A while back, I was sitting in a weekend class when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the news about the bombings and shootings in Paris. During our dinner break, I sat down at a McDonalds and watched CNN as they reported on the ongoing hostage crises in the theater in Paris. By the time we reconvened, almost all the seminary students in my class had heard the news of situation in Paris, and before we jumped into our course material again, the professor asked a student to prayer for the ongoing and tumultuous situation in Paris.
This student’s prayer was a good and right prayer to pray. He prayed for the Christians on the ground to be bold in proclaiming the gospel to those who were had lost loved ones and experienced the trauma of the heinous attacks. He also prayed for the aggressors, that they too would come to know Christ.
How Powerful Is the Gospel?
Let me challenge you with something: Do you believe the gospel is that powerful? Do you think the gospel is able to save Islamic extremists who run into buildings and kill people in the name of “God”?
Please don’t think I’m being too harsh. As I sat in my seminary class, I asked myself the same question. And while I may believe that theologically, to be honest with you, I’m not sure I do practically.
Imagine yourself as a pastor in Paris. Your city has just been attacked, perhaps one of your parishioners has died, and you have the ability, by some miracle, to visit the extremists in jail who had perpetrated these attacks.
Would you believe that preaching the gospel would affect them?
While we may often believe this is true theologically, so often we fall short of this practically. Our worldly perspective often diminishes what we think the gospel can do. We have thoughts like, “That person is way too sinful to hear the gospel and become a disciple of Christ.” And this isn’t just a problem we have; the early disciples had this problem too.
When the Gospel Saved Saul
Imagine with me for a moment what it must’ve been like for the disciples when they heard about Saul becoming a believer. Actually, we don’t have to imagine, because Acts 9:26 says,
And when [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
Here is a person who ran around terrorizing Christians and approving of their murders. Does that sound familiar? The early Christians understandably were afraid and disbelieved that this man could ever become one of them! It took a stern talking to from Barnabas for these Christians to truly grasp the miraculous conversion Saul experienced.
That’s one reason I often don’t believe in the power of the gospel. The early Christians even had trouble believing it when Saul was converted. But there’s another reason I don’t think that I truly believe that the gospel has power. To be honest, while I pray for people around the world to be witnesses to those who are hostile toward them, I often shrink back in my own evangelism because I think to myself, “That person could never understand the gospel. Their ideologies and thoughts and passions and ideals are so much different from the gospel.”
So what can be done about our wrong attitudes?
Boldness for the Gospel
We must remind ourselves constantly of how we were saved! It wasn’t because we, in our powers of deductive reasoning, came to understand what God has done through Christ. Nor was it because we were “close to God already” (I say this specifically to those who, like me, grew up in the church). We must remember that we were like all people, blinded by sin and incapable of seeing the truth, until God worked in our lives.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6 has been a great help for me in this. Listen to what Paul says concerning his own ministry:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
It was God who shined his light into our darkened hearts. It is only in reminding ourselves of our natural state and the work of God through the gospel that we have boldness to preach the gospel by “open statement of the truth.” It is God who powerfully used the gospel to change the hearts of men and women who were rebellious toward him.
So as we pray for Christians to be bold witnesses across the world, let’s remind ourselves to be bold witnesses right here and now. For we have a God who works powerfully through his gospel!