probably triple, at least! So why am I not preaching instead on why you should tithe?
The answer is that tithing is not the New Testament standard for giving. Perhaps more than any other factor, giving reflects the condition of our hearts: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). You can fake some things, but you can’t fake giving your money! You may get mad at me, but I’m going to give it to you straight: If you give ten percent or less of your income to the Lord’s work, in most cases it reflects a lukewarm heart toward God. I used to give ten percent and thought I was doing fine. Then I made the mistake of preaching on giving! I discovered that God’s Word teaches that ...
We should not tithe because God wants us to give generously, and tithing is the bare minimum.
Our God is a generous, giving God who so loved the world that He gave that most precious gift, His only begotten Son. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). As God’s people who are to be like Jesus, we are to be generous givers.
The Bible teaches that God, who richly has supplied us with all good things, wants us “to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18). But what does generosity mean? Isn’t giving 10 percent of my income to the Lord’s work being generous? If not 10 percent, how much should I give?
1. Tithing is not the New Testament standard for giving.
Many churches promote a concept called “storehouse” tithing, based on Malachi 3:10, where God tells Israel to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” They teach that the local church is the storehouse, the tithe belongs to God, and His blessing is conditioned upon faithfulness in tithing. One pastor in a church near me in California preached that if his people weren’t giving ten percent to that church, they were in sin and needed to go home and repent!
Before I critique this view, let me point out that there are some commendable points regarding tithing: (1) Those who tithe are often acting in obedience to what they believe God has commanded. (2) Tithing gets some to increase what they give. (3) Tithing helps consistency and discipline in giving. But consider these seven reasons why tithing is not God’s standard for Christians:
A. Tithing was a part of the law of Moses; believers are not under the law.
Romans, Galatians, and other New Testament passages make it clear that Christians are not under the law of Moses. That does not mean that we are lawless, because we are under the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:20-21; James 1:25; 2:8, 12; Rom. 13:8-10). Those aspects of the Mosaic law that reflect the moral character of God are valid under the New Covenant and are repeated as commands in the New Testament. But the church is never commanded to tithe.
Those who argue for tithing point out that Abraham and Jacob both tithed prior to the Mosaic law (Gen. 14:20; 28:22). Thus tithing supersedes the law, they argue. If the New Testament gave no further guidelines, that might be a valid point. But it does, as I will show. But there are other practices, such as circumcision and sabbath-keeping which pre-date the Law and yet are not binding on us.
If you examine the references to Abraham’s and Jacob’s tithing, you will see that God did not command them to tithe and there is no indication that this was their regular practice. On one occasion after a victory in battle, Abraham tithed the spoils from that battle, but nothing is said regarding his other possessions or his regular income (Gen. 14:20). To follow Jacob’s example would be wrong, because he was making a conditional vow before God, promising that if God would keep him safe and provide for him, then he would give God a tenth (Gen. 28:20-22). That’s hardly a good example to follow in giving! Tithing was required under the Mosaic Law, but believers are not under the Law.
B. Tithing was an involuntary tax to support Israel; believers are not a part of the theocratic nation.
In the Old Testament, there was both required and voluntary giving. The tithe was required. It was commanded for every Israelite to fund national worship and help the poor. In actuality, there was not just one tithe, but rather two or three ( Lev. 27:30-33, Num. 18:20-21;  Deut. 12:17-18;  Deut. 14:28-29), so that the total was not 10 percent, but more like 22 percent (see Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life [Moody Press], p. 86). Thus if we are required to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse today, we had better up the percentage from 10 to 22 percent!
C. Tithing is not mentioned in any instructions to the church, although much is said about giving.
G. F. Hawthorne writes (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Zondervan], 3:854:
Since the tithe played such an important part in the OT and in Judaism contemporary with early Christianity, it is surprising to discover that never once is tithing mentioned in any instructions given to the church. Jesus mentions scribes and Pharisees who tithe ..., but he never commanded his disciples to tithe. The writer to the Hebrews refers to Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek and Levi paying his tithe to Melchizedek through Abraham ..., but he never taught his readers to follow their example. Paul writes about sharing material possessions to care for the needs of the poor ... and to sustain the Christian ministry .... He urges and commends generosity ... but never once does he demand, as a command from God, that any specific amount be given.
If tithing is to be practiced by the Christian church, it seems strange that Paul did not mention it when he wrote of giving, especially to the predominately Gentile churches which would not be familiar with the Old Testament.
D. Tithing is not mentioned in any writings of the early church fathers.
By itself this is not decisive, but it lends weight to the biblical arguments. If the early church practiced tithing, then the concept should surface somewhere in the writings of the church fathers of the second and third centuries. But it does not, even though giving was an important part of early Christian worship (see Hawthorne, pp. 854-855).
E. Tithing puts the wrong emphasis upon giving.
Tithing emphasizes your obligation to God; New Testament giving, as we shall see, emphasizes your willing, loving response to God’s grace. Furthermore, tithing limits giving by making a person feel that he has paid his dues (so to speak) and thus nothing more is required, when, in fact, much more could be done. Tithing has a tendency to put a person on a legal basis with God, rather than a love relationship. It’s the wrong emphasis.
F. Tithing leads to a false concept of stewardship.
It leads to the notion that 10 percent is God’s money and 90 percent is my money. In reality, 100 percent is God’s money, and He may want me to channel 90 percent into His work and live on 10 percent. Tithing can be a bad rut.
G. Tithing is burdensome for some and too easy for others.
If a man with a family of five makes $20,000 a year and tithes, he has $18,000 (apart from taxes) to support five people. If a childless couple makes $100,000 a year and tithes, they have $90,000 (apart from taxes) to support two people. That would be burdensome to the man with five mouths to feed, but ridiculously easy for the couple.
There are seven reasons that argue against tithing. Then what is God’s standard for giving?
2. Generous grace giving is the New Testament standard.
When you say “grace,” a lot of people, unfortunately, connect it with hang-loose, undisciplined living. But that is not grace! Nor is grace the balance point between legalism and licentiousness. Rather grace (as a system) is totally opposed both to legalism and licentiousness, which are two sides of the same coin.
Legalism and licentiousness both operate on the principle of the flesh. Legalism is an attempt to earn standing with God through human effort and leads to pride or condemnation, depending on how well you do. Licentiousness casts off restraint and lives to gratify the flesh.
But God’s grace is His unmerited favor based on Christ’s sacrifice. The motivating power in grace is the indwelling Spirit of God. The person under grace responds out of love and gratitude to God and depends upon the indwelling Holy Spirit to conform his life to what God requires. With that basic understanding of grace, let me spell out some things that grace giving is not, and then some things that grace giving is.
A. Grace giving is not ...
(1) Random and irresponsible. It does not mean that you give every now and then, hit and miss; rather (as we shall see next week), it is planned and systematic (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7).
(2) Based on feelings. Being under grace does not mean living by feelings. Living under grace means walking by faith and obedience in response to God’s love. There are many commands under grace.
(3) Usually less than the requirement of the law. God’s grace should motivate us to excel far more than the minimum under the law (1 Cor. 15:10).
(4) Giving God the leftovers. God deserves the best, not just what is convenient. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then we won’t just give Him what’s left over after the bills are paid. He deserves first place.
Thus grace giving is not sloppy, irresponsible, haphazard giving whenever we feel like it.
B. Grace giving is based on ...
(1) God’s example in Christ (2 Cor. 8:9). Aren’t you glad that God did not just give a tenth! He gave all. The Lord Jesus Christ was infinitely rich. He dwelled in the unimaginable splendor of heaven, apart from the sin and corruption of this world. But He gave that up, laid aside His privileges, and took on human flesh. He could have chosen to be born as a prince in palatial splendor. But instead He was born and lived in poverty. He ultimately impoverished Himself to the maximum by taking upon Himself the sin of the human race in order that we might become rich (2 Cor. 5:21).
Grace giving looks to the nail-pierced hands of the Lord Jesus, who gave Himself so that we might be rescued from the wrath of God, and says, “Lord, You gave all for me! What can I give back to You?”
(2) The concept of stewardship. “You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price ...” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). All that we are and have belongs to God, not just a tenth. I am merely the manager of His resources. As a good manager, I use the Owner’s resources to further His work (see Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 11:27-30 for some examples).
(3) Inner motivation, not outward compulsion (2 Cor. 8:3-5; 9:7). Motive and attitude are crucial. It is better to give a small amount based on a loving response to God’s grace than it is to give a large amount based on outward pressure or pride. Note the attitude of the Macedonian believers: they had an abundance of joy (2 Cor. 8:2); they gave of their own accord (8:3); they begged with much entreaty for the favor (8:4!); first they gave themselves to the Lord (8:5); they had both the readiness and desire (8:10-12, 9:2); they gave cheerfully, not grudgingly or under compulsion (9:7).
We should not think, “How much do I have to give?” but rather, “How much can I give?” We should not wait for someone to pressure us with a need; we should look for needs that we can meet (8:4). I look for and give to Christian organizations or workers that do not pressure donors with desperate appeals for funds. You almost don’t notice these workers because there are so many pleading for your money so that they “won’t go off the air next week.” May I say, “Let them go off the air!” Christians ought to give based upon inner motivation, not outward pressure. Grace giving is based on ...
(4) A new relationship with the Holy Spirit, not the old dispensation of the Law. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Galatians 5:18 says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” The context of both passages shows that Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit leading the believer into righteous, godly living. In Galatians, such righteous living is spelled out in the context, in part, as sharing financial resources (6:6, 10).
It’s easier in some ways to follow a set of rules. Just give your 10 percent and that takes care of the matter. But God wants us to be led by the Holy Spirit. That’s kind of scary! The Holy Spirit might want me to give 35 percent or who knows how much! But the point is, I am not living by rules, but in a relationship with the living God.
(5) How much God has prospered you. How much should you give? How much has God prospered you? (Note 1 Cor. 16:2, “as he may prosper”; Acts 11:29, “in the proportion that [they] had means”; 2 Cor. 8:3, 11, 12). Generally, they gave according to their ability, and in some cases beyond their ability. Sometimes you should give sacrificially. (We will look at that next week.) But the general principle is, give as God has prospered you.
When God entrusts you with more money, instead of spending it on more junk that you have to protect from moths, rust, and thieves, you should ask, “Lord, how do you want this money used in Your kingdom?” As God gives you more, you should increase the percentage you give, not just the amount. If you have enough to live comfortably, then invest the rest where God pays guaranteed, eternal dividends.
But here’s the catch: we need to start giving where we’re at, and not put it off until someday when we’re rich. The Macedonians gave in the midst of a great ordeal of affliction, out of deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2). Jesus commended the poor widow who gave all she had to live on, but He was not impressed with the large gifts of the rich, because they had much left over (Mark 12:41-44).
George Muller is remembered as a man who received millions of dollars to support his orphanage, in response to secret prayer, without making any needs known to others. What many don’t know is that Muller gave away vast amounts to the Lord’s work out of funds that were given for his personal support. From 1870 on, he personally contributed the full support for about 20 missionaries with the China Inland Mission. From 1831-1885, he gave away 86 percent of his personal income! As the Lord prospered him, he could have lived in style. But he lived simply and gave away the rest.
Generosity and grace giving are built on the qualities we have already studied. If you’re free from bondage to greed and debt, you won’t be enslaved to money. If you’re a person of integrity and if you’re faithful as a manager, not the owner, of your money, then when God supplies you with more, you will prayerfully channel anything above personal and family needs into His kingdom.
In this church, we don’t use pressure or gimmicks to get people to give. I want your giving to be between you and God, based on your response to the love He has shown you at the cross. Also, I want to encourage each of you to refuse to give to any organization that uses pressure and fund-raising gimmicks. If you believe in the work of this church, then give generously as God has prospered you, out of love for Him.
Don’t assume that because we don’t use pressure we don’t have needs. I believe it is legitimate to inform the church family about needs so they can give wisely. We have needs: to meet our monthly budget; to get some better office equipment; to pay off the mortgage on the house next door so that we can use it and the house across the street for ministry; to buy more property for adequate parking; to pave the lot behind the church. We have to turn away missionaries who need support. I believe the way to meet these needs is to help God’s people get their hearts right before Him and to teach what His Word says about money and giving. As we respond to God’s grace by giving generously, the needs will be met.
A farmer who was not much concerned with spiritual matters once went to hear John Wesley preach. Wesley was preaching about money and he soon had the farmer’s attention, because his first point was, “Get all you can.” The farmer nudged his neighbor and said, “This is unusual preaching! I’ve never heard the likes of this before. This is good!” Wesley talked about hard work and purposeful living.
His second main point was, “Save all you can.” The farmer became more excited. “Did you ever hear anything like this?” he exclaimed. Wesley denounced waste and extravagance. The farmer was quite happy, thinking, “I do all this.”
But then Wesley advanced to his third point, which was, “Give all you can.” “Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” moaned the farmer. “He has gone and spoiled his sermon.”
I hope you don’t think that I have spoiled this series on money by saying, “Give all you can.” God has given all for us; He wants us to be cheerful, generous givers who respond to His grace.
- Agree/disagree: In most cases, not giving more than 10 percent reflects a lukewarm heart toward God?
- What is the biggest hindrance to generous giving among Christians? In your own life?
- Should we give out of obedience even if we don’t feel like it? Isn’t that legalism?
- If 10 percent isn’t the standard for giving, how do we know when our giving pleases God?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 5: Giving God’s Way (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
In 1987, Chet Atkins and Margaret Archer wrote a song that was sung by country star, Ray Stevens, which went in part: “If he came back tomorrow, there’s something I’d like to know. Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?”
That same year, a well-known religious personality told his TV audience that if they didn’t give $8 million to his fund-raising campaign, God would call him home. Folk singer Arlo Guthrie commented wisely on this when he said, “I firmly believe we shouldn’t negotiate with any terrorist on any level” (both of above in Newsweek [5/4/87], p. 17).
TV religious hucksters have given a bad name to Christian giving. Because of such abuse, pastors may be afraid to deal with this important subject. But we need to be clear on what Scripture teaches about giving. Last week I answered the question, “How much should I give?” by saying that only giving a tenth is, in most cases, to fall short; rather, God wants us to give generously as He has prospered us.
This week I want to conclude our series by answering five other questions that will help us give God’s way: (1) Who should give? (2) Why should I give? (3) How should I give? (4) To whom should I give? (5) What will happen when I give?
1. Who should give? All believers, but not unbelievers, should give to the Lord.
Giving is a privilege and responsibility for those who have received from God the gift of eternal life. But it is wrong for churches or other Christian ministries to appeal to unbelievers for funds. Third John 7 mentions Christian workers who “went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.” Unbelievers cannot offer good works to God. It is wrong to give an unbeliever any basis for thinking that he can gain merit before God by giving or any other good deed.
Unbelievers frequently gripe that the church is always after their money. They are right in one sense: God is after their money, because their hearts are bound up with their treasure, and God wants their hearts to be devoted to Him. The fact that they resent giving shows the condition of their hearts. But we need to make it clear that if a person has not given his heart to God in response to God’s giving His Son on the cross to pay the penalty for his sins (2 Cor. 8:5), then we do not want him to give to the Lord’s work. Giving should be a thank offering to God, and a person outside of Christ cannot properly give such an offering (Heb. 13:16).
Giving is for believers, and it should be done by all believers. Poor Christians as well as rich should give to the Lord (2 Cor. 8:2; Luke 21:1-4). That is one reason it is wrong to be in debt, because you aren’t free to give generously when you owe creditors. But even if you can’t give much, you aren’t exempt from giving. Those who are supported in Christian ministry are not exempt either. In fact, they should set the example (Acts 20:35).
2. Why should I give? I should give because God has first given to me and I want to please Him.
In giving, motivation is crucial. There are many ...
A. Wrong motives for giving:
(1) Pride. If you give to be honored by men for your great generosity, you are giving for the wrong reason. Giving is to be done in secret before God (Matt. 6:1-4). Naming buildings or putting up plaques in honor of donors violates this principle.
(2) Guilt. We should not give because we feel guilty about having so much. If we’re not being good stewards of what God has entrusted to us, then we should repent and give from the right motivation.
(3) Greed. Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you,” is wrongly used to motivate people to give so that they will get. Jesus is not promising that if you give, God will give you more in return. He is stating the principle that if you are a generous person, others will be generous toward you. But you may give and be impoverished because you gave.
(4) Pressure. Responding to high-pressure tactics of Christian fund-raisers is another wrong motive. We are not to give “under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7).
(5) Gimmicks. This is related both to greed and pressure. All sorts of gimmicks are used to get people to give: “For your donation, I’ll send you my latest book.” I get fund-raising phone calls, where I’m told I can charge it on my Visa! I’ve been told that if I will give, the names of my loved ones will be entered in a special book to be placed in the lobby of the new building! Or, the worst is, “We’ll send you a special prayer cloth, blessed by brother so-and-so.” These are all worldly gimmicks, opposed to biblical giv-ing.
(6) Power. Money is power. Some people threaten to take their large gifts elsewhere if you don’t do what they want. That may be how politics operates, but that isn’t how God’s church operates. It’s wrong to show preference to the wealthy (James 2:1-9). It’s sin to use your money to try to buy spiritual influence (Acts 8:18-24).
B. Right motives for giving:
(1) I give because God has given to me. I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating because it is the prime motive in grace giving. God has given us everything (James 1:17). He gave His Son to provide for our salvation. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). He “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Because He has given so abundantly to us, we should respond by giving generously back to Him.
(2) I give because I want to please God. Out of response to God’s grace in my life, I will want to please God by pursuing various spiritual goals:
*I want God to be glorified. God is glorified when we give from the right motives and in the right way (2 Cor. 9:13). God’s glory is the overarching goal of the Christian life.
*I want my heart to be right before God. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). Your heart follows your treasure. If I want my heart concerned with the things of God, then I must invest in His work.
*I want God to be my master. “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). Generous giving loosens your grasp on money.
*I want my life to be used by God (2 Cor. 9:10). God could have chosen to work apart from us, but He did not. He could have used angels or loudspeakers from heaven to spread the gospel, but He chose to use us. And it takes money to further God’s work. If you don’t give, God will use someone else and you’ll miss the blessing of being used of God.
*I want to lay up treasures in heaven. Investments on earth are insecure and transitory. Investments in heaven are secure and eternal. There is no more sound investment than that of reaching people with the good news of Christ. God credits money which we give to further His kingdom as fruit to our account, and He will reward us for it someday (Matt. 6:4; 19-20; 1 Tim. 6:19).
*I want my faith to grow (2 Cor. 9:8-11). God will provide money for you to give if you will trust Him for it. If you are willing to be a channel for God’s resources, He will give you money to give. But if you bottle it up and keep it for your own comforts, the flow will dry up. Ask God to give you money to give. Then make sure you give it!
*I want to be a compassionate person (1 John 3:17; James 2:15-16). In a day like ours, when we’re hit with so many needs from all over the world, it’s easy to close up your heart and not give at all. I know we can’t respond to every poor person around the world, but we need to do all we can to show compassion in the name of Christ (Matt. 25:31-46).
*I want to be a worshiper of God. Giving is a sacrifice that pleases God (Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:16). King David knew the connection between giving and worship. He said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). I like to give enough that it pinches our lifestyle. If it’s convenient, it’s not worship. Worship is costly.
Thus because God has given so abundantly to me, and because I want to please Him, I am motivated to give cheerfully and generously to His work.
3. How should I give? I should give in accordance with biblical principles.
There are several basic principles of giving:
A. I should give in a pre-planned, systematic way.
(1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7). “As he may prosper” implies that whenever I receive income, I should give. “The first day of the week” implies regular giving as an act of worship. “Just as he has purposed” implies advance planning, not giving on impulse. In response to God’s grace, each household ought to sit down and determine a fixed amount they believe God wants them to give, and then follow through systematically. You should not wait until the offering plate is coming down the aisle and then think, “Oh no! I haven’t given for a while. I’d better drop something in.”
How do you arrive at the percentage? Pray about it and start with something above ten percent. Then trust God by increasing the percentage each year, especially if you get a raise. Warning: You’ll be tempted to spend the extra on yourself! Give it as the firstfruits, off the top, and trust God to meet your other needs.
B. I should give in secret to the Lord, not in public before men.
As I already mentioned, giving because of pride, power, or human recognition are wrong. Jesus says that we are to give in secret, but with the awareness that God is watching (Matt. 6:1-4). Every time you give, do it before the Lord.
C. I should give sacrificially at times.
The norm is, “as God has prospered.” But at times God wants us to give more than we think we can afford (2 Cor. 8:2-3, “beyond their ability”). Perhaps you systematically give 15% of your income. An opportunity to give comes along and the Lord says, “I want you to dip into your savings and give $2,000.” Or some extra money comes your way, and the Lord says, “Instead of 15%, I want you to give it all.”
I read of a church of 400 members in Thailand where every member tithes. In their case, tithing is sacrificial giving, because the members all make only the U.S. equivalent of 20 cents a week, plus their rice! But because they give sacrificially, they support their own pastor, they have sent two missionary families to other hard-to-reach areas, and they generously help other poor. One other fact: each member of this church has leprosy!
Thus all believers are to give from biblical motives in line with biblical principles.
4. To whom should I give? I should give to destitute family members, to spiritual ministries, and to the needy.
We’re all inundated with so many requests for giving. How do we sort them out and determine which ones to give to and which ones to ignore? I can’t answer that question completely, but I can give some guidelines:
A. Give to destitute family members.
This is your first priority in giving, since to fail to do it makes you worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). “Your own” refers to your immediate family: children, aged parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters. This does not include a lazy, irresponsible family member who doesn’t work and who squanders money on alcohol and drugs (2 Thess. 3:10). A “widow indeed” (1 Tim. 5:3-16) refers to a godly woman without any family members to look after her. The church must help these, but widows with families were to be cared for by their families. It is not right to deprive your own family of the necessities of life in order to give to others.
B. Give to spiritual ministries.
Since the local church is God’s ordained means for evangelism and discipleship, it ought to be next in priority for giving after destitute family members are cared for. Those who labor at preaching the Word are worthy of financial remuneration (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). The church is also to support workers sent out to evangelize and plant new churches in places where the gospel has not penetrated (3 John 7; 1 Cor. 9:3-14).
You need to be wise about giving to Christian organizations. Here are some questions you can ask to get maximum effectiveness from your giving:
What does the organization believe? Do you know and agree with their statement of faith, their objectives, program, and methods? Is it strategic in completing the Great Commission?
Financial questions: Is there an audited financial statement available? Is the organization a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability? How much do they spend on program versus overhead? (More than 25% on administration and fund-raising is suspect.) Does your gift go where you intended? Is your gift tax-deductible? (This may affect the amount you can give.) Does the organization have a standard of excellence along with freedom from waste and extravagance?
What do you know about the people involved with the organization or the person you may support? Are they people of biblical conviction and integrity? Do they depend on the Lord for their ministry and support or do they use high-pressure appeals for money? Are they clear in their objectives? Are they accountable for their ministries?
C. Give to needy persons.
We should give to help meet physical needs: food, shelter, medicine, etc. (Matt. 25:35-40; Luke 10:30-37; Rom. 12:13; 15:26-27; 1 John 3:17-18). There is an order of priority here (Gal 6:10): First we help believers, locally and in other areas. Second, we help others (“all men”) as a part of our witness, offering assistance in the name of Christ. If you want, you may designate part or all of your offering to our church “SOS” fund, which goes to help the needy. We use this fund almost every week.
Thus the general priority for giving moves outward from your immediate family, to your extended family, to the local church (including needy saints), to the outreach of the church through missions (including helping needy unbelievers).
5. What will happen when I give? When I give, God will bless with His results.
I cannot be exhaustive, but let me mention five results:
A. I and my family will be blessed. God blesses faith and obedience which are at the heart of biblical giving. If you give, God promises to supply your needs (not your wants!--Phil. 4:17-19).
B. Others’ needs will be met (Phil. 4:16, 18; 2 Cor. 8:13-14; 9:12). God’s work and workers will not be hindered. The needs of the poor will be met.
C. God will be thanked and glorified (2 Cor. 9:11-13, 15). He will get the praise if we give His way.
D. The Body of Christ will be united in prayer and fellow-ship (2 Cor. 9:14). Since your heart follows your treasure, you will be concerned about and will pray for those to whom you give.
E. People will spend eternity with God because of your giving. How can you put a price tag on that? What could possibly be more important?
If believers will give from biblical motives, in line with biblical principles and priorities, God will bless with His results.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells the story of a farmer who reported happily to his wife that their best cow had given birth to twin calves, one red and one white. He said, “You know, I think we should dedicate one of these calves to the Lord. We’ll bring them up together, and when the time comes we’ll sell one and keep the proceeds and we’ll sell the other and give the proceeds to the Lord’s work.”
His wife asked him which one he was going to dedicate to the Lord’s work. “There’s no need to bother with that now,” he replied. “We’ll treat them both the same and when the time comes we’ll do as I say.” And off he went.
A few months later, the farmer came into the kitchen looking miserable and unhappy. When his wife asked what was wrong, he sadly said, “I have some bad news. The Lord’s calf died.” “But,” she said, “you had not decided which one was to be the Lord’s calf.” “Oh, yes,” he said, “I had always decided it was to be the white one and that’s the one that died. The Lord’s calf is dead.”
Lloyd-Jones observes, “It’s always the Lord’s calf that dies!” (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Eerdmans] 2:95-96). That story shows how easy it is to have good intentions about giving to the Lord’s work, but also how easy it is not to follow through.
There’s a story about a stingy Scotsman who accidentally tossed a crown into the collection plate thinking it was a penny. When he saw his mistake, he asked to have it back. The deacon refused, so the Scotsman consoled himself by saying, “Aweel, aweel, I’ll get credit for it in heaven.” The deacon responded, “Na, na, ye’ll get credit for the penny.”
May I ask, “How is your account in heaven?” Are you storing up many treasures there, so that you are rich toward God? Or, are you storing up treasures here on earth? If your account in heaven is meager, there’s still time. Begin now, even today, to sit down as God’s steward and get your financial house in order. Purpose to begin giving God’s way. And don’t let God’s calf die!
- Should a Christian who is in debt give?
- Is it wrong for a church or Christian organization to accept money from unbelievers (including foundations)?
- Since the world has now become our neighbor, how can we know which needs to meet and which to ignore?
- Is it wrong for American Christians to live in luxury when there are so many needy people around the world?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Contend Earnestly For The FaithRelated Media
Three years ago I sat on a short bench in a small stone church on the outskirts of Oxford. In a tiny graveyard outside was a flat tombstone with the name “Clive Staples Lewis” etched into the granite.
The pew my wife and I were sitting in was the same place C.S. Lewis occupied with his brother Warnie every Sunday morning for decades as they worshipped together at Trinity Church.
This man, C.S. Lewis, probably more than anyone else in the 20th century, lived out the admonition of a passage I want you to think about. Here it is:
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
Never before in my lifetime has this verse been more important for Christians to hear, consider, and heed.
Note three elements in this verse that are essential to Jude’s entreaty.
First, Jude makes reference to a specific message with specific content, the “faith once and for all delivered”—the foundation of “our common salvation.” Second is the admonition to “contend earnestly” for that faith—to proclaim it, guard it, and defend it. Finally, Jude reminds us that it had been “delivered” to the saints—passed on from the disciples to the next generation in the church.
Here’s why those three elements of Jude’s admonition are critical for you and I right now. At the beginning of the 21st century we are in the cultural and theological fight of our lives. The attack is coming from many directions, but we are facing serious challenges on two broad fronts. Simply put, we have trouble in the world and trouble in the church.
Trouble in the World
Currently, the Christian worldview is facing assault on multiple fronts.
Our story starts, “In the beginning, God,” yet a host of dedicated writers—collectively known as the “new atheists” 1—have been doing their best to ensure our story never gets off the ground. There are also attacks on the integrity of our authority base, the Bible,2 and a myriad of assaults on the historicity of the central player in our drama—Jesus of Nazareth.
In the midst of this academic attack, there is an increasingly pervasive godlessness and a militant relativism in the culture. The 21st century began as an era of radical skepticism, especially in the area of morality and religion. As a result, the moral rulebook is being rewritten. Right has become wrong and wrong right.
In addition, there is an increasing hostility towards those who take Jesus seriously regarding the Great Commission. Jesus said he came, “To seek to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10), “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), and “to call sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:32). That was the way He described His own mission.
Yet when we proclaim this message—Jesus’ central message—we court conflict. Indeed, to be faithful to Jesus’ claim that He is the only Savior is increasingly considered an example of “spreading hate.”
For example, a number of years ago the Southern Baptists planned to evangelize Jews during a summer outreach in Chicago. A consortium of religious groups in that city—including Christian denominations, amazingly—demanded that the Baptists stay home. They warned that evangelism in their city would encourage hate crimes. In fact, a Jewish group claimed it invited “theological hatred.”3
This tendency to see the Gospel as a message of hate gained momentum after 9/11. As the smoke still billowed from the wreckage of World Trade I & II, Thomas Friedman wrote a column in the New York Times titled “The Real War” warning of what he termed “religious totalitarianism”:
If 9/11 was indeed the onset of World War III, we have to understand what this war is about. We’re not fighting to eradicate “terrorism.” Terrorism is just a tool. We’re fighting to defeat an ideology: religious totalitarianism….a view of the world that my faith must reign supreme and can be affirmed and held passionately only if all others are negated. That’s bin Ladenism. But unlike Nazism, religious totalitarianism can’t be fought by armies alone. It has to be fought in schools, mosques, churches and synagogues, and can be defeated only with the help of imams, rabbis and priests.4 [emphasis added]
He then applauded a rabbi who “…set up his own schools in Israel to compete with fundamentalist Jews, Muslims, and Christians, who used their schools to preach exclusivist religious visions.”5
This same theme keeps popping up everywhere I go: We are the enemy. Last fall on the radio I heard Chris Matthews of “Hardball” fame say the people in America most like the Taliban were the Evangelical Christians.
This puts any church committed to fulfilling the Great Commission directly in the crosshairs of the culture wars.
Trouble in the Church
There’s not only trouble in the world—trouble from the outside—but there is serious trouble on the inside. Sadly, in spite of the plethora of materials available to believers, there is still a profound biblical illiteracy in Christian circles.
In 2005, researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Denton conducted a “National Study of Youth and Religion” and recorded their finding in their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Here’s what they discovered.
First, they learned there is no generation gap with young people when it comes to religion. Teens were not “spiritual seekers,” but rather were at home in church circles with 75% identifying with some form of Christianity.
The second thing they discovered, however, was not comforting. When these same committed Christian teenagers were interviewed one-on-one about the specifics of their convictions, almost none from any religious background could articulate the most basic beliefs of the faith.
Smith and Denton summed up their theology as “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” To these teens, religion was about being nice and enjoying a relationship with a God who mostly wanted them to be happy and feel good about themselves—which was, as it turned out, the very same religious view of their parents.
But the picture gets worse.
In September of 2009, I was a guest at an interfaith dialog in Los Angeles with Roman Catholic priest Gregory Coiro before a large Jewish audience on Rosh Hashanah.
When asked why Jesus was the only way of salvation, I offered a lucid account of the Gospel. Father Coiro then affirmed the importance of Jesus, but assured the audience that their honest and sincere pursuit of Judaism counted as saving faith in God’s eyes. These Jews were safe, beneficiaries of the cross even though they rejected Jesus.
Surprisingly, large numbers of Protestants agree. God doesn’t really care what faith you follow since they all teach basically the same life lessons. In the midst of this theological confusion, Christians of all stripes are falling away from the truth en masse, becoming casualties of a culture that celebrates pluralism.
With trouble in the world and trouble in the church, what do we do to fulfill Jude’s exhortation? Paul’s last letter gives the answer.
Paul’s Swan Song
If you visit Rome and take the right tour, you will be shown an ancient cistern northwest of the city. Originally meant to hold water, it later served as a dungeon. Mamertine prison is a circular, low-ceilinged, underground room of rock where prisoners were lowered in on a rope.
I’ve seen pictures of the dank, dismal interior. Against one wall there is a low, protruding rock shelf of sorts. It’s the only flat place in the cell, the only surface someone could write on. This is likely the very spot—this small ledge of rock—where the apostle Paul wrote his spiritual last will and testament. We know it as 2 Timothy.
Of all the New Testament books, 2 Timothy is my favorite. It was Paul’s final message, his swan song, the last thing he ever wrote. It is clear, uncomplicated, and to the point, speaking forcefully and practically to the challenges of the 21st century.
2 Timothy gives the answer to our question about guarding the Gospel, because that is the book’s theme, found explicitly in 1:14: “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” Paul’s message is absolutely vital to each one of us today because he tells us exactly what it looks like in any century to contend earnestly for the faith.
You see, the early church was also facing trouble on two fronts.
There was trouble for Christians in the world. They were under tremendous attack in that culture. In A.D. 64, a fire broke out in Rome that raged for six days and seven nights, totally destroying a great part of the city. Emperor Nero falsely charged the Christians and punished them with “the most exquisite tortures,” as the historian, Tacitus, records in his Annals:
They were covered with the hides of wild beasts and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and, when day declined, burned to serve for nocturnal lights. Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle.6
In the midst of this extreme physical persecution of the church, Paul warned of a pervasive godlessness coming in the culture:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Tim. 3:1-4)
Timothy would also be facing trouble in the church:
The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Paul’s Simple Solution
What is Paul’s answer to Timothy’s challenge, which is the same challenge we face? It’s refreshingly simple and the heart of it can be captured in three words: “You, however, continue…” (3:14).
Paul does not tell Timothy to look forward to any new movements of the Spirit, any fresh word from God, or any insider’s spiritual fad. He points not to future, but rather to the past. “Timothy, don’t look forward,” he says. “Look backward.” Here is the full citation, part of which I’m sure is familiar to you:
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:14-17)
Then Paul amps it up another notch. At the beginning of chapter four he challenges Timothy with the most sober language he can muster:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His Kingdom: Preach the Word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction. Be sober in all things. Endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:1-2, 5).
Simply put, Paul tells Timothy to guard the Gospel by continuing in the truth already revealed. In other words, when all else fails, read—and follow—the directions.
But that is not enough.
Passing the Baton
I want you to notice something about 2 Timothy. Paul wrote his final letter to a person, not a group. He passed the baton of the Gospel to a faithful individual, a young man named Timothy, and then told him to do the same: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Note the four generations in this passage: Paul, Timothy, faithful disciples, and “others”—the baton being handed down from one individual person to the next. Paul knew it would not be enough for any Christian to continue in the truth. It also needed to be handed down. Indeed, guarding the Gospel is not complete until it has been passed on effectively.
When I became a follower of Christ at UCLA in 1973, I was a loud, opinionated, obnoxious, long-haired hippie. Now, 39 years later, I am no longer a long-haired hippie. I’m also not nearly as obnoxious as I used to be. I owe that transformation largely to one man: Craig Englert.
For two years—at great risk to life and limb—Craig took me under his wing. I’ve had other mentors since then, but I know with certainty that without Craig I would not be in the position I’m in today.
Craig Englert and others who followed him in my life were not content to guard the truth. They needed to entrust it to others—even me, as unlikely as it seemed at the time—in order for the Gospel to go forward. They passed the baton to me, as Paul had done with Timothy. Indeed, they were passing the same baton Paul passed to Timothy that was then passed down for two thousand years—from one, to another, to another until it was mine to carry.
In the summer Olympics of 2008 in Beijing, American runners suffered a humiliating defeat in the 4 X 100 relays. In the anchor leg, Darvis Patton handed the baton to Tyson Gay, but Gay never got it. In the middle of the handoff, they dropped the baton.
Tyson Gay was our best sprinter. We had the fastest team. It didn’t matter. They dropped the baton, so we lost the race. In fact, we never even finished that race.
Paul told Timothy, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules” (2:5). “Timothy,” Paul said, “you cannot drop the baton.”
And we cannot drop the baton, either. If we do, we lose.
So how do we guard the Gospel? Two ways. First, we continue in the things already delivered to us. Second, we pass the baton. Those are the rules.
If we disregard Paul’s solution, we should not be surprised when we remain children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).
If we don’t guard the Gospel, we should not be surprised when we are taken captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Col. 2:8).
If we don’t pass the baton, we should not be surprised when we will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have our ears tickled, we accumulate for ourselves teachers in accordance to our own desires, and turn away our ears from the truth, and turn aside to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
I asked Father Coiro at that meeting on Rosh Hashanah if there were any New Testament evidence for the assurances he offered our Jewish audience. He cited Jesus’ comment, “For he who is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:40). The Jews in our company, he pointed out, were not against Jesus. They must then, by default, be for Him, the priest reasoned.
Yet Jesus also said, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). So what do we make of this apparent contradiction in Jesus’ teaching? Check the context. When we do, we discover that Jesus was referring to entirely different groups.
In the first case, Jesus was speaking of those who had been performing miracles in His name, but were not part of His core group of disciples—Christians, in other words, not unbelieving Jews. In the second case, Jesus was speaking to Jews who had rejected his Messianic claim.
The question for us, then, is, What kind of group were Father Coiro and I talking to at our event? People who were working miracles in the name of Jesus, or people who were rejecting Jesus’ messianic claim? Father Coiro had applied the wrong passage to our Jewish listeners.
When Jesus was speaking to a group like we had been that day, He said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). When Peter was speaking to a group like we had been that day, he said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). When Paul was writing about a group like we had been speaking to that day he wrote:
I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:2-4)
Finishing the Race
The key to contending for the faith—to surviving the spiritual onslaught of the 21st century—is to guard the Gospel. The key to that is found in two simple phrases. One, “Continue in the things you have learned.” Back to the basics. Back to the Word as it has been entrusted to us. And two, entrust it to faithful disciples who will be able to teach others also.
That’s it. Guard the Gospel by continuing in the truth already revealed, then pass the baton. Proclaim the truth faithfully, guard it diligently, and pass it on carefully. That is how we contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That is how we guard the Gospel Paul entrusted to Timothy, now entrusted to us.
And not until we do that can we say what Paul said at the end of his magnificent letter: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”7
1 Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great—How Religion Poisons Everything; Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion; Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell; and Sam Harris, The End of Faith.
2 E.g., authors like Bart Ehrman with his best seller, Misquoting Jesus.
3 Jeffery L. Sheler, “Unwelcome Prayers,” U.S. News & World Report, 9/20/99.
4 Thomas Friedman, “The Real War,” New York Times, November, 27, 2001.
6 Tacitus, Annals, xv. 44.
7 2 Tim. 4:6.
This 9 part study on Evangelism was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 2010. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
Lesson 1: Help Wanted (Matthew 9:35-38)Related Media
I am launching this series on evangelism because I have been burdened for a long time about how few we see as a church coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I often wrestle with the question, “What kind of impact are we having on this godless city?” While we are commendable in our emphasis on world missions, it seems to me that we are weak in outreach to our own “Jerusalem.”
I feel that I am most at fault in this problem. While I try to preach the gospel often from the pulpit, I am not a good example in personal evangelism. For more than 40 years, I have prayed that God would use me to lead others to Christ. I’ve gone to training seminars and read many books on the subject. I pray for my neighbors, that I could see them come to Christ. But I often fail when opportunities to share Christ come up. I usually think of what I could have said about two hours too late!
Also, I’m so busy with the work of the church that I lack contacts with lost people. But even when I have tried in the past, my attempts at evangelism have been colossal failures. But I want to keep trying. So this series is not just for you. It’s especially for me.
I’m going to begin by focusing on our motivation for sharing Christ with others. In subsequent messages, we’ll look at the message, and then at the method. Regarding motivation, if we want to be effective channels for the good news, we need to ask God to give us the heart that Jesus had for lost people. We see His heart in Matthew 9:36, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion on them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus goes on to say that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; thus (v. 38) the disciples should pray for the Lord to send workers into the harvest.
C. H. Spurgeon said that verse 38 weighed on his heart more than any other text in the Bible! He said that it haunted him perpetually (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 19:466). So I pray that this simple message will haunt us:
We need to see as Jesus saw and feel as Jesus felt so that we will do as Jesus did.
Verse 35 gives us a summary of Jesus’ ministry at that time (almost identical with Matt. 4:23). He was going through all of the villages, teaching, proclaiming the gospel, and healing every kind of disease and sickness. Then, verses 36-38 report a specific incident on one of those occasions, when Jesus saw the crowds, perhaps as they approached Him, felt compassion for them, and then gave this charge to His disciples. The first lesson is…
1. We need to see as Jesus saw.
Presumably, Jesus and the disciples saw the same scene: the approaching crowd of people. But Jesus saw them with different eyes than the disciples did.
A. Jesus saw the great need of lost people (9:36).
Probably there was nothing unusual about the crowd that approached Jesus and the disciples that day. There may have been a few more sick and disabled people than in a normal crowd, but no more than there had been on previous days. But the disciples probably thought, as they did on another occasion when the needs were overwhelming (Matt. 14:15), “Send them away!” But Jesus saw them differently and He felt compassion for them.
Years ago, some researchers decided to find out if seminary students are Good Samaritans. They met individually with 40 ministerial students under the pretense of doing a study of careers in the church. Each student was instructed to walk to a nearby building to deliver an impromptu talk into a tape recorder. Some were told to talk on the Good Samaritan parable, while others were told to talk about their career concerns.
Meanwhile, the researchers planted an actor along the path who, as a seminarian approached, groaned and slumped to the ground. They found that more than half of the students walked right on by! The researchers noted, “Some who were planning their dissertation on the Good Samaritan, literally stepped over the slumped body as they hurried along.” (Cited by William McRae, The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts [Zondervan], p. 54.)
Probably your first reaction to that story, as mine was, is to think, “How could these students be so hard-hearted as to ignore this hurting man? I would never do that!” But my hunch is that those students represent most of us. They were so preoccupied with themselves and the immediate pressure that they faced (to deliver a talk) that they did not see the obvious need of this man in their path. And so they did not stop to help him. They did not see him as Jesus would have seen him. How did Jesus see people?
Jesus saw lost people as distressed. The word means “troubled” or “vexed.” It points to the load of problems that people apart from Christ bear. Do you ever look carefully into people’s faces when you’re in public? If you do, you’ll see a lot of distressed, troubled people.
Jesus saw lost people as dispirited. The word means, “downcast” or “thrown down.” It points to the utterly helpless and forsaken condition of people who are lost in sin without the Savior. Philip Keller, in A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 [Zondervan], describes how sheep can get turned over on their backs and not be able to get up by themselves again. Such sheep are called “cast” or “cast down” sheep (p. 60). These sheep flail at the air with their legs, but they can’t get back on their feet without the aid of the shepherd. Left in this condition, helpless and vulnerable to their enemies, they will die after a few hours or days.
What a picture of sinners apart from the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ! Outwardly, they may look calm and comfortable. They may be successful in worldly terms. But Jesus sees their hearts before God. They’re “legs up,” unable to extricate themselves from their sin. They are downcast or dispirited. They may look normal outwardly, but inwardly they are, as Paul describes them (Eph. 2:12), without “hope and without God in the world.”
Jesus saw lost people as sheep without a shepherd. The Jewish religious leaders should have been shepherding these people, pointing them to God. But instead they were self-righteous and self-seeking, looking down on the common people as sinners (John 9:24-34). They were fleecing the flock, not shepherding them with compassion (Ezekiel 34; Matthew 23). They viewed the people as a bother. But Jesus viewed them as sheep needing a shepherd.
Years ago there was a heart-rending story in the news (cited by Charles Hembree, Fruits of the Spirit [Baker], pp. 25-26). A young father, James Lee, shot himself in a tavern phone booth. Minutes before he had called a reporter and told him that he had sent the paper an envelope outlining his story. The frantic reporter tried to trace the call, but it was too late. When the police arrived, the young man was slumped over with a bullet through his head.
In his pockets was a child’s crayon drawing, much folded and worn. On it was written, “Please leave in my coat pocket. I want to have it buried with me.” The drawing was signed in childish print by the man’s daughter, Shirley, who had died in a fire five months before. The father had been so grief-stricken that he had asked total strangers to attend his daughter’s funeral so she would have a nice service. He said there was no family to attend since Shirley’s mother had died when the child was two. And so when he called the reporter just before he took his life, Lee said that all he had in life was gone and he felt so alone.
When we hear a heart-breaking story like that, we all would respond, “I would have shown love to that lonely, hurting man!” And we would—if we could have seen his need in time. But, hurting people do not wear neon signs blinking, “Love me! I’m hurting!” We probably have hurting people here every week. Do we step over them on our way to talk with our friends? Or, do we see them as Jesus saw these people, as distressed, dispirited, and as sheep without a shepherd?
B. Jesus saw the great harvest of lost people (9:37).
He said, “The harvest is plentiful.” This was an important concept that Jesus wanted His disciples to grasp. On another occasion, after speaking with the Samaritan woman by the well, He told the disciples (John 4:35), “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” He repeated it again as He sent out the seventy for ministry (Luke 10:2). And He told the fearful apostle Paul to go on preaching in Corinth, explaining (Acts 18:10), “for I have many people in this city.” There was a harvest waiting to be reaped. The harvest doesn’t depend on our techniques, but on God’s sovereign purpose. He has planned a harvest and He calls us to get involved as reapers.
We practically deny the truth of Jesus’ words whenever we think (I am often guilty of this!), “He wouldn’t want to hear about Christ!” “She would be offended if I talked to her about spiritual things!” How do you know that? Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful. It’s God’s job to open hearts to the gospel (Acts 16:14). It’s our job to go into the harvest field and seek to reap a crop.
So Jesus saw the great need of lost people. He saw the great harvest of lost people. Also,
C. Jesus saw the great need for workers for the harvest (9:37b).
“The workers are few.” Jesus has changed metaphors here. First, He used the metaphor of sheep. But, now, it’s a harvest. These two metaphors show two sides of the matter: The sheep and the shepherd show man’s need met by God. The good shepherd seeks out lost sheep and ministers to them. The harvest and the workers show God’s “need” met by man: God uses saved people to save other people. (This insight is from G. Campbell Morgan, The Analyzed Bible [Baker], pp. 124-125.)
Jesus’ viewpoint is that of a farmer who has a great crop ready for harvest, but he doesn’t have enough reapers. It’s an interesting picture, isn’t it? On the one hand, the Lord will accomplish all of His purpose, which includes the salvation of His elect (Eph. 1:3-11). And yet, at the same time, He has chosen to save lost people through those whom He has already saved. He could have used angels, who probably would have been more competent than we are. But He chose to use us! And so the plentiful harvest means that there is a need for more workers.
Here’s the kicker: If you are one of Jesus’ sheep, He wants you to see yourself as a worker in His harvest. It is not by accident that the very next thing in Matthew’s gospel is for Jesus to summon the twelve and appoint them to ministry. Up to this point, Jesus has done all of the ministry while the disciples have watched. But now He gets the disciples involved.
And if you’re thinking, “But I’m not called into full-time ministry,” you don’t understand. The workers in the Lord’s harvest are not just those in so-called “full-time” ministry. Rather, they are those who have tasted of God’s salvation telling others of what He has done for their soul. Or, has often has been said, it is one beggar telling another beggar where he can find bread. Jesus wants you to open your eyes and see the great harvest around you so that you will be a worker reaping souls who need the Good Shepherd.
So to be like our Savior, we need to see as Jesus saw: the great need of lost people; the great harvest of lost people; and, the great need for more workers in the harvest of lost people. Seeing as Jesus saw will lead us to the second step:
2. We need to feel as Jesus felt.
Note the link in verse 36, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them….” The Greek verb translated, “felt compassion,” is used frequently of Jesus in the Gospels. It is related to a noun meaning, “inward parts,” or, as we might say in the vernacular, “guts.” Deep down inside, Jesus felt for these people. He didn’t angrily blame them for the mess that they were in, although He could have done so. Rather, He felt compassion for them.
Do we feel compassion for sinners, or do we shrug and think, “It’s their own fault”? I read about a bold pastor who began his sermon, “I’d like to make three points today. First, there are millions of people around the world who are going to go to hell. Second, most of us sitting here today don’t give a damn about that.” After a long pause, he continued, “My third point is that you are more concerned that I, your pastor, said the word ‘damn’ than you are about the millions going to hell.” (Reader’s Digest [May, 1979], p. 127.) That was a tricky way of showing how we get so worked up about the trivial and are indifferent about the significant. We should feel as Jesus felt about lost people.
Years ago, a woman missionary went to Tunis in North Africa, where she tried to reach Muslims for Christ. She met with little success, as often seems to be the case in Muslim countries. But she persisted, above all trying to love those to whom she witnessed.
One Muslim boy came to her home every week for English lessons. As she taught him English, she tried to tell him about Jesus, but he was unmoved. Finally, the summer before he was to go away to the university came, and he dropped his English sessions. One day, just before his departure, he came to say goodbye to the missionary for the final time. They had tea together and she told him again of the love of Jesus. But while he was polite, he was adamant in resisting the gospel.
At last, he bid farewell and headed down to path through the garden, leading to the outside gate. Here he stopped and looked back and he saw his teacher standing in the doorway looking after him with tears streaming down her face. He could resist no longer. Her tears conquered the rebellion in his heart. He returned up the path and into her living room, where he trusted in Christ as His Savior (told by James Boice, The Gospel of John [Zondervan], p. 771).
While I am not one to show tears easily, people can sense whether you care about them or not. If they feel your love, they will be more inclined to listen to your message. We need to see needy people as Jesus saw them. And we need to feel compassion for them as Jesus felt.
3. We need to do as Jesus did.
What did Jesus do? He ministered to people’s needs and He prayed for more workers.
A. Jesus ministered to people’s spiritual and physical needs.
Ministry is not a “stained-glass” word that applies only to those called into “professional” Christian work. “Ministry” means “service.” Every Christian is called to serve Christ. He has given you unique gifts and opportunities. You are to take what He has given you and use it to serve those with whom He has put you in contact.
Matthew summarizes Jesus’ ministry by three things (9:35): He was teaching, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness. Not everyone is gifted to teach publicly, but in private conversation you should be able to teach others what God has taught you from His Word. If your friend makes a comment about God or Jesus or eternal life that is contrary to Scripture, you can use the opportunity to say, “Why do you think that? Would you mind if I shared what God’s Word says about that subject?” So you serve by teaching.
Again, not everyone is called to preach the gospel publicly, but every believer should be ready when the opportunity presents itself to tell others how they can have their sins forgiven and go to heaven (1 Pet. 3:15). I’ll share more about the message of the gospel next week. But in briefest form it is: We all have sinned against the holy God and we deserve His punishment. No amount of good works can pay our debt. But in love, God sent His Son Jesus to bear the penalty that we deserved. We must turn from our sins and trust in Jesus as our sin-bearer. God gives eternal life as a free gift to all who trust in Jesus. Learn some verses and some illustrations to go with each of those points and you can minister to everyone’s greatest need, to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus also healed the sick, which authenticated His claim to be the promised Messiah (Matt. 11:2-6). While no one today has a gift of healing on a par with Jesus or the apostles, we can pray for the sick and know that sometimes God will heal them. We can minister to people’s physical needs in practical ways (Matt. 25:34-40). If we do as Jesus did, we will minister to people’s spiritual and physical needs.
B. Jesus prayed for more workers.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait a minute! The text does not say that Jesus prayed for more workers. It says that He commanded the disciples to pray for workers.” True! But Jesus didn’t command the disciples to do something which He Himself had not done. Luke (6:12-13) tells us that before Jesus called the twelve apostles, He spent the entire night in prayer. Surely, in part He was asking the Father for workers for the harvest.
But whether He prayed for more workers or not, you cannot dispute that He commands us to pray for more workers. Do you do that? Do you pray that the Lord would raise up and send out workers from this church? Maybe they will serve in the ministries of the church here locally. Maybe God will send them to another culture or country with the gospel. But in some mysterious fashion that I do not understand, God works through our prayers. If we all prayed for more workers, maybe we would have more people wanting to serve than we had openings for service! That would be a unique problem, wouldn’t it!
But let me warn you: Praying for workers for the harvest is dangerous business! Many years ago a well-known pastor named Dr. Legters was walking down the street with $50 in his pocket. He met a missionary home on furlough who said, “Dr. Legters, I think it’s providential that we met. We’re having an urgent prayer meeting at the church and we’d love to have you join us.”
Dr. Legters was a somewhat brusque man and before they went to prayer he said, “Let’s not pray out of ignorance. Let’s pray out of intelligence. What exactly do you need?” The missionary replied, “We have an urgent financial need for $50.” Dr. Legters said, “Fine, let’s pray.”
They prayed all the way around the circle and when they got through one missionary said, “I don’t feel that we’ve really laid hold of the Lord in this. Let’s pray some more.” So, they prayed around the circle the second time. The third time around, Dr. Legters said, God spoke to him. He said, “Legters, what about the $50 in your pocket?” So he stopped a woman in the middle of her prayer and said, “Hold it! God answered your prayer.” He pulled out the $50 and laid it on the table.
When he told about this, Dr. Legters pointed his finger at the congregation and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is a dangerous thing to pray!” (Told by Howard Hendricks, Elijah [Moody Press], p. 50.) It still is! If you pray for workers for the harvest, God may tap you on the shoulder and ask, “What about you? Will you be a worker in My harvest?”
What is our motive for getting involved in evangelism? Our motive is the great love of our Savior, who came to this sinful world, who saw the great needs of lost people, who felt compassion for them, and who served them with the good news of salvation. If you have experienced that salvation, then you’re one of His workers in His harvest. He wants you to see as He saw, to feel as He felt, and to do as He did. Love lost people for Jesus’ sake.
- How can we become more sensitive to the needs of others? What practical things can we do to grow in this way?
- How do we show compassion to needy people without creating an unhealthy situation where they become dependent on us? What guidelines apply here?
- Often lost people seem to be fairly “together.” How can we make an opening for the gospel with people who don’t seem to sense their need for it?
- How can a Christian know whether God is calling him/her into “full time” Christian work?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 2: What Does it Mean to be Saved? (Ephesians 2:8-10)Related Media
Perhaps when you heard the sermon title, “What Does it Mean to be Saved?” you thought, “Oh no, this is going to be like taking a college graduate back to kindergarten! Why do you need to talk about something as basic as salvation?”
There are several reasons that I want to focus today and next week on the message of the gospel as we consider personal evangelism. For one thing, the gospel—the good news about salvation—is foundational to everything else. Because of this, Satan is always attacking the gospel. If he can get us off-track on the gospel, everything else gets messed up. And so he is relentless in attacking the gospel. Also, I want each of you to be crystal clear on the gospel so that you live in light of it daily and you’re equipped to share it accurately with anyone at any time.
Here are a few of the ways that the gospel is currently under attack. Some present the gospel as if Jesus were a better brand of self-help. Do you have problems in your marriage? Try Jesus and you’ll find quick relief. Is your personal life falling apart? Jesus will help you get it together. Whatever miracle you need, just try Jesus! In its most crass form, are you sick or in poverty? Jesus promises to make you well and financially prosperous. So people are encouraged to come to Jesus for whatever help they need. Usually they’re promised instant results.
The truth in that lure is that the Lord does provide us help with our personal problems after we’ve come to Him for salvation. But, those promises are not the gospel. In many instances, people have come to Christ for salvation and their problems got much worse. Some have been killed because they trusted in Christ. So the gospel is definitely not about “how to have your best life now!”
But probably the most frequent place where the devil attacks the gospel is confusion over the relationship between faith and good works. Many professing evangelicals today argue that since we are saved by faith alone, any mention of repentance or submitting to Christ as Lord muddies the gospel. Under this teaching, a person may make a profession of faith in Christ and yet later deny the gospel and become an atheist. But he’s still saved (John MacArthur refutes this in, The Gospel According to Jesus [Zondervan] and Faith Works [Word]). This view is confused about the nature of saving faith. Sadly, it gives assurance of salvation to many people who have never truly been saved.
On the other hand, the “New Perspective on Paul” turns salvation into a matter of joining the covenant community and living a life of faithfulness. That’s an over-simplification of this view, but it seems fair to say that its proponents deny that sinners are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. (For a critique of the New Perspective, see, “The Old Perspective on Paul,” by Phil Johnson, pp. 61-77, in Fool’s Gold [Crossway], ed. by John MacArthur.) Their view is very similar to the Roman Catholic teaching that justification is by faith plus works over a lifetime. There is not any good news in that message! Of course, all of the cults also teach some form of salvation by good works.
On the more practical level, if you ask anyone the question, “Why should God let you into heaven?” the answer you most often will hear is, “I’ve tried to be a good person.” Or, “I’ve never hurt anyone intentionally, and I’ve lived a good life.” Even many who attend evangelical churches believe this. Surveys have shown that a majority of American Protestants agree that the way to be accepted by God is to try sincerely to live a good life. To bear witness to people who think like that, you need to be clear on what it means to be saved.
So I hope that this message is like spiritual kindergarten for most of you. But whether this is a review the basics or not, it is crucial to understand the biblical truth about salvation for yourself first, and also so that you can clearly present it to others. (I have two messages on Eph. 2:8-10 from the Ephesians series, on the church web site.) Our text teaches us that…
God saves us apart from any human works by grace through faith, resulting in a life of good works.
On the relationship between faith and works, John Calvin wrote, “It is … faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone” (Tracts III:152, cited in Calvin’s Wisdom [Banner of Truth], by Graham Miller, p. 106). Or, C. H. Spurgeon put it (The Soul Winner [Eerdmans], p. 209):
We are prepared, I hope, to die for the doctrine of justification by faith, and to assert before all adversaries that salvation is not of works; but we also confess that we are justified by a faith which produces works, and if any man has a faith which does not produce good works, it is the faith of devils…. We are saved by faith without works, but not by a faith that is without works, for the real faith that saves the soul works by love and purifies the character.
I want to explain and apply our text with three main points:
1. Salvation is totally of God, apart from any human works or merit.
Paul underscores the truth that no one can save himself by human effort. Just a few verses before, he stated twice that we all were dead in our sins (2:1, 5). Dead men can do absolutely nothing to remedy their condition. They can’t work toward being raised from the dead. They can’t pray for it. They can’t even muster up the faith to get raised from the dead. It takes an act of God to impart life to a dead man. Even so, it takes an act of God to save those who are dead in their sins.
Jesus taught the same truth to the Jewish religious leader Nicodemus when He told him, “you must be born again” (John 3:7). Nicodemus was a devout, moral, religious man. He believed in God and he sought to obey God’s Word. But none of those qualities will do anything for a man who is spiritually dead. He needs life from God. Just as we didn’t have anything to do with our own physical conception or birth, so we can do nothing to bring ourselves from spiritual death to spiritual life.
This is not to say that we should not urge people to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life. Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus’ preaching is summarized as (Mark 1:15), “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Paul told the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:31), “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved….” So we should urge people to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.
But here’s the point to keep in mind as you bear witness: unless God imparts life to this dead sinner, he will not believe (see the sequence in John 1:12-13). Thus evangelism is much more than persuading someone to make a decision for Christ. As we present the gospel, we must pray for God to work the miracle of regeneration in this dead sinner.
I want to explore three aspects of this truth, that salvation is totally of God, apart from any human works:
A. To be saved, a person must have some realization of the fact that he is lost.
People who need to be saved don’t just need a little boost from God. They aren’t basically good people who mean well, but just need a little help. As we’ve seen, they’re spiritual corpses. Or, to use the opposite of the word saved, they’re lost. Because of their sin, they are cut off from the very life of God, living in spiritual darkness (Eph. 4:18). As such, they are under God’s just condemnation and wrath (John 3:36). They need the Holy Spirit to convict (or convince) them regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11).
This means that we must share the bad news before we share the good news. If someone doesn’t know that he’s lost, he won’t be interested in your directions as to how to get saved. To be more specific, if we’re too quick to tell an unbeliever who does not sense that he is lost, “God loves you and Christ died for your sins,” he will probably respond, “Yes, thank you for reminding me.” He won’t appreciate the good news or respond to it because he doesn’t understand the bad news.
This means that sometimes as we talk with someone about Christ, we need to bring up the sin issue, drive it home to his conscience, and leave him to think about it. We might do this by going through the Ten Commandments and showing him how he has broken them all. Or, show him what Jesus said, that if we have been angry we’re guilty of murder; if we have lusted we have committed adultery in God’s sight (Matt. 5:21-30).
Jesus did this with the rich young ruler when He told him to go sell everything he owned and give it away (see Luke 18:18-23). The young man prided himself in his obedience to the commandments. But Jesus was saying, in effect, “You haven’t even kept the main commandment, which is to love God and have no other gods before Him.” And when the young man went away sad, Jesus didn’t go after him to soften the message! He let him go.
When Paul witnessed to Felix, he did not tell him, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Rather, he talked to him about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25). It frightened Felix, and rightly so! It showed him that he was a sinner who would face God’s judgment. So before we try to tell people about God’s salvation, they need to have some sense that they are lost and under God’s condemnation.
B. To be saved means that the Lord Jesus Christ has rescued us from God’s wrath and judgment.
I realize that the idea of God’s wrath and judgment are not popular in our day. Our culture would rather believe in a God of love who would never judge anyone. They want a God who will give them a happy life. But Jesus warned often about judgment and hell (see Matt. 25:31-46; Mark 9:43-49; Luke 13:1-5; John 5:22, 24; 8:23-24, 42). We cannot legitimately claim to be followers of Jesus and at the same time deny the reality of the coming judgment. To be saved from drowning means that you were about to die when someone rescued you. To be saved spiritually means that you were on your way to hell when Jesus Christ rescued you. Thus the gospel is not about how to have a better life now, but rather about how to have eternal life and not come into judgment (John 5:24).
C. God saves us by His grace alone, which excludes human works or merit.
The best news in the world is that God saves us by His grace alone! Paul hammers it home in Ephesians 2. In verse 5 he says, “by grace you have been saved.” In verse 7 he adds, “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Then, so we don’t miss it, he repeats (2:8), “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Again, because this concept is so crucial, the enemy relentlessly attacks it. He tries to get us to tone it down or to make it into something less than it is. For example, one well known Christian seminar leader defines grace as the motivation and power to do God’s will. Certainly God gives us the motivation and power to do His will, but that isn’t grace. Pure and simple, God’s grace is His unmerited favor shown to those who deserve His wrath. If we get what we have coming, we will spend eternity in hell. Instead, God forgives all our sins and bestows the unfathomable riches of Christ on us (Eph. 3:8), apart from anything that we do or deserve.
If you understand God’s grace properly, Paul knew that you would think, “If God gives grace to undeserving sinners, then I can sin all I want so that grace may abound!” He anticipates that reaction and says (Rom. 6:1-2), “May it never be!” But you don’t understand grace unless that thought pops into your mind.
Practically, this means that God can save the worst of sinners just as they are, without any penance or good works to qualify for salvation. Paul said that he was the chief of sinners, but God showed him mercy (1 Tim. 1:15-16). He said that God justifies the ungodly sinner who does not work, but believes in Christ (Rom. 4:4-5). He said (Rom. 5:6), “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Again (Rom. 5:8), “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” There is hope for any sinner, no matter how evil, who abandons the idea of good works as the way to heaven and rather believes in Christ. So we need to understand what saving faith is.
2. God’s gift of salvation is received through faith alone.
Saving faith is not a vague, general belief in God. Nor is it merely agreeing with certain facts. Saving faith has three elements:
A. Saving faith includes knowledge, assent, and trust.
First, there must be knowledge. Faith is not a blind leap into the dark. Some say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.” That’s like saying, “It doesn’t matter what medicine you take, as long as you’re sincere.” That’s crazy!
To be saved, you must know something about God. He is righteous, holy, just, and loving. You must also know that you have sinned against this holy God and stand condemned before Him. You must know that God sent His eternal Son Jesus, who took on human flesh through the virgin birth. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross, bearing the penalty that sinners deserve. But God raised Jesus bodily from the dead and He ascended into heaven. He will return bodily to judge the living and the dead, but also to save all that have trusted in Him. These are essential facts to know in order to be saved. If a person lacks basic knowledge of the gospel, I urge them to read the Gospel of John.
But also, you must give assent to these facts. You must agree that they are true. A student could know these facts well enough to pass an exam, but not affirm that they are true. Saving faith includes giving intellectual assent to the truth of these facts.
But if that is all that saving faith entails, then Satan and the demons are saved! They know these things and they know that they are true. So the third element in saving faith is personal trust, or commitment to Jesus as your Savior and Lord. For example, you may be an expert on aircraft. You know that a certain plane is mechanically sound. You agree that it will fly. But knowing these facts and affirming them will not get you anywhere. To go anywhere, you must entrust yourself to the plane by getting on board.
Saving faith means that you personally trust Jesus Christ to deliver you from God’s judgment by what He did for you on the cross. You trust God’s promise to justify the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). Implicit in “getting on board” with Jesus is that you don’t keep one foot on the ground. You commit yourself totally to Jesus as your Savior and your Lord. He is both Savior and Lord. You can’t take Him as one without the other.
But, some may wonder, “If God saves us through faith in Christ, then can’t we take some of the credit for our salvation?”
B. Saving faith is God’s gift to us.
Scholars debate about what “that” (Eph. 2:8) refers to. In Greek, it is neuter, whereas “grace” and “faith” are feminine, and “saved” is a masculine participle. Charles Hodge argues that “that” refers to faith, which best suits Paul’s argument here. But Calvin and most modern expositors argue that “that” refers to the entire process of salvation by grace through faith. Whichever view you take, other Scriptures indicate that saving faith and repentance (which are inextricably linked) are God’s gift to us (Phil. 1:29; Acts 11:18; Acts 3:16; 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 12:2).
The Bible is clear that to the natural man, the cross is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). He cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14). He is blind to the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). He is unable to submit to God or please Him (Rom. 8:7-8). So for an unbeliever to move from his natural condition of spiritual darkness to one of light and faith in Christ, God must graciously open his eyes and impart saving faith to him. Salvation is God’s free gift to us. We cannot take any credit for our faith. Faith is the hand that receives the gift of salvation, but unless God has opened our eyes, none of us would have received that gift. Salvation is totally from God, so all glory goes to God (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
Thus, salvation is totally of God, apart from any human works or merit. God’s gift of salvation is received through faith alone.
3. Salvation results in a life of good works.
We are saved by grace through faith apart from works, but the faith that saves always results in good works. G. H. Lang wrote (cited by F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts [Eerdmans], p. 493), “None more firmly than Paul rejected works, before or after conversion, as a ground of salvation; none more firmly demanded good works as a consequence of salvation.” If God has imparted new life to us, that life will manifest itself by a life of good works. The root of salvation bears the fruit of a godly life.
Paul emphasizes that even our good works subsequent to salvation come from God (Eph. 2:10): “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Paul is saying that salvation is entirely of God and it results in a life of good works. Just as we cannot claim any glory for ourselves in salvation, neither can we claim any glory for our subsequent life of obedience and good works. It all comes from God and so He gets all the glory.
True, we are responsible to walk in these works which God prepared for us beforehand. But the motivation to walk in those works comes from God’s gracious salvation. Because He rescued me from an awful punishment, I should delight to do His will. If a person claims to be saved but has no desire “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12), then he needs to go back and determine whether he has truly experienced God’s grace in salvation.
So the core message that we need to get across when we share the gospel is that God saves us apart from any human works by grace through faith, resulting in a life of good works. To share that message effectively, you have to get across to people some awareness of the grim truth that they are lost. Because of their sins, they are alienated from God and unable to do anything to earn His favor. The good news is that what we cannot do, God did. He sent His own Son to bear the penalty that we deserve. Through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, God now offers forgiveness of all sins and eternal life as a free gift to any sinner who will receive Christ by faith.
As you’re able to share that good news and you sense that the Holy Spirit is convicting the person about his need for the Savior, invite him to stop trusting in his good works and instead, to trust in Jesus alone for eternal life. As God works the miracle of regeneration, the person will trust in Jesus and move from Satan’s domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). That’s what it means to be saved!
- Some would argue that fallen sinners can, on their own free will, choose to believe in Christ. What Scriptures refute this? Why is it important to refute it?
- How can we impress on lost people the serious place they are in before God without alienating them with a message of “hellfire and damnation”?
- Is it mixing works with grace to appeal to lost people to submit to Jesus as Lord? Why/why not? Give biblical support.
- Why does Paul state that God prepared our good works beforehand? What is his practical aim?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 3: The Mark of True Conversion (Various Scriptures)Related Media
Usually the only time that Marla and I watch TV (other than the news or the Olympics) is when we stay in a motel. It’s always an eye-opening experience for me, to learn where the culture is at.
Several years ago, we saw a feature on an up and coming actress that obviously focused on her sex appeal. Since then, from reading the tabloid headlines while waiting in line at the market, I know that she has gone through a divorce from the man she was engaged to when we saw this program. She is frequently pictured on those tabloids in revealing attire, with stories about her latest sexual escapade. But in the program we watched, the young woman’s father talked about her faith in Jesus Christ, assuring the viewers that she was a good Christian girl!
It’s not at all uncommon to hear about or meet people that make a profession of being born again, but their lives are no different from those in the world. They have never turned from the sin that characterized their lives before they professed to be born again. In their morals, in their marriages, in the way they raise their children, in their materialistic lifestyles, and in the way they spend hours every week watching the filth on TV or in movies, they are no different than the rest of our pagan culture. And yet they claim to be born again Christians!
Are people who have “prayed to receive Christ,” or who claim to be born again, but whose lives are no different than they were before, truly converted? I believe that the Bible answers that question with a loud, “No!” Those who are truly converted to faith in Jesus Christ are marked by what the Bible calls “repentance.” This does not mean that they are sinless, but it does mean that they sin less. They mourn over their sin. They fight against it. When they do sin, they turn from it and turn back to following Christ as Lord. A study of “repentance” in the Bible shows that…
A life of turning to God from sin is the mark of true conversion.
This relates to the message of evangelism. If we do not make it clear to lost people that repentance is necessary for salvation, we will produce false converts, who think that they are saved when the truth is, they are on the broad way to hell.
This is crucial to understand because there is an entire organization, made up in large part of graduates of the seminary that I attended, which promotes the view that repentance (in the sense of turning from sin) has no part in evangelism. They argue that to bring up repentance when you present the gospel is to undermine the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Of course, there are many verses in the Bible that connect repentance with salvation. So these men have to define the word rather narrowly. They say that it only means changing your mind about Jesus Christ, where you acknowledge that He is the Savior or that He is God. But, they argue, it does not mean turning from sin or changing one’s conduct. They argue that submitting to Christ as Lord is desirable for the Christian, but not necessary for salvation (see Thomas Constable, in Walvoord: A Tribute [Moody Press], pp. 207, 209). But, a study of “repentance” in the Bible shows that…
1. Those who are lost must turn from sin to be saved.
Is repentance, as many purport, just a change of mind? No!
A. Repentance is to turn to God from sin.
The main Old Testament word translated “repent” means to turn or return. It is the twelfth most frequently used verb in the OT (1,050 times; some usages refer only to someone physically turning around, but many refer to turning to the Lord). Scholar Victor Hamilton writes of this word (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. by R. Laird Harris, Glean Archer, & Bruce Waltke [Moody Press], 2:909), “… it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.” He concludes (ibid.) that “this conscious decision of turning to God” includes “repudiation of all sin and affirmation of God’s total will for one’s life.”
There are three New Testament words used for repentance and they occur (in noun or verb form) over 60 times, beginning with a summary of both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). R. C. Trench (Synonyms of the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 260) describes repentance as “that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.” While the main Greek word is a compound word taken from two words meaning to change one’s mind, this meaning, according to another scholar, “plays very little part in the NT. Rather the decision by the whole man to turn around is stressed. It is clear that we are concerned neither with a purely outward turning nor with a merely intellectual change of ideas.” (J. Goetzmann, in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. by Colin Brown [Zondervan, 1:358.) Theologian Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology [Zondervan], p. 713, italics his) offers this definition: “Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.”
Thus repentance involves a change of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Like saving faith, repentance is a gift that God grants by His sovereign grace (Acts 3:16; 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). In that sense, it is not something that sinful man can produce, although sinners are responsible to repent. But when any sinner repents, it is because God graciously granted repentance.
While sorrow for sin is a normal part of repentance, it is possible to feel sorry for your sins and yet not be repentant unto salvation. Judas Iscariot felt remorse for betraying Jesus, yet he was not converted (Matt. 27:3). Esau “found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Heb. 12:17). Paul told the Corinthians that sorrow according to the will of God can lead to repentance, and thus be a valuable thing (2 Cor. 7:8-11). But sorrow for sins alone is not enough. Biblical repentance is a turning of the whole person from sin to God. The repentant person accepts responsibility for his sin, he calls out in faith to God for salvation, and he proves his repentance and faith by his good works.
Let’s look at some biblical examples of repentance. In Jonah 3, the prophet reluctantly went to Ninevah and proclaimed God’s message, that in 40 days, the city would be overthrown for its sin. To Jonah’s displeasure, the people of Ninevah believed in God (Jon. 3:5). Their genuine faith was evident in that they fasted and turned from their sins (Jon. 3:5-8). Then it says (Jon. 3:10), “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” What was the evidence that their faith was genuine? Their repentance: they turned from their wicked way. Repentance is turning to God from sin.
We see the same connection with faith and repentance in Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians. He writes (1 Thess. 1:8), “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.” The Thessalonians had believed in the gospel that Paul had preached. But clearly their faith was inseparable from repentance, because verse 9 reads, “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” Paul did not preach, “Just believe and maybe later you ought to turn from your sins.” Rather, he had included repentance in his gospel. The Thessalonians’ whole way of life had changed from idolatry to serving the living and true God.
Paul summarized his message to King Agrippa (Acts 26:18) by saying that the Lord had sent him to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” Those are Jesus’ direct words to Paul regarding the message he was to proclaim to lost people. It was a message about repentance: turning from sin (darkness, Satan’s dominion) to God. That message is bound up with, not distinct from, “forgiveness of sins and faith in” the Lord Jesus.
Paul goes on to say that in obedience to Christ, he preached (Acts 26:20), “even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Paul’s gospel to pagan people was not just, “change your mind about Jesus and believe in Him, but don’t be concerned about your sins.” Rather, Paul’s gospel—which he got straight from Jesus—included turning to God from sin. Lost people must turn from sin to be saved. This means that…
B. Our presentation of the gospel is incomplete if we do not talk about turning to God from sin.
John the Baptist preached repentance to lost people and made it clear that he wasn’t talking about a change of mind only, apart from a change of behavior. Luke (3:3) summarizes his message as “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He told his hearers that they needed to bear fruits in keeping with repentance (3:8). Then he gave them specific behavioral changes that they needed to make (3:11-14).
Jesus also preached a message of repentance to lost people (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15). He clearly told the Jews (Luke 13:3, 5): “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach, their message was “that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). They didn’t make up that message. They got it straight from Jesus! As we’ve seen, the apostle Paul got the same message directly from Jesus.
John MacArthur sums up a chapter on repentance (The Gospel According to Jesus [Zondervan], p. 167):
Repentance has always been the foundation of the biblical call to salvation…. No evangelism that omits the message of repentance can properly be called the gospel, for sinners cannot come to Jesus Christ apart from a radical change of heart, mind, and will. That demands a spiritual crisis leading to a complete turnaround and ultimately a wholesale transformation. It is the only kind of conversion Scripture recognizes.
You may be wondering: What is the relationship between repentance and saving faith? Repentance and faith are inextricably bound together, like two sides of the same coin. But the two words have different nuances or emphases (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion [Westminster Press], 3:3:5). True saving faith, which is trusting in Christ alone and His shed blood to deliver us from God’s wrath, includes repentance. You can’t truly lay hold of Christ for salvation with one hand, while at the same time knowingly hold onto your sin with the other hand. To genuinely trust Christ, you must turn from your sin. Some may verbally profess to believe in Christ while holding onto their sin. But such empty profession without repentance is not true saving faith.
For example, if you’re driving to Phoenix and you repent, you don’t just say, “I don’t like going to Phoenix. I wish I weren’t going to Phoenix. I really believe that Flagstaff is the place where I should be.” Those are nice, but meaningless thoughts. True repentance means that you won’t just think or talk about it. You will actually turn around and drive back towards Flagstaff. Your behavior reflects your beliefs. If you truly believe in Christ as your Savior, you’ll turn from your sin. That’s repentance. J. Edwin Orr wrote (in Christianity Today, Jan. 1, 1982, p. 27), “The difference between true faith and what the Scripture calls false faith is simple: it is the lack of repentance.”
This is illustrated in the story of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24). In verse 13, we read that Simon believed, was baptized, and continued on with Philip. But when Peter and John came to town and people received the Holy Spirit through their prayers, Simon offered to pay them so that he could have the same power. Note Peter’s response (Acts 8:20-23):
“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”
Clearly, although Luke says Simon had “believed,” he was not saved, because his faith did not include repentance. We aren’t faithfully presenting the gospel to lost people if we imply that they can get to heaven by faith without turning from their sin.
Becky Pippert, in her book Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World [IVP, pp. 45-47], tells of inviting Lois, a Stanford student who was skeptical about the existence of God, to a Bible study. She agreed to come but said, “The Bible won’t have anything relevant to say to me.”
The next day Becky discovered that Lois was living off campus with her boyfriend, Phil. To Becky’s great surprise, Phil came with Lois to the Bible study. Before she knew Lois’s background, Becky had already decided to study Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John 4.
She started the study and suddenly realized that the passage dealt with a woman living in sexual sin. Not wanting Lois to feel ambushed, Becky tried to arrange it so that Lois wouldn’t have to read any of the text as they went around the room. But it turned out that Lois had to read the portion where Jesus said to the woman, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’ ... for the man you’re living with now is not your husband.” It was her first time ever to read the Bible. Lois said, “I must say, this is a bit more relevant than I had expected!”
Becky met with her later and talked with her about Christ. “Is there any reason why you couldn’t become a Christian?” Becky asked. “No,” Lois said. “Well, I can think of one,” Becky said. “What will you do about Phil?” Then she talked directly about how becoming a Christian is a relationship that affects every aspect of our lives, including our morals. As they talked, it became clear that God had been pursuing Lois for a long time. There were tears and struggles followed by a sincere prayer asking Christ to be her Savior and Lord.
Immediately she said, “Becky, I’ve got problems. I’ll have to tell Phil and move out; I have no place to go; it’s impossible to get a dorm room this late, and now I’ll have to pay this month’s rent in two places.” So they prayed again, and as Lois left, Becky agonized over how such a young believer could handle so much.
Later Becky was chatting in the hall with some other students when she heard a noise and turned to see Lois, slowly walking down the corridor, carrying several suitcases and smiling with tears streaming down her cheeks. Everyone began asking her why she had left home. “Oh, no. I haven’t left home. I’ve finally found my home,” she said. “You see, today I became a Christian.”
That decision had far-reaching effects. That same night three girls decided to get right with Christ. Another girl who had assumed she was a Christian realized she wanted no part of it if it demanded total commitment. The next day Lois was told she could move into a dorm (unheard of at such a late date), and she discovered her new roommate was a mature Christian.
Three months later her boyfriend Phil became a Christian, and he too grew rapidly. He had been angry over her conversion and for moving out. But after he was converted he told her, “Thanks, Lois, for loving God enough to put him first instead of me. Your obedience affected my eternal destiny.”
Luke reports the risen Lord’s great commission to the disciples was “that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47). How can anyone dodge the fact that repentance is at the heart of the gospel?
But repentance isn’t just something a person does at the moment of salvation and then says, “Whew, I’m glad that’s over!”
2. Those who are saved will be marked by repentance as an ongoing way of life.
True Christians grow increasingly sensitive to sin. To grow in Christ means to walk more closely with Him in the light of His Word. The Word exposes things in our lives that are not pleasing to Him. If we truly know Christ, we will be quick to confess these things as sin and to turn from them. As I said, we will never be sinless, but as we walk with Christ, we will sin less and will turn from that sin when God confronts it. A life of turning to God from sin is the mark of true conversion.
The story is told of a girl who trusted Christ and applied for membership in a church. A deacon asked her, “Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?” “Yes, sir,” she replied. “Well, are you still a sinner?” “To tell you the truth, I feel that I’m a greater sinner than ever.” “Then what real change have you experienced?” “I don’t quite know how to explain it,” she said, “except I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I’m saved, I’m a sinner running from sin!” They accepted her into the fellowship of that church, and her life there proved her conversion.
The final thing to consider about repentance is:
3. When sinners repent, God welcomes them with great joy.
Some see repentance as negative. But the fact that God grants repentance gives us great hope. It means that when we turn to God from our sin, He will be gracious to us because of Christ’s death on our behalf. Both the Old and New Testaments picture God entreating sinners to turn back to Him:
Isaiah 55:6-7 implores, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
When Jesus told the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son, in the first two He emphasized the joy in heaven when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7, 10). In the third story, He illustrated repentance on the part of the prodigal son, who said, “I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’” But he didn’t just think that; he did it!
And did the father say, “You no good excuse for a son! You’re going to pay for your sin”? No! The father saw the son a long way off, ran to him and didn’t even let him get the whole confession out of his mouth before he threw his arms around him, kissed him, and welcomed him with great joy (Luke 15:11-24). That’s God’s response to any sinner who turns to Him from his sin. If you will turn to God from your sin and trust in Christ, He will welcome you with great joy!
Did your profession of faith in Christ include repentance? Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:21-23). Frightening words! Don’t be deceived: The mark of true conversion is a life of turning to God from sin. Anything else is a counterfeit.
- Is repentance different from a pre-salvation effort to clean up one’s life? How so?
- Some charge that preaching repentance to lost people is adding works to faith alone. How would you answer this?
- Is a person who makes a profession of faith but then is defeated by some habitual sin (like drinking or drugs) necessarily unrepentant? How can he know whether he’s truly saved?
- Some say that because faith alone saves, we should never confront an unbeliever’s sin. Is this biblical? Discuss Matt. 14:4; 19:16-22; 23:1-33.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation