When I was a student at Asbury Seminary, we had the great scholar Bishop Stephen Neill visit our school. During a question-and-answer time he suggested that we get into the habit of slowly reading serious books a little at a time over a period of several months. I have tried to do that in the almost fifty years since I heard that. I read some articles and books fast, and a few slowly. I recommend this practice to you.
I just completed a months’ long journey with Dr Robert Coleman’s The Heart of the Gospel: The Theology Behind the Master Plan of Evangelism (Baker, 2011). I read a few pages at a time as part of my devotions on my off days. When I used to travel a lot, I would try, if possible, to schedule a visit to Dr Coleman, who is like a spiritual father to me. The time with him would direct me to focus on the most important things in life, things I could neglect focussing on amidst the challenges and busyness of ministry. This is what happened to me when reading this book: the theology of the gospel was burned afresh into my heart.
Recently the contemporary church has been filling in the blanks on many issues which we had previously neglected. I thank God for that. But in the process, we may have given less emphasis to the truths of the Word which have sustained the church for over twenty centuries. We may also be allowing new insights and attitudes to override some of the culturally unpleasant aspects of the Christian message.
The current emphasis on inclusion and accepting those who are different to us to have a harmonious society could make those who hold to the absolute uniqueness of Christ and the horror of lostness look like uncharitable and arrogant people. Some reject these doctrines and others choose not to talk about them. We must learn how to live an evangelistic life with both humility and boldness.
The current emphasis in counselling on sensitivity to people’s feelings could make insistence on dogged obedience to the biblical lifestyle (even when it goes against our feelings) look like a violation of people’s human needs and rights.
The current trivialisation of sex and emphasis on the right to satisfy our sexual desires could cause us to be accommodating of premarital sex, adultery, and practising homosexual relations. What we once described as temptations to avoid we are now regarding as human rights that need to be satisfied.
The current emphasis on the final state being a perfected earth may result in us losing sight of the transcendent glory of heaven with our sweet and awesome occupation of worshipping God. One of the great ambitions of my life is the glorious prospect of spending eternity rejoicing and in communion with the One who died for me. That motivates me today to pay the price of service to others.
We must not let necessary earthly concerns cloud out these serious eternal concerns from our lives. Take, for example, two basic features of Christianity: salvation and holiness. If we neglect basic gospel truths, we could lose our vision of the gospel as the only means of bringing lost people to salvation and to entry into the kingdom of God. The most important thing that people need is to obey God’s command to “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) and trust in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 4:12). But we could be lured into the trap of neglecting the challenging and unpopular work of evangelism.
After salvation, our goal in life is to “strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). I once did a count and found that 1400 of the 2005 verses in Paul’s epistles are related to the life of holiness. That’s about 70% of the verses. Do we put a similar emphasis on holiness in our preaching, teaching and conversations?
May our hearts always burn with a passion for the lost, and may our programmes always be driven by a desire to bring people to meet the Saviour and pursue a biblical lifestyle of holiness!