MESSAGE FOR APRIL 27, 2003
This week we pick up our series on the mission of the church. In past weeks we have seen that the church has through Christ been given unique authority to go to our neighbors and to the nations with the gospel. We saw on Palm Sunday that the message we preach is not only Jesus as Savior but also Jesus as King. This week, we want to turn the series in a more focused direction and ask a very practical question as it relates to Christ and the greatest cause, reaching the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. That question, which will direct our thinking in the weeks to come is, “why are we as individuals and a church not more impassioned by and faithful to the cause of the mission of Christ’s church?” What are the hindrances or spiritual strongholds in our lives and our church that we have allowed to keep of us from being more faithful in our prayer, with our money, with our tears and with our lives as it relates to the global cause of Christ?
That question has a huge presupposition underlying it and that is, that the normal, healthy follower of Christ—the normal, healthy church of Christ will be impassioned about and seek to be faithful in fulfilling the Great Commission here and abroad. I believe the bible teaches that the natural, healthy state of a follower of Christ is to be burdened for the glory of God to be spread to the ends of the earth as his kingdom rule is spread to the lives of more people who otherwise would be headed for an eternity in hell. That burden, though not shouldered in the same manner by everyone in the body of Christ, will nonetheless be a prominent desire in a healthy believer. Some will go to Botswana and others will stay here. Some will give large amounts of money and others will sacrificially intercede for the spread of the gospel. Some will be gifted in a unique way to compellingly speak the gospel and others will use their gifts in other ways for the global cause of Christ. I hope to show that the bible teaches that all healthy believers have, as part of their essential, inherent spiritual make up, a burden to see Christ’s name exalted worldwide through the spreading of the gospel and will act on that burden in faithfulness to the command of Scripture.
Here’s what I mean when I say that healthy believers are essentially or inherently burdened to spread the glory of God through the gospel. One of the inherent or essential qualities of a diamond is that when light is shined on it, it sparkles. That’s what diamonds do. Their essential or inherent makeup causes them to sparkle in the light. If you were to show someone a ring that did not sparkle in the light and tell them it was a diamond they would make one of two judgments. They will either think there was something very wrong with this diamond—it was dirty or very poorly cut or something else was quite wrong with it. Or they would assume that you were mistaken when you told them the ring in question was a diamond ring because it didn’t manifest the essential or inherent qualities of a diamond. I will argue that if we as believers are not burdened and acting on that burden for the greatest cause, then something is seriously WRONG with our hearts.
In the weeks to come we will be targeting one by one some of the areas of spiritual darkness in our hearts and exposing them to the redeeming light of Scripture. Now, that is admittedly a somewhat negative approach but there is a reason I am doing it this way. That is, in my own life over the past several months I have spent some time and energy on the state of my heart on this issue. Frankly, this has been an area of significant and sinful neglect in my own heart. Given God’s burden for the spread of his glory through the gospel to all nations—his burden to create more and more worshippers, I must admit there has been something seriously wrong with MY heart on this issue. I have spent some time allowing God to reveal my sin and cleanse and purge my heart of these impediments. I have by no means arrived but I am in process, so I will simply be passing on to you what God has shown me and is showing me in my own process.
Before we look at what could be standing in the way of us expressing God’s passion for his glory to the nations, we must see for certain that this presupposition upon which this series of messages will be based is biblically valid. Is it true that the normal, healthy believer in Christ will have a passion for the glory of God to be spread to the nations and for the souls of lost people headed for hell? Is it true that an essential, inherent part of being a healthy follower of Christ is having these passions and actively seeking to be faithful to God in His Great Commission? Those are the questions we want to address this week. There are several ways of proving from the bible that healthy believers and healthy churches share God’s passion for his global glory and for lost souls. One way is the approach taken in the study of biblical theology on Wednesday nights. We are discovering that the bible is at root a history of God’s redemptive plan, which he conceived before the world began. From Genesis to the Revelation, God is impassioned about expressing his glory through his kingdom and its spread to the nations and the pages of Scripture record the working of his redemptive plan. This is THE central theme of the bible.
In this plan he miraculously turns rebels serving the dominion of darkness into loyal, loving servants of Himself. He initiates this plan in Adam and especially after the Fall in Genesis 3:15. He details his plan in Genesis 12 when he reveals to Abraham that God will bless all the nations of the earth through the seed of Abraham. He works in many ways through his dealings with the nation of Israel to show that this is his burden and he sends his Son to fulfill his kingdom on earth. He commissions the expression of his kingdom known as the church to spread his kingdom through the gospel to all nations. Finally, he empowers his church to carry his redemptive gospel message to the nations by sending the third Person of the Trinity to enable his subjects to spread his kingdom rule with the ultimate goal that his kingdom will come to every tongue, tribe and nation on earth.
So, by that approach we can see that very near to God’s heart is his passion to globally spread his glory through his kingdom rule by means of the gospel. Therefore, as believers who call Him King, who have been commissioned and empowered to spread his kingdom and his glory, we should all have that near the top of our agenda as well. The servants of the King whose hearts have been reborn to more and more resemble the King should increasingly share his passions. That means that all healthy believers should have a burden for God’s kingdom to advance locally and to the nations through the gospel. That is a very abbreviated survey of redemptive history in the bible record proving the point. The primary way this morning we want to answer this question, “is it true that healthy churches and followers of Jesus will have a passion to spread the Name and fame of Christ?” is by looking at what God says about this expression of his kingdom to which we belong, his church.
Months ago when we examined the church from a biblical perspective, we looked at many of the biblical titles God uses to describe various aspects of his church. This morning we want to show that in choosing the inspired titles that he did in Scripture God was communicating that his church is by its very nature inherently, essentially about spreading his glory through the gospel to the nations. Churches or individuals that do not have that passion are unhealthy because they are not expressing an inherent quality of the church. Now, let’s look at two of these biblical designations and see from them how intrinsic to each one is the truth that healthy believers and churches will have a passion to spread God’s glory to the nations and have a passion for the souls of lost people.
Let’s first look at one of the titles or metaphors we did NOT look at in our earlier series and that is the church as a fruit bearing plant. You may not think of yourself or this body as a fruit bearing plant but Jesus used this metaphor several times for his followers. In Matthew chapter seven he speaks of a fruit bearing tree but the most significant text is in John 15 and there he likens the church to a fruit-bearing grapevine. In verse five Jesus illustrates our need to be in intimate fellowship with him if we are to bear fruit. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Central to our understanding of this text is knowing what is meant by the word “fruit.” What does Jesus mean when he says we are to bear fruit? Well, he certainly means that we should more and more resemble Him in the way we think, act and believe. There is a moral or ethical dimension here because he says in verse eight, “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” The Father is glorified as we bear the fruit that causes others to relate us to Jesus—fruit that manifests his character. But there is more to this fruit business than simply this moral dimension. We know that because he uses this same fruit metaphor in verse 16 of John 15. There he says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit—fruit that will last.” There are two little words there that point to the fact that Jesus in this instance is not referring to fruit as moral character. He says, “…I chose you TO GO and bear much fruit—fruit that will last.” This is the kind of fruit that is produced in GOING and that means the fruit of new converts of Christ.
In Matthew’s Great Commission Jesus says that as you are GOING, make disciples, which begins with making converts. If this is moral or ethical fruit why would Jesus say he chose us TO GO and bear much fruit. You can certainly in many ways display the character of Christ without GOING anywhere. It’s because he is talking about the fruit of more disciples that are made by Christ as we GO—GO to the next-door neighbor, GO to the student in the classroom down the hall, GO to the heathen in the Congo who have never heard of Jesus. On a side note, this text demonstrates how inaccurate it is to think that if a person believes in election and predestination that they therefore have no motivation to share the gospel. You sometimes hear that. “If God elects and predestines people to salvation, then why bother telling them about Jesus?” Jesus certainly doesn’t think that way. He says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit—fruit that will last.” One reason He chose us is so that we may go and bear much fruit—that we may go and win converts and make disciples. There is no contradiction between God’s sovereign election and evangelism—in fact, Jesus makes a direct connection between the two.
The point of this metaphor regarding the essential nature of the church is clear. That is, the church as a fruit-bearing vine has as part of its essential nature, the quality of producing fruit. If a church does not produce new converts that they are making into disciples then there is something wrong with that branch. That means there is something very wrong with the North American church where less than one percent of American churches are experiencing conversion growth. There are far more than one percent of churches that are growing in numbers but the vast majority of those churches are growing because of transfer growth. That is, people come because they have moved from other towns or other churches. That kind of growth can be celebrated in many instances but that is not what Jesus is talking about in John 15. Transfer growth would be akin to grafting in branches with grapes already hanging on them. Some other branch actually produced the fruit, not the branch into which they were grafted.
It’s easy for churches like ours that are growing by transfer growth to look around at all the new fruit and assume that that means we are bearing fruit. It may mean that God is at work here and is causing other people to join in what He is doing here. I hope that is the case, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that our church is simply not bearing the fruit of new convert growth and that means something is wrong. There is something wrong with an inherently fruit producing branch that is not producing the fruit of new converts. There is something wrong with an individual who is not actively praying for THIS KIND of fruit to emerge from their faithful living and speaking the gospel. There are some who are gifted in evangelism whom God has appointed to bring in much of this fruit, but ALL of us should be impassioned about making disciples.
A second title for the church that points to the intrinsic burden we should have for gospel to go to the nations is the church as the army of God. You may recall that we said the church is a militant organism in part because God, who is Lord of His church, is a warrior King. We see this in texts like Exodus 15:3. “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.” As we saw on Good Friday the picture of Christ in Revelation 19 is one of a warrior riding a white horse, the hem of his garment dripped in the blood of his enemies. He is bearing a sword “with which to strike down the nations.” Our God is a warrior God who has won the decisive victory through Christ’s death at Calvary. First John 3:8 says, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.” Satan has lost the decisive battle but continues to wage war against God and he does so through his church and will do so until Christ returns. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Although the enemy has many weapons at his disposal his main weapon is deception. Jesus speaks of the essential character of Satan in John chapter eight and says this to the Pharisees in verse 44. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Satan is a murderous liar—deception is part of his essential nature. With his lies he takes and holds them captive through the deception of sin. In Colossians 2:8 Paul says warns the church, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. In John 8:34, “Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Earlier in chapter eight in verse 31 Jesus says to those who had believed in him, “If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” So we see that the enemy’s main weapon is deception, which is at the root of all sin. Behind every sin is a lie—the lie that says to sin would be better than to obey God. Through the lie of sin Satan holds people captive.
Now, at this point it is fair to ask the question, “what does the nature of the church as a militant army and Satan as a liar have to do with the question of whether we are inherently people who should be impassioned about spreading the gospel to the nations?” The answer is that the church as the army of God is called to liberate sinners from the captivity of lie-based sin and Satan. We have already seen that it is the truth that sets people free from the captivity of the satanic lie of sin. In Romans 1:18 Paul gives the foundational cause for the wrath of God upon sinners. He says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about god is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” People in their sin nature suppress the truth and they get help from Satan, especially as it relates to the gospel because Second Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
So we have sinners who because of their sinful natures work to suppress the truth but who are also blinded to the liberating truth of the gospel by Satan. So, the church as the army of God is given the Holy Spirit who, through the fervent prayer of the saints, tears the satanic scales from the eyes of the blinded unbelievers and who creates within these sinners a new desire for the truth. We have been equipped with the armor of God and each piece of the armor is truth based. There is the belt of truth. That’s plain enough. There is the breastplate of righteousness, which is rooted in the truth that we bear the righteousness of Christ. We must put on the shield of faith and what is faith but trust in the truth of God’s word, particularly the gospel? Our feet are fitted with the “readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” We are prepared—we are ready to engage the enemy because we have the truth of the gospel message. The reason he links the feet with this particular piece of armor is because we must GO and our feet are related to us GOING. Romans 10:15b says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” The liberating message of the gospel is brought to sinners held in captivity to the lie of sin by Christ’s warriors filled the power of the Holy Spirit. Finally, we are called to put on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. The helmet of salvation we know from 1 Thessalonians 5:8 where Paul says we are to put on the “hope of the helmet of salvation.” This speaks to our hope in the truth that one day our salvation will be complete in Jesus. And the sword of the Spirit is the truth of the word of God.
The point to all of this is that the army of God is at war with the evil one and a huge part of our battle plan is to, through prayer-charged special operations, plant ourselves behind enemy lines for the purpose of liberating those taken captive by sin and Satan. That is our main mission, our assignment as God’s army—to use the truth of God and the truth of the gospel to set free those taken captive by lies of the enemy. Ours is an offensive mission in the church. We are to advance against the enemy. Too many Christians conceive of the fight as a purely defensive conflict. That is, Satan attacks the church and we do what we can to keep him at bay. NO! We are called to be on the offensive! Jesus said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail” against Christ’s church as it marches forth into battle. This offensive, militant purpose is part of the essential nature of God’s army. Who ever heard of any army in a time of war not actively fighting? That’s a ridiculous picture. Yet we at Mount of Olives and the North American church at large, in the midst of a fierce conflict with the enemy, are spending our time in the tents behind the lines while he continues to ruthlessly hold onto those he has held captive. We are too often on a permanent R & R –we are “Absent WithOut Leave” while the enemy continues to carry out without challenge his operation of blinding more and more sinners with the lies of sin here and to the uttermost parts of the world.
There are more titles for the church we can’t treat at any length. We are the bride of Christ smitten with her bridegroom. Such a bride would certainly want to tell others about her perfect and glorious bridegroom and ask them to join with her in the marriage celebration. We are the bride who anxiously waits for her bridegroom from heaven. But Jesus said in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” If we are the bride of Christ and we just can’t wait to be with him, yet we know that before he comes back for us the gospel of the kingdom must be preached to all the nations, wouldn’t we want to hasten our wedding to Him by going to the nations?
If we had time I believe we could show that each one of the biblical titles for the church in some way expresses the truth that the church when healthy has, as part of her essential nature, a passion to spread the glory of Christ to the nations. The key word there is healthy. Because the church has at its heart the burden and task of sharing the glory of Christ and we are not doing that individually or as a church, then we need to ask the question, “What’s wrong with me?” There is something seriously wrong with a believer who isn’t impassioned about the gospel going forward—that vacuum in our hearts is a denial of our very nature and the very nature of the church. We must in the weeks to come ask the question, “What’s wrong with me—what’s wrong with our church?” We must ask God to break us out of the sinful malaise that assumes it’s not that big a deal for me not to care about the expansion of the kingdom of God here and to the nations. We must call upon God to bring brokenness to our sinful hearts that simply don’t care all that much about the lost people for whom God sent His Son to a tortuous, wrath-filled cross. We must come again and again and plead, “Oh God, its clear that this is near your heart and I don’t share this burden of your heart. Forgive me, cleanse me—show me what’s wrong with me and cause me to repent of it.” May God reveal to us the truth about his heart and our own so that we may be set free individually and corporately to radiate the kingdom spreading, sinner
Page last modified on 5/4/2003
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