20 August 2009

"Doomed" evangelism? (Classic post re-posted)

by Dan Phillips
[The deadline for my manuscript is almost upon me, and I have the joy of preaching this weekend. Staying with Tuesday's theme of evangelism, we take Danny2's suggestion from this thread, and reach 'way back to 2006 to re-consider the following.]
Suppose I imagined that God commonly gave extra-Biblical revelation today. I so many kinds of don't—but suppose I did.

And suppose God said, "I want you to go tell this guy the Gospel, because I have hardened his heart so that, not only will he not repent and believe, but he'll become infuriated and want to kill you and torment the people you care most about. I'm going to use this situation to do all sorts of wonderful things."

The whole prophetic revelation thing aside—what would I think?

"Okay now, wait—'because'? You want me to talk to this guy, knowing that he won't believe? In fact, You're going to make sure that He won't believe? But for us who believe in Your sovereignty, the whole premise of evangelism is that we don't know who is and isn't elect, so it's our place to sow in hope, and leave the results to You. But here You're telling me, right off the bat, that it's going to be a bust? And that's why You want me to go in?"

It struck me that this is precisely Moses' situation in dealing with Pharaoh, and specifically in Exodus 10—
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD."
Wouldn't that be grim news? "Go in... for, because, I have hardened his heart." Were I in Moses' sandals, it might be hard to get motivated.

But might that not be because our whole motivation is out of whack? Why would it bother us so much?

Well, it would bother us because we don't like to fail. Might as well be honest about it: we don't. "Here, try something you have no chance of achieving" isn't much of a sales pitch. We do things because we hope we might succeed in doing them. "Thirty Days to Miserable Failure" wouldn't be a catchy title for a church program, I'm thinking.

And then of course, on a higher level, it would and should bother us because we care about the person we're talking to. Unless there's something very wrong with us, we don't want to see anyone go to Hell. We want to be used by God for deliverance, not judgment. We don't evangelize to seal folks' doom. We evangelize in the hopes that the Word will bring hearing, and hearing will bring saving faith (Romans 10:17).

So what motivation does Yahweh offer Moses, apart from the mere and sufficient fact that it is He who calls him to talk to Pharaoh? I see a threefold motivation:
  1. "that I may show these signs of mine among them"
  2. "and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them"
  3. "that you [plural] may know that I am the LORD"
The "signs" Yahweh is about to show are signs of judgment. Yahweh actually had announced His program right from the start. Pharaoh's heart would be hard, he'd reject Yahweh's word, and this would become the occasion for Yahweh glorifying Himself by mighty acts of judgment (Exodus 3:19-20; 4:21). He had even told Pharaoh flat-out that this was why Pharaoh still stood: to serve as an object-lesson, revelatory of Yahweh and His ways (9:16).

So in the final analysis, Moses' entreaties and warnings to Pharaoh weren't about Moses and his success-quotient, they weren't about Pharaoh and his wellbeing, they weren't even just about Israel. They were about Yahweh, about His glory. Indeed, they would be instructive to Moses (6:1), Pharaoh (8:10), the Egyptians (7:5), the Israelites (16:6), and their children (10:2). But the main star occupying center stage would be Yahweh Himself. This "evangelism" was, in the final analysis, about Yahweh.

Brief aside: you'll notice that this is what drives unbelievers absolutely nuts. All the specific carpings and whinings and scoffing and mocking and verbal pouts boil down to this: they just really hate God being God. It scares the stuffing out of them. Quite properly so.

What's sad is when professed Christians clearly hate God being all that much God, too.

Back on-topic. So then I think this way. If Moses was to go in with boldness and passion, knowing in advance that Pharaoh would blow him off—how much more should we? Because in fact we don't have direct revelation telling us whether or not this or that person is elect or not. We have no idea whatever whether this scroungy-looking, tattoo-covered boastful drunk may be gloriously converted, while that sweet, loving, lovable friend may despise the gospel of Christ. If we decide not to speak of Christ because of these impressions, we act from the folly of unbelief.

Because like Moses, we should not be primarily focused on succeeding in "winning souls." Nor is the be-all and end-all our neighbor's salvation. That is indeed a commandment to us, but it is the second. Not the first.

Our focus in evangelism (I preach to myself, nice of you to listen in) must be the glory of God. Lift up the Lord Jesus, lift up His gospel, lift up the Cross, and God will be glorified. He may be glorified by converting our hearer; or He may be glorified in judgment. But either way, He will be glorified.

God's glory—not redemption, nor any other concomitant good—is the center of history, the center of the Bible, the center of everything.

It should be the center and focus of our evangelism.

Dan Phillips's signature

22 comments:

Gary said...

Amen and Amen.

See also Isaiah 6. We all remember Isaiah's fearful vision of God. We usually forget that he was promptly called to a ministry of fruitlessness.

Daryl said...

Not only do we love our neighbour less than we ought...we love God even less than that it seems.

Thanks for this timely reminder.

Penn Tomassetti said...

Wow... Amen. What a motivation to obey the Lord's commission!

Ephesians 1:7

Gary,

Just look at Isaiah's fruitfulness today! Even though he looked like a failure, "Lord, who has believed our report?" Yet God uses those base things to shame the wise later on, as Isaiah is an amazing example.

Penn Tomassetti said...

This whole post reminded me of Romans chapter 9, even though there are no refs to it given.

Everyday Mommy© said...

Sorry...I'm still chuckling over, "Thirty Days to Miserable Failure". I can see the folk flocking in for that one.

stratagem said...

Because like Moses, we should not be primarily focused on succeeding in "winning souls." Nor is the be-all and end-all our neighbor's salvation.

Mind-blowing! Turned me to stone to read this (just see the profile pic for proof of this). I have never heard such a thing in my whole life, really, and it makes so much sense in one way, but in another I can't grasp actually doing something that is even likely to fail - and doomed to fail, all the more so.
I read this and realized that on a less than fully-conscious level this PRECISELY is why I often don't proclaim the Gospel... it isn't likely to work!
This going to have me re-thinking things for a long, long time. You have devastated my whole motivation in evangelizing... in a good way. Thank you.

Aric said...

He may be glorified by converting our hearer; or He may be glorified in judgment. But either way, He will be glorified.

As one who is terrified of failure (but by God's grace am fearing it less and less), I thank you for these words of encouragement. Admittedly, I do not share the gospel as I should (see previous sentence), but your words today are helping me to see that the result is not to be the focus. God's glory is!

David said...

Dan, that is an excellent post.

And it is exactly how the gospel spread over the whole earth, constantly bearing fruit and increasing (Col 1:6).

timburns said...

For an in-tandem sermon on the topic, check out the excellent (but classic) "10 Shekels and a Shirt" from Paris Reidhead.

Respectabiggle said...

You're obviously confused about the Greatest Commandments:



1. Q: What is the chief end of each individual Christian?
A: Each individual Christian's chief end is to get saved. This is the first and great commandment.



2. Q: And what is the second great commandment?
A: The second, which is like unto it, is to get as many others saved as he can.



From the Semi-Pelagian Narrower Catechism .

Rev Dave said...

One comment and a quick note:

I was struck in preaching through some of the prophets recently how often the call is to preach--and fail by human terms. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, are all told that their preaching won't accomplish anything. But to go and do it anyway. Thanks for the bracing reminder, Dan.

And now, a digression:
The classic anecdote about this sort of thing in Presbyterian circles is being asked on the floor of presbytery during examination for ordination: "Would you be willing to be damned for the greater glory of God?"

The proper response is: "I would be willing for this entire presbytery to be damned for the greater glory of God."

Jonathan Vowell said...

"And then of course, on a higher level, it would and should bother us because we care about the person we're talking to. Unless there's something very wrong with us, we don't want to see anyone go to Hell."

Questions:
(1) If someone is a vessel fit for wrath, damned from all eternity, with their heart hardened by God, and such facts trouble us and make us sad for that person, does that mean that we love them more than God?
(2) If God does love them more than we do, why then does He damn them with no chance of salvation?
(3) What glory is there in God (seemingly) arbitrarily witholding salvation from some so that others may praise Him? Is He not further praised the more that are saved from Hell?

I PROMISE that I'm not trolling. These questions disturb me precisely because I don't have a good answer. Any help here would be appreciated.

Rachael Starke said...

Don't forget Hosea.

"Fruitless" ministry and miserable home life.

stratagem said...

"Would you be willing to be damned for the greater glory of God?"

Methinks that one falls into the same category as "if God can do anything, can he make a rock so big he can't lift it?" It's really an absurdity, in that as far as we know, God has never asked anyone to damn themselves for his glory (except for Christ himself, and I don't really understand the mystery of that, completely, because it's really Him asking Himself to be damned for his own glory).

Daryl said...

Jonathan,

"If someone is a vessel fit for wrath, damned from all eternity, with their heart hardened by God, and such facts trouble us and make us sad for that person, does that mean that we love them more than God?"

It might, if we knew who those people were, and we don't so we're fine to love them and wish that they would be saved.

"What glory is there in God (seemingly) arbitrarily witholding salvation from some so that others may praise Him? Is He not further praised the more that are saved from Hell?"

It is for God to determine who does and does not bring him glory, We have no idea.

Mark B. Hanson said...

"What glory is there in God (seemingly) arbitrarily witholding salvation from some so that others may praise Him? Is He not further praised the more that are saved from Hell?"

Consider a potter who makes one pot a vase to hold flowers, and another a chamber pot. The one will show forth the artistic ability of the potter, the other his ability to make something that is useful. Both are made from the same clay.

This is the analogy Paul uses in Romans: God makes some people as vessels to show his mercy and love, and others to show his (good) justice and wrath.

The key for us is our invincible ignorance about which people God will use to show his justice. His call is to treat all people as vessels of mercy, hoping that the words we speak and the light we show forth will be instrumental in awakening them to him.

And this despite the fact that, in our sin, we all act like vessels of wrath.

Matt said...

jonathan,

to answer #1 in Luke 19:41 Christ wept over jerusalem because of her unbelief. So for us to feel sad over someones unbelief wouldn't have to mean us loving them more than God.

#2 and #3 kind of go together what your are talking about is double predestination. Thats not what the bible teaches. people were damned for their unbelief not that they where predestined for damnation. how human responsibility exactly harmonizes with sovereign election is beyond me.

If I am mistaken in any of this please correct me.

danny2 said...

encouraging again.

joel said...

Jonathan

"1) If someone is a vessel fit for wrath, damned from all eternity, with their heart hardened by God, and such facts trouble us and make us sad for that person, does that mean that we love them more than God?

The scripture tells us that God is the only being that that is good; therefore, He is the only one capable of genuine and perfect love. He shows His love in many ways and at many times to the entire world, but especially to His elect. If you doubt this, Jesus said it Himself Luke 18:19 when He said that no one but God is good. So it is not possible for you to love someone more than God does because He is the perfect rule for love.

2) If God does love them more than we do, why then does He damn them with no chance of salvation?"

I don't know if this helps but I will give it a try. Anyone who has had even a partial revelation of the magnitude of his or her own sin will be so devistated by it that they can't help but be in awe that God has redeemed them. If you feel as I do that God had no reason, that is within my ability to grasp, for saving me then we can hardly argue against His not saving others who are equally at enmity with Him. Its as if a group was trying to commit suicide in a burning building, and you pulled one out kicking and screaming and cursing you out of that building, and when they were saved from death and had a change of heart and were happy that you saved them, but then he turned to you and ridiculed you for not saving the others who were also hell bent on their own destruction.

This is the amazing part about God's sovereign Grace- that He would choose any of us, especially me, to be saved and that He would die for us while we still hated Him; not that He does not choose some who gladly go on their own way without Him.

Jonathan Vowell said...

Daryl, Joel, and Matt:

Thanks. That's some food for thought. (Pardon me while I go chew it thoroughly and then wash it down with some root beer.)

Jonathan Vowell said...

And Mark too! Didn't mean to miss ya. 8^P

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Awesome article! Why didn't we all think of this immediately? We don't always evangelize to win souls, but to proclaim God's glory to the world.

Love it, Dan.