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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church
March 18, 2007
“Praying for Salvation”
I don’t think there is any one here that would disagree with the statement that Christianity in America is in poor shape. It is beset by problems both internal and external. There are attacks from outside the church and attacks from within the church. Our society as a whole is no longer favorable as it once was to the Christian perspective. Even comments concerning basic morality draw only ridicule from the media. The societal elite are aghast that anyone would still hold that adultery, fornication, homosexuality and other sexual perversions are sinful and harmful to those that participate in them. The same is true for a host of other sins which have been embraced by much of society as good things rather than evil things. Respect levels by society for pastors and ministers have fallen and they, along with Christians in general – especially evangelical Christians, have become the butt of common jokes and mockery in entertainment. Of course, we must acknowledge that many media preachers have not helped the situation any by their excesses, false teaching, and personal sins, but even the conservatives that are true to the Bible and morally upright are scorned. Add in the false religions and Cult groups that seek to snatch the unsuspecting and lead them into a twisted distortion of the truth that leads to everlasting hell, and the Church is having a difficult time.
But there is a particular problem I would like to share with you this morning that strikes at the very core of life within the church. It is something that strikes directly at our ability to keep the church alive and functioning. It is not the opposition of society or the threat of false religions and cults. It is something even more basic. It is our ability and willingness to replicate ourselves. It has been well said that the church is only one generation away from extinction. If the current generation is not reached for Christ, there will not be anyone to reach the one that follows them, so anything that blocks us from reaching people for Christ is a strike against the future existence of Christianity.
At one meeting I attended many years ago I was told that 80% of the churches in the U.S. are either stagnant or declining. I doubt that figure has improved any. Obviously this problem strikes more viciously in some churches than others, but it has become generally widespread throughout the evangelical church in America.
Part of the problem is that evangelism has become a tough business. More than ten years ago an acquaintance of mine who worked with Campus Crusade on the UCLA campus shared with me that a decade earlier he would expect to have 2-3 responses for every 10 people he would talk to on campus about Christ. At that time he said there might be 1 response, and only if he meets with the person 2 -3 more times. From what Jonathan has been telling me about the students at Dutchess, I suspect that the present figure has not only dropped even more, but also that there is a lot more actively negative reaction in addition to those that are indifferent. People are much more apt to not only deny their sin, but to also defend their sin as a good thing and attack you for suggesting otherwise.
Does this problem affect us here at Grace Bible Church? Yes. Even taking into account those people that have made recent professions of faith we must still ask ourselves how faithful we have really been in taking advantage of the opportunities around us to proclaim Jesus Christ to others. Do we have eyes to see the multitudes around us in our community who are still living apart from Christ and under God’s condemnation? Have you ever noticed on your way to church how many people are not going to church anywhere? Were is the traffic? Why are the roads so empty on a Sunday morning except perhaps near the shopping centers?
Another serious part of this problem is the number of people who are sitting at home without any church affiliation who say they made some kind of decision for Christ earlier in their life. I am told that figure is over 40%. That is incredible. Why? Why do so many reached as children or young adults turn away? Why do so many who supposedly come to Christ leave? I can think of several people I have seen baptized that I know are not walking with Christ including one that brazenly said, “I don’t need God,” and yet at the same time she still believed she was saved from Hell.
The problem is not just that evangelism is difficult, but that we are seeking to do the wrong thing in our evangelism. Some think you have to overpower others intellectually and win them to Christ through mental prowess and factual support. Others think their responsibility in evangelism is simply getting them to come to church so the pastor or other church leader can talk with them. Others try to pressure people by various means to get them “saved.” They can then count another heathen scalp on their evangelism belt. The problem is that such evangelism degenerates into one of a variety of methods of manipulating people. Sometimes the effort is such a sales pitch that being reconciled with God is left out as the emphasis switches to getting them to do something – raise their hand, walk the aisle, pray a prayer, etc., – to indicate they have “made decision for Christ” and are now supposedly saved. While our Lord is merciful and gracious and has done many wonderful things, a gospel presentation that leaves out repentance from sin is a perversion which brings a curse (Galations 1:8,9).
What is it that God wants in our evangelistic efforts? In fact, where do we even start if we do want to win the lost to Christ?
Look with me at the story of the Rich Young Ruler found in Matthew 19:16-26. As we examine this section of Scripture, I want you to notice with me first, man’s view of salvation, and then, God’s view of salvation. We will then conclude with a brief discussion of the proper basis of our evangelistic efforts. What are the first steps in winning your lost loved ones, friends, neighbors to Christ? What is our part in evangelism?
MAN’S VIEW OF SALVATION
The interaction in this passage between Jesus and this rich young man occurs just after the Pharisees had been disputing with Jesus in order to test Him and attempt to embarrass Him in front of the multitudes. They questioned Jesus on His views of divorce knowing that Jesus would uphold the conservative understanding of divorce that greatly restricted it. The more popular view then, as in our own day and age, sought to reinterpret the Law so as to allow divorce for nearly any reason. Because of this immediate context there is some question as to whether this man was coming to Jesus with a genuine question concerning his own soul or was part of the continuing effort to discredit Jesus in some way. I believe that the fact that the man went away grieved (vs 22) indicates the man’s question is honest and therefore a very important example for us in how to properly proclaim the gospel.
V.16 – And behold, one came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Notice first that the man is courteous. He uses the appropriate title for Jesus calling him, “Teacher.” It is a term of respect and the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament “Rabbi.” His question is genuine and he is sincere about it. This is quite unlike the Pharisees who had been questioning Him earlier about the Law/Torah.
Second, notice that the desire of the man was obtaining eternal life. This is the kind of question that evangelists like because it shows the man has already been thinking about his eternal state and knows that something is wrong and he wants to get it corrected. If this was said to most modern evangelists you can be sure they would quickly run through their presentation so that the man could supposedly obtain eternal life.
However, the very first question the man asks, “What good thing shall I do. . .”, also reveals a very serious problem. This man thought that obtaining eternal life was simply a matter of doing the right good thing. We must carefully listen to what people are saying in order to respond to them properly. Jesus did so and responds in verse 17, “And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is [only] One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
Jesus first affirms God and then the Scriptures. His answer affirms something the man should have already known; that if you want to do what is good, then it comes through what God has said. Jesus points the man back to what God has already said and tells him to keep the law. Please do not take this response that Jesus is somehow teaching that the man could obtain life by keeping the law. Jesus is simply pointing him back to the law so that the law could do its proper work in bringing the man to a conviction concerning his sin so that he could come to God in humility begging for mercy. Remember it is the law that brings the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20), and without the knowledge and conviction of sin there can be no repentance from it to accept God’s provision for redemption from it.
Man thinks that somehow he can meet God’s standards and become righteous by his own efforts. We must follow Jesus’ example in pointing people back to the law so that they become convicted by the truth that they cannot do so. You don’t have to argue with them about it. Simply point them to what God has already said and let the Holy Spirit bring the conviction. The response of this man shows he already understood he could not keep the law.
Verse 18, He ^said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man knew that he had not kept all of the laws given through Moses, so he desires to know the specifics of which ones were the essential ones that must be kept in order to obtain eternal life. His false assumption was that he could somehow achieve righteousness even with his less than perfect actions. He did not understand, as James 2:20 puts it, that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one [point,] he has become guilty of all.”
Jesus still points the man back to the law in order to bring about conviction of sin and humility, but this time he specifically points out a few of the 10 commandments (Exod. 20) and the general command to love your neighbor (from Lev. 19:18). Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor. These particular ones are those that would be the most easily kept as defined by the Scribes and Pharisees. The man’s answer would reveal if he actually understood the law and was convicted by his sin or if he was striving for self-righteousness.
Verse 20 The young man ^said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” The answer of the young man showed that he was striving for self-righteousness according to the tenants of his religion. His claim is that he had kept all of these commandments. This claim is not as arrogant and proud as it might seem. We must remember that in his mind he is simply saying he has done all the things that his religious leaders have told him to do. In other words, he was dedicated, devout and faithful to rabbinic Judaism. His problem was that he did not understand the actual requirements of God’s law. The law had been reinterpreted and perverted by rabbinic Judaism into a false system that allowed people to become self-righteous. It still does.
Yet, there was still some hope for this man for he knew something was still wrong and he wanted Jesus to tell him what he was still missing. However, he was still thoroughly trained in his religion and assumed it was some good work he had to do that would make the difference. If Jesus would tell him, then he could do it and obtain eternal life.
In verse 21 we find that Jesus, knowing the heart of the man, answered him in a way to get to the very core of the issue. The man wanted to earn his salvation in some way, but salvation comes only when a person in humility yields themselves to God and puts their complete trust in Him. Jesus knew that this man’s heart was not truly with God, so he exposes the thing that was blocking him from coming to God. Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go [and] sell your possessions and give to [the] poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Let me make it clear here that Jesus is not saying that a person can obtain eternal life by impoverishing themselves. They obtain eternal life by following Jesus Christ, and whatever is blocking that has to be abandoned. In this man’s case it happened to be his possessions. It can be other things for other people – self-righteousness, position, power, control, fame, relationships, hobbies, or any of the various forms of hedonism – pursuit of pleasure. If something is more important to you that Jesus Christ, then it must be cast aside so that you can hold onto Christ. What holds your heart that keeps you from following Jesus as you know you should? Jesus challenged the man at the very point of his pride and security, and even though he was offered what was so much better – treasure in heaven to replace his treasure on earth – the man was unwilling to follow Jesus to that degree.
Verse 22 says, “But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property.” The man is grieved but it was not because of his great sin that Jesus has exposed. He was grieved because he could not have eternal life and his possessions (his will) with all that came with them. The man’s heart was owned by his possessions and not set on God regardless of his religious endeavors. This man’s true master was mammon and not God. And again, let me stress that God does not require that every person who comes to Him sell all his or her possessions in order to obtain treasure in heaven. God only requires that of those people who have made their possessions their true God. God wants you to follow Him, so whatever is blocking that needs to be removed. What blocks you from following God the way that you ought?
Jesus uses this experience to teach His disciples a great truth in verses 23,24, And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Riches and wealth do not help a person enter the kingdom of heaven. They are in fact a hinderance. The impossibility is stated clearly in the Camel going through the eye-of-needle analogy. A big, hairy camel going through the eye of a needle used for sewing or mending would be impossible for men to cause to be accomplished. Only God could do that, and that was the point. (There is no ancient reference to any so called “needle” gate in which a camel would have to stoop and crawl to get through. Even if there had been such a thing, that would only have been a difficult task, not an impossible one).
In verse 25 we find that the disciples are greatly astonished at this. And when the disciples heard [this,] they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” There are a couple of reasons for the disciples astonishment. First, it was generally taught that wealth was a sign of God’s favor. Therefore the rich would be the most likely to obtain eternal life since God had already indicated through their wealth that He was pleased with them. (This is an old assumption, You will find it in the arguments of Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad – Job’s sorry counselors. Each of them assumed that if Job was truly righteous, God would exalt him and restore him to wealth, but because Job had lost everything and was physically afflicted the believed God must be judging him for some sin. This assumption is still strong today, it is the heart of the Health, wealth, prosperity teaching that is so often seen with Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagain, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, etc. etc. According to them, God wants you healthy, wealthy and prosperous, therefore having those things is a sign of His favor and not having them is a sign of his displeasure.
Second, almost everyone either has some wealth and could be consider rich by those with less, or they at least desire that wealth (i.e. who is the truly wealthy person? Generally the person who has more than I do. By the overall standard of the world, even those in the poverty level of the U.S. are wealthy). Who then would not fit into this category?
Third, in the events that had just taken place, the rich individual was a person who kept the commandments. This was not just some obnoxious, proud rich person. This guy was pious in his religiosity. Thus the point was driven even deeper. Salvation is impossible for the rich.
In verse 26 Jesus answered their question, “Who then can be Saved?” And looking upon [them] Jesus said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
This is the point I want to emphasize. Man thinks that there is some way in which he can obtain eternal life for himself. That is the purpose of the many various religions. They all strive to find some means by which man through his own efforts can save himself from God’s abiding wrath. However, the truth is that salvation is impossible with men. It is only possible with God. Man cannot earn eternal life through good works. He cannot gain it through the acquisition of knowledge. He cannot win it through religious ceremony. Salvation from sin and its consequence of God’s wrath can come only through the working of God. That is my second point this morning, for it is God’s view of salvation.
GOD’S VIEW OF SALVATION
Consider the following verses
John 6:44 “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him: and I will raise him up on the last day.”
John 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”
Ephesians 1:4 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”
Romans 3:24 “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
Titus 3:5-7 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Do you get the idea that salvation is wholly and totally a work of God? We talk about making a decision for Christ, but to be a little more accurate, all we do is yield ourselves to the working of God in our mind and our heart and commit ourselves to follow after Him as a response to His working in us. Salvation is the work of God. (See also Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 2:8,9).
Now what does all of this have to do with praying for salvation? Precisely this. The only way anyone is ever going to accept Jesus Christ and enter into the kingdom of God and obtain eternal life is through the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of that individual. Do you believe that? Unless the Holy Spirit moves upon a person’s mind to remove the blindness he will not believe (2 Corinthians 4:4). Unless the Holy Spirit moves upon a person’s heart, that person will not yield to place their trust Christ. You cannot win some one to Christ. You cannot argue anyone into the kingdom of heaven. You cannot over power them with your great intellect and powers of communication so that they will succumb and submit themselves to the authority of Jesus. Salvation comes only by the working of the Holy Spirit. I will even go one step farther. If the Holy Spirit is working upon that person’s life and drawing Him to Christ, then you cannot keep that person from coming to Jesus for salvation. God is sovereign. But be mindful for God will fully judge those that are stumbling blocks to those He has called (Luke 17:1).
OUR PART IN EVANGELISM
Now if it is true that salvation is only possible through the working of God, then what is the first and foremost step in evangelism? What is the primary need in seeing someone turn their life over to Christ? Is it your memorizing the four spiritual laws or the 5 steps to peace with God or some other gospel tract outline? Is it your building a foundation with that person so you will have a forum for sharing the Gospel with him or her? Is it your piety at work so that they will see Christ living in you? Is it bringing them to church, a Sunday School Class, a home Bible Fellowship or AWANA so that they will hear the gospel at one of those meetings? The answer is an absolute and resounding NO! All those things are good and necessary for the very reasons stated, but the primary need is PRAYER.
If salvation is the work of God, our first response in seeking the salvation of someone who is lost is prayer to God that He may move upon them.
What do we pray for?
- Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict the person concerning sin, righteousness and judgement.
And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgement; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
– John 16:8-11.
- The first is concerning sin. The primary sin being unbelief in Jesus. The starting point of repentance is the recognition and acknowledgment of wrong doing.
- The second is concerning righteousness. Repentance is a change from sin toward righteousness. A large part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is in the teaching of righteousness. While Jesus was physically present on earth, He taught His disciples the way of righteousness. The Holy Spirit is now doing this in our own time.
1 Cor. 2:14 states, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
Pray that the Holy Spirit will open up the mind of the unbeliever to receive the teachings of the Word of God.
- And Third, concerning judgement. The unbeliever is caught up in his own lusts. 1 John 2:15 describes those as the lust of the flesh, eyes and pride of life, and John also says that those things are going to pass away. Pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal to the unbeliever that their way of life is going to result in vanity and judgement.
- Pray that God will draw the person to Himself. A man cannot come to Jesus unless the Father draws him to Christ. (John 6:44).
- Pray that there will be a door opened – an opportunity for the gospel to be presented. Paul asked the Colossians to pray this way “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” – Col 4:2-4
- Pray that the gospel will be presented to the person clearly and unadulterated. Pray that the person sharing will be bold in presenting the whole gospel and will not shy away from fear of offending. Notice in the verse I just read that it says “in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” – Colossians 4:4
God is sovereign is salvation, but we do play a part. First, we pray for those that are lost. Second, we seek opportunities to present the Gospel to them. Third, we are to take advantage of those opportunities and present Christ to them. I must stress this point, because it easy to neglect actually telling someone the gospel. Just because they know you are a Christian does not mean they even understand what that means much less understand who Jesus Christ is, what He has done for them and the consequences if they do not become one of His followers. People will not get the gospel from us by just being around us. They will not receive it through telepathy. We must speak, and if you are too intimidated to speak, then write, give them tracts, tapes, CD’s, DVD’s, whatever it takes to communicate Jesus Christ to them. We must do the work of evangelism. The meaning of “evangelism” is to present Jesus Christ to sinful men in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as King in the fellowship of His church – J.I. Packer – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Successful evangelism is determined not on the basis of how many conversions result, but on the whether the gospel message has been clearly and faithfully made know.
All of us know someone who is lost. All of us desire to see them come to Christ. If you are serious in that desire, you need to start with prayer, and then keep on praying because you do not know when God will move on that person’s heart. That is up to God. It is reported that George Mueller prayed for the salvation of 3 of his friends for over 25 years. He just kept praying. One was saved shortly before his death and the other two a few years after. He kept praying throughout his life.
The first step is prayer. The second step is putting feet on the prayer and telling others about Jesus Christ. Prayer is also the great motivator to action because prayer aligns our will with God’s.
If we want to see people turn to Christ, then we need to start by praying. Are there some loved ones, friends or neighbors that need Christ? If you would like the church to be praying for them, then take any scrap of paper you have and put their first name & the first letter of their last name on it. Then give it to me or put it in the Faith Box. Next week we will pass out a list of those names so that all of us can pray with you for them.
At this time I want to give you a chance to pray for them now. I will begin in prayer and will then be silent for a while so that any one who would like to pray can pray out loud right from your seat. I will then close our time.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the Scripture references made. 2) Talk with your parents about who you would like to see become a Christian and pray with them for that person.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What do you think is the greatest danger to the church? Why? What does it mean for someone to be “saved”? How does that take place? Explain. In Matthew 19:16-26 – what was the rich young ruler seeking? From his statements, how did he think he could obtain what he wanted? Why did Jesus point the man back to keeping the commandments? Do you think the man really kept the commandments Jesus pointed out? Why or why not? How do you do at keeping God’s commandments? Why did Jesus challenge him to sell his possessions and follow Him? Does God require that of everyone? Why or why not? Why is it impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven? Explain. Explain the verses listed under “God’s view of Salvation” What does God require for salvation? Why is prayer so important to salvation? Explain how to properly pray for someone’s salvation. Spend some time praying for individuals that you know need to be saved from their sins.
Sermon Notes – March 18, 2007
Praying for Salvation
Man’s View of Salvation
God’s View of Salvation
Our Part in Evangelism
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