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The Power of the Gospel Message


Chuck Colson and Francis Shaeffer were right. We live in a post-Christian society that truly is the new Dark Ages. The return to paganism, which began in the Enlightenment, is nearly complete: The secularists are content that God is dead; the cultists think only they know God; the occultists think everything is God. Of the three, perhaps the occultists will preside over the sad end of mankind. A reading of Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation could suggest that.

Still, optimistic voices are heard. Some Christians predict a great "last days" revival. Many look to the fall of Soviet Communism as an opportunity for world evangelism. Others hope the failure of Communism's materialistic philosophy will force the world to reconsider Western theism. Conservative educators like John Silber, president of Boston University, hope for a moral reawakening in America. Finally, believing scientists hope the newest discoveries, both on the sub-atomic and the astronomical levels, will cause the world to acknowledge the presence of God at the center of the universe.

I'm ambivalent. Try as I might, I can't detect a meaningful move away from the brink. That does not make me pessimistic, because the certain eventual outpouring of God's wrath will result in the permanent cleansing of the earth from all the lies of the devil. More important, I feel that my part in God's plan is the same regardless of whether civilization remains for one or one hundred more years. How and when God brings the Kingdom to pass is His prerogative as manager of the cosmos; I am simply committed to proclaiming His Lordship. I pray God's Kingdom will come so that His will can be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I do not despair. I go for small gains wherever I can. I believe the souls of His children are of great worth to God and I work to light the Gospel candle in a dark world. Evangelical success is not measured in terms of numbers, but of faithfulness. 1 want to be faithful to the Great Commission.

The theme in this book is simple: Our responsibility to those who are snared in secularism, cultism and occultism is to help disentangle them from Satan's philosophical lies. Only then will they be able to hear the Gospel message.

After the devil's fingers are removed from his victim's ears, the Gospel must be declared. Only the Gospel message is freighted with the power to reconcile mankind to God.

The One-Two Punch

An example of the one-two punch of apologetics followed by declaration is found in the conversion of the apostle Paul. Paul (who was known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion) was a great enemy of embryonic Christianity. He was a contemporary of Jesus, probably a rabbinic student in Jerusalem during Jesus' three-year ministry. He was a Pharisee, a knowledgeable Jewish leader. Beyond that, he was an active opponent of Christianity: He was present at, and gladly consented to, the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Church; he was a ferocious antagonist of the Church, who "made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 7:58; 8:1, 3).

Paul was converted during a miraculous intervention of God. On his way to Damascus with a pocketful of warrants to arrest Christians, he encountered the risen Jesus. He fell to his feet and was blinded. A voice from heaven said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

"Who are You, Lord?" Paul asked.

"1 am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (See Acts 9:1—9.)

The Damascus road vision is, I believe, misunderstood to be the sum total of Paul's conversion experience—as though it happened in a vacuum! On the contrary, I believe it was the culmination of years of hard case witnessing to Paul.

The Bible indicates Paul had abundant contact with Christians prior to his Damascus road vision. He would have heard numerous sermons by the Christian disciples in his attempts to suppress their teaching. Besides Stephen's preaching, he may well have heard Peter and other apostles, or even Jesus Himself. He probably argued with the upstart apostates. (In fact, anyone familiar with Paul can hardly imagine that he didn't.) Certainly, as he pursued his zealous persecution of the Church, he thought deeply about what he saw and heard; we know his analytical character from his extensive writings in the New Testament epistles. The Damascus road vision was, therefore, in my opinion, the second part of the hard case formula. It was the final declaration of the Gospel on the heels of much apologetic ministry.

I can verify that miraculous revelation often follows the apologetic work done by God's ministers. On numerous occasions people I have witnessed to have related to me that after our heated discussions something "occurred" to them, that God "spoke" to them. This communication normally is not in a vision like Paul's, but it is often just as dramatic and life-changing to the recipient. The Gospel message, when delivered to opened ears, still has the power to change lives just as it did in the first century.

My wife, Margaretta, testifies that only after she had been soundly challenged about Mormon salvation, which is dependent upon "good works," did God reveal Himself to her. In her thirty years of intense commitment to Mormonism, she had never heard the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith. Shortly after being confronted with the works vs. grace issue, she walked into a strange home and saw a "miraculous" Scripture verse taped to a mirror: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8— 9).

Margaretta remembers it as an emotional moment for her. She said she knew it was no accident that she saw the verse. It was a radical confirmation to her that God was personally interested in her and involved in her life. We should not be surprised that this type of revelation follows preaching, since the Bible declares "signs" follow faith, which follows preaching (Mark 16:15—18).

The Bible teaches that God works hand in hand with His servants to bring others to salvation. While the Bible indeed says, "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved," it links calling upon God with confrontive declaration:

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:13—15)
Christian essayist G. K. Chesterton talked about conftontation in this way:

There is a notion abroad that to win a man we must agree with him. Actually, the opposite is true. Each generation has had to be converted by the man who contradicted it most. The man who is going in a wrong direction will never be set right by the affable religionist who falls into step beside him and goes the same way. Someone must place himself across the path and insist that the straying man turn around and go in the right direction.

Once God (usually through His witnesses) has penetrated the fog of the devil's lies, the simple declaration of the Gospel message is powerful. When that message falls on an opened heart, it is as if a seed of the Kingdom of God takes root and grows (Mark 4:3—20). It is so powerful, in fact, that Jesus said it grows "all by itself': "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how" (Mark 4:26—27).

Paul always marveled at the impact of the conversion experience. It was a complete transformation. He called it a conveyance or transferring from one kingdom to another, a resurrection from death to life (Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 2:5). Paul also understood the immediacy of the impact of the Gospel on an opened heart. His own conversion was apocalyptic. He would later describe it not as a learning experience, but as revelation.

Often hard cases look "impossible" to us: Those who are being saved out of the webs of satanic lies don't always appear to be good candidates for conversion. I have a friend who was converted to Christ out of an occult group led by Bhagwan Shree Rajaneesh. The young man attended an evangelistic meeting under duress from his parents. Dressed in the typical bright orange garb of his discipleship, he wasn't interested in "finding Christ." In fact, he was tired of the discussions with his parents. But the meeting was orchestrated by God. The words of the evangelist, in concert with the previous hard case witnessing, untied his foggy, occult thinking. That night my friend changed kingdoms. He was born again.

The lesson? When we engage the devil's victims in what appears to be fruitless dialogue, God may be working strongly, even when we think He isn't. When we dialogue, they win; when we don't, they lose. Don't stop short.

Paul said of his own experience that he came to Christ "when it pleased God. . . .to reveal His Son in me" (Galatians 1:15—16). The word reveal in that passage is the same word that transliterates into our word apocalypse.

Paul's explosive moment of revelation came at the culmination of a process known only to God.

Fight the Good Fight of Faith

I certainly do not understand the process of salvation. I can't make it happen for anyone. I can't open a person's mind and force the Gospel in. I am left, ultimately, to my part of the process—sales. I declare. I am a witness. If you are a disciple, you are a witness.

It is a noble calling, this call to the Great Commission. And a taxing one. I commend you to the task of witnessing to hard cases, of winning "impossibles" for Christ. I charge you to keep the faith, run a good race, fight the good fight of faith. And remember: "Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Galatians 6:9).