Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do I Prevent People From Believing?

Reggie got cornered after Bible Study. As in Jesus’ day Pharisees show up to mess with your freedom. Reggie confessed a sin and felt safe enough to confess. Most of the guys in his group nodded, and bowed to pray. Some offered advice, even accountability. Reggie prayed with hope in his heart, sensing God’s love and release.

But afterward, as folk started leaving, up comes Rabbi Dumpburdens, trying to re-shackle brother Reggie. He advised Reggie not to tell others about Jesus until he gets his “struggle” under control. God’s reputation apparently at stake, Reggie’s failings could keep others from believing. Seems only those with “blameless walks," should be testifying. After all, “You are the only Bible that some may ever see.”

Again downcast, Reggie wonders, “Am I keeping people from believing in God?” No Reggie, you cannot keep people from believing. Jesus opened that door for “whosoever will.” Cry out to Him whenever, and testify to others about what Jesus does for you.

Born with sin nature; Christians needn’t be surprised when humans fail. The early church lived in communities, dealing with sin, helping to set people free. Working with humans seeking holiness can look messy. Get over it!

Paul and Peter wrote to folk who met daily in homes, to hear their teaching, and to share spiritual life. Believers didn’t meet once a week in large auditoriums, and file out the door wearing, “I’m just fine,” smiles. Works in progress, they shared the adventure and dealt with sin:

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”
Galatians 6:1

Appalled Christians have forgotten! What’s the surprise? People aren’t sinners because they sin. They sin because they are sinners! Even to re-born saints, still living in earthly bodies, sin comes all too naturally. If people were born holy and chose to do wrong, that would indeed be surprising. But that is not the present human condition. When our spirits are reborn through Christ, we receive imputed holiness, while temporarily left in these sin-trained bodies.

Of course it matters how Christians behave! The Bible is clear on that. But our track record doesn’t determine whether or not others will find faith. People will either glorify God or curse Him. Our actions may only help elicit the response already being stored inside others.

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16

Through our expressing God’s goodness to us, by kind actions, the Father receives praise. It isn’t about us being good. It is about Him being more greatly praised, and our obedience being instrumental. On the downside:

“Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”
2 Peter 2:2

or

“As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Romans 2:24

Quoting such scriptures to repentant people is just spiritual abuse. These verses aren’t talking about would-be believers. Paul wrote concerning religious folk, who strive for righteousness legalistically, while committing the same sins they judged others for. Pharisees are like everyone else, so their pretense of being holier helps on-looking unbelievers to say incorrect things about God. And Peter is writing about the altogether unrepentant. Christian in name, they indulge their flesh without following The Spirit at all. Reggie however, is broken and contrite, wanting God’s help!

When receiving faith, how much is God’s doing, and what’s our role? This question really concerns God’s sovereignty. In evangelism, how much should we pray vs. how much should we plan? We’ll never all agree on this, because it is not an either-or thing. We each fall somewhere along this spectrum. The Bible describes prayer gatherings, but it also describes outreach strategy sessions. Believers act, but the power to provide faith, is God’s alone.

People don’t come to faith by our expert marketing of God. While “actions” may often “speak louder than words,” ”faith comes through hearing” and hearing comes through the “spoken words of Christ.” Jesus speaks today, through His Holy Spirit. Paul asks, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” and “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” We need to be speaking up. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not, “Look how good I’ve become!” It is, “Jesus died for the ungodly! He had mercy on me! He will for you too, if you cry out to Him!” (See Romans Chapter 10). Don’t just stand there shining! Spit it out!

Reggie knows what to do with sin. Repent, confess it, experience God’s mercy, and then profess Jesus, and how God comforts us with His presence. Pharisees would have us keep silent, when testifying is needed. Jesus says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
Matthew 23:13,14

As believers, God’s standards become our standards. Struggling, we fall short of these standards. That’s not hypocritical! That is just having higher standards to aim for. “Hypocrites” are pretenders. Not doing what they are pretending to be doing, these Pharisees would turn people away from the very Door they are wearing “Greeter” tags at.

For God’s part, Jesus said:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:44

The word “draws” here is translated from the Greek word, “helkyo." “Helkyo” appears 8 times in the New Testament. For me, the word “Draws" here always seemed a kind of holy inviting or enticing. But that isn’t “helkyo.” Look how “helkyo” is translated elsewhere. I’ll highlight the words “helkyo” was translated into:

In John 18:10, Peter drew the sword from its sheath. That sword wasn’t enticed. It had to be pulled. In John 21:11, Simon Peter boards his boat in order to drag the net full of fish ashore. In Acts 16:19, Paul and Silas are dragged into the marketplace to face the authorities. This is no invitation! Paul gets helkyo-ed again in Acts 21:30, when a furious mob drags him from the Temple. They didn’t invite or entice him. They dragged him! James talks about how rich people were dragging believers into court. (James 2:6). Finally, “helkyo” is translated as “to haul in.”

“He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”
John 21:6

Jesus twice mentions God's drawing of people. Besides as noted in John 6:44, Jesus says when speaking of his upcoming crucifixion:

“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
John 12:32

I’m guessing that when translators put “helkyo” into English, it would’ve sounded odd to have Jesus saying,

“No man may come to me, unless the Father drags them.”

Or

“No man may come to me, unless the Father hauls them in.”

Really, one can only “lure” or “entice” that which can physically come on its own, if it so desires. “Helkyo” seems to pull, draw, drag or haul, that which cannot come on its own. Coming to Christ requires God's helkyo-ing. And who is stronger than God? I am happy to say, that Reggie cannot hinder God’s hauling power. Reggie’s glad too!

Christians, be humble! We didn’t come to God out of our personal goodness or strength.

“…at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Romans 5:6

Let people testify! In fact, it is the blood of the Lamb, and personal testimony, by which people overcome the evil one. (Rev. 12:11). Sharing our faith builds us up. And it may light the way for others.

Reggie is not called to be the only Bible anyone ever sees. This is America! There are over 50 readable translations available in English today. You can get them freely if you just ask, or for a quarter at library sales, garage sales, etc. Ask most of my family members who all got Bibles for their birthdays, Christmases, Fourth of July, Groundhog Day, etc. the first few years I had been a believer. (Back then I thought the hauling and dragging was up to me, you see.) In America if people don't have a Bible, it is either because “some people” don't want one, or they do, but we'll have to trust God's mercy in the end, towards actual morons. Relax Reggie. I've seen the Bible. And it ain't you!

God’s creation reveals His being.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Romans 1:19,20


Rather than being shining examples to the lost, we are told to actually go into “all the world,” testifying and teaching. Speak! While doing so we work this salvation out in our lives. (Philippians 2:12) Christians repent if we sin. God responds. Don’t let Pharisees keep you from testifying. If Christ has forgiven you, say so! People without hope themselves need to know why you have it! And you’ll be stronger for it.

“I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
Philemon 6

If someone really wants to be “the only Bible that some will ever see,” how about going to the Yaru Islands. Wycliffe Bible Translators are looking for people to translate God’s Word into the 5 languages spoken there, along with 2,000 plus other languages in the world, yet without a single Bible. You can be it till they get there. Go help out them! Please! And leave Reggie alone!

1 comment:

Scott said...

Thanks, Tom. Good, common-sense, Spirit-filled counsel once again. Yeah, I too have felt that pressure--whether to be open with the fact that I am "under construction," or whether I should be displaying the "victorious Christian life." Well, for me, victory in Jesus means He gets the credit for building me in His image. If I was already "there," He wouldn't have much building to do, would he?