If you were to ask John the Baptist what you should do in order to repent, he might tell you to clean out your closet. In Luke 3, crowds came to hear the crazy-eyed, camel-skinned man speak on behalf of God. They came to be baptized and were rebuked. (I have never seen a pastor respond this way when someone responds to an evangelistic invitation.)
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from God’s wrath? Produce fruit consistent with repentance. God is ready to cut you down with an ax! Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
These are strong words from John that demand a response. John is not looking for lip service or a baptismal certificate. He wants everyone who claims God to prove themselves by their works. In one breath he shouts “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29), and in another he demands intentional life change. John would readily agree that faith without works is dead.
The crowds then ask, “What should we do? What does repentance look like for us?”
John tells them to share their shirts. “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” (Luke 3:11 HCSB)
The rest of the passage continues with different groups of people asking the same question and John giving them specific instructions. Tax collectors are to be honest and not steal. Soldiers are to be satisfied with their pay and not bully. Yet the generic call to the crowds is a “spring cleaning” lesson. Clean out your closet and give your cloaks away.
While growing up, my mom would frequently have me “purge” my closet. Out with the old and in with the new. She would frequently hand me a large trash bag and send me on a cloak clearing mission. After loading the trash bag full, we would drive to the local Goodwill. Although I did not realize the significance of this in the moment, I am thankful for this example.
Did you receive another shirt at another conference? Feel free to give it away. Did you get new clothes for Christmas? Bless others who did not receive any presents or could not afford a conference. We only have one back, but most of us have more than one shirt.
Let the poor enjoy your garments rather than the moths. Don’t even be afraid to be so generous that you give away those unworn shirts that have “sentimental” value.
Is there a homeless shelter in your area that is in need of towels, socks, or shirts? Is there a woman’s choice center that could use some of your closet? Is there an international student that could use some good clothes? Is there someone in your church who is in need?
I wonder what John the Baptist would say if a group of us Americans went down to be dipped in the Jordan. Would he exhort us to store up treasure in heaven where moths cannot destroy?
This Spring, let us allow Jesus to walk into our walk-in closets. Let us allow Him to clean our hearts and our wardrobes. We might be surprised that purging our closets is proof that Christ has purged our souls.
There are moments when a good Bible reader should be somewhat perplexed by the Scriptures. One of them is when Jesus tells his disciples not to talk about him.
On multiple occasions, Jesus performs miracles and then forbids those nearby not to tell anyone. When Jesus heals the deaf man in Mark 8:35-36, Jesus “charged them to tell no one.” Earlier in Mark 3:11-12, as Jesus cast out many demons they would shout out his identity. “And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.”
It is interesting that repeatedly in the book of Mark Jesus forbids people to spread his news, but they usually do not listen. Jesus’ fame catches like wildfire throughout the surrounding regions and crowds gather to meet him. It appears that these massive gatherings actually hinder Jesus’ mission.
Jesus cleanses a leper in Mark 1:40-45 and “sternly charged him… and said to him see that you say nothing to anyone…” Yet in verse 45, the leper “went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no long openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” It appears that Jesus was unable to enter into towns to preach because he had become so popular. In a strange turn of events, the spreading of his fame was beginning to hinder his purpose in coming.
Jesus did come to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the good news of the kingdom to the poor. However, Jesus mainly came to earth in order to die for the sins of the world and rise from the dead as the victorious Messiah. If word about the true identity of the Messiah spread too quickly, Jesus may have been hindered from fulfilling his main mission.
The people wanted a different type of Messiah than a bloody crucified Messiah. In Mark 8:30 when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus told the disciples to “tell no one about him.” Following this Jesus told his disciples of the death and resurrection. “And he said this plainly, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Even Peter did not understand the mission of Jesus when Jesus told him plainly at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had to rebuke Peter because Peter opposed Jesus going to the cross. One can only imagine the uproar from the multitudes if Jesus had revealed his true mission to them. By veiling his identity to the masses, Jesus was able to keep on target to Golgotha and be unhindered in his plan.
This reasoning for the Messianic secret is confirmed with the story of the demoniac in Mark 5:1-20. After Jesus casts out the Legion of demons from the man, the man begged to travel with Jesus. Despite the urgent pleas of the man, Jesus refused his request and told him to return hope to “tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19) This is in stark contrast to the previous behavior of Jesus. Instead of telling the man to be quiet, Jesus tells him to go proclaim the good news.
Why the sudden change in commands for Jesus? Mark 5:20 gives the reader a clue. “And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” The man was not from the area and would not be a hindrance to Jesus and his mission. The man was from a region of ten Gentile cities to the East. It would advance, rather than hinder, the cause of Christ for this man to return to his family.
When Jesus was coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration he told Peter, James and John “to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9) Now that time had come and the disciples were commanded to tell the world the gospel of Jesus Christ. Clearly, Mark himself is obeying this command when he starts his gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
The message cannot be kept secret any longer. The personal ministry of every Christian is to understand the mission of Jesus, believe upon his saving work, and proclaim this message to all the nations. The gospel of Mark concludes with Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James visiting the tomb of Jesus. To their utter shock, the stone had been rolled back and Jesus was alive. An angel comforts them and says, “Do not be alarmed… but go, tell his disciples…” (Mark 16:6-7)
The word is out and the rumors are true. Jesus has risen from the dead. He is the Messiah and offers salvation to anyone who believes.
Tremble, believe, and rejoice. But whatever you do, don’t keep it a secret. Tell everyone.
There is absolute truth and it absolutely matters. Christians must love truth because they follow the Truth. Everything is staked on what we believe.
I want to be the kind of man who lives and dies for the Scriptures. Yet, the great irony is that in my defense of the Bible, I can often sin against others and therefore violate the Bible. If I am not careful, I can treat people of opposing views as completely evil. My view of them becomes one-sided and I only think of them as someone who doesn’t believe [blank].
People are more complex than this and I find myself shocked at times when,
I receive a kind note from a pro-abortion friend who asks about my life says they are praying for me.
I see a theistic evolutionist who gives sacrificially to the poor.
I hear of a universalist who welcomes the broken into their home to minister to them.
Perhaps even reading these lines grates against you. Indeed they should. God wants our doctrine and our lives to match and everyone of the above examples is an oxymoron. These friends claim love Jesus but are believing false teaching.
How should we engage those we strongly disagree with? I do not have all the answers, but here are some thoughts from the book of James.
1) Be slow to anger (James 1:20)
Be slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Check your heart. Jesus remained sinless the entire time he flipped tables and drove out the hypocrites. Do not have as high of expectations for yourself. Often times our righteous anger is self-driven. We are so sinful that we can claim a good cause and spew our venom at the same time. Love is not easily angered. There are times when our blood should boil, but we must have our hand on the stove dial, and there always needs to be love in our burner.
2) Give mercy as you have been given mercy (James 2:13)
For judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. If the person you are critiquing believes the true gospel, treat him as you would a brother. We have the right to strongly disagree, but we do not have the right to sin against one another. Give the benefit of the doubt and do not treat a brother or sister like a dirt bag to drag through the mud.
3) Tame the Tongue (James 3:2-10)
With our tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the image of God. This ought not be! In our critique, do we show honor to the individual? Or do we curse the ground they walk on? Do we treat them as people created by God for his glory? Do we give them respect? Or do we treat them like vermin to be exterminated?
4) Love your neighbor as yourself (James 2:8)
Treat others as you would want them to treat you. Be fair in your representation of their arguments. Do not use Ad Hominem arguments that attack them rather than their beliefs. Cultivate a genuine love for them in your heart. Pray for them and long for them to believe truth. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same?”
5) Be confident and calm in Christ (James 3:13-18)
Even though we have the right to bear arms, let us load our arsenal with bullets of truth, love, meekness, and humility. In our conversations, let us be winsome and confident in the truth. The wisdom that is from above is gentle, open to reason, full of mercy, good fruits, impartial and sincere. Let us display this confidence by maintaining control in the conversation and not yelling at those who disagree. Christ does not need our help in convincing others of the truth. He simply calls us to be faithful to share the truth in love with all meekness.
6) Do not speak evil against one another, brothers (James 4:11) God does not want us to slander his creation. Let us be careful that we do not sin against God while we represent him to the watching world. Let us be especially careful when we talk about brothers and sisters when they are not around. God hears every word about his craftsmanship and takes it seriously. Even liberals are made in the image of God and we should treat them as such.
7) Bring people back from wandering (James 5:20) God does not call us to be pacifists when his glory is at stake and souls are on the line. God rejoices when one wandering soul returns to the truth and repents. Let us be people who speak the truth boldly in sincere love.
Blessed are those who proclaim truth to all people and treat them as people made in the image of God.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to share the gospel. And to be clear, there are many faithful ways to share the gospel and there are different kinds of evangelists. No one should assume that their way is the way to do evangelism, or that they have arrived at the perfect methodology. Yet as I have stumbled forward in my journey to faithfully witness for Jesus, I feel that God has taught me some practical ways to be bold, wise, and winsome. The following are some basic things I try to keep in mind when sharing the gospel with Muslims, hipsters, homosexuals, or anyone who is not yet a believer.
1. Listen Well
A missionary to Kazakhstan once told me that if you’re willing to listen, you’ll always get to share the gospel. I’ve found this to be true. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of listening as a ministry, even as part of how God ministers to us in prayer. By being a good listener, you are ministering to your lost friend and affirming their value in God’s sight. Often, when we have listened well, there is a natural opportunity where our friend will want to hear our take on things. As you have listened well, so then your friend is more likely to give a hearing to what you have to say, rather than just thinking up comebacks in his head while you’re speaking. Listening also gives opportunity to custom-fit your gospel presentation. How many times did Jesus share the gospel the same way? He had perfect insight into the souls of others and he shared the good news of the kingdom differently every time (with the same Jesus-centeredness of course)! To paraphrase Francis Schaeffer, we Christians know the answers, but we often don’t know the questions the lost around us are asking. Listening well enables us to know which aspect of the gospel we should major on, so that, God willing, the truth we share will cut to the heart of our friend. By listening well, we show our friends that we care about them and we lay a foundation for open ears when we talk about Jesus
2. Gossip about Jesus
A lot of Christians put pressure on themselves to get out the whole gospel when they get a chance in conversation. I’ve found it’s more helpful to look for opportunities to share about Jesus, anything about Jesus, even if it’s only one thing, one parable, or one saying. Constantly holding up Jesus as wonderful and powerful lets your friend begin to fall in love with him. We don’t know which things about the gospel will specifically resonate with a specific person. This allows room for the Holy Spirit to give us just the right thing to say. I will often start talking about Jesus in a way that invites my friend to look at Jesus with me, rather than by starting by directly confronting my friend with the gospel. That confrontation will and must come, but often the Holy Spirit starts doing that before I get around to it. When we do confront sin and talk about the gospel’s direct claims on my friend’s life, often the conviction is already there. Have a basic outline of the gospel story memorized (God – Man – Sin – Christ – Response), but don’t be chained to it. Let stories and parables and sayings be fresh on your mind for the Holy Spirit to prompt when he wills. And if you don’t get what you consider the whole gospel in, don’t feel guilty about it. Praise God that you were able to share truth. And think about the richness of the gospel… when have you EVER shared the entire gospel in one conversation?
3. Be a really good friend
Our lives as believers and our love for our friends are two things that makes the gospel seem plausible. The gospel is foolishness to unbelievers, but when heard from a really good friend, and in the context of a loving relationship, it can become beautiful and compelling. Commit to being a really good friend and to pouring into this one person, asking God to save them. With some friends, even if they don’t end up being open, because of your friendship you end up with access to their entire relational network. So your friend might not be open, but if you love her well, she becomes the door to her sister, who is open. Being a good friend is also really important for overcoming all of the false information unbelievers have about Christians and what we believe. Often we are kind of behind from the start. For example, with Muslims we are sometimes presumed to be immoral heretics who believe in three gods – the Father, Mary, and Jesus. Our godly friendship dispels all this false information.
4. Pray radically
Ask God every day to save your friend, to open doors for gospel conversation, and to work miraculously in their lives. God loves to answer these prayers. Don’t forget that Elijah was a man like us. And God can save your friend anytime he wants to. That’s why we ask him to do it! He delights to use our prayers as his means of saving. That means we pray more, not less.
5. Be a gracious host and guest
Hospitality is especially important when reaching out to internationals, but also goes a long way with Americans. Find out what your friends really enjoy and get good at serving it when they come to your house. This could be chai for Middle-Easterners, chemex coffee for the hipsters, or that particular thing you’re friend just can’t get enough of. As God has lavished his gifts on you, lavish your unbelieving friends with food and friendship and a safe place to hang out and talk about real issues. Having gospel conversations over good food and drink lets us be like Jesus, who regularly ate together with sinners and pharisees. When eating out, buy your friend’s coffee or dinner. Tip well and be kind to those serving you. Christians are the last people who should be stingy.
6. Be a Learner
Learn as much as you can about your friend’s life, culture, and background. Learn some of their language if they’re not from your country. Being a learner shows that you value your friend, it affirms them, and it helps you share scriptural truth with insight. One of the the lies the enemy will throw at your friend is that Christians are know-it-alls. Eagerly learning from your friend undermines this lie, demonstrates humility, and often results in an open ear for the gospel. Learn the rules of your friend’s culture or subculture so that if you break them, you are breaking them intentionally and purposefully, and not out of ignorance.
7. Be Authentic There’s no need to keep up appearances. You don’t know it all, you don’t have it all together, sometimes Christian culture is goofy, and yes, you still struggle with sin. Be open about your weaknesses and in the process point to Jesus, the one who not only justifies sinners, but also sanctifies them.