Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism - Part XI - Demonstration is the Key

We have been reconsidering two main ideas meant to inform our rethinking of evangelism – what it means to be “born-again” and what it means to become a “true worshiper." We must be born again, enter a process of being brought over to the Jesus way of life. And, we are to become “true worshipers” to remain in Christ. In this post, we’ll see how when understood and lived out these two ideas lead us into the “eternal life” Jesus often spoke about.

Jesus tells us in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Hearing the words of Jesus and believing the Father is what Jesus tells us will lead to "eternal life." As we saw however in John chapter 2, simply believing in Jesus is insufficient – we must do what he says for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). By the word “hear,” Jesus call us comprehend and activate our lives around his words - in other words we are to "obey" what he says. The word “believe” does not mean to simply accept as true but to commit and entrust ourselves to what Jesus tells us. Doing so leads to "eternal life" but what is "eternal life?" That is the question we'' rethink in this post, the answer to which we need to recalibrate our lives around as Christ followers.

Jesus also says in John 5:19-21, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.” Jesus lived his earthly life fully in accordance with what the Father’s has been doing, so what has the Father been doing? The Father has been working toward the reclamation, redemption and restoration of his creation since the Fall.

We are being “born-again” to comprehend and commit ourselves to what the Father is doing. That is how we attain to the “eternal life” Jesus spoke about, which as we saw in the last post can be defined as "participation in the restoration of all things when God redeems and re-creates the earth and all that is in it.”But how do we get there? Answering that question is beyond the scope of a single post but to start to explore an answer, consider what the Apostle Peter says:
 "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
In the last post we began to explore the idea of the "eternal now," to understand eternal as something more than just a future hope in heaven. In this passage, Peter instructs us on the pathway to the "entrance into the eternal kingdom." Peter informs us that our faith is an active agent to which we must add "virtue with knowledge" which leads us to a life of love, the very essence of eternal life, for God is love (1 John 4:8) 

Philosophers have written about the "eternal now" before but they seem to argue over the meaning of past, present and future, mostly as a cognitive exercise. We tend to think of the eternal, when we think about it at all, in relation to time - past with reference to what God has done in creation and future to what God will do when he establishes the "new heaven's and the new earth." Because of how we frame our understanding of eternal, what is too often neglected is the present - although Jesus tells us to live in it (Matthew 6:34).

We understand "eternal" as it relates to time because time is our common reference point, eternal then is translated as "everlasting." It is difficult to grasp a definition of "eternal" without relating it to the future when we sing lyrics such as "when we've been there 10 thousand years..." Our ideas of salvation, especially as they involve being "raptured" into heaven, shape our prevalent understanding that "eternal life" is our promised future lasting "forever," whatever forever really means. But the fact is there is no time in eternity, otherwise God could not be omnipresent or omniscient. Rather, eternal is a state of being that we can only begin to understand, but it starts right now. 

God created time for us. He created time so that we would invest it freely in experiencing him - his fullness, his pleasure, his purposes. Humankind wanted to be more than to be "like" God (Genesis 3:6), created in his image, we wanted to be our own god, deciding what we would worship - therein Jesus call to be "true Worshipers." Sin entered the world, and brokenness with it, giving us the need to look back to the past for forgiveness and to a hope of salvation in the future. That hope however has often become more about escapism because of how we have made our message about "everlasting life" or "everlasting punishment." 

But what if rethink "eternal" not as quantitative but rather qualitative? What if "eternal life" calls us to be "partakers of the divine nature?” What if God called us to his own "glory and excellence" for his purposes now, today? What Peter tells in the above quote is for today. What if it is for this reason we are "born again," to overcome our sinful nature,  and to become "true worshipers to experience God - in increasing qualitative measure?

Hear again what Peter says, "Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall." This is not a call to look back at our past, or ahead to our future, but to live fully in the present - to confirm our "calling and election" today - right now. The practice of the qualities that Peter outlines, that Paul eludes to when he speaks of the "fruit" of the Spirit, are what determine our "eternal life," in a qualitative sense. Our future hope is that one day we might experience the fullness of life God has always intended. In Christ we take that journey to our best life now and an even better life in the "eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Jesus speaks of the qualitative nature of eternal life, that begins now for those in Christ, when he says: "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). This is a life in which the fullness of Jesus' grace is increasingly manifested: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth… And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for [upon] grace" (John 1:14, 16). It is not our doctrine about God that effects the quality of our eternal life but rather the abiding presence of Christ: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40).  And, Jesus speaks of his desire for us to experience our present eternal life, when he promises, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7).

The "eternal now" is a life in which the Holy Spirit is being trusted to produce Christlike characteristics in an increasing manner. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). This is a life in which God, not us, is the source of sufficiency. "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5). This is the life we are to contend for - since in him, through him and for him we find the life we are called to. "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12).
Much more could be said about this but I'll close this post with this. Michael Stewart, founding director of the Verge Network,  suggests that, "we the church— the people of God, you and me— are being prodded to embrace a deeper sense of calling, to discover our identity as disciples, as followers of Jesus." I believe Michael is right and that it will require rethinking evangelism through recalibrating what it means to be "born again," accepting God's call to be true worshipers, and entering into the "eternal now" for living sent today.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demonstration is the Key - Part X

In the last post, we saw that worship defines our entire life, one way or another. Our worship then also determines our "eternal" life, which is why the Father seeks true worshipers. True worship is the reason for which we live, and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Our worship is our response to God's revelation of Himself, one we except by faith to live fully or deny, diminish or decline from. Worship is instructive as to where we are in relation to living the Jesus way of life. Our lives are to be devoted to worship, in spirit and in truth, as an demonstration of the life we are being "born again" into in Christ.

True worship is an expression of wonder, awe, and gratitude for the greatness and the goodness of God. True worship is the appropriate response to God's person, His provision, His power, and His promises. True worship springs forth from our testimony of what God has done for us. True worship compels us to go and tell. That is exactly what the Samaritan woman did as we read, "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony." (John 4:39). This woman became an effective evangelist not because of what she knew but because of who she knew. She was demonstrating the work of God in her life. 

How different is this story from what we typically think of as evangelism? Our typical evangelism methodology presents a series of propositions to lead people to a decision about salvation. What this woman presents is an encounter with Jesus by which she has been changed.  No set of select verses, no road to travel, no reference to heaven or hell - just a testimony of what Jesus had done for her. The result is that many come to faith, Jesus teaches them and "because of his words many more became believers." (v 41). It is the Word of God, the logos, the living Christ we must convey in rethinking evangelism.

This story also tells us a few things about how demonstration is the key to effective evangelism. First, it informs us that no special training is needed to share Jesus with others but rather a demonstration of a heart change, an awakening to a transformed life. Second, it tells us that new believers are often the most effective evangelist because they demonstrate a new passion for Jesus that is infectious. Third, new believers know others who have not yet heard the message and these people witness a demonstration of a changed life that at least attracts their curiosity. Fourth, follow up is vital, as we see in Jesus example of investing two days with these new believers (v. 40).

We read in verse 42, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (v 42).  

The word translated Savior here is the Greek word "Soter" from which we get the theological term 'soteriology,' which refers to the doctrine of salvation. Our decision oriented practice has led to an understanding of salvation on a personal basis, providing our ticket to heaven, as we accept prescribed propositions about salvation. This has to led to reading past what Scripture repeatedly tells us about "this man (who) really is the Savior of the world" (edits mine) and what this God-man came to do. The Greek word "Soter" also can be translated as 'messiah' and 'deliverer'.

As "Savior of the world," the awaited anointed one, Jesus came to deliver the whole world from captivity to darkness, the effects of sin, and to establish his present Kingdom through those who have been "born again" to worship in spirit and in truth. This is accomplished not through force of military or political might but by force of conviction (Matthew 11:12), by those who are willing to commit their lives to God's purpose, in the authority and abiding presence of Christ (Matthew 28:18,20). The whole Gospel advances by a people who live with the transformative actions and attitudes of Jesus. Personal salvation is only part of what Jesus came to do as "Savior or the world."

A reductionist Gospel, conveyed as a message of personal salvation, results in a diminished understanding of all that Jesus came to deliver us from. By it we end up with a focus on the individual rather than on the whole world (Greek kosmos), of which we as individuals are but a part. While every person is uniquely important to God, made in his imago Dei, God's plan of redemption is so grand that it encompasses every sphere in which we live - the political, economic, social, environmental - not just the spiritual [the subject of Rethinking the Gospel where we'll go in the next series].

Evangelism requires rethinking through a whole Gospel that touches every sphere of our lives, not just saving people from hell, as urgent as that is. True worship embraces God's plan for "eternal life" (John 3:16) and all that means. If "eternal life" is simply a hope for an unseen future, as a result of a personal decision, the result has often produced passive pew-sitters. But what if there is something more to it than that? What if "eternal life" is participation with God in his plan of redemption, the privilege of serving his purpose, and the present joy of living in his amazing and unfolding story? 

What if we were to rethink evangelism not simply as a means to get decisions to accept Jesus for "eternal life" in the future but as an invitation to find our place in the grand and glorious story of the ages in which God has given us all a part to play. What if we were to rethink "eternal life" in this way...
"Eternal life is participation in the restoration of all things when God redeems and re-creates the earth and all that is in it, in full righteousness, justice, peace and prosperity. Eternal life is the undoing of Sin and Death’s every effect, and is further the consummation of God’s intent for his creation to experience the heights of joy ordained for our physical, bodily, sensory, emotional, relational, communal, and cultural existence on earth."
"This highlights how radical it is when Jesus tells his followers that they presently possess eternal life (Jn. 3:36; 5:24; 6:47). He is not simply telling them they will live a long time. Neither is he telling them they will certainly get into heaven. He is telling them that the “life of the age to come” has somehow burst forth in the midst of the present and is the shared possession of all those who believe in Him. The eschatological restoration has begun in, among and through those who have given their full allegiance to Jesus, the Lord of the new world." (Source:
Because we have focused our message on "decisions" with the goal of getting people "saved,"  we usually don't think of "eternal life" as the present experience Jesus said it was. It the next post we will do more rethinking about "eternal life" through what Jesus tells us in John chapter 5 and expand on the above to begin to grasp the "eternal now" of our salvation.

But here's really good news, Jesus came so that we could be "born again," brought over to his way of life, becoming "true worshippers" to "participate in the restoration of all things to see God redeem and recreate the earth and all that is in it." Let's take hold of our "eternal life" for living sent today.