I have long struggled with the role of good works in the Christian life. I have struggled with the issue, and this is obvious from reading some of my posts. I am of the opinion that good works done by the Christian are not meritorious, but at the same time, are absolutely necessary. (See John Gerstner here.) In other words, our good works do not earn salvation for us in any sense, but they are the result of the changes Christ makes in our life.
We never achieve perfection, but we do make progress. We may not make progress that is evident to those around us (you can’t always tell by looking). We may not bed better on one given day, but over time the general trend of our lives is onward and upward. (See Jerry Bridges here.)
What role should the necessity of good works play in the process of evangelism? How should we confront the unbeliever with their necessity?
An unbeliever must be confronted with the need for repentance. From the 1689:
The repentance that leads on to salvation is a gospel grace by means of which a person who is caused by the Holy Spirit to feel the manifold evils of sin is also caused by faith in Christ to humble himself on account of sin. This humiliation is characterized by godly sorrow, a detestation of the sin, and self-loathing. It is accompanied by prayer for pardon and strength of grace, and also by a purpose and endeavor, in the power supplied by the Spirit, to conduct himself in the sight of God with the consistency of life that pleases Him. (Ps. 119:6,128; Ezek. 36:31; Zech. 12:10; Acts 11:18; 2 Cor. 7:11)
He must be willing to turn from his sins to Christ. He must hold no sin so dear that he would not forsake it for Christ.
It has been well said that the Christian life is a life of repentance. We continue to sin; so we continue to repent. This is not just a one time event. Again from the 1689, it is, "…to continue through the whole course of our lives… (Luke 19:8; 1 Tim 1:13,15)."
This should cause a person who has felt the guilt that comes from finally realizing God’s requirements and failure to live up to them to turn away. Again the 1689: "…even the smallest of sins deserves damnation, there is no sin so great that it will bring damnation to them that repent. This renders the constant preaching of repentance essential. (Isa. 1:16-18; Rom. 6:23)."
Faith has been defined as trusting in Christ and what He did for us to earn our right relationship with God and our place in heaven. But saving faith has another aspect. From the 1689:
By faith a Christian believes everything to be true that is made known in the Word, in which God speaks authoritatively. He also perceives in the Word a degree of excellence superior to all other writings, indeed to all things that the world contains … In this way the Christian is enabled to trust himself implicitly to the truth thus believed, and to render service according to the different requirements of the various parts of Scripture. To the commands he yields obedience; when he hears threatenings he trembles ... (Ps. 19:7-10; 119:72; Isa. 66:2; John 1:12; 15:14; Acts 15:11; 16:31; 24:14; Gal. 2:20; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 11:13)
Faith requires trust in matters of this life as well as matters of the next (John 3:12). I think there is a simple way to say this: when we accept Christ as our savior, we also accept Him as our boss. He tells us what to do and what not to do. He governs thought and speech as well.
So there is an “inbreaking rule of God.” The Christian faith does make a difference. Trusting in Christ leads to a life of good works from the motive of gratitude for grace received.
I’ll let Max tell the story:
Team Hoyt consists of a father-son squad: Dick and Rick. They race. They race a lot. Sixty-four marathons. Two hundred ans six triathlons. Six triathlons at Ironman distance…Since 1975, they’ve crossed nearly a thousand finish lines…
Team Hoyt loves races. But only half of team Hoyt can run. Dick, the dad, can. But Rick’s legs don’t work, nor does his speech. At his birth in 1962, the umbilical cord
wrapped around his neck, starving oxygen from his brain, stealing coordination
from his body…
But Rick wanted to run. At age fifteen, he asked his dad if they could enter a five mile benefit race. Dick was not a runner, but he was a father, so he loaded his son in a three-wheeled wheelchair, and off they went. They haven’t stopped since…
We bring to the spiritual race what Rick Hoyt brings to the physical one. Our spiritual legs have no strength. Our morality has no muscle. Our good deeds cannot carry us across the finish line, but Christ can. “To the one who does no work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 NASB)…
We bring what Rick brings. And God does what Dick does. He takes start-to-finish-line responsibility for his children. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
(Lucado, Max, 3:16: The Numbers Of Hope, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007, p. 83-85.)
Have you seen yourself like this before? Have you come to the place where you know without a doubt that you can do nothing in and of yourself to earn or deserve fellowship with God? It’s a hard place to be. It just doesn’t feel right to an American, not being able to earn something through hard work. It’s anti-American-dream.
It was a hard pill for me to swallow. It took some time and some trial and error. It took some study time discovering God’s requirements for thought, speech, and behavior. It took some introspection to discover what my own heart was capable of.
I praise God that Christ has done for me what I could not do for myself.
Has Christ done that for you? Has He earned your eternal life? I don’t mean that in the abstract sense, I want to know if Christ did the work for you. Do you really trust Him?
There is no better time than today, no better moment than right now, to begin to trust Christ. It’s a place of rest from labor and a firm foundation for all of life’s storms.
I especially like his discussion of the “whosoever” and “whoever” passages of the Bible, including John 3:16, the focus of the book. He references Mt. 10:32, Mt. 10:39, Mk. 3:35, Mk. 16:16, Jn. 3:36, Jn. 4:14, Jn. 6:37, Jn. 11:26, and Rev. 22:17. To which I would add Isaiah 1:18-20, Isaiah 55:1, 6-7; Hosea 6:1, Mt. 11:28, and Rev. 3:20 (Note that Rev. 3:20 refers to Christians; they can come too.).
Lucado is expansive:
Whoever unfurls 3:16 as a banner for the ages. Whoever unrolls the welcome mat of heaven to humanity. Whoever invites the world to God.
Jesus could have so easily narrowed the scope … but he used no qualifier. The pronoun is wonderfully indefinite. After all, who isn’t a whoever.
Whoever makes it clear: God exports his grace worldwide. For those who attempt to restrict it, Jesus has a word: Whoever. (Lucado, Max, 3:16: The Numbers Of Hope, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007, p. 66.)
This is the invitation Christians must trumpet to the listening world: Whosoever will may come. Come to Christ in repentance and faith and have your sins washed away. His life and death give you righteousness and pay for your sins if you will come.
Here me one this: if you have not turned to Christ in faith, there is nothing outside of you that is keeping you away. You don’t come because you don’t want to, and you are fully responsible for your refusal to come to Christ.
What happens when a person comes to faith? I was persuaded. I remember that persuasion as a long process, but it could in some sense have been an instantaneous event. (Get the books from the embedded links and enjoy the mental gymnastics that will no doubt follow from careful reading.)
I do not know what happens when a person comes to faith, but I know a few things that don’t happen. People who cannot even see the kingdom do not chose to enter it (Jn. 3:3). Dead men do not chose to do something (Ep. 2:1). People do not find what they are not seeking (Romans 3:11).
Coming to faith required me to be fully convinced by the Holy Spirit of the gospel’s truth. It also required me to be given a new heart with new desires to want to come to Christ out of my sins. It required me to be convinced to stop trying to earn my own salvation and start trusting Christ who earned it for me.
We fail when we do not give an open, sincere invitation to whoever will come. We also fail when we do not give God the credit for anyone coming at all.
I’ve been under some serious spiritual attack since returning. I keep playing over in my mind all of the things I didn’t do right while I was there. All of my sins seem the more heinous as well. It’s the same set of things I think when I hear sermons preached that tell me what I should do without reminding me of what Christ did.
Is it an attack from Satan? I don’t know. My flesh is fully capable of leading me down the path of guilt and despair. The Holy Spirit also brings conviction, but He does not remind us of sins we have repented of (John 16:8, Romans 8:15). I’ll assume it is a demonic attack for this post.
What is the best response to an attack like this? What do we do when Satan brings to mind our sin and labels us by it? It hurts to think of myself as a spendthrift or as slothful. I hurts to think of how much self-control I lack.
My best solution is to agree with Satan. I am saying that Satan is right. I am all of those things and more. I deserve the labels. I pray and tell God how right Satan is. This is called confession of sin, and I now that I can expect to be forgiven because of what Christ has done for me (1 John 1:9).
It’s not an occasion to wallow in guilt. Sometimes, but not often. Confession of sin does not lead to that for me. I am able to forget the accusations and move on. They come back, but I just repeat the process. I spend less time in guilt that way.
In confession, I find a reminder of what Christ has done for me. I am reminded that He lived and died so that I might live for Him. I like to the Dr. Rod Rosenbladt puts it in the essay “Christ Died to Save God-Haters.”
We incline to moralism by nature. In other words, not all theologies equally draw us. The theologies which draw us, as iron fillings to a magnet, are the ones that have to do with self-improvement, with the righteousness of the Law. As children of Adam, we are drawn to those that say: "I stuck in my thumb and pulled out a plum and what a good boy am I." We are not neutral toward the various theologies.
The one that is true - that Christ's death alone saves - we are hostile to, because we are children of Adam. Somebody will ask you, "Gee, don't you believe that we contributed anything to our salvation?" The Reformation answers, "Sure: sin, hostility, alienation, death, guilt." It's not the answer they are looking for, but sure we contribute all of those things and more. But we don't like that answer; we are resistant to this theology.
The reformers said that faith is of its very nature, assurance, the opposite of doubt. It rests upon the validity of the divine promise of the Gospel. Faith doubts not, though the Christian doubts often. This doubt must be reproved and combated.
But how is doubt combated? It is combated by hearing the doctrine done well. Somebody should answer back to you in terms of what the doctrine is in the promises of the Word. This is how the Spirit produces reliance and assurance. If you say, "Gee, I wonder if I'm really a Christian," and your friend asks you, "Why?" "Well, my life's just a total mess, maybe I'm not really a believer." If your friend tells you to pray harder, cry more, read the Scriptures longer, fast, and so forth - go find another friend.
Find a friend who will talk to you about Christ, what he did at the cross, the sufficiency of his death, the truth of the imputation of his righteousness to you; those are the things we need to hear. If the reformers were correct, you can relax about whether you're going to heaven, even if a lot of times you hate God. Christ died to save God-haters. And the death of Christ is greater than your hatred of God. The death of Christ is greater than your and my flabby Christian life. It is greater than that. The doctrine of justification is greater than our sin.
This doctrine is what makes Christianity Christianity. You've got to get across that the righteousness that saves isn't a change in the human heart, it's a declared sentence, "I declare you innocent." And we say, "But I'm not innocent, I'm guilty as sin!" But the judge says, "I know, but I didn't say that, I said I declared you innocent." That's what Christianity is. It's a declaration of innocence based on another's righteousness, and reckoned to you as if it were yours.
I have read back over my posts while in Peru, corrected the spelling errors as best I can, and am working on some future posts. Click the label at left or below for Operation Christmas Child to find all of them.
I also forwarded some interview questions to my roommate, Evans, the pastor from Kenya. He has promised to do a blog interview with me that I will publish as soon as possible.
Thank you to those from my church and community who prayed for our team on our journeys.
The simple fact is that I have not yet cried enough tears to be able to tell the stories right. I am wonderfully heartbroken. I don’t expect everyone to understand that, but it´s the only way I can find to express my emotions.
It is wonderful to be a part of the things that have happened here this week. I have been blessed to make a difference in some children’s lives. Operation Christmas Child (OCC) sent 200,000 boxes to Peru this year, and I was glad to play a small part in that effort.
But I also know that there are over 8.7 million children under the age of 15 in Peru. OCC only distributed boxes to 2.2% of these children. There is so much more to do.
I have seen the churches we worked with to distribute boxes. I have seen the children. I have learned of their plight. I will never be the same. I will get ready to communicate my stories to anyone who will listen. That is a start.
Please pray for OCC and the children who are blessed by this great ministry.
The children of Peru smile with a brilliance and beauty that stands out in stark contrast to their situations.
Many are from broken homes. Sometimes when a couple divorces in Peru the father feels no obligation to the children of the marriage. The mother will often go on to marry another, and she then shuns the children herself. These children can end up on the street, taking care of themselves. Some sniff a type of glue used to join soles to the bottom of shoes. They become addicted and often do permanent damage to themselves. (For more information on the street children, see here, here and here.)
Many of the children we saw were from the areas outside Lima. Families build homes as money becomes available, so they live in unfinished houses. The areas outside Lima are technically desert. The terrain is rocky and barren. The dust coats homes and people and churches. Many live in areas without running water. Water is brought in by truck at a monetary cost to the families.
But I saw many smiles. Smiles brought about by gifts packed by many in America. Our distribution team of about 12 people passed out 550 shoeboxes filled with gifts this week. We had several teams in our group, and all together we passed out 5,245 boxes. Each box touched a life. Each box will have a story.
One story was shared by a member of another team at a meeting tonight. A girl recieved a shoebox several years ago. She became a Christian and involved herself in the life of a local church. Her parents had seperated and were moving toward divorce. She was well on her way to becoming another statistic.
But God does not desert His own. Through her witness, her parents became Christians as well. The family was reconclied, and they are involved in the church where the aformentioned team distributed shoeboxes this week. Lives are touched by shoebox gifts. Tragidies are avoided. Sinners are brought to faith.
As another woman shared in the meeting tonight, "Each box has a purpose." If you have given before, your gift has made a difference. If you have never packed a box, follow the link here to change the life of a child. You may find your life changed as well.
I wanted to share about two other smiles. Part of the way OCC shares the gospel in Peru is through a dance and skit performed by a mime. Mimes in Peru are not the soft, gentle style we are used to in the states. Their dances are filled with emphatic and forcefull motions that convey energy and strength. I saw two mimes perform the rotine the Peruvian National Team had coreographed. Both of them had smiles bigger than the smiles on the children. Their dances conveyed a message of God´s love.
I have wondered for about twenty years what it looked like when King David danced before the Lord. Now I know. I have seen it in the dance of a beautiful girl named Susana and a handsome young man named Christian. I have seen dance and song convey a strong message of God´s love and God's provision for us in Christ.
May God bless the children.
A pastor had asked someone from our group to share with the children how the boxes came to them from America. This is the substance of what I said:
Good afternoon. My name is Juan. This is how a box comes to you.
A family buys gifts. They do their best to buy gifts and toys that will make you happy. They want to show Christ's love.
They bring their gifts to our church in the U. S. A truck carries them from our church to a place where they are cared for. A boat carries them to your country. And Christ's church gives them to you.
We give the boxes to show the love of Christ. We want you to know the love of God, the Friendship of Jesus Christ in your hearts, and the power of the Holy Spirit in your lives.
Thank you for the opportunity to give to you.
I didn't say anything that profound, but I was overwhelmed by the opportunity to speak on behalf of so many people. It took a mountain of volunteers to get a box from the U. S. to Peru.
In this country, since 2003, over 369,900 boxes have been delivered to children. Nearly 1,000 organizations and churches in Peru have been involved and helped by OCC. Over 13,500 Peruvian children have been through a Bible teaching and discipleship program to guide them into a strong Christian life.
There is so much more to do. There are over 27,925,000 people in Peru, with 7.5 million in Lima. Many of these beautiful, wonderful people are children.
God bless the children. God bless those who give to them.
I meet my roommate for the week last night, and I had the chance to talk to him a little before exhaustion got the best of me. His name is Evans Sabwami, and he is from Kenya. His stories of growing up in Kenya held my attention. It is not often that you meet someone who improvised with so much ingenuity in a difficult circumstance.
Please be in prayer for Kenya. Evans informed me of the violence and political unrest sweeping through his homeland. (See here and here.) It's a scary world we live in.
Evans is a pastor at a Vinyard church in New York. May God empower Evans´ ministry and help him to honor the gospel message.
This was our first day to hand out shoeboxes. I was overwhelmed. I had been warned that this is often the case, but I had no idea.
Our first stop was Hogar de Cristo Orphanage in the Cercado area of Lima. This orphanage is the home of over 120 children. Nearly half have made their home there since the earthquake in Peru at the end of last year. (Follow links on the quake here.)
The orphanage is also the home of several adults and older youth with mental disability. We gave them shoeboxes too, since their mental capacities are those of children. I sat down in the third row as a well-thought-through presentation by the a team of national Peruvians began.
I had not noticed a young girl sitting next to me with her attendant, but as I leaned back into my chair, she clasped my forearm. I noticed the older woman who was caring for her move forward to catch the young girl's hand. I realized that my arm was gripped by a child, a child in a young woman's body.
No translator was in earshot. I did not know how to communicate with her. I held her hand against my forearm, and I just looked into her eyes. Her big brown eyes seemed to reflect a beautiful light. I looked into her eyes and knew I did not have to call for a translator. She saw Christ's love when I looked at her. She knew why I was there and what I had to say.
I learned latter that this young woman probably will never be able to understand a presentation of the gospel. But, despite the fact that the notion does not set well with the theologian in me, I know she learned of Christ's love through a simple gift packed thousands of miles away.
As the boxes were being opened I stood at the back of the room. I noticed a girl named Yohana who was passing around a slip of paper to several of her friends seated near her. I walked closer and saw she was looking at a letter someone had placed in the box they had packed. A picture of a girl in a softball uniform named Maddie was stapled to the letter.
A lady on our team named Lliana Salazar from Orange County, California, walked over and took the letter. She began to translate the letter to the young girl. She read a few short details from the life of the one who had packed her box. About half way through the letter, the girl's face changed.
When the translator finished, the girl quickly but carefully folded the letter and put it in the corner of her box. It was as if she had decided that the letter was her´s now, to precious to subject to the whims and fancies of another.
I will include letters in all the shoeboxes we pack at our house from now on.
We went to the Assambleas de Dios del Peru in Manchay this afternoon. This church is situated in the Pachacamac District of Lima. It never rains in this part of Peru. The land is rocky and dusty. The dust clings to your body. It seems you can even see dust in the air.
Standing in stark contrast to the beautiful new LDS church next door, this Assemblies of God church is little more than a shed with an improvised roof of tin scraps and loose boards. But don't let the humble appearance fool you; this church is the vangard of the Lord's army in this depressed area of Lima.
You can feel the power as the assistant pastor stands in front of the crowd of 60 or so children and plainly and clearly explains the gospel. He uses a demonstration with clean and dirty water to show what Christ did for us on the cross. He puts chemicals into the water that make it appear filthy. He places other chemicals from a red bottle into the water, identifying them as the “blood of Christ.” The water clears up almost instantly. He shows that all of the sin in our lives is made clean and clear for us by Christ when we trust Him.
I wanted to talk briefly to the Senior Pastor, I had a gift for him. I am a member of the local camp of the Gideons, and they had sent several copies of Spanish New Testaments with me to give away. I knew some of them had to go to this embattled pastor. He had little time to talk because he was doing his job: seeing to the children God had placed under his spiritual care. He was very grateful for the New Testaments, and he hugged my neck in response. Shoebox gifts, some basic supplies, Christian literature and Bibles were delivered to the front lines of an intense spiritual conflict. May God deliver His power to the members of that church in response to our prayers.
It is humbling to see the face of God reflected so clearly in a little child's smile. It is awesome to see God's concerns etched across the furrowed brow of a pastor’s face.
May God bless the children and their protectors.
The plane flight was fun. I had the chance to meet a missionary from Peru named Keith. He ministers to the Quechua to the northeast of Lima. He is a friendly and helpful person who showed me the way through immigration and customs at the airport. He need our prayers. I was able to put him in touch with some of the leadership of OCC for a possible distribution of shoeboxes in his area of ministry.
For part of the flight I sat next to Mary Dameron. She is a long term spokeswoman for OCC with a strong (!) personality. I hope to be able to post more of her stories when I have more time.
Please say a prayer. We go on our first trip to distribute gift0filled shoeboxes in a few minutes.
In preparation for this trip, I was asked by OCC in an e-mail note, “Why are you excited about going on this distribution?” I’d like to share my answer.
I am excited about going because of the smiles. I'll never forget the first time I ever saw a picture of a bunch of kids gathered around opening shoeboxes. Their smiles touched my heart. You can't help but want to make a kid smile.
I am also excited about supporting the local churches and distribution teams in Peru. I want to see those smiles through all of eternity, and the only way to do that is to help share the good news about what Christ has done to win our salvation for us in His life and suffering. I want to share in some small way that God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, reaches down from heaven to touch little children in His love.
I have been in prayer for those in Peru since the 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit 100 miles south of Lima in August of 2007. I had the chance to give to Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief projects in the area, and I feel lucky to go where my prayers have been before. I don’t know where we will be giving away shoe-boxes, but I hope we can help those affected by the quake.
I am also looking forward to the changes in my own perspective and spirituality. I often hear of people coming back from a short-term trip that has changed their lives forever. I can't really help the local church in Peru that much in just one week. I don't expect to change the world. I just want to help, in some small way, people from a different culture and circumstance.
I don't speak much Spanish. I don't know many great truths from the Bible. But I do know a few Spanish words, and I do know a few great Scripture truths very well. God can use that. God has said, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10, ESV). I pray God will use this trip for our good and for His glory.
I plan to post each evening about the day’s event for the next week. Say a prayer for our team, if you don’t mind.
“… An account of a changed life is a wonderful and inspiring thing, but it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ that explains what it’s all about and how it happened. And it’s the gospel that turns sharing a testimony into evangelism.” - Mark Dever in The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 2007, p. 73.
I get tired of some testimonies. Often I am left with the impression that the testifier has straightened out his life and has had no further problems since he made the decision to turn his life over to Christ. It’s as if his ‘total surrender’ to the will of Christ has made his life perfect. Ongoing personal sin is not admitted for fear of ‘ruining’ his testimony.
It’s tiring on two counts. One is that I have not had the experience of deliverance from my sins all at once. It’s been struggle for me to improve. It’s been difficult to stay honest with myself about my indwelling sin and to be open to God’s grace in Christ.
The other thing that gives me a pain I can’t locate is the impression that the testifier has straightened out his life on his own. That is not stated outright and it would be renounced by most if they were directly asked. But the missing part in their testimony is the gospel message itself.
The gospel is “… the power of God for Salvation…” (Romans 1:16-17). Christ’s work is the source of our forgiveness, and that forgiveness is what leads to a change in our lives (Romans 8:1-11). Christ’s work alone saves us from the guilt and power of our sins. God’s grace given through the Holy Spirit gives us the will to embrace that work and trust Christ with our lives. The spotlight should never shift from Christ to us, even accidentally. We have nothing to offer a person under the guilt and power of sin; Christ’s death alone saves.
In summary, I hope this is not the last book by Mr. Dever.