We can so dilute faith that we don’t actually have it and we can so complicate faith that we can’t ever know if we have it. The gospel teaches us that we can be restored to God by turning from our sin and ourselves and looking to Christ. True salvation comes through faith. In this message on Mark 1:15, Pastor David Platt teaches Christians to live by faith and trust that they are saved by faith.
- In conversations about guilt, talk about forgiveness in Christ.
- In conversations about shame, talk about honor in Christ.
- In conversations about fear, talk about freedom in Christ.
If you have Bible, and I hope you do, turn with me to Mark 1. Let me also invite you to pull out your worship guide that you received when you came in, as well as this Threads booklet that you hopefully received when you came in or have brought back from previous weeks. If you don’t have one of these, just lift up your hand, and ushers are going to be walking up the aisles with them. We want to give you a copy, and I’ll be referencing it throughout our time today.
We’re talking about threads (or specific components) of the gospel, and how, as followers of Christ, we can weave the gospel into the fabric of our everyday conversations. In the process, we’re reminding ourselves of the gospel – the good news of what God has done for us in Christ. And for those of you who are not followers of Christ, we hope that as we talking about sharing this good news, that you might hear this good news and believe it and receive it in your life today.
The good news that God is the holy, just, and gracious Creator of all things. Yet we have rebelled against Him. The Bible says all of us have turned aside to ourselves, away from God. God deserves to be the center around which our lives revolve, with others next, and ourselves last. But we have inverted that, putting ourselves at the center, others next — usually when that is good for ourselves — and God last, if God is even on our radar.
As a result of our rebellion, we are eternally separated from God by nature of the reality that God is just, and one sin before an infinitely holy God merits infinitely eternal separation. This leads to the biblical truth that we are dead without God. We will all die eventual physical death, and we all deserve eternal spiritual death because of God’s justice.
Yet God is also gracious, and He has made a way for us to be restored to Him. He has sent His Son to us, fully man and fully God, to live the life we could not live, to die the death we deserved to die, and to conquer the enemy that we cannot conquer: Sin and death.
This all then leads to the question: How can we receive this grace from God? Just because God has done all of this for us in Christ does not mean that it is immediately applied to our lives. We must receive this grace, and be restored to God. So how does that happen?
Confusion Over Faith …
And that question leads us to the gospel thread we’re considering today: The necessity of faith. Now there is much confusion over faith in our culture, and even in the church today. I have shared before that almost 4 out of 5 Americans today — 80% of Americans — identify themselves as Christians; they profess to have some level of faith in Christ. But what such “faith” means and what that looks like varies across the board. Just like we talked a couple of weeks ago about how many people believe in God, yet they have all kinds of different ideas about who God is. Many people claim to have faith, yet they have all kinds of different ideas of what faith means.
We can so dilute faith that we don’t actually have it.
And we have a dangerous tendency to swing back and forth between two particular pendulums. On one hand, we can so dilute faith that we don’t actually have it. We can so lower the bar of faith that it doesn’t mean anything. People say, “Well, I believe in Jesus.” Big deal. Just about every intoxicated person I’ve ever met on the street believes in Jesus. Even demons in hell believe in Jesus.
This is part of why I wrote “Follow Me” recently, because there’s all kinds of people who claim faith in Jesus, but it’s no more faith than demons have. I title the first chapter of that book “unconverted believers” to give a picture of scores of people here and around the world who say they believe in Jesus, but their hearts are far from Jesus, and their lives are not following Jesus. We have so diluted Christianity in our day to the point where, as long as you assent to intellectual truths or say certain words, then you’re a Christian, you have faith in Christ. But it’s not true. Jesus Himself said that many people will stand before Him one day and say, “Lord, Lord,” and He will tell them, “I never knew you.” There are eternally serious consequences to diluting faith.
We can so complicate faith that we can’t ever know if we have it. So that’s one level of confusion, but then, if we’re not careful, we can swing completely to the other side, where we can so complicate faith that we can’t ever know if we have it. This means that in efforts not to dilute faith – to say that faith in Christ means more than mere intellectual assent or saying certain words – if we’re not careful, we can so complicate faith that people never really feel like they have it. “If faith in Christ involves commitment to Christ, then how can I know if I’m committed enough? If faith in Christ involves surrender to Christ, then when can I know if I’m surrendered enough?” And in the process of trying to take faith seriously, we can actually complicate it so much to the point where we never know if we actually have it. And the end result here is an endlessly frustrating supposedly Christian life.
To be a bit vulnerable, this is one of the greatest concerns I have with some of what I’ve written, both in Radical and Follow Me. In my efforts to address the contemporary dilution of the cost of discipleship in contemporary Christianity, I fear that some people will take that and say, “Okay, then what do I need to do to be radical enough for Jesus?” Or, “What steps do I need to take if I’m really committed or really surrendered to Jesus?” And this is where, whether in what I’m writing or more important, where we’re going as a faith family, I want to constantly bring us back to the essence of what faith is according to the Bible. Oh, I don’t want to dilute faith, but I also don’t want to complicate it.
The Necessity of Faith Knowing this Gospel Thread …
Mark 1:15 reminds us we can be restored to God only through faith in Jesus.
So let’s think this morning together about the necessity of faith. Specifically, what is the kind of “faith” that restores men and women to God, and how can we lead other people to put this faith in Christ. How can we weave this gospel thread into our interactions with others? So let’s start with knowing this gospel thread: The necessity of faith. Here’s the one sentence that sums up this truth in the gospel. We’ve already seen three: God is the holy, just, and gracious Creator of all things. We are each created by God, yet we are all corrupted by sin. Jesus alone is able to remove our sin and restore us to God. This leads to thread number four: We can be restored to God only through faith in Jesus.
Now every word there is important, so let’s split it up into two parts. First, we can be restored to God. And this is where I simply want to remind us that this is the goal of the gospel. When we think about the gospel — the good news of what God has done for us in Christ — and when we tell others about the gospel, we want to be clear that the goal of the gospel is not heaven; the goal of the gospel is not happiness; the goal of the gospel is not joy, peace, satisfaction. Not that any of these things are bad, but they are not the goal of the gospel. The goal of the gospel is God. God is the one we want, and God is the one we need. We don’t ultimately put our faith in Christ so we can get heaven or we can get our best life now or so we can get whatever else. No, we come to Christ to get God. He is the great gift of the gospel, and everything good that we experience flows from Him.
And this is the beauty of the gospel: In Christ, we can be restored to God! Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we can be acquitted before God the Judge; He will cancel our guilt. Remember, we talked a couple of weeks ago about the three effects of sin in our lives: Guilt, shame, and fear. So what does God do in the gospel? He cancels our guilt. Because Jesus lived the life we could not live and died the death we deserve to die –
He took the payment of our sin upon Himself – Colossians 2 says God has “canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” All the just judgment due our sin has been paid in full so that we might be acquitted before God the judge; our guilt canceled.
But that’s not all. In addition, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we can be adopted by God the Father. He will remove our shame. That was the second effect of sin that we talked about in Genesis 3. And in salvation, through what Jesus did on our behalf, God will take us in our shame as sinners and turn us into sons and daughters with honor in His family.
Oh, don’t miss this. God as Judge could have declared us “Not Guilty” and then just left things at that, but that’s not all He does. In saving you, God the Judge not only looks upon you in the light of what Christ has done and declares, “Not Guilty,” but then He gets up off the bench, comes down to where you are, takes your chains off of you, and He says, “Come home with me as my child.”
Mark 1:15 Reminds us of the good news of the gospel
Oh, this is the good news of the gospel: In Christ, we can be acquitted by God the Judge; He will cancel our guilt. At the same time, we can be adopted by God the Father; He will remove our shame. And still at the same time, we can be assured by God the King; He will overcome our fear, the third emotional effect of sin in our lives. But because Christ has conquered the enemy we could not conquer, death itself, in Him we have nothing to fear forever. So the good news of the gospel is that we — sinners who have rebelled against God, who are infinitely separated from God, who are dead without God — can be restored to God.
How is this possible? How in the world is this possible? And the gospel answers: Only through faith in Jesus. Now follow closely here. This is where we want to be careful not to dilute or complicate faith. And these are biblical truths that we talk about all the time, but we need to constantly come back to them. Follow this: First and foremost, Jesus is the basis of salvation. The only way you and I can ever be declared innocent before God is based on someone else’s innocence, namely, Christ’s innocence before God. You and I, on our own, could never stand before God and claim innocence before Him. We have sinned against Him, and there is nothing we have done or could ever do — no matter how committed or radical we might be – to cover up the fact that we have rebelled against God and we have no basis for righteousness in ourselves. Jesus is the only basis of salvation.
Then second, as we asked earlier, how can what He has done be applied to our life? And this is where faith comes in. Faith is the means of salvation. Faith is the means by which the work of Christ is applied to our lives. Now think about this with me. Why faith? Why is faith the means of salvation? Why not love? Or why not humility? Why not joy? Why not wisdom?
Why has God designed faith to be the only means of salvation? And here’s why: Because faith is the anti-work. Faith is the realization that there is nothing you can do — no amount of love you can show, kindness you can show, joy you can have, obedience you can accomplish – but trust in what has been done for you. Faith is the one attitude of the heart that is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. When we come to Jesus in faith, we are essentially saying, “I give up! I will not depend on myself or my own good works any more. I can never make myself right before you. So I trust you and depend on you completely to do what I cannot do myself.”
And then, once we say that, once we assume this posture of faith in Christ, then works are the evidence of salvation. So when we truly understand faith, we realize that faith automatically leads to works. Faith works. This is the entire book of James. Faith without action is dead, because faith always leads to work.
And it makes sense. When your soul is resting upon the grace of Christ, when your life revolves around trust in Christ, you begin to love as Christ loves, you begin to walk as Christ walks, and you begin to lay down your life for others just as Christ has laid down His life for you. And these are not works that are done in some vain attempt to earn the favor of God. No, you realize that you are justified before God solely based upon faith in Jesus, and your works are simply the fruit, or the overflow, of your faith in God. His grace is working through you as you trust in Him. Jesus the basis, faith the means, and works the overflow, or the evidence of salvation.
Now all of this, of course, revolves around a proper understanding of faith. So what is biblical faith? What is this faith that restores us to God? And that question leads us right to Jesus’ words in Mark 1. These are the first words we hear from Jesus’ mouth in the Gospel of Mark, and they’re the first words that we hear in Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Matthew, as well. Listen to them. We’ll start in Mark 1:14. It says, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” What a great verse – verse 15. Jesus is proclaiming the gospel, and this, He says, is the proper response to the gospel — two words: Repent and believe.
And you look throughout the rest of the New Testament, and these are the two words that you will see over and over and over again when it comes to responding to the gospel. Jesus says here, “Repent,” and then when you get to the book of Acts, and the first Christian sermon is preached in Acts 2, the people say, “How shall we respond?” And Peter says in Acts 2:38, “Repent.” Acts 3:19 says, “Repent.” Acts 5:31, 8:22, 17:30, 26:20 all say, “Repent.”
And then there are other times where the gospel invitation revolves more around the word “believe.” In Acts 16:31, a Philippian jailer asks the question, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” And we see this in other places such as Acts 11:17, 14:23, where the emphasis is on belief. So from the very beginning and then throughout the rest of the New Testament, you see two main words describing faith in Christ: Repenting and believing. Thus the picture of faith in your notes and in this Threads booklet.
Mark 1:15 reminds us to turn from sin and ourselves.
When we place our faith in Christ to restore us to God, what does this involve? Well, first, we turn from our sin and ourselves. We see this in Mark 1:15. We repent. In Ezekiel 18:30, God told His people: “Repent and turn from all your transgressions.” Now practically, what does this mean? Well, think about it in light of what we’ve already covered in our understanding of our problem before God, the sinfulness of man. When we repent, we confess our sinfulness. We acknowledge that we have rebelled against God, that as a result we are separated from God. And we confess that apart from His grace, we are dead — spiritually, eternally dead.
And this is key. Repentance is not trying to fix ourselves before God. Repentance is saying, “I can’t fix myself, God. I have a sin problem that only you can solve.” C.S. Lewis said, “We don’t come to God as bad people trying to become good people; we come as rebels to lay down our arms.”
In repentance, we confess our sinfulness, and we die to our selfishness. Now follow with me here. We’ve already established, and we talked about this a ton a couple of weeks ago, how the essence of sin is self. This is putting ourselves on the throne that only God deserves to be on, putting ourselves and what we want and what we think is best for our lives at the center of our lives. And so to repent means that we say, “No, self no longer needs to be at the center. God, you need to be at the center. You alone belong at the center of my life.”
And in this way, we are dying to ourselves and dying to our selfishness.
Now I’m not saying that once we repent, we never again struggle with selfishness – the desire to put self back at the center of our lives. We do, and we’ll talk about that in a minute. But this point of repentance involves saying, “I confess my sinfulness before you God, and I am turning from my sin and from myself and from my self-indulgence and my attempts to please myself apart from you. And I am turning from my self-righteousness, even my attempts to please you with all my good works. I am turning from my sin and myself, and I am trusting.
Mark 1:15 reminds us to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
So follow this: In repentance, we turn from our sin and from ourselves, and we trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. So turn with me over to Romans 10:9. You’ll turn four books of the Bible over to your right. Past Luke, John, and Acts, and you’ll come to Romans, and find Chapter 10 there. And even while you’re turning there in your pages, see an illustration of faith. When you turn from one thing, you turn to something else. Right now, in your Bible, you are turning from Mark 1, and you are turning to Romans 10. Likewise, in your life, when you turn from your sin and yourself, you are turning to someone or something else. It’s not like one of these happens, and then the other follows at another point in time. No, they happen at the same time.
As we’re turning from, we’re trusting in, but trusting in what? Well, Romans 10:9 answers that question.
…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same
Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
So did you see it? What is belief? Well, here’s what happens when we believe in Jesus. We confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and we believe — we know — in our heart that God has raised him from the dead. This is belief that saves. So faith is turning from sin and self and trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
And His function both as Savior and Lord are involved here. On one hand, we are believing in Jesus as the Savior who died for us. We see this picture on the back of the Threads booklet, and we realize, “I am separated from God, and there is nothing I can do to earn my way back to Him. But Christ Jesus has done for me what I could never do for myself. He has lived the life I couldn’t live, died the death I deserve to die, and conquered the enemy I cannot conquer. So I am turning from my sin and myself and I am trusting Him as the only one who can save me. I believe that He is the Savior who died on a cross and rose from the dead for me.”
But if we’re not careful here, we can stop at this point and think that this is all that faith is, which it’s not, and it makes sense that it’s not. If repentance is just turning from my sin, then all I need is someone to save me from my sin. But as we’ve discussed, repentance is more than just turning from my sin; repentance is turning from myself. Turning from myself at the center to God at the center.
This then leads to this second part of Romans 10:9. We believe in Jesus as the Savior who died for us, and we submit to Jesus as the Lord who rules over us. In biblical faith, we confess that Jesus is Lord. He is the Lord of all, Romans 10:12 says. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, Romans 10:13. It’s interesting. When you look in the book of Acts, right before this in Romans, you will see that Jesus is called “Savior” two times, but He is referred to as “Lord” 92 times. Without question, the dominant title used for Jesus in the New Testament is “Lord,” and salvation, saving faith, means not just turning from our sin to trust in Jesus as Savior, but turning from ourselves to trust in Jesus as Lord, as the One who rules and reigns over our lives.
Remember what we said just a minute ago? We die to our selfishness. This is what Paul said in Galatians 2:20 when he summed up salvation. He said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live…” Paul is saying, “I’ve died and now Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Oh, what a great verse that sums up biblical faith. Biblical faith is turning from our sin and from ourselves, confessing our sin and dying to our selfishness, and trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord, as the merciful Savior who died for us, and the loving Lord who reigns over us.
An initial moment of faith in time leads to inevitable growth in faith over time. Now one more thing here about faith that I put in your notes, which is extremely important. When we repent and believe, when we turn and trust, this is an initial moment of faith in time leads to inevitable growth in faith over time. What we’re talking about here – what Mark 1 and what Romans 10 are talking about — is a point in time where we repent and believe, where we decide to turn from our sin and ourselves and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
And at that moment, we are restored to God. Just like when a baby is born, there comes a point, to use Jesus’ language in John 3, when someone is born again, born spiritually, restored to God. And at that moment, we are restored to God in all the ways we talked about above. At that initial moment of faith, we are acquitted before God, adopted by God, and assured by God of eternal life. All of this restoration happens at the moment of faith.
So when my friend that I shared about a couple of weeks ago, or another friend whom I was talking to this week, came to the realization, “I am a sinner. I have rebelled against God, I am separated from God, and I am dead without God. But God has made a way for me to be restored to Him, by His love, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,” and they said, “I am turning from my sin and from myself, and I am trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord,” at that moment, they were acquitted before God, adopted by God, and assured by God of restoration to Him forever.
And it begs the question of every person in this room, “Have you come to that point?” Oh, I wish I could ask every single one of you individually, “Have you come to this point? Has this moment of faith happened in your life?” And if it hasn’t, then I invite you to let that moment happen today, even right now, to say, “Yes, I get it; I get it!” And in your heart would you turn from your sin and yourself and today, even right now, trust in Jesus as the Savior and Lord of your life? Let faith be birthed in you today.
And once when that moment happens, whether it’s happening right now, or whether that moment happened in your life 50 years ago, that moment of faith in time then leads to inevitable growth in faith over time, where we daily learn more and more and more of what it means to turn from our sin and ourselves and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. This is why Jesus told His disciples, “If you would come after me, you must deny yourself daily…”
This turning from our sin and ourselves and trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord at a point in time becomes a process over time, where every day, we are learning more and more to do what? To turn from our sin and to turn from ourselves is a constant battle with sin and a constant battle with self in the Christian life. But all the while, we are trusting in Jesus as the Savior of our sins and learning what it means more and more every day to submit to Him as Lord.
And as our faith grows, we come to greater and newer realizations about who He is and what He’s done for us, and what it means to submit to Him. But that doesn’t mean we’re getting saved all over again. Instead, it means that our faith is growing, and it will continue to grow until one day, when this life is over, we will fully be united, restored to God, forever, which we’ll talk about more next week. So this is biblical faith: Turning from our sin and ourselves, and trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord. And this is the only way, the Bible says, that we can be restored to God.
So I invite you, if you have never done so, to put your faith in Christ today, and be restored to God. This is the greatest news in all the world: God has made a way for you to be restored to Him. Turn from yourself and trust in Him. Repent and believe the gospel. And then, Christian, share this gospel. Call people to repent and believe, to turn and trust, because this is the only way our friends and family and neighbors and co-workers and people among the nations will ever be restored to God.
Weaving this Gospel Thread …
Take advantage of every opportunity you have to tell your story. So how do we weave this gospel thread into the fabric of our everyday conversations. Remember, that’s the imagery. How can we naturally, authentically, daily share the gospel with people around us? Specifically, what are ways we can speak about the necessity of faith on a daily basis? Here are some places to start. First, I want to encourage you, Christian, take advantage of every opportunity you have to tell your story. Every follower of
Jesus in this room has a story of faith in Christ, and we need to be ready to share that story at any moment.
Let me ask you a question: If you had one minute to tell me about how Christ has changed your life, could you maximize it? Or if you had five minutes or ten minutes, could you maximize that time? We all need to be able to maximize that time! This gospel that has saved us from eternal damnation apart from God. If we’re going to be good at anything, we need to be good at telling others, not just what God has done in history, but what God has done for us. So my challenge for you this week is for you to share your story of how God has saved you through faith in Christ and to share that story with one person.
Think specifically about the people who you are praying will come to Christ. How can you weave your story one day this week into the fabric of your conversation with them? Maybe it’s over the phone, maybe it’s over lunch or coffee, maybe it’s over something you write to them (a letter or email or something) — however you do it, I want to challenge you to share your story with one person who doesn’t know Christ this week.
Now here’s some practical encouragement as you do this. One, keep it simple. Your goal is not to take someone on an exhausting, circuitous trip down Spiritual Memory Lane with half a dozen plot lines and sixteen main characters, complete with all the aisles you’ve walked in church and all the angels who’ve appeared in your bedroom. Just keep it simple. Think, “What was my life like before I put my faith in Jesus? How did I come to the point where I turned from my sin and myself and trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord? And what has my life been like since I have been restored to God through Jesus? What is it like to be acquitted before God the Judge, adopted by God the Father, and assured by God the King.
How do these realities transform my perspective on my past and my present as well as my perspective on the future? No need to dwell on the drama, and no need to feel like you don’t have a great story because it’s not dramatic enough.
I came to faith in Christ when I was eight years old. So when I share my story, I don’t tell people about all of the drugs and alcohol and wild living I was involved in before I trusted in Christ, but I don’t have to. I tell people that I was separated from God, and in my churchgoing self, I thought there was a way I could earn the favor of God by doing this or by doing that.
Like a lot of people in our culture in particular, I thought that God loved me based on how much I did for Him. But I came to the point where I realized that God’s love for me was not based on what I did for Him, but on what He did for me. Jesus loved me and died for me, and this is how I was restored to God. And things have been far from perfect in my life since I first realized this, and put my faith in Jesus, but I have discovered that He is not only able to save me from my sin, but He is able to satisfy my soul in ways that nothing or no one in this world can compare to. This is my story, and every single Christian in this room has a similar yet unique story that God has woven into your life. So share it simply.
We see this in Scripture. In John 3, listen to Nicodemus’ story. “I realized I needed to be born a second time. I could start all over based on God’s love for me.” In John 4, listen to a Samaritan woman’s story: “I realized that He knows everything about me, and He loves me anyway.” In John 8, with a woman caught in adultery: “When I was condemned by everyone around me, Jesus saved me.” In John 9, with a man born blind: “I was blind, but now I can see.”
So think about your life. For some of you, your entire life was once marked by fear. You wore fear like a straitjacket that paralyzed you. But then you met Jesus, and He has given you a freedom and security that is found nowhere else in this world. Others of you, before you met Christ, you had this plaguing sense of aloneness. You grew up in a broken or dysfunctional family. Your days were spent alone, your nights isolated. But you met Christ, and through Christ, God adopted you. And now you know what it means to be wanted, to be cared for, to be loved.
Some of you have been tormented by guilt all your life. You’ve made mistakes in the past that you couldn’t ever seem to get past, and they haunted you at every turn. You were constantly trying to start over through this method or that relationship, but nothing ever worked. And then you trusted in Christ. And now you are no longer held captive by the mistakes you once made.
Oh, there are all kinds of stories, so keep it simple. Also, keep it focused on the greatness of God. Obviously remember that God is the hero of the story, not us. So keep it focused on what He has done, not what you have done. And this is key. Some of us are timid about sharing our story because we don’t want to sound like we’re boasting as we talk about ourselves. But remember, this is the point of the gospel; this is not a story about what you have done for God. This is a story about what God has done for you.
Keep your story focused on God, and keep your story focused on the threads of the gospel. This means we need to weave the gospel as we’ve talked about it: God’s character, our sinfulness, Christ’s sufficiency, and the essence of faith. We need to weave these truths into the fabric of your story so that you share, “I realized God was holy, and I had rebelled against Him, and I was dead without Him, but Jesus came to live the life I couldn’t live, to die the death I deserved to die, and to conquer the enemy I could not conquer. And so I came to the point where I turned from myself and trusted in Him.” And so you’re sharing the gospel as you share your story.
Now, along those lines, I encourage you to keep it understandable. Even with the language we use, we need to be careful to speak in terms that the people we’re sharing our story with, namely non-Christians, understand. So I can think of a list of words that would not make sense to someone who doesn’t know Christ. There are extreme examples like “propitiation” in your story or “expiation”. Or I wouldn’t tell somebody how I was “justified by the Holy Ghost when he regenerated my heart, revealing my depravity before His divinity, restoring my connectivity with the sovereign King in Christianity.”
But then there’s also more overlooked examples, even like “repent” and “believe.” Many people think of “repent,” and they think of a TV preacher sitting on a golden sofa calling down condemnation. And likewise for many people, to “believe” is no big deal. After all, a lot of people believe in Jesus. So that’s why I’ve used the words “turn” and “trust” in the Threads booklet. It’s certainly not that “repent” and “believe” are bad words; these are great, biblical words, and it’s not even that we shouldn’t use them at all, but when we do use them when talking with non-Christians, we need to at least define them. So put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t have knowledge of Christ and think about how to share your story in a way that is understandable, that makes sense.
Keep it understandable. And be humble and prayerful. Humility is huge. There may be no quicker way to send somebody you’re sharing with to the hills than to play the piety card. We don’t tell our story to others in ways that imply that we’ve got our act together, and they are the pitiable lost people, inferior and substandard to us and our way of life. Don’t forget who you are and why you have a story. And don’t forget you’re still on a journey. So be humble and be prayerful, asking God, even as you share, to draw that person into this grand story of the gospel.
And finally, be passionate and be yourself. Just as a man or woman in love might share about the one they love, share about Jesus with joy and delight and passion, not with fear and shame and trepidation. So be passionate, but don’t think this is something you have to manufacture, either. Be yourself. God has sovereignly woven a story in your life that, when shared, can have profound impact on another person’s life for all of eternity. This is the story of how Jesus has saved you and changed you forever! So look for an opportunity this week to share your story. I want to come back to this challenge at the end, but let me keep going here.
Talking about restoration …
In talking about restoration, weave this thread of the gospel, this reality that we can be restored to God. So we talked about how all people in the world experience guilt and shame and fear as a result of sin in the world. So in conversations about guilt, which will inevitably happen, talk about forgiveness in Christ. When people around you talk about guilt, show evidence of feeling bad or wrong because of something they’ve done. Tell them about how our guilt problem has been addressed by God, about how no matter what we’ve done, we can be forgiven completely through faith in Jesus.
I was talking with someone recently who was hitting a low point in life and saying, “I’ve messed up in this way and in that way.” And I was able to look back at that person and say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to wipe the slate completely clean?” And that person obviously said, “Yes,” opening the door for the gospel. The good news of God who forgives in such a way that He looks at your life through the lens of Christ’s sacrifice for you and says, “No matter what your past, present, or future looks like, you’re not guilty anymore.”
By faith, He forgives; He wipes the slate clean.
And then, in conversations about shame, talk about honor in Christ. So if we’re not careful, particularly in our culture, we have a tendency to look at the gospel just in terms of guilt and innocence. But in many cultures around the world, there is a far greater emphasis on shame and honor. I’m thinking mainly here about many Arab cultures, where many of the most unreached peoples in the world are. And many of these cultures hardly speak in terms of guilt and innocence, but they speak all the time in terms of honor and shame. For them, the focus is not on whether something is right or wrong, but on whether it brings honor or dishonor.
This is why you can have such violent depictions of persecution alongside such incredible pictures of hospitality. You go into an unreached Muslim people group in the Middle East, and as a guest in someone’s house, you will receive incredible, authentic hospitality, because this sense of honoring a guest is extremely important. But at the same time, in some of these houses, if a family member were to convert to Christianity, they would likely be ostracized or potentially killed. And we say, “Well, that’s not right,” and certainly it’s not.
But in a shame and honor culture, to become a Christian is to dishonor, to shame your family and your people, and either abandoning or killing that person would be the only way to maintain, or restore, honor in the family. Obviously, there’s a ton more we could explore here, but I mention this just to emphasize that with many people, particularly around the world, it’s conversations about shame that open the door to talk about how honor is restored through Christ.
When you think about it, much of the Bible is written in the context of an honor and shame culture, and we have all kinds of pictures of God restoring honor to His people’s shame. This is ultimately exemplified in Christ, who takes us from dirty to clean, from impure to pure, from sick to healed, from death to life. So in conversations about shame, whether here or around the world, talk about how faith in Jesus restores our honor before God.
And then, in conversations about fear, talk about freedom in Christ. Again, many people are bound by various fears in this world, ultimately the fear of death. And this also comes out in various cultures, particularly animistic or tribal cultures where there are constant attempts to appease gods and spirits out of fear for what they might do. But this same fear can play out around us in superstitions and anxiety, which is a huge issue in our culture. So in conversations about fear, when people express fear of what might happen in this job situation or in that relationship situation, or when people express fear in response to a cancer diagnosis or a tumor discovery, point to the freedom that’s found in Christ. This is a freedom from fear that is only possible through trust in Jesus, who has conquered sin and Satan and death itself.
So see this around you. However they may express it, people have guilt, shame, and fear, and there is a longing in the soul to be restored to God. So point to how this restoration can happen through faith in Jesus: Our guilt canceled, our honor restored, our fear completely taken away.
Talking about turning …
And then, when it comes to faith, in talking about turning, point to the mercy of Christ when people around you see their sin. Think about it. All of our stories in this room revolve around a time in our life when we came face-to-face with our sin, right? Some circumstance or situation came about and we found ourselves confronted with our sin, and we knew in our hearts something was wrong. And someone told us that we were separated from God.
That’s what was wrong. And then that someone told us that we could be restored to God through Jesus. Thank God someone told us! So when you see someone whose circumstances or situations are confronting them with their need for God, for God’s sake, tell them. Tell your kids and your co-workers and your neighbors when they show evidence of acknowledging sin in their lives, tell them Christ will save them. He is merciful.
Point them to the mercy of Christ, and point to the presence of Christ when people around you come to the end of themselves. We talked about this a bit last week. Many of our personal stories of meeting Jesus for the first time revolve around a time when we discovered that the things we had sought in this world weren’t all we hoped for. We saw the insufficiency of worldly pleasure, and we felt a deep sense of our need for something more.
Be sensitive, Christians, to the times in all of our lives when God puts someone there that expresses to you that they’re at the end of themselves.
What are you going to say in that moment? Oh, please don’t tell them to believe in themselves. Don’t tell them to keep trying and it will get better. Don’t tell them they’re good. Tell them they need Jesus, and tell them He’s there, ready to take their lives under His loving and merciful reign. We undercut the gospel whenever we encourage the self
sufficient man-centered way of life that contemporary culture and pop psychology are selling. When people come to the end of the road, don’t tell them to keep heading down that road. Invite them to turn from themselves and trust in Jesus as the only one who can satisfy their souls.
Talking about trusting …
And, in talking about trusting, encourage people around you to see the lordship of Christ. Point to Jesus, not just as a Savior who died on the cross. He is that, but also point people to Jesus as the sovereign Lord who reigns over everything in all the universe. Encourage people – encourage your kids and your co-workers and your neighbors and your casual acquaintances – to see that Christ is in control. He’s in control of their circumstances, and He’s in control of their troubles, and He’s in control of their victories. Don’t talk like things are happening by coincidence; talk like Christ is at work.
We know this. We know Philippians 2:9–11. We know that one day every knee is going to bow and every tongue is going to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The question is not, “Is He Lord,” but the question is, “Will the people you work with and live with and care about now bow down today, or when it’s too late?” When we realize this reality is coming in the future, then we find ourselves looking for opportunities to point people the lordship of Christ in the present.
And then urge people around you to receive the love of Christ. And this is where we remember that the gospel is not intended to be shared just to give information. We share the gospel to elicit response. When we share the gospel, we are calling people to faith Christ. Now next week, I want to bring these threads to a close by talking about exactly how we do that, but this week, I just want to set the stage for talking about that with the word “urge.” Urge people around you to receive the love of Christ.
Sometimes Christians say, “Well, I don’t want to push someone to do something they’re not ready to do.” Or, “I can’t decide for them.” And that’s true; that’s completely true. But, if I walk into a room and I see somebody that I care about with a gun pointed at themselves, I’m not going to sit back and say, “Well, it’s your decision; do what you want.” No, I’m going to plead with them, I’m going to urge them, not to do that, because this is a matter of life and death. How much moreso when it comes to the matter of eternal life and death?
Who have you urged to trust in Christ? Who have you pleaded with to trust in Christ? Ultimately, we’re not sharing the gospel if all we’re doing is talking about God and talking about sin and talking about Jesus, but we are not pleading for our family and our co workers and our friends and our neighbors to put their faith in Him. This week, urge people around you to receive the love of Christ.
Talking with children about faith …
And then I put at the end of your notes two particular exhortations when it comes to talking with children about faith and talking with cultural Christians about faith. These are two of the most common questions I get in this culture when it comes to sharing the gospel. One, how do I share the gospel with my children, and how do I know when they are really understanding the gospel? And there’s much to be explored here, but I want to simply give you a few thoughts at this point that I hope are helpful in talking with children about faith.
One, I encourage you to maximize interaction when talking with children about the gospel, and specifically about responding to the gospel. As you share the gospel, constantly ask questions and encourage conversation. And use open-ended questions. Not, “Did you understand what I just shared?” Or, “Are you ready to trust in Jesus?” Yes/No questions are usually not the best way to gauge a child’s comprehension of the gospel. So ask them questions that give them an opportunity to express their understanding of the gospel. Who is God, and what does it mean that we are sinners? What has God done for us, and how can we have a relationship with God? Maximize interaction with children through open-ended questions that bring them into discussion about the gospel and about faith.
Along the way, utilize illustration. Use pictures like the one on the back of this booklet or stories or concrete examples of what theological terms mean. I remember as a 6th grader having a dream to be a professional baseball player, and I can still remember sitting with a man who was talking with me about what it means for Jesus to be Lord of my life, and he told me, “To follow Jesus as Lord means that if He wants you to do something else besides baseball, that you would be willing to put down the bat and the ball and do whatever He tells you to do.” I remember that to this day, and I remember at that moment deepening in my understanding of what it means to submit to Jesus as Lord. So think through illustrations, stories, concrete examples that illustrate biblical truths and gospel realities.
Maximize interaction, utilize illustration, and use repetition. And this is probably most important, particularly for children in our own homes. Oh, parents, I encourage you to constantly emphasize the threads of the gospel in your home with your kids. All day long, every day, be talking about the character of God, the sinfulness of man, the sufficiency of Christ, the necessity of faith, and the urgency of eternity. Sometimes people think, “Well, I want my children’s faith to be their own, so I’m going to pressure them.” And as we talked about, there’s truth to that. Our goal is not to manipulate anyone into faith. And obviously, as a child grows older, they will come more and more and more into their own, but as long as we are able, teach them the gospel.
We teach our kids how to eat and drink and how to put on their clothes and make their beds and say, “Yes ma’am” and “No sir” and play sports and play music and do all kinds of things, and certainly teaching them the gospel is more important than all of those things put together. Prioritize, more than anything, speaking the gospel day in and day out to your children, so that it becomes a part of the fabric of your home and their understanding from the beginning of their lives.
Now this can lead to challenges, in a good way, because children at 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 years old who are being saturated with the gospel will oftentimes begin to respond to the gospel and talk about becoming a Christian. And one of the biggest questions many Christian parents wonder about is, “When do I know that my child is a Christian? How do I know exactly when they become a Christian?” And obviously, for many reasons, this is a great question. But at the same time, this is where I want to encourage you, parents, not to fret too much over that question.
Yes, without question, there comes a point in time when we place our faith in Christ; there is a point in time when we are forgiven by God, adopted by God as His children. But that point in time may not be quite as discernible in a child’s life who has grown up immersed in the gospel as it might be in a 40-year-old man’s life who hears the gospel for the first time. When that 40-year-old man (imagine a man who’s been immersed in all kinds of things in the world – drinking and drugs and whatever) – when he hears the gospel for the first time and responds to it, there’s likely going to be a much more dramatic turning point than you might see in an 8-year-old’s life, and that’s okay. Wouldn’t it be a good thing for one of our children to look back at their life and say, “I can hardly even remember a time when I wasn’t turning from my sin and myself and trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord.”?
And this is where I want to encourage you to continually encourage in your children a posture of turning and trusting. Meaning, instead of fretting over when that point of faith is – which may be discernible – encourage a posture, an attitude toward God, of continually turning from our sin and ourselves and trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord. It’s never too young to being telling children to turn from their sin and themselves and to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. So encourage them toward that end.
Talking with cultural Christians about faith …
And then, what about talking with cultural Christians about faith? And what I mean by that is people who would claim to be Christians, but it’s, for all intensive purposes, a nominal faith. It is a faith in name only, which is obviously very common around here. Now obviously, no one of us knows the condition of a person’s heart, but Jesus tells us that you will know a tree by its fruit. And if there is no real fruit of faith in Christ, then there’s real reason to wonder if there’s faith in Christ.
So how do you approach your supposedly Christian co-worker or friend or family member who says they’re a Christian, but there doesn’t seem to be fruit. And here’s some practical encouragements. One, ask thought-provoking questions. When you have opportunity to weave threads of the gospel, ask questions that go below the surface. “What is a Christian?”
The great English preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that when he was trying to get a sense of where someone was spiritually, he would ask them, “Are you a Christian? I mean, are you a Christian today?” And many people would say back to him, “Well, I’m trying.” And Dr. Jones would proceed to share with them how their response indicated that they had no idea what Christianity was about at all. Maybe you ask someone, “How do you know you’re a Christian?” And they respond with what they have done or are doing. Then you can share with them about how we can never be restored to God based upon what we’ve done or are doing, because becoming a Christian involves faith alone, trust in alone in what Christ has done.
So ask thought-provoking questions, and at the same time avoid (or at least clearly define) over-familiar terms. One example that we’ve talked about would be “belief”. I’ve noticed that if you ask someone if they believe in Jesus, all kinds of people who are not followers of Christ will say yes. So either use a different term, or follow up that question with an explanation of what the Bible says “believe” really means. That’s why instead of asking, “Are you a Christian?” or “Do you believe in Jesus?”, I will often ask, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” All this to say: It’s helpful in getting below the surface to either avoid (or at least clearly define) over-familiar terms.
Even still, you may feel like you’re getting nowhere, and this is where I would encourage you to invite that person to study the Bible with you. Invite them to study the Bible with you. If someone identifies himself as a Christian, then to invite them to study the Bible doesn’t seem like a very obtrusive thing, at all. And maybe you go through some sort of Bible study that hits the essence of what it means to follow Christ.
This is exactly what happened in a church member’s life a couple of weeks ago. She invited her professing, but seemingly cultural, Christian friend to a Bible study she was leading. And in that Bible study, the Word did the work, and God opened this girl’s eyes to her need for Christ, and she trusted in Him.
So you might invite them to study the Bible with you, and you might also expose them to good, gospel-saturated community and resources. This means maybe you should expose them to a small group of believers, a church, a faith family, where the love of Christ is clear in action, and where faith is more than nominal adherence, but joyful abandonment to Christ and His cause; this will speak volumes. Or give them resources that address this. I’m not trying to recommend my own book, but this is one of the reasons I wrote “Follow Me”.
My hope is that it might be used to jar people out of nominal, in-name-only Christianity to what it means to really follow Christ.
I think about Heather’s mom. We had prayed for years and years for her salvation, and Heather had shared the gospel with her over and over again. She would have said she was a Christian, but the fruit was lacking. And then, all of the sudden, she reads a book that we had given to her, and it clicks; years and years and years of praying and sharing clicked. So expose them to good, gospel-saturated community and resources.
And the last two things I would encourage. Probably most important, one, boldly and graciously call them to turn and trust. We’ve already talked about how faith is a posture toward God of turning and trusting.
So just like you would love a Christian brother or sister enough to call them to turn from their sin and themselves and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, call a cultural Christian to the same thing. Do this boldly, and do this graciously, out of love. And how that person responds will expose the condition of their heart. Maybe they are truly a follower of Christ, and you’re calling them to repent and believe, to turn and trust will awaken them to a deeper level of faith, and that’s a great thing. Or maybe you’re calling them to repent and believe, to turn and trust, and these questions will reveal in them a callous heart toward God that is not a heart of faith, not the heart of a Christ-follower.
I think of someone I’m praying for who would identify themselves as a Christian, and yet the fruit is not there. In fact, the fruit seems to indicate that they want nothing to do with Christ. And so recently, I hope graciously, yet boldly, in a way that was not easy, I urged this person to turn from specific sin and to trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, and they did not respond with a posture of faith and repentance. So I’m going to keep praying, and I’m going to keep calling them, graciously, I pray, to turn and trust.
And along the way, I’m going to intentionally and humbly weave gospel threads. This is the beauty of saturating all of our conversations with the gospel. And this is the picture I want us to get for our faith family in this series. We are a people who are constantly speaking this gospel to each other and to everyone around us in this world. And as we do, we are trusting that the gospel will do the work. It will expose the conditions of people’s hearts, and the Lord will use it to open the eyes of people’s souls to the good news of what God has done for us in Christ.
So here’s my challenge. I want to go back to the first thing I mentioned in “weaving this gospel thread,” and I want to challenge every single Christian who is here this morning to do two things. First, to write out your story. If you’re going to share your story, then it would be wise to start by writing out your story. So I want to encourage you to write your story. And I want to ask every single Christian who is here this morning to write out your story and then to send it to us.
You say, “Well, that’s like 4,000 emails.” Absolutely. We have this rampant spectator mentality in the church where we hear the Word and we have no accountability for actually putting the Word into practice. And so this is my attempt this week to say, “Here’s how you can put this Word into practice. Don’t just hear this; do this.” Send your story of how you came to faith in Christ as you would share it
And then, once you have sent it, share it. Share your story with one person this week. Will you do this? What’s more important this week than doing this?