Posted by on February 11, 2018

Today’s message is titled, Good News People Proclaim the Good News. That is to say that people who have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and converted from their previous ways to follow Jesus are people who also actively participate in that same message. People who believe the good news are the same people who proclaim the good news and to understand this we need to talk about conversion.

This idea comes from a passage we call the great commission where the Lord told his disciples,

Matthew 28:19–20 (CSB) — Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.

Conversion to Christianity is kind of a weird thing, though.

Few people come to Christ all at once. For most of us, it takes time. You hear the good news a few times from a few different people and maybe you try out a church for a while. At some point you profess Christ, but you aren’t certain you are all-in yet. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says that we taste the heavenly gifts, and we share in the Holy Spirit, and we taste the Word of God and the Power of God, when we join a church. But, that experience of God doesn’t make you a convert.

And then one day you hit a point where—you aren’t sure exactly what happened—but you just know you’ve hit the point where you aren’t going back. It’s at that point that you can be certain you are converted.

A number of years ago Jami and I did a bus conversion, where we took an old school bus and converted it into a home for our family for a couple of years. We began the process while our home was on the market. We started the conversion by tearing out all of the bus seats and stuff and then got to building.

Well, the conversion took quite a few months and our house sold before the conversion was complete so we couldn’t move our family in. It was being converted, but it just wasn’t done yet.

Now, even when we did move in, there were still projects to do and work to be done, and we still have a list of things we wish we had done to it. It’s like anything else. It’s a work in progress. But, there was a distinct point where the conversion was done and we were able to use it for it’s new purpose.

And that’s pretty much how we are. When you start to explore Christ and the church, the conversion begins, but it takes time. And there is a distinct point when you know you have converted, you know you are now a Christian, but most people only see that point in hindsight, if even then.

So, as we go to discuss what exactly makes someone a Christian, what really counts for conversion, I want to look to the early church as described in the Bible. We are going to discuss what makes someone ‘converted’ and then what we do as the church to convert others to Jesus. We’ll start with…

The Nature of Conversion

Religious conversion is an experience unique mostly to the Jews and Christians in the ancient world. Most cultures were polytheistic which means that they believed in many gods and they followed many gods.

We’ve talked about Cosmic Geography before. This is the idea that in ancient times your geography, the place you live, determines the god, or cosmic force, you worship.

But, by the time we get to the 1st century, when Jesus came to earth, especially in the Roman Empire where there were roads, people began to take their gods all over the known world. That made it possible to learn about other gods from other regions, so many people would add the gods of other nations to their worship if they thought the god had something to offer them.

But, the Jews and Christians were unique. The God of the Jews and the Christians is a jealous God who will not share His glory with lesser cosmic beings. He is the only one who is deserving of worship.

The Apostle Paul tells us that…

Colossians 1:15–17 (CSB) — He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.

He is the one who created all things and holds all things together. Everything is from Him and for Him and so we should not worship anything else in the creation.

The implications of God’s power was clear to the ancient Christian. To become a Christian meant that you not only worshiped God, worshiped Jesus, but it meant that you gave up everything else that you worshiped.

The biblical word for this is…

Repentance

The early church looked for 3 things before they were ready to count someone as converted to Christianity. The first is repentance.

But, repentance is tricky today. We think repent means ‘stop sinning’ and sometimes it can mean that, but not in the context of conversion.

In the early church, if you were a Jew who wanted to become a Christian, you had to acknowledge that the written laws of God and the testimony of Moses and the Prophets were not the way to have merit with God. You had to admit that you are completely incapable of following the law and come to Jesus to receive forgiveness.

And if you were a Gentile—which just means, ‘not a Jew’—then you had to give up worshipping the gods of the nations and begin following Jesus. This is a problem we see in Hindu nations today. People are quick to believe in Jesus, but they don’t want to give up worship of their Hindu gods.

Repentance, in the early church had less to do with giving up specific sins and more to do with a transfer of allegiance. It meant being committed to Jesus and not to the gods of the world.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews uses repentance in this way when he says,

Hebrews 6:4–6 (CSB) — It is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away.

This is a verse I mentioned earlier. He says that the person who joins the church and experiences God among the people, but then leaves the church won’t likely come back to God if he walks away. That’s because conversion is an issue of allegiance. It’s like you are a US citizen and you become a spy for another country. But, then you feel bad so you want to come back to the Unites States. That’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not gonna happen.

Repentance is a shift in your allegiance from that which is not God, to Jesus Christ.

And, at any rate, if the author of Hebrews defined repentance as ‘stop sinning,’ ‘stop doing things that are wrong,’ ‘stop doing, saying, and thinking things that God does not approve of,’ then everyone is guilty of this. If repentance meant ‘stop sinning’ to the author of Hebrews, then he is saying in this passage that there isn’t one of us who can be saved, because we have all sinned against God, not one of us who can be restored to God.

When we talk about repentance for conversion today it’s a little more tricky than in the ancient times, though. Certainly, someone who comes from another religion should need to leave that religion when they join the church. But, most people who convert to Christianity don’t convert from any definitive worldview.

But, look, we all follow some sort of philosophy in how we live our lives. So, what we mean by repentance today is that you make a profession that you no longer want to be bound to the patterns of thinking in the world and instead want to follow Jesus Christ. You repent of following of the patterns of the world to follow the pattern of Christ’s church.

This is where…

Faith

…comes into play, which is the second thing that the early church looked at to acknowledge someone’s conversion.

The Author of the letter to the Hebrews described faith this way.

Hebrews 11:1 (CSB) — Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.

He says that faith has two elements.

1) Faith is the reality of what we hope for. And 2) faith is the proof of what we cannot see.

What do we hope for?

We hope for entrance into God’s eternal Kingdom, we hope for heaven—catch up on last weeks message at sonrisepalmdale.com on heaven if you missed it. But, this is not a blind hope, because our faith proves the reality of heaven.

That’s why faith requires conversion. Faith requires that you have given up your loyalty to the things of this world and have given loyalty to Jesus Christ.

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, but it is also the proof of what is not seen.

How does our faith prove the existence of heaven?

Faith proves heaven because our allegiance to Jesus Christ demands life change. When you convert to Christianity, it means that you live as a citizen of heaven now. And when we live as citizens, now, we proclaim to the world that Jesus is Lord and Heaven is real.

Jesus said,

Matthew 5:16 (CSB) — Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

When we let the light of Christ’s eternal Kingdom shine through us in life, other people experience what we already know to be true. They experience the goodness of God’s Kingdom.

So, the first two marks of a Christian are repentance and faith. The third mark of a Christian is…

Baptism

When someone has faith in Christ so that they have a confidence in the salvation God has offered us through Jesus Christ and they have denounced the ways of the world and commit to live for Christ in His Kingdom, then we mark their faith through baptism.

If you have been baptized or seen a baptism, then you probably know some of the symbolism. When someone is baptized, they are brought under the water, symbolizing their death to their old ways. And when they are brought out of the water, it symbolizes their rising to a new life.

Baptism is a visible demonstration of the faith and repentance that has already been manifest in the heart of the convert. Baptism is your statement that you no longer want to worship anyone or anything other than Jesus. It’s a statement that you are no longer bound to the empty philosophies of this world, but that you are willing to follow Christ in His Kingdom, no matter what that means. It’s a public demonstration of the conversion that you have already experienced within you.

So, the three marks of conversion are repentance, faith, and baptism.

The question is, then, if it’s the churches responsibility to make disciples or converts of all nations around the globe, how do we accomplish that? How do we speak to other people in order to share the good news of Jesus with them in a way that they will be responsive? Let’s look at… 

How the Church Converts the World Around Us

Again, we will look to the early church in the first century. They had 5 primary means that they used to communicate their faith in Jesus in order to bring people to faith, repentance, and eventually membership in the church through baptism. The first is called…

Witness

In the book of Acts we read a story where two of Jesus’s disciples, Peter and John, are brought before the High Priest and the other leaders of the Jewish people. Peter and John were treated harshly, threatened, and commanded to stop telling people about Jesus.

And they responded with the most profound words. They said,

Acts 4:19–20 (CSB) — Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.

They either saw what they say they saw, or this is unbelievably arrogant. But, for 2000 years Christians have been living by this same reality.

How can we not speak about what we have seen and heard?

They had witnessed amazing things when they were with Jesus. They witnessed his miracles and healing. And they witnessed his wisdom in teaching. And they witnessed him rising from the dead and they watched him ascend into heaven.

If you saw all that, how could you possibly stop talking about it?

Christian, you are a witness. You have seen and heard amazing things, through the scriptures and in your Christian life. You have come to behold wondrous acts of God. You should be unable to stop speaking about what you have seen and heard. You are a witness of miracles. And maybe you think you aren’t a witness. Well, sometimes it just takes the right perspective to see what God is doing.

You are a witness. Tell what you have seen and heard. Similar and related to witness is the second means that Christians proclaim the good news. We are people who…

Testify

In the book of Mark, we read a story where Jesus encountered a man possessed by a legion of demons. The man was so terrible because of the possession that the townspeople kept him chained up outside the village in steel shackles.

Jesus came to the man and released him from bondage to the demons. And he told the man,

Mark 5:19 (CSB) — Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.

You see, many people had a witness after this event because they saw it happen. But, this man went away with a testimony. He didn’t just see or hear about a miraculous deed of Jesus. This man experienced the power of Jesus in a profound way. That’s the difference between witness and testimony in the scriptures. Witness is what did you see? Testimony is what did you experience in yourself?

Testify

No one can argue with this man’s story because it’s his story; it happened to him. He had a story about how he was under the oppression of great evil, but the Lord had mercy on him and delivered him from the grip of death. He was brought forth from utter darkness into the light of the Son of the living God.

And you, Christian, have a testimony that no one can argue with because it’s your story; it happened to you. You have a story about how you were once under the oppression of evil, but the Lord had mercy on you and delivered you from the grip of death.

Will you testify? Will you tell that story? Do you even know that story?

Now, these first two—witness and testify—are part of the responsibility of every Christian.

If you haven’t seen God work, then why did you believe? If God hasn’t done anything to change you to be like Christ, then why do you continue to follow?

I don’t know about you, but church isn’t just a cultural thing for me. It’s very real. All Christians have a story to tell and a responsibility to tell it.

And there are three more means that some people are gifted with to use to share Christ. So, the third means is to…

Proclaim (Preach)

…or preach the good news.

The task of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ is everyone’s responsibility to some degree but has been entrusted specifically to certain individuals according to the gifting of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus sent the 12 disciples out to the lost sheep of Israel. He told them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. But, the first thing he told them to do is…

Matthew 10:7 (CSB) — As you go, proclaim: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Jesus sent the disciples, gifted with the ability to perform all sorts of miracles, but he sent them to communicate a message of hope to those who were perishing.

As good news people, among all the other good things we are called to do as Christians—living holy lives, blessing other people, helping those who are in need, and all that—our primary concern is the spiritual well-being of those we encounter. The reality is, if we can’t heal the spiritual, then the people of the world will never be satisfied with the physical.

So, we are people who proclaim the good news. And maybe you don’t really know how to do that. In a couple weeks, we are going to go over this with you in a message titled Good News People Know the Good News, and then in April, we will have a 4-week training, specifically geared towards sharing the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people you know. And we will specifically need any VBS workers there for the session on The Good News and our Kids.

But, we have this charge from Jesus, not to just be here in our four walls where we ‘do church’ and have fellowship with one another. But, we have this charge from Jesus to go forth and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to proclaim that we no longer need to live under the oppression of this world, because the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near and we are each invited to share in the heavenly blessings with Christ.

We witness, we testify, and we proclaim the good news and the 4th means by which we proclaim the Good News is that we… 

Teach

…the good news.

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul is writing to the Roman church imploring them to live righteous lives in light of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the midst of this discourse, he tells them the good news, that they are no longer slaves to the powers of this world, that they are free, not just from eternal punishment for sin, but from sin itself, and now if they are slaves to anything, they are slaves to righteousness, to goodness. And then he writes,

Romans 6:17 (CSB) — Thank God that…you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over.

Here’s what I find here in the Antelope Valley. I find that most people actually believe in God … at least in some form of god. And most people have some amount of respect and appreciation for the Bible, even if they don’t want to follow it. And most people have a sense of righteousness even if they don’t listen to their conscience most of the time.

Someone like that, when we proclaim the good news of Jesus to them, and they choose to believe, is in the habit of ignoring righteousness in spite of what they know to be true. So, they will continue to follow patterns of unrighteousness even though that unrighteousness is what they want to be free from.

Do you get what I’m saying here?

It’s the addict who comes to Christ because he can’t handle the shame of his alcoholism, but still continues to go back to  the bottle night after night.

If I am honest, this is most people, and most of us. We need to be taught to obey the good news. Obedience to the good news is not automatic when someone converts to Christianity.

But, notice what Paul says, ‘you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching.’ You see, we don’t need to be taught right from wrong. We know that. Sometimes we need counsel on the specifics of certain situations, whether God deems an activity righteous or not. But, you don’t need me to stand up here and tell you for 35 minutes how bad lying is, or how bad murder is, or how bad adultery is, or anything like that. You already know that.

What you need is for your heart to be inspired to righteousness so that you can ‘obey from the heart the pattern of teaching that you were given.’

That’s what it means to teach the good news. You take someone who is stuck in patterns of unfaithfulness, brokenness, unrighteousness of any kind, and you teach them that there is freedom from that in this life now because of the hope set before us in Jesus Christ. They need to know that the long-term satisfaction that comes from avoiding the bad behavior far outweighs the momentary satisfaction of performing it.

Because, remember, repentance doesn’t mean stop sinning; repentance means to change your allegiance. If your allegiance changes, that means your heart changes, and the sin will eventually follow.

We could say a lot more there, but that’s teaching the good news.

Good news people proclaim the good news by our witness and our testimony, by what we proclaim to the world around us and by what we teach, and the fifth and final way we proclaim the good news is in what we…

Write

The written word is powerful. The Apostle Paul used a secretary when he wrote his letters to the churches in the New Testament, but when you get to the end of the first letter he wrote to the Corinthian Church, he makes this statement:

1 Corinthians 16:21 (CSB) — This greeting is in my own hand—Paul.

In some of the oldest manuscripts, this statement is written much larger than the rest of the text. It’s possible Paul’s eyesight was going so he could not write well on his own. But, Paul knew that there was power in the written word so he wanted to put his stamp of approval on this letter, so that the Church in Corinth would know that this was the direction of the Apostle Paul.

This is the Bulwer-Lytton principle, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

They teach you in leadership classes to praise people in writing and criticize them verbally, because a written word will be read over and over, whether it is uplifting or critical. But, words spoken are quickly forgotten—maybe you should be taking notes right now; I don’t know.

And you may think, well I’m never going to write a book. And that’s probably true for most of you. But, think about how much writing you actually do. You text message. You post on Facebook and Instagram and other social media. You email. You scrawl notes on a slip of paper for your spouse, your children, you co-workers.

It all applies. When you send someone a harsh text message or email they don’t just read it once. They read it a half-a-dozen or more times and it begins to grow bitterness, contempt, or anger in their hearts. But, when you send someone an uplifting message, they might just save it, take a screenshot and come back to it time and time again.

When I come into your homes, I notice in almost every house that you have a prayer card pinned up somewhere from myself or one of the staff. Why? Because the pen is powerful and you’re encouraged to know that the prayers and petitions of the Saints go before you in life so that you can endure any hardship and suffering that might come your way. The written word uplifts and upholds.

So, my question is, can you begin to leave people words of hope and words of blessing, words of good news?

I think of the famous words that Moses penned,

Numbers 6:24–26 (CSB) — May the Lord bless you and protect you; may the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the Lord look with favor on you and give you peace.

How many times have these words been written by countless others to encourage, to uplift, and to bring peace in trying times?

You are all writers in some way, but what do you write? The written word is truly mighty and is to be utilized by the church to proclaim good news to the world around us.

We are good news people and we have a responsibility to see conversion happen in the lives of those around us. We witness, we testify, we proclaim, we teach, and we write and we do so regularly and intentionally to move people in the direction of Christ. Go, this week and make disciples of your nation.

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