The most interesting phrase in Acts 2, it seems to me, is this: “there were added that day.” There were added that day. The Greek word there means “added to a group,” or “joined together.” And we might take it for granted that Luke here meant that these people confessed their sins are were added to the invisible church – to total number of people who are saved for all time. Amen?
The problem is that the text won’t let us get away with such a general reading of what happened at Pentecost. It goes on from there:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.Think about this: the point of Peter’s evangelism was not simply to hand out Jesus tickets for people to now sit and wait for his return. The point of Peter’s evangelism was to get people convicted of sin and also of Jesus’ authority over them not merely to judge them, but to also forgive them and then teach them. That’s the great commission, after all, right? That’s how we can make sense of this passage – by what Jesus commanded. But look: Peter was not looking for a mere confession of sin: he was looking to cause people to be joined to the body of the church.
You know: one of the themes you will read about on the internet when it comes to evangelism is the fear of false conversions. There’s a worry that there’s a type of evangelism that will give people a false sense of security regarding their state before Christ. Let me admit that, in one sense, that talk offends me. It seems to me that the right confidence of the believer is that whatever sin there is in me, however great my sin is, Jesus Christ is greater still. Jesus Christ is greater than my greed. Jesus Christ is greater than my lies. Jesus Christ is greater than my sexual sins. Jesus Christ is greater than my anger and hatred. Jesus is overcoming all those things for me in the ultimate sense, and Jesus is overcoming them in the immediate sense – even when I am weak. This is Romans 7 and 8: Wretched man that I am, I am delivered from death by Jesus Christ – there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen? In one sense, because Jesus is Lord and Christ, we cannot be overconfident in his ability to overcome our sin.
But here’s the thing: Jesus himself says there are those who will cry out, “Lord! Lord!” in the final day, but he will tell them, “I never knew you.” And Peter’s hedge against that here at Pentecost is not to merely get these people to feel guilty, or to ask for forgiveness, or to write a date down in the front of their Bibles. His purpose, as commanded by Christ, was to make disciples of these people – and actually add them to the church.
In 1973, John MacArthur delivered a sermon on Acts 15 & 16, and in it, he said this:
[QUOTE]Now when we think in our minds today of a pastor we think of a guy who stays around a long time and lives in a house in the neighborhood and teaches the Bible. When we think of an evangelist we think of a guy with a briefcase and a handful of sermons. You hear him in several different cities and he gives the same message. You think of a kind of traveling guy, see? That's really not the Biblical picture of an evangelist. We think of an evangelist as a guy who runs around and gets people saved and then leaves them around for Christians to follow up.Let me say this as plainly as possible: as human beings, we have a great eye for the faults of other people’s way of doing things, and not much of an eye for what we ourselves are doing poorly. The challenge in the balance of our key passage from the book of Acts is to see that all kinds of evangelism falls so far short of the first act of evangelism that we ought to be embarrassed by all of them rather than justifying our way over another method which, obviously, gets so much wrong.
But you know what Paul was in terms of an evangelist? He was a Biblical evangelist in so far as he saw his responsibility not only as winning people but as maturing them, … Do you know what his priority was in evangelism? Discipleship.
I think one of the things that very often is missing in our evangelism … is a failure to really love the individual that we've led to Christ to the point where we feel this tremendous responsibility.
If you don't learn anything about evangelism, learn this. The best way to evangelize is to produce one reproducing disciple. You got that? Paul knew that this running around creating spiritual infancy all over everywhere and leaving a whole lot of spiritual babes lying on their backs screaming was not the way to go at it because they weren't mature enough to reproduce but better to spend yourselves on some individuals that they might become mature and that they might carry the Gospel. You know Jesus didn't speak to large crowds very often and even when he did he spoke in parables and they didn't understand it. He spent most of his time with 12 individuals, didn't he? That's really the heart of evangelism. He was committed to the priority of maturing the believers. He himself knew that was his calling. [UNQUOTE]
True evangelism is going to get people convicted of sin and get them grateful to God – and draw them into a community of believers. Let’s think about this soberly: we’re at a conference about evangelism and discernment today. Somehow our friends at Grace Family Bible church thought these two great and good ideas belong together like some kind of theological Reese’s Cup or an Oreo Cookie. I utterly agree with them. The problem we as believers face is that we don’t act like these things go together. And this contributes to the problems that exist in the church today.
Here is what I am not about to say: I am not about to say that there is no value in personal evangelism or open-air preaching. I am not saying you ought not to declare the Gospel, and also never to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you. Evangelism is necessary and important. But Evangelism that saves people to a solitary life of independent Bible reading and no connection to other believers, no way to mature in the faith, no accountability to Elders and to other people who love them and Christ is a recipe for failure – and a model found no where in the New Testament.
When Peter evangelized the Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost, he did not save them to some kind of smug and solitary lifestyle. Peter preached to them so that the following things must happen:
• Those evangelized must repent and be baptized be baptized into the family of God o Look: there is nothing magical or metaphysical about baptism. It is utterly right to say that the thief on the cross was saved and entered into the kingdom of God without even a mere sprinkle, let alone a proper full-body submersion in water. But unless you are evangelizing on death row just before someone is executed, your message ought to be Peter’s message: repent and be baptized. Get added to the assembly of God’s people – not in theory, or in your head, but into a real body of local believers. If Christ’s commands are commands and not requests, you yourself ought to belong to a local church, and the goal of your actions ought to be to add people to a local church. Getting a confession of sin from people without turning them over to local elders and pastors for the care of their soul is spiritual malpractice.
• Those evangelized must be devoted to the apostles' teaching. I guess I don’t understand how any activity is called “evangelism” or can pose as “obedience” when what it does is cause people to be accountable to no one and set up for failure rather than success. Think about this: if you hire somebody at work, you don’t tell them, “well, thanks for you application: we accept you! Now you set your own schedule, you define your own work, you tell me when you’re successful and when you’re slacking off.” The very least you do for someone new to a job is to train them in the basics and give them a schedule so they know when and where they need to show up. We can’t expect someone who knows nothing about Jesus or the Bible to do self-service discipleship.
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• Those evangelized must be devoted to corporate worship. Acts tells us those Peter evangelized did this: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” That is: they spent time together making God the most important thing. It also says they were “together and [had] all things in common -- They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Look: that’s a commitment to other people bigger than an intellectual commitment to the idea that God has an invisible church of truly-saved people which (you hope) you are adding people to. It means that in some way Christ dying for you doesn’t simply give you a right to call God “Father”: it gives you a role in a family, a place in a close community where we ought to be willing to suffer for and suffer with each other through the challenges in Life. It paints a picture of worship which is greater than the temple, a kind of worship which is both in Spirit and in Truth.
Listen: Luke ends the second chapter of Acts by saying, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” That is: Someone preached, some were convicted, some repented and were baptized, and those baptized lived as if the preaching was true – their lives changed, and their priorities changed, and the “centrality of the Cross” or the “centrality of the Gospel” as some would say it was not simply some kind of bumper-sticker slogan or t-shirt that they wore: the Cross and its power were made to be the central matter of their lives, and everything they did was structured around that.
Let’s wrap this up briefly: The Christian life is an uneven field full of ups and downs. Even Paul said, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.” He knew what it meant to be brought low because he had been brought low; he knew how to prosper because he had in fact prospered. But let’s be certain not to miss this: Paul knew these things in spite of being an apostle, chosen by Christ, and specially gifted to serve God’s people. The apostle abounded, and the apostle knew hunger and need. If that’s true of the man who God used to write 30% of the New Testament, how much more is this true of us who, frankly, have a long way to go in our running the race to keep the faith?
Yet it is unmistakable that Christ is the cause and foundation and resource for us to have what it takes to do all things and face these ups and downs. Yet when Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ,” he says, “yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.”
One of Christ’s provisions to strengthen us to do all things is the one most obvious, yet hiding in plain sight: being together as a local church. It is kind of you to share in each others’ trouble, and much more so that you can take hold of and revive a concern for the lost not just to convict them of sin, or hope that Christ will comfort them after the have prayed a prayer, but that you will also devote your lives with them to the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of bread and prayers, and the sharing of all things in common so that many will be added to the church daily.
My friends, be faithful to that calling. Thank you for your time today, and may God’s grace and peace be with you as you go now and do these things in the name of Jesus.