An attempt at a reply…

Just want to assure some readers of a few things before I get burnt at the stake! (This was going to be a comment on the post below, but got long so I decided to post it!)

1) I don’t forget the Holy Spirit, ever.

2) When I talk about the irrelevance of the law I think you misunderstand what I’m saying. How can the law be relevant if you don’t even know it’s there. We know it’s there, we know what it says about living our lives, but that’s because we read our bible. Even if you preach it at non-believers they’ll still turn around and ask where the relevance is. I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it. The law was created for a community in relationship with God to live out their relationship with God and each other. It shows what God’s agenda is, and what each of us should be striving towards. That then becomes something we must encourage others to understand, but as I say, unless you know it’s there, it’s irrelevant to you…do you get what I mean?!?

3) I totally get the thing about God showing us what our failings are and our need for Him. That’s exactly my point!!!! It’s his job, and the Holy Spirit’s job in particular. Not me, not judgementaly, but in love, with relationship. I agree about faith discussion – that’s what I’m talking about, not a one sided diatribe. I had a conversation with a non-believer yesterday where they told me they were sick of being told they were evil and sinners by Christians who didn’t even know them. I wouldn’t have been able to have that conversation if I hadn’t have developed a friendship with that person. Where it goes, I don’t know, but at least we’re ‘discussing’!

4) I certainly would never forget about righteousness. But that’s God’s work in us, through the Spirit (just proving I don’t forget it!), not our own work. That happens when we’re in relationship with God, not before. Discipleship, discipline…however you want to phrase it…we have to let God do the business and seek to follow his leadings and deepen ourselves in him.

5) Doesn’t Hebrews 11v1 talk about faith being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (NIV…proper translation!!)? Isn’t that what I’m talking about? How is that mystical. Why does God heal some and not others? Why is there suffering? Why, why, why? I don’t always know. And you know what, I’m ok with that – but it doesn’t stop me wanting to understand more of God(whilst at the same time realising the more I know the less I actually know). I’m not being trendy, I’m being me! I know the answer is Jesus (like in Sunday school!), he is the truth, I know that. But I don’t think that means there isn’t a sense of mystery, a sense of wonder and awe (Psalmists) about our relationship with God. All I’m saying is that it’s not a scientific/mathematical equation like Pythagoras or something. It’s not that cold.

6) I think in a limited historical document like the New Testament we can’t assume that Jesus used hit and run techniques. We know Paul often stayed in places for 2 to 3 years at a time planting churches – I know Jesus wasn’t in ministry for longer than 3 years, but he ministered to communities that he would have grown up around, lived in…etc. Miracles are completely mysterious – that’s the point…Jesus is God – wholly man, wholly God, as our doctrines say – a unique perception that no others will ever be able to experience. Perhaps he had a bit of a head start on us!

Hope that helps!


11 thoughts on “An attempt at a reply…

  1. Hi Martin,

    1) Hallelujah

    2) People will know the law is there unless they are told. Paul said ‘I did not know what sin was until the law showed me.’ By the Law, I am referring to the Ten Commandments in particular of course and you may find out by close reference to scripture that these Laws are the moral standard upon which God’s judgement is based, all of which are reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament….in fact, the only on Jesus goes easy on is the Sabbath. So, people don’t go to hell because they don’t know Jesus, they go to hell because they have broken the law and their fine remains unpaid.

    However, people will know the law because its written on the hearts of men…God’s moral standard is ingrained in the psyche. If you steal, you know its wrong, if you murder you know its wrong, if you sleep with your mate’s wife, you know its wrong. Of course, people can dull the conscience, but they can’t escape it.

    3) “How, then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in one they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Ro 10:14. We forget the teaching element of evangelism. We do not judge the un-believer, in fact, the bible tells us that the non-believer is condemned already. The process of the evangelism is the act of helping the non-believer understand their need of rescue. If your neighbour’s house is on fire, you don’t go across the road, knock on their door and say ‘come to my house, it would be much better if you came there, I’ve got some nice music and loads of nice cool friends. No, you tell them to get out or they’ll die, whether you know them of not.

    Whether we like it or not, and whether we know them or not, people who are unbelievers are dead to God in sin and not capable of having a relationship with him without the righteousness of Christ. Of course, its harmful just to say ‘you’re not a Christian so you’re evil’ – that would be ridiculous hellfire preaching. That is why helping people understand the requirements of God for salvation through teaching about the law, sin, we create the opportunity for the holy Spirit to work in co-operation with us.

    The bible tells us that no one seeks after God, not one. The mind of the unbeliever cannot comprehend the message of God…that is why it must be taught. Paul writes ‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation, and leaves no regret’ (2 Cor 7:10) and they only became sorrowful because Paul wrote to them and explained their sin to them.

    4) My comment on righteousness wasn’t about trying to be righteous…that is salvation by works of course. I was saying that in our presentation of the gospel avoid helping people understand that they are unrighteous. We say, ‘come to Jesus and you’ll be happy’ when actually, the gospel is come to Jesus and you’ll be made right in God’s sight.

    5) I’m not saying that we understand everything about God, and there are certainly some subjects we know less simply because the Bible doesn’t explain. However, the bible is the most clear about the ins and outs of salvation…we were never meant to be mystical in our presentation of the gospel. In every area in the whole character of God there is plenty room for awe…Gods intention I think, but his wants us to be sure of the hope we have with regards to salvation, as you say.

    6) You cannot say that Jesus never spoke to the Samaritan woman in love and in the context of relationship. He befriended her by the well, spoke strongly, with compassion and she ran off and told the town. Even if we don’t see the full picture of Jesus ministry, we certainly have several accounts of his ‘chance meetings.’ I wonder to myself why the gospel writers include more of those encounters than all the long term relationship things that you are assuming Jesus built before asking for repentance (Jesus message was, afterall, repent for the Kingdom of God is near).

    We believe, in this regard, that the New Testament (and the Old) are what God decreed was enough for us to grasp some of the basics. Perhaps we would do better to look at what we see, instead of what we don’t. For example, I’m sure the first 30 years of Jesus life were fascinating, but in the grand scheme of things there are obviously unimportant. We believe that what we’ve got is what we need, and we agree that it is the ‘divine rule for Christian faith and practice.’

    Even in the example of Paul, we still find that the content of his gospel, even in the context of relationship, was the expounding the spiritual nature of the law. Indeed, Jesus teaching on the Sermon of the Mount is ‘pure law’ spiritualised. If you are going to go down the line of relationship evangelism, the course of conversation must reach repentance and response to the cross. That path involves comprehension of sin, the need for repentance and faith, without which salvation cannot happen.

    With regards to freindy’s comments regarding qualifications, the qualification is a life changed and transformed of the holy Spirit…that’s where our testimony and experience comes in. But as you say, the testimony can be knocked down with ‘that’s ok for you, but not for me.’ This is why we must move to address the area of certainty that we all have in our lives…moral standards put there by God. Even a post modernist will say there are absolutes when it comes to morality when we discuss it together.

    For example, ask a person if pornography is wrong. They will say…’well, people chose to use their bodies how they wish, and although I may not look at it, its not wrong for other people to look at it.’ Press them further…’well, is child pornography wrong?’ They will almost almost say yes ( a moral absolute). I doubt you’d be able to find any non-Paeophile who will say that child pornography is right. How is it that everyone knows that child pornography is wrong? Because God has put his law in the hearts of mean everywhere and even when we transgress his law, we know its wrong even although we can dull our conscience.

    However, as I said earlier, the qualification we have is not in ourselves, but in what the Word of God says. If all we are doing is responsibly explaining God’s word, then we allow the Spirit to speak through the word.

    Yours primitively

  2. About the importance of the law in evangelism though….Lets first clarify that the Christian is no longer under law, but under the grace of Jesus Christ. So, as DL Moody says, the law can chase us to Calvary and no further. Galatians, for example, is indeed ‘anti-law’ but only because there were Christians who were trying to say that you are still justfied by keeping the law, which is, of course, not New Covenant theology. The law is not for the Christian. Have a read who Paul says the Law is for (1 Tim 1:8-11 NIV!) NB…he doesn’t say its for any community of faith whatsoever.

    Paul (in Romans 7:7-11) says:
    What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

    We cannot be saved by the law, but what Gal 3:24 is saying is that the law acts as a schoolmaster (KJV), it was ‘put in charge'(NIV) to lead us to Christ. In other words, the moral law of God shows us our total depravity and out need for a saviour. Paul testifies to this in the above passage saying that the thing that he thought would justify him actually brought him to the point of spiritual death and knowledge of his depravity.

    Paul says in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, but previously the law of sin and death (God’s law) left him condemned because no-one could be justified by keeping it (the whole reason why Calvary was necessary).

    In 1 Timothy 1:9 Paul (in the context of warning against false teachers) says:

    “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is not made for the righteous but for the lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murders, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God..”

    Why is it for these people? Simply because if shows and convicts of sinfulness. Now, again Paul is here outlining that the law is not to give Christians a set of rules to bind, but is intended to “show unbelievers their sin and bring them to God” (NIV Life Application bible note for 1 Tim 1:7-11).

    We are instructed in Romans 5:20 that :

    “the law was added so that trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    In other words, the law shows us a huge standard to live up to if we try and live it to achieve righteousness, it simply leads to sin and knowledge of it. But grace exists to lift us out of the burden of trying to ‘keep’ the law.

    If you look at the teaching of Jesus, in Matthew (the sermon on the mount) we see here Jesus teaching the spiritual nature of law. He points out in 5:17 that Jesus is not here to abolish the law, but to fulfil it and in 5:19 that the law is to be honoured. We still shouldn’t murder, steal, lie, covet, commit adultery, make idols, blaspheme, disrespect our parents, neglect the importance of ‘sabbath rest’, or worship another god. But we live this not to achieve salvation or justification, but so as to live in such a way as to honour God.

    There are countless scriptures that could be explored, but I guess you get the picture that the function of God’s law is to show what sin is, to bring conviction by the Spirit. The law of the Lord is written on every heart and when it is expounded, the Spirit brings conviction that we have transgressed God’s law thus showing our need for some other to appease the wrath of a holy God for us…we simply cannot do it.

    If you ask an unregenerate person if they are a ‘good person’ they will say ‘yes.’ Most people think they are heading for heaven too. This shouldn’t surprise us as the scripture says that every man will proclaim his own goodness. Now, if people think they are good enough for heaven already, the gospel will be foolishness to them because they don’t see their need for a Saviour. If they do ‘try’ Christianity, they will be looking for the life enhancement package. Then, when persecution or hardship comes, they who have believed for life enhancement quickly throw the gospel aside and trample the sacrifice of our Lord underfoot.

    We don’t come to the Lord for happiness, we come for righteousness. ‘Without holiness no-one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews somewhere).

    However, if you help people asses their goodness by expounding the law, you will be surprised how many people will re-think their goodness in the light of the commandments…they discover that, in fact, they aren’t that good by God’s standards and if they are to face God in judgement they don’t stand a chance. Who of us can say we’ve kept the Ten Commandements perfectly? That’s why we need a Saviour!

    Their spiritual condition then makes sense to them….it is HERE that the gospel of grace is preached. When people realise that they are sinners deserving Hell, the fact that Jesus Christ can save them is indeed good news. Why? Because the law has showed them what sin is and the Spirit has convicted them of the need for a Saviour.

    Let me leave you with a couple of quotes from the evangelists of old to think on:

    “Before I can preach love, mercy and grace, I must preach sin, Law, and judgement” (John Wesley)

    “The Law is the surgeon’s knife that cuts out the proud flesh that the wound may heal. The Law itself itself only sweeps and raises the dust, but the gospel sprinkles water upon the dust, and all is well in the chamber of the soul. The Law kills, the gospel makes alive; the Law strips, and then Jesus Christ comes in and robes the soul in beauty and glory.” (Charles Spurgeon)

    “God, being a perfect God, had to give a perfect Law, and the Law was given not to save men, but to measure them. I want you to understand this clearly, because I believe hundreds and thousands stumble at this point. They try to save themselves by trying to keep the law; but it was never meant to save themselves by” (DL Moody)

    “You understand that the word of the Law is the revealing of sin. Furthermore, when I speak of sin, I include all kinds of sin external, internal, hypocrisy, unbelief, love of self, and contempt for or ignorance of God which are certainly the very roots of all human works. In the justification of sinners the first work of God is to reveal our sin; to confound our conscience, make us tremble, terrify us, briefly, to condemn us. The beginning of repentance consists of that work of the Law by which the Spirit of God terries and confounds consciences…Just as the Christian life must certainly begin with the knowledge of sin, so Christian doctrine must begin with the function of the law. (Melanchthon)

    “It is the ordinary method of the Spirit of God to convict sinners by the Law. It is this which, being set home on the conscience, generally breaketh the rocks in pieces. It is more especially this part of the Word that is quick and powerful, full of life and energy and sharper than any double edged sword” (John Wesley)

    “The Law cuts into the core of evil, it reveals the seat of the malady, and informs us that the leprosy lies deep within.” (Spurgeon)

    “Paul had a very quick and piercing judgement and yet never attained the right knowledge of indwelling sin till the Spirit by the Law made it known to him. Though brought up at the feet of Gamiliel, a doctor of the Law…he had the letter of the Law but not the spiritual nature of it…He has the Law in his head, but not in his heart.” (Matthew Henry)

    “Lower the Law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt; this is a very serious loss to the sinner rather than gain; for it lessens the likelihood of his conviction and conversion. I say you have deprived the gospel of its ablest auxiliary when you set aside the Law. You have taken away from it te school master tat is to bring men to Christ..They will never accept grace till they tremble before a just and holy Law. Therefore the Law serves a most necessary purpose, and it must not be removed from its place.” (Charles Spurgeon)

  3. Hello folks – just want to chip in a little observation:
    It seemed to me that you, Martin (in your defence), were talking about how we show others their postition before God, and what they can do about it, by the grace of God in Christ.
    Our idealism tells us that all we have to do is faithfully relay the Gospel and the Holy Spirit will convict of sin and the ‘great transaction’s done.’ After all, scripture tells us that this is how it works.
    However, our experience tells us that we have faithfully and unambiguously communicated the truths of the gospel before, only to receive the response, ‘who are you to tell me I’m a sinner, I’m happy as I am etc…’

    Has scripture sold us a dummy? Have we got the gospel wrong? Definitely not, and probably not respectively!

    Jesus always told the absolute truth, communicated in a way that leaves us in awe, and yet even He saw people turn away because they could not accept what He was saying. When I struggle with rejection in evangelism, I try to remember the rich young ruler who met the Son of God face to face and still couldn’t give up his old life.

    I think you were just wrestling with the very human desire to find a solution to this puzzle – ‘how can I find a way to communicate the gospel that pierces or circumvents the defence mechanisms people have in place?’ Yes, the conscience is there, yes, the Holy Spirit will convict and convince, but He will not mug! We can still walk away – or run as I have seen people do!

    People have been taught that religious laws do not apply unless you choose to adhere to them – is that what you mean? That they are blinded to its relevance to their lives? Numbed to its effects?

    The reason relationships are becoming more important in evangelism (in addition to straight talking, straight preaching, not instead of) is because genuine friendship breaks the barriers to the gospel and establish you/us as credible witnesses to the sinful state and eternal destiny of our friends.

    Take pity on a poor chap with ME, I’m worn out now!

  4. I’d agree with much of that doctorworship. I’d just say that length of time we know a person isn’t the main contributing factor towards credibility. It comes with your tone, your concern, honest, graciousness, love etc too and you don’t need time for those things.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t have friendships, I am just saying we can’t rely on that alone.

    Just to say, I know much of the time where you’re coming from Martin. And, in truth, used to come from there myself but nagging doubts have led me to search deeper into what kind of gospel I am teaching, preaching and living…convinced that God does want his church to grow and wondering all along why even with our new fangled methods, we still get relatively nowhere.

    yours primitively

  5. I totally understand what everyone is saying throughout this entire discussion, but just to add fuel to the fire with my younger less mature christianity…

    1) Is there such thing as a ‘Proper Translation’ of the Bible? Now don’t get me wrong about the Bible, back to the sunday school teaching ‘What did God give us through people he chose so we can understand him a little more etc etc?’ Answer: ‘Bible.’ However, let us not forget that every English translation of the Bible is truly a translation, and when words are translated from different languages, especially ones which happen to have a different system of alphabet, they can be interprated in different ways. That is to say that each sentence has several different translations, putting emphasis on different phrases, or different words can be used. If this is the case, what makes, say KJV more superior to NIV, or Pettersons ‘The Message’ less acurate then the ‘New Centuary Version?’ There is probably some ultra clever reason or somthing which is why I ask.

    2)Doesn’t Galatians 5:18 say “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (NIV, just to keep the peace.) Therefore, is it the law we should be preaching, or holiness through the Holy Spirit?

    Please don’t feel I’m being rhetorical in my qustioning. As I already have said I am a much less mature Christian, and I do seriously want to know the answers!

    Anyway, God bless you all the more!

  6. Ben,

    1) Agree
    2) See Andrew’s points above about the law as a tool for convicting sinners…I can’t say I like the language, but it seems biblically that the law is the tool that we measure sinfulness by…God’s grace through Jesus Christ means that we all have a chance to start out fresh. Therefore as followers of Christ we are released from the negative aspect of the law. However, my feeling is that although the law is ‘relevant’ to those who don’t know Christ (i.e. it still is the measure for how God wants us to live), if they don’t have a clue of its existence then they won’t care that much about it.

    My feeling (oops, said it again) is that we talk with people about getting into relationship with God because the alternative is horrendous, but we don’t beat them up with the horrendous bit (i.e. scare people into the kingdom). In John 10:10 Jesus says ‘I came so that everyone would have life, and have it fully’ – that seems to me to be the message we need to be emphasising. Fullness of life means exactly that, fulfilment as God’s creation…righteousness, whatever.

    That’s all I’m saying!

  7. Christians are not under the law Ben, because we are set free from its implications by Jesus, but the law stands for those who are not in Christ, and in turn they are condemned by it, as we all are.

    With regards to bible translation, of course there are a variety of them and not one is 100%, but some are better than others.

    With regards to not using the law because people don’t know it, it s definetely and argument that wouldn’t work if you’re caught speeding…’but officer, I didn’t know it was a 40 limit here!’ (even if you didn’t know, the law has still got ya. The best way to avoid not knowing the law is for someone to tell you. We forget the teaching aspect of evangelism).

    If a person comes to faith out of experimentation and looking out for what he can get (come to Jesus and you’ll be in relationship and it’ll be great) then when hardship, persecution and ridicule comes (which it most certainly does, and thats inside the church!) then they must assume that the gospel is false and that it doesn’t do what it says on the tin.

    However, if a person comes through conviction of sin, knowing he needs a saviour he won’t care so much about the ridicule/persecution, because he is clinging to Jesus for his life.

    It has taken me 11 years as a Christian, having gone almost full circle, to realise again that salvation begins with repentance towards God, not relationship with God. Until a person has gone through the waters of repentance, there can be no relationship so sin has to be dealt with before the relationship begins.

    By far the most difficult thing in ministry is to allow scripture dictate how this stuff works and its jolly difficult to give up thinking that I’ve got the best way. I’ve done that too long with no results, now I’m going with how God’s says it happens and people’s lives are being changed.

    Interesting one to grapple with here. :o)

  8. I now see why so many who do theology degrees choose to study new testament greek!

    I was writing a big long response, and realised all I was saying was ‘agree with both parties,’ but I had to type myself to understanding.

    Anyway, thanks for the pointers.

  9. One last comment, and I’m leaving it here to focus on future posts.

    I don’t think we can assume that people who come to God because of relationships won’t be discipled as effectively as those won through conviction of sin. I really believe in the importance of talking about sin and judgement, and that would be part of the journey we undetake together as they explore faith. I certainly wouldn’t promise anyone that faith is easy – my own spiritual journey testifies to that – I’m just suggesting a process that is basically something like belong, believe, behave…

    It’s been an interesting conversation!

  10. Just to clarify, I said that those who come without conviction/repentance as their base experience will flake out, especially when hardship comes, and that there can be no conversion without conviction/repentance, full stop.

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