The Faithful Witness: (3) Our Limitations
February 15, 2004 / No. 3189
Dear Radio Friends,
In our last two programs we have looked into the Scriptures concerning the calling of every member of the church and of every believer to be a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This witness includes our lifestyle, or what the Bible calls our conversation before the world — our life as it is to give a testimony that we belong to the faithful Savior Jesus Christ. This witness involves our actual words and leaving a witness and testimony of the gospel of Christ to others.
Last week, you will recall, we looked into the motivation that must be behind this witness. That motivation, we saw from the Scriptures, is first of all the glory of God. For God is worthy to be known because of who He is. Secondly, we saw that we are to be motivated by the love of the neighbor. With the love of God in our hearts, we must desire the neighbor’s highest good. The highest good is the knowledge of the gospel, if that be that God would so work it in their hearts. Finally, we saw that the motivation would arise out of the experience of our own salvation. For it is out of the abundance of the heart, said Jesus, that our mouth will speak.
Continuing our series today on The Faithful Witness, I would like to consider with you our limitations, that is, those things that we cannot do. It is very important for us to know what we cannot do — not to discourage us, not to give us an excuse for not witnessing — but rather that we might go about our witness faithfully. Knowing the things that we cannot do, we will more faithfully and earnestly attend to the means that God has given in our witness. And more, knowing our limitations will bring us more earnestly to the throne of God in prayer, asking that He will, by His power, do what we cannot.
If we are to understand our limitations in the whole area of our Christian witness, we must come to grips with the understanding of man’s true state apart from God’s grace, as it is told us in the Bible. Fallen man, according to the Holy Scriptures, is spiritually blind to his or her own desperate condition before the holy God. When it comes to the true God, Christ, the Word of God, and those things which are to come, fallen man is blind. He cannot see. He is blind to the things of God, blind to his own spiritual corruption, blind to the beauties that are in Jesus Christ, hopelessly blinded by sin. Fallen man views the gospel of Jesus Christ as an intrusion, as an irritant, as something that would upset his plans and disturb his sleep.
So, when we go forth with the witness of the gospel, we must expect to meet with two formidable enemies: willful ignorance and love of darkness.
The apostle Paul writes to us in Ephesians 4:17, 18, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” In describing man’s unregenerate state, that is, man’s state without being born again by the grace of God from on high, Paul underscores two things: man has a darkened understanding, and he loves darkness. When the gospel comes, it addresses things so foreign to men’s thinking, that it just does not make sense to them.
The conscience of every son and daughter of Adam is active. We read in Romans 2:14 and 15 that their conscience bears them witness, and their thoughts accusing or else excusing one another. But they (that is, man) refuses to reckon with his own desperate condition as a fallen sinner before God. You may get a person to confess to the truth that he has not always been what he should be, hope to be, or desire to be. But to bring him to realize his desperate condition as a corrupt and fallen sinner before the one only God, this is something that is beyond our power to do. God must work this personal conviction by His Spirit.
Man cannot come to that understanding of himself, apart from the grace of God, because man is held in willful ignorance and love of darkness. He wants to be ignorant and he loves to be ignorant of the folly of his own sin before God.
We read in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (now note these words), who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The idea is, who hold the truth down in unrighteousness. The apostle Peter writes in his second epistle, chapter 3:5, that man is willingly ignorant. Still more, we read in John 3:19, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” This is the great folly of sin.
In the realm of things natural, men know and recognize their plight and welcome deliverance. In the realm of human life and in the realm of possessions men come to know their desperate state and cry for help. A drowning man in the midst of the water cries for help. Why? Because he knows his natural condition and he knows he is about to die. He needs help. If a person is in an aircraft and the pilot comes on and says that the plane is damaged and landing is going to very difficult and the plane is at great risk, everyone in the airplane knows what is at stake. And they long for a word of deliverance. They know the physical danger. If a plague walks through a city, a disease, people will go to clinics and to treatment centers and will receive the proper medicine, and the antidote. They will bring their children to be vaccinated. They will fall over each other and push each other out of the way to come for help.
But men are willfully ignorant of their own desperate state of heart as sinners before the holy God, and the impending judgments of eternal hell. Willfully they are ignorant and they love the darkness. By nature we do not want to be told. There is only one who can drag such a sinner against his will unto the light. That One is not you or me. Yes, we are to testify and to speak of the whole truth of Jesus Christ. But we cannot change the will of the dead sinner. There is One who can. It is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We read in John 16:8, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ that convicts personally of sin. We bring the Word, we witness. But it is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit alone to bring men and women beyond anything natural in their ability — to bring them to the pricking of their heart and conscience.
Men are willfully ignorant
of their own desperate state of heart
as sinners before the holy God,…
The natural conscience, perhaps, you can prick. You could explain to a man that he must make restitution of stolen property. You could, perhaps, prick a conscience concerning the great wrongs that one has done to another person. But whether or not a person is going to believe in Jesus and to know his sins as before the holy God and to know the wonder of forgiveness and righteousness in Christ, that is something that our ability, our power, cannot produce. The Holy Spirit must speak to that to a man in his heart.
The human conscience may be brought down to guilt by my words. And, perhaps, a person can say, “Well, in the light of what you say, I’m obviously not what I should be.” But it is the Holy Spirit alone who convicts of sin and implants faith.
That is the problem. The problem is that we have broken God’s law, not society’s law. And it is only the Holy Spirit who can give a heart to bleed in sorrow before God.
When we understand the desperate state of man and his willful ignorance and love of darkness, then we will acknowledge our inabilities as we go about in our task of witnessing. That means that, by our power, we cannot savingly reveal Christ and the gospel. I am not saying that our words of witness are useless. They are used by the Holy Spirit. I am saying that we must know our inability. It will not be by our power or our persuasiveness. It must be by the internal work of the Holy Spirit as we bring, faithfully and compassionately and wisely and persistently, the Word of God.
The heart of the whole gospel that we witness is this: the salvation that is in Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16 — “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation”). But for the heart to grasp that gospel, one must be brought to know his need, which Christ alone as Savior can satisfy. It is impossible for us to cause men and women to do so. They must be changed by the hand of God. We read in Isaiah 53:2, “and when we shall see him (that is, Christ crucified), there is no beauty that we should desire him.” Man does not and will not receive the gospel because he does not and will not perceive his own need as a desperate sinner or the beauty that is to be found in Jesus Christ. Read I Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” You see, it must be by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must bring a faithful word, but we are dependent entirely upon the power of the good Holy Spirit.
The man to whom you witness may have an IQ of 85 or 145; he may be uneducated or educated. But unless the Spirit of God works powerfully within his heart, he cannot receive the truth and he cannot grasp it as precious. It will be foolishness to him.
There must, then, be the change that God works. There must be the enlightening of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we bring the truth. We want to make that truth as plain and applicable as we can. We aim our words to their understanding. We aim our words even to their heart. We bring before them the truth of the Word of God using the wisdom that God gives. But it is the Holy Spirit who must open the heart and pour the gospel into that heart.
We cannot, then, induce men to faith and repentance by our persuasion. But that does not leave us hopeless. The Holy Spirit will do it, and He will do it through the Word. And, more specifically, the Holy Spirit says that He will do this through the preaching of the Word. That is why, as we said a couple of weeks ago, our witnessing is always geared to and comes out of the church. We live in the church, we hear that Word ourselves. And our witnessing is always that others might come to the church to hear the preaching of the Word. And we preach. Why do we preach in the church? Because the preaching is the operation of One greater than all. God causes the light to shine out of the darkness. As in the creation, He causes that light of the grace of God to shine out of the preaching of the gospel.
But we cannot, of ourselves, induce men to faith and repentance. There is the current, widely accepted, false teaching in Christianity and in many churches that the human will has that ability, and therefore it depends upon our persuasiveness and it depends upon our being able to sell the gospel correctly to people. Yes, as I said before, we must bring our witness with some thought and some understanding and compassion to the person to whom we witness. But man’s will is not free. Man’s will is bound in sin. And if God is going to bring one to repent and to believe, He must do so by His own mighty power.
But, praise be God, He does. And He uses the Word to work that in them.
Now, does all of this discourage you? We have acknowledged our limitations, that the power of the witness is not ours, that we are but the vehicle, that we are but the instrument, and that the power can only be of God. Does that discourage you? Do you conclude, now, “Well, then what’s the use?” If you do conclude that, then I have to tell you that you are cutting up the Word of God. We must know our limitations in order that we might be faithful witnesses of God. For the truth of our inability shuts us up to a felt sense of our absolute dependence upon God! And that is the way we have to go forward in our witness.
It does not prevent our witness. But it causes us to go forward in the right state in our witness — a state of absolute dependence upon God. It is God’s work to awaken men. He must work in the areas of the heart where only He can. The most wonderful place in all the world for a child of God ever to be, a child of God, now, who feels his calling to witness of the gospel, the most wonderful place to be as we perform that calling is the place of absolute dependence upon God. The most wonderful place for a child of God to be is in absolute dependence upon God to bless the labor of his hands. We are dependent upon God! Let us acknowledge this.
Then, after we bring the Word of God, and as we speak of the Word of God to the work associate, to the neighbor, and we come back home, we do not simply say, “Oh, if only I had … if only I….” No, we are absolutely dependent upon God to bless the work and to use our witness as it pleases Him.
For the truth of our inability
shuts us up to a felt sense
of our absolute dependence upon God!
Reflecting upon how we have witnessed, perhaps, to the associate, or to our neighbor — yes, we do want to learn. We do learn from that witness that there are many areas of the truth that we need to know more about. And we need to be skilled and trained through experience in the way of witness. That, for sure. But, nevertheless, be it with all of our weakness, if a word of faithful testimony were left of Jesus Christ and His cross to the neighbor, to the unbeliever whom God has placed before us, then we may leave that to God and God will use our words even as it pleases Him.
That means that the knowledge of our inability as we hold that steadfastly before our eyes will hedge us up so that we do not use methods or schemes except those that are appointed by God for this task. It is God’s work. Then I will use God’s means. If I think it is my work, then I will go out and choose my tools. But if I believe it is God’s work, then I will ask God, “What tools am I to use?” We read in I Corinthians 3, “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” Since God’s temple is built by His might, we must employ the tools and the means that God has chosen. That is why Paul says in I Corinthians 1:22, “The Jews require a sign.” They want me to show them big signs in the heavens. And the Greeks, says Paul, “they seek after wisdom.” They want me to couch it in terms of human philosophy. But we preach Christ crucified, which is the power and the wisdom of God. We use the means that God has given to us, says the apostle. We preach because the power is of God. Paul says, “I don’t come with dialog, I don’t come simply trying to reach a consensus from our collective religious spirit; that we are trying to glean a few highlights from different religions and try to put it all together in the bigger context, the bigger picture. Oh, no!” says Paul. “We preach, we expound the Holy Scripture in all of its power and beauty.” That is the tool the church employs in evangelism. And it is the Word of God that the individual believer also employs in his personal witnessing.
Paul goes on in I Corinthians 1 to point out that God’s method in bringing the gospel, God’s tools, are always calculated to humble man and to bring glory to God. God’s method always humbles man and exalts God. God uses tools that promote His glory. Therefore, we will not use schemes or methods except those that are approved of God in His Word.
Therefore, we will leave our witness prayerfully and humbly.
If we know our inabilities, we will plead with God to bless the means that He has chosen. We bring the Word as best we can. And we pray, “Lord, bless, Lord, use the Word even as it pleases Thee. I can do nothing. But, Lord, Thy Word is the power. Glorify Thy name.”
And we do so humbly. Then as we witness to a person we are not consumed with a determination to win the argument. We know what we cannot do and so we will not attempt to bring that witness out of pride or self-praise. But we will bring the mighty Word of God.
And, as God uses that Word, and, according to His will, as He blesses that Word, then where is the credit? The credit is all of God. As it is written, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
We cannot bring men to faith and repentance. God must do that. But, you see, if God must do it, then it will surely be done.
May God make us faithful, dependent witnesses of Him.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee again for Thy Word and we pray that it may dwell in our hearts and guide our steps. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.