The Gospel in 25 Simple English Words

John 3:16 has long been regarded as our greatest, most direct, and most concise statement of the Gospel. With almost miraculous precision, it places the good news of the love of God in the smallest and simplest of packages. When you say “John 3:16,” even many unbelievers either know what it means or know the verse itself. It is the most famous book-chapter-verse reference in the entire Bible. You’ll see it on a banner at a sporting event, emblazoned on a T-shirt, or scrawled in graffiti on an underpass. It’s a shorthand way of saying, “God loves us all.”

Tim Tebow famously placed the reference on his eye black (the tape strip beneath a football player’s eyes) before a national championship game in college, and the broadcasters frequently identified it as his favourite verse. Immediately afterward Google received more than thirty million hits from people looking up John 3:16. And that was only the beginning. Three years later, after leading the Denver Broncos to a rousing playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, someone noticed he had thrown for precisely 316 yards. The Associated Press reported that he also averaged 31.6 yards per completion. Those who didn’t “get it” again went to the internet, and by Monday afternoon John 3:16 was once again the most searched item on the internet.

It’s often been said that the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Some may think that finding significance in a quarterback’s passing yardage borders on superstition, but it may show us that God will use almost any means to tell us how deeply He loves us. When was the last time any of our efforts succeeded in getting ninety million people to hurry to the Internet and look up the Gospel?

Throughout history, millions of words have been written about John 3:16. Yet none of them are necessary to grasp the meaning of the verse. God communicated the heart and meaning of the Gospel — the most profound, far-reaching message of all time — in only twenty-five simply words of English text. When translated into any language, this verse is supremely easy to understand.

All we need in life is packed into those twenty-five words. Your Bible is the essential library of life, and every verse is profitable for wise living. But if worse came to worst, and we could only retain one of its 31,103 verses, this would be the one we could not let slip from our grasp.

I have many ways of sharing this verse but recently read of a new way to experience the truth of John 3:16. It is interesting to note that not only is the entire Gospel contained in the message of the verse, but there word gospel is embedded in the verse itself. 

                                For God so loved the word

That He gave His Only

                      Begotten Son, that whosoever believes

In Him should not Perish 

                     But have Everlasting

                                      Life

John 3:16 is thoroughly and essentially the Gospel in one verse. A statement of the Gospel so simple that a child can understand it and so profound that a scholar can never fathom its depth. It needs to be inscribed permanently on every heart.

John 3:16 is preached, studied, and cited more often than any other biblical passage, yet it never becomes yesterday’s news, never loses its majesty or its freshness, never loses one microvolt of emotional power. It is so inexhaustible that over a period of many years, one obsessive preacher compiled from it more than six hundred preaching outlines. Talk about a month of Sundays! That’s enough sermons to keep a church fed for almost twelve years.

The Gospel is found in this verse … “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There are two things you need to KNOW

1> God loves

2> Like all people in love, God gives gifts

There are two things you need to DO

1> Believe (means to totally trust in)

2> Receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life

As I said, simple but profound. And a message that is seriously life changing. 

Just Do Something!

Did you know that showing compassion has measurable therapeutic value for our lives? Doing good for others does good for us. One of the benefits of showing compassion to others is that it reverses the destructive process of self-absorption, moves us into the healthy arena of seeing the need of others, and ultimately opens us up to the reality of God and His destiny for us.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was passionate about showing compassion, especially for the downtrodden of the London slums. One day his son Bramwell entered the room early and found his father furiously brushing his hair, brushes in both hands, as he frantically finished dressing for the day. No time for “Good Morning”; Booth looked at his son and cried, “Bramwell! Did you know there are men sleeping outdoors all night under the bridges?” He’d been in London late the preceding night, and this had been a shocking sight on his way home.

“Well, yes,” said Bramwell. “A lot of poor fellows, I suppose.”

“Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself for having known it and done nothing for them,” answered William Booth,

Bramwell began constructing elaborate excuses. He could never add such a complex project to all the things he had going on in his life, which he now began to name. His plate was full.

His father simply barked, “Go and do something!”

That moment of resolve and compassion was the beginning of the Salvation Army Shelters, a special ministry that changed the lives of hundreds of homeless men during the early days of the Salvation Army work in London.

Have you ever had a Booth moment, when suddenly you saw some person or situation through God’s eyes and developed a fiery determination to see it change?

That is almost always the start of an amazing adventure with the Lord as you move forward out of self-centredness and begin to respond with compassion and meet the needs of others. Reminds me of an old saying I heard when first saved: “Find a need and meet it!” 

So many believers sit and wonder what the Lord has called them to do. They want to know what their ministry is. It’s simple: “Find a need and meet it.” In doing so the Lord can then direct you and reveal to you your unique calling and personal ministry. Just sitting and waiting for a revelation does not work. It is much easier to steer a moving car than a car that is parked. So, “find a need and meet it” will get you moving and then God will steer and reveal. 

Good advice: “Go and do something!”

The Titanic

In 1912 the Titanic, the largest, most luxurious, and most advanced ship of its time, sank on its maiden voyage, taking the lives of 1,514 passengers. Though the disaster occurred over one hundred year ago, several movies, documentaries, and books have kept the horror of that night alive in our minds. We’ve all heard of passengers such as “the unsinkable” Molly Brown and the entrepreneur John Jacob Astor IV. But one of the most astonishing stories from the Titanic has received little press.

It’s the story of Pastor John Harper, a widower who was travelling with his six-year-old daughter at the invitation of the great Moody Church in Chicago. Not only was he to preach there, he intend to accept the church’s offer to become their next pastor. His hopes were high, and it seemed he had a brilliant future ahead. 

After the ship hit the iceberg and it became apparent that it would sink, Harper got his daughter safely aboard a lifeboat. It’s likely he could have joined her, being her only parent, but he chose to stay aboard the sinking ship because he knew that with this disaster, God had given him an urgent message.

Harper immediately began to go from one person to another, telling them about Christ’s love and urging them to accept Him. He shouted for Christians to let the unsaved fill the lifeboats so that would live to come to belief. When one angry man rejected the message, Harper removed his own life vest and gave it to him, saying, “You need this more than I do.”

Harper was still actively pressing his urgent evangelism when the ship tipped upward, wretched in half, and slipped beneath the frigid North Sea. Even then Harper did not stop. Seeing the many passengers struggling in the water with little chance of rescue, he swam to as many as he could, urging them to accept Christ’s loving offer until hypothermia finally overcame him.

Four years later, at a Titanic survivors meeting in Ontario, one survivor told the story of his own encounter with John Harper. He was clinging to a piece of flotsam when Harper swam to him and urged him to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The man rejected the offer and Harper swam away. But soon Harper came around again, and this time, knowing death to be only minutes away, the man gave his life to Christ. Moments afterwards, he watched the near-freezing waters finally take Harper’s life just as a returning lifeboat approached to rescue him. At the conclusion of his story, he said simply, “I am the last convert of John Harper.”

The titanic left England with three classes of passengers aboard. But when accounting for their fate, the White Star Line set up a board listing two classes: KNOWN TO BE SAVED and KNOWN TO BE LOST. These categories provided a fitting analogy for what John Harper already knew. There are only two classes of people in this world: those who have chosen to accept Christ and will spend eternity with God in heaven, and those who have not chosen Him and will not.

Which class are you in?

Spreading the Word of God

A true story…

Have you heard of Jack Murphy? He was one of the most notorious jewel thieves in the history of the united States. He was a gifted man on many levels — a musician, an actor, an artist, a surfer. He was born in Oceanside, California: then his family moved to Pittsburgh, where he played violin with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and also won a tennis scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.

Unknown to everyone, he was also a cat burglar. On October 29, 1964, he pulled off one of the greatest heists in American history, stealing twenty-four precious gens from J.P. Morgan’s prized collection at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The stolen gems included the Star of India, the Eagle Diamond, and the DeLong Star Ruby.

Three days later, Murphy and his accomplices were arrested. The story goes from bad to worse, and Murphy ended up sentenced to 2,244 years in prison. One day some men came to minister to the prisoners. Football stars All Glass and Roger Staubach shared the gospel with Murph the Surf, as he was known, and he was intrigued.

Later a Christian worker who faithfully visited the prison followed up with a personal message from Scripture, and Murphy gave his life to Christ. Murphy was eventually released, and in the years since he’s visited hundreds of prisons with the message of the gospel. His story was written up as part of a book called God’s Prison Gang.

The story doesn’t end there. In California, a man named Mike Larson grew up in an abusive home, which led to an unstable life. He became enslaved to raging drug abuse. He lost every job and every meaningful relationship. One day he broke into a doctor’s house looking for drugs, and he was arrested and thrown into prison.

While Mike was in solitary confinement, a prison guard handed him a book entitled God’s Prison Gang, featuring stories of prisoners who came to Christ while behind bars. As Mike read Jack Murphy’s story, he decided to leave his life of crime forever.

Upon his release, Mike decided to get a tattoo. The artist drawing the tattoo invited Mike to church with him and also urged Mike to join his motorcycle gang — but there was an unusual requirement. You had to bring along a biker vest with a notepad, a pen, and a pocket Bible.

When Mike lost his Bible, he tried to hide the fact that he didn’t have one. But it bothered him so much that one day he literally yelled out to God to give him a Bible.

Later that day Mike drove to a pizza restaurant where a man got out of his car, came over, and gave him a Bible — just like that, and then drove away. The man was a Gideon, and then and there Mike broke down in tears. He couldn’t believe God had answered his prayer, and that led to his giving his heart totally to Jesus Christ. 

Today Mike is a California pastor leading his church to invest itself in winning others to Christ.

Think of the chain reaction: from famous athletes, to a diamond thief, to a prison guard, to a tattoo artist, to a nameless Gideon — all leading to a man now preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and winning others to the Lord as well as training and releasing his church to do the same.

God is truly amazing. Truly amazing. His ways are far above and beyond our ways. Amazing. Simply amazing!

 

2021 – Time to Plant a Tree

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”

And I would say that the best time to have told your friends and neighbours about Jesus was 20 years ago. The second nest time is now.

When I was first saved and born again there was a move of the Holy Spirit that was setting people and churches on fire for God. Back then (late 1970’s) you would hear things like this:

    • “Be on fire for Jesus!”
    • “Invite all your friends to Church!”
    • “Tell everyone you know about Jesus!”
    • “Change your school with the gospel!”
    • “Make Him know on and off the playing field!”
    • “Be a cry on the hill, different than others!”
    • “Be salt and light in your community!”

Fast forward a few years and you don’t hear those kinds of comments any more. The Great Commission to go into al the world and make disciples” is seldom taught on and few ever hear about it from the pulpit and church classrooms. Today you’ll be hard-pressed to find people in the pews who are sharing the gospel with their neighbours (if they even know them), who are changing their workplace for Christ, and who are using their talents to impact the city.

It seems that the older we get and the longer we have known Jesus, the safer we live. But Jesus never called us to live safe, secure, and comfortable lives. Safe faith isn’t biblical faith! It seems the longer we have known Jesus the less likely we are to tell our neighbours and friends about Him. 

Now, let’s comment on the fact that young people are leaving the Church. Those who are in the age group called the Millennials are leaving the Church in substantial numbers. Stay with me as these two different streams of thought are really one. I will link them up in a minute.

Research has found that 70 percent of young adults leave the church at or about the age of nineteen. I am often asked “why has the younger generation abandoned the Church?” My answer is that I think the older generation has abandoned the mission of reaching the lost. So, the Millennials see a Church that has no purpose and no vision or goal and thus leave it because to them that means the Church is irrelevant. 

Statistics also show that among Millennials the number of them sharing their faith on a regular basis is increasing. They no longer attend Church but they are still in love with Jesus and more determined than the Church to share Him with others.

These studies are basically saying there is a mass exodus of young people from the Church, but they are sharing their faith more than ever once they’re out. It’s as if they’re graduating from the Church but not necessarily abandoning the faith. It seems this younger generation see the need for this dark world to know Christ but does’t see the Church as a viable way to make that happen.

It seems that the young people share because they have nothing to lose. But the older we get the less we share Jesus because we have more to lose – reputation, position, income, wealth, authority, friendships. 

It’s a lot safer to just be a believer and not be a disciple maker. Then you can agree but not do. There’s less risk involved when we just agree with Jesus. We abandon the mission because it costs us too much — our time, our resources, and especially our convenience. 

Have you ever noticed that older people don’t usually have scabs? Think about it. Scabs are what you get when you’re young. You get them on the playground from running too fast, jumping too high, or playing too hard. But as you get older, you don’t attempt anything that could give you scabs. Because our bodies have more to lose if something goes wrong.

Again, it seems that the older you get the safer you live. It seems that this is true of our faith journey also. It seems we have restricted the fun and powerful glory days of our faith to our youth. 

Francis Chan once spoke about his frustration with this notion. Both of his parents passed away in their forties, so it taught him to number his days. He talked about how he never knows if this is his last day before meeting Jesus. But instead of letting this sobering reality paralyze him, he’s allowed it to ignite his faith. He said, “It just doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re close to seeing God, why are we living such a safe life? And what the heck are we saving for? We go backward in the church, where we do crazy things when you’re eighteen, and then we start to live safer and safer every year.”

So, no matter what age you are, consider this: if today truly was your last day, what would you do with it?

I can guarantee that whatever you’d do, it wouldn’t be safe. It would involve meaningful risk. Whether it was restoring a broken relationship, telling that loved one about Jesus, or fulfilling an item on your bucket list, it wouldn’t be safe.

Time to plant a tree … 

2021 – Living What You Believe – Part Two

Let’s continue with our look at living a life of integrity in 2021 as believers and followers of Jesus Christ. We saw last time:

1> Practice what you believe (Leaders: Practice what you preach)

2> Intimacy with Jesus is foundational and a serious priority

Too many leaders and followers in the church have become religious hypocrites. They go through the motions, doing only what is required of them by their local assembly – the bare essentials. They know the right words. But they have forsaken their first love (Revelation 2:4). Leaders can teach about Jesus but spend little time at His feet. And, people can call themselves believers and also spend little to no time with Him and yet claim to follow Him. We can tell others to follow Jesus while we wander away from Him.

For Christians, modelling integrity means we hunger to be in the presence of our Saviour. We long to become more like Jesus and live in ways that grow our faith. Every believer should pause and do a heart check: Am I really following Jesus and becoming more like Him – enjoying time in His presence and experiencing His peace – or am I simply doing my thing and covering a non-biblical lifestyle with a thin outer coating of “Christian”? 

If you are a church leader and on staff with a church or ministry you should also do a heart check: Have I become a church staff professional doing my job with no passion behind my ministry?

Everyone should ask themselves: Am I propelled into each day with a love for Jesus that guides and moves me?

When we love Jesus and it shows, people are drawn to Him. To live with integrity we need intimacy with the Lord on a daily basis.

3> Love the lost is essential

Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). The religious leaders in His day were upset that sinners liked Jesus and He seemed to like them. Church leaders and believers in Jesus (disciples of Jesus) who avoid nonbelievers and spend all of their time with church folks can’t fulfill Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  

Living with integrity calls us to live like Jesus, and sometimes that will mean making new friends and spending less time at church or fellowshipping with other believers. Christians understandably tend to gather with others who believe the same way that they do. However, we can then become narrow in our focus and neglect those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And, we can also end up with a “we” and “they” mentality. This is simply not healthy. We need to find a place where we can hang out with nonbelievers and frequent it often so as to stay in touch with the real world out there and build relationships with those who live without hope. A gym, the baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a weekly card game…

4> Passionate prayer unleashes power

Systems, programs, and tricks of the trade will never bring lost sheep home to the Good Shepherd. The best worship services with the finest music and the most articulate gospel presentation are powerless if the Spirit of God is not present and at work. Only when God moves will people surrender their hearts to Jesus.

This is true as well in the life of a believer. If we are not praying passionately for the lost then we will not influence or impact the lost. We can befriend them without prayer but we cannot see them come into the Kingdom if our prayer is weak and inconsistent. And, if we simply neglect praying for those we know who are lost. Working to influence and win the lost without praying for the lost from a heart for the lost sucks and seriously lacks integrity. 

True power resides in the prayers of believers and the prayers of the corporate church when we weep for the lost and seek God’s face on behalf of those who are in spiritual darkness. We need to ask God for His heart for the lost. That prayer, when answered, will transform your life and witness and help you to live a life of integrity.

Prayer and the power of God are central to living lives that bear witness to the nonbeliever. And, as we live with a heart for the lost then we will obey Jesus and live with biblical integrity. 

Cleaning Out the Clutter

We are called, as disciples, to “go into al the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). This includes going and staying. “Staying” in that “all the world” includes family, friends, and neighbours. “Going” in that there are over 6,000 people groups that have not heard the name of Jesus and are not aware of the gospel of the Kingdom.

To think about “going” and “staying” in terms of winning the lost and discipleship we need to grapple with decisions about our priorities and our focus in life in general. Even with a sincere desire to be radically obedient, it is not always easy to make decisions about what matters most. 

The Great Commission is a clear word of instruction. 

Matthew 28:18-20  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

Jesus has told us frankly that obedience – and thus sharing the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission – is the result of our love for Him.

“If you love Me, you will obey Me” (John 14:15)

That God has a special concern for the lost is beyond debate. Even so, His special concern is not always our special concern, even as we are striving, in love, to be obedient!

Consider the priorities that inform our living and the decisions we make in daily life. Typically, those priorities are clearly reflected in our conversations and gatherings; our priorities are reflected by the way we use our time and money. To illustrate the struggle of determining priorities, imagine a group of believers in a regular, traditional church or even a house church. 

What occupies our attention? What are we most concerned about? What are the most frequent topics for discussion when we gather? What do churches care most about? What matters most to individual believers? What is the mission agenda of the church? Of the individuals believer? In other words, where do we place our focus?

Generally the conversation centers in and around the needs and the lives of the believers. Their current medical struggle. Their job. Their family members. Their current pressures and concerns. Their finances. Their upcoming vacations or business trips. At times, they might be concerned about issues the local church is facing. But those times are few unless you are in leadership and thus the issues are of “personal” importance to you.

Seldom will you hear believers talking about the non-believers they are building relationships with in the hope of, one day, sharing the gospel of the kingdom. Oh, they may mention the name of a person to pray for who is not saved but that is not the same as seeking prayer for your witness to that person and the relationship you are attempting to build with them. Unless led by a mission-minded leader you will seldom hear the conversation turn to those “people groups” who have yet to hear the gospel and won’t hear it unless someone is send – which means someone must go. 

So, our concerns are often not in line with the concerns of the Father nor the concerns of the Head of the Church, Jesus. 

Here is my point: We need to clear out the clutter of our own lives until the needs of the lost become and remain our primary focus. The lost need to hear, to understand, to believe the gospel, to be baptized, and then be gathered into house churches and discipled. Responding to the needs of the lost is our God-given task. As we obediently answer God’s command, nothing can be more important than the needs of the lost. So, we need to remove the “self” clutter and focus on the needs of the lost – especially the need to be born again.

The kingdom truth: The need for the lost to hear the good news always exceeds the needs of the believer and the local church. 

Christian Martyrs

I read an interesting statistic the other day. 80% of the world’s true believers are living in persecution. A true believer is a follower or disciple of Jesus. People who know who Jesus is and people for whom the Christian faith is central to life and life-shaping. These are people who have encountered the living and loving God and embraced the message that Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave destroyed the power of sin and death. People who have embraced the love of God and whose lives have been totally changed as they became new creatures in Christ.

The 80% of the world’s believers who live in persecution refers to hardship and even death that is the result of being true followers of Jesus and not for some other reason. Not all persecution ends in death. Some does, however. The word martyr describes those who have died for their faith as believers. It is claimed that over the past 20 centuries of the Christian faith, some 70 million believers have been murdered for their faith and can rightly be called martyrs. And, it is estimated that currently more than four hundred believers are killed every day for their faith. Numbers can speak loudly but we must look carefully are how those numbers are determined. 

The basic definition is that Christian martyrs are “believers in Christ who have lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility. This definition has five essential and distinct components:

1> Believers in Christ. These are people who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom and due to the conviction of the Spirit were led to repent with godly sorrow and receive forgiveness for their sins. These are people who have had a life-changing encounter with the love of God the Father and, as a result, have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are people who have truly become new creatures in Christ and are living lives focused on the Kingdom. These are people who have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and thus are able to fulfill John 14:12 and are obedient to the command to “seek and save the lost” regardless of the cost. The number of true Christians is really much smaller than the number who claim to be followers of the Christian faith. 

2> Lost their lives. The Christians numbered among the martyrs have actually been put to death. There are many levels of persecution, but martyrdom results in death.

3> Prematurely. Martyrdom is sudden, abrupt, unexpected, and unwanted. It is a death that happens before it “should” happen; it is, in that sense, premature. Had martyrdom not happened, these people would have lived longer. 

4> In situations of witness. By definition, the word martyr suggests the idea of witness. In traditional usage, a martyr is a person who bears witness to Christ in his or her own death. So, dying a martyr usually means giving some form of testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ before they die or by the way that they died. 

5> As a result of human hostility. The martyr’s death happens at the hands of a persecutor. A human being is involved in the martyrdom.

And we could add that the witness of the martyr stands the test of time. That means at least two things. First, the martyr’s way of living will not later be revealed to be untrue or inauthentic. As people look back and consider the life of the believer who has died, they will see that there was, in fact, true belief. Second, whether we can measure it or not, the death will serve as testimony. The death will encourage and even bear fruit and it will do those things over time. There will be evangelistic impact in the setting where the martyrdom takes place, within the group that sent out the believer, or in both settings. 

So, the reported annual number of Christian martyrs might be much higher than the actual number of people who died for their faith. Using these elements contained within the understanding of what constitute a martyr an accurate count is really hard to obtain and there is little gained by guessing at and then publishing the “estimate” number of martyrs annually. 

Remember Why Jesus Came

We are into the Christmas season and, as usual, we add a number of extra events to our already busy daily schedules. We shop for gifts, plan meals and get-togethers with loved one, and attend Christmas parties and Christmas concerts. This year there will be some changes to these festive events and activities due to COVID-19. However, we will still be busy and active nonetheless.

In the midst of the added events and activities let us not forget the reason for the celebration we call Christmas. You know the message: God so loved us that He wanted a personal relationship with each one of us. However, our sinful nature and our sinful actions separated us from Him. So, He became one of us – we call Him Jesus – and lived without sin. He died on the Cross of Calvary paying the penalty for our sins. Thus paying the debt we could not pay and making a way for us to have a close encounter with and relationship with God the Father. 

To enter into this relationship we must sense the conviction of the Spirit… convicting us of sin, righteousness  and judgment. We then respond with godly sorrow — sorry we offended a holy God — and you repent and ask for His forgiveness. When received you become a new creature in Christ and are given the gift of eternal life. Biblically the gift of eternal life is the supernatural ability to have a personal, intimate, love relationship with God the Father and Jesus whom He sent.

This was the focus of the first Christmas. Emmanuel — God with us! God bringing salvation and deliverance; forgiveness and freedom. This is what we are celebrating. But, it is more than that. Much more.

Jesus came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke19:10). God does not just call an individual. The Christian faith is more than you and Jesus and personal salvation. He called a people to Himself. He wants a people who will fellowship with Him. A priesthood of all believers who will minister to Him and for Him. And these people are called to fulfill the call that was upon Jesus’s life. We are to continue His purpose — to seek and save the lost. This is why Jesus commanded (and did not suggest) that we, the Church, “go into every nation and people group and share the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 28:18-19; Matthew 24:14). 

So Christmas is more than a celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. Christmas is more than God becoming man — deity taking on humanity — and living among us. Christmas is more than God loving us so much that He gave His Son to die for us. Christmas is a reminder that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because God came to “seek and save the lost.” And, that we must continue that task and tell others – all others – about the good news that “unto us a Child has been born and a Saviour given.”

And there are no shortage of opportunities and places to go. Yes, all the easy ones have been taken. But, there are still 6,5000 unreached people groups in the world. About 2 billion people in the world don’t have a Christian friend or any access to the saving knowledge of the gospel. So, we are called to live the mission and go to every place God gives us the privilege of going. And, this mission, of course, starts at home but extends much further as we “go into all the world.”

This is the fullness of the Christmas message that “a child has been born, a King has been given.” As members of the King’s kingdom we are called to “go” and expand the kingdom bringing His light into the darkness.

Will the Real Christians Please Stand Up

There seems to be multiple definitions of the word Christian. It is used in a variety of ways. So, I have found it helpful for myself to define the word and even group those who call themselves Christians into these categories.

Census Christians are people, who, if asked about their religion, would say “Christian.” This designation might not relate at all to anything that these people believe or practice. Often, this is a cultural answer. If asked about their religion in certain geographic areas, for example, many people might answer, “Of course I’m a Christian. Isn’t everybody?” These people are “census Christians.” On a census, these people would check the “Christian” box. What that designation actually means is anybody’s guess. 

These people are also known as Cultural Christians as their lives are identical to their neighbours — those who are not believers.  Being a Christian has not altered their values, morals, ethics, priorities, or lifestyle. 

Member Christians claim some sort of identification with a particular Christian institution or organization. Again, this does not mean that these people necessarily participate or even that they show up at their church. These people simply have some sort of personal connection with a church and they identify themselves with that church. They might say, “I am Catholic,” or “I am Baptist,” or “I am Methodist.”

Practicing Christians actually participate in the life of a church. They typically attend worship services. In some fashion, these people are involved in the forms and rituals of the faith. Often their connection with the church is limited to weddings, baptisms, and funerals. They usually attend at Easter and Christmas. 

Believers (or Committed Believers) are people for whom the Christian faith is central, life-changing, and life-shaping. These Christians strive to live out their faith and communicate their faith to others. To use the language of the evangelical world, these people have a personal relationship with Jesus. Often they will use the language of John 3 and talk about being “born again.” They have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus (John 17:3)

Hidden Christians are people who believe secretly. Fearful of persecution, these people keep their faith to themselves. In some settings, these believers might keep their faith secret from government officials and employers. In other settings, they might keep their faith secret even from family members and friends. These believers might not ever experience specific acts of outward persecution, but the fear of persecution has caused their faith to be completely inward. For the most part, their faith, though real, is hidden. In most cases, they have not “joined” a church, through this might be an artificial measurement since, in many settings, there is no official institutional church to join.

When I use the word Christian I am referring to and speaking of people who know who Jesus is and who have had a personal encounter with Him and are thus born again. I am referring to people for who knowing Jesus has transformed their life. People who are a journey as they obey the will of the Lord. They are followers of Jesus, His disciples. So they wold fit into the last two categories — Believers (or Committed Believers) and Hidden Christians. 

For me this means I see that many who call themselves Christians are not and so are still in need of being born again. Just because someone calls themselves a Christian does not make them a Christian. Just because they go to church regularly also does not make them a Christian. Having a life-changing encounter with the love of God as found in Jesus Christ — being born again — is what determines if you are a true Christian and follower (disciple) of Jesus. So, I can honestly say that I view many who call themselves Christians as people who need to be evangelized. For truly they are religious and not righteous.

And, even in the born again church I believe well over 50% of those who are members and attending are not truly born again. They said a Sinner’s Prayer and were told that they were now born again. That’s a lie. To be born again one must experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, respond with godly sorrow, and repentance. Then pray and ask the Lord to forgive you and become Lord in your life. (See: 2 Corinthians 7:8-10) To be born again is more than having a head knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the Cross of Good Friday and then praying a Sinner’s Prayer. Head knowledge is not enough – you need to encounter the truth and have it change your heart. 

So, Christians are those who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and responded with godly sorrow and repentance are true believers. If you have only heard the gospel of salvation and not experienced conviction and godly sorrow with repentance then you know the truth but it has yet to set you free. Head knowledge is not enough. The Bible says that even the demons know who Jesus is and what He did and they are not saved and are not going to heaven (James 2:19).  

The “Gospel of Salvation” is a man-made belief. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the only true Gospel and it will set you free and through it you become a true believer, a Christian.