One of the privileges I have in my ministry is to regularly teach on the theology and practice of evangelism at The Master’s Seminary. Recently, the guys at TMS asked for my thoughts on whether we should use a “sinner’s prayer” when speaking to someone about the Gospel. They captured part of my response in the below video. I hope it serves you as you think through how to helpfully and faithfully “land the plane” in evangelistic conversations.
Archives For Mike Riccardi
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
– 2 Corinthians 5:16–17 –
Paul speaks about regeneration in this passage. If anyone is in Christ—if anyone has become united to Jesus Christ by saving faith in the Gospel, if anyone has died to sin and self in union with the One who died to sin once for all—he is a new creation. Working backwards, from cause to effect, the second half of verse 16 notes that the very first result of regeneration is a new view of Christ. As unbelievers, we all once regarded Christ from a fleshly point of view, according to worldly standards, paying special attention to the way things looked outwardly and externally rather than internally and spiritually. But the regenerate regard Him in this way no longer. When Almighty God issues His sovereign decree for light to shine forth in the heart that is dead in sin, when the eyes are opened and the ears unstopped, when the heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh, the first thing that changes is the sinner’s view of Christ. We see Him for who He is, in all His beauty, glory, and suitableness to our need.
Working backwards even further to the first half of verse 16, Paul speaks of a second result of regeneration. Not only does the regenerate sinner have a new view of Christ, but he also has a new view of everyone else. When we’re transformed from the inside out in regeneration, and our assessment of Jesus changes, so does our assessment of everyone else in the world.
So, I know I’ve posted this (and even re-posted this) before, but when Reformation Day comes around, these truths are what my heart and mind settle upon as I thank the Lord for what He accomplished through the Reformation.
499 years ago this upcoming Monday, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, kick-starting the Protestant Reformation. Nearly 500 years later, God’s people reserve this day to celebrate the rescue of His Word from the shackles of Roman Catholic tyranny, corruption, and heresy. The glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the sufficient Scriptures had been recovered, and it’s been doing its saving work ever since.
Romans 1:16–17 stands at the heart of the Reformation, especially because of how central it was in Luther’s conversion. Luther speaks of how he had hated the phrase, “the righteousness of God,” because he understood it to be speaking only of God’s standard of righteousness by which He would judge unrighteous sinners. But eventually, he says, “I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”
Today, as we reflect upon and remember the grace of God that fell upon the world in the Protestant Reformation, I want to reflect upon the Gospel that made it happen—and particularly the concept of righteousness which was so central to the regeneration of the great reformer. And to do that I want to focus on another text that Paul penned, which gives us wonderful insight into the saving righteousness of God. In Philippians 3:9, Paul explains what it means to be found in Christ—namely, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (NKJV).
Recently I had the privilege of presiding over my first “installation service” for a friend of mine, Alan, who served alongside me at Grace Church while he was in seminary. An installation service is basically where a new pastor is ceremoniously installed as the pastor of the church he’s been called to. It usually involves a personal and passionate call to the task of the ministry by another pastor whom the new pastor considers a mentor and/or friend. I was humbled and privileged to do that for the first time for a dear brother of mine. It was a wonderful time to be with him and his new church family, and I’m encouraged what the Lord is doing and will do through Bethany Community Fellowship in Sylvania, Ohio.
While I was there, Alan also asked me to do a series of seminars on evangelism as a weekend conference ahead of the installation service. I was delighted to do oblige, as it was a treat for me to discuss the motivation, message, and method of evangelism with the saints at Bethany. Toward the end the seminar in which I was teaching through the various points to cover in a Gospel presentation, I tried to encapsulate all I had said in the previous hour in a three-and-a-half minute summary, while also modeling for them what it looks like to succinctly proclaim the Gospel to someone. It turns out that the gang at Bethany turned it into a short video, which I share with you all today. My hope is that it serves as an example of how we can evangelize both with brevity and accuracy, and as an encouragement for you to speak the Gospel to those to whom the Lord brings you in your daily lives. Transcript below.
Those of you who read the Cripplegate week to week know that over the past few Fridays we’ve been taking a look at 2 Corinthians 4. Three weeks ago, we discovered that the orienting principle for Christian ministry is that there is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the weakness and shame of the New Covenant minister. We have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels.
After stating that orienting principle for ministry in 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul turns to illustrate that principle by means of two paradoxes. The first is that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness (2 Cor 4:8–9). We see the second paradox In verses 10 and 11. True, faithful Christian ministry is also characterized by life in the midst of death. Paul says, we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
These two sentences are parallel to one another; verse 11 simply restates verse 10 in a slightly different way. And together they form a theological interpretation and summary of the four contrasts in verses 8 and 9. Paul summarizes being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down and calls them “the dying of Jesus” and “being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake.” And he summarizes not being crushed, in despair, forsaken, and destroyed as “the life of Jesus.”
Two weeks ago, we took a look at the orienting principle for Christian ministry: we have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. In other words, there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister. In the next verses, Paul turns to illustrate this principle by means of two paradoxical truths that characterize the Christian ministry.
And the first of those paradoxes comes in verses 8 and 9. There we learn that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness. He says, we are “in everything afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In what commentators have called “one of the more powerful rhetorical moments in the Pauline corpus” (Barnett, 233), Paul makes his point by means of four antitheses. In each first word, we see the weakness of the earthen vessel. And in each second word, we see the surpassing greatness of the power of God. Let’s look more closely at each pair.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels
so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God
and not from ourselves.
– 2 Corinthians 4:7 –
This verse teaches a fundamental, orienting principle for Christian ministry: there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister.
We see that by the word picture that Paul employs. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” The Gospel is a treasure. The glorious Good News of the New Covenant is absolutely priceless.
- Whereas the Old Covenant brought only death and condemnation, the New Covenant brings spiritual life and saving righteousness (2 Cor 3:7–8).
- Whereas the Old Covenant provided only limited access to the concealed glory of God, the New Covenant provides continual access to open-faced admiration of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ (2 Cor 3:12–18).
- Whereas the Law made nothing perfect (Heb 7:19) and only further aroused our sinful passions (Rom 7:7–11), the New Covenant brings inward transformation and conformity to the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18).
- Whereas the Old Covenant was powerless to transform the heart of man, the Gospel of the glory of Christ shines into that dead heart, and the Holy Spirit Himself awakens the affections to hate sin and to love righteousness (2 Cor 4:4, 6).
This Gospel is a treasure!
Awhile ago, I posted some selections of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” As it happens, three weeks ago was the 275th anniversary of the greatest sermon preached on American soil. If you haven’t read that post, I would invite you to read what I’ve called America’s greatest sermon for America’s greatest need, extraordinarily relevant for our nation today.
Sermons and teaching like that represented in Edwards’ sermon tends to generate several objections, including the notion that it is unjust for God to punish those who die in their sins for eternity in hell. I want to respond to that objection today.
For more than four decades, John MacArthur has led the fight for the supremacy of the truth and of sound doctrine—not only within the walls of his own church, but also throughout the evangelical church at large. Surrounded by other defenders of biblical teaching, Pastor John has devoted his ministry to safeguarding the inerrancy of Scripture, the lordship of Christ, and the literal truth of the creation account in Genesis. But perhaps the most far-reaching and pernicious error that our he has battled against is the damning doctrine of the health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel.”
Three years ago, Grace to You hosted the Strange Fire Conference at Grace Church in order to defend the truth against the heresies of the Word of Faith movement and other Charismatic aberrations. Faithful pastors like R.C. Sproul, Steve Lawson, and Conrad Mbewe stood alongside Pastor MacArthur to declare the absolute sufficiency of the written Word of God.
Another of those faithful men was Justin Peters, a longtime friend of The Master’s Seminary and Grace Community Church. Justin suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Believing he could be healed by a Word-of-Faith faith healer, like thousands of others he became disillusioned when he was not healed. This launched him into critical study of Charismaticism, and today his ministry is devoted to exposing the damaging and damning effects of the doctrine and practice of the Word of Faith movement, sounding the call for discernment among Christ’s flock.
Justin will be with us again on July 29–30 as the featured speaker of a weekend conference hosted by the GraceLife fellowship group. Entitled “Clouds without Water: A Biblical Critique of the Word of Faith Movement,” the conference consists of four seminars that explore such topics as the biblical definition of discernment and common objections against it, the cultic origins of the Word of Faith movement, a critical evaluation of Charismatic practices (e.g., abusing tongues, being slain in the Spirit, supposed visits to heaven, etc.), and the question of whether it is always God’s will to heal.
Jude calls the false teachers troubling the early church “clouds without water” (Jude 1:12), because they promise spiritual benefit (as clouds promise rain) but never deliver, leaving the church hopeless and disillusioned. We must be on guard against such teachers, and must be equipped to help others be discerning as well. We are confident that our church family will be served by Justin’s ministry. If you’re in the Los Angeles area this next weekend, we hope you’ll join us for what will be a special time of practical instruction from God’s Word.
Clouds Without Water Conference
July 29–30 • Grace Church Family Center
Cost: $15 (includes breakfast and lunch on Saturday)
GraceLife is partnering with the Logos Bible Institute for this event, so those who would like to attend this conference for Logos elective credit may do so.
For more information or to register, visit, https://www.gracechurch.org/logos/posts/960.
Note: Registration closes Monday, 7/25 at 11:59pm, so be sure to register right away.
Note also that childcare is not available for this event.
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
– 2 Corinthians 5:9 –
The relationship between this verse and the previous is instructive. The “therefore” signals that this is a consequence of the preceding truth. What is the necessary consequence of having the settled preference to depart from this life and be with Christ? What is the necessary consequence of longing for unhindered, sin-free, face-to-face communion with Jesus? If the open enjoyment of Christ’s glory is the great hope of your life in the future, then that means your supreme ambition will be to be pleasing to Him in the present.
This phrase, “We also have as our ambition,” speaks to the intensity of Paul’s desire to please Christ above all else. It is the all-consuming, driving force behind all he does. Usually, the concept of ambition has a negative connotation, speaking of someone who is wholly preoccupied with self-promotion and self-glory. A young man enters the corporate world with designs of running the company one day, determined to climb the corporate ladder no matter who he has to step on to get to the top. A politician strategizes and schemes and conspires as to how he can put himself forward, undermine his opponents, and portray himself in the best light, so that he can win the favor of the electorate. A young man has the ambition of playing professional sports, and he shapes his entire childhood around receiving the proper training and coaching, putting in the necessary workouts, watching his diet, getting good grades to go to a Division 1 university—he eats, sleeps, and breathes his game, all so he can wear that uniform and play in front of thousands of fans.
With that same all-consuming passion (albeit expressed positively rather than negatively), the Apostle Paul says: My supreme ambition is to always be pleasing to Christ. Charles Hodge comments, “As ambitious men desire and strive after fame, so Christians long and labor to be acceptable to Christ. Love to him, the desire to please him, and to be pleasing to him, animates their hearts and governs their lives, and makes them do and suffer what heroes do for glory” (500).