Share Your FaithErwin W. Lutzer | April 24, 2016
Selected highlights from this sermon
Ambassadors serve all over the world representing the leaders and countries from which they came. They serve their country, not themselves, and they must give an account for their behavior.
In the same way, the Lord has commissioned us as ambassadors. We are to proclaim the good news of salvation throughout the Earth, not just in words but through our deeds. Let us meet others, hear their needs, share the Good News, and trust God to transform lives by the power of His Gospel.
If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ—you’ve come to know Him as Savior—here’s the question I’d like to ask you: How did you come to saving faith? What was the medium? We know what the message was, but how did that message get to you? I think most would answer probably that you were brought up in a Christian home. And even though being brought up in a Christian home is no guarantee at all that you are going to walk with God, the fact is that history proves that still it’s the Christian home that brings about Christian young people and missionaries. A good number of you would say, “Well, I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home (or I rejected Christ), but a friend invited me to a Bible study, or a friend gave me a Bible, and a friend explained the Gospel to me, and through that friendship I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ.”
Only a few of you would say, “The reason that I came is because I happened to turn on a television program with the Gospel, or a radio program.” There are those who would say that, but they are few in number. Almost always the message of the Gospel is in some way communicated through a person.
Now here’s the problem that we face in America. As you know, everything seems to be unraveling, and yet despite that unraveling, what we have oftentimes in the church is people who do not witness to their faith. There have been instances I’ve heard about where two people have worked in cubicles almost next to each other for a year or two before they happen to discover that both of them are born-again Christians. And I say, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
Now many, if you asked them, would say, “Well, the reason that I don’t witness is because I don’t know how.” Others would say, “Well, I know how, but I feel awkward. I don’t want to be known as one of those Bible-thumping, finger- wagging, fun-destroying Christians, and so I don’t share my faith.” What an excuse!
And, of course, there are those who say, “Well my own life is messed up so how can I introduce others to Jesus?” not knowing that actually their mess can become the basis of their message. And then there are maybe those who say, “Well, I don’t witness at all, and I really don’t have a burden for anybody.” If you fit into that category, I have to say that I don’t think you are true believer in Jesus Christ. I don’t see how that is even possible.
Let’s suppose that you were in a community or a country where virtually everyone had Ebola, that virus that kills. And you came across a doctor (or a doctor came across you), and he was able to heal you and to set you on the right track, and he says, “I’m available for others”, and you don’t tell anybody about it, and yet you say you love your neighbor. What kind of love is that, may I ask?
And I need to say that as America descends into secularism, as we have the rise of the “nones” (that has nothing to do with Catholicism, by the way) - that is NONES (none of the above, those who have no religion at all), in order to share the Christian faith more and more we’re going to have to go back to the patterns of the New Testament, which was personal relationships, hospitality, Christians explaining to others why Jesus is so special to them, and other people wanting what they believe.
Of course, the challenge is great. Ravi Zacharias put it very clearly. He said, “What do we do in a culture in which people think” he said, “with their feelings, and they hear with their eyes?” But the good news is the human need is the same, and the Great Physician, Jesus, is still available.
Now, here’s what we’re going to do. I want you as a believer right now to be thinking of someone who we are going to describe as pre-Christian. Pre-Christian simply means that they have not yet come to saving faith in Christ, or they may come to saving faith, but they have not yet believed on Jesus, though they may know generally about Him and have a general belief, but they have never really been saved.
I want you to think about that person or persons right now while I’m speaking, because at the end of the message we’re going to come back to them. And my desire is to paint such a vision today of our privilege that all of us will be anxious to leave here and talk to someone about the Christ who saved us.
The passage is 2 Corinthians 5, and it’s necessary that you turn to it. We all have to look at this text. The Apostle Paul has been speaking, and I’m going to pick it up here in verse 16, even though we’re going to be looking at a couple of other passages. He says in verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 5: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
And the Scripture goes on to say here that He reconciled the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them. And notice (It should be underlined.) he says, “entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
My predecessor, Dr. Warren Wiersbe, preached a message about ambassadors, and it helped me to think about the whole concept of being an ambassador for Christ, which is right here in the text. The Apostle Paul says we are ambassadors, so let’s think about what an ambassador is. Let’s go on and give a couple of characteristics of ambassadors so that we understand, first of all, who we are. You’ll notice that Paul indicates that we are sent by God. All ambassadors are sent. And notice how clear he makes it. He says, “God has entrusted to you the ministry of reconciliation,” and that we have this ministry. We are ambassadors. Who is he talking about? He’s talking about the people at Corinth. They are all ambassadors. They were a very imperfect church like all churches are, but still they were called to represent Christ.
Now here’s our responsibility. Paul would say that we belong to a heavenly kingdom. This kingdom is above all. This kingdom is invisible, but it is very real, and we represent this kingdom, the kingdom of God represented on earth.
In Philippians Paul made the comment. He said, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” By the way, the Greek word is politeuma, which means politics. “Our politics is in heaven,” he says. Aren’t you glad for that?
One day the disciples came to Jesus, and they said, “You know, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And Jesus said, “That’s fine but don’t rejoice in the fact that demons are subject to you.” He said, “Rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Paul says, “We’ve been raised up with Christ and we are seated with Him in heavenly places.”
Now here’s the thing. We have the responsibility of being ambassadors from that kingdom to this world. We have a message that says, “Heaven is interested in you, and heaven is available to you, and grace can be extended to you.” And Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, even so send I you.” The first characteristic of an ambassador: They are commissioned. They are sent.
Pastor Wiersbe told the story of a man who sat on the capitol steps in Washington with his own chair that he carried around, and his own crown, and he crowned himself king of the United States. Nobody paid too much attention. You can’t be an ambassador and you can’t be commissioned on your own. You have to be commissioned. Rebecca and I have a wonderful son-in-law who was commissioned in the army. Jesus says to you today, “Believer, you are commissioned. You are sent.”
A second characteristic of the ambassadors is that they represent their kingdom and not themselves. In fact, Paul even said it here in this passage that we should not live for ourselves but for Him who died for us and rose again. It’s not about us. It’s about the Person whom we represent. And we do this by our conduct because people are going to judge our King by how His children conduct themselves.
When Rebecca and I have been in Europe, various times we have recognized Americans. Now I say that as an American, but sometimes Americans don’t give a very good impression of America in Europe and other places. They can be loud and boisterous, and people say, “Well, yeah, you know they’re Americans.” It’s just like there are some people who don’t give a very good impression of Jesus, and the people who know them say, “Yeah, yeah, they are Christians.”
Do you remember when David committed his twin sins of murder and adultery? God said this. He said, “You have caused the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” God was saying, “David, because of your sin there are people who are mocking Me because they are judging Me by your lifestyle and by what you did.” And the world judges us today by our conduct. You know that. And when Christians act unchristianly, they make Jesus and the Gospel look bad.
So first of all, it’s not about us. It’s all about Him, and we display that through our conduct. But we also display that through the message that we preach.
Your Bibles are open. You’ll notice in verse 16 he says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” What Paul is saying is this: We don’t look at people just superficially like we used to. We don’t just see bodies. We don’t just see even human needs. We look beyond that and we are reminded of the fact that people have eternal souls. We’re dealing here with people whose need is much greater than they even realize, so we don’t look at them according to the flesh, even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, which is really true of millions of people, certainly, in America. “Yeah, He’s a nice person. He’s a prophet and we can learn from Him. He taught us how to love.” That’s regarding Him according to the flesh, missing the very point for which He came.
And then the Apostle Paul says that we go on and we preach Christ. Actually he says that in chapter 4. He says, “We do not preach ourselves. We preach Christ.” Here he says, “God has committed unto us the mystery of reconciliation. That is, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting the trespasses against them, and entrusting to us His message.”
So what is our message according to this passage? It’s a message of peace, so the average person thinks that God is mad at them, God has His back turned toward them, God is awful, because He could do a lot of good things that He doesn’t do. Our message is one of reconciliation, that when Jesus Christ died, God took away all the barriers that may exist so that we can be reconciled to Him, call Him our Father, and belong to Him forever. That’s the message. And people don’t understand that about God.
And so Paul says that God has committed to us this ministry of explaining to people who God is, the coming of Jesus, and then there’s that wonderful verse – verse 21: “For our sake, he (that is God) made him (Christ) to be sin (He’s the one who knew no sin.) so that in in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
You’ve heard me say this many times, but on that basis of this verse, Jesus got what He didn’t deserve, namely our sin, and we get what we don’t deserve, namely His righteousness. And that’s the message that we proclaim. It’s a message of hope. It’s a message that says there’s another world out there. There’s more to life than the emptiness that makes our generation obsessed with drugs and alcoholism, and sexuality. God is in Christ, and through Him we proclaim the message of reconciliation. So that’s the second characteristic. It’s not about you. It’s all about Jesus, and it is Him who we proclaim and Him who we love and live for.
There’s a third characteristic, and that is ambassadors look to the king for resources. They look to the king or to their country, if we can put it that way, for resources. If you and I were to go to Berlin today and go to the American embassy and step inside the compound of the embassy, we would discover that we are actually on American soil. And it’s really the responsibility of this country – of America – to provide for our ambassador and his entourage what he needs in order to be an ambassador. He needs resources, he needs money and he needs direction. All that is supplied, I assume, by the United States of America, and protection should also be supplied. But that sometimes happens without consistency.
But the point is that you look to the home country for your resources. You see, God didn’t say, “Now, I’m making you ambassadors. I am calling you and entrusting you to this ministry, but you are on your own.” No, God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And He says, “It is the Spirit, who through you, will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, and He will do it through you.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t just work sovereignly in a vacuum. Very seldom does He just convict somebody going down a street, and suddenly the person says, “Oh, I am a sinner who needs a Savior.” Jesus said, “When the Spirit comes to you, through you He will convince the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.” And that’s why we can witness with hope and optimism. We don’t know whether or not this person will believe, but this much we do know: They could believe if God grants them that eternal life, and He might through our message. And so we share the Gospel in faith, believing that God’s will is being done.
Now, if we were on our own, if God just said to us, “You witness and the Holy Spirit isn’t going to be there to convict of sin and righteousness and judgment; see, if you can convince somebody to believe on Jesus,” we couldn’t. It would be like trying to convince a tiger that it’s time for him to live on a diet of straw. He simply would not buy what we were trying to sell because there are so many issues. People don’t see their need. They don’t think they need a Savior, or they think that they have a Savior, and all those things. Who can cut through all of that? It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
And as ambassadors begin to learn what their country expects, they wear the emblem of their country with honor. Of course, in the case of Christianity that’s really a cross. I don’t mean that we necessarily wear physical crosses, though that is perfectly fine. But we gladly associate with the cross. We know that the emblem of Christianity is the cross, and we say, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ by which the world is crucified unto Me and I unto the world.” And we wear gladly the badge of Jesus.
If the emblem of Christianity is the cross, we could say that the badge also is love. Look at what Paul says. He says, “For the love of Christ…” I’m in verse 14 now. I hope you are too. “For the love of Christ controls us.” Other translations may use a different word, but that’s the idea. The love of Christ compels us.
Let me speak to you candidly. If you have no concern for your neighbor… You say you love your neighbor but you don’t care about whether or not he ever comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ. If that’s you, your love has grown very cold. Paul says it’s the love of Christ that compels us to witness and to represent Him in a fallen, confused world. And so we actually need to be able to prove to people our love for Christ through the way in which we act, and through our commitment to them and to their needs.
Also, an ambassador really gets to know the citizens of the country where he goes, because what he wants these citizens to understand is who he is, who Jesus is, how the Gospel relates to their situation, their language and their culture, because, you see, they may be tempted to think, “Well, the Gospel doesn’t relate to us. We have our own religion.” Well, the interesting fact is that because of the need of the human heart, and because of guilt, what we need to do is to realize that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people worldwide and that Jesus isn’t just the Savior of the west, and then you have a different savior in the east. No, He is the Savior of the world, because He is the only Savior, so we get to know the people in the host country. We fellowship with them, we learn to listen to their needs, which are so great. And then we have the privilege of knowing that we represent that God—the invisible kingdom of God, making the invisible God visible to the people in this world, that they might know that there is a God who loves them, and a God to whom they can relate and be reconciled. What a message of reconciliation!
And then, of course, also they defend the King. You know, the Bible says in 1 Peter 3:15: “Be ready always to answer to any man the question that they might have, and do so with meekness and fear.” Be ready to do that, so you take a course in apologetics so you can answer some of the basic objections to the Christian faith. But you do not wait until you have all that nailed down before you witness because it is the Gospel itself that is the power of God unto salvation.
During the time of the Reformation, the reformers were sometimes criticized because official Christendom said, “We have the miracles. Where are your miracles?” You know, “We have crosses that multiply themselves. We have holy water that came to us from Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. We have the skulls of the saints.” And we find out that there are miracles that are connected with these. If you touch a relic you’re going to experience healing, and on and on and on.
Do you know what the reformers said? “Questionable miracles to be sure on that category! But we don’t need even those miracles because the Gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation.” And as a result of that confidence, Europe was changed, because it’s the message of redemption that God uses to connect in the lives of people as they begin to realize their need and come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, as all of us desire the world to do.
There’s something else about an ambassador before we talk about the application of this message directly, and that is that ambassadors know that they have to give an account. You know, sometimes an ambassador is recalled, and certainly at the end of his tenure he is going to give an account. How well do you represent the United States in Germany or some other country? And were you loyal to the United States? Did you understand the message of the United States and the message that the president was trying to use you to communicate? All of that becomes important.
Your Bibles are open. We’re still in chapter 5. You’ll notice what it says in verse 9: “So whether we are at home or away (whether we live or die), we make it our aim to please him.” Now listen! “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” He’s talking about you as a Christian. This is the Judgment Seat of Christ—not the Great White Throne Judgment where unbelievers will be present. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one (individually) may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” You’ll notice how thorough that judgment is. And verse 11 says: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others (men).” Elsewhere the Apostle Paul says the very same thing. I’m in verse 20 now: “We implore you on behalf of Christ.” My Christian friend, you represent Christ, and you and I have the responsibility of doing the best we can of imploring people to trust Christ, knowing the fear and the terror of the Lord. We’re talking about serious things.
Now, you say, “Well, I just feel so inadequate and so ashamed and so awkward.” Did I hear you say that you felt ashamed? Do you know what Jesus said? He said: “He who is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in glory.” If you are not willing to take a little bit of shame and misunderstanding, which you can probably correct, because you don’t want to be identified with Jesus and maybe be falsely accused of being the kind of the Christian that you really aren’t… Paul said, “You have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. God says, and I’m speaking on human terms here, “I’m dependent on you to share your faith, and it is through that sharing that I will do my work. And the responsibility of the response of the people then becomes mine.” But you and I are to embody the message in our conduct and in what we have to say. (Thank you for that Amen. I was wondering if anybody was out there actually.) (laughter)
Now I’m going to nail this down for you. I began this message by asking you to think of one person (or persons) who is (we call them) pre-Christian. That is, they have not yet believed the Gospel. Do you have that person firmly in mind? I’m going to give you an A, B, C—not because it’s as easy as A, B, C, but I want you to remember this.
The A stands for ask. Ask God for the wisdom, for the timing and for the way in which you should witness to this person. Ask! Ask God for a burden that you might be concerned about people who don’t know the warmth of the Father’s home, nor the concern and the love of the Father’s heart. Do you realize how empty it is out there? So you ask.
The B stands for believe. Believe that God can overcome the darkness of the human heart. Don’t ever say to yourself, “Now this is a person I know who is disinterested and God could never save him.” Don’t say that. You don’t know what God has in mind. We don’t know what God has in mind, but we do know this: He has saved some pretty bad sinners. And after all, He did save you, didn’t He? (laughter) So you believe that your witness is going to have an effect. Now it may be used by God in different ways to soften the heart. It could even be used to harden the heart, but you believe that the Gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation.
So I want you to believe, and then third, I want you to connect. That’s C. Ask, believe, connect! Think of ways to take this person out for lunch. Think of ways to ask them the question that I have shared with you so many times that I have shared with people. You know, “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” Or you tell them, “I’m on a spiritual journey and I’m not doing very well. I’m a struggling Christian, but I want you to know that Jesus has done a lot for me despite the fact that I’m not what I should be.” Talk! Listen! Hear their story! Enter into their world! Connect with them! And don’t be disappointed if you don’t have an opportunity to lead them to the Lord right away. There may be a whole process here.
Over the years I’ve witnessed to, I suppose, hundreds of people who I’ve met in airplanes and restaurants and elsewhere, and I have not led that many to saving faith in Christ, but I want to tell you a story. When I was in Bible college in Winnipeg, some of us students worked in a mission, you know, and there’d be people struggling with alcoholism, and what have you, coming off the street, and we’d have a service for them.
It was probably a Friday evening and the service was over and some food had been given out and we were just doing the last things before the man who was in charge was going to lock up. That was the last thing so it was empty, and a guy comes down the aisle, really in a hurry, and he says to me, “Lead me to faith in Jesus Christ.” I thought, “What? Where is this coming from?”
How many times have you had somebody come to you and say, “Please lead me to faith in Jesus Christ?” So I said, “Tell me your story.” He said, “I was hitchhiking.” I don’t know exactly which city he was hitchhiking from, but he ended up in Winnipeg, and he said, “The truck driver I was with witnessed to me the whole time about my need to accept Christ,” and he said, “I’m so convicted of my sin. Lead me to Christ.” So I led him to faith in Christ.
I often have thought of that truck driver. He probably thought, “Oh, another guy I witnessed to and all that is lost!” Nothing is lost when Jesus is exalted! Okay? (applause) I want you to wake up tomorrow morning and say, “I have been entrusted with being an ambassador.”
I want to tell you a story about a man by the name of George Mueller, and now many of us have read the biography of George Mueller. He actually was born in Germany but he spent his time in England. He lived in the 1800s, but the reason he is so significant is because we have been so encouraged by his faith. I think he ended up with about 21 orphanages that he was responsible for. I read on the internet 10,000 orphans. Wow! That sounds like a lot. Of course, he had lots of help, but he never even asked for money. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to ask for money. Even the Apostle Paul asked for money, but he wanted to prove that God could be trusted so his biography is one story after another about how they were out of food. The kids sat down and somebody knocked on the door and brought groceries, and so forth. It’s an incredible biography.
But we don’t understand how he got converted. I mean at least usually we don’t talk about that. So let me tell you his story in his own words, and I’ll simply paraphrase it. He said that at the age of 14 he had committed many gross sins, including immorality, visiting taverns, theft and lots of lying. On the day when he was to be confirmed, and he was to confess his sins to I guess the pastor or the priest, he actually defrauded that pastor. He had been given some money, a considerable amount of money, by his father to give to the pastor, and he gave only one-twelfth of it, and kept the rest for himself.
The day before his first communion he committed immorality. Of course, you know, his parents were saying, “You shouldn’t live this way,” and all of that. I mean we’re talking the 1800s. He was a pretty bad boy. It didn’t do any good. The kid wants what he wants!
Then there was a friend of his by the name of Beta. I don’t know anything about Beta except what Mueller writes about. He said that this friend, who had committed some of the same sins as he had, now was a changed person and invited him to a Bible study where there was really no Bible study, but two things happened at that meeting that so impressed Mueller. The first was the joy that was on the faces of these Christians he didn’t know. He thought that the world had joy but all that it had was guilt and all of this bad taste in his life. And so he was so impressed with the joy.
And the second thing was there was a man there who knelt in prayer and prayed. You see, George Mueller was brought up in a day when if you went to church all that you basically heard was the prayers that were read. You know, people would read prayers, and you knew right well it was coming from their heads and not their hearts. And Mueller had never seen anyone kneel in prayer and actually pray from his heart to Almighty God.
And then there was a sermon that was read. That’s all that was allowed—to read somebody’s sermon. But he went home that night, and lying on his bed, he recognized that he was missing something, that there was a Savior who could save him, and give him the same kind of joy that he saw the other people had, and he could believe on Him, and He’d also deliver him from his sins.
He said he continued to do some lying after he received Christ, but soon that fell away, and all of the other sins he stopped doing. What confirmation could not do, what his baptism could not do, the Gospel did. Why? Well it’s here in verse 17. We’re back in this passage where it says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold the new is come.”
Paul says that conversion is actually a miracle done in the heart. When you receive Christ as Savior, there is something within you that wasn’t there before because God did something within your heart. That’s what it is. Baptism doesn’t bring it about. Communion doesn’t. Confirmation, being good, resolutions! Oh, God knows! George Mueller said he made many resolutions which he kept breaking.
It is the Gospel that saves, and God says, “I have committed to you as believers the message of reconciliation.” I implore you (I’m quoting the Scripture now) whoever you are. If you are listening on the Internet or on the radio, I implore you on Christ’s behalf to be reconciled to God. That’s the message. It’s available. God says, “I’ve done it all. My arms are open. My back is not turned.”
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that even now as people who are listening to this message, those who have never trusted Christ, who have gone through formalities but Lord, they don’t know anything about the miracle of transformation, may they believe on Jesus right now and be saved. May they know that it is through personal faith in a Savior who died for us that we come into Your blessed presence. And today, Father, may hundreds and hundreds of people at The Moody Church, and other people who are listening around the country, wake up tomorrow and say, “Today I am an ambassador for reconciliation.” In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.