Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What did Jesus do? - A Call to return to the Biblical Gospel

A television documentary showed a Tibetan peasant woman making her pilgrimage around a sacred mountain. She stopped every few steps to prostrate herself on the rocky soil. She stood to her dust-covered feet, walked a few more paces, and repeated the arduous and painful ritual. She had completed the thirty-two-mile pilgrimage twentynine times. Asked why she did it, she smiled sweetly and answered, “We want to be reborn in heaven.”

She is not alone in her spiritual philosophy. Much of humanity thinks that by their suffering and self-denial they can enter heaven. They crawl on their bloodied hands and knees, fast from certain foods, cut their bodies, throw their beloved children into the Ganges River, refrain from worldly pleasures, and give money sacrificially to some worthy cause. Many lie on beds of nails, and many more sit on hard pews tormenting themselves under the sound of dull and dry sermons. Very sadly, they think God will consider their suffering or self-denial to be an acceptable sacrifice—a worthy atonement for their sin. However, the payment that they offer God reveals that they lack understanding of the true nature of sin. Like the Jews of old, they seek to establish their own righteousness, being ignorant of God’s righteousness (see Romans 10:3).

This would be like a vicious mass murderer thinking that the good judge will let him go if he simply hands him a day’s wages, when the only thing that will satisfy the demands of the law is the finality of the death sentence. A good judge would be appalled that any sadistic murderer would think he could walk away from justice with a simple payment of a fine. By offering such a menial payment, the criminal shows that he considers that the taking of human life isn’t a serious offense. His belief only adds to the nature of his crime. The Judge of the universe is not satisfied by humanity’s self-inflicted suffering. In fact, He is greatly appalled by it. The Bible tells us that the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (see Proverbs 21:27).

Even the best that we can offer the Judge is a detestable insult to Him. Our attempts to make any atonement for sin reveal that we don’t see our crimes against His Law as being very serious. We trivialize them. This is why we need the Law (the Ten Commandments) to show us the standard of righteousness that God requires of us. It is ignorance of God’s moral Law that leaves most of humanity with the delusion that their good works commend them to God. As long as the peasant woman doesn’t know the righteous standard of the Judge she seeks to influence, she will continue to trudge around the sacred hill. However, the Law reveals that sin is “exceedingly sinful” (see Romans 7:13), and when we see the depth of our sin, we are divorced of any thought that we can make atonement ourselves.

It leaves us with nothing but the hope of God’s mercy and brings us to the cross of Jesus Christ. Consider what the Word of God says about the purpose of the Law: But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners . . . (1 Timothy 1:8,9) These verses state that the Law is good only when it is used “lawfully.” It is therefore implied that the Law is bad when it is used unlawfully—for seeking justification or for promoting legalism. It is very clear from Scripture that no one can be made right with God by keeping the moral Law.

So what then is the Law’s function? Paul tells us: Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20) The Law was given by God to bring the knowledge of sin, so that a spiritually blind and self-righteous world could see their need for the Savior. This is the lawful use of the Law. Do you know any who are ungodly, who are sinners? The Law was made for them. But when the Law isn’t used and a sinner simply makes a “decision for Christ,” he lacks understanding of the true nature of sin. He thinks that his good works commend him to God, and he is liable to say “do not touch, do not taste, do not handle”—he becomes legalistic, thinking these things have a role in his salvation.

While many are deceived into thinking they can be justified through the Law or are bound up in legalism, the Law’s purpose is to reveal to the world its desperate need of God’s mercy. The great biblical commentator Matthew Henry says, The abuse which some have made of the Law does not take away the use of it; but, when a divine appointment has been abused, call it back to its right use and take away the abuses, for the Law is still very useful as a rule of life; though we are not under it as under a covenant of works, yet it is good to teach us what is sin and what is duty. (1) There are many in the Church today who deny this, insisting that the evangelistic use of the Ten Commandments has no basis in Scripture.

To those who believe that there are no incidents of the Law’s use by the early Church, I present my case in these pages. I do this because I want the Church to see that God gave only one method to reach the lost, and that method is the one we should be using. All other methods are manmade, and are therefore detrimental to the cause of evangelism. In these pages, we will see that Jesus used the moral Law as He spoke to the lost, and that the use of the Law wasn’t confined to the Master Evangelist (as if that weren’t enough). My hope is that those who are skeptical will look to Holy Scripture as the final authority on the subject. While this book explores the application of the Law in evangelism (as do a number of my other publications 2), it is unique in that it looks specifically at instances where Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, John the Baptist, and others used the Law to reach the lost.

Throughout the book, to highlight the use of the Ten Commandments, I have footnoted where the Law is mentioned in Scripture. I will also regularly call upon men such as Matthew Henry (perhaps the most respected of Bible commentators), John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and others to strengthen my case. In addition, we will examine biblical instances where they preached the reality of future punishment for those who break the moral Law (a topic that many within the contemporary Church have neglected, in the name of discretion). To make an important point regarding this issue, I have used footnotes to highlight instances of the preaching of future punishment by the One whom we are commanded to imitate. I will emphasize the importance of preaching the reason that men and women are commanded to repent—because God “has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30,31).

We need to be reminded of these truths in a day in which many within the Church are telling us to forget them. (A Soul-Searching Key) Someone recently put a book into my hands that informed the reader that “the Lord has provided a new tool for sharing.” The author then expounded on the “new tool” that God had given him by asking, Do you believe it is possible that you could tell them of God’s plan of salvation without using “Christian” words—Jesus, sin, repent, church and God—and still be speaking the Word of God to their hearts? The author then presented a message of salvation with no reference to repentance or future punishment, calling sin “faults, shortcomings, and bad behavior.” While we must be culturally sensitive and gentle when it comes to dealing with the lost, many (including the sincere author of the above book) have taken the thought that we need to be “seeker sensitive” to an extreme, and in so doing have moved far from the biblical example. As J. I. Packer states, “Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all.” Failure to speak about the reality of sin and its just consequences will produce dire results.

Jim Cymbala, senior pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, says, Churches meeting right now, today, are filled with people who are not born again, but the meetings are such that they will never be pricked in their heart, they will never be disturbed; they are going to go in and out of church every Sunday, and they will end up making their bed in hell. (3) With that thought in mind, I would like you to prayerfully read the following e-mail we received from a viewer of “The Way of the Master,” a weekly television program that I host with Kirk Cameron, on which we teach Christians how to share the gospel biblically:

God has changed my life through “The Way of the Master.” If you would have asked me two weeks ago if I were a Christian, I would have told you (proudly) that I have been one for over 15 years. It wasn’t until this week that I really, truly understood that I am a sinner and that I desperately need a Savior. I have been born again.

My heart is breaking for everyone out there who, like me, thinks they are saved, but in reality, are not. If it were not for you telling me, I would have been one of those who would have gone before the Lord and said, “Lord, Lord, did I not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then He would have told me plainly, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” I would have been cast into the Lake of Fire. Please keep on saying what you’re saying. If I could be deceived into believing that I was saved, anybody could . . . I really thought I was going to heaven. Now I know I am. Thank you, thank you, thank you again! —Colleen C.

Tragically, this woman’s spiritual experience is typical of many in contemporary Christianity. She made a commitment without the knowledge of sin, and the frightening result was that she wasn’t saved. Without repentance, there is no salvation. And the lost cannot repent—turn from their sins—and trust in the Savior if they don’t know what sin is. Those who make a commitment to Christ but have no knowledge of what sin is will almost certainly have a false conversion. They may do what Christians do, say what Christians say, sing what Christians sing, but they are not what Christians are—regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Jesus warned that “many” who called Him “Lord” would be rejected at the gates of heaven and be cast into hell (Matthew 7:21–23). These “many” people that Jesus spoke of are those “who practice lawlessness” (verse 23). That’s something we must come to understand.

People who are not given the Law may profess faith in Christ, but because of their ignorance of sin they continue to violate the Law of God—they practice lawlessness. Jesus said that there would be few genuine conversions and many false conversions. These are fearful words, and words we must take seriously if we are serious about reaching this generation. Could you and I be part of that great multitude who think they are saved when they are not? Have we obeyed the Scriptures and “examined [ourselves] as to whether [we] are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5)? It may be wise to take a moment to go through a short checklist to see if you have evidences of salvation. Don’t make the mistake of doing godly things to try to be saved. Godly living is the outworking of someone who has been saved. If we try to make these things happen, we are putting the cart of a supposed godly life before the horse of regeneration. If there is no fruit, there is no root. So go through this short list prayerfully:

■ Do you have a deep love and concern that motivates you
to reach out to the lost?
■ Do you read the Bible every day?
■ Do you have a tender conscience before God?
■ Do you love other Christians and enjoy their company?
■ Do you gossip, or listen to it with glee?
■ Do you place your trust in money?
■ Do you fail to keep your word, or tell “white” lies?
■ Do you take little things that belong to others?
■ Do you pray only when things go wrong or when you
need or want something?
■ Do you consider yourself to be a good person?

Number ten is a soul-searching key that often exposes a false conversion. If we think we are morally good, then something is fundamentally wrong. Jesus said that there is none good but God (see Luke 18:19). If we maintain that we are good, we are implying that Jesus wasn’t speaking the truth. Rather, if you think that you are good, it’s more than likely that you have never had a true revelation of your own sinful state before God. If that’s the case, then there’s a possibility that you have had a false conversion, despite your professed godliness. Those who are converted will always agree with Scripture and know experientially that their heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (see Jeremiah 17:9).

We are sinful to the very core. In us “nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18). If there is even a slight chance that (like the woman whose e-mail we just read), you have never been truly converted, please take a moment to go to our website: Click on “Are You a Good Person?” and go through the test, answering the questions with a tender conscience. You have nothing to lose. Remember, we are talking about your eternity. But I trust that you have already made your calling and election sure, as the Bible exhorts us to do. This will be evidenced by your desire to follow the Lord’s command to be a fisher of men (see Matthew 4:19), and when we look at biblical examples of how to “catch” men and women, you will view the Scriptures as the final authority. As one who has experienced genuine salvation through “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21), you will want to take great care to ensure that you don’t lead anyone into a false conversion.

To share the biblical message of salvation, do what Jesus did in reaching out to the lost—use the Law lawfully. The use of the Law in evangelism was something I didn’t understand in my first ten years as a Christian. But in 1982 I began to notice this principle being used in Scripture and in history, and implemented it in my own evangelistic efforts. Am I saying that we must use the moral Law to bring “the knowledge of sin” every time we share the gospel? Of course not; Jesus didn’t. Scripture tells us that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Those who have a humble heart, who recognize their sin and see their desperate need for God’s mercy, will understand the gospel of grace. But the proud and self-righteous—those who proclaim their own goodness (see Proverbs 20:6)—don’t see their need for the Savior. They need the Law to show them the righteous standard that God requires. Biblical evangelism therefore follows the principle of “Law to the proud, and grace to the humble.”

If someone is proud and self-righteous—like the self-righteous man who ran to the Savior (4) and asked how to be saved—we must do what Jesus did. We should give him the Law to show him the nature of sin. If he is humble of heart (already possessing the knowledge of sin), such as in the case of Nicodemus, then we should do what Jesus did and give him grace. It is as simple as sowing seed. A wise farmer always checks the soil before he plants seed. If the soil has stones, he removes them. If it is hard, he breaks it up. He knows that if he wants to successfully grow a crop, he must properly prepare the soil before he sows the precious seed. That’s the principle behind the evangelistic use of the Law: “Law before grace.”

In the same way, a wise doctor doesn’t give a cure to a patient who has no understanding that he has a serious disease. If the doctor doesn’t show him the severe nature of his illness (that, left untreated, it will kill him), the patient won’t appreciate the cure. Left in ignorance about the seriousness of his plight, the patient may neglect taking the cure, and therefore die. So the good doctor looks his ignorant patient in the eye, and takes the time to thoroughly explain the malady and its terrible consequence. He doesn’t deliberately avoid certain words that may alarm his patient. He wants to alarm him.

God’s Law alerts the sinner to the malady of sin. It widens his complacent eyes and causes alarm. It brings the diagnosis proving to the patient that he is terribly and terminally diseased. It helps him to understand sin and its result, so that he will then appropriate the cure of the cross. It is because of this that the Law and the gospel should never be separated. They are made for each other. One is the diagnosis; the other is the cure. The diagnosis without the cure is futile. The cure with the diagnosis is senseless. The Law exposes the disease; the gospel treats it. John Wesley says, The very first end of the Law [is], namely, convicting men of sin; wakening those who are still asleep on the brink of hell . . . The ordinary method of God is to convict sinners by the Law, and that only. The gospel is not the means which God hath ordained, or which our Lord Himself used, for this end.

Think of God’s Law as an extension cord that is plugged into the power of Heaven. The gospel is a light bulb. Without the Law, the gospel is powerless; it leaves the lost in the dark about their sin and its deadly consequences. The gospel—the news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins—gives no light to the mind of sinners whose understanding is “darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18). The god of this world has blinded their minds “lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The message of the cross is therefore foolishness to a world that is perishing (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). However, once the gospel is connected to the Law, it becomes the power of God to salvation.

The Law gives the gospel its light—it enlightens the lost about the nature of sin and shows them their desperate need for the Savior. I have seen this happen thousands of times, and once you see the effect of both the Law and the gospel working together, you will have your eyes opened also. You will say (like many others I have heard from), “How could I have not seen this before!” Later in this book, we will look at how you can implement the Law in the gospel presentation. Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no point on which men make greater mistakes than on the relation which exists between the Law and the gospel.” Therefore, in the next chapter, we will begin to examine what Jesus did when He reached out to the lost, so that we can follow in His footsteps.

1 Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (1721)
2 For a more comprehensive understanding of the importance of
using the Law to reach the lost, see Hell’s Best Kept Secret by Ray
Comfort (Whitaker House) and The Way of the Master by Kirk
Cameron and Ray Comfort (Tyndale House Publishers). See also
How to Win Souls and Influence People (Bridge-Logos Publishers).
3 “The Caller,” preached October 10, 2004, tape # PO1492N.
4 We will look closely at this and other incidents in the book.

End of Chapter 1

What Did Jesus Do? A Call to Return to the Biblical Gospel
Author: Ray Comfort
Published by Genesis Publishing Group
2002 Skyline Place
Bartlesville, OK 74006

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