Speaking of Faith: Third Article Evangelism
By Chris Rosebrough
When we think of evangelism and sharing the Gospel with unbelievers there is a common misconception that the goal of evangelism is to get people to "make a decision" to accept Jesus into their hearts. But if you know your catechism and the biblical texts, which your catechism correctly summarizes, then you know that getting someone to make a decision for Jesus is not the goal of evangelism. Instead, the goal of evangelism is for God to raise someone from the dead and that doesn't happen as a result of someone making a decision for Jesus.
Let's review what the Third Article of the Creed says and what Luther's Small Catechism says about this article:
"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."
Yes, you read that correctly. The Small Catechism clearly says that no one can believe in Jesus by his or her own reason and strength. This is exactly what Scripture also says. Here are just a few biblical passages. Pay attention to who is doing the "deciding" in these texts:
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of a human decision nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).
"Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit'" (John 3:3-6).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).
"'Stop grumbling among yourselves,' Jesus answered. 'No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day'" (John 6:43-44).
"And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" (Acts 16:13-14).
There is a very simple reason why we cannot make a decision for Jesus and that is because we are, by nature, dead in trespasses and sins:
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Dead means dead. Just as dead people cannot make a decision to be alive, spiritually dead people cannot make a decision to be born again, which begs the question, "How does saving faith come about?" Scripture's answer is very clear and simple:
Notice how the Bible and the Small Catechism are saying the exact same thing. That is not an accident. Therefore, in order to be a good Third Article evangelist, we must tell our friends and neighbors about their sin and explain that through using God's Law. Then we must tell them about what Jesus has done for them by bleeding and dying for their sins on the Cross. Finally, we must call them to repent of their sins and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. God uses the proclamation of Christ's saving work (the Gospel) to give people the gift of saving faith. God does the saving and God does the raising and God does it through the proclamation of His Word.
This article was previously published in the Spring 2017 issue of Higher Things Magazine.
Rev. Chris Rosebrough is the pastor of Kongsvinger Lutheran Church in Aslo, Minnesota, and has served on the board of directors of Higher Things. He is also the captain of PirateChristianRadio.com and host of the Fighting for the Faith radio program.
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