The Sixth Characteristic of a Healthy Church: A Response That Overflows with Joy
Written by J. Warner Wallace |
Thursday, February 16, 2023
As we look deeply at the nature of the first Church described in the Book of Acts, we see God’s design for us as a family. The Church is not a place to meet; it is a people to be. When we, as a Church, learn the truth, strive for unity, live in awe, serve in love, and share with courage, the resulting joy we experience should be obvious to the world around us.
The first community of saints celebrated the power and nature of God in their lives. The early Church followed their Biblical example (recorded in the Book of Acts) as they emulated the nature and character of the first disciples. The observations of those who witnessed the early Church should inspire and guide us. If we were to imitate the earliest energized believers, our churches would transform the culture and inspire a new generation. How can we, as Christians today, become more like the Church that changed the world and transformed the Roman Empire? We must learn the truth, strive for unity, live in awe, serve in love, share with courage and overflow with joy. These six important characteristics were held by the earliest congregations:
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Six simple attributes were observed in the earliest believers. These characteristics serve as a template to guide for those of us who want to restore the passion and impact of the early Church. If we employ them today, we’ll create healthy, vibrant, transformative churches. As grateful Christ followers, our gratitude should result in joy obvious to the world around us:
Principle #6: Overflow with Joy
The Church must be focused on God and all that He has done for us:
“…and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
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ImmutabilityBy Barry Cooper — 1 year ago
With God, there is no room for improvement. He has always been, and always will be, utterly and delightfully perfect in every way.
I recently watched a short film that still haunts me. It was actually from a comedy show, but it had such a sense of sadness to it.
A man goes into a train station. At the counter, he holds up a photo for the ticket agent and says, “This is a bit of a strange question, but can you tell me how to get there?”
The ticket agent looks at the photo and she says: “Oh yes, that’s Millport. What you’ve got to do is get the train to a place called Largs, then you get the ferry . . .” And the man says: “No, I know how to get to Millport. But can you tell me how to get to there?” And he points to the photo again.
He says: “I took that photo when I was about 16; that’s me there. That summer was amazing. Hanging out with friends all day, not worrying about tomorrow, just laughing, having a great time, jumping off the pier, swimming around, and it was like summer seemed to go on forever.” And after he reminisces about it for a while, he goes quiet. And then he says: “I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to be there. So can you tell me . . . how do I get there?”
And she looks at him and says, “You can’t do that; I’m sorry.”
So he says, “Ah, just give me a return to Largs then.”
Places never stop changing. People too. They can’t stay the same, and neither can we. Often, that simple fact is enough to break our heart.
But there is One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
When we talk about God like this, we’re talking about His immutability. Immutability is the biblical idea that God is unchanging in His character, will, and His promises.
James chapter 1, verse 17 puts it like this: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Numbers chapter 2 says, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” In Malachi chapter 3, God says, “I the Lord do not change.” Hebrews talks about “the unchangeable character of his purpose,” and in 2 Timothy we read that “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for [God] cannot deny himself.” (In other words, God cannot deny His own immutability. His unchangeability is unchangeable.)
The Doctrine of the AtonementBy Mike Ratliff — 5 months ago
It is very important to observe that the Bible’s teaching about the cross of Christ does not mean that God waited for someone else to pay the penalty of sin before He would forgive the sinner. So unbelievers constantly represent it, but that representation is radically wrong. No, God Himself paid the penalty of sin — God Himself in the Person of God the Son, who loved us and gave Himself for us, God Himself in the person of God the Father who so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, God the Holy Spirit who applies to us the benefits of Christ’s death. God’s the cost and ours the marvellous gain! Who shall measure the depths of the love of God which was extended to us sinners when the Lord Jesus took our place and died in our stead upon the accursed tree?
The very best weapon to use against heretical teaching and apostate leadership in the visible church is solid Biblical truth, that is, sound doctrine. Yes, we must continue to use our discernment to expose those who err and are leading so many into darkness, but the sheep still need to be fed and they still need to learn what the truth is that they many know it then when they are given what is false, they will recognize that it is of the devil and flee from it. In this post we will look at the doctrine of the Atonement as taught by J. Gresham Machen shortly before his death.
The Doctrine of the Atonement
The priestly work of Christ, or at least that part of it in which He offered Himself up as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God, is commonly called the atonement, and the doctrine which sets it forth is commonly called the doctrine of the atonement. That doctrine is at the very heart of what is taught in the Word of God.
Before we present that doctrine, we ought to observe that the term by which it is ordinarily designated is not altogether free from objection.
When I say that the term ‘atonement’ is open to objection, I am not referring to the fact that it occurs only once in the King James Version of the New Testament, and is therefore, so far as New Testament usage is concerned, not a common Biblical term. A good many other terms which are rare in the Bible are nevertheless admirable terms when one comes to summarise Biblical teaching. As a matter of fact this term is rather common in the Old Testament (though it occurs only that once in the New Testament), but that fact would not be necessary to commend it if it were satisfactory in other ways. Even if it were not common in either Testament it still might be exactly the term for us to use to designate by one word what the Bible teaches in a number of words.
The real objection to it is of an entirely different kind. It is a twofold objection. The word atonement in the first place, is ambiguous, and in the second place, it is not broad enough.
The one place where the word occurs in the King James Version of the New Testament is Romans 5:11, where Paul says:
And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
Here the word is used to translate a Greek word meaning ‘reconciliation.’ This usage seems to be very close to the etymological meaning of the word, for it does seem to be true that the English word ‘atonement’ means ‘atonement.’ It is, therefore, according to its derivation, a natural word to designate the state of reconciliation between two parties formerly at variance.
In the Old Testament, on the other hand, where the word occurs in the King James Version not once, but forty or fifty times, it has a different meaning; it has the meaning of ‘propitiation.’ Thus we read in Leviticus 1:4, regarding a man who brings a bullock to be killed as a burnt offering:
And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
So also the word occurs some eight times in the King James Version in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, where the provisions of the law are set forth regarding the great day of atonement. Take, for example, the following verses in that chapter:
And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house (Lev. 16:6).
Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat:
And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness (Lev. 16:15f.).
In these passages the meaning of the word is clear. God has been offended because of the sins of the people or of individuals among His people. The priest kills the animal which is brought as a sacrifice. God is thereby propitiated, and those who have offended God are forgiven.
I am not now asking whether those Old Testament sacrifices brought forgiveness in themselves, or merely as prophecies of a greater sacrifice to come; I am not now considering the significant limitations which the Old Testament law attributes to their efficacy. We shall try to deal with those matters in some subsequent talk. All that I am here interested in is the use of the word ‘atonement’ in the English Bible. All that I am saying is that that word in the Old Testament clearly conveys the notion of something that is done to satisfy God in order that the sins of men may be forgiven and their communion with God restored.
Somewhat akin to this Old Testament use of the word ‘atonement’ is the use of it in our everyday parlance where religion is not at all in view. Thus we often say that someone in his youth was guilty of a grievous fault but has fully ‘atoned’ for it or made full ‘atonement’ for it by a long and useful life. We mean by that that the person in question has — if we may use a colloquial phrase — ‘made up for’ his youthful indiscretion by his subsequent life of usefulness and rectitude. Mind you, I am not at all saying that a man can really ‘make up for’ or ‘atone for’ a youthful sin by a subsequent life of usefulness and rectitude; but I am just saying that that indicates the way in which the English word is used. In our ordinary usage the word certainly conveys the idea of something like compensation for some wrong that has been done.
It certainly conveys that notion also in those Old Testament passages. Of course that is not the only notion that it conveys in those passages. There the use of the word is very much more specific. The compensation which is indicated by the word is a compensation rendered to God, and it is a compensation that has become necessary because of an offence committed against God. Still, the notion of compensation or satisfaction is clearly in the word. God is offended because of sin; satisfaction is made to Him in some way by the sacrifice; and so His favour is restored.
Thus in the English Bible the word ‘atonement’ is used in two rather distinct senses. In its one occurrence in the New Testament it designates the particular means by which such reconciliation is effected — namely, the sacrifice which God is pleased to accept in order that man may again be received into favour.
Now of these two uses of the word it is unquestionably the Old Testament use which is followed when we speak of the ‘doctrine of the atonement.’ We mean by the word, when we thus use it in theology, not the reconciliation between God and man, not the ‘at-onement’ between God and man, but specifically the means by which that reconciliation is effected — namely, the death of Christ as something that was necessary in order that sinful man might be received into communion with God.
I do not see any great objection to the use of the word in that way — provided only that we are perfectly clear that we are using it in that way. Certainly it has acquired too firm a place in Christian theology and has gathered around it too many precious associations for us to think, now, of trying to dislodge it.
However, there is another word which would in itself have been much better, and it is really a great pity that it has not come into more general use in this connection. That is the word ‘satisfaction.’ If we only had acquired the habit of saying that Christ made full satisfaction to God for man that would have conveyed a more adequate account of Christ’s priestly work as our Redeemer than the word ‘atonement’ can convey. It designates what the word ‘atonement’ — rightly understood — designates, and it also designates something more. We shall see what that something more is in a subsequent talk.
But it is time now for us to enter definitely into our great subject. Men were estranged from God by sin; Christ as their great high priest has brought them back into communion with God. How has He done so? That is the question with which we shall be dealing in a number of the talks that now follow.
This afternoon all that I can do is to try to state the Scripture doctrine in bare summary (or begin to state it), leaving it to subsequent talks to show how that Scripture doctrine is actually taught in the Scriptures, to defend it against objections, and to distinguish it clearly from various unscriptural theories.
What then in bare outline does the Bible teach about the ‘atonement’? What does it teach — to use a better term — about the satisfaction which Christ presented to God in order that sinful man might be received into God’s favour?
I cannot possibly answer this question even in bare summary unless I call your attention to the Biblical doctrine of sin with which we dealt last winter. You cannot possibly understand what the Bible says about salvation unless you understand what the Bible says about the thing from which we are saved.
If then we ask what is the Biblical doctrine of sin, we observe, in the first place, that according to the Bible all men are sinners.
Well, then, that being so, it becomes important to ask what this sin is which has affected all mankind. Is it just an excusable imperfection; is it something that can be transcended as a man can transcend the immaturity of his youthful years? Or, supposing it to be more than imperfection, supposing it to be something like a definite stain, is it a stain that can easily be removed as writing is erased from a slate?
The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to the answer to these questions. Sin, it tells us, is disobedience to the law of God, and the law of God is entirely irrevocable.
Why is the law of God irrevocable? The Bible makes that plain. Because it is rooted in the nature of God! God is righteous and that is the reason why His law is righteous. Can He then revoke His law or allow it to be disregarded? Well, there is of course no external compulsion upon Him to prevent Him from doing these things. There is none who can say to Him, ‘What doest thou?’ In that sense He can do all things. But the point is, He cannot revoke His law and still remain God. He cannot, without Himself becoming unrighteous, make His law either forbid righteousness or condone unrighteousness. When the law of God says, ‘The soul that sinneth it shall die,’ that awful penalty of death is, indeed, imposed by God’s will; but God’s will is determined by God’s nature, and God’s nature being unchangeably holy the penalty must run its course. God would be untrue to Himself, in other words, if sin were not punished; and that God should be untrue to Himself is the most impossible thing that can possibly be conceived.
Under that majestic law of God man was placed in the estate wherein he was created. Man was placed in a probation, which theologians call the covenant of works. If he obeyed the law during a certain limited period, his probation was to be over; he would be given eternal life without any further possibility of loss. If, on the other hand, he disobeyed the law, he would have death — physical death and eternal death in hell.
Man entered into that probation with every advantage. He was created in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. He was created not merely neutral with respect to goodness; he was created positively good. Yet he fell. He failed to make his goodness an assured and eternal goodness; he failed to progress from the goodness of innocency to the confirmed goodness which would have been the reward for standing the test. He transgressed the commandment of God, and so came under the awful curse of the law.
Under that curse came all mankind. That covenant of works had been made with the first man, Adam, not only for himself but for his posterity. He had stood, in that probation, in a representative capacity; he had stood — to use a better terminology — as the federal head of the race, having been made the federal head of the race by divine appointment. If he had successfully met the test, all mankind descended from him would have been born in a state of confirmed righteousness and blessedness, without any possibility of falling into sin or of losing eternal life. But as a matter of fact Adam did not successfully meet the test. He transgressed the commandment of God, and since he was the federal head, the divinely appointed representative of the race, all mankind sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression.
Thus all mankind, descended from Adam by ordinary generation, are themselves under the dreadful penalty of the law of God. They are under that penalty at birth, before they have done anything either good or bad. Part of that penalty is the want of the righteousness with which man was created, and a dreadful corruption which is called original sin. Proceeding from that corruption when men grow to years of discretion come individual acts of transgression.
Can the penalty of sin resting upon all mankind be remitted? Plainly not, if God is to remain God. That penalty of sin was ordained in the law of God, and the law of God was no mere arbitrary and changeable arrangement but an expression of the nature of God Himself. If the penalty of sin were remitted, God would become unrighteous, and that God will not become unrighteous is the most certain thing that can possibly be conceived.
How then can sinful men be saved? In one way only. Only if a substitute is provided who shall pay for them the just penalty of God’s law.
The Bible teaches that such a substitute has as a matter of fact been provided. The substitute is Jesus Christ. The law’s demands of penalty must be satisfied. There is no escaping that. But Jesus Christ satisfied those demands for us when He died instead of us on the cross.
I have used the word ‘satisfied’ advisedly. It is very important for us to observe that when Jesus died upon the cross He made a full satisfaction for our sins; He paid the penalty which the law pronounces upon our sin, not in part but in full.
In saying that, there are several misunderstandings which need to be guarded against in the most careful possible way. Only by distinguishing the Scripture doctrine carefully from several distortions of it can we understand clearly what the Scripture doctrine is. I want to point out, therefore, several things that we do not mean when we say that Christ paid the penalty of our sin by dying instead of us on the cross.
In the first place, we do not mean that when Christ took our place He became Himself a sinner. Of course He did not become a sinner. Never was His glorious righteousness and goodness more wonderfully seen than when He bore the curse of God’s law upon the cross. He was not deserving of that curse. Far from it! He was deserving of all praise.
What we mean, therefore, when we say that Christ bore our guilt is not that He became guilty, but that He paid the penalty that we so richly deserved.
In the second place, we do not mean that Christ’s sufferings were the same as the sufferings that we should have endured if we had paid the penalty of our own sins. Obviously they were not the same. Part of the sufferings that we should have endured would have been the dreadful suffering of remorse. Christ did not endure that suffering, for He had done no wrong. Moreover, our sufferings would have endured to all eternity, whereas Christ’s sufferings on the cross endured but a few hours. Plainly then His sufferings were not the same as ours would have been.
In the third place, however, an opposite error must also be warded off. If Christ’s sufferings were not the same as ours, it is also quite untrue to say that He paid only a part of the penalty that was due to us because of our sin. Some theologians have fallen into that error. When man incurred the penalty of the law, they have said, God was pleased to take some other and lesser thing — namely, the sufferings of Christ on the cross — instead of exacting the full penalty. Thus, according to these theologians, the demands of the law were not really satisfied by the death of Christ, but God was simply pleased, in arbitrary fashion, to accept something less than full satisfaction.
That is a very serious error indeed. Instead of falling into it we shall, if we are true to the Scriptures, insist that Christ on the cross paid the full and just penalty for our sin.
The error arose because of a confusion between the payment of a debt and the payment of a penalty. In the case of a debt it does not make any difference who pays; all that is essential is that the creditor shall receive what is owed him. What is essential is that just the same thing shall be paid as that which stood in the bond.
But in the case of the payment of a penalty it does make a difference who pays. The law demanded that we should suffer eternal death because of our sin. Christ paid the penalty of the law in our stead. But for Him to suffer was not the same as for us to suffer. He is God, and not merely man. Therefore if He had suffered to all eternity as we should have suffered, that would not have been to pay the just penalty of the sin, but it would have been an unjust exaction of vastly more. In other words, we must get rid of merely quantitative notions in thinking of the sufferings of Christ. What He suffered on the cross was what the law of God truly demanded not of any person but of such a person as Himself when He became our substitute in paying the penalty of sin. He did therefore make full and not merely partial satisfaction for the claims of the law against us.
Finally, it is very important to observe that the Bible’s teaching about the cross of Christ does not mean that God waited for someone else to pay the penalty of sin before He would forgive the sinner. So unbelievers constantly represent it, but that representation is radically wrong. No, God Himself paid the penalty of sin — God Himself in the Person of God the Son, who loved us and gave Himself for us, God Himself in the person of God the Father who so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, God the Holy Spirit who applies to us the benefits of Christ’s death. God’s the cost and ours the marvellous gain! Who shall measure the depths of the love of God which was extended to us sinners when the Lord Jesus took our place and died in our stead upon the accursed tree?
The Active Obedience of Christ
LAST Sunday afternoon, in outlining the Biblical teaching about the work of Christ in satisfying for us the claims of God’s law, I said nothing about one very important part of that work. I pointed out that Christ by His death in our stead on the cross paid the just penalty of our sin, but I said nothing of another thing that He did for us. I said nothing about what Christ did for us by His active obedience to God’s law. It is very important that we should fill out that part of the outline before we go one step further.
Suppose Christ had done for us merely what we said last Sunday afternoon that He did. Suppose He had merely paid the just penalty of the law that was resting upon us for our sin, and had done nothing more than that; where would we then be? Well, I think we can say — if indeed it is legitimate to separate one part of the work of Christ even in thought from the rest — that if Christ had merely paid the penalty of sin for us and had done nothing more we should be at best back in the situation in which Adam found himself when God placed him under the covenant of works.
That covenant of works was a probation. If Adam kept the law of God for a certain period, he was to have eternal life. If he disobeyed he was to have death. Well, he disobeyed, and the penalty of death was inflicted upon him and his posterity. Then Christ by His death on the cross paid that penalty for those whom God had chosen.
Well and good. But if that were all that Christ did for us, do you not see that we should be back in just the situation in which Adam was before he sinned? The penalty of his sinning would have been removed from us because it had all been paid by Christ. But for the future the attainment of eternal life would have been dependent upon our perfect obedience to the law of God. We should simply have been back in the probation again.
Moreover, we should have been back in that probation in a very much less hopeful way than that in which Adam was originally placed in it. Everything was in Adam’s favour when he was placed in the probation. He had been created in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. He had been created positively good.
Evangelism and the Devil’s DartsBy John McNicoll — 1 year ago
We need to be obedient to God’s command to go into the world and preach the gospel. Satan’s ultimate goal is to overthrow Christ and the church. But Ephesians 6:16 tells us specifically how to have victory in Christ by taking up the shield of faith which quenches the fiery darts. And believers are called to faith and action in resisting the devil’s darts. “Those who are born of God can overcome the world. The victory that overcomes the world is our faith” (I John 5:4).
The sign read, “You are now entering the mission field.” As we left the church property, I was reminded that the church’s mission in the world includes reaching the lost for Christ. Having recently visited several churches I was struck by the fact that little, if any, mention was made of the Great Commission and our Lord’s calling us to witness. Why then is the ministry of outreach so important yet so neglected? When it comes to participating in outreach ministry most folks are absent. Many can be labeled bystanders and bench warmers. They may be watching the game or on the team but not in the game.
I found help in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians by recognizing that the devil is bound and determined to keep us from making Christ known through our personal witness. Paul mentions in Eph. 6:16 the need to defend against the Devil’s “darts” and in Eph. 6, verse 11 we see the way to do this is with the full armor of God which we use against the Devil’s traps. We often treat the Devil’s attacks at best as nuisances and at worst as minor troubles. The Devil’s darts are deadly. They are aimed at the heart and meant to destroy.
In Paul’s description of believers as armor bearers (Eph. 6:10-17) he emphasizes the absolute necessity of faith as the way to victory over the devil’s dart attacks. John agrees when he writes in 1 John 5:4 that “faith is the victory that overcomes the world.” Satan is called the prince of this world. Paul encourages us to take up the shield of faith: “In every battle you will need faith as a shield.” The Romans fought with two types of shields. One was a small round shield used in hand-to-hand combat. It was easy to maneuver. The other shield was large and oblong in shape (2 ½ feet wide and 4 feet long). It was used for advancing into battle with others.
Enemies were faced with a solid wall of shields –row upon row–. This recognition of a powerful personal faith enables us in Christ to extinguish all the flaming darts (arrows) of the evil one. Paul writes, “Do not put out (extinguish) the Spirit’s fire” Thessalonians (5:19). The same word for extinguish is used there and in Ephesians 6. The point is that all flaming darts are able to be extinguished by the Holy Spirit working in and through us by faith. This is not deflection but complete destruction.
During their home ministry assignments, one of our long-time missionary families with Wycliffe Bible Translators used to come to our church to report on their ministry to the Chami Indians in Columbia, South America. Ron’s presentation always included dressing in the native dress and a demonstration using the native’s blow gun. The deadly darts were left at home since we didn’t want to lose any members that way, but they were used to kill. In the same way, the Devil’s darts are not made of harmless soft rubber but deadly flaming poison.
Quenching or extinguishing the devil’s darts is Paul’s goal for himself and for all other fellow believers. By examining the many darts the devil shoots, we can see how he seeks to limit our success in carrying out the Great Commission. How can you identify the darts that are shot to harm your spiritual life? Over the years, I have experienced many of those darts aimed me. I’ve identified at least eight specific darts which are common to believers; I call them the “Devil’s Ds: Doubt – Discouragement – Division – Delay – Difficulty – Deception – Danger – Distraction
This “Devil D” makes going into the world without a confident assurance that God is present in the witnessing situation more difficult. Doubt often leads to fear – fear of the unknown or fear of the “what if”, fear of failure. These fears can create the belief that you can’t do this. The devil says “Don’t take a chance. People will think badly of you. You are not equipped.”
Sometimes the root of this “D” is unbelief- unbelief in God’s ability and maybe in His interest in a particular person. We may also not really believe in the reality of hell. We sometimes ignore our own accountability to be a part of the process of people coming to know and believe in Christ. Each person fulfills his own task. Some people plant the seed, some people water, but God makes the seed grow (I Cor. 3:6-8).
Doubts also may be present when we have been witnessing to someone for a long time with little movement toward Christ. In fact, doubts may increase. You may continue to pray for breakthroughs where there is evidence of continuing unbelief over a long period of time, even as much as fifty + years. The devil whispers “that’s enough.” Doubt and faith cannot coexist. Remember God’s word in James 1:5-8, “But when he asks, he must not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord, he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
I recall at one of the churches I pastored, where I lead an Evangelism Explosion ministry. A young man, on his first night leading an EE Visitation Team as a trainer, was full of doubt and fear of failure as he led his team. We all prayed that God would overcome his doubt and fear. The team visited a young woman to whom he presented the gospel. She prayed to receive Christ as her Savior and Lord that night. I had the pleasure of officiating their wedding ceremony two years later.
Our confidence in witnessing does not come from ourselves. If it did, we would have no way to have assurance. Our confidence comes from God and his promises to us. Paul writes in Romans 10:17,” Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” By grace, we overcome doubt with faith.
The shield of faith deadens the dart of doubt.
I can’t begin to tell you how many discouraging conversations and disappointments I’ve had with people who profess faith and walk away. They remind me of Jesus’ Parable of the Soils in Mark 4 and Matthew 13. Based on circumstances, situations are seen from a human perspective. So the discouragements are based on our ability to communicate the gospel. The work of God’s providence is at work behind the scenes as the Holy Spirit opens hearts and minds to a true belief in Christ. The devil tells us to stop wasting our time.
I am reminded of a witnessing opportunity I had with a college student. I was leading a visitation team from our church. He and his parents had visited our church. Our plan was to visit and present the gospel. It turned into a nightmare rather than a dream visit.
Our college friend was big into philosophy and I was a new Christian. Our team was overmatched. We were escorted from their house with a big “no thank you to a gospel invitation”. Fast forward a few years and I was attending a Christian conference. I was approached by a young man who asked if I knew who he was. I could not place him until he started telling me about that night at his house that I described above. He shared with me how that night was the beginning of his road to faith in Christ. He was now in seminary and heading for a career in full time vocational ministry.
We don’t often see this kind of result, but when we do it makes us realize that God is at work. The parable of the growing seed (Mark 4) illustrates this point. The seed is scattered indiscriminately on the ground. As with the parable of the soils too often our attempts to share Christ with others fail without bearing fruit. Mark states, “Night and day, whether the farmer eats or drinks some seeds sprout and grow, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces” (Mark 4:28).
I often pray for God to use me to bring someone to Christ who in turn will be much more fruitful than me. Success in personal evangelism is not measured in the number of converts but in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission. Be encouraged by the fact that you cannot fail if you obey. Paul summarizes this by simply saying, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
The shield of faith deadens the dart of discouragement.
This dart may be the most damaging of all since church relational problems often become public and open the door to the devil’s getting a foothold. My inclusion of division focuses on fractured relationships in the church. An emphasis on building strong, healthy church connections makes the ministry of church growth through personal evangelism a key to any church’s success. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:2-3 and Philippians 4:1-3 words that promote peace and unity, not fights and destruction.
We sinners, saved by grace, are at times vulnerable to the devil’s temptations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ministry of personal evangelism which is prone to suffer due to conflicts which shift the focus of the church. The outward look becomes inward and stagnant. Conflicts in life are inevitable. The church is no exception. The devil uses conflicts to divide members of church groups into unholy factions. In Acts 6:1-2, the Grecian Jews felt neglected over the daily distribution of food. In Acts 15:36, Paul and Barnabas disagreed on whether to take Mark with them on their missionary journey. These and other conflicts can easily erupt into energy sapping, time consuming battles which, if not checked and resolved, can easily create a ministry paralysis while ministries such as outreach take a back seat or no seat at all.
Church division can often take years to resolve. Most never heal completely. Ugly scars remain. As I was writing this point, I overheard one person tell another, “Susan told me about the trouble at XYZ Church.” This is the devil’s dart to “divide and conquer.” If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand. The church must use the shield of faith to avoid being separated from each other and Christ.
The shield of faith deadens the dart of division.
The devil’s “D” here tempts us to make witnessing a lesser priority in our lives. The ministry of evangelism should be one of our top priorities. To procrastinate means to postpone something. Too often this is the way we handle evangelistic ministry opportunities. We say, “I’ll get to it later,” which may mean if ever or never. A high priority becomes, practically speaking, a low priority. It may look good written out under the Mission Statement but rarely gets off the paper. The devil tempts us from doing the most important things.
Build a friendship first? Certainly, if possible. The danger is that in waiting we may miss open doors. The longer you put off witnessing to someone the harder it becomes. Providential contacts such as waiting in line at a store, sitting together at a meeting, or walking your dog in the neighborhood can provide a moment’s time to spend with a heretofore unknown person. You may never know how God can use your word of truth or act of kindness.
In this context, the Devil uses the dart of delay to keep us from making an attempt to share the gospel with another someone else. I have operated on two extremes at times. Times of extreme busyness gave me an excuse for avoiding things I didn’t want to do; time would not allow me to do it. Jesus describes three men in Luke 9:57-60; he calls these men to follow him. Each one has a “delay” excuse. Jesus counters their excuses in these words, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
“No time” is one thing but, too much time is another. In retirement when we have more free time we can still procrastinate and put off witnessing. Two much time says, I’ll do it tomorrow and when tomorrow comes we can do it another day. The devil gets a foothold. Whenever possible, do the important things first. Do not delay. In the booklet, The Tyranny of the Urgent, we read how often the important things are pushed aside and are replaced with apparent “urgencies.” This is the devil’s game plan to bombard us with his flaming darts aimed at our hearts.
The shield of faith deadens the dart of delay.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.” (i.e., testimony or gospel presentation) 1 Peter 3:15.
Evangelism training often includes a great amount of memory work that can make the learning process difficult and provide good excuses for not making an effort. Memorizing Scripture, outlines, and illustrations over an extended period, which we did in the early days of Evangelism Explosion Training, often kept people from completing the course. Having said this, it is important to learn as much as possible to be able to communicate as clearly as possible. The hard work will pay off in confidence and assurance. The devil tempts you that training will be too difficult. Let somebody else do the evangelism. It’s not my spiritual gift. It’s the pastor’s job.
It is not too hard. You don’t have to be a seminary graduate. There are many ways to begin. You can use the words “do” and “done” to show the way of work and of grace. Various biblical tools exist to provide training, whether the Evangelism Explosion booklet, the Bridge booklet, or some other biblical tool.
Another way to encourage people in sharing the gospel is to give a personal testimony. Every testimony carries the same message but is unique to an individual experience. People often are afraid to give a personal testimony in public or to a group of people. I remember that at an early EE clinic at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the pastor D. James Kennedy was explaining the EE presentation of the gospel. After the meeting, one of the participants came up and said to him,” I don’t like the way you present the gospel.” Kennedy responded,” that’s interesting, how do you do it?” He said,” I don’t do it”. Kennedy followed as only he could with, “I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t do it.” My question is, “How do you do it?”
The pastor’s job is to model, train, and lead faithful Christian witnesses. You don’t need the gift of evangelism to witness any more than you need the gift of giving to be generous in giving.
The shield of faith deadens the dart of difficulty.
“Many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus as coming in the flesh have gone out into the world.” 2 John 1:7.
This verse reminds us that deceivers are in the world and in the church. The devil’s dart of deception is false teaching. In Genesis 3, Satan deceived Eve by raising doubts about God’s word. He twists the words of God just enough to make Eve believe that God is not good. I John 4:1-4 teaches that Jesus Christ is the truth and those who do not acknowledge him in the church are deceivers. Do we want people to be deceived? Of course not! The first piece of armor in Ephesians 6 is the Belt of Truth. People pick up false ideas and then use those false ideas to live their lives. People want to believe in a God who is all loving but not all powerful. This is not the God of the Bible. Also, people want control over their lives; not wanting to submit to God who is sovereign over our lives. The Bible is truth, and if we want to know truth, we must hear and do what God’s Word teaches. If we are not in God’s Word, we can be easily deceived with false teaching.
The Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is truth. Believers must be aware that deception comes in many forms and they are to test all teaching to make sure they are true.
The shield of faith deadens the dart of deception.
“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” 2 Timothy 3:12.
In Acts chapters 4 and 5 we read about the apostles being threatened and put in jail for teaching about Jesus. They were willing to stand against the threats of danger to preach and teach about salvation in Jesus. Even when ordered to stop preaching they would not.
John 15:18-20 says, “If the world hates you keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belong to the world, it will love you as its own. You do not belong to the world. I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you, ‘No servant is greater than his master, if they persecuted me, they would persecute you also.’”
These verses make it clear that the danger of persecution can erupt at any time. Not knowing what to say or how to answer hostile questions can be frightening. Frightening words that describe the action of Satan include roaring lion, murderer, liar, evil one, adversary, tempter, accuser.
Dangers might include being falsely accused, gossiped about, spoken against to others, being misrepresented, ostracized, or treated with hostility. Danger can take many forms, including tangible penalties, losing opportunities or being relegated to the sideline at work. We must remember God’s promise in Hebrews 13 that he will never leave us or forsake us, and we should not fear what anyone can do to us. God is sovereign in the midst of all oppression.
The shield of faith deadens the dart of danger.
Jesus was never distracted from his mission to redeem sinners by his death on the cross. A classic passage of choosing the best over the good is Luke 10:38-42. Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made for the meal, but her sister Mary chose to sit at the feet of Jesus. Martha was well meaning but lacked the priority of sitting before Jesus. When she complained to Jesus that her sister wasn’t doing her share of the work, Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” We can be like Martha and distracted by many things and thus we become easy prey to the devil’s temptation of distraction.
As a new Christian, I was convinced to put evangelism first. It wasn’t always easy, and distractions were always around me. I still face the same difficulties of keeping a focused and prayerful commitment on what is essential to obeying Christ’s command and following his example.
It is easy to get distracted. Professional golfers get distracted by noise. At football games the fans try to distract the players. In our Christian life, Satan wants to distract us from doing what is best and focusing on something less. Too often we give in to his attacks and fail to accomplish the mission. I am reminded of our early days of church planting. The simplest method of sharing our faith was going door to door and talking to friends and neighbors. I well remember how easy it was to look for excuses not to do it.
Distraction comes in many different ways. Being self-conscious and fearing embarrassment can cause distraction. We are also distracted when we have an elevated sense of our own plans and schedules, and we don’t notice “divine appointments.”
In Ephesian 6:11 and 16 the devil’s opposition to us and his power over us is shown. As I said before, in Christ we have the victory over all the names of Satan: adversary, tempter, Evil one, angel of light, roaring lion, murderer, deceiver, enemy, and accuser.
Philippians 3:13 reminds us to stay focused: “One thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” And Matthew 6:33 calls us to seek first the kingdom of God with the promise that everything we need to follow God, including evangelism, will be given to us.
Application and Conclusion
“I will hasten and not delay obeying your commands.” Psalm 119:60
We need to be obedient to God’s command to go into the world and preach the gospel. Satan’s ultimate goal is to overthrow Christ and the church. But Ephesians 6:16 tells us specifically how to have victory in Christ by taking up the shield of faith which quenches the fiery darts. And believers are called to faith and action in resisting the devil’s darts. “Those who are born of God can overcome the world. The victory that overcomes the world is our faith” (I John 5:4).
So, when you think about evangelism, do you have Doubt, Discouragement, Delay, Division, Deception, Difficulty, Danger or Distraction? We all face at least one of these. Ephesians 6:18 says that we should pray in the spirit with all kinds of prayers to battle these darts. Even Paul, in v. 19 asks for prayer that he might be an ambassador of the gospel.
Remember, “if you resist the devil, he will flee from you.” James 4:7
Memorize these eight darts. Pick three for needed prayer and thoughtful practice. Seek out a faithful prayer partner, Consider the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn which describes the battle and victory.
Soldiers of Christ, Arise – Charles Wesley
Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armor on,Strong in the strength which God supplies.Through His eternal Son,Strong in the Lord of hosts, And in His mighty power,Who in the strength of Jesus trustIs more than conqueror.
Stand then in His great might, with all His strength endued,And take, to arm you for the fight,The panoply of God.That having all things done, And all your conflicts past,Ye may overcome through Christ alone,And stand entire at last.
Leave no unguarded place, No weakness of the soul.Take every virtue, every grace,And fortify the whole.From strength to strength go on,Wrestle and fight and pray,Tread all the powers of darkness down,And win the well-fought day,
In 1973, Dr. John S. McNicoll and his wife Diana planted the first church in the Presbyterian Church in America, a new denomination at the time. Throughout John’s ministry he has served in various pastoral positions and continued to plant churches in many parts of the United States, until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2012. He is retired but continues to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone who will sit long enough to listen.