By Ron Halbrook
Can we, or can we not, get on with the work of spreading the gospel? The first disciples, the apostles, faced this question. Thank God, they did not say, “We can’t do it.” They could have said, “The world is too big.” “We’re too inexperienced.” “People will think we’re odd, at best, and crazy, at worst.” After Jesus commissioned the apostles to go into all the world preaching the gospel, and after he ascended to the Father’s right hand, “they went forth, and preached everywhere” (Mk. 16:14-20).
The apostles of Christ were moved to spread the gospel by faith, courage, love, gratitude, and hope. Not everyone listened. Not everyone believed. Not everyone obeyed. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16). “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” (Rom. 10:16). Of those who did believe and obey, not all remained faithful (Gal. 1:6ff; 1 Jn. 2:19). But, still, the apostles did what they could. So can we. God worked in and through those who were willing to do His will. He still does. We can, and must, get on with the work of spreading the gospel.What We Can and Cannot Do
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:11-14).
Titus 2:11-14 tells us what we can and cannot do and be pleasing to God. What we can and must do is to spread the gospel. Rather than being “for every good unfit” and “worthless,” Christians are “zealous of good works” and “careful to maintain good works” (Hendriksen, I-II Timothy and Titus, p. 358 and NAS on Tit. 1:16; KJ of 2:14 and 3:8). No work is greater than seeing, seeking, and saving the lost (Jn. 4:34-38). Doing God’s will is our very food–our “enjoyment,” “satisfaction,” “refreshment and strength. God’s work had these characteristics to Jesus, whose life fulfilled the principle that man shall not live by bread alone” (McGarvey and Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel, p. 151, on Jn. 4:24). We can render this obedience, thus work out our “salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13, NAS). As we are “strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man,” Christ dwelling in our hearts “by faith,” God “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3 :16-20).
But the Holy Spirit told Titus that we must also put away “ungodliness and worldly lusts” or “all iniquity.” Even if we make up our minds that we are going to seek the lost and spread the gospel, we may not be pleasing to God. For, we cannot do this work so as to please God if we begin to think it is necessary to violate His Word in order to get the work done. The desire to succeed at any cost is evidence of a worldly frame of mind and will produce lawless deeds, even in the name of religious work. The mind set of the world has led brethren to engage in many activities outside the realm of divine law in an effort to save the lost: the church engaging in general benevolence (providing the lost with material things to attract them), centralizing the work of many churches through one church (Herald of Truth Radio and Television Programs), sponsoring-church support of preachers, area-wide “campaigns” under the oversight of one church), social gospel practices (churches providing camps, contests, prizes, other recreational and social services), and institutionalism (churches claiming to save the lost by making donations to colleges, clinics, old-age homes, orphanages, missionary societies, publishing houses, book stores, etc.).
If we are captivated by the mind of the world in other ways, we cannot do the work of saving the lost so as to please God. Where God’s law is concerned, we cannot blend in with the world and then expect to provide the light which is “the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16; Matt. 5:14-16). It is true that “we can’t do it”-cannot get on with the work of saving the lost–if we drink intoxicants, wear immodest dress, gamble, dance, attend night clubs, use filthy language, read pornographic literature or attend such movies, and violate God’s law on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. If we would demonstrate to others the “good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” we must “be not conformed to this world” but rather be “transformed by the renewing” power of the gospel (Rom. 12:2).
Nor can we get the job done by compromising any part of the divine message. The cry for compromise says, in essence, that the closer we move toward the world and the less the world is asked to give up, the more people we will “convert” (?). The slogans and rationales for compromise are many: “Preach the man, not the plan.” “Debates do more harm than good.” “Doctrine divides, love (or service) unites.” “Unity in diversity.” “Truth is personal, not propositional.” “If it’s right for you, it’s right.” “The letter (meaning God’s revealed Word) kills, the Spirit (doing whatever comes natural to you) gives life.” “We must ‘catch up with the times’ to keep from being viewed as a narrow-minded, legalistic sect.” Some of these notions contain warped truths, some set up false dichotomies, others are complete falsehoods, and all have the common goal of a broader appeal through a compromised message. We cannot “reach” people and please God by moving the boundaries He set (Tit. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:4; 2 Jn. 9; Gal. 1:69).
Do We Have the Means?
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God bath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God bath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, bath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, fie that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
What is meant when someone says of spreading the gospel, “We can’t do it”? Is the point that we do not have the means to accomplish the work of saving souls? We must be reminded over and over of a fundamental fact. “The gospel of Christ . . . is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). The gospel proclaimed will do the job God wants done. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else will. The gospel proclaimed has its own inherent power to draw men to God by the cords of love. Jesus said of his death and its meaning to a lost world, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32-33). Paul knew that, and so “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
God has appointed His own means to save. He does not need many things which we may decide are necessary “before the work can be- done.” Some brethren think, and even say, that “we can’t do it” until we “reach the influential of the community.” That means the bankers (influence of money), the judges (influence of power), the civic leaders (influence of prominence), the professors (influence of worldly wisdom), and the celebrities in sports or politics or social circles (influence of popularity). Anyone who is lost needs to be saved, but the gospel is not waiting on anyone’s response to make its power “effective.” God is not dependent upon the people and “influence” upon which some brethren dote. If we are waiting for the wise, mighty, and noble of the world to obey Christ, or for some other such means to be supplied before the job can be done, we might as well be waiting for hell to freeze over (if you will pardon the expression, it does aptly describe the situation). God has made Christ to be all the power and influence we need, all the “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” We have the necessary means, if we will just use it. The gospel of Christ will get the job done. Let us get on with it.
Is This Really Why We Can’t?
“And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we . . . And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”
Israel wept all night and called for a return to Egypt the next morning, after hearing the report that there were giants in the promised land. Joshua and Caleb “rent their clothes,” pleading for the people to see that giants were not keeping them out of Canaan. Rebellion, fear, and lack of faith in God were the real problems (see Num. 13:30-14:10). When brethren today think they cannot get on with the work of spreading the gospel, what is the real problem? Let us look at some of the giants reported to be in the land, which cause brethren to cry all night, “We can’t do it.”
Giant No. l: “This is a hard place” (followed by much explanation of how hard, why hard, how long hard, etc.). Long established vices, religious traditionalism, or brethren’s past mistakes can increase the difficulty of our work and limit its apparent success in a given region. But none of this excuses us from the job of continuing to preach the gospel. We may need to increase our efforts, vary our methods, or concentrate on new areas of work. Isaiah was told to preach in a hard place until the Lord destroyed it, and reminded that a remnant would be saved by such efforts (Isa. 6:913). Noah preached the righteousness of God for 120 years in a place so hard that the people could imagine, purpose, and desire nothing but evil–“the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Gen. 6:3-5; 2 Pet. 2:5).
Giant No. 2: “We need to save our treasury for a rainy day.” The implication is that if we spend too much on preaching, we will not have enough when some real tragedy occurs or other need arises. Because some physical tragedy might occur, thousands of dollars are laid up while a present, actual, spiritual tragedy is occurring every day! It is raining, brethren! Souls are passing into eternity unprepared to meet God, destined for torment in hades until their final condemnation on Judgment Day, when they will be banished into everlasting punishment with the Devil and his angels (Heb. 9:27; Lk. 16:19-31; Matt. 25:31-46).
Giant No. 3: “Digression has taken such a toll in our area.” This is true in many areas, but it is only more reason to labor for the salvation of the Lord’s remnant. When Elijah complained, “I am left alone, and they seek my life,” God answered, “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” God added, of Paul’s day, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:2-5). Even so at this present time also there is work to be done and souls to be saved.
Giant No. 4: “The members won’t support the effort.” If this is an admission that the church is lukewarm, more teaching–not less–is needed. Admonition, encouragement, rebuke is needed, or Christ will come quickly “and remove thy candlestick out of his place” (Rev. 2:5). The Lord is sickened by an inactive church, would as soon see it oppose truth as do nothing, and will finally vomit it out (3:14-22). If “we can’t–won’t–labor to save the lost, then “we can’t” receive wages and gather fruit unto life eternal (Jn. 4:3138).
Giant No. 5: “We get tired of hearing the same thing over and over.” While it is true we need a balanced diet, the Lord provided His Word that we might “have these things always in remembrance” (2 Pet. 1:13-15). The Spirit said through Peter, “I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance” (3:1). Rather than tiring of the gospel, “we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Heb. 2:1).
There are other giants–“I don’t know anyone to teach”–“I don’t know how”–“I don’t know enough”–“I don’t have time.” The giants are not the real problem.
We Can’t Do It Without-
“Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel . . . There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee . . . Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right -hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest . . . Have not I commanded thee: Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee wfthersoever thou goest.”
The real reason “we can’t do it” is that we lack the character of a Christian. The fact is that our obedience to God springs from certain inner qualities. We can’t do it . . . (1) Without faith in God. In Joshua 1:1-9, God appeals to Joshua to exercise the same faith in Him that Moses did. Faith moved Abram to leave Ur, to beget Isaac in his old age, and to bring his son for an offering. Faith compelled the apostles to go everywhere preaching the Word, it compelled persecuted saints to continue spreading the truth, and it will move us to do the same thing today (Mk. 16:20; Acts 8:3-4).
(2) Without a determined courage. Joshua was admonished repeatedly to show strength of courage. Even when threatened, Peter and John had the courage to obey God, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20; cf. 5:27-33). Though Stephen knew those who had killed could do so again, he openly accused sinners of betrayal and murder (Acts 7:51ff). And, they did kill again. We need courage to speak divine truth without shame, fear, or favor. Courage removes compromise and is not afraid to be different.
(3) Without loving the Lord. If Joshua was to accept the Lord’s commission, to give his all for the Lord’s will, he had to love the Lord above all else. David said, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119-97). If it pleased God to save the lost through the gospel proclaimed, it will please all who love Him (1 Cor. 1:21). If we love the God who loved the world so as to give His only begotten Son, we too will love the lost, pray for them, and do all in our power to reach them with the gospel (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:1-3).
(4) Without gratitude and humility. Had Joshua not been thankful for God bringing him to Jordan’s banks, and humble before Him, he could not have done the Father’s will. Gratitude and humility characterize those today who know what it is to be forgiven of sin. Remembering our past condition in sin and God’s saving grace, we should show kindness to those now trapped in sin (Tit. 3:lff). “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Ps. 107:8; Matt. 10:8).
(5) Without a lively hope. Joshua had to believe God’s promises if he was to “go over this Jordan.” All who have pleased God have “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth… wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:13-16). Those who are “careful to maintain good works” are “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:7-8). Our labor is “not in vain” because God “hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:58; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). We will reap the harvest of “life everlasting” only if we are faithful in “well doing” (Gal. 6:8-9).
Oh Yes We Can!
“We can’t do it”? Oh yes we can! With God’s help, and the means He has put at our disposal, we can. This does not require a big campaign, gimmic advertisements, national coordinators, or international headquarters. It simply requires the constant working of the leaven–each one of us doing what we can (Matt. 13:33), day by day, individual by individual, and church by church. We can and must get on with the work of spreading the gospel.
Truth Magazine XXI: 29, pp. 451-454
July 28, 1977