Monday, July 22, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism - Demonstration is the Key - Part VII

Repentance leads to new life which is why it was Jesus' message when he began to preach (Matthew 4:17). It was also at the heart of Jesus message to Nicodemus in John chapter 3. You know the story, how Nicodemus comes to Jesus "by night" with an interest in the signs of God, just like the people at the Passover Festival we saw in Part VI. Jesus says to Nicodemus, "You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again" (John 3:7). Nicodemus apparently doesn't understand so Jesus explains further and says, "that everyone who believes MAY have eternal life in him” (John 3:15, emphasis mine) - if they are "born again."

In the last post we looked at the passage in John Chapter 2 about the people at the Passover Festival who believed in Jesus because of the signs the Lord was doing. The people at the Passover Festival only wanted Jesus for their own convenience, just like I did in 1985, just like many who don't want an "asbestos suit." But Jesus doesn't want us to want him for our reasons but for his which is why he wants us to be "born again."

What does it mean to be "born again?" We may think of it as being saved but is that all there is to it? Certainly salvation is part of it but being "born again" involves a whole life transformation. Jesus tells us about this transformation in his discussion with Nicodemus, saying: 
"This is the verdict:
    "Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." John 3:19-21.
The King James version of John 3:19 begins: "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world..." The word 'condemnation' in the Greek is the 'krisis' from which we get our word crisis. (Many theologians are saying we have a crisis of Christology, we don't know who we are in Christ, which is something I'll be blogging about in the future.) In effect Jesus is saying, "here is the crisis you are facing, the very essence of God (Light) has come into the world but people chose to remain ignorant (in darkness) respecting divine things and human duties, the result is ungodliness and immorality. You were made for better so reject ignorance, chose to acknowledge the truth of how you are made, and live in such a way that you demonstrate understanding." That is what it means to be "born again" - we are born in ignorance, and "born again" into who we truly are in Christ.

Irenaeus, a 2nd Century Church Father whose writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology and who is credited with the canon of the New Testament, said: "The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.” That is the actuality of being "born-again" - being full alive so that we can behold God. We were born of water by natural means and by the Spirit we supernaturally become "fully alive" (see John 3:5-6). Then we will "see the kingdom of God," a reality where what God wants done is done. 

Irenaeus thought the essence of God's plan is a process of maturation. He believed that humanity was created immature, and God intended his creatures to take a long time to grow into or assume the divine likeness - the character and nature of Jesus, who is the glory of God in human form (John 1:14). Irenaeus taught that Adam and Eve were created as children so their Fall was not a full-blown rebellion but rather a childish spat. Adam and Eve had a desire to grow up before their time and have everything with immediacy.

In our instant gratification culture we too often seek the immediate. We are in a hurry to get things done and this too effects how we do evangelism. The goal of much of today's evangelism is to get people to make a "decision," get them into church on a regular base, keep them entertained on Sunday, and hopefully get them to give their money "to the Lord. " If they find a place to serve that's even better. Since most people want to belong to something bigger then themselves the formula works but the question is: are we growing up into Christ-likeness? The Barna study is revealing.

We often assume that "believers" have been "born-again," because they have said the "sinner's prayer" and "believed" in Jesus. But its not belief in Jesus alone that makes the difference (James 2:19). We may even have had a conversion "experience" but that's not the litmus test. The Barna Study should inform us we need to rethink what it is to be "born-again," so we can effect change in our evangelism. It is more than a personal "decision" that is made once.

Being born again, just like our physical birth, is a process, perhaps even a painful process, more than it is an event. It is a process of not only coming into agreement with the Light but growing up in Christ (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Peter 2:2). Paul writing to the Galatians, struggles with this spiritual process, writing, "Do you know how I feel right now, and will feel until Christ’s life becomes visible in your lives? Like a mother in the pain of childbirth" (Galatians 4:19-20 MSG). As we know, that process takes times.  

Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).  Born again is translated from the Greek ‘gennaō’ for "born" and ‘anōthen’ for "again" The idea of being 'gennaō' was not something foreign to the Jews of Jesus' day. It was a metaphor that in Jewish sense meant the act of bringing others over to your way of life - a conversion process. What was new, the reason Nicodemus was befuddled, was the ‘anōthen’ which probably is better translated as "from above, from a higher place." 

The word 'gennaō' is also used in 1 Corinthians 4:15 where Paul says, " do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father (gennaō) through the gospel." Being "born-again" is a process of bringing others over to the Gospel way of life by ‘anōthen,’ the power of the Spirit (John 3:6). It is the Gospel that it is "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes," (Romans 1:16).  It is the Gospel, the very person of Christ, who by his resurrection power indwells and converts us to the Gospel way of life - living out the actions and living with attitudes of Jesus. It is a process that we must intentionally seek to live out (Matthew 6:32-34).

If as a Christ-follower we are not demonstrating we are 'gennaō anōthen,' we should question if we are even truly "saved" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Doing so is actually a healthy exercise for our spiritual growth. We may find we need to repent again and believe anew. Our lives are to demonstrate we have made more than a decision to be "saved" but that we are being brought over to the life we are called to, growing up into Christ and increasingly living and loving like Jesus - in the power of the Spirit.

Nicodemus went from being a Pharisee who was ashamed to being seen coming to Jesus, to defending Jesus (John 7:50-51), to serving the crucified Lord (John 19:39-40). Christian tradition holds that Nicodemus was martyred sometime in the 1st century so we can surmise he had become unashamed of the Gospel, a direct result of being"born-again," and brought over to Jesus' way of life. 

Nichole Nordeman's song "To Know You," include these words: "Nicodemus could not understand how You could truly free us. He struggled with the image of a grown man born again. We might have been good friends, 'cause sometimes I still question too how easily we come to You." 

“How easily we come to Jesus” calls us to rethinking evangelism. The fact is Jesus does not make it an easy decision to follow him (Luke 14:26-33) - just worth it. We need to rethink the immediacy of our "decision" oriented evangelism. Yes, we need to have a sense of urgency to bring people into the Kingdom. But we need to ask if we are like the people at the Passover Festival (in John 2), like Nicodemus coming by night (in John 3) or like the woman at the well in John chapter 4 where we will turn next.  

Yes we need to make a decision but our decision isn't simply to believe in Jesus for salvation. Our decision must be to become like Jesus, through being "born again." Our decision must be to follow Jesus in his actions and attitudes for that is the only way to "see the kingdom of God." And our decision must be to live with Gospel intentionality, for as David Platt radically questions:
     "Could it be that one of the reasons why so many people in our churches are not praying with zeal or giving their resources away or going with the gospel into our neighborhoods or the nations, could it be because they’ve not been born again? Born again believers don’t have to be cajoled to obey the Great Commission. Born again believers are compelled to accomplish the Great Commission."
The purpose of evangelism is not to make converts based on decisions by getting them to say the "Sinner's Prayer." The purpose of evangelism must be recalibrated as a process that demonstrates people are being "born again" into the Kingdom of God. Then we will demonstrate we are living sent today.

1 comment:

  1. Addendum: In the Parable of the soils we read in Luke 8:14, "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature"(NIV). The Greek word for mature is "telesphoreō" which can refer to a pregnant woman. The implication then is that those who are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures do not make it out of the spiritual birthing channel into the fullness of life Jesus wants for us.