It was in May of 1845 that the Southern Baptist convention came into existence. From the beginning, Southern Baptist have felt strongly that one of the primary roles of the Church as a whole is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. It would therefore seem logical that our confessional statement, outlining our rudimentary doctrinal beliefs, should include a section on Missions and Evangelism. But the inclusion of this statement, especially in its present form, was not without controversy.
During the decades of the 70's, 80's and on through part of the 90's, Southern Baptist were embroiled in what has come to be known as the Conservative Resurgence. (If you want to read more on what took place in our denomination during those difficult days I would recommend Dr. Jerry Sutton's book, The Baptist Reformation, or Judge Paul Pressler's book, A Hill on Which to Die.)
During those days of strife and division within our convention, there were many, some in positions of leadership, who felt that the missionary mandate itself was sufficient to unite us, and that dictating what should be preached was going too far. Others, like myself, felt that without a clearly defined understanding of doctrine, we would have no message to preach. Missions and evangelism are Christian actions founded on doctrinal beliefs.
Thus, as Southern Baptists, we are not merely united by our common desire to reach other nations. That, in and of itself, is far too ambiguous. While the missionary mandate and the disciple making directive of our Lord should unite us with respect to what it is we are to do, it is the doctrinal foundation undergirding this command that tell us what we are to preach and how we are to make disciples. That is why this section is so very important.
We come today to article 11 of the Baptist Faith and Message, the section dealing with missions and evangelism.
There are a number of passages which are clearly behind this article. Perhaps the most recognizable one is what we know as the Great Commission. Found in Matthew 29:18-20 Jesus says, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
This is one of the primary purposes for the church, to expand the Kingdom of God by sharing the message of Christ with others. The effectiveness of denominations, churches and individuals is judged by whether or not they are reaching others with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This idea of going and making disciples is central to what we believe Christ has called us to do.
As we consider this theme this morning, allow me to give you seven things the scripture says with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ, each of which have a bearing on our responsibility to share it with others whether in the context of missions or evangelism.
I. It is elementary
That it, it is the simple story of God's love for humanity and His good faith offer to save all who will place their trust in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. (Luke 18:17, Mark 10:15)
Jesus tells us in Luke 18:17, "I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
One of the most common excuses I hear from those who are not actively involved in sharing their faith is that they simply don't feel qualified. They'll say, "Pastor, I just don't know enough scripture," or, "I'd rather leave that to someone who knows more about the bible than me." But a clear reading of the scripture tells us that what we are called to share is so simple that even a child can understand it and share it. Jesus taught that the gospel was so simple even a child could understand it.
One of the reasons people don't share their faith is that they don't have a real faith to share. Listen, disciples make disciples. People who really know Jesus don't find it all that difficult to introduce others to Him. It's just that simple. Look at the early disciples. None of the 12 had a theological education. Peter was a fisherman, anything but educated. Matthew was a tax collector, He was no biblical scholar. They simple shared what they knew to be true, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and all who asked Him for forgiveness would receive it and be given eternal life.
Somewhere along the way we have complicated the gospel to the degree that it has become convoluted and difficult to understand. Folks, people don't need to have a thorough understanding of systematic theology in order to place their faith in Christ. All they need is simple childlike faith.
Go with me to the cinder block hovels in the villages of India, or the simple brush huts of Kenya, and I will show you people whose theological understanding is exceedingly limited, but there you will meet people who have an authentic faith in Jesus and in whose lives you can see a visible change. They may not be able to discuss the immutability of God or to define the finer nuances of His sovereignty, but like the blind man, they can say, I once was blind and now I see. That's how simple the gospel is. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind but now I see." If you truly know Jesus, you will find it very simple to share Him with others.
II. It is exclusive
There is no other way to gain access to God and eternal life except through the gospel of Jesus Christ. (John 14:6, Acts 4:12)
One of the impediments to sharing the gospel these days is that we claim exclusivity, that is, we preach that Jesus is the only way. But this is not something we have invented, this is something Jesus Himself taught.
John 14:6 Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father except through Me."
And Acts 4:12 says, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heave given to people by which we must be saved."
This goes against the spirit of the age, which is postmodernism. Postmodernism tells us that truth is contextual and that all truths are of equal worth. Postmodernists are appalled by the audacity of any one truth being the only truth or any one way being the only way. Many Christians find it difficult to share their faith precisely because this claim to exclusivity goes so much against the grain of our culture, because so many take offense to our claim that Jesus is the only way.
Perhaps you've talked with someone who has brought up what you see as difficult and disturbing questions about the gospel. They'll say, "But what about those people who never heard about Jesus, what about those people who never had a chance, how can God send them to hell?" All of this comes from a faulty understanding of why people go to hell. People don't go to hell because God wants them to, they go to hell because they deserve to. All of us deserve hell. All of us are sinners and the wages of sin is death. The love of God is seen in this, that Christ died for our sins. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
The exclusivity of the gospel may not be popular, but Jesus tells us that He is the only Way, the only Truth and the only Life.
Any message which claims that there is salvation in anyone or anything but Jesus is heresy, clear and simple. Jesus is the only way. The gospel is exclusive.
III. It is eternal
That it is, it is timeless and changeless, it is applicable to all people, at all places at any time. (Matthew 24:14)
Again, the spirit of the age tells us that because all truth is contextual, that it comes out of community, that there is no truth which is equally true for all people, at all places at any time. There is no meta-narrative, they say. But Jesus tells us differently.
Matthew 24:14 says, "This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come."
Jesus tells us to take His gospel to all nations, to all places, to the uttermost parts of the world and a gospel which is to be taken to all nations, to the ends of the earth, is a gospel which is applicable to all peoples in all places at any time.
Many things have changed in the two thousand years since Jesus ascended into heaven, but don't be fooled by all the changes in our world; the most salient things have stayed the same. People are still born with a sinful nature, they all still rebel against their maker and they are still helpless to save themselves. The message that God loves us and sent His Son to save us has not changed. It is timeless, it does not change. The methods we employ to share it may have changed, the language we use to communicate it may have changed, the customs surrounding our worship and our singing may have changed, but the message is still the same. The gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal; it does not change and is always relevant and applicable to all people.
IV. It is exacting
That is, it is not an easy message, it is one which demands everything from those who accept it. (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)
I am often led to wonder how many people who claim to follow Jesus really understand what it is He asks of those who follow Him. Do we really understand that believing on Jesus means that we abandon everything to Him? Do we really preach a message in consonance with the one He preached? Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 16:24-26
"The Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?'"
When we preach the gospel we must be careful not to preach a watered down version of the gospel; a gospel which calls for nothing but promises everything. Unfortunately, this message of a gospel which gives us everything and costs us nothing is what people see and hear when they go to many churches today. They simply hear a part of the gospel, the part that speaks to what we get out of it, and not the part which demands everything from us.
If it were that easy to follow Jesus, if all it entailed was believing that He is God and that He wants good things for us, there is no reason anyone would reject it. But the gospel, as Jesus taught it and as scripture explains it, means that we surrender ourselves, totally and unreservedly, by faith, to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. A child doesn't have a hard time with that because children find it easier to trust than do adults. The gospel demands that we take up our cross, the instrument of death and follow Jesus to Calvary. It calls us to surrender our wills to the will of the Father even as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. It assaults our pride and our self-sufficiency calling upon us to renounce our own ability and to see ourselves for the sinners that we are. It demands that we abandon our love for the material things of this world, and instead place our treasures in heaven and our hopes in the world to come. Instead of spending our lives in pursuit of material things, we are to make the kingdom of God the priority in our lives.
Why do you think the Rich young Ruler was so distraught? He was a moral man and he was a religious man, but he was not willing to leave it all and follow Christ. In truth, I think he understood what the exacting nature of the gospel better than many today who call themselves Christians.
A faith that demands nothing from us is neither a biblical nor a saving faith. The gospel is exacting. It demands everything from us and promises that we will receive our rewards, not necessarily in this life, but in the life to come. Is there any wonder that those who truly understand it find it difficult to accept or that folks want to change it to make it more palatable?
V. It is enlightening
Part and parcel of the gospel is to teach others to obey all that Christ commanded. (Matthew 28:19)
One of the common criticisms against Southern Baptist is that we are more concerned about making converts than disciples. But from a scriptural point of view, there should be no different. Jesus did not call us to get decisions; He called us to make disciples. The British theologian Michael Green puts it this way:
"The Great Commission includes the baptism and careful discipling of new believers. Matthew is not satisfied; Jesus is not satisfied, with any hasty profession of faith, any perfunctory baptism. The apostles are called not to evoke decisions but to make disciples. And that is an altogether tougher assignment."
Making disciples involves Christian training. That is why we have so many activities at our church geared towards Bible study, at every level. Sunday School is to be basic Bible Study, designed to help non believers understand the basic claims of Christ and to help them come to faith in Jesus. Our discipleship classes, like the men's and women's groups which meet during the week, they are designed to help Christians grow deeper in their faith. All of this is part and parcel of what it means to make disciples.
VI. It is effective
That is, it thoroughly transforms those who truly believe. (2Corinthians 5:17)
The person who has truly accepted Christ is a new person, old things have passed away and all things have become new. Jesus tells us that by their fruits we shall know them, and James tells us that faith without evidentiary works; authenticating works, is not real faith.
The reality is, if you are saved, there will be a metamorphosis in your life, a transformation whereby you will be changed. If there is no change, there is no salvation. Jesus says that we must bear fruit. That's not only the fruit of new converts, but the fruit of the Spirit.
If the fruit of the Spirit is not evidenced in your life, how can you say Jesus has changed you? How can you claim transformation if there is little to no difference between you and the lost guy next door? The gospel of Jesus Christ changes us from the inside out. It is not merely a moral code we try and obey, it is not merely a set of nice things we should strive towards. The gospel is revolutionary, it is transformational, it changes all who truly accept it to be like Jesus.
It used to be that people believed, "if it's true, it will work," but in a society which does not believe in absolute truth, now they say, "if it works, it must be true." The question the world is asking as they look at your life and mine is, "did it work for them, were they changed, do I see any transformation in their life?"
VII. It is extended
Those who truly accept Christ will be busy about the business of sharing the gospel with others. (Acts 1:8)
We have a stewardship of the gospel - Something for which we will be held accountable (2 Cor. 5:19-20, committed to us the word of reconciliation)
The making of disciples is something God has entrusted to us. But more than that, it is something He has commanded us to do. It should never be seen as a burden, like paying taxes, but rather as a privilege, like being an ambassador. In fact, that's what the scripture says we are, we are messengers, or ambassadors, sent from Heaven's throne to the world around us to be messengers of peace and reconciliation. We are to go to others on behalf of God Himself, and to offer them the opportunity to know Him through Jesus Christ. We are to tell them of His love, to invite them to accept His offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That should never be a chore, it should be a privilege.
We are commanded to share it, verbally and visibly. The question is: are we going to have a reactive type of evangelism where others simply react to our lifestyle, or are we going to have a proactive response where others respond to the message we preach and the offer we present them? (Romans 10:14-17)
What kind of witness are you? When God calls you into account someday, for the stewardship of the gospel, when He asks you to tell Him how you handled them most precious and powerful gift He ever placed in the hands of humanity, what will you say? What would you say to Him if He were to call you into account today and what will you do about His call on your life to share the good news of His kingdom?