(A friend of mine asks the following question, which led to this post: "I have a question for you. There is an evangelistic ministry in our area which uses the 10 Commandments exclusively to show people their sin and the need for them to repent and come to Christ. Their method has become very popular in our Christian community. My question is: in light of the New Covenant are the 10 Commandments necessary in bringing a lost person to salvation? Please explain why." My response follows.)
Yeah, this has been bothering me for years. It has long felt like we bash people over the head and make them feel horrible, and then ask them to trust us to make them feel better. And some people are very skilled at that.
I don’t know, Barry.
In the book of Acts, Peter really turned the screws on people before telling them the gospel. However, it seems clear that he was always talking to Jews—“Men of Israel,. . .” (Acts 3:12) His approach or leading of the Spirit is different when speaking to Gentiles.
In chapter 10, God gives Peter the vision concerning the cleansing of the Gentiles. After that, a formerly reluctant Peter gives the gospel to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. There is no salvation appeal, no threat of hell, and no “repent and be saved” admonition. Yet, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” (Acts 10:44,45)
Several points: I think that because many Christians do not believe that God actually chose us in Christ before the foundation of the earth, that we have to get them to do the choosing. And here comes the scolding and haranguing and beatings to induce the choice from the otherwise reluctant people. Even though we believe the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, we think a good beating will give them sight.
In my terminology, these people have “Prosecuter flesh”—in other words, they believe an airtight argument will force a guilty plea and a gospel ear.
Second, many of us do not discern the difference in our listeners that Peter did. Maybe we should pray for these people to have a holy “Sheet Dream.” Oh, I have a warped sense of humor! That sounds so close to something else, doesn't it?
The Spirit gave Peter that bothersome vision in Acts 10, where Peter’s failure to understand the magnitude of the new covenant was exposed. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” In other words, God has taken upon Himself everything and anything that once separated Him and frustrated His love. It’s all gone! Go and tell them! Peter did, and the result startled everyone—the Holy Spirit entered them all.
Remember what the church leaders did to Peter?
Acts 11:1 The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." 4 Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened. . .
So, if I were to speak with Jews, perhaps I would don my become all things to all men garments, and “use” the law as Peter did in chapter 3 in order to lead them to the fulfillment of the age, the gospel of the new covenant. However, I would not use the same technique with Gentiles, who were never under the law to begin with. The distinction must be made.
Third, many of us have failed to grasp the end of one covenant and the dawn of another. We’re seduced into believing that a good mix of the two is the just-right elixir for our hearers to drink. So, some of us introduce listeners to the God Who Is Pissed-Off, the God who has yet to take out His wrath on sinful man, and who is about to do it on those listening—better repent before He smashes you in the way you deserve.
In other words, we don’t believe “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19, italics mine.) We don’t get that at all, I’m afraid. While there will be an accounting one day (for those who do not believe and receive Jesus), that day is not this day, not this time. In our day, God is not counting—God is calling.
And I must wrap this up.
To conclude, Barry, the apostles were led by the Spirit, not by a technique they thought would work what they wanted. That’s very difficult for us to grasp, but it is, nevertheless, the way for Christians. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal 5:25) I am helped immeasurably by knowing the gospel of God's grace to us in Christ. Everything I do and the way I see people is framed by it. But God knows who people are, He knows their design and destiny, and He knows what He’s doing. That’s why I make it my highest goal to know Him, especially when I’m with people—those He loves.
I know there are good and smart people who disagree with me, but this is what I think. Tell me what you think of all this, will you?
(If you would like to ask me a question, fire away. Click on Comments just below, or email me at Ralph@LifeCourse.org.)