I have been doing some research on evangelistic outreach. In doing so, I posed the question for my search, “Does door-to-door team evangelism work?” This is somewhat of a loaded question, because it really centers on what “works” in the question means. Is it effective? Will people respond to someone coming to the door to share the gospel, give them a tract, or invite them to church? Ah! What do these corollary questions have it common? The share a common viewpoint. We can measure effectiveness from our viewpoint or God’s. Can we persuade people to come to Christ? Actually no. Faith in Christ for salvation is a spiritual decision and therefore requires spiritual renewal for that decision.
Paul wrote in Romans 3:10-11 with a quote from the Old Testament, “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” If then no one seeks for God, what causes a person to place faith in Christ? Good question. According to this passage, all people are intent on turning away from God, because they reject God. No one is willing to come to God. Paul again answers that question several chapters later where he wrote, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). The power of spiritual conversion is the word of God. Notice the cause and effect in this passage. The cause is hearing the word of God, while the response is faith. The word of God awakens the spirit to respond to Christ through faith.
So, what makes our evangelism efforts by any means effective? Give out the word of God by any means. It is our most valuable and powerful tool. Hebrews 4:12-13 affirms this, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and a discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Let me return to the original question, “Does door-to-door team evangelism work?” It does not work if we believe we are the causal agents for someone responding to us positively or someone coming to Christ. If we consider effectiveness from our resources to persuade people or even receive a positive response, the answer is no. If it is yes, then why do we pray? If we believe a response requires God’s work in the heart through His word and corresponding power of the Holy Spirit to bring about even the most modest change, then the answer is an unqualified YES. We walk by faith and leave the results to God. Human initiatives fail to render divine results. Only God can produce divine results. Therefore, the effectiveness of any evangelistic means is yes if we believe the Scriptures that the “gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…(Romans 1:16) and “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). There is nothing more sure in life for salvation than the word of God.
The Apostle John’s writing style presents a number of difficulties for the modern reader. The primary audience knew what he sought to convey due to immediate conflict they had with false teachers in their midst and the cultural setting. These false teachers plagued the church in Ephesus for decades since the Apostle Paul warned the elders prior boarding a ship to leave them for the last time (Acts 20:17-38). Paul informed these elders,
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (20:29-30).
These false teachers had a very different message, one that rejected the righteousness of God and depended on self-reliance. They twisted the knowledge and nature of God and sought to stir up dissension with members of the Christian fellowship in Ephesus.
With this history in before them, the audience of 1 John recollected both Paul and John’s teachings on righteous living, brotherly love, and caring oversight both exhibited during their times in Ephesus. When John recalls these teachings in his letter, they connected them to the time he dwelled with them. John appealed to his interaction with them while with them. He wanted to remind them that they knew the truth (1 John 2:13-14, 18, 21), and the Holy Spirit imprinted that knowledge in them (2:20). Although John’s writing style appears meandering to us, it did not appear that way to his original audience because they knew John’s teachings.
The Flow of John’s Message
However, a closer look of the flow of John’s writing reveals more than a meandering style. An analogy can assist in our understanding of the flow of his message in 1 John 3 as well as with the entire letter. The strong waves seen on the surface of the ocean represent his message. The water through these waves appears powerful and overwhelming as we see each wave strongly reaching their peaks and then gushing robustly toward the shore. However, beneath that surface exists a number of unseen undercurrents that drive the waves. Some undercurrents flow strongly and appear periodically on the surface of the waters, acting as large cresting waves. Other undercurrents flow more subtly. One may not see their strength when viewing the surface from a distance. However, to one in the water, they brush strongly against the body and act like unseen undertows attempting to sweep the person to the bottom. John’s writing style resemble this ocean. His dominant message appears like the strong waves on the surface of the sweeping ocean. The corresponding themes show up like undercurrents, sometimes subtly and sometimes forcefully, as they support the primary message.
In the case of 1 John 3, John stresses righteous living as his primary message. Living righteously is the message of power much like the ocean waves. Several corresponding themes appear like undercurrents in support of this message. They consist of the following:
Appear (2:28; 3:2, 5)
Hope, faith (3:3, 23)
New birth (2:29; 3:9)
Loving others (3:1, 10-11, 14, 16-18, 23)
Abide (3:6, 14, 17, 24)
He connects these themes into a single forceful message through a series of comparisons and contrasts. He also uses them as counterarguments against the false teachers who disturbed these believers. For example, when John writes of the two appearances of Christ (His birth and second coming), John counters the false teaching that Jesus was simply an illusion and not real. John replies with a NO! That is, Jesus did appear physically, and He will appear once again at His second coming. The theme of the appearance of Christ represents John’s counterattack toward the false teachers.
John’s Message and Supporting Themes
As a thematic undercurrent for his message, John bring up appearance three times, once referring to believers and twice to Jesus. His first use speaks of His second coming (2:28; 3:2-3). With his second use, he refers to the historical event of His first coming or the incarnation (3:5). These two events act as two anchors for hope, faith, the new birth, and loving God and others. The third time John uses the word “appear” he speaks of the believer’s new unknown state when Jesus comes again (2:28). Although the future of our state of being when Jesus returns is unknown, we do know that we will be like Him (3:2).
In his typical style, he reverses the historical order for emphasizing that the motivation for the life of righteousness has its grounds in the hope of Christ’s second coming. For this reason, his writing style appears somewhat meandering. The connections of these themes are subtle in support of his message. Notice how he connects the two. He first states,
“…what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (3:2-3).
The false teachers (the early stages of Gnosticism) could not comprehend this physical appearance, because their philosophy of matter as evil and impure caused them to reject the incarnation and the second coming of Christ. The appearance of Jesus, to them, was an illusion. Jesus could not inhabit evil flesh. John emphatically counters their false beliefs about Jesus. Their idea of purity/impurity rested on materialism and not on God’s declaration. God created everything and pronounced them good. Evil entered the picture with humanity’s willful rebellion against and rejection of God.
The false teachers failed to distinguish between the good God created and the act of human rebellion. Rather than seeing the individuals created in the image of God as good, they saw this material creature as evil. Furthermore, rather than recognizing rebellion against God as evil, they rejected such rebellion and consequent sin. Purification according to John is not about the false teaching of separation between the body and spirit but the distinction between living righteously (purity) and living lawlessly (3:3-6), which is the true biblical category. The life of righteousness solidifies hope (3:3). This hope is the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19).
John uses the undercurrent themes to reinforce living between the two comings of Christ – the incarnation as the first coming and Christ’s return to claim all who believe in Him as the second coming. Righteous living occurs between the two appearances of Christ as shown in the following illustration. The events that occur after Christ’s first coming find their source in the work of the Holy Spirit. John earlier wrote,
“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie— just as it has taught you, abide in him” (2:27).
He affirms this truth later when speaking directly of the Holy Spirit,
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (4:13)
As the Holy Spirit directs our lives through the process of living for God, we exhibit confidence and assurance (2:28; 3:21; 4:17) so that we will not show shame when Jesus returns the second time to claim all believers. The events between the first and second appearance of Christ lead to righteous living. Righteous living is the primary message John conveys in John 3 and that he threads throughout the letter. It is the mighty and majestic display of the God who gave us birth to His dear children. The events John discusses to support this message are the undercurrents that support and strengthen righteous living. They demonstrate to the world the difference between the children of darkness and the children of God.
Future articles will explore the undercurrents shown in the illustration:
All of us know the story of Mary the mother of Jesus. The Scriptures speak highly of her and give us many details about her. She fearlessly stood with her Son before the cross as He died for our sins. She prayed in the upper room with the disciples and witnessed their choice of Matthias to replace Judas. She received the Holy Spirit when He came upon the disciples on Pentecost. The writers of the gospels relied on her as a resource to record the life of Jesus. Yes, she played a pivotal role in rearing Jesus in bringing Him up in the fear of God. Although He existed as God come in the flesh, “He learned obedience…” (Hebrews 5:8), we cannot deny Mary’s participation in teaching Him. Yet, while she gave birth and mothered Jesus, she acquiesced to His rule over her as her Savior and Lord.
As we enter into her story, we discover the surprises she received from God. The first of these surprises came about when an angel of the Lord appeared to her. This was no ordinary angel. Rather, God sent Gabriel the archangel, among the highest of God’s angels. Gabriel dwelled in the presence of God (Luke 1:19), in His royal court as His personal servant (Maxwell Davidson, “Angels” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). It took a special messenger with a special message for Mary because she would bear the Son of God. Gabriel declared to her,
“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28)
This declaration troubled Mary. That is, her emotions appeared to overwhelm her thoughts with intense perplexity and confusion rather than expressing joy as Gabriel encouraged her to experience. Favored? Blessed among women? What kind of message is this? God surprised her with grace. Gabriel continued in his greeting,
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30)
Gabriel wanted Mary to know that what he said was not simply idiomatic or an ordinary greeting as we often express ourselves to others such as,
Have a good day!
I wish you well!
Rather, Gabriel declares God’s grace twice to Mary, not with a frivolous phrase, but with meaning and the full weight of God’s promise. God embedded His guaranteed redemption in this grace. God gave Mary genuine and earth-shattering grace. In the same way that Noah found favor or grace in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8), so also did Mary. The favor or grace toward both Noah and Mary was momentous and historic. It was redeeming grace. Just as God redeemed Noah and his family, He also set apart Mary to bear the Redeemer of humanity. This grace amounted to far more than wishing one well or a reaction of “Bless you.” This grace possessed eternal weight and results, because God’s word has repercussions for eternity. What could prepare Mary or us for such grace?
Grace does come in surprising ways, especially when unexpected. Mary had a difficult time handling this grace from God. It initially confused her to realize that the King of all existence and the redemption of sinful humanity would grow in her womb and receive birth from her. Rejoice? Finally, after Gabriel finished speaking, she said,
“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
What an example for us toward whom God declares grace! God surprised Mary with grace. He also does that with everyone who belongs to Him. God’s grace is not a frivolous declaration from Him such as “Bless you, my Son.” When God blesses us with grace, He does so with purpose, power, and resoluteness.
When God appeared to Isaiah as he worshiped in the temple, Isaiah fell prostrate on the ground and shook as he cried,
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)
The same trembling and fear came upon him as descended on Mary. He recognized the grace of God with great humility and received it in similar fashion. God’s grace causes such a response. It bends us to the earth and causes us to recognize our state – those in need of the Savior, for it comes with overwhelming mercy and love stunning in our encounter with it. How does grace bend us to recognize our state and simultaneously lift us up with mercy and love? Forgiveness and complete acceptance. Everyone who believes through the touch of the Holy Spirit, receives forgiveness and total acceptance before God the Father. Grace surprises us and catches us off guard in a similar way that it did with Mary.
The group Hillsong presents this same surprise of grace in their lyrics:
And I stand, I stand in awe of you
I stand, I stand in awe of you
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you
From Hillsong, “I Stand in Awe of You”
Awe expresses surprise and wonder. Christmas is a time that represents God’s surprising grace that lifts our face to His. Does God’s stunning grace captivate you?