Boldness Under Threat: Speaking the Gospel with Clarity as Opposition Grows

Bethlehem 2016 Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders

Minneapolis, Minnesota

My favorite time is the afternoon crowd after lunch. They always get the Presbicostals to preach that spot. If you don’t know what a Presbicostal is, it’s a Pentecostal that became Presbyterian but didn’t want to lose the Spirit. So that is what I call myself.

I’m glad to be with you. It really is a privilege and an honor to be invited to share the Word with you all and to be trusted by Doc Piper, I call him Pop. So Pop, thank you for having me. I’ve filled two quotas here, as the youngest and the brownest speaker, and so we have hit our diversity quotient. And I am glad, honored to be able to do that with you all.

Opposition and Boldness

Today we’re going to be in Acts chapter four. I’m going to try to cover this entire chapter in this time, but we’re going to hunker down in one verse in Acts chapter four.

And the goal today, to borrow from Dr. Piper’s words yesterday evening, is not to carry you through all of the linguistic and exegetical features of this text. Most of us, particularly if we’re pastors, are familiar with this passage. I don’t need to parse the verbs and break apart the language for you to understand what is happening in this passage. What I want to do across the breadth of this chapter is dig out the why of what these men are doing and how we should be moved and impacted by that.

I believe Dr. Piper said that exact thing the other night. It’s about the why underneath the words. What is the driving force of their activity and what can be learned by us in walking into this narrative, not necessarily in trying to pick apart what it has to say, but rather why it says it in what it should mean in our hearts?

Acts chapter four is the first recorded opposition to the proclamation of the gospel. It is the first recorded opposition to the church in preaching the name of Jesus. In my time, my topic is Boldness Under Threat: Speaking the Gospel With Clarity as Opposition Grows, and what better place to look than to the first moment where the opposition began to grow against the news of a resurrected Savior and what he has come to accomplish in this world, and what he will return to accomplish again. Amen?

Now, listen, I’m going to tell you right now, y’all are not about to sit here stoic with a black man preaching. Y’all better get ready to talk back. I know you’re Scandinavian, Presbyterian, and Baptist. Listen, give me a deacon nod or something, just any response to know that the word of God is hitting you in your hearts, all right?

We are in Acts 4. Could you indulge me now and stand for the reading of the Word? We just have one verse of Scripture. This is Acts 4:13. I want to read that out loud together. Read with me:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

That’s it right there. Pray for me. I’m going to pray for you. We’re going to ask for God’s help as we look to God’s word for what he has for us today.

The Temptation to Compromise

I’m going to begin this afternoon with a confession. It is very easy, as a pastor and as a church planter of what by worldly standards we would consider a successful multi-site church plant to come up and only speak of the wins. It’s a proclivity that we all have as pastors, if we’re honest. Very rarely do we bleed out in front of our people and teach them transparency. So please allow me to begin with a confession of the many moments over the last 16 months or so that I have found myself fearing to the degree that I thought about compromise.

I have found myself fearing opposition to the degree that it actually crossed my mind to compromise, and not in a fleeting moment and not in a passing way, but something that I dwelt on, something that I wrestled with, and something that kept me up late into the evening that made me think if I would just back off of this, if I would just ease up a little, and if I would would just say it this way, then this opposition would cease.

It started in the summer of 2014. You see, our church is founded on several values, the central of which is Jesus at the center, gospel centrality, this wonderful message of God not turning his back on his rebellious creatures, but instead invading this broken reality in flesh, bearing the wrath and the shame of the very people that he came to save. That is at the heart of our church.

But as in outworking of that same message, we actually believe (and this is crazy), looking at the nature of the Scriptures, that God’s church should reflect the full breadth of his creative genius. That in Revelation where it says that every tongue, nation, and tribe will be gathered around the throne of God is not just a future reality, but should be a present desire for the church here in this world. And so to that end, we’ve gone to great lengths, through staffing, through preaching, through music, through theological training, to cultivate that narrative in the life of our church.

And we noticed that there was a little bit of a divide, and that always happens. African Americans didn’t think the church was black enough. Anglo Americans (I’m going to be really politically correct) — white folks — didn’t think that the church was quiet enough. We have tambourine ladies and hat ladies and Presbyterians really trying to figure out how to do church together.

To that end, we decided to spend six weeks preaching through the biblical theology of diversity, that God has this goal of forming a family for himself from all people, and that you can find it in every single major section of Scripture. And we really believe that in teaching this theological foundation, that it was going to explode in the hearts of our people and there would be repentance, and there would be belief, and there would be freedom. Well, just the opposite happened. Over the course of that series, 130 or so people left our community, and some of them were members.

Now, in a community at that time of, conservatively speaking, 500 people, that’s a big loss. And in the midst of that series, there were many, many times where, though I was convinced that this is what the gospel has to say, in my heart I felt the urgency to compromise.

Swimming Upstream

It happened again in the spring of 2015, when male headship and male only elders came to the chopping block and there was a bubbling chorus, a cacophony of voices questioning whether we were biblical in our understanding of complementarianism, and whether we were biblical in our understanding of male-only elders, and whether we were oppressing the women in our church because they were not biblically appointed to be elders, but rather relegated to the service of the body of Christ as deacons.

This was no passing fancy. This was a gathering of people who came together to plot, to consider how it was that they would re-alter and rework the narrative in the theological foundation of our community. In that moment, in the heat of that moment, in a city that is beyond egalitarian, in a church culture and context in the south where complementarianism is considered to be archaic and oppressive and a paternalistic form of doing church, the temptation to compromise was incredible.

And then lastly, this fall, we were in a 10-week series called Beautiful by Design. Every explosive and divisive issue that you would consider was covered across the breadth of that 10 weeks. We talked about people being made in the image of God, so of course that brought up the issue of abortion. And not only did it bring up abortion, but also how we invest socially in those that we long to be born because all human life has value according to the Lord.

It brought up conversations about the death penalty. It brought up, again, conversations about headship and conversations about male-only eldership. It brought up the conversation about human sexuality. And the day that I preached on a biblical foundation for human sexuality, Atlanta was hosting its second of the year pride parade. It goes directly past our building. Some wandered in, some stayed, some wandered out.

But what it caused, in that moment, in a city that per capita is now considered the home to the largest homosexual population in the nation, is many, many questions for the people who are part of our community. They were wondering if we were right in our stance of defining biblical marriage, and if we were right in our stance of standing against this Supreme Court decision to try and redefine a God-designated institution. And again, the temptation to compromise was great.

It was the temptation to say it in a way that wouldn’t upset people. Most of us are communicators, so you know that there’s a way where you can convince yourself through that wonderful little tool of self-deception, where you can say it in a way that allows you to think you’ve maintained your fidelity while not upsetting the people that are listening to you. I’m not speaking any truth right now, right?

Man, I know I’m the youngest guy here, but I’ve been preaching long enough to know that moment, where you know if I say it this way, well such and such might get upset. And if I say it that way, well then we might lose such and such, and they’re our biggest tither. And if I say it that way, then what if they start protesting outside of our building like they did at that other place? And if I say it this way, if I continue to press this issue of complementarianism, what if we lose all of our good leaders because they are really convinced of this societal value over the biblical one?

Far Too Easy to Compromise

There’s a pervasive, foreboding, looming sense at times that it is easier just to compromise. In fact, I would say that it is easy, even for the best of us. Even for the very best of us it is easy to consider compromising, failing to speak the gospel with clarity in the midst of any opposition. It is easy for even the best of us to consider compromising.

And by compromising, here’s what I mean: failing to speak the gospel, the full breath of it, with clarity in the face of any opposition. It’s easy to do that. It’s easy to do that when the “Church” seems to be moving in the cultural tide rather than against it. We all know this. We’ve all struggled with this, from the pulpit to sitting across your kitchen table, where you choose not to press on that thing that you know the Holy Spirit just told you to press on in the heart of that person because you don’t want to lose the friendship, and so you sacrifice your fidelity. It is easy for us, family, to compromise.

Fearless Proclamation, Faithful God

But here in the Scriptures — and this is what I hope to reveal today in the rest of our time — we have a story of unwavering, uncompromising Christians, bold in the face of opposition. And hear me, it’s not because of some inherent bravery. I have to make sure to make that very clear. It’s not because of some inherent bravery, some internal fire that they are mustering out of their will. No, it’s because of a transformational experience that they’ve had — a transformational experience that propelled them into fearlessness.

Fearless proclamation is the direct result of having been with a faithful God. If you tune out for the rest of this, I’ll just be big and stuff and try to pull you back in. Maybe you’ll think, “Man, that guy’s big.” That usually brings you back in.

This is about fearless proclamation. Now again, the context of that statement is, what? It’s the good news of the gospel and all of its ends and means. Fearless proclamation is the direct result of having been with a faithful God, for it is being with him there that we discover the means of maintaining a faithful witness despite any measure of opposition.

Here’s how we’ll pose it. We’ll pose all of that as a question. By what means do we maintain our fearlessness and faithfulness to speak the gospel with fidelity in the face of mounting opposition? By what means? By what means do we, as Christians, maintain our fearlessness? There are two aspects to this. First, our fearlessness. We live without fear. We don’t have crippling fear. And second, our faithfulness. We speak the gospel with clarity and boldness and fidelity. We don’t alter or nuance or change any aspect of it.

The Means of Maintaining Bold Witness

What are the means by which we maintain that ability in the face of continual opposition? For you note takers, I’m going to give you three handles and then we’re going to talk through them in the text. The first is a cosmic vision. What are the means God has given us? First, we have a cosmic vision. Second, we have a holy conviction. Now that word was chosen purposefully. Confidence is not conviction. Those are two different things. This is a holy conviction. Third, we have a humble heart.

A Cosmic Vision

So first, I want to talk about a cosmic vision. The story of Acts chapter four doesn’t begin in Acts chapter four. The story of Acts chapter four begins in Acts chapter three. Peter, in the work of the gospel, is at Solomon’s portico, preaching. And there he runs into a man who has been lame for some time. And in the course of running into that man, Peter heals that man. It’s one of my favorite passages in the entire Scripture, where Peter comes and he tells him to “rise and walk” (Acts 3:6).

And Peter doing this act, as Jesus had done so many times through the narrative of the Gospels, and as he did it so many times to the offense of the religious leaders of the day, caused a stir, likely as he would have expected it to. And that is what began to lead to the opposition that they would experience in chapter four.

But in what boldness does Peter walk, in the face of what has already happened to his Savior, to his master Jesus, who has been crucified, now raised to glory and ascended to the right hand of the Father? In what boldness does he walk, not only to proclaim that gospel, but to believe that by the power of God one who has been lame for most of their life can now walk? And in what boldness will he continue to operate in the face of opposition?

Well, Peter had a cosmic vision. This is very, very important. Let me read it to you. This is Acts 3:19–21. After Peter healed this man, he turned to the crowd that was standing there and he said:

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out . . .

There’s the gospel. He says, “Repent and turn so that your sins may be blotted out by Jesus.” But then there’s two additional promises that Peter says comes with that. Not only are your sins blotted out if you repent and turn, but he says “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:20).

That phrase there literally means that God has the ability to shore up and strengthen the human spirit. And not only are there times of refreshing, but it is a result of this repentance that Peter then says, when this happens, when the hearts of men are turned back to the living God via the sacrifice of Christ, not only will they experience a strengthening in their inner man, but then God can send Christ, and there will be this second appearing, who has been appointed for you (Acts 3:20).

The Greatest Vision

Now, that’s important to the effect of what it means to understand the nature of the gospel, but it’s also leading into this understanding of a cosmic vision. You see, Peter continues that phrase in Acts 3:21. He says:

That he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Now listen, as someone who would say that God has granted me not only a gift but a desire to cast vision, to think through those things of what could be and what should be in the life of the church, there is no vision that I can conceive, that you can concoct, that will ever compare to the cosmic vision that God has already declared through his prophets toward which we are now living.

Peter understood. Now, what did we say our root text was? It’s Acts 4:13. In having been with Jesus, Peter understood that what he was working toward by God’s energy was not setting up shop in a new building. What he was working toward was not establishing himself as a fine orator and miracle worker. What he was working toward was not establishing some man-made goal and gain that is loosely related to the news about what Jesus has accomplished.

But what Peter was working out of, in, and toward, was the cosmic understanding that every time he proclaimed the gospel, he pushed forward the narrative and the plan that God had instituted and declared through his prophets, that not only had Jesus died to raise humanity from the rubble of their own sin and brokenness, but that he is literally reordering the world to the way that he intended when he first called it “very good”.

This is what’s at stake. This is not about you. This is not about me. This is not about my church. This is not about your church. This is not about my feelings. This is not about your feelings. This is not about our friendships. This is about God’s promise to overturn sin, hell, death, and brokenness, and restore this world to the way that he intended it.

Peace By the Blood of His Cross

Do I need a little verse to go along with that? I know we Bible people like a verse. I say it all the time in my church, so just so you know. About a third of our church is Presbyterian/Quiet Baptist. And so, I know when I’m preaching good because they start taking furious notes, because they’re never going to say “amen”. I’ve just accepted it. When I see the pens come out, I’m like, “I’m preaching today.” And I tell them all the time. So there’s a third like that.

I was telling the other brothers today that the other portion of our church are all former Charismatics who have drifted over into this Reformed stream of theology. So sometimes they’re just shouting. I’m like, “And God . . .” and they say, “Yes, Lord!” and I think, “I haven’t read anything yet.” So I’ve longed for them to meet in the middle. I want Charismatics to learn from the Presbyterians why you should be shouting, and Presbyterians shout because of what they already know. And then we can shout together in the middle.

So here’s the deal. Just so you don’t think I’m just up here shouting about nothing, let me give you a little Bible verse. Then you can shout too. Paul writes in Colossians chapter one, and I’m going to read the whole thing because it’s just too good:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For . . . (Colossians 1:15–19).

Y’all are Piper students, you know what the “therefore” and the “for” is there for. He continues:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:19–20).

Family, there is, and must be, a cosmic orientation to our proclamation, an understanding that when we are speaking the gospel with fidelity that we are participating in this cosmic vision. Our theology doesn’t begin at Genesis three, it begins at Genesis one. We don’t preach out of the fall. We preach out of what was. We preach against the fall. We declare the risen one.

Greater Than Our Small Plans

It is not just individuals who receive salvation in this declaration, but it is contributing to God’s continued work to restore the order of the world. How? If we really believed that every time we were faithful to declare the gospel, that one more chip was cast toward this cosmic vision becoming reality, what opposition could come against us? It’s already been said a hundred different ways. The enemy has already lost, sin has been defeated. Death is the last enemy, but it has no power in this world. Though it will likely get far worse before it ever gets better, it will not remain that way.

We must have a cosmic vision that comes from being with Jesus, not our minuscule, limited naval-gazing. And I’m talking about my own. I would never talk about you holy, godly people. I’m talking about myself and my propensity to get so wrapped up in my thing, in our church, in our planters, and in our vision for our city and what we’re doing. Of course, if that is the root of everything that I’m doing, then any wind can topple me over. But if what’s in view when I stand before anyone, or sit across from another, is the cosmic restoration of the broken world in which we exist, then it’s going to be very difficult for any opposition to come against me. It’s going to be very difficult for any compromise to consume me.

A Holy Conviction

Peter and John had a cosmic vision, and not only did they have a cosmic vision, but they had a holy conviction. They had a holy conviction. What do you mean by that, pastor? I’ve met a lot of confident communicators. I’ve met a lot of confident Christians. They are confident, but confidence is manmade and man-maintained. Did you hear what I said? Confidence is manmade. Confidence is manmade from my study. Confidence is manmade from my hearing. Confidence is manmade from the number of degrees that I have behind my name. Those are confidence markers. It could also be the method and the means of my training.

But conviction comes from another source. Conviction, that which will allow you, as Dr. Carson said earlier, to not count your life as something to fight for in the face of opposition, must come from another source.

We’re in Acts 4, if you want to turn there, if you’re following along with me. I’m going to read two sections here to display Peter and John’s conviction. First, I’ll start in Acts 4:8. After Peter has healed the man and Peter is proclaiming Jesus, it says there, you can go back and read this for yourself later, that 5,000 men come to believe that word. There are 5,000 men named. We don’t know how many women, and we don’t know how many children. This is the same as the feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospels. Some have estimated there were 20,000 people there for that moment. We don’t know how many people were here for this moment that received the good news of the gospel.

It says that the religious leaders became “greatly annoyed”. I love the ESV’s translation, because I really do believe it’s accurate. It wasn’t furious anger, it was, “Why won’t these guys just shut up? Why can’t we shut them up? Seriously, why can’t we shut them up? Didn’t we kill that guy? They’re still talking about him.” And so they arrest them, and they hold them overnight until the next day they can gather to question them.

The Boldness of Uneducated Men

When they gather to question them, they set them in the midst of them and inquire of them, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7). That’s important. Do you hear what I’m saying? This isn’t confidence, this is conviction. They said, “By what power did you do what you did?” Now, I’m paraphrasing. And this is what it says:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit (he’s still active, y’all, just in case you didn’t know), said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Conviction. Conviction. And where does it come from? Acts 4:13 says that it’s from being with Jesus. This is conviction, not confidence in their learning. They were unlearned men. This is not confidence in their training nor confidence in themselves, but conviction from being with the living God.

We Cannot Help But Speak

They show this conviction again at the end of the narrative. I’m going to skip ahead. In Acts 4:18–20, after they’ve been questioned again, they called them and charged them. They say, “Don’t talk about Jesus no more.” This is very different from your friend’s feelings being hurt because you’ve pointed out that there’s no other means by which they will ever be free. They charged them, “Don’t speak about or teach in the name of Jesus at all any longer.” And it continues:

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).

Now you have to think about who’s talking. Let’s not forget. The Bible is a long narrative. Peter and John, what is their pedigree? Y’all remember? Well, one of them, when Jesus was arrested, ran so hard that they stripped him naked. The other swore an oath to God that he did not know God. Now, track with me on that. The servant girl says, “Weren’t you with Jesus?” Well, is Jesus God? That’s when you nod yes. And then it says Peter swore an oath before God that he didn’t know Jesus. So Peter swore an oath to a servant before God that he didn’t know God. Man, that’s a lot of raw material to work with.

What so alters a human being that they would go from hiding, running, and lying to standing at a crucial moment, where they very well could have lost their lives. These are the same people that just killed Jesus. Peter just said, “You killed Jesus.” He just said that, right? So the likelihood of them walking away scot-free was pretty slim, I’d imagine. This is where your sanctified imagination has to take over. These are not just words on a page, these are things that happened to people. And so, they’re standing there facing the people that just killed the one that they are living for. And a few chapters back — let’s call them years, let’s call them months — one ran away in terror and the other one lied until they left him alone.

And then, just to add insult to injury, he is like, “Man, this is too intense. I’m going to go fishing.” It’s amazing. That’s where Jesus found him, right? That’s where Jesus found him. He had gone and hit up the sporting goods store and was like, “I’m just going to start fishing again. It’s too much drama hanging out with Jesus.” And yet here they are, standing before the court of people who could take their lives in a minute. What’s the difference? Well, all of a sudden cowards have become courageous. All of a sudden fearful men have found a new foundation. All of a sudden they speak in a way that is so resolute and so bold that one verse later, we already read it together, they are actually puzzled.

They thought, “These are unlearned men. How do they stand with such boldness and such eloquence?” They don’t have confidence in themselves, they’ve been with Jesus. And with him, they cultivated a holy conviction. What means has God given us to maintain our fidelity, to maintain our fearlessness, our faithfulness? It’s a cosmic vision, and it’s a holy conviction.

A Humble Heart

And the last beautiful little feature here in Acts chapter four is a humble heart. We could go on for hours. I’ve done the conference thing for a long time, and there’s usually three topics of conversation: nickels, noses, and expansion, in one circle. Or in another circle it’s knowledge, depth, and influence. We posture.

Again, I’ll confess so that you don’t have to. I find myself wanting to posture, to quietly brag about the work of the Lord, to say things like, “Man, God’s really been active. We planted 16 campuses this year and I was featured in Christianity Today.” Nobody cares. Nobody cares but you and me at that moment. I would say, for the broader reaches of Christianity, humility is not the thing that characterizes us.

And yet, it is a humble heart, a shattered posture, a lack of the need to be recognized that characterizes a fearless and faithful willingness to proclaim the gospel. Because you don’t care about your reputation. You don’t care how people speak of you. You don’t care how they view you because you don’t want them to view you, you want them to see God. And that’s what we see here again. I want to re-reference Peter’s words in Acts 4:8–12. It says:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by him this man is standing before you well.

It’s an immediate deference that says, “Not by might, not by power, not by ability or manufactured authority, but what you’ve seen here today, God did that. God did it. I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I don’t have it in me to stand before a group of people and point to the insufficiency of their own self-salvation. I don’t have that in me because I want them to like me. I want them to be okay with the soft serve, so that everything can stay unaffected. And in humility, we point to Jesus as the one that affects all of this.

And then we see it again, here at the end of chapter four, after they charged them not to speak of Jesus again. Peter comes back with his retort that we have to speak of what we have seen and what we have heard. Ultimately, they have to let them go. And what did they go and do? It says in Acts 4:23–31:

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
     and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
     and the rulers were gathered together,
     against the Lord and against his Anointed’ —

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness . . .

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Even after their trial, even after their arrest, even after their fearlessness and their faithfulness, they did not return to celebrate their ability to endure. They went back and they asked God to help them continue to speak with boldness. And that’s what they did. When they had finished praying, it says the house shook. They were filled again with the Spirit. And they went out and continued to speak with boldness.

The Emboldening Presence of Jesus

All of this is predicated on one idea. It flows through one idea, and that is that these men had been with Jesus. And in having been with Jesus, they had been imparted with a cosmic vision, they had been imparted with a holy conviction, and they had been imparted with a humble heart. Fearless proclamation is the direct result of having been with a faithful God.

And so then, here’s the question: as you consider the ways in which you have compromised — and you have compromised, because we all have — could we say that the simple answer is because I focus on my vision, not God’s vision? That I walk in confidence but not conviction? That I don’t return to the source to continue to empower me to speak boldly? Am I appropriating these means by the only thing and the only way that I can? And that is to be with Jesus.

Now, I’m not going to batter you over the head about how many quiet times you need to have a week and how much Bible you need to have memorized. I’m going to ask you simply, is Jesus your source? Is Jesus the source for what you do as one who is supposed to walk in fidelity to the gospel and its proclamation? This is not, is Jesus your source in theory, or is Jesus your source in mind, or is Jesus your source in understanding. Rather, is Jesus your source in practice? Can I be the first to admit? Not always. Can I own that? Does anybody else want to be bold enough to own that with me? Not always. Sometimes it’s not even often.

So let me tell you brothers and sisters, that if you want to find yourself fearless in these days, as your cities become more and more consumed with the cultural narrative, in the church, bending toward it instead of standing firmly, will you be noted as one who has been with Jesus? Will you appropriate what God has granted in a cosmic vision? Will you, by his Spirit, pursue that holy conviction that is only stirred in his presence? Will you walk with a humble heart?

I imagine, in earnest, that if just this room of people, perhaps even those watching via the stream, were determined to be Christians who consistently returned to their source, Jesus, and consistently turn their eyes toward God’s cosmic redemption, and beg for the conviction of one that has only seen the face character and nature of the living God, and walk in humility, there could be no opposition to withstand us. What opposition? We would not be guarding the gate; the advance of the gospel would be being guarded against.