American Journal of Biblical Theology
June 24, 2007
Copyright © 2007, John W. (Jack) Carter Scripture quotes from KJV
What is the purpose for mankind on this earth? Why did God create you and breath into your body a living soul? After all, He allows you take up space and consume this world's resources. The simplest answer is that God created you for His own pleasure. The simplest complete answer is simply a short description of God's purpose in creation.
Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:11.)
You are different from everything else in God's creation by one more simple fact. When you were formed, God breathed into you a living soul (Genesis 1:27). This gives you the unique ability to know God, and therefore to love Him, worship Him, fellowship with Him, and serve Him. No other creature in all of creation is given this wonderful gift. Simply, God created all of us to love Him, worship Him, fellowship with Him, and serve Him. All of us. This includes every human being who is conceived on this earth.
If this were a perfect world, all people would love God. In a perfect world all people would know who God is, and all people would turn to God in faith. There would be far less violence, crime, and sorrow. However, we are quite aware that this world is far from perfect. God did not create us as mindless puppets, but as beings who know the difference between what is approved of God and what is not, both by our observation of the creation (Romans 1) and from our possession of God's Word. Furthermore, as agents of our own decisions, God allows us the choice to love, worship, fellowship with, and serve Him, or to reject Him. Those who refuse to love God will be given exactly what they want: an eternity separated from Him, an eternity that is void of the power of the Holy Spirit, an eternity that knows only evil, an eternity that we call "hell." Similarly, those who place their faith and trust in God will be given exactly what they want: an eternity with Him, an eternity that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, an eternity that is devoid of evil, an eternity that we call "heaven." The good news of the gospel is not complex. The good news is simply that the sin that has already entered our hearts will not prevent those of us who place their faith and trust in God from missing the promise of an eternity with Him.
The heavenly reward for faith is available to all people. Why are all people not saved? Why do people go through their entire lives and never come to a point of choosing to love God instead of loving this evil world? Isaiah described our state as though were were like sheep:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6).
It is our human nature to go our own way, to satiate our own desires and our own pride. God gives us a choice, and we all follow our sinful nature when we when we first have the ability to make choices. All of us made that decision early and life and came short of God's purpose for us. None of us completed our early years without the tarnish of sin. All of us deserve eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). Without God's intervention, we have no hope. A penalty must be paid for that sin in our hearts, and God Himself paid that price when He came down and dwelt among us (John 1:14) in the man Jesus, and He submitted Himself as a sacrifice for that sin on the Cross when God "laid on Him the iniquity of us all".
Though we are responsible for the consequences of our ungodly behavior, those who place their faith and trust in God are not condemned to eternal separation by it, and will receive the benefit of God's grace by that sincere confession of faith, alone. Children in our Vacation Bible School are taught the way of salvation as a simple sequence of A, B, Cs:
A. Admit to God that you have sinned, turning away from that sin (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23; Acts 3:19; 3 John 1:9)
B. Believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son and accept God's gift of forgiveness from sin (John 3:16; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 1:11-12).
C. Confess your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-13).
Admit to your sin in repentance, Believe in Jesus' name, and Confess Him as your personal Lord and Savior. That is the gospel in a nutshell, and it is for this very confession that you were created.
Even now, have YOU responded to God's graceful offer of salvation from an eternity separated from Him? You can place your faith in God this very moment simply by making the choice to do so, praying to Him those words of admission of your sin, belief in Him, confessing Jesus as your Savior and Lord.
Herein lies the problem: people all over the world are facing an eternity separated from God because they have not responded to the good news of God's grace. God has a plan to remedy that problem, and that plan includes every believer. When Jesus came to fulfill God's promise for salvation, He presented us with a simple task:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 18:19-20).
The task that befalls every Christian is simple: make disciples wherever you go by showing them God's love, and teaching them the truths of the faith. Jesus described some of the places that we go as we seek to take part in this ministry of grace:
You shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Where do we go on this mission of grace? God's plan is that His grace is offered to all people, so we have no choice but to go to all people. Jesus describes a model of sharing this good news with four distinct groups of people:
1. Jerusalem. This is where you live. Jerusalem starts in your own home, your own family. Parents are morally responsible for the spiritual welfare of their children. Parents, it is not the responsibility of the church to bring your children to salvation. It is not the responsibility of the church to provide the spiritual nurturing of your children. There is no scriptural basis for such a thought. Scripture is clear that God's plan is that parents lead their own children to faith. (i.e. Deut 4:10, 6:7, 11:19, 31:19).
2. Judea. This is where you commute. This is the community of people with whom you interact on a regular basis, your social community. Most of the people you meet in the community are still destined for an eternity separated from God. God has called on every believer to be active in the business of making disciples in their local community. Those faithful who live in the community, led by the power of the Holy Spirit, are the most effective witnesses for God. If every believer was faithful to this mission, everyone in the community would see and hear the truth and many more would be saved.
3. Samaria. This is the area within the geography of your community, but outside of your comfort zone, your alienated community. Many people are surrounded by Christians, but never experience their love. When Christians embrace one another and exclude those outside of their cultural comfort zone, the church becomes a separate community in the same way that Judea separated itself from Samaria. The barrier between people of faith and their local Samaria is simply a stronghold of evil that is empowered by pride, ignorance, and bigotry, all unholy spirits. The barrier that stands in front of Samaria can be toppled when we put away those sins of pride and bigotry and develop relationships among the Samarian community. When this takes place the barriers of ignorance fall and love flows.
4. Uttermost parts of the earth. This is the area outside of the geography of your community, the global community. Reaching people outside of your community can be difficult and can require a significant sacrifice. This was a daunting task for the ancients who could travel only a few miles in a day. Those days are long over. Using the capabilities of modern communication and transportation, faithful Christians, many finding support from other groups of Christians, have worked to take the message of grace to almost every area of the earth. However, the earth is a pretty big place, and communities have grown at a far greater pace than Christianity has successfully reached. There are hundreds of people groups who have never met a Christian. There are hundreds of once faithful communities that have long ago forgotten God's grace. There are pockets of unbelievers in every area of the world, some surrounded by Christian communities that are all but silent. Even now we have an opportunity to travel to unchurched people groups with a singular, holy, purpose: to share the love of God. Ministry to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria is an individual task that each Christian participates in within their community. Unlike community ministry, work outside of that community is a group effort. When we send one of our own on a mission outside of our community, they represent our community, and they depend upon our support so that the mission can be accomplished. When we make the mission possible by our own sacrifice, we become a vital part of that missionary effort. Consequently, a mission to the "uttermost parts of the earth" involves two people groups: those who God calls to go, and those who God calls to support them.
Note that Jesus' command was not that some people go to Jerusalem, some to Judea, some to Samaria, and some to the Uttermost. The grammar of the sentence is clear: those whom He calls will find obedience when they are sharing God's love actively in all of these areas, and doing so is not a daunting task at all. Sharing God's love in these areas is simply a matter of identifying the barriers to our obedience, and calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit to break down those walls.
The first barrier to obedience affects all of our attempts to serve God: rejection of His offer of grace. The following discussion is relevant only for those who have placed their faith in God. It is only then that the Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives to break down the barriers that stand between where we are and where we could be in our relationship with Him and in our ministry in this world.
Many of the barriers to obedience are spiritual in nature, and impact our relationship with each of the communities of Acts 1:8: our family, our social community, our alienated community, and the global community.
What are some spiritual barriers in Jerusalem? (Your family)
- Strained family relationships. We live with the consequences of our sin, and many times we express that sin to those who are closest to us. A spirit of unforgiveness will foster ill will and resentment that stands as a wall that will block any attempt to penetrate it with the gospel. God is a God of reconciliation and His Spirit encourages us to forgive one another as He forgave us: unconditionally. God's love is demonstrated in unconditional forgiveness. This would be a good place to start.
- Lack of integrity. Your family knows you well. They know your strengths and gifts, but they also know the location of every chink in your spiritual armor. An unrighteous lifestyle or a pattern of inappropriate behavior exposes one to frontal attack by others. Paul admonishes us to put on the breastplate of righteousness in order to defeat satan's attacks in this area. This may require the termination of some habits, behaviors, or attitudes that are inappropriate for one who claims to love the LORD. Identify the chinks in the armor, repent, and seek God's forgiveness. When your integrity is evident, the opportunity to share God's love is regained.
- Pride. This sinful world opposes faith, and teaches that faith is an expression of weakness. Pride places God in the co-pilot's chair, or leaves Him out of the loop of authority entirely. For this reason, scripture literally and frequently states that God hates pride (Prov. 8:13, Amos 6:8, et. al.) There are no less than 100 references on the subject. Humility is found when we place the order of our relationships into the proper perspective. God is God, and we all stand before Him humiliated by our sinful state, depending fully on His love and grace for our very survival. To stand with pride is to stand and shake your fist at the mighty God who loves you enough to refrain from destroying you for your sinful behavior. Pray to the LORD for forgiveness for this sin of pride and ask His help in overcoming this destructive pattern of behavior.
- Fear of ridicule or rejection. Since your family knows you so well, such fears or anxieties are natural. However, this barrier is built on another unholy lie: you will be rejected and ridiculed. The truth is that God is with you when you act in love, and you will rarely be ridiculed. Though an individual may not respond to an expression of God's love, people do respect others when they stand on what they believe.
- Lack of agape love. You simply do not love the individual enough to care about their eternal destiny. Your love for others is predicated on your love of the LORD. Take seriously God's desire that you would spend more time in prayer and in the study of His Word. Allow your relationship with the LORD to grow and mature. As it does, your love for others will blossom, and your sensitivity to their need for the LORD will be more acute.
What are some spiritual barriers in Judea? (Your social community)
- Fear of compromising your worldliness. If you relate to the lost community around you as if you are one of them, you could fear that exposure of your faith would change your relationship with them. They might think less of you. We can come up with a list of rationalizations that serve to keep our light under the bushel (Matt. 5:14-16), but every one of these is an unholy lie. Actually, the practice of hiding your faith makes you appear to be a hypocrite as you show one face to the world an another face to the church. Openness about your faith may bring a small level of disdain from your social community, but the rewards of your honesty and forthright testimony are enormous. Regardless of what the lost community thinks of your faith, your integrity is intact when you shed such hypocrisy, and you will be known as one who can be turned to in a time of need, a time that may lead you to ministry.
- Feelings of personal inadequacy for the task. Such feelings come when we draw our power from the wrong source. The world teaches us to be self-reliant, to tackle all of our problems using our own strength, strategies, and tactics. However, when faced with an unholy opponent, we are inadequate for the task. No person is intrinsically adequate to perform a holy task. But when we step out in faith and trust in the LORD, it is His power that provides everything we need to complete the task. We can celebrate our inadequacies as we see God working in our lives rather than use them as an excuse to keep God from working in and through us.
- Lack of agape love. This barrier seems to know no cultural or geographical limitations. We can pray to the LORD that He will help us to love people more.
What are some spritual barriers in Samaria? (Your alienated community)
- Ignorance. This is usually the biggest barrier, yet it is one of the easiest to topple. Sin leads us to isolate ourselves from those who are different than ourselves, teaching us to consider ourselves better. Ignorance is simply "not knowing." Learn more about the alienated community and take the time to pray for them. Following prayer, step across the barrier and develop some real relationships with those in the alienated community. Your sins of prejudice and bigotry cannot survive the destruction of ignorance.
- Lack of commitment. It is easy to turn away from a stranger, particularly one who does not have any idea of the potential for salvation that a Spirit-led encounter would bring. We may not realize the huge impact that salvation brings to the stranger and be more concerned with protecting our own comfort level. It takes some commitment to step outside that comfort zone. Pray to the LORD for the commitment to the faith that will help topple this barrier.
- Preconceived expectations. When going somwehere new, we should expect that things will be different. Not worse; not better: different. Relying on expectations can leave us unflexible and unwilling to change our plans to meet the needs of the situation. The mantra, "Be flexible," is commonly heard on the mission field as a reminder that preconceptions can be a great barrier.
- Lack of agape love. We cannot seem to get away from this one, and it is a greater barrier in Samaria than in any others since you have already chosen to alienate this community by its very definition. It can be very difficult to love those who we have already decided are unlovely.
What are some spiritual barriers in the Uttermost? (The global community)
The answer to this question probably depends upon the nature of God's most immediate call in your life. If God is calling upon you to serve Him as the missionary, the barriers may be different than those when you are called to be part of the missionary support team. Let's look first at the missionary:
- Fear or anxiety. Going outside of a familiar geographic region may invoke some of the same fears of ministry in Samaria. Many of these fears come from the anxiety of not knowing what is around the corner. However, the opposite of fear is simply faith. In Jesus' commission to the disciples He promised "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." You can know that when you step out in faith, God promises to be there with you to protect you and provide you with the resources you need to accomplish his task. You also are fully aware of the prayers being lifted up by your support team who you are also representing while you are on the field.
Fear is also always dispelled when the unfamiliar becomes familiar. One of the most consistent patterns experienced by missionaries in a new field is that of anxieties that precede the trip followed by an eagerness to return after the trip is concluded. Fears and anxieties of the unknown are normal, quickly dispelled, and wholly unfounded.
- Communication skills. One might think that a failure to know a needed foreign language stands as a barrier to expressing God's love. This is simply another unholy lie. Love communicates without words (John 13:35). Love always finds a way. One might fear that they will not have the right words to say when called upon to speak. God promises that, when we are in His will, He will give us the words (Luke 12:12).
- Inexperience with sharing the gospel. A point made in missionary preparation is that if you do not share the gospel at home you will not share the gospel on the mission field. This may not be entirely true, since the mission field provides a different context that is apart from one's regular routine of commitments and distractions. It can be far easier to share the gospel when you have removed yourself from those distractions and you are committed to do so. However, it is also important that you do have the minimum skills to share the gospel, skills that are easily obtained and practiced. Knowledge of a specific gospel presentation such as the Roman Road sequence or the A.B.C. plan used in Vacation Bible Schools is very useful. When one has a planned presentation sequence, that presentation can be worked into a conversation and as the dynamics of that conversation unfold, a planned method will keep the conversation on track.
- Improper perceptions of the ministry context. Another unholy lie is "I cannot be a missionary because I am not a preacher." Serving on the mission field engages almost every skill and activity that one encounters at home. Missionaries can serve by cutting grass, cooking and serving food, rebuilding homes, renovating or building church buildings, taking part in a Backyard Bible Schools, etc. The most powerful tool in the missionary field is the presence of the Holy Spirit in your heart as you interact with others, and that interaction can take place in almost any context. There are far more activities in Uttermost missions than simply preaching and evangelizing. Those who are not particularly gifted in apostleship can exercise their other gifts, and leave the evangelizing to the evangelists.
What are some of the barriers that hinder those who might support the missionary?
- Disinformation. Many are not engaged in the support of missions simply because they are not aware of the need. We can make the effort to learn about the needs outside of our geographic community and learn about those who God has called to take his message of grace into these areas.
- Witholding financial support. Global missions is a team effort, not an individual's ministry. We can all take part in reaching the Uttermost when we throw our support behind the ones that God has called into the field. Waging war on a foreign field requires a tremendous amount of infrastructure support, and getting engaged in the spiritual battle on a foreign field is little different. We support our military troops in substantive ways that empower them to complete their mission. Likewise, we can provide substantive support to those who have followed God's call to share his love outside of our community.
- Not making time to pray. We may promise to pray for others and then find ourselves distracted, focusing on other things, stepping away from the altar of God's grace when prayers are needed. We cannot forget the importance of prayer support for those who stand in the gap for us outside of our community. The knowledge of our prayers emboldens and encourages the missionary. The missionary is in need of God's protection, God's wisdom, and many other gifts of God's grace that we pray for.
- Lack of agape love. It is difficult to have a true love and concern for people we have never met, and will most likely never meet. We can develop that love and concern by learning about the needs of people who live outside of our own back yard. We know how God loves us and how He has called us to love on another.
There are many other barriers that stand to prevent our sharing of God's love with others, whether it take place in our family, in our social community, in our alienated community, or in the Uttermost, and every barrier has been built by satan, brick by ugly brick. The bricks in the wall are held together by the concrete of our own unrepented sin. As impenetrable as the walls seem to be, God gives us a wonderful promise. Jesus made this promise to Peter when the Apostle confessed his sincere faith in teh LORD. It is the same promise that was made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the same promise made to the faithful in the community of Israel. It is the same promise made to every believer today.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18).
The "This" in Matt 16:18 refers to Peter's faith that Jesus points out in the previous verse. The conflict that Jesus describes in this statement is between the solid rock of Peter's faith and the gates of hell. Christians understand that satan has no power to stand against the work of the Holy Spirit. The gates of an ancient city were part of a wall that stood as a defensible and impenetrable barrier that would keep foreigners outside the city, assuring its security and autonomy. Likewise the gates of hell are made of those walls that enclose and protect that territory that satan claims. Those barriers keep out the power of the Holy Spirit and assure satan's power and autonomy. These are the barriers that stand in the way of our own obedience. That is, the very barriers that we are studying are the gates of hell that Jesus describes.
The gates of hell cannot prevail against the simplest act of faith. Every barrier that would serve to inhibit our obedience in ministry falls when faith is employed. When we step out on faith we begin to rely on God's power rather than on our own. When we step out on faith the walls fall.
The only tool that satan has that helps him maintain these barriers is our own unwillingness to tear them down. However, when we take the time and effort to expose those barriers, repent of the sin in our own lives that empowers them, pray for God's forgiveness and wisdom, we will find that the barriers to our obedience will crumble like the walls of Jericho. The gates of hell will not prevail. Not only will God's work be accomplished, but God will be able to use us to bring it about.