MORE ABOUT JESUS — PROCLAIMING THE FINISHED WORK
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 23, 2007
We don’t need an army of youth to finish the work. Jesus said the work is already finished. We need an army of youth to proclaim the finished the work [Education, 271]. But if we don’t know Jesus it’s pretty hard to proclaim anything about Him. Isn’t that what we discovered last time?
Today I want to dig a little deeper into why we’re allergic to sharing. If the first reason is because you can’t share what you don’t know and the second reason is because we confuse our job with the Lord’s work, a third reason is because too often we use guilt instead of gratitude as motivation. Why do we do that? Because we’re gluttons for punishment? Enjoy watching emerging generations of youth squirm? No. Because we actually have a verse to justify ourselves. Don’t know if you guys have read this one or not. But it’s found in Ezekiel 33:8-9 [NIV] which reads, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.’”
The assumption is that I am the watchman in this verse and that the wicked is the great world out there. And as a result, we have people who are frightened of sharing because if someone is going to live or die based upon the success or failure of my sharing then I don’t want to get involved! That’s way too much responsibility for me! Who wants to suffer the guilt that would come from thinking that I might have failed when I could have hired the satellite preacher to do the job?
Another result of this thinking, far more serious in my view, is that it has misrepresented the character of God. God who is the author of life who knows we had no choice in being born into this world. Would God be a God of love if He left someone’s personal destiny on the shoulders of someone else? Think about it! This line of thinking also subtly implies that God is impotent—not omnipotent. There’s a big difference there isn’t there? Isn’t God big and powerful enough to do the job? To finish the work? What’s His problem? Why does He lay this on us? Certainly “God might have committed the message of the Gospel, and all the work of loving ministry, to the heavenly angels. He might have employed other means for accomplishing His purpose .” So why didn’t He? Certainly the angels would do a better job than we would! Right? So there have been many misunderstandings about sharing in the church. Not just in ours.
Proof of this can be found in the writings of Augustine. Many years ago this Catholic theologian came along with his doctrine of original sin. Which says that we are born sinners and we are accountable for it. When you are quoting the doctrine of original sin as expressed by Augustine, you are including the idea of “I am at fault, I am to blame, I am responsible, I am accountable for being born in the world of sin.” Which is why it’s easier to understand why Catholics invented infant baptism instead of believers baptism as the Bible teaches. In their tradition, even babies are accountable and so the sooner they get this sin problem dealt with the better.
Are we held accountable?
For a long time the evangelical world has held on to a variation of this approach. That everyone is born lost in this world until they choose to be saved. Until along came an author by the name of Neal Punt who took the exact opposite view. He said that everyone in this world is born saved until they choose to be lost. So the people in the world are not born sinners? Not quite. The Bible is clear that they are still born sinners. Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But Punt’s point is that we are not held accountable for it because God has never held it against us that we were born on the wrong planet. At the wrong time. Where nobody was Christian. To share with you the good news. Psalm 87:6 [NIV] says, “ 6 The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: ‘This one was born in Zion.’” And then it adds this word “Selah” which means consider these things. Consider the fairness of God. That He would not hold people accountable for things they cannot control. Such as where they are born. Thank God He knows that!
Punt based his conclusion on some verses from Scripture which I’d like to look at with you. The first is found in John 9:39-41 [NIV]. “ 39Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ 40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ 41Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’”
Here’s another one. John 15:22-25 [NIV]. “22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”
Here’s one more. Romans 2:14-16 [NIV]. “14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”
When we understand truth, we are held accountable
James 4:17 [NIV] concludes. “17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” So we are born sinners but not held accountable until we understand truth. Does that make sense? “Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished his principles...Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God. How surprised and gladdened will be the lowly among the nations, and among the heathen, to hear from the lips of the Saviour, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”! How glad will be the heart of Infinite Love as His followers look up with surprise and joy at His words of approval! [Desire of Ages, 638]”
Yes, the ignorant wherever they are who have worshiped God ignorantly who never saw the light from human instrumentalities will be saved! Praise God He is omnipotent! Acts 17:24-25 [NIV] says, “ 24The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”
Verse 26 and 27 add, “26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”
As we study further in the two verses just before this speech, we notice that Paul didn’t tell those heathen Greeks on Mars Hill that they were worshiping the wrong God. Did he? No! He said they were worshiping God, in their own way, but that they were ignorant about Him. What’s the difference? The difference is its possible that people in other countries including our own could be worshiping God by another name! Is that too scary for you to consider? Allah is just one example. Is it possible that God is fair enough and loving enough and big enough that He is responsible for us living and moving and having our being? Wherever we are? Is it possible that He, in order to continue to be a God of love, would have to give everyone born in this world an adequate opportunity for something better regardless of what we do? Is it possible that He would not be a God of love if He left the salvation of others dependent upon us? On what we do? On whether the church succeeds or fails?
I don’t think so! That would be extremely unloving of God. And extremely risky. Because the best of us Christians have all kinds of faults and failings. We talked about that already. Right? And yet we still have enough denominational pride and ego to think that we are totally responsible! Wrong!
A lost person can be found by. . . God
Well, you say, what about those texts like Ezekiel? Let’s go there and check out the context this time. I think you’ll see that it’s all pretty simple. The Scripture we began with was talking about Ezekiel and his mission to Israel. It wasn’t talking about our mission to Toledo. Then, someone will bring along some rare unpublished quotation from some Christian source talking about Christless graves and millions lost. But if you check out you’ll find that a Christless grave is not necessarily a lost grave. Because a lost person can be found by an omnipotent God. He knows where we were born and raised. He doesn’t hold people accountable for things they don’t know. Let’s not forget that sharing is primarily about exercise. For your sake not theirs. Use it or lose it. If my primary motivation for sharing is to get to heaven, I probably won’t be there. Because entry into heaven doesn’t depend on what you do. But on who you know! But if my primary motivation for sharing is to tell others what God has done for me, then I’ll probably be there with a bunch of friends with me! Jesus talked repeatedly about lost stuff. Read Luke 15 over and over again if you don’t believe that a Christless grave could contain a lost person that was found. The coin didn’t know it was lost. Right? How could it? But it was found. The sheep knew it was lost. But couldn’t do anything about it. It for all intents and purposes was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or it wandered off at the wrong time. But it was found. The rebellious prodigal son actually chose to get lost. True, the sheep and the son weren’t dead yet, but to an omnipotent God, what does that matter? Jesus said He was the resurrection and the life. He told Lazarus you will not die! Which really means that no Christian really ever dies. They may sleep for a while. But they will wake up!
We have gotten too spooked by the idea that we are going to fall and fail and cause someone to be lost. We have developed our star preachers and evangelists who are doing the work for us and we are giving them money even when some of them have demonstrated their unworthiness to accept it. Then we call that soul winning when the truth is church growth is not growth in membership. Who cares how many people are on the books if their lives are no different afterward? If the communities they live in don’t look any saltier? Church growth is not growth in membership. It is growth in the members and its community. If the members get involved in Christian sharing and service to its community wherever they are, they will grow. And if they grow, the membership will grow. That is how it works. Why would we want the whole responsibility to fall on us anyways? Can we be that foolish? That naive? That proud?
If this causes you to stop giving money for satellite evangelism, you’ve missed the point. If this causes you to stop being even remotely interested in ordinary outreach, you’ve missed the point. Because couch potato Christians aren't gonna cut it. The real reason why we share and witness and do ordinary outreach is because the Lord is good. And He gives us a Life Worth Living. We have something to say about our best friend. It’s about time we realize that this is the basis of genuine sharing and witness.
God wants to give you a life worth living
I don’t want to sound angry. But I have been. Why? Because my church has sincerely but incorrectly influenced me to think otherwise. That if I don’t get my act together, lost people are going to hell. Wrong. Many lost people will go to hell and be consumed in the fires of Revelation 20, but not because we didn’t do the Lord’s work. And not because the Lord didn’t do His. I wish we would be honest about this. I wish we would humbly confess our faults and failures. I wish we would admit that we have misrepresented the character of our omnipotent loving God. And I really wish we would stop talking using guilt and fear as our motivational factors to share Jesus. They don’t work. And they’re not Christlike. Perfect love the Bibles says casts out fear. Guilt has been thrown into the deepest parts of the ocean. If we’re dragging it around still, it’s not because God wants us to. It’s because the devil does. Remember he doesn’t care if you serve some of God. As long as you’re serving some of him. But God does! He is a jealous God. He wants all of you. All the time. He wants to give you a life worth living and a life worth sharing.
I’m so glad God is no respecter of persons. He has an equal regard and overwhelming love for all the souls He has created. Including the homeless guys near the bus stop asking for money, the armless and legless, the orphans. He loves the little crack babies left in a garbage can and the little Martha Stewart babies decked out in the finest bassinet. He loves Arabs and Jews. Catholics and Adventists. Red yellow black and white all are precious in His sight. Why have we forgotten? So who is going to be lost if we don’t share? We are. Nobody else. You must use it or you will lose it. God’s purpose for Christian sharing is to save us. Not them. It’s to keep us spiritually fit. Abiding in Him. Depending on Him. Close to Him. If I believe that someone else’s eternal destiny is in my hands, I’ll never be very good at sharing. But if I believe that someone else’s eternal destiny is totally in God’s hands regardless of what I do, then I can cheerfully go out and not be afraid of screwing stuff up. I can make mistakes. Relax. And enjoy talking about Jesus and the difference He makes in my life. Personally, I no longer believe that anyone's eternal destiny is based upon what I do or don’t do. But mine is. Because my sharing will keep me closer to Jesus. Whom knowing is life eternal. Or my lack thereof will make me wither on the vine. Isn’t that fair? Aren’t you glad God is omnipotent? And so loves the world?
God wants to save everyone
We always quote John 3:16 which is awesome. I wish we’d keep reading and quote the rest. Verse 17 says, “17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 2 Peter 3:9 adds, “9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Romans 4:4-5 [NIV] “4Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Ephesians 2:8-9 [NIV] “8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.” Matthew 25:21 [NIV] doesn’t say “Well done good and successful servant.” It says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Faithfulness is a relationship word. The rest of that verse says, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!” You want to be happy? Share a life worth living.
For too long we have been trying to do the Lord’s work. It’s about time we stopped trying to do the Lord’s work and pay more attention to ours. And what is ours? Our work is to get to know Jesus. Whom knowing is life eternal. And to pray read and share what we know about Him with others. That’s it. That’s fighting the right fight of faith. That’s something the weakest Christian now or in the end times can do.
Our job is not to "finish the work"
And could you do me a favor? Could we all please stop talking about finishing our work? Not even Jesus called it his work. In John 4:34 He told his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Besides, the work is already finished. Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.”
Instead, let’s cheerfully go about proclaiming the message of a crucified, risen, and soon coming Savior. Which is what the rest of that quote from Education page 271 actually says. Not out of guilt. But gratitude. Not out of fear, but love. Not of pressure, but peace. For if He saved us while we were still sinners, He can do the same for everyone else. His is a life worth living and sharing. Do you agree? Is that your desire?