June 29, 2011

Divine Mathematics

by Jesse Johnson

If we can agree that the goal of the Christian life is to glorify God as much as is possible, then there really is only one natural question: what is the single most God-glorifying action a Christian can do?

 

Some may argue that all elements of a Christians life, such as prayer, fasting, worship, parenting, sanctification, etc.,  are equally important. But I disagree. While all spiritual disciplines are interconnected—if your prayer time falters, so do your affections for Jesus, and then your sanctification falters, and then you sin—they are not all equal. I argue that evangelism is the single most important action for a Christian, and I measure importance by the way an action glorifies God. Pastor MacArthur has often said “nothing so much glorifies God as his gracious redemption of hell bound sinners,” and if the chief purpose of mankind is to glorify God, nothing glorifies God as effectively as evangelism.


This is expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:15 when he writes, “that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” This is divine mathematics. When one person gets saved, they live their life fighting sin, putting on godliness, and being sanctified. Every sin they shed and every act of obedience they do gives glory to God. But ultimately, that is just one person glorifying God. When that same person gives the gospel to another, and that second person comes to faith, God’s glory is doubly magnified. This is what Paul means when he wrote, “as grace extends to more and more people, it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” This is divine mathematics. The more you evangelize, the more people get saved, and the more people get saved, the more God is glorified.

You are probably familiar with John Piper’s comparison of glorifying God to a magnifying lens. You glorify God not by making his attributes seem big in your life (as if God’s attributes were tiny, and people needed help to see them), but rather you magnify God’s glory in the same way you magnify the stars. You take something incomprehensibly big, and portray it in a way visible to all. This is most efficiently done in evangelism. When you explain the gospel to an unsaved person, you are essentially telling them about the glories of God in the person of Jesus Christ. I can’t think of another activity Christians do that magnifies God’s glory this immediately and directly.

It is not that I am against prayer, devotionals, or any of the other spiritual disciplines. But I do see them as means to an end. We pray, and a significant part of our prayer requests are evangelistic (either directly, or indirectly). We study the Scriptures for our own soul, but also so that we are prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within us. We pursue sanctification, so that our testimony does not ruin our witness. We worship because we are thankful that God saves, and this motivates us to reach others. We fan the flame of affections for Jesus so that we love him more, and that love compels us to evangelize.  These are all preparation for the task at hand: reaching the lost.

If a person wants to maximize their life by living for the glory of God, then that person needs to be passionate about evangelism. If the Lord has saved you, he has saved you for a purpose: to live for the glory of God. Each of us has friends, neighbors, family, and acquaintances who are dead in their sins and trespasses. When you bring them the gospel, and they believe, their life is taken from fighting against God, to living passionately for his glory. God’s glory is then both multiplied and magnified.

 

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Mary Elizabeth Tyler

    Initially I would have gone with worship and praise, but true love overflows, as I believe John Piper said somewhere. Think of a child at Christmas time, when he opens his first present. He is all starry-eyed with great anticipation of what he will find. Then when the gift is unwrapped, and he sees the joy, pleasure, and delight it brings to him, he immediately wants to show it off and share it with others. Oh, to be a kid again!

    Christ is infinitely greater than any prize or gift this world could ever offer us. He is the light of the world, a gift from God, wrapped in human flesh, so that we can describe the indescribable with some intimacy and familiarity to others. But the endless joy of Him, and a true description of His being, is truly indescribable. He is both familiar and indescribable at the same time. Wonder of all wonders!

    I would love to treat every day like Christmas, and share His greatness with others. Lord, hear our prayer, help us DO THE DIVNE MATH, as described here by Jesse.

    Awesome article, Jesse!!! Just awesome!

  • Anonymous

    My question is, can the thing which glorifies God the most be absent in heaven? That’s a real question too, and not a snarky comment.

    • Mary Elizabeth Tyler

      Chrispy,

      Are you saying that evangelism will not take place in heaven? If this is what I think you are saying, then I would have to disagree with you. What is evangelism? Apart from winning souls to Christ, exclusively, it is also a real sharing of His love and glory with others. In heaven we will be gainfully employed in sharing His love and glory with others, which ultimately brings Him honor and glory.

      Just my 2 cents. I hope others way in. Elaine?

    • Anonymous

      That’s a great point, Chris. I’ll turn that around and say it this way: the fact that evangelism is absent in heaven (although it is present in the kingdom), shows its importance. If we were saved for the point of worship, fellowship, or love, God would take us to heaven now, where all those things are done better than they are on earth. It sounds cheezy, but evangelism is one of the few things we can do on earth that we do not do in heaven. I get your point though: in eternity, certainly our praise of Jesus will endless glorify God. I should have stressed the “in this life” part of my post..

      • Anonymous

        Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been thinking about this today and it’s been great! I always flinch a little when I hear blanket statements, but I think I agree with you. It seems that what most glorifies God is situational in our lives…let me explain. As you go through redemptive histroy, the one thing God is asking the most from us is trust, which looks like obedience. In one moment, trusting obedience may look different than another. Now, with that said, Matt. 22:37-40 and Matt. 28-19-20 (and all their implications) are in the bible. To fully “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” will look like being about what He’s about, which is evangelism according to Matt. 28. To fully “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” will mean telling them about Jesus and their need for him. All that to say trusting obedience, which will often look like evangelism, is that which glorifies our Lord most. This would also explain why we will be fully glorifying God in heaven and not evangelizing. Does that make any sense?

        • Anonymous

          It makes sense. I would say I agree, but would want to add that evangelism is the proclamation of the good news. There is lifestyle evangelism, but for that to truly be evangelism, it has to be accompanied by the speaking of the gospel. And there is a dispensational distinction as well. In the OT, saints were called to attract the world to the truth through obedience. In the NT, starting with Mat 28, saints are called to go into the world, speaking the gospel. That is a huge distinction.

          • Eric Davis

            Jesse,

            Certainly there is a dispensational distinction in the commissioning of OT and NT saints. How sharp do you think that is, though? Definitely, there is the “come and see” element in the OT and “go and tell” in the NT w/ Matt 28, Acts 1. But there seems to be a “come and see” carry-over mandated by Jesus two different times during the upper room discourse, that also serves some kind of evangelistic purpose. The obvious one is John 13:34-35 (“love one another..by this all men will know that you are my disciples”) and 17:20-23 (“…that they may all be one..so that the world may believe that You sent me…that they may be one, just as we are one…so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you have loved me”). Now, I am not saying that a local church that gets along is “good-newsing,” nor am I advocating a theonomist or post-mill idea. But with each of those commands/prayers, the Lord gives 2 purpose statements that are specifically for the world to gain true information specifically about Christ, from their supernatural love and unity. This, then, is similar to the OT idea of ‘come and see’ this great nation/people, that has an evangelistic function, though it is not evangelism. As some sort of ‘come and see’ happens with the world and NT saints, no doubt, actual evangelism must happen. So, while there is more emphasis on ‘go and tell’ now, the ‘come and see’ hasn’t been tossed out, but is still huge for our purpose in living out our purpose before glory.

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, I agree. I would point out that the John 13 passage speaks of how believers love each other, not how they love the world. So in that sense, loving other believers is connected to evangelism. Nevertheless, evangelism itself seems to be the actual proclamation of good news to the lost.

  • Karl Heitman

    Thanks for the exhortation, Jesse. I agree. The question from Chrispychinski is a good one. I’m anxious to see how you answer it…

  • Anonymous

    Jesse, throughout your article you say:
    “The more you evangelize, the more people get saved, and the more people get saved, the more God is glorified.”

    “When you bring them the gospel, and they believe, their life is taken from fighting against God, to living passionately for his glory. God’s glory is then both multiplied and magnified.”

    God is glorified by the sharing of the true Gospel. Whether or not the results bring people salvation, that’s another issue.

    Pastor MacArthur is correct. But you see, the glorification that he is referring to (in that sentence you quoted) is not something we did through evangelism or any “action” (to use your own word), but HIS (God’s) redemptive work. He (MacArthur) is not talking about evangelism, but God’s redemptive work. If I am reading from the same article from which you quoted MacArthur, the very next line he says: “It is through participation in that redemptive plan that believers themselves most glorify God.” Now he is talking about us participating in that plan, but does it mean only evangelism? Maybe you should had defined “evangelism”. Consider this, I, as a wife, when I quietly, without words, have a godly behaviour towards my husband, I am also evangelizing, and in that God is glorified, whether or not my husband gets saved. It’s a matter of obedience and passionately loving the One who saved me.

    You say: “We worship because we are thankful that God saves.” I worship because God deserves worship, because He is the one and only true God. If people go to hell, and they do, they are not being saved. I worship God nevertheless.

    Finally, MacArthur says in his study bible, on 2 Cor 4:15, commenting on “to the glory of God”: “the ultimate goal of ALL that the believer does.” (caps mine).

    I think I understand why you give evangelism so much weigh, being the outreach pastor at GCC.

    If I misunderstood you, I apologize. I read and re-read your article and I took my time writing my comment, but I might be wrong in my conclusions. If so, I’d like to be corrected.

    Grace and peace,
    E.

    • Anonymous

      My quote of MacArthur comes from his commentary on 2 Cor 4, and I’m sure whatever is in the Study Bible is an abridgment of that. Certainly the goal of all that believers do is to give glory of God. My point is simply that evangelism does that most effectively.

      As for how you serve your husband, I agree that all that you do helps point him to Christ. In that sense, your sanctification is a servant of your evangelism. But ultimately, he is not going to come to Christ based on your actions. Instead, he is going to have to hear the gospel preached (which in your case, I’m sure he has). Now what you do with your life is backing up the message preached. So your actions are part of faithfully serving God in attempt to adorn the gospel with good works, and to see him come to faith. I will pray for you, and am encouraged by your faithfulness.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you for your reply and for your prayers (much needed).
        Grace and peace,
        E.

  • Pingback: God’s Will for You: Evangelism | A Modern Puritan()

  • Mary Elizabeth Tyler

    Interesting conversation you two are having. Let me throw this into the mix.

    We know that our praise and adoration cannot augment or add anything to God. He is perfectly glorious, holy, and righteous, even if He continued to remain alone all throughout eternity, and never so much as created even one angel. So from the standpoint of more creaturely praise bringing the ultimate glory to God, I would have to argue, that if this was/is the case, then He would have widened the narrow gate, and made narrow the way to hell.

    God maintains His own without all of our pomp and circumstance. And I believe this is one of the reasons why God does not save all, to demonstrate that He does not gain anything by creaturely praise and adoration. So in effect, I have to agree, that while it is God’s delight to save sinners, He is not bound to save all as if He needed more praise.

    He has put a limit on salvation, and will only save a remnant from every tribe, tongue and nation.

    .

    • Mary Elizabeth Tyler

      This ended up in the wrong spot. Can someone move it for me? It is hard to tell who I am addressing this to. It should be under Elaine’s last post. Sorry, my fault. If you cannot move it is fine with me.