Wednesday, 20 September 2017

What does it mean to “Obey the Gospel”? (Part 1)

     The phrase “obey the gospel” occurs only three times in the NT, all in reference to those who do not obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17; cp. Heb. 4:2, 6). In the positive sense, comparable expressions include “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7) and “you have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Rom. 6:17).1 Moreover, the Bible has much to say about both the gospel and obedience. What, then, does the concept of obeying the gospel entail?

I. What it means to those who have not obeyed the gospel:

     The noun euaggélion, often translated “gospel,” essentially means “good news” or “glad tidings” (occurring 76 times in the Greek NT). The verbal euaggelí (occurring 54 times) simply means to “proclaim good news” or “announce glad tidings.” The angel Gabriel ‘announced good news’ [euaggelí] to Zacharias (Luke 1:19). When Jesus was born, an angel ‘brought glad tidings’ [euaggelí] to a group of shepherds, a message of great joy to all (Luke 2:10). John the baptizer ‘preached good news’ [euaggelí] to the people (Luke 3:18). When Jesus began his public ministry, he proclaimed the ‘good news’ [euaggélion] of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35).
     Mark opens his inspired record with these words: “[the] beginning of the gospel [euaggélion] of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (1:1). Mark’s rapid-fire historical account points to the earthly ministry of Jesus (briefly prefaced by OT prophecy and John’s preparatory mission) as the commencement of the gospel story (1:2-9). In contrast, the apostle John goes all the way back to the beginning of time (1:1-3) and then transitions into the testimony of John the baptizer as a prelude to Christ’s ministry. Luke takes us back to Adam (3:38) in connection with Jesus’ genealogy and incarnation, while Matthew starts with Abraham (1:1-2) as a focal point of Christ’s lineage and fulfilled prophecy. Collectively these four Gospels mark just the beginning of the gospel narrative, while the book of Acts continues the story for another three decades (see Acts 1:1).
     The gospel is a universal message to be shared with the entire world (Matt. 24:14; 26:13; Mark 16:15; cf. Acts 1:8). This necessarily involves both proclaimers and recipients. When the early Christians scattered from Jerusalem, they went everywhere ‘proclaiming good news’ [euaggelí] of the word (Acts 8:1-4). The book of Acts provides a historical record of these early evangelizers and how their audiences received and responded to the divine message. While many rejected the gospel outright,2 many others were receptive to it.3

The Desired Response

     Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy describe the coming judgment of Christ as follows: “in a fire of flame inflicting vengeance on those not knowing God and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). While the term “gospel” means “good news,” apparently an obedient response is required in order for it to actually be good news (cf. Rom. 10:16; Heb. 4:2, 6; 1 Pet. 4:17). There were a number in Thessalonica who “did not accept [déchomai] the love of the truth in order for them to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). Conversely, others “hearing [akoē] [the] word of God … accepted [déchomai] … [the] word of God, which also is working in you, the believing [ones]” (1 Thess. 2:13).4
     Two key terms describe their positive response: “hearing” [akoē] and “accepting” [déchomai].5 The latter conveys the idea of grasping and welcoming (cf. 1 Thess. 1:6; also Luke 8:13; Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; Jas. 1:21), therefore “hearing” involves more than just receiving audible sounds (cf. Matt. 13:13-17; Jas. 1:22-25). It necessarily includes listening, understanding, accepting, and heeding.
     Elsewhere this is expressed as akoēs písteōs (“hearing of faith”) (Gal. 3:2, 5). Unfortunately, the significance of this phrase is all but lost in English translation. The sense is much clearer in light of the parallel idiom in Rom. 1:5 and 16:26, hupakoēn písteōs (“obedience of faith”). Both akoē and hupakoē [hupó -“by” + akoē -“hearing” = to give ear, hearken, obey] reflect the Hebrew sense of shema, a “responsive hearing” (cf. Ex. 24:7; Deut. 31:11-13; Rom. 10:16-17). The idiomatic expressions “hearing” and “hearing of faith” are clearly allusions to receptive and responsive hearing, viz., obedient faith (cf. Heb. 4:2, 6).6

Conclusion

     Sin separates the sinner from God (Isa. 59:1-2; 1 John 1:5-6), and all accountable humans (other than Christ) have sinned (Rom. 3:10, 23; 1 John 1:10). The gospel of Jesus Christ is “good news” because it reveals God’s plan of redemption for lost humanity. However, the gospel is only good news to those who obey (Rom. 6:16-18).7 This particularly involves receptive and responsive hearing (Acts 2:22, 37), believing and confessing Jesus (Acts 2:36-37; 8:12, 35-37), turning away from sin (Acts 2:38a; 3:19), immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38b, 41; 22:16), and continued faithfulness (Acts 2:42; 14:22).
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Acts 4:1-3, 18; 5:13, 17-18, 28, 33, 40; 6:9; 7:51-59; 9:23, 29; 12:1-4; 13:6-10, 45-46, 50; 14:2, 4a, 5, 19; 17:5-9, 13, 32a; 18:6, 12; 19:9, 23; 20:3; 21:27-28; 22:22; 26:28; 28:24b.
     3 Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 8:6-13, 36-39; 9:18, 35, 42; 10:33; 11:21-24; 12:24; 13:12, 42-44, 48-49; 14:1, 4b, 21; 15:3; 16:14-15, 30-34; 17:4, 11-12, 34; 18:8, 19-21, 24-28; 19:1-5, 18-20; 21:20; 28:24a.
     4 The message they had received and continued to embrace, having been variously designated the “gospel” (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:4), “the word” (1:6), “the word of the Lord” (1:8; 4:15), and “the gospel of God” (2:2, 8, 9), is twice referenced here as “the word of God.”
     5 The term paralambánō (to “take hold of” or “receive”) is another important description of how the gospel ought to be responded to (see 1 Cor. 15:1; Gal. 1:9; Phil. 4:9; Col. 2:6; 4:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:6; Heb. 12:28).
     6 On the noun akoé (“hearing”), see Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:2, 5; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 5:11. On the verb akoúō (“hear”), see Acts 2:11, 22, 37; 3:22-23; 4:4; 8:6; 10:22, 33, 44; 13:7, 44; 14:9; 15:7; 16:14; 18:8; 19:5, 10.
     7 See also Matt. 7:21-27; 12:50; Luke 8:15; John 3:36[ASV]; 8:31-36; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 14; Rom. 2:8; 10:16-17; Heb. 3:18; 4:6, 11; 5:8-9; Jas. 1:21-25; 2:17-26
11; 1 John 2:3-5.


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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Reaching Muslims (Part 2)

Confronting our differences

In his Areopagus speech in Athens, Paul describes his audience as δεισιδαίμων (Acts 17:22), rendered in English “superstitious” (KJV) or “religious” (NKJV). The fuller sense of the term characterizes those driven by a confused concept of God, producing sincere but misdirected religion – an apt description of the Islamic faith. The question of whether Allah of Islam is the same as the God of Bible requires a twofold answer: linguistically, yes (“Allah” is the Arabic term for “God”); theologically, no. The unitarian monotheism of Islam stands in stark contrast to the trinitarian monotheism of Christianity.
Unitarianism is an over-simplification of God; he is too big and too complex to be reduced to a single mathematical unit. It should come as no surprise that God’s human creation consists of relational beings, because our creator is a relational being. How can moral attributes exist apart from relationship? How can God be love if he is an absolute, unrelatable, solitary entity? Before creation, whom did God love? God as a unity of three divine Persons makes sense in the context of relationship.1 Further, God’s desire for relationship is ultimately demonstrated in the Incarnation (John 1:18).
Muslims are taught to deny “the three gods of Christianity,” but they have obviously been introduced to a distorted view of our faith. Have we failed to clearly communicate what we believe? The burden is ours to seek opportunities to provide accurate information. To Muslims, God’s oneness is his outstanding characteristic; he is transcendent, holy, set apart from creation. Islam’s rejection of the Incarnation is motivated by great respect for God’s holiness and honor; he is to be worshiped from a distance. Thus the God of the Qur’an is unknowable, declaring his will and his acts but not his character. Conversely, the God of the Bible has revealed himself and wants to be known (Jer. 9:23-24; 31:34), most clearly through his Son Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 14:7-9).
Because Islamic theology is trapped in the physical realm, it is commonly asked, “How can God have a Son?!” Nothing is more central to the Muslim faith than the absolute rejection of God having a Son,2 while nothing is more foundational to the Christian faith than confessing the Lord Jesus as the Son of God (John 20:30-31). Here is an opportunity to introduce the biblical doctrine of God’s spiritual nature (John 4:24). The God of the Bible is revealed according to his attributes of essence and is steadfast, faithful, and trustworthy. The God of the Qur’an is revealed according to his attributes of action, not his nature, so he appears to be capricious and arbitrary.
In Islam the idea of atonement is criticized, as emphasis is placed on works of righteousness in blind submission to the divine will (Islam means “submission,” and Muslim means “one who submits”). The Bible likewise emphasizes submission to the divine will (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:6; etc.), but provision has been made for when we fall short (Rom. 5:6-11; 6:1-4). Our Muslim friends need to know that the relational God of the Bible has invited us into a relationship with him (Rev. 21:3). This is not possible apart from a clear understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, with faithful adherence to his teachings (John 14:6; Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:18; 1 Pet. 3:18).

The Crux of the Matter

The Islamic confession of faith (Shahada) is as follows: “There is no true god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” Muslims have been taught that the prophecy recorded in Deut. 18:15-19, concerning the Prophet like Moses, refers to Mohammed rather than to Jesus Christ. Since they accept the book of Deuteronomy as God’s holy word, we need to sit down with them and study the passage together. The text reads as follows:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ “And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.3
God is speaking through Moses, and contextually to whom is he speaking? In the preceding chapters and verses, the audience is explicitly identified as “Israel” no less than twenty-three times. The people of Israel are informed that the Prophet will arise “from your midst” (v. 15), a fact reiterated to Moses (v. 18). Since Mohammed descended from Abraham through Ishmael and not through Isaac–Jacob–Israel, this prophecy cannot be in reference to him.
     While the recorded words of Peter and Stephen affirm Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy (Acts 3:22; 7:37), Muslims typically do not accept their testimony. However, the words of Jesus himself are respected, and he declares, For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46). Where did Moses write about Jesus if not Deut. 18:15-19? Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’” (John 6:14). Our Muslim friends need to be reminded of God’s solemn warning: “whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18:19).
It is not sinful or blasphemous to accept God’s revelation of himself, and his revelation is personal … in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14). Christians do not turn a human teacher into God or associate Jesus with God; he was already associated with God. We do not attribute divine sonship to Jesus, he reveals God as Father – not in a physical sense but in a relational sense. We do not assign divine essence to Jesus, he is divine. We do not deify Christ, he is deity.4

Conclusion

With the Lord’s help, Muslims can be won to Christ. We start by seeing them as God sees them – precious souls created in his image for whom Jesus died. As we seek to obey God, which includes loving our fellow man, may we effectively encourage our Muslim neighbors to exchange their confession of Mohammed as God’s prophet for Jesus Christ as God’s Son.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 See Matt. 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; etc.
     2 See J. Scott Horrell, “Son of God and Islam,” a paper presented at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (16 Nov. 2016), San Antonio, TX.
     3 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     4 Some of these thoughts are adapted from Wissam Al-Aethawi’s “Islam Series” at the 2017 FHU Lectureship, <Link>.

*This material was originally developed for the 2017 Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies Lectureship.

Related PostsReaching Muslims Part 1

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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Reaching Muslims (Part 1)

Muslims comprise over 23% of the earth’s population. If current trends continue, it is estimated that by the year 2050 the number of Muslims worldwide will nearly equal that of professing Christians.1 If “Christian” is defined biblically, they surpassed our numbers long ago.
Islamic resistance to Christianity has been around for centuries, while tensions have significantly increased in recent decades, especially since September 2001. Islamic governments and militant jihadists have made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Lord’s church to carry out the Great Commission in several places around the globe. There are about thirty-eight countries that are either wholly or predominately Islamic.
If we cannot go to the Muslim world, perhaps God is bringing the Muslim world to us. Multiplied thousands are migrating to countries that allow greater religious freedoms. The majority of Muslims (80%) live outside the Middle East, with approximately 60 million refugees worldwide displaced from their homes. The largest concentration of people of Arab descent outside the Middle East is Dearborn, Michigan (home of the largest Mosque in America). The religion of Islam has approximately 3.3 million adherents in the United States (about 1% of the U.S. population). What are Christ followers to make of all this? “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35b).2

A Reasoned Perspective

Most Muslims are not fanatical extremists. Contrary to popular opinion, not every Muslim is a member of a terrorist organization or sympathetic to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, and ISIS. Our newsfeeds and news reports are dominated by images and stories of these radical movements, and it is tempting to throw every Muslim into the same pot. But is this fair? Is it reasonable? The fact of the matter is, more Muslims have suffered at the hands of these extremists than non-Muslims.
            When the bulk of our information comes from second- or third-hand sources, chances are the perspective is skewed. Rather than presuming to know what all Muslims are like, here’s a novel idea. Let’s actually get to know our Muslim neighbors. We might be surprised at how friendly, hospitable, and open they are. Yes, there are bad people in the world. Yes, Islamic terrorists are bad people. But not every Muslim is an Islamic terrorist. 
Many Muslims are disillusioned with their religion. Refugees and defectors from radical Islamic groups are reportedly disgusted by the brutal injustices carried out in the name of Allah.3 Meriting divine favor with good works is burdensome. Ritual prayers, five times a day, are compulsory and must be recited in the Arabic language, even though 4/5 of Muslims do not speak Arabic. The God of the Qur’an is a God of wrath and cold indifference. Assurance is not possible in this life because it questions God’s sovereignty.4 Understandably, a number of Muslims are yearning for something more.
All Muslims need the gospel. They comprise one of the largest unreached groups in the world today. The gospel is still for all, and our Muslim neighbors are lost in sin, separated from God, and shackled in ignorance, delusion, and hopelessness. We have the answer to their dilemma (Rom. 1:16), and the love of Christ compels us to do something about it (2 Cor. 5:15).

Where do we start?

Reaching Muslims with the gospel requires more than winning an argument. Most of them have only a superficial understanding of their religion, with varying degrees of commitment (just like a number professing Christians!). Moreover, each Muslim is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all evangelistic procedure. In fact, there are many disagreements among Muslims themselves on any number of issues.
Since attacking the Islamic religion is generally unfruitful, the following fourfold approach is recommended as a more effective strategy:
o   Attitude – view Muslims as God sees them, as precious souls made in his image. We have to overcome ignorance, prejudice, and fear. A good place to start is to observe the golden rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them …” (Matt. 7:12). As a Christian, I don’t appreciate being lumped together with the Ku Klux Klan, the Westboro Baptist Church, prosperity-gospel televangelists, or pedophile priests. We shouldn’t assume that every Muslim is a Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden or hates democracy and western civilization and wants to kill us. But even if this were so, what does Jesus say about responding to our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48)? To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him your brother.
o   Knowledge – learn about the Islamic faith, and the best source of information is a Muslim. It is fairly easy to point out the inconsistencies of their religion by citing cherry-picked verses from the Qur’an without a clear understanding of the context. But consider how effective this is when others do the same with our faith and our Bible.  
o   Relationship – this is something of great value to most Muslims. We will be very ineffective in our outreach until we get to know our non-Christian neighbors. An environment of courtesy and mutual respect is so much more conducive to reasoning together. We can’t effectively teach Jesus without manifesting him.
o   Engagement – we must not shy away from religious discussion and Bible study. Start with commonalities, then address differences. Christians and Muslims alike believe in the existence of the Almighty Creator. We are all devout theists, opposed to atheistic naturalism that currently pervades our society. We both accept the divine inspiration of the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels, providing a standard of authority on which we can agree.5 We share a very high regard for Jesus Christ, acknowledging him as the Messiah, born of the virgin Mary, having performed miracles, and having ascended into heaven with the promise to return.
The gospel then takes us further into the presence and redemption of God where we encounter fundamental differences – to be addressed in the next post.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Islam as the world’s fastest growing religion is attributable not only to conversions, but also to fertility rates and youth populations. See “The Future of World Religions,” Pew Research Center (2 April 2015), <Link>.
     2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     3 See Hamza Hendawi, “Islamic State’s double standards,” Associated Press (18 Jan. 2016), <Link>; Matthew Hall, “‘Liars, Hypocrites’,” The Sunday Morning Herald (12 March 2016), <Link>. Wissam Al-Aethawi, a former Iraqi soldier and engineer who grew up in Baghdad, was disillusioned by a religion that taught hate. He purchased a Bible, learned the truth, and obeyed the gospel. He now works with Arab immigrants in the USA, using the NT to teach them English. Read his story here <Link>.
     4 Imad Shehadeh, “Allah and the Trinity,” a lecture presented at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (16 Nov. 2016), San Antonio, TX.
     5 A number of Muslims I have encountered have a high regard for the entire Old Testament. For a helpful defense of these sacred writings in discussions with Muslims, see Earl D. Edwards, “One Approach to Evangelizing Muslims,” ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙΚΑ 2 (2014): 29–42. See also Rod Rutherford, “Jesus or Mohammed?” Fulton County Gospel News 37:2 (Feb. 2003): 3-4; and “Confronting the Rising Threat of Islam,” The Spiritual Sword 48:2 (Jan. 2017): 16-19.

*This material was originally developed for the 2017 Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies Lectureship.

Related PostsReaching Muslims (Part 2)

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