For the live at church audio version of this message, click here.
A message for Akron Alliance Fellowship Church, Sunday October 3, 2021:
A recent communication that I received gave me a stark reminder of the importance of communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ and, where it is possible, taking the time to also disciple individuals who make the decision to trust Jesus Christ as Lord.
I received, about a week ago, an email from someone who was writing to our church. It was not a formal greeting; instead, it was more of a commentary imbedded with questions. I am not providing the sender’s email address—just the text of the email. It gets right to the point:
“Why should I believe in your version of Christianity over the thousands of others that exist? Because the Bible says so? Your opponents will say the same thing. The Bible can be used to justify almost if not all interpretations and versions of Christianity. Every Christian believes that they’re right, god is on their side and if you don’t adhere to their interpretation the punishment is to burn in hell forever. Christians everywhere are all pointing fingers at each other threatening one another with the prospect of burning in hell forever. That being the case, why should any of us take the Bible and Christianity seriously?”
When I determined that this was not a spam letter but just a general complaint about Christianity coming from a real person, I mulled over this, stopped what I was doing, prayed about it, and then submitted a response. It didn’t matter who the person was, but I felt it was important to attempt to answer by addressing all of the writer’s points.
This message will address some very important points that we need to see about our role as believers in Jesus Christ and how to communicate God’s truth. It is all about the gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ as Savior. Going further, we also must ensure that people who are new or maturing in their faith receive not just our words of encouragement, but helpful words that drive them closer to the Word of God. It’s the Word of God, coupled with the teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit, that pushes aside one’s doubts and fears and builds upon understanding God’s love.
What we don’t encounter very often, when hearing opposition to Christianity, are ideas that are well thought out. The letter writer has an impression of Christianity that is largely negative, and it comes from what I can only interpret as negative impressions of the church and the behaviors of those who use the Bible as a tool for justifying certain behaviors. I’m going to point out something that is not a new thing for those who believed they were on the right side of history, but there was a time when a number of Southern Baptists would tout the Word of God and also condone the practice of slavery in America. For many of us, we remember how the cult of the Peoples Temple, headed by Jim Jones, used words of the Bible, albeit incorrectly. Jones was a dynamic personality that had tremendous influence in a church in Indianapolis and then later in California before heading off to its fateful end in Georgetown, Guyana. What many people don’t know was that Jones was a Marxist who desired to infiltrate the church. Many people followed the charismatic Jones and believed in him under the pretense that he was a qualified minister of the gospel. 1
Both of these groups were operating under the umbrella of Christianity. I don’t think it is a stretch to see how someone can conclude that there are so many things that dissuade people from pursuing a church fellowship, or even the idea of being in a church. Many of us know people who, for a multitude of reasons, refuse going to church.
Let’s start with some very important truths here with the understanding that believers are called by Jesus to go into the world and preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20):
1. We are in a fallen world.
Genesis 3:17-19 NLT
17 And to the man (Adam) he (God) said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
though you will eat of its grains.
19 By the sweat of your brow
will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
and to dust you will return.”
From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes were opened to the reality that their world was forever changed. This world, subject to man’s sinful nature and degradation, requires intercession from God, who knew before man was created that we needed a Savior.
2. Our words can provide comfort and encouragement, but they can’t save anyone.
Romans 10:8b-10 NLT
8b “The message is very close at hand;
it is on your lips and in your heart.”
And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: 9 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.
Notice that the message heard must be met with faith and believing the truth of the power of salvation provided by Jesus.
3. The Holy Spirit must be the closer.
John 14:26 NASB
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
The Holy Spirit’s teaching you all things involves believing in Jesus from the first moment when you acknowledged Jesus as Lord, and it continues throughout your life as He reminds you of His words of truth and guidance.
These three truths require all believers to (1) have the hearts and minds to pray for God to intercede and (2) compel a non-believer to make their own choice as to believing in Jesus Christ as a personal Lord and Savior. The One who intercedes is none other than the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the closer who taps a person to make the choice within the climactic moment to believe in Jesus as Lord for life.
But it still remains the choice of the hearer to believe or not believe. For this reason, we are to remain in prayer for everyone that comes to mind who does not know Jesus. More on this later.
Note that the writer of the email already has a negative impression of Christianity and supports it with complaints from observations, perceptions and behaviors of Christians.
Let’s look closer at the complaints and prayerfully address them in love. Remember, we are looking at one of a number of ways that we can respond to a person—either verbally or in letter form, but any response must be done (1) with prayerful consideration, and being mindful that (2) our words may or may not be accepted. The end result of all discussions or conversations are to always be left under the authority, teaching and timing of the Holy Spirit.
I will not bore you with my entire response, but I will give you highlights as a way to help move you to the understanding that any response to one’s questions that you or I provide remains truthful while being non-confrontational. Please also know that not everyone you speak to (including people who proclaim themselves to be believers) will be sincere in their communication with you. All that you need to do is to respond with grace and humility in any encounter and always stand for truth. Leave it where it is and leave your feelings out of it. Jesus describes how he instructed his disciples were to respond when they encountered opposition:
Matthew 10:11-14 NLT
11 “Whenever you enter a city or village, search for a worthy person and stay in his home until you leave town. 12 When you enter the home, give it your blessing. 13 If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing. 14 If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.
What Jesus is stating here refers to how Jews would behave during this time. They would literally shake the dust from their feet to disassociate themselves with the unbelieving Gentiles and show disdain for their practices. When he mentions this same thing to the disciples as they were visiting Jewish towns, this would reflect how disciples should act when they encountered Jews rejecting the good news of Jesus Christ. It was a somewhat harsh but definitive gesture to show that they were making the wrong decision. The Jews were being shown that it was no longer about just following the old laws; rather, it was all about making a choice to follow Jesus.
Remember that accepting Jesus Christ is all about making the right choice. It comes down to making the right decision.
I would not expect anyone here to shake dust off your feet after receiving negative feedback when you are witnessing or discipling people. Far be it for you to do such a thing! Of course, your heart and mind should be in prayer that the Holy Spirit will do what is necessary to have that person come around and acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
All it takes is to just believe.
Many are so close, and yet so far from doing so.
Take a moment right now and consider who these people are that you know are on the fence about their faith or are way out in left field but need to see the truth and the light about Jesus. You know what to do. Pray for them.
Getting back to the letter, I first addressed the comment about the different versions of Christianity. There are a lot of them in the form of denominations. I checked once more and confirmed that the standing number of Christian congregations worldwide is still over 33,000. If you look at the long history of the church and the number of conflicts that have occurred over time, it’s not hard to see why there are 33,000 denominations. So, your answer here is to acknowledge an important truth—we are all sinners in a fallen world. The people of the church, even with the best of intentions, are imperfect.
Romans 3:23 NLT
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
In answering the writer, I noted that it is not the church who provides justification for who is right in one’s faith. It is an individual’s choice as to what they are to believe. A person who attends church may say that the church is sufficient, but it still doesn’t mean that Jesus at the forefront. Personal agendas and church corporatism always get in the way. If you are concerned more about church polity than the One who sits on the throne of grace, then you would be more sensitive to flesh (and our sinful nature) over Spirit.
The focus of the church must always reflect the will of Jesus Christ, His life on earth and His deity.
As I read Romans 3:23, I also noted that the verses that follow here can be used within your answer if you’re speaking to someone who needs reinforcement of what Jesus does for every believer in Him:
Romans 3:24-26 NLT
24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
What a powerful statement! We are completely dependent upon Jesus Christ for any semblance of righteousness before God, and it is possible because of His grace and sacrifice for us.
Next, I addressed the writer’s comments about the Bible.
What is the purpose of the Bible? It is one of the most important ways that God reveals Himself—and to go even further, He reveals Himself to those who choose to believe in Him. The Bible has a number of different versions but is essentially the same message that is used by every mainstream Christian denomination. It does not justify any denomination over another, and it certainly does not endorse one religion over another. The simple reason for this is that the words in Scripture reveal the importance of a believer’s RELATIONSHIP with God, and more specifically with that of the risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Focus on the word “relationship” with these examples:
The very first church in Acts Chapter 2 did not convey a religion or even a denomination. They were simply people who loved the Lord and wanted to follow Him:
Acts 2:42-47 ESV
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The people gathered together and spent time in worship and prayer, and they helped others who were in need. This is the prototype of the church that Jesus loves. This was not a religion—it was a relationship between the people and Jesus. It reminds me of the church of Philadelphia as described in Revelation:
Revelation 3:7-11 ESV
7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. 8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
Note that Jesus refers to this church as the one with “little power,” but note that this church was a great church because He loved the people. He loved their faithfulness and their steadfastness, and they were assured of having a covering or would not have to bear the hardship of the coming hour of trial. What a wonderful relationship to have with our Lord!
A small sidebar here—small churches of people who love the Lord are mighty churches in His kingdom. Something to think about given that we are gathering and enjoying fellowship in a small church. Think about His love. His goodness. How He sustains us from moment to moment. He loves those who He has claimed for Himself.
The writer finally uses the phrase “burn in hell forever” not once but twice (because it is off-putting to consider any harsh punishment that seems contrary to the concept of a loving God), and I answered this where I think many of us need to go when we look at God’s final judgment. While hellfire is the consequence of the person who denies the Holy Spirit and fails to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, the worst part is that a person, created in the image of God, would be eternally separated from any fellowship with Him. That, in my opinion, is the most dreadful thing you would ever experience.
Finally, the writer asks “why should any of us take the Bible and Christianity seriously?”
Without being flippant in my answer, I humbly and respectfully state that it is your choice whether or not to take all of this seriously. It is completely up to you. With that being said, your immediate response to a question like this is that you will simply pray. Now, what if the person responds, “I don’t need your prayers.” You can then say “I understand, but God desires for you to have a wonderful and fulfilling relationship with Him, and I want the same for you, as well.” No confrontation—merely communication of care and concern. It’s necessary when sharing the truth in love.
Today, more than ever, we need to speak the truth. Not just speak up, but speak the words of truth from the Holy Spirit.
Speak and share with humility.
Speak and share with empathy.
Speak and share in love and with the heart and mind of Jesus.
Be a witness for Jesus, and be a disciple for Jesus.
With the knowledge that we are to go forth and speak the gospel of Jesus Christ, my prayer is that everyone within the sound of my voice takes their faith to the next level and speaks with the power and foundation of the Holy Spirit to those who need to hear His truth. Let’s remain faithful as the very first church did. Let’s live in the manner of the church of Philadelphia. In these days and times, with Jesus on our side, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The Holy Spirit will provide strength as you move along.
Let’s get after it, and stay the course. Jesus is coming back very soon.
Copyright © 2021 Melvin Gaines.
1 Wikipedia contributors. (2021, September 27). Jim Jones. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:00, September 29, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jim_Jones&oldid=1046840402