Series: Building on Grace -- home
Everyone wants two things. The first thing is to be accepted as you are, with everything that’s wrong with you and everything that’s right with you. The second thing is to be changed to be better than you are.
The change that God works in us is a gracious change. It is not something that we grit our teeth to do. It is not like the peach tree that struggled and strained to become its essence and said, “gnnnn ... PEACH !” You just naturally become who you are because of the change that has been wrought in you by God’s acceptance of you. You naturally become changed from the inside out, not by grunting and groaning, but by accepting your acceptance and responding to it.
The apostle Paul got hold of this life changing power, and when he did, he couldn’t help sharing it with people. Look at Ephesians 3:7-12. Paul says, “This heavy burden to preach the gospel with all of my might came to me as a gift of God’s grace. He was gracious enough to give me the opportunity to share this good news with even the Gentiles.” It was discovered to Paul’s heart that the love of God, the grace of God, was intended not just for him, as bad as he saw himself ("the least of the saints”), but for everybody.
To know God’s grace is to have it affect you that way. You know when God’s grace has begun to do its work in you when you find that you are just a little bit compulsive about telling somebody else about it. The grace of God got hold of Paul, and not as a burden, not as a heavy responsibility, but as a joy, as a spontaneous expression of life, he went out and told other people. You know when grace is beginning to do its work in you when you feel good, when you rejoice in and accept his love for you, and you find that you want to pass it on to somebody else.
If you don’t feel like you have a lot of skills to do that, don’t worry, because the job of the church leadership is to equip you to deliver that grace to other people. But you will never from this pulpit be exhorted to go and give away something that you don’t know is true for yourself yet.
If the love of God does not move you sufficiently to tell somebody else about it, then what I have to say to you is, stick around and listen, open your heart, until you get it. Because you are not going to be doing it right until you get it and it comes out like that anyway. You are just slowing down the process of you being able to hear it if you are always under compulsion.
I know that undoes almost everything you ever heard about evangelism up to this point within just two or three sentences, but I mean it. The love of God constrains us, as Paul says, to speak the truth. The love of God is the strategy, the tactics is just how you go about doing it.
1 John 4:7 says just about the same thing. “Whoever does not love does not know God.” God is love. If you have been loved by God, you know God, and you know that you have been loved by God if you love others. In other words, if you feel a joy, and a slight compulsion and an impulse to tell somebody else the good news, that is a symptom of the love of God in your heart. That’s an indication that the grace of God has begun to do its work in you. Telling somebody else the good news is not an “I got to”, it’s an “I get to.”
We don’t start out with some theory about “God is love.” You don’t know who God is until he does something, until he reveals himself. And what John says is that he has revealed himself in his Son, Jesus Christ. But this is how we know who God is: he first loved us (1 John 4:10). We love him because he first loved us.
And John says, “We know that we love him because we love others.” God loves us, and we know that we have experienced that love because we love him back, and we love him back by loving others. So as you see yourself spontaneously loving others, then you know that you have been loved by God.
Basically, my purpose in preaching, and the purpose of this church, is simply to get us exposed to the love of God. Because the love of God will do all the changing. The love of God will do the altering of character, and the love of God will produce love, which is expressed in loving other people. And then channeling that love, which is expressed in outreach or feeding the poor or whatever, is the easiest thing in the world. It’s like having a great wall of water behind a dam. You don’t have to whip up the water, all you have to do is find a channel for it to run in. That’s easy.
I used to train and ride horses in competition. I discovered that there’s at least two ways to make a horse run fast. The first way, the most common way, is with a whip. Get on a horse and start whipping it, and it will run away from the sting of that whip. That’s one way of getting it to run fast. But it won’t run fast for long, and it won’t enjoy the experience.
The other way to get a horse to run fast, is first of all to find a horse that is born and bred to run. Then feed it really well. Speak lovingly and compassionately to it. Show it some affection. Get it to trust you. Then get on its back, and show it a place to run. And he’ll run.
And this latter way of building us up, filling us up, nourishing us, and then showing us a world of people to run to, is God’s way of doing it. “Herein is love: not that we loved him (or not that he exhorted us to love other people), but that he first loved us”, and then showed us the world to run in. And if you’ve experienced the love of God, then you’ll run towards those people in need.
In moving out to give away the love of God, or the grace of God, it is essential to remember that God actually loves others as much as he loves us, and that the love of God that you are beginning to experience has no boundaries – it is not bound to a particular group of people. It’s not like the love of God is just for the elect, or just for those who repent. The love of God is for everybody.
The love of God is unconditional. You didn’t earn it – just like Paul, who said, “I am the least, I persecuted the church, and God loved me anyway – boy, I can’t wait to tell people about it.” It comes to everybody else in the same way it came to you.
God’s love is without boundaries. Look at 1 John 2:2. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.”
Have you ever though, “Why did God choose me ?” This is the experience that God wants everyone in the world to have. He wants everybody to sit dumbfounded and sit in awe of him and say, “Why did you do this ? Why did you choose me ?” It is God’s deep aching and longing for everybody to experience this wonder.
The usual motive for evangelism is need. “People are going to hell, therefore we must preach Christ to them in order for them to be saved.” It may be that that is strictly speaking, true. But you can lie with the truth. You can say to people, “If you don’t repent you’re going to hell”, and that may be strictly speaking true, but it is a way of lying with the truth. It is a way of lying against the Way, the Truth and the Life, because that is not how Jesus would have preached it and it’s not how Paul preached it.
The need to save people from hell is not the essence of the preaching of the good news. The essence of the preaching of the good news is that it is such a wonderful story to tell. It is such a compelling and beautiful story to tell, it has to be told. It’s better than anything that you’ve seen or anything that you’ve tasted or anything that you’ve heard. It is so wonderful once you see it, once you’ve experienced it, that once you allow it to grab hold of you, you can’t help telling it.
People pass on information about good restaurants. People talk about the beauty of the mountains or about the beauties of the ocean. How much greater than that is this story about Jesus who lived and died and made us OK with God through his life and death, and did that for everybody.
In the you’re-going-to-hell-repent-or-die kind of evangelism, you set it up as a win / lose proposition. The only win you can win and they can win is if they say “Yes.” If they say “No” then the conversation ends.
The more essential way to tell this story is to say, “God loves you, whether you believe it or not. God loves you whether you love him back or not. His love is boundless. You cannot stop him from loving you.”
A mature person will not let somebody else decide how they are going to react. A mature person says, “I reserve the right to feel towards you any way I choose.” How much more mature is God than a mature human being ! He says, “You don’t make me hate you because you hate me. I am love, and I love you. And there isn’t anything you can do about that.”
You can tell that story anywhere – over the desk, over coffee, over a hospital bed. That story will travel anywhere. There isn’t any place that you can’t tell that story. It’s the universal story. You can’t find anybody who isn’t better off after you tell them. You don’t set it up as a win / lose situation, because it doesn’t matter whether they believe it or not – all you have to do is say, “That’s fine, I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you the same story in a different way.”
This is the only story I ever tell, and it’s a fun story – and can you believe I get paid to do this ? It’s wonderful ! I wouldn’t choose any other ministry. I am beginning to apprectiate what Paul said. Paul said, “Me too ! I get to do this all my life. I even get supported in doing this. What a deal !”
If I had this grim attitude like I used to, “Oh, the world is going to hell, and I’ve got to get out there and talk some people into the lifeboat ...” – there’s no joy in that. There’s no sponteneity, there’s no life. You can’t keep going, unless you’re real grim and real determined. But when you’ve got this story that God loves you whether or not you love him back, then you can tell that story – it’s got its own energy.
“Herein is love: not that we loved God, but that he first loved us.” His way of producing energy for the mission is to love us up, fill us up, not whip us but fill us up, and show us the race. And once you’ve been filled up, once you’ve been assured that you can’t fail, then running the race is exactly what you want to do.
Series: Building on Grace -- home