Over the past several years the Lord has been burdening the pastoral staff more and more with the urgency of local evangelism. Telling people about God and sin, Jesus and faith rises again and again as a burning priority for Bethlehem.
The Urgency of Evangelism
No matter what part of your Christian commitment you focus on, the Bible leads you from that focus to the urgency of evangelism. For example:
- If we focus on Christianity as a life of love, the Bible shows us that love is hollow if we are willing to do nice things for people but not tell them about how to escape hell and gain everlasting joy with God (Luke 10:27).
- Or if we focus on Christianity as obedience to the commands of God, the Bible shows us quickly that God commanded us to make disciples and to rescue the perishing (Matthew 28:19–10; cf. James 1:22 with 5:20).
- Or if we focus on Christianity as a life of joy and fulfillment, the Bible makes clear that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35) and that those we lead to Christ will be our joy and hope and crown of exultation (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
- Or if we focus on Christianity as the way of filling the earth with the glory of God, the Bible shows us quickly that God is glorified when we bear much fruit (John 15:8) and that unbelief is the root of all that dishonors God (Romans 14:23).
- Or if we focus on Christianity as a force for social change and justice, the Bible shows us that apart from saving grace the human heart and human society will sink deeper into sin and immorality and decay (Romans 1:16–32).
- Or if we think of Christianity as a demonstration of kingdom power, the Bible shows us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16) and that the great demonstration of kingdom power is when Satan's grip on unbelievers is broken through the power of the Holy Spirit in saving faith (Mark 3:27; Colossians 1:13).
In other words no matter what we focus on as the meaning and purpose of Christianity, evangelism inevitably rises to the surface with urgency. God has shown us more and more that there is no authentic Christianity that doesn't have a sense of urgency about evangelism. And Bethlehem will not be a faithful, obedient church unless there is a longing and an effort among us to tell unbelieving people around us about God and sin and Christ and faith, in the hope that the Holy Spirit will use our words to bring people to faith in Jesus and to everlasting salvation and joy.
One of Our Responses to This Urgency
One of our responses to this growing sense of urgency (not the only one!) is the development of the pamphlet you have in your hands called "Quest for Joy" and this series of messages based on each of the points in that tract. We printed 5,000 of these and they are available to you free if God leads you to use them in your own efforts to tell people about the meaning of your faith.
Let me stress at the outset that making Christ known and winning people to trust and follow him is an enterprise as varied as the persons involved and as rich and deep as the truth of Jesus himself. There are as many ways to make Christ known as there are ways to describe his glory and obey his teaching.
We believe our job as leaders in the church is not to press everybody into the same mold with regard to how you tell people about Christ, but to inspire you to do it and to give biblical foundations and to throw out possibilities for you to consider. That's what we are up to in this pamphlet and in this series of messages.
How did this come about? The book Desiring God is an attempt to capture in writing the vision of God and Christian life that drives and guides the leadership of this church. I don't know whether God will use the book extensively in converting unbelievers. Dan Chalmers did tell us at Missions in the Manse of a nominal Catholic priest in Manila who was converted through studying the book.
But probably it assumes too much to be an effective book for unbelievers. So people began to ask me the question: could we develop a gospel tract that would be basic enough for unbelievers and yet be rooted in the vision of God cherished at Bethlehem and laid out in Desiring God? That's what we've tried to do in the pamphlet, "Quest for Joy."
The Aim of These Messages
My aim in this series of messages is to unfold for us the six biblical truths in the pamphlet, explain why we regard these six as so important, and along the way show how they function in making the Christian gospel plain in our day. My prayer is that God would use the messages to make you very strong in your grasp of the nature of God and the nature of sin and the work of Christ and the meaning of saving faith. God—sin—Christ—faith! That's what has to be explained to people.
What is God like? What's the meaning and consequence of sin? What did Christ achieve when he died? And what is faith? How you answer those questions makes a tremendous difference in how you share your faith—that IS your faith. Hundreds of people have come to see these questions in fresh and exciting ways at Bethlehem, and I hope that what makes God exciting to so many of us at Bethlehem will come through in this pamphlet and will come through in your life as you grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord.
A Look at the Pamphlet "Quest for Joy"
Let's look at it together.
Our Common Ground with All People
The front panel is intended to establish very honestly a common ground that exists, we believe, between us Christians and every person we will ever meet ("Quest for Joy: Six Biblical Truths"). We and they want to be happy. They may be seeking it in the fast lane while we seek it in the narrow way, but I don't think there is any serious doubt that everyone wants to be happy—or use whatever word you like: joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, pleasure. Even those who seem bent on ruining their lives are trying to minimize pain in the things they do. We do have a common ground with everyone we meet.
An Alluring Tension
On the first inside panel we ask a question to arrest attention and to begin a bridge between God and their desire for joy. "Did you know that God commands us to be happy?" The question is annoying. For most people today, being happy does not fit well with being commanded to do anything. And yet the question is alluring because most people have never heard anyone say this about God before.
There is no escaping the tension this creates: God is an authority—and people don't like authority. But God uses his authority to command us to be happy—and people do like happiness. There's the tension. Only the Holy Spirit can overcome it and make people willing to find their happiness from a God who has absolute authority over their lives. That's our goal.
The biblical evidence for God's authoritative command to be happy is Psalm 37:4 (at the bottom of the panel): "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." And of course there are dozens of other places in the Bible where we are commanded to rejoice in the Lord or to be glad or to sing for joy or be content.
The Heart of the Gospel
Then at the top of the facing panel come three sentences that I would die for. They are not mere rhetoric. They are not mere verbal flourishes. They are the heart of biblical gospel. They are the release of the tension created between God's awesome authority and my desire for happiness. These three sentences are a summary of the whole book, Desiring God. These are the sentences that have to be explained in sharing the gospel.
The best news in the world is that there is no necessary conflict between our happiness and God's holiness. Trusting God for everything brings him honor and us happiness. God's purpose to be glorified and our longing to be satisfied succeed together.
We signal from the very outset that the Christian message is not merely about my happiness but also about God's holiness. It is not merely about my happiness but about God's honor. It's not merely about my passion to be satisfied but about God's aim to be glorified.
These three sentences signal loud and clear that you can't make the gospel plain if people don't know about the holiness and the honor and the glory of God. But these sentences also signal loud and clear that there is a way—there is a way!—for God to be God, great and glorious and holy and honorable, and for me to be happy. Man's happiness is not emphasized at the expense of God's greatness. And God's greatness is not emphasized at the expense of man's happiness. There is a way—there is a way!—for God to be glorified and for me to be satisfied together forever.
The Way to Full and Endless Joy
As Psalm 16:11 says (at the bottom of the panel), "You [God] have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." This is what people are after: fullness of joy and endless pleasure. Full and endless. Full and endless.
The gospel we have to share is that there is a way to know this joy, but only if we are willing and eager for God to be God—for God to be glorified above all things.
And that takes us to the six truths inside which give the biblical basis for God's being glorified and our being satisfied together.
Truth #1: God Created Us for His Glory
Now why do we begin here?
1. "Falling Short of God's Glory"
Virtually all presentations of the gospel eventually quote Romans 3:23, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." But hardly any gospel presentations have laid the groundwork for understanding what the falling short of God's glory means. If you begin with God's commitment to his glory, you don't have that problem.
2. Restoring the Centrality of God's Glory
God's glory—his greatness, his excellence, his power and beauty and wisdom and goodness and worth and perfection (you would take the time to open up this word glory!)—God's glory is central in biblical revelation. Paul could often assume that fact among the Jews when he preached the gospel, since they knew the Old Testament. We can't assume this today at all.
That's why the gospel sermons in the book of Acts won't look just like this tract. But compare what Paul stressed in his sermon to the Greeks in Acts 17. He stresses the glorious, sovereign freedom of God before he ever gets to the work of Christ (see verse 25: "He is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything").
We have to restore the centrality of God in the universe before the work of Christ can be understood. We can't just appeal to the self-centeredness of people, and expect to keep the gospel pure.
3. Discovering Why We Exist
The third reason for beginning with the statement that God created us for his glory is that it can make sense to people that discovering why they exist is a good means of finding fulfillment and happiness. If people believe there is a Creator God (or will grant it for the sake of argument), they will perhaps see that we're on a dead end street if our purposes in life are different than the purposes of the one who made us and rules the world.
Suppose you walk into a house of a person who just came to America from a very primitive part of the world, and notice he has a pan in the fireplace and is grumbling. He says, "It doesn't work." And you say, "What doesn't work?" "The water catcher. It doesn't work. There's a hole right up through the roof and open to let the rain in but it doesn't work." You would say to that person, "That's not a water catcher. It's a fireplace. You burn wood in there and the hole is for smoke to get out of the house. It's made to keep you warm not collect water."
Everyone can see that when you know what something is for you get more out of it. So it is with life. If we know what we were made for, there is far greater hope of getting all out of life possible.
Those are the reasons for beginning with Truth #1: GOD CREATED US FOR HIS GLORY. And so we add the brief word of interpretation:
Deep and lasting joy comes from being what we were created to be. And we were created to be mirrors of God's glory—to fill the earth with the light of his beauty by reflecting it to others.
A Personal Word of Application
I'm going to pick it up here in two weeks because there is so much more to say about this foundational truth. But let me close with a personal word of application. In Isaiah 43:7 God says that he created men and women for his glory. That includes you. He made you—he conceived your personality, he knit you together in your mother's womb—for his glory. Your life is not an accident. It is not the meaningless consequence of random evolutionary mutations.
God created you. And he did so with a high and noble purpose in mind—that your utterly unique personality, and even your body (1 Corinthians 6:20), might reflect some feature of God's glory that no other person can. You are like a crystal, shaped like no other crystal. And the reason you exist is to walk in the light of God's glory in such a way that its rays and colors will reflect off of you and cause others to admire God.
What we will see more fully in the weeks to come is that walking in the light of God's glory means trusting in the greatness of God's grace. And nothing is more satisfying than a confident repose in the omnipotent grace of God. Therefore God's purpose to be glorified and your longing to be satisfied succeed together. Trusting God for everything brings him honor and brings you happiness. It is a glorious gospel of a glorious God.
I urge you, put your whole trust in him!—for his glory and for your joy. And let that joy begin to spill over and enlarge itself in bringing others to the light.