Engaging the Mind

Acts 2:14-38; 17:16-31

September 15, 2018 | Brian Bill

I’m no art expert, which is no surprise to any of you.  I’m wondering if you’d be willing to help make some observations about this painting of a church by Vincent van Gogh.  

I’ll get us started…

  1. Notice the two paths going around the church.   The church is in the middle of town and yet the person on the road seems content to just walk by.  Neither of the paths lead to the church.  Actually, we can’t tell if he or she is walking toward the church, or away from it.  

What else do you see?  

  1. The church is as dark inside as the night sky behind it. One art critic writes, “The foreground is brightly lit by the sun, but the church itself sits in its own shadow and neither reflects nor emanates any light of its own.”  In fact, the church is under its own shadow and casts a shadow into the light.  How sad since Christians are to be shining lights in a dark world.

Other thoughts?

  1. The roof looks unstable.  One gets the sense that the building could come toppling down at any moment.  Instead of being a refuge that can be counted on in the storms of life, this church appears weak and fragile.

Do you notice anthing else?

  1. The clock on the tower has no hands. The church has no sense of what time it is and appears stuck in the past.

Do you see anything that’s missing?   

  1. Sadly, the church has no doors! There is no way in.  In fact, there is nothing inviting about the church at all.

This is a very troubling picture of what some see when they look at the church today.  Many in our culture are content to walk right past Christianity.  Instead of glowing with light and hope, the church and Christians themselves often seem dark and gloomy.  Sadly, those who want to take a closer look often can’t even find the door.  As a result, the Christian faith is frequently considered irrelevant, joyless and for insiders only.

What is it going to take for the life-changing message of the gospel to penetrate our post-modern and post-Christian society? 

We learned last weekend we’re to exhibit a surrendered Christian life, we’re to be ready to explain the hope within us and we’re to express it with respect and gentleness.   Instead of being apathetic, we’re to become intentionally evangelistic.  When I’m not intentional with my time, I miss opportunities all the time.  How did things go for you this week as a result of trying to become more intentional?

One of the applications of the message was for us to view everyone we see as either on the narrow way to heaven or on the wide highway to hell.  When we encounter a Christ-follower, we should look for ways to encourage him or her and when we’re with someone who doesn’t know Christ we should strive to have a gospel conversation with him or her. 

On Wednesday I went up to a man who was wearing a t-shirt with the name of a Bible-preaching church on it and told him I knew his pastor.  He just stared at me without smiling.  I then proceeded to compliment the church he attended.  It suddenly became even more awkward when he said he doesn’t go to that church.  He explained he bought a bunch of these shirts at a second-hand clothing store.  When I realized he didn’t know Christ, I changed my tactic and urged him to attend that church since he’s already providing free advertising for them!  That’s when things became even more awkward.

It strikes me that we have to be prepared to use multiple methods to communicate the message of the gospel.  And as we learned last weekend, we need to realize that these conversations are almost always uncomfortable.  

Contagious Diversity

This past Monday night I met with the trustees to share with them our Grow Time vision as it relates to our facility expansion and renovation project.  As an opening exercise, I asked each of them to put into words what it is they appreciate about each of their teammates.  We simply went around the table, putting each trustee on the spot.  What a joy to hear these men put into words what it is they liked about those they are serving with.  While it was uncomfortable for each of them to hear these words of life, I’m sure it meant a lot to each one.

What struck me as we went around the table was how unique everyone is.  Some are older and some are younger.  One is retired.  Those who are working have different jobs and careers.  A few are new to EBC and some have been here for awhile.  Everyone has different gifts, passions, abilities, personalities and experiences.  And yet, we’re all on the same team.

In a similar way, God has given different abilities as it relates to evangelism preferences.  It takes all kinds of Christians to reach all kinds of non-Christians.  Here’s the main point: Christians don’t have to witness the same way, but all Christians can witness in some way.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons the topic of evangelism garners so much guilt and fosters feelings of failure, is because the church has traditionally taught that evangelism is going door-to-door and presenting the gospel to people we don’t know.

While this approach fits some, for the vast majority of us, the very idea fills us with terror!  Studies show that in a congregation like ours, maybe 5% are comfortable doing this.  That means 95% feel paralyzed by fear or demoralized by failure when it comes to witnessing. 

Can you imagine what would happen in this community if we were all unleashed to communicate the gospel message in a way that matches who God made us to be?

When Paul addressed the topic of spiritual gifts, he established the principle that God has built diversity into the very fabric of the church.  1 Corinthians 12:11 puts it this way: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” God wants to use you in a way that fits the person He made you to be.  Christians don’t have to witness the same way, but all Christians can witness in some way.

During the next three messages, we’re going to look at the way God equipped six individuals in the New Testament to fulfill different outreach needs (I first came across this concept from a book called, “Becoming a Contagious Christian”).  In the process, we’ll discover six biblical styles of evangelism. 

Direct Peter Acts 2

Intellectual Paul Acts 17

Testimonial Blind Man John 9

Interpersonal Matthew Luke 5

Serving Dorcas Acts 9

Invitational Samaritan Woman John 4

Today we’re going to look at the direct style of Peter and the intellectual approach of Paul. 

Here are some principles to keep in mind:

  1. The key is to discover your style and begin using it.  Ask God to show you which style most accurately describes you.  Once you’re aware of how you’ve been wired, look for ways to intentionally engage in evangelism!
  2. It’s likely you will use a combination of approaches depending on the situation. Each person you talk to is different and may respond better to a blended approach. 
  3. No style is better than another.  Resist the urge to judge others who witness differently than you do.  Be gracious with those who utilize a different style.
  4. Rely on others to help you. We are not designed to do it alone.  That’s the beauty of a church with many ministries and a plethora of programs that serve as on-ramps to connect people to Christ.  I saw this in action on Thursday when nearly 200 people attended SecondWinders, our minstry to those 60 and over, with 22 first-time guests in attendance!
  5. Each style has some inherent weaknesses and blind spots. It’s important to recognize your inadequacies, rely on the Holy Spirit, and be willing to change.
  6. Seek to be intentional.  A friend sent me an email this week asking if I had watched a series on RightNow Media called “Godspeed.”  I hadn’t heard of it so read the synopis and then watched it.  Here’s a summary, “This study follows the story of a young American pastor whose desire to change the world grinds to a halt in a slow Scottish parish…[as he] discovers how Jesus walked this earth at three miles an hour.  He saved the world at a walking pace – a pace of knowing and being known.”  Some of us would benefit greatly by intentionally slowing down.

The Direct Approach of Peter

Let’s look at how God used Peter’s personality and giftedness to confront people with the reality of their sins, the sufficiency of the death of Christ, and the truth of the resurrection.  Whatever Peter did, he did it with full force.  When Jesus asked the disciples in Matthew 16:15 who they thought He was, Peter boldly declared Jesus was the Messiah.  When Peter was in the boat and wanted to be with Jesus, he walked on the water to get close to His Master.  When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter whacked off someone’s ear.  He was brash, he was bold, and he didn’t beat around the bush.

It’s not surprising God chose him as His spokesman on the day of Pentecost because Peter’s personality was custom-designed for this situation.  Relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:14 tells us he stood up, raised his voice, and confronted his listeners with the truth.  And God blessed his efforts – three thousand people believed and were baptized that same day! 

This is the first public preaching of the gospel after Jesus returned to heaven.  It was a very powerful message for at least three reasons:

  • God’s people had been praying.  Acts 1:14 tells us that the believers “…all joined together constantly in prayer…”
  • The Holy Spirit was presentActs 2:4 describes how they were “…filled with the Holy Spirit…”
  • God chose to use Peter’s personal style in this situation because of who he was and how he had been gifted.

This is good for us to keep in mind as we seek to determine, develop, and deploy our evangelistic style.  No matter how we’ve been gifted, nothing will be accomplished without prayer and reliance upon the Holy Spirit. 

There are at least four key elements in Peter’s direct approach.

1. It was Personal. 

Peter personalized this sermon for his hearers so that it spoke to their exact situation.  Notice all the times he uses the word “you.”

Verse 14: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you…”

Verse 22: “…Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know…”

Verse 36: “…this Jesus whom you crucified.” 

Verse 38: “…Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…”

2. It was Plain. 

In  verses 14-36, we see his message was very clear.  He not only personalized his witnessing, Peter got right to the heart of the issue.  Those who feel most comfortable with the direct approach are able to take theological truths and communicate them clearly.

In verse 14, we read that Peter stood up and said, “…let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.”  This literally means to “take in one’s ear so that you can know it fully.”  Peter presented the gospel in a way that was understandable.

Because his audience respected the Bible, he quoted three passages from the Old Testament to prove who Jesus was and what the Holy Spirit would do.  In verse 22 he again told them to listen: “Men of Israel, hear these words…”  He didn’t want them to miss anything and didn’t mince his words when he told them who was responsible for the death of Christ.  

He unashamedly recalled the crucifixion and didn’t shy away from the Resurrection.  Verse 36 summarizes his message: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ…”  Can Peter be any more plain than that?

3. It was Persuasive. 

He was persuasive because he understood the consequences of ignoring Christ.

Peter was not interested in just giving them information; he was going after life transformation.  He was persuasive because he understood the consequences of ignoring Christ.  Check out their response in verse 37: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

To be “cut to the heart” means that they were “violently agitated as if they were pierced with a needle.”  It connotes a sharp pain associated with remorse.  They were shaken up and smitten with horror.  They had crucified their long-awaited Messiah and rejected their only hope of salvation.  God had passed judgment and they knew He was right.  

We have two choices when the Holy Spirit convicts us.  We can become hostile and try to defend our sin, or we can surrender.  We can reject or repent.  

4. It was Practical. 

Peter was ready for this question and told them exactly what they needed to do in verse 38: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized…”  Peter’s words were the best news they had ever heard – far better than they deserved or could have hoped for.  Those with the direct style are ready with the answer.  They’re quick to tell people what they need to do in order to be saved. 

This past week an Edgewood member called the church office to see if a pastor could visit a family member who had just been admitted to a nursing home.  I took Pastor Andy with me and met a sweet woman who is fighting cancer.  After talking for a bit I asked her if her situation is making her think about eternity.  Her eyes filled with tears as she nodded.  Then I asked if she was a Christ-follower.  She mentioned she had been baptized when she was a baby.  I walked her through the gospel message, explaining as clearly as I could how Jesus satisfied the righteous wrath of a holy God by dying as our substitute on the cross.  I talked about the importance of believing and receiving, of repentance and being saved.  When I asked her if she was ready to do that, she said yes and prayed to receive Christ.  

Because Bonnie was ready to receive Christ the direct approach worked with her.

While my guess is only a small percentage of us use this approach, there are a lot of people today who won’t come to Christ unless a modern-day Peter boldly brings it on!  That’s exactly what my college roommate did with me.  One day he brashly told me he didn’t think I was a Christian!  Boy, did that make me mad!  But God used him because I knew he was right.  When led me to begin reading his Bible and I started attending a Bible study.  He eventually laid out the complete gospel message for me and told me what I needed to do in order to be saved.  On October 3, 1979, I repented and received Christ as my Master and Messiah.

Bruce personalized the gospel message so that I could see myself as a person in need.  He was plain and to the point.  He was persuasive and he was practical.  And, God used him to break through my hard heart.

Traits and Cautions

People with the confrontational style exhibit some common traits:

  • Confidence and boldness
  • They often skip small talk and get right to the point
  • Exhibit strong convictions

If this approach describes you, here are a few cautions.  By the way, each style has a “dark side” so don’t feel like I’m picking on you – everyone will get their turn!

  • Seek God’s wisdom so you’ll be appropriately sensitive and tactful.
  • Allow the Holy Spirit to restrain your desire to come on strong in every situation.  I was reminded of this when Pastor Dan was praying during our team time on Tuesday.  This is what he prayed: “Lord, the gospel is offensive itself; help us to not be offensive.”  
  • Avoid judging others who have a different evangelistic style.  

Christians don’t have to witness the same way, but all Christians can witness in some way.  Another way to say it is that God desires to use our personalities as we participate in the process of someone coming to know Christ.

The Intellectual Style of Paul

The hallmark of Paul’s style was his logical and well-reasoned presentation of the gospel.  The Book of Romans is a great example of this. 

Can you think of a better person for God to send to the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17?  These intellectual heavyweights would not have related well to Peter’s “turn-or-burn” approach.  They needed logic that conclusively proved its point.   

  1. Warner Wallace, author of Cold-Case Christianity, wrote an article this past week called, “Young Christians are leaving the church – Here’s why.”  Referencing a Pew Research Center Study, Wallace points out when people walk away from their faith, “more often than not, it’s due to some form of intelletual skepticism…they don’t think anyone in the church can answer their questions or make a case.”  

Let’s observe how Paul makes the case for Christ.  When he arrived in Athens, verse 16 says, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”  The word “full” can mean they were “under” idols.  One ancient writer estimated there were 30,000 gods in Athens!  To be “provoked” means to be broken and enraged.  Paul was deeply distressed about the depth of their depravity. 

This reminds me of something Leonard Ravenhill said some time ago: “The world has lost its power to blush over its vice; the church has lost her power to weep over it.”  

Instead of leaving the city or complaining to the officials, verse 17 shows us he went to work.  We see in verse 18 some philosophers wanted to debate with him.  Athens was filled with idols and ideas.  As the only Christian in the city, he was asked to explain what he believed.  Standing on their turf, at their invitation, he starts where they are and uses this opportunity to preach the gospel to them. 

There are five things we can learn from Paul’s intellectual approach.

1.  Be Courteous. 

Look at verse 22: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious…”  Paul was repulsed by all the idols but he was respectful!  He didn’t denounce them or attack their idolatry.  In fact, he paid them a compliment.  He basically said, “As I’ve been walking around your city, I’ve noticed one thing about you: You are a very religious people.”  

Are you courteous when you spend time with people who are not Christians yet?  Or, are you secretly angry with them because of some of the things they do?  If so, we need to remember people without Christ are going to sin.  We shouldn’t be surprised when non-Christians act like non-Christians. 

2. Be Contemporary.   

Paul worked at establishing some common ground with his listeners.  Here’s another way to say it: When he was courteous, he broke down barriers; when he was contemporary, he built bridges to the heart of his audience.  

Notice verse 23: “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’”  As he walked around, he looked for connectors, or bridges, from their world to the gospel.  In missions, these are called “redemptive analogies,” which are cultural or traditional beliefs the missionary can use as a springboard to explain the gospel message.

Paul also quotes two pagan poets during his sermon.  He does this not to endorse them but to make a point of contact with the culture.  

Brothers and sisters, are you spending enough time with non-Christians?  Do you know what their interests are?  Do you know what they are concerned about?  Do you know those things that make them happy?  The things that make them cry?  Have you discovered any idols in their hearts?  

3. Be Courageous.

Notice how bold Paul was in verse 23: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”  This probably made them sit on the edge of their stone seats.

In verses 24-25, Paul gives them a theology lesson, courageously speaking of God as the Creator and the Giver of all things.  Here’s a summary:

  • You didn’t make God; He made you.
  • He doesn’t need you; you need Him.
  • He’s looking for you even when you’re not looking for Him.

When I think about the need to be courageous, I’m helped greatly by something Bill Bright, the founder of Cru (Campus Crusade), once said:  “Instead of assuming that people don’t want to hear the gospel, try instead to assume that they will be interested in the good news.  Your friend may have just gone through circumstances that have prepared his heart to receive Jesus Christ.” 

4.  Be Christ-Centered. 

We see this in verse 31: “Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Paul was not afraid to speak of an inescapable day of judgment.  He did not shrink from speaking the truth about the resurrection of Jesus, even though he knew many of his listeners would not want to hear it.

There’s one final element in the intellectual approach.

5.  A Call to Commitment.  

Look at verse 30: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”  There are at least 3 responses in the text that are still very common today.

  • Some were contemptuous.  We see this in the first part of verse 32.  When they heard about the resurrection, they rejected it.
  • Others were curious.  Their appetites were whetted and they told Paul that they wanted to hear more.  
  • A few were convinced.  

This is what we can expect when we are involved in the lives of lost people.  Some will become agitated and contemptuous.  Others will be curious.  And a few will become convinced and commit themselves to Christ. 

Here are some of the traits normally found in people who use the intellectual approach:

  • Analytical and logical
  • Inquisitive
  • Able to debate

There are also some “blind spots” or cautions to be aware of:

  • Avoid getting stuck on academic points.
  • Remember that attitude is as important as information.
  • Be careful about becoming argumentative – our goal is not to win arguments but to win souls.

Let me add, some of us hesitate to witness because we’re worried we’ll get asked a question we can’t answer.  Settle these two truths.  Number one, it’s almost always awkward (have I said that before?).  And number two, you don’t have to know all the answers.  If you do get asked a question you can’t answer, simply say something like, “I’m not sure about that but I’ll get back to you.”  If you’re looking for a resource to help answer questions, bookmark gotquestions.org.  We put a link on the “Sermon Extras” tab on our website.  There’s also a free app you can download to your phone.

Instead of being paralyzed by hard questions, there are some positive benefits from seeking out the answers and getting back to the person.

  • It communicates you care about their questions
  • You’ll end up learning a lot in the process
  • You can set up a second meeting
  • You can give your friend resources like Anchor for the Soul or a Bible
  • You may discover their questions are a smoke screen disguising some hurt in their life
  • You end up communicating that you’re learning yourself

Christians don’t have to witness the same way, but all Christians can witness in some way.

It’s our job to spread the gospel and live it out in every way, being faithful to Him.  It’s good for us to realize that our efforts at evangelism don’t always go the way we want them to.  But we can be intentional.  We don’t have to witness the same way, but all Christians can witness in some way.

Vincent van Gogh painted a pretty bleak picture of Christians and the church.  Sadly he finished this painting one month before he took his life.  He died without finding the hope he was so desperately looking for.  

What kind of picture are you painting?  Do people see hope in you?  Do they see hope here at Edgewood?  Let’s live intentionally this week, striving to live on mission so the light and love of Jesus Christ emanates from within us.  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?