Monday, April 30, 2012

How To Persuade A Dead Man

This title to this blog post is, of course, a rhetorical question. Ask anyone who works at the city morgue and they will tell you that no amount of persuasion, counseling, or advice is going to have any impact on any corpse. This is helpful to remember when we consider that the Bible describes unconverted people as those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Christian conversion is not “accepting Jesus into your heart”, in fact Jesus does not need your acceptance thank you very much. Conversion is when God , the Creator of the universe, resurrects a sinner from the dead (Ephesians 2:5) making them into a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). God gave Ezekiel a powerful vision of this reality in the valley of dry bones:

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD." So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezekiel 37:1-10)

That is a picture of evangelism. Evangelism contains three necessary ingredients. Firstly, the God of the resurrection. Programs, therapy, and positive thinking cannot raise the dead. Only God can. Unless the Holy Spirit breathes upon the valley of dry bones then all our programs are nothing more than skeleton re-arranging. The second ingredient in evangelism is the prophet or preacher. It is God who converts but God chose the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21) to resurrect those who are dead in sin. The prophet must speak to the valley of dry bones knowing that he can do nothing unless God does a supernatural work. The prophet must also be careful to proclaim the message God told him to speak and nothing else. The third ingredient in evangelism is dead bodies. That was us prior to conversion and that is the condition of everyone in the world who is not a Christian.

This biblical reality not only serves as a timely reminder to examine our own lives to see whether we are “in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5), it also helps us to understand why unconverted people are so often unable to grasp or accept what we can plainly see written in our Bible. Indeed Roy B. Zuck affirms this when he says that:

No one can fully comprehend the meaning of the Bible unless he is regenerate. The unsaved is spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:4) and dead (Ephesians 2:2). Paul wrote, “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Does this mean an unsaved person cannot understand the words of Scripture? No. Instead it means he has no spiritual capacity for welcoming and appropriating spiritual truths. As Martin Luther once said, the unregenerate can understand the grammar of John 3:16, but they do not act on those facts. It is in this sense that they are unable to know the things of the Spirit of God (Basic Bible Interpretation p22-23).

1 Corinthians 2:14 also tells us that unregenerate men cannot experience “the things that come from the Spirit of God”. The Greek word used here for “understand” is ginosko which does not refer to intellectual comprehension but rather to experiential comprehension. Zuck goes on to say that it is only “the regenerate” who “have the capacity to welcome and experience the Scriptures, by means of the Holy Spirit.”

Reverence for God and His Word are also essential if one is to rightly handle the Scriptures. A “shoot from the hip” cowboy approach is incompatible with faithful exegesis of a sacred writing. This reverence for God and His Word also demands deep humility on our part and a willingness to consult with other scholars and commentaries because of our exceedingly great ability to “get it wrong”.

One excellent barometer for “examining ourselves” as we read Scripture is our willingness to embrace, obey, and apply what it teaches us. James called on us to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22a ESV). If the passage we read plainly assaults our preconceived theological position, do we force the text to accommodate our theology or allow the text to alter our theology? Do we have a growing love for God’s righteousness and His commands or reluctantly concede to them?

Though these things all reveal, to some extent, whether we have the necessary indwelling of the Holy Spirit, this indwelling does not excuse us as believers from putting in the “hard yards” of digging into the very Scriptures we are now illuminated to discern. The Holy Spirit may be the ultimate and infallible expositor, but He indwells a fallible and fallen house. God never intended this to be a passive exercise on our part. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a “prerequisite” rather than a “guarantee” for being able to rightly discern God’s Word.  We need to remember that God has commanded us to study and meditate on His Word (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, 119:9-16, 2 Timothy 2:15). Neither should we forget that God gave teachers as a gift to His Church (Ephesians 4:11).  We must travel the hermeneutical road in the joyous truth that God has made His Word understandable to those made in His image. But may we never forget to pack the tools required for digging up the treasures he has hidden along the way. “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2 KJV). 


Anonymous said...

It was a revealing read to me, this article was.

Yes, I understand that we are dead, and it is God who makes us alive. But, the way it is worded here is clearer than I could ever say it. Thank you.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

Straight to the point and well written! Why can't everyone else be like this?

Dan said...

Cameron - I really enjoyed and agreed with your comment on Matt 18vv18-20 in another entry where you said that previous verses must be read to identify the meaning of the verse. I was surprised therefore to read your words in this entry "This biblical reality not only serves as a timely reminder to examine our own lives to see whether we are “in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5)" If you had applied your own teaching method and read v2 you will see that Paul is wrapping up his challenge to his critics and says "I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again I will not spare". When he gets to v11 he's back to talking to those who are in the faith "Finally, brethren ..." True believers do not ever need to examine themselves whether they be in the faith!