Question: do you believe when someone comes across a person who is truly faithful that the Spirit uses that believer's presence as a "conviction" of sorts? I ask because when I look through said "tunnel" I see a lot of people I knew that I spoke with about my faith and it's sudden resurgence in my life sorta, going down thereafter. It's a tough one, but it's pretty clear that people seem more cursed after they speak/spoke with me that before we speak/spoke.
Today, He showed me how people almost MUST respond to the His urging by either submission or more sin, which is why they seem to "sink" spiritually afterward. And the very few who do listen are blessed and it's apparent! I'm basically gathering that most believers in my area and job are the ones who quit reading their Bible cause it wasn't "fun and exciting" enough, or life issues took over(3rd seed teetering on 2nd seed status): I'm a walking encyclopedia after having read your studies, exegesis, and email responses over and over again, I could either answer their questions about topics and subjects they never fully grasped or accepted (always due to ignorance because of lack of due diligence) or point them to a VERY HIGHLY learned source (you) and I am very much brave enough to do so and try, lovingly, often.
He compels me, and sometimes I feel very sorry for the people who ask about what I read constantly (you and the Word; all else is too watered down and you and I know there's never been a time for that but now it's flat out stupid to waste time) because I know some will internally "shirk" and you and I know how rare true believers are. I'm watching Romans 1:18 happen around me all the time only now it's VIVID.
I didn't realize I was "defending the Faith" when I'd simply point out there's no scriptural backup for most of today's church practices and that the "rapture" is a sad lie that couldn't be inferred in a million years without indoctrination, but I am starting to love it, although I am always nervous (I hope I never lose SOME nervousness; that keeps the humility up and prayers more abound I think, I could be wrong).
Keep writing, in gonna read all of it, period. Also, if there's any other reading or teaching you think will be of help, please let me know, I can read and retain like crazy and the Spirit will use it, He uses all of what I know already. Also, thank you again for putting me in touch with our brother overseas: he's an awesome Christian who I'm proud to know and love.
Bless you and your ministry, Brother.
I absolutely do think that the Lord "stations" us where He will as a "witnesses of life" to the world (Phil.2:15), and a big part of that is the steadfastness of the faith we exhibit.
Here's a link on this that may be helpful: Evangelism in Principle and Practice I
Thanks for your good words, my friend, and also for your faithfulness in friendship to our mutual friend in Jesus.
Yours in Him,
A pastor friend sent me his monthly newsletter claiming:
" No one in any era has ever had any excuse to NOT BE SAVED, as the Holy Spirit has always prompted & urged everyone to accept the free gift of Salvation. If they died unsaved, it was their own making"
This just doesn’t ring right with me...I don’t see the Holy Spirit at work with individuals until after Pentecost...and it is a STRETCH to ascribe Salvation to him...not Jesus Christ who is the ONLY path to Salvation..?
Every human being has always been responsible for responding to the message of truth writ large in the universe (natural revelation; link), and God has always provided the truth necessary to be saved to anyone who ever wanted it. What I would say is that the Spirit is the Evangelist in Chief and always has been. He makes the truth of the gospel understandable to the unbeliever whenever that gospel truth is presented. Christ of course is the issue in salvation and always has been. He is the only Way of salvation and there is "no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12 NKJV). The mechanics on all this are explained both in the recent posting and also at this link:
God's Plan to Save You (in BB 4B)
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
What do you think of this YouTube posting?
Young Girl Shouts at Street Preacher
Do they even know what they're doing? They're children.
Good to hear from you.
Kids will be kids. It's never good to act with disrespect (2Ki.2:23-24), but then we are all sinners from birth (and that is obvious from a very young age). As far as accountability before the Lord is concerned, no one is held accountable until they reach an appropriate age where they really can tell the difference between accepting the gift of Christ and rejecting God's will for their lives. That age differs with individuals and with cultures, but every single human being is taught by the Spirit from the reality which creation proclaims that God is God alone, and that deliverance from sin, death and condemnation come only through Him (e.g., Ps.8:1ff.; 19:1ff.). For those who choose to accept the Solution, Jesus Christ out Lord, there is eternal life. Here are a few links where this is discussed further:
Salvation of those who die young
The two phases of every human life
Natural Revelation and Accountability (in BB 4B)
Salvation of the mentally handicapped
What will our relationship be in heaven with children who died young?
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I don't even want to type this but if someone were to deny that Jesus received his power from the Holy Spirit and instead, receiving it from another source that was encapsulate the unforgivable sin? Didn't the Jews do that after Christ was arrested, claim that Christ's teachings and power of healing came from demons? Awful, the very thought of that literally makes me sick. I think this is hardwired into my brain which is good! I've never stopped believing in Jesus. I have stopped believing in myself many times and I've lost my faith in his ability (or his wanting) to help me. Demons like to torment the tormented, telling you things like you're not worth saving, you're too far gone to be saved, you've done too much damage to ever be considered a Christian and go to Heaven. I get so sick and tired of those thoughts but I've learned to recognize their source. To be honest, it's fear that brought me to Jesus, demons pushed me to the point of being scared to death, they still attack, mostly at night. I don't scare easily so I know those were powerful demons.
Thank you very much, I will visit and subscribe as soon as I can! Your explanation in your first link was more than enough to answer my question, I passed that onto friends and loved ones. Do you have friends that are not Christian? Having been in the Marines and now, teaching at a major university it must be something you deal with often. I think we've talked about that before, I have a couple friends I'm still waiting to witness to, I haven't summoned the courage yet, I'm certain it will come in time though.
In Jesus Christ.
Guilt is one of the devil's most powerful weapons. One of the greatest challenges in attaining spiritual maturity is getting to the place where what we know to be the truth in our hearts from reading in the Bible, being taught it by good Bible teaching, and believing it through the Spirit, is to stand fast with the truth even when our emotions are counseling doubt (because of guilt, mostly, but also because of fear and many other things).
"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son."
John 3:18 NIV
These are Jesus' words. Believers are saved. Unbelievers are not saved. If there were some "secret sin" which could condemn a believer, it would turn this verse (and the whole Bible too) on its head.
I don't have any friends – real friends – who are not believers. I do have colleagues at the university with whom I am on very good terms, and of course one has family members about some of whom one may have some doubts and anxiety. For these situations, direct witnessing should be used with care, assessing the proper time and opportunity. Repeatedly beating unresponsive people over the head with the gospel is unlikely to be effective. The witness of the life – watching someone they know is a Christian and how they comport themselves at all times – is something which cannot be denied and which may lead to opportunities down the road. For one thing, most people run into illness or loss or trouble of one serious type or another at some point. Telling said person that you will pray for them (and actually doing so) is one way I have found of flying the flag (so to speak) without at the same time getting the reputation of a "nut case" to no positive effect.
It is also true that we all have our own personalities, our own ways of doing things, and our own unique set of circumstances – and our own particularly gifts and ministries. There is no one right way to witness (though I have seen many wrong ways in my life), so this is an area where flexibility and personal discretion reigns. On the one hand we do not want to bury our light under a bushel. On the other hand we are also told not to cast our pearls before swine. Just as we should not hold back on a golden opportunity out of fear, so we should also not rush in presumptuously in out of guilt when the door is clearly closed.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tell me, do you believe that there is such a thing as a hopeless person, or someone who permanently rejects the gospel?
Everyone has free will. That means everyone is free to accept the gospel . . . or reject it. What goes on inside human hearts is impossible for others to know. Hope is not lost until a person exits this life unsaved. There are certainly plenty of people who show by their words and deeds that they are not likely ever to respond, but sometimes we are surprised even so: consider the case of Paul.
In Jesus our Lord,
Thanks for your recent posts. I hope everything is well with you. Your website changed my life and I enjoy the new material. Keep it up my brother in Christ.
Thanks for the good words!
I'm keeping you in my prayers.
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
Do the human spirits grow with the body or it doesn't seem to function in kids because of the brain immaturity? I say this because I know that we hold our Faith with the spirit not our brain .
Yours in the lord Jesus
Good to hear from you. As to your question:
Faith is part of our human nature as those created with the image of God. Young people are not held accountable for their lack of faith in the Lord before they attain a certain mental/moral age (which may vary with individuals, cultures and circumstances). However, faith is essentially our ability to choose, and, in particular, what we choose to believe. We tell our young children that there is something called "the ocean" and that is how they know there is an ocean before they see it with their own eyes (e.g.) – they believe what we tell them by exercising their faith in our credibility. Everyone learns early on not to put absolute faith in just anyone. The Greeks had a proverb: "learn to swim, and also to disbelieve" – because to survive in this world you have to be able to deal with unexpected trouble in the physical world (e.g., shipwreck) and also trouble from people (who are wont to lie to you for advantage). Faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, is the most important of all choices, and many children who are exposed to the gospel do believe at a very young age; and I also know of cases where a palpable hardness of heart was obvious very early on (e.g., one five year old said of the gospel: "oh I don't believe that!) – but there is no accountability until a certain age of sufficient maturity necessary to make a truly informed decision is reached. Please see the link: "Free-will Faith"
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Thanks for keeping me up. Quick question. I am on a Prison Ministry team for Kairos, don’t know if you are familiar with it. Kind of a church planting organization for high security prisons. One of the things we do is a 2 day conference for all of our alumni of the program two times per year. It involves 10 different presentations by the team members followed by a discussion and poster session. We’ve used a variety of materials and are planning on one written from CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. The presentations are highly scripted with some latitude for the presenters but we are laymen with varying degrees of speaking ability. Presentations are designed to be 10-15 minutes in length. I wondered if you had something that might fit.
You're most welcome. As to your question, to be honest, while this sort of thing was very big in seminary when I went years ago, I've never been good at it personally. The one thing I would share is that for me if one has an opportunity to talk to anyone about the truth, then hitting what is most important and doing so with the greatest possible clarity has always been my preference. If the audience is composed of unbelievers, then a solid presentation of the gospel would be my choice. I do understand, however, that it is often the case of having a "captive audience" (no pun intended there); I personally try to stay away from situations where those being addressed really don't want to hear what I have to say. But there are different ministries for us all, and different gifts too. You might want to have a close look at Acts 17:22-31, Paul's speech to the Areopagus. Here was a group who "wanted" to hear him, but wasn't really interested in the truth (so a comparable situation to the one I described). On that occasion, Paul used quotes from contemporary literature where truth was expressed upon which he could build (he quoted Homer – though that is often missed – and also Aratus). He also challenged the audience's basic assumptions about the world (their "comfortable" false theology), and finally got around to the resurrection. True, Paul was not allowed to finish and get to the actual gospel in detail, but his approach did gain him a hearing with some of those present whose hearts were moved by the Spirit to respond to the truth, and he did without doubt give those few truly willing parties the gospel afterwards. Seems a fine template to start with.
Best wishes for all success in your work for the sake of the Lord and His Church,
What is your view on going out into the streets/market places and proclaiming God's word? Some Christians commit themselves to this form of ministry and I wanted to know whether you think there is a place for it. It seems there is a high probability of "casting pearls before swine", in which case it would be a form of proclamation which may be, in a sense, fulfilling to the one proclaiming, but not really to the ones to whom it is being proclaimed
This sort of thing sets off my spiritually radar as well. I try not to judge other people's applications or ministry efforts, except when they are clearly in the wrong (saying things that are not true, etc.), however, I think conscience empowered by the Spirit is a good guide. We should all have spiritual common sense. If we are reluctant to do something even though we are walking with the Lord and eager to do His will, it may not be because we are cowards or poor believers; it may be because the thing is "not profitable" and the Spirit working with the truth in our hearts is telling us not to do it for that reason. A big part of spiritual growth is getting to the point of being able to make such judgment calls correctly in all humility (e.g., Heb.5:14). In the particular instance you mention, there is nothing wrong with being eager to share God's Word, and some are clearly more gifted in this sort of activity than others (having the proper personality for it among other things). I would say that there is a right way and a wrong way to do just about anything. Following a clear prodding of the Spirit to share the truth is noble (done in a respectable way); making a display of oneself to no true purpose out of guilt or some other improper motivation, however, is the stuff of spiritual immaturity.
I was wondering you have any teaching on when a Christian lives like the ungodly / really no change in their attitude but insist they are a believer. I was trying to pull up some thing in comparing something like the ungodly life/ Christians that has the same characteristics of the ungodly in a since for one to examine their true self if you know what I mean. I see a lot of people that say they are Christians but they defy the word on how to live and defy their leaders when the word is presented to them. They act like the ungodly I see a leader here shy away from really sharing the difference between the Godly life and the ungodly to his congregation to really examine ones self to see how they live. I hope you can help with some info on the matter.
I suppose I would want to answer by saying first that only God knows what is in a person's heart when it comes to the question of "who is a Christian?" A Christian is someone who has been saved by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, and who retains God's righteousness by maintaining that faith. There are plenty of "good" and honorable people in the world who are not Christians. Unless they repent and believe, their fate will be the same as that of the worst of the evil people in this world, as only believers are saved (Jn.3:18). The point is that just because a person behaves in a moral, ethical, and honorable way does not mean that said person is a believer. Believers, of course, ought to conform to the highest moral and ethical standards, biblical standards (after all), imitating Jesus Christ and His perfect walk through the world. We should respond to the guidance of the Spirit at all times and reflect the holiness and goodness of the One who bought us, having died for our sins on the cross. Sadly, many Christians do not measure up to this standard, and some fall scandalously short. Now of course no one is perfect and without sin, even believers (e.g., 1Ki.8:46; Prov.20:9; Eccl.7:20; Rom.3:23; Jas.3:2; 1Jn.1:6-10). But believers certainly ought to "pursue sanctification" at all times (Heb.12:14), and remember that we are representatives of Jesus Christ to the world of men and angels both, so that what we think, say and do is reflective of our Master – or should be. If a Christian involves him/herself in gross sinfulness or scandal, there are repercussions: divine discipline from the Lord (see the link). And if a Christian goes too far down the road of sin without confessing it and turning away from it, there are other consequences, including at the extremes the "end games" of either apostasy or the sin unto death (see the link). So there are cases – in our day far too many cases – where, as you say, Christian conduct in individual instances may fall far short of what it should be; it may even fall short of the conduct of many unbelievers (and, as mentioned, that is an incredibly dangerous place for a believer to be, spiritually speaking; cf. 1Cor.5:1-5). So while behavior is certainly an indication of spiritual growth and progress (or alternatively of spiritual immaturity and/or retrogression), it is not necessarily a certain litmus test for absolute status. People often say, "how can X do that and be a Christian?"; unfortunately, it is possible. Only God knows the heart. What we can say is, "if X really is a Christian, X is in for some really rough sledding from the Lord unless X confesses and repents soon".
What a pastor should do about Christians in his congregation who are behaving in an unacceptable way is another question. Clearly, a pastor/teacher's teaching should cover the whole realm of doctrine, and there are plenty of scriptures and teachings which make it very clear how Christians should behave. These are so plentiful and so clear, moreover, that really any Christian should understand these things clearly enough from personal reading of scripture. Also of course the Holy Spirit will be remonstrating with the consciences of any and all who are involving themselves in overt, gross sinfulness which is casting a bad light upon them and the whole church. The pastor/teacher's job is remind everyone of all these things in a general way rather than to single out individuals. That is because, for one thing, he cannot know everything about everyone – nor should he try to. The best teaching is impersonal as this allows those who hear it to be objective about its reception and application to their own lives (as opposed to feeling that the pastor/teacher has a personal vendetta against them). There is little worse in a local church than a pastor/teacher or group of elders who "want to make people accountable": we are all accountable . . . to God. When those who rule the church try to take over God's job for Him, free will among the congregation comes to an end and the place then is not much removed from a cult (n.b.: 1Tim.5:20 is speaking only of elders, as v.19 makes clear; see the link).
That said, we do have the example at Corinth of the man who was committing incest to use as a parallel. My application of that situation to a local church today would be that if a believer is publicly involved in some sort of gross, overt, and "notorious" sin, is not hiding it from the rest but is actually making it known, and is therefore making an issue of himself and his sinful conduct, then at that point (and at that point only) the pastor/teacher and church authorities (elders etc.) are required to intervene and expel the individual if repentance does not follow. This needs to be done for the sake of the rest of the church, so that they might not a) be dragged into the same downward spiral, or b) get the impression that it is "OK" because the pastor/teacher and the elders aren't doing anything about it. Naturally, it is a judgment call as to when this point has been reached. Acting too quickly on too little evidence will quickly produce a negative environment where conspiracy reigns, freedom disappears, and all genuine spiritual growth becomes impossible. Failing to act when necessary, on the other hand, will result in the good consciences of the weak being sullied and so has the potential dragging others down. In my experience and observation, if the church really does have a pastor/teacher who is energetically teaching the Word, all the doctrines of the Bible, as the point and purpose of assembly, the truth itself will make the likelihood of anyone parading some horrific sin for all to see very remote: if it ever happens, it is likely to happen only once (i.e., the devil may try to derail the ministry with this tactic, but a measured response in a timely fashion by the pastor/teacher and/or elders will nip this sort of thing in the bud without at the same time producing an "accountability culture"). On the other hand, if the Bible is not being taught (or not being taught as it should), the church will have other problems, many of which will be even more serious (as in its failure to do what Christ has put it in place to do).
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach (lit., "proclaim") the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
2nd Timothy 4:1-5 NIV
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Thanks, Bob, for sharing this. I appreciate your keeping me in the loop, and I enjoy reading your hermeneutics.
I'm going to forward an exchange that I recently had with a professor at Harvard. You might find it amusing.
I am very much enjoying reading The People's Artist in anticipation of teaching a seminar on Russian music next fall. On page 55 you quote a note from Prokofiev to Afinogenov in which he comments on a passage in Lenin referring to a pod spudom, which was translated boisseau, meaning bushel. Prokofiev claims he didn't know either the Russian or the French word.
This is a reference to Luke 11:33: "No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light." KJV
My Russian Bible (a 1998 reprint of the Synodal version of 1876) has pod sosudom in that passage.
When I was a boy we sang a children's song, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. . . hide it under a bushel, no, I'm gonna let it shine." No doubt someone has already written to you about this, but perhaps not. I hope this is helpful.
Well done you! I know from personal experience that sharing truth with fellow academics is something that has to be done surgically rather than with brute force. We plant the seed; God gives the growth wherever there is fertile ground.
In our dear Lord Jesus,
Good morning Dr. Bob,
I hope all is well with you and your family as well as your ministry. May our Lord and Savior bless you in eternity for your work in His name.
I have a question about evangelism. When people come to me for advice about a particular matter or even in casual conversation, it feels that I am forcing myself to mention or say something about prayer, Christ, etc. It feels awkward because that is not my natural tendency. It feels like i am forcing the issue and letting everyone know about Christ.
Where am I going on wrong? What is the correct protocol when talking to someone? Are you supposed to let them know you are a believer? Where does true evangelism start and your responsibility? I am really confused and do not want Christ to say to me when I meet Him, "you did not mention me", when I see him at the Bema Seat.
I am writing this because I have been praying to Christ for rewards when I see Him. I know it might be presumptuous about praying for it but I really want His approval more than anything and I know I have not brought anyone to Christ personally or started a studying ministry like yours. I have a hard time even thinking what my true spiritual gifts are. I am concerned because I know the time is really short and I have messed up my chance in showing how much I love and appreciate what He did for me.
I guess I am feeling inadequate and feeling that my studying daily and reading His word and just trying to be obedient is not enough for rewards. You have to being others to Him.
Thanks for listening. Your thoughts like always are appreciated and your prayer for me to be an effective spokesman in words and deeds will greatly be appreciated.
In Christ Jesus our Lord.
I'm always glad to hear from you, my friend, and I pray daily for you and for your ultimate deliverance.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matthew 6:19-21 NIV
Beyond all argument, reward motivation is not only legitimate for believers, it is absolutely essential, so you are directing your thinking along the correct track.
(24) Don't you know that all the runners in the stadium run the race, but that only one receives the prize? Run in such a way so as to achieve what you are after. (25) And again, everyone involved in competition exercises self-control in all respects. Those athletes go through such things so that they may receive a perishable crown of victory, but we do it to receive an imperishable one. (26) So as I run this race of ours, I'm heading straight for the finish line; and as I box this bout of ours, I'm making every punch count. (27) I'm "pummeling my body", one might say, bringing myself under strict control so that, after having preached [the gospel] to others, I might not myself be disqualified [from receiving the prize we all seek].
1st Corinthians 9:25-27
The entire point of the Christian life after salvation – the whole reason why we are left here after we believe instead of being immediately taken home – is to test and to try and to develop and to refine and build our faith, our hope and our love . . . to the glory of Jesus Christ. It is for this, namely, our responsiveness to our Lord and what He desires, striving to please Him day by day, that we are rewarded – if we do actually do it, actually do it the right way, and actually persevere in so doing.
There is a lot to tell about this issue of issues, but suffice it to say here that we are rewarded for our spiritual growth in the truth, our spiritual progress in negotiating testing, and our ministering to others to help them do the same (to believers mostly, but including evangelism to unbelievers). That is, we are rewarded for actual achievements in the spiritual life. That is important to say because these are usually much different from what most Christians in our lukewarm era of Laodicea assume they are. There will be many who are assumed "first" who will end up being evaluated and rewarded "last" – because there will be little to reward (even if they made a lot of noise and got a lot of attention in this life). The more highly decorated will be evaluated first at the judgment seat of Christ, and the crowns we receive will be given out for true spiritual growth, definite success in facing the testing of life by means of applying what we have believed in growing spiritually, and in helping others make similar progress.
I dare say that an unbeliever doing research on much of evangelical Christianity today would assume that many of these people think they will be rewarded for going to church, being emotional about it, giving money, and witnessing in the most annoying and obnoxious ways possible to people who are generally not interested. And indeed such an observer would probably be correct . . . about what most immature evangelicals seem to believe, that is. From scripture, however, we understand that growing up spiritually is what the Lord desires. We cannot have a good witness of the life without the backbone of faith in the actual truth poured out in our hearts by the Spirit and made our own by resilient faith. And we cannot help others if we are not yet able to stand on the firing line ourselves, having been solidified in our faith through experience in standing up to testing.
So while there are rewards for all manner of legitimate Christian activities, things every Christian should be doing (such as praying, giving, associating with other believers, encouraging others, etc.), the crowns go to those who have grown to the point of maturity, who have passed serious testing that demonstrates their faith in the truth they have believed, and who have exploited that position of spiritual strength for the benefit of our fellow believers in the Church of Christ to help them hold onto faith and move forward themselves. True, witnessing is also a legitimate service, one which all believers will no doubt have occasion to engage in from time to time, but it is not the only ministry and it is frequently misused and abused in our day (see the links: Witnessing: Cults and Christianity II and Witnessing: Cults and Christianity I).
So on the one hand I would not be terribly concerned that you are not doing what everybody else is doing because, frankly, much of what they are doing is probably wrong. Like Paul, I rejoice that Christ is preached from whatever motives and in whatever way, but I will not personally be a party to doing so from the wrong motives in the wrong way (Phil.1:15-18). And on the other hand those who are witnessing to impress others, or witnessing because they are worried that others will think ill of them if they don't, or witnessing out of pressure such as what you are feeling, are likely not to be earning any rewards for their trouble if their motives are wrong because only right things done in the right way are "gold, silver and precious stones"; everything else is "wood, hay and stubble", and it will be burned, not rewarded. Furthermore, when the spiritually immature witness they often are ineffective for obvious reasons . . . so that they are much less likely to be truly used by the Lord in this capacity if someone is really interested in the gospel. Finally on this point, while witnessing is very important – and reaching an unbeliever for Christ is a blessed and glorious thing – not every Christian is gifted in this respect and meant to have this as their main outlet for Christian ministry (far from it; please do read the extensive section in BB 5: Pneumatology, "The Ministry of the Believer" for the details – it's a great mistake to contemplate "ministry" as existing only in traditional forms).
God uses prepared people. And that means for the most part spiritually prepared people. It is not really a problem if we don't recognize with specificity our spiritual gifts before we have grown up to spiritual maturity by taking in and believing and concentrating and meditating on and applying the Word of God consistently for a good long time, because until we are spiritually mature we have no business embarking upon a ministry in any case. And until we have been tested in the fires of adversity and had our faith annealed to the pressures of this world, we are probably not really ready to take up a serious ministry of helping others yet: we have to be able to stand our own ground under fire while we reach out our hand to lift up others.
So my advice for you is the same as it is for everyone who has this very common question and complaint: Keep growing spiritually. Keep reading your Bible diligently. Keep praying. Keep thinking about the truth. And by all means keep accessing a good teaching ministry so as to learn the depths of the truth of the Word of God. That is critical. "Going to church" won't accomplish the necessities of spiritual growth (very little substantive teaching of the truth there, and it is often incorrect in whole or in part), nor will singing hymns, nor going to church socials, nor getting emotional . . . nor doing a lot of "witnessing" (wonderful in itself if done the right way for the right reasons, but not a means of growth as is sometimes wrongly assumed). Growth comes through the Spirit by means of the truth which has to be heard (and it's most likely not going to be heard in sufficient depth at most churches), and then believed (only what is part of our heart through believing it is useful to the Spirit). Once we have grown up this way, all other things will begin to fall into place. We will become more cognizant of our gifts; we will be tested to prove our faith; and we will be given genuine ministry opportunities from the Lord which if grasped with zeal will lead to life-long service to him. That is where the crowns of glory grow (see the link: "Rewards"). In so doing we will be better witnesses, both in terms of sharing the gospel and also in the general witness that our lives lived in Christ exemplify.
One final thing, my friend. It is a common mistake for us to compare ourselves to others. But everyone has his/her own gifts, ministries and effects from the Lord. Just because I am not doing exactly what my old pastor did does not mean I am not doing what the Lord wants me to do. We are individually rewarded for what the Lord wants us to do as individuals. If we are not yet sure what that is in terms of specifics, we can be absolutely sure in terms of the general plan: grow, progress, minister. So keep marching up this high road to Zion, my friend, and it will open up for you as you persevere.
Yours in Jesus Christ whom we are blessed to serve.
Thank you for your reply Dr. Bob. I pray for you. You are on my daily reminder.
I appreciate your quick response and I have not studied your series on Pneumatology. This and Soteriology is the last series in your excellent work I have yet to read. Looking forward to it. I want to say your response made me at ease. I was getting frustrated about my lack of production for Christ in terms of outward evangelism.
Also to know that praying for Christ's acceptance of any work He will give me is a good and acceptable approach to heavenly rewards. It is kind of ironic, similarly to His death, that without His sacrifice, we won't have eternal life and by the same means if He doesn't provide the avenue for us to do good works for His glory, we won't have eternal rewards.
The more you learn about God and His plan, the more you realized that nothing is in your control. If He wants you to have eternal rewards, He will provide an opportunity for you to gain it. You can not do it on your own because it won't be accepted. If He wants you in his eternal kingdom and part of His family, He won't allow His Spirit to let you know about Christ.
I believe you are the one that said that little do people know how God is in total control of His creation and not just from an executive management standpoint. Its wonderful and it is encouraging because He already knows I want to please Him but He will set the time, place and the opportunity when I can express what He has given me.
Than you God for your grace and mercy and your love.
Thank you Dr. Bob and may God continue to bless your ministry. My prayers will be with you.
AMEN! my friend. AMEN! It's a pleasure to hear words of such spiritual common sense. I have found that a great deal of the necessary and proper orientation that Christians have to have in this life is just the truly heartfelt and definitely "believed" understanding of the degree to which the Lord is in command of everything. The "bigger" God is to a person and the more He fills our hearts, the less important what happens in this temporary world becomes to us.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
Robert, I hope things are going well with you and I apologize for not keeping in touch lately, I am trying very hard to get right with God and to keep my head above water in this troubled world. Soon I will need to minister to relatives who are not believers, I feel like if I don't do this I will have fallen short in God's eyes, I believe he expects this of me because I've been thinking about it daily. What would you do, what does the Bible tell us to do, is there any prayer you can offer me or think of that may assist me? Have you tried to do this yourself (with anyone) and if so, what were the results? As always, thanks for your prayers and for answering my questions. May the Lord Jesus Christ continue to bless you, your loved ones and friends.
In Jesus Christ....
Good to hear from you, my friend. I have been keeping you and your family in my prayers. And that is one thing we can always do for those whose salvation we are concerned about: pray for them. When it comes to how we personally should witness to them and when, family are among the most difficult. Even our Lord's brothers, for example, did not believe Him until after the resurrection (cf. Jn.7:5), and those who were closest gave Him the least respect (Lk.4:24). And "If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!" (Matt.10:25).
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
John 15:20b NIV
As those who love our family members, on the one hand we do not want to be so sluggardly in our efforts to minister that there might seem to be a chance for them to be lost through our inaction. On the other hand, being overzealous in the case of those who "know us" and so naturally disrespect us for that very reason can often have the reverse of the intended effect. As is usually the case, the "sweet spot" is somewhere in the middle. We should not beat them over the head with the truth all of a sudden just because we are feeling bad or guilty about our own conduct at a given moment; on the other hand we should not just let things ride forever until time runs out. Praying for and watching for a good opportunity is often the best approach. It's not a hard and fast rule but these things always seem to work out better if they open the door first:
Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
1st Peter 3:15b NKJV
This doesn't mean we have to wait for them to "ask" specifically about the gospel, but it does mean that if we wait for them to say a little something that opens the door to a conversation which goes in that direction, we are setting the hook when the fish bites, not when it doesn't bite (Matt.4:19). "Meekness and fear" in the verse above is important to note too because it shows the attitude we should have when witnessing for Christ: not one of sanctimonious holier than thou I'm going to heaven and you're going to hell, but one of genuine concern and patience, treading carefully to avoid any unnecessary offense that might turn them away. I say unnecessary offense because the truth is the truth, and while we can be humble and considerate in presenting it, we must never alter it or dilute it.
One last thing is important to note: we can love them, but we cannot force them. Ultimately, anyone who refuses to accept Christ does so from their own free will and would do so in a hundred life-times. On the other hand, the Lord knows that we love those whom we love, and it is no accident that we are "in the mix" with them at this point in the plan of God. So we can have confidence in His love and mercy, and also in His help in doing what He means us to do. The One who really presents the gospel is the Holy Spirit – we are just an instrument, and He can do as much as need be done even if the axe is dull.
Best wishes with this, my friend. I will continue to keep praying for you and your family.
In Jesus Christ who died for the sins of us all, that we all might be saved.
I have been getting better lately, and 'recovering' if you will, hopefully at least. Lately though, something else has been on my mind: my [relative]. What are we to do in times when we are distressed about our loved ones not choosing for Christ? I know that it is between her and God, and I can't make her believe, and don't want to pester her with it to the point where she is completely turned off to it or (worse) lies to me, telling me she does when she really doesn't. I shouldn't realize that it is between them and God, or in this case, her and God, and hope that she one day finds Christ.. but it is sometimes distressing and I worry for her.
We all worry about loved ones who, it seems, always are less interested in the truth than we are (that is why we are the "worriers"). We can't really know the details of what is going on in someone else' heart (we have a hard enough time figuring ourselves out). But we can pray for them day by day.
I think when it comes to witnessing to the truth, those closest to us are always the toughest nuts to crack. Jesus told us that no prophet is without honor – except in his home country. In a similar vein, one's old friends and relatives are the ones least likely to respect our accomplishments or honor our opinions – because they "knew us when". That was even true of Jesus' brothers, after all (Jn.7:5). So it is true that we have to be even more careful witnessing the truth, be it the gospel or more solid fare, for believers close to us, because we understand that what they might accept or consider from a total stranger, they will often be less willing to hear from us . . . usually. There are sometimes golden opportunities to slip in a good word or an observation based on divine viewpoint which may give us an opening or at least plant a seed. So we have to be wise and patient with those we love, setting the best possible example we can set so that they will understand by watching us that the truth we have embraced has great power, and will thus be better disposed to that "choice word" dropped in at just the right time (without hitting them over the head).
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
In settings of silver.
Proverbs 25:11 NKJV
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I know we've discussed this before, but I wanted to make sure about this, since it is worrying slightly. I know that people who are mentally handicapped are saved, because depending on the severity of the handicap, they never really mentally reach maturity, and therefore not the age of accountability. How far does this extend? My [relative] is autistic, and while he's not really high in terms of how bad the condition is, he is pretty high up there. He does many things such as parroting what you say, flapping his arms, and the like, though sometimes he also exhibits a couple of intelligent qualities. Most of the time he is mentally a child. Do I have to worry about trying to minister to him, or is he safe in God's hands?
Worrying is never a good idea (Matt.6:25ff.). I'm sure that if he is around you for any length of time, the gospel is sure to come up. It doesn't sound as if there is any responsibility to accept in this case, however, from what you've told me. A person has to come to an understanding of the issue of life and death, the reality of God and His righteousness, and the need for salvation in order to be held accountable. I don't think there is any magic age, inasmuch as these basic human realizations come to different people at different times; they vary with the individual, the circumstances, and the culture – and the same goes for mental ability. Some people come to God consciousness very early in life (I believe I did); others later; some, as may be the case for your [relative], never do. God knows, and He also has everything planned out perfectly for the salvation of all who are willing – no one ever has or ever will be lost for lack of information. It's all a question of free will. So while we don't want to be sitting on our hands especially where those we love are concerned, it is also the case that we don't have to worry that some will be lost who otherwise might be saved if only we had been constantly giving them the gospel.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Thank you for your reply, and worrying seems to be a habit of mine, it appears. I'll try not to worry about him since I don't think he is capable of understanding much of this, though I do still worry over [other relatives], even though I shouldn't so much since the relationship is between them and God. I'm not sure I understand why, but my mind seems to keep focused on hell, like that it even exists frightens me, even though I know it's not for me. This is wishful thinking, but I don't want anyone to go, I want everyone to be saved, as unrealistic as this sounds. It's a thought I cannot seem to stop dwelling on, even though it's completely out of my control, and God has it all handled.
I worry about all of the rest of my family who do not believe. Whenever these thoughts of mine pop up (the ones we've discussed several times in the past) I feel as though they alienate or separate me from God, even though I know this is not the case, since nothing can short of our choice to do so ourselves, which I choose for Jesus every day, choose for God every day. I guess the purpose of these thoughts to make me stumble, make me think I haven't chosen or something. It seems there's always something on my mind, whether it is worry over myself or over someone I love, or even people I don't even know. I have recognized this as 'trying to take the world upon my shoulders', as it were, unnecessarily, and I'm not quite sure how to stop.
So far, what I've been doing is telling myself that nothing can separate us from God's love: not angels, no power on Earth, not even our own emotions and (in my case) thoughts, and that He knows all, including my struggle to gain control over my mind. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it seems I'm always worrying about something or someone. All my life, even before being saved, I was a worrier, and I don't think I've ever been able to 'break the habit' as it were.
Just because some characteristic of ours or another is a known "Achilles heel", doesn't mean we have to be down on ourselves about it. It's better to know so that we can be on our guard. We all have sin natures and so we all have these areas of particular vulnerability, somewhat different for each one of us as we are all unique. It sounds to me as if your current procedure is working well. Of course we want our loved ones to be saved – God wants them to be saved too (1Tim.2:4). It's just that, as you say, there are limits to what we can effect when it comes to the free will of others. We can certainly pray for them (and should), and always be mindful of witnessing the Word, first by our conduct, and second "always being read to give a defense of the hope that is in you with humility and reverence" (1Pet.3:15-16a).
I am praying for you and your family.
In Jesus our dear Savior,
Matthew 7:6. Explained:
Matthew 7:6: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you."
This analogy was used by Christ to demonstrate how people whose minds have not been opened by God to understand His truth react when they hear spiritual knowledge. Jesus further stated in John 6:44, "No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him…"
Christ was instructing the disciples not to go about trying to convert the masses. Unless God is opening someone’s mind to spiritual understanding, they will treat God’s truth in the same manner that pigs would treat pearls—as nothing but dirt. A pig would neither understand nor appreciate the great beauty and worth of the pearls. Neither would a person not being called by God understand the great value of the truths of God. He would, figuratively, "trample it under their feet."
All nations are now rushing toward the grand smash conclusion foretold to occur in the "last days." Humanity plunges ahead—blind, pleasure-crazed and largely detached from important world…
One should never try to force God’s truths on others. Instead, one should "…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (I Pet. 3:15). As Christians, one should be prepared to answer questions that others may have, if they are asking sincerely—and not for the purpose of debating. Often, when people honestly desire to understand what the Bible teaches, it can be an indication that God is opening that person’s mind.
In Matthew 13, Christ once again compares the truths of God to pearls. This account states, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." Like the merchant, who sold all that he had to purchase a pearl of great price, God expects us to treat His truth as a valuable, priceless gem.
This is very nice. As is almost always the case, the "sweet spot" when it comes to applying principles of truth lies somewhere in the sanctified middle. On the one hand, we don't want to cast pearls before swine; on the other hand, we don't want to sit on our hands and never ever speak of spiritual things. There is a time and place for everything (Eccl.3:1-8); figuring out correctly which is which is what spiritual maturity is all about (Rom.12:1-2; Heb.5:14).
(9) And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in full-knowledge (epignosis: truth believed) and in all discernment, (10) so that you may be able to evaluate the things that are good and appropriate [for you to do] to be sincere and without offense in regard to the day of Christ (i.e., to gain a maximum reward at Christ's judgment seat), (11) full of the righteous production Jesus Christ [commends] to the glory and praise of God.
I think you have covered both of these eventualities very well here.
Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.
Proverbs 9:7-9 NIV
Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
It's always nice to hear from you and I hope all is well. Please continue to keep me in your prayers. I could not have made it through this year without the Lord by my side as I have experienced a deep loneliness for which I was not prepared. I went to Arlington national cemetery recently to visit my husbands grave site. Upon arriving I passed a woman sitting on the ground at a grave site (her husband's I would imagine). She was still sitting there when I left. I so understood her grief as I've thought about doing the same but I know it's not the answer.
Thank God for my faith.
I pray that you and yours also have a nice Christmas and a great new year. How's your mom doing?
Your friend in Christ,
I'm grateful for your exceptionally strong witness of faith, my friend! My mom is doing pretty well despite her 95 years. She has bumps and lumps and "issues", but she is still hanging in there – and that is a real blessing.
Thanks much for your prayers and good Christmas wishes!
In Jesus our dear Lord,
I can't help but to ask: As a professor who teaches Classics, how do you manage being made fun of for your faith? Have you ever shared your faith at work, especially with the students?
I have a pretty good relationship with my colleagues. They don't make fun of me, nor do my students, even though they know (if they've been in class) that I am a Christian. Of course I teach Greek and Latin, not Christian theology. I make no bones about my faith, but it would be improper (in my view) to use my job to evangelize a captive audience. Some who have been interested over the years have asked me about the website and other matters "after class". On this issue in light of your own situation, when this happens it's pretty easy to probe if that is what you judge it appropriate to do. Where, for instance, does person X think they'll be spending eternity? Since everyone (at one point) realized there was a God who was good and all powerful, just and merciful (from seeing what He has created), this sort of probing almost always touches a nerve (until a person's heart is so deliberately hardened that the truth has been entirely blotted out (and sometimes even then; cf. Acts 24:25). Here are some links for this:
BB 4B: "God's Plan to Save You" (discusses the background)
Natural revelation - how we all know about God (later in the same file)
On witnessing: motivation for personal evangelism
Evangelism in principle and practice
Apostles and Evangelism
Witnessing: Cults and Christianity
Witnessing: Cults and Christianity II
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,