Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast. We close out the week with an email from a listener named David. “Hello, Pastor John! Up until his crucifixion, Jesus faced far more opposition from the Pharisees and others with an unhealthy religious spirit than he did from the Romans and the secular society. Do you believe that, in a similar way, the greatest opposition to God’s kingdom comes from within the church or the religious world, more so than the secular world?”

I think the best way to answer that question is to say that the point of greatest conflict with the advance of God’s saving rule — God’s kingdom — is not the church or the world.

The point of greatest conflict with the advance of God’s rule will always be the very place where the point of the spear of truth is penetrating the spear of unbelief and unrighteousness and intruding upon the dominion of darkness. In other words, there’s nothing peculiar about religion or irreligion that makes it stand in opposition to the gospel. What always stands in opposition to the gospel is sin and its root in unbelief.

Sent to the Lost Sheep

Unbelief and sin may be found in the world, and it may be found in the institutions of religion, which includes the churches. The reason the Gospels tell the story of Jesus in a way that shows how much conflict there was with the Jewish religious establishment (which were embodied in the scribes and Pharisees and chief priests) is not because they were less receptive than the Romans to the message of Jesus, but because Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

“More opposition is not going to come from the church or the world, but from sin and unbelief wherever it is found.”

In other words, the reason there was such resistance from the Pharisees is because that’s where the spear of truth was pointed. Jesus wasn’t doing any evangelism among Greeks and Romans. He was doing evangelism among his own people because that’s what God said — to the Jew first, then we’ll get to the Greeks very quickly (Romans 1:16).

We get a pretty clear glimpse of the reception that Jesus would have had if he had focused on the Romans by looking at Pilate and Herod, who became very good friends when they were formerly enemies in their common animosity to Jesus.

A World Full of Opposition

It was, as everybody knows, on a Roman cross where Jesus died. The implication of what I’m saying is that if the true, radical, whole counsel of God’s revelation begins to penetrate a church that is full of worldliness, unspirituality, and nominalism with no passion for the gospel, no zeal for the laws, no heart for missions, no brokenness because of its own sinfulness, no fervor in worship, and no love for the Scriptures, then it will not be opposed.

If the true, radical, whole counsel of God’s revelation begins to penetrate that church, there’s going to be plenty of opposition. It might feel to the faithful pastor as though, “Good grief, I’m getting more opposition in the church than on the street.”

On the other hand, if that radical, true, whole counsel of God’s revelation is proclaimed in a secular venue like a university classroom or a business men’s gathering or a PTA meeting or a non-Christian religious venue like a mosque or a Hindu temple in Minneapolis, he would get plenty of pushback.

If that true, radical, whole counsel of God’s revelation is proclaimed with conviction in those non-Christian settings, there will be plenty of opposition. I doubt that we should have a mindset that says more opposition is going to come from the church or more opposition is going to come from the world. Opposition is going to come from sin and unbelief wherever it is found to the degree that our message is true and radical and full and faithful to the whole counsel of God in Scripture.

Joyful Renewal

I think the final implication, then, is not to fret about who our worst enemies are. Let’s look upon every person and every group as a group who needs the gospel — church or non-church. Let’s make it our aim to penetrate the darkness of unbelief and sin by the faithfulness of our preaching and our witnessing, whether in church or in the world.

“What always stands in opposition to the gospel is sin and its root in unbelief.”

It may be that in God’s power and his mercy, he would cause a nominal church to explode not with opposition, but with awakening and reaffirmation and joyful renewal. It may be that in our neighborhood or in our other non-religious connections, God would be pleased by his power and mercy to bring about a stunning sensitivity to the gospel and eagerness to hear the truth. Let’s never talk ourselves into defeat in either case as though we knew where opposition comes from and where it will be more prevalent.

It will come from unbelief. It will come from sin. It will come in the church. It will come in the world. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation in the church and in the world. You never know what triumphs may lie ahead.


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