Though many have said the following in similar ways, I like the way C.S. Lewis put it, “Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best. Those who love Man less than God do most for Man.”1 Answering obvious objections to that thought, Leonard Ravenhill wrote, “Someone now warns us lest we become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. Brother, this generation of believers is not, by and large, suffering from such a complex! The brutal, soul-shaking truth is that we are so earthly minded we are of no heavenly use.”2 W.J. Erdman wrote of such “heavenly minded” believers in The Fundamentals, “According to this reality their life and walk partake of thoughts and desires, hopes and objects, unworldly and heavenly. Born of God and from above, knowing whence they came and whither they are going, they live and move and have their being in a world not realized by flesh and blood.”3 The obvious Biblical truth is that God would not ask us to be holy as He is holy and then criticize us for being too heavenly minded.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he instructs the young pastor to exercise himself more to godliness than to bodily exercise. At the end of that fourth chapter he concludes by writing, Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee (1 Tim. 4:16). Evidently, godliness is a vital ingredient for reaching the lost as well as for our own spiritual life. John Gill wrote of this verse, “For though Jesus Christ is the only Saviour, the only efficient and procuring cause of salvation, yet the ministers of the Gospel are instruments by which souls believe in him and so are saved.”4
Our generation, however, seems to be of a contrary opinion. We seem to think that a godly lifestyle is a hindrance to the presentation of the gospel, at least a godly lifestyle that is overtly evident. Our generation of preachers seems to think that we will be a more efficient tool for evangelism if the sinner can identify with our human shortcomings. Take, for example, Rick Warren’s impersonation of Jimmy Hendrix’s hit song Purple Haze in a stadium full of youth and saying, “I’ve always wanted to do this in this stadium.”5 And the church band on the stage accompanied him with no problem! Of course I’m aware that such persons are trying hard to redefine carnal behavior as normal for the Christian life and thereby avoid any such contradictions. But either they are right or two thousand years of Christian history is right. I’m still of the opinion of the latter.
When we think of trials and tribulations, our first thoughts usually turn to sickness, accidents or other tragedies that often come into our lives. It is true that these are results of the entrance of sin into this world, the results of a “broken” world which come upon all of us sooner or later, but these are not the primary substance of Biblical trials. The primary New Testament teaching about trials and tribulations emphasizes the fact that we suffer certain repercussions for speaking on behalf of Christ. Jesus said, Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:10). Paul said, Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor. 12:10). To the Philippians Paul admonished, And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:28-29). After being stoned for preaching the gospel in Galatia, Paul encouraged the believers by confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
We ought to be concerned that we do not place a stumbling block in a sinner’s way by our own foolishness. Many, no doubt, have brought scorn upon themselves, not “for Christ’s sake” but for their own offensiveness. However we have gone so far overboard in correcting that potential error that we are trying to avoid the unavoidable, the very offense of the cross! In so doing, we have not found a more powerful witness but an impotent one. The preaching of the gospel message is still foolishness to this world but it remains the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:18). If we avoid the conviction that the gospel brings because we are afraid to offend, the very offense of the cross is ceased (Gal. 5:11) and the power of the gospel is lost.
Briefly, let me contrast the very thesis of New Testament godliness and evangelism with today’s opposite point of view. How could we expect otherwise when we have given our Christian kids everything they desire; have seldom told them “no;” have changed the whole church to meet their expectations; and have longed for their approval in order to remain heroes in their eyes? Assimilation to the culture is not relevancy. True Christian relevancy has always known what people need, not what they want. Stealth tactics do not bring conviction to the lost. No thinking person (even a teenager!) wants the gospel camouflaged for his benefit. Self-esteem cannot bring repentance and though some may suffer unnecessarily in this manner, biblically speaking, a low self-esteem is necessary for repentance. Finally, “safety” in witness has no power in evangelism. To always make the sinner happy is to shirk our own stewardship and avoid the necessary repentance process through which the sinner must go. Today’s euphoric contemporary services may be as much of a “safe” retreat for the saint as it is an anodyne for the sinner.
The New Testament’s Thesis
Godliness relates to evangelism as politeness to falling in love. There may be no perceived value in the person at first, but impeccable character soon overcomes objections and makes way for positive thoughts. Jesus said, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
1) There is power in the cross of Christ. When the Lord said, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me (John 12:32), He was speaking of the power that the truth of His crucifixion has in bringing men to Himself. Paul wrote, For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). Every believer remembers the convicting power of Christ’s sacrifice which brought him to his knees in repentance. There, on the cross, was the sinless Lamb of God who can take away the sin of the world! The injustice of it is what is so powerful. Paul desired to share in this power when he wrote, That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death (Phil. 3:10). But that is also what caused Paul to conclude that he was always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you (2 Cor. 4:10-12).
2) There is comfort in persecution for Jesus’ sake. God gives special inward peace to those who suffer for the gospel’s sake. Again, Paul admonishes the Corinthians about the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation . . . . For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ (2 Cor. 1:4-5). To the Thessalonians Paul wrote, Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord (1 Thes. 3:7-8). The soul-winner often senses God’s comfort while witnessing just as John when he was on the isle of Patmos for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:9). Oswald Chambers described this boldness that comes because of God’s immediate comfort, “Then comes the glorious necessity of militant holiness. Beware of the teaching that allows you to sink back on your oars and drift; the Bible is full of pulsating, strenuous energy.”6 That is why Paul “lived” when his churches “stood fast.”
3) Antipathy toward godliness is a sign of convicting power. Why did Cain slay Abel? John says, Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous (1 John 3:12). Jesus reminded his disciples, If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (John 15:18-19). John described the evangelism that seeks to please the world, They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us (1 John 4:5-6). A love of the world and a conformity to the world’s expectations does not bring convicting power to the sinner, regardless of how much he likes it. The great danger in that kind of cowardly evangelism is that a crowd of people is likely to follow, having found the cheap grace which sinners have always desired to find.
4) Godliness is worthy of suffering for Christ’s sake. As far as we know, the disciples never had a hand laid upon them until the fifth chapter of Acts. They had walked with Christ, witnessed His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. They had preached at Pentecost and had been warned by the Sanhedrin not to speak. But the first time they actually suffered physically for their witness was in Acts 5:40 where they were “beaten” and commanded not to speak any more about the gospel. The next verse says, And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:41). That’s why Peter later wrote, Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God (1 Pet. 4:16-17). In the Tribulation period, John sees the martyrs who refuse the mark of the beast and die for Christ. He describes them as, Them that had gotten the victory over the beast (Rev. 15:2). Strange! Victory for the martyrs of Jesus is death itself.
When the writer of Hebrews encouraged the believers to consider Christ’s suffering lest they become weary in their own sufferings, there is faint rebuke to them in the next verse, Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin (Heb. 12:4). When we consider all of those who have truly suffered bodily for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ (read Heb. 11:32-38!), we ought to be ashamed of our own complaining as if our puny trials are too much to bear! Spurgeon wrote, “True fidelity can endure rough usage. Those who follow God for what they get, will leave him when persecution is stirred up, but not so the sincere believer; he will not forget his God, even though the worst come to the worst.”7
And so . . . .
Robert Torbet has an interesting description of the spread of Christianity across America: “One of the unique features in the development of American Christianity as it adapted itself to the frontier environment was the phenomenon of revivalism which characterized the evangelical denominations in particular. In essence, this revivalism was the product of an evangelistic zeal and a yearning for a deepened spirituality in the church.”8 A deep and true desire for evangelism will only come when there is a deep and true desire for godliness! And, our evangelism will never be so powerful as it will be then.
Notes: 1. C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns (New York: HBJ, 1986) 80. 2. Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, nd) 28. 3. W.J. Erdman, “The Holy Spirit and the sons of God,” The Fundamentals. Vol II (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) 352. 4. John Gill, Dr. Gill’s Commentary (London: Wm. Hill Colingridge, 1853) 610. 5. In an article, “Rick Warren Hits Home Run” by Dan Wooding, ASSIST Ministries, April 17, 2005. Quoted by Lucarini and Blanchard, Can We Rock The Gospel, p. 28. 6. Oswald Chambers, Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1998) 135. 7. C.H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, II (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978) 339. 8. Robert Torbet, A History of the Baptists (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1975) 298.