Finally Alive by John Piper
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:1–7
We’re ending this book on the ground. On the street. In the car. At Starbucks. In the back yard. In school. At work. Over lunch. On the phone. On Facebook and MySpace. And text messaging. And Skyping. And blogging. And airplanes. And a hundred ordinary conversations. We’re ending with personal evangelism—an old-fashioned commitment in new contexts for the sake of the new birth in thousands of spiritually dead people for the glory of Jesus Christ.
We have affirmed repeatedly the biblical truth of 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again…through the living and abiding word of God” — followed by the explanation in verse 25: “This word is the good news that was preached to you.” In other words, God brings about the new birth through the gospel—the good news that God sent his Son into the world to live a perfect life, die for sinners, absorb the wrath of God, take away our guilt, provide the gift of righteousness, and give eternal joy in Christ through faith alone apart from works of the law.
People are born again through hearing that news, and never born again without it. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). So when we asked, What should we do to help people be born again? the biblical answer was plain: Tell people the good news from a heart of love and a life of service.
In this final chapter, the aim is to underline that main point with a couple of new texts and then give some encouragements and practical helps.
God Makes Light Shine in Our Hearts
2 Corinthians 4:4 pinpoints the condition people are in without Christ. Verse 4: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” People who don’t believe in Christ are blind. They can’t see Christ as supremely valuable, and so they won’t receive him as their Treasure and so they are not saved. A work of God is needed in their lives to open their eyes and give them life so they can see and receive Christ as Savior and Lord and Treasure of their lives. That work of God is called the new birth.
Then look at the solution to this condition of blindness and perishing. Verse 6: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is a description of the new birth, even though that term is not used. The God who created light in the beginning does the same thing in the human heart. Only this time, the light is not physical light, but “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Or as verse 4 calls it: “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
He causes the human heart to see the truth and beauty and worth of Christ—the glory of Christ. And when we see him for who he really is, we receive him for who he is. And to as many as received him, he gave power to become the children of God (John 1:12). That’s what we want for our children—at six or sixteen or twenty-six—and for our parents and our spouses and our neighbors and colleagues and our friends at school. We want the light to shine in their hearts so they see and receive Christ. We want them to be born again.
God Sends You to Open Their Eyes
Look at the human means God uses to make this happen. 2 Corinthians 4:5: “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Paul’s role was to proclaim Christ from a heart of love and a life of service. That proclamation is called the gospel in verse 3: “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.” It’s the gospel that spiritually blind people can’t see and spiritually deaf people can’t hear. So our answer to the question What should we do to help people be born again? is: Tell them the good news of Christ from a heart of love and a life of service.
Here is an astonishing picture of human agency in the new birth. In Acts 26, Paul is telling King Agrippa about his conversion and his call to the ministry. He reports the spectacular encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road. Then he reports the commission that Christ gave him. The words of the commission are amazing. Paul says that Jesus told him;
I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in
which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctifi ed by faith in me. (Acts 26:15–18)
This commission is breathtaking in what it implies about the role of human beings in the miraculous work of the new birth. Jesus says to Paul, “I am sending you to open their eyes.” And look what hangs on this mission: “…so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
According to 2 Corinthians 4, people are spiritually blind until God gives them eyes to see, that is, until God causes them to be born again. And in Acts 26, Jesus says in verse 18, “I am sending you to open their eyes.” The point is not hard to see. God opens the eyes of the blind to see the truth and beauty and worth of Christ. And he does this by sending people to tell the good news from hearts of love and lives of service.
That is what I fi nd myself praying for more and more. Lord, fill your church with a passion to open the eyes of the blind. Fill us with a passion to do what God promises to do by making us a means of bringing about the new birth. I speak it to you the way that Jesus spoke it to Paul: Go out and open their eyes.
Don’t stop because you can’t do this. Of course you can’t. Only God can open the eyes of the blind (2 Cor. 4:6). But the fact that you can’t make electricity or create light never stops you from flipping light switches. The fact that you can’t create fire in cylinders never stops you from turning the car key. The fact that you can’t create cell tissue never stops you from eating your
meals. So don’t let the fact that you can’t cause the new birth stop you from telling the gospel. That is how people are born again—through the living and abiding word, the good news of Jesus Christ.
Ten Encouragements for Gospel-Telling
So here are a few encouragements that I hope will help you.
1. Know This: God Uses Clay Pots
Back to the context of 2 Corinthians 4:4–6. The next verse is crucial. We don’t usually read it in context. Verse 6 has just said that the God who created light in the universe does the same kind of thing in the hearts of blind sinners like us. He gives the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” In verse 4, this light is called the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
That’s the context. Now here’s verse 7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We have “this treasure.” What treasure? “The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Or, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” In short: We have the gospel with its light-giving power.
Now the encouragement is this: “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” Jars of clay is a reference to us. We are the jars of clay. Compared to the treasure that is in us, we are clay. We are not gold. The gospel is gold. We are not silver. The news about Christ is silver. We are not bronze. The power of Christ is bronze.
This means that if you feel average or below average in your fitness to share the gospel treasure, you are closer to the truth than someone who feels powerful and wise and self-sufficient. Paul wants us to realize that we are clay pots. Not gold or silver
or bronze. He wants us to realize that from the most sophisticated to the most average, we are all clay pots when it comes to containing and sharing the gospel. It is so valuable and so powerful that any thought of its container being something comparable is foolish.
How does Paul talk about himself and Apollos, two of the most fruitful Christians in the first century? “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5–7).
What’s the point of being a clay pot? Back to 2 Corinthians 4:7:
“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” God’s aim is that his own power through the gospel, not ours, be exalted. Which means that if you feel average or less than average in your sense of fitness to tell the gospel, you are the person God is looking for—a clay pot, who simply shares the treasure of the gospel, not the glitzy intellect, not the glitzy eloquence, not the glitzy beauty or strength or cultural cleverness. Then God will do his work through the gospel, and the surpassing power will belong to him and not to us.
Be encouraged, ordinary Christian. You are appointed, precisely in your ordinariness, for the greatest work in the world: opening the eyes of the blind and showing the Treasure of Christ.
2. Get Resources to Share
Giving away good Christian literature is one way of extending your personal witness about the gospel. At www.desiringGod.org we try to make evangelistic booklets available as inexpensively as
possible or for whatever price you can afford.23 There are dozens of other very useful materials available.
The point is: Think this way. Think: Wherever I can, I want to commend Christ. I want to tell the story that God uses to give people life. Put something in your pocket, your purse, your briefcase, your car. And pray every day, Lord, make me an instrument of gospel-spreading today. Use me to open the eyes of the blind.
3. Know that God May Use Many Infl uences
Keep in mind that what you say to someone about Jesus may be supplemented by a half dozen others that God is providentially lining up to speak to this person as God pursues him for salvation. You may feel your word was wasted. It is never wasted (1 Cor. 15:58). Your word may be the beginning of the influences. Or it may be the final, decisive word that God uses to bring a person to faith. Speak your word. The smallest word about Christ is not wasted.
A young woman told the story as she was joining our church of how Christ saved her. She said that she knew a good bit about Christianity because of her parents but had thrown it all away as a teenager and was on her own. One day she and her friends were walking down the beach as several handsome guys approached. Her thought was to impress them and be thought attractive and cool. As the guys passed, one of them called out, “Praise Jesus!”
Now probably later that night those guys said to themselves, “That was a lame witness. Why didn’t we stop and talk?” Little did they know that this simple word, “Praise Jesus,” pierced her
23 Two examples would be the booklet For Your Joy and the tract The Quest for Joy.
heart and sent her later to her knees and to the Savior. There are no wasted testimonies.
4. Be a Lavish Giver
Be known as a generous person, not a stingy person. Jesus said, “Lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). I mean this in general about all that you own. Stingy people make Jesus look unimportant and unsatisfying. But more specifically I mean: Be lavish in your giving of good books—if you know unbelievers who are readers. Give a Christian book that cost you ten or fifteen or thirty dollars. Offer it as a gift and tell them what it meant to you and that you would love to talk about it some time. If you don’t know the person, ask for their permission to give them a book that meant a lot to you.
This is what I regularly do on the plane. Sometimes conversations are easy to get into about Christ because I am a pastor. Other times they’re not. But in either case, I often say, “I wrote a book that I would love to give to you. May I give you one?” People almost never say no. I put different books in my briefcase to give away. The most common ones are Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, Desiring God, and When the Darkness Will Not Lift. I also keep some of these in the drawer by our front door at home in case there is an opportunity to give one to someone at the door. Choose a few short books that you have read that have helped your faith, and keep a stash of them in key places. Develop the habit of thinking this way: How can I commend Christ today? Be lavish in your giving.
And, of course, give away the Bible. I happened to open a biography of the missionary Henry Martyn recently and read this about the author, B. V. Henry: “Henry came to personal faith in Christ at the age of 17 through reading a New Testament
24 B. V. Henry, Forsaking All for Christ: A Biography of Henry Martyn (London:
Chapter Two, 2003), 167.
25 You can buy the entire Bible in the English Standard Version at Desiring God
for under $4.00. http://www.desiringgod.org/store/topicindex/54/720_ESV_
26 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 14–15.
given to him by an elderly lady.”24 Be lavish in giving away Bibles
and portions of the Bible.25
5. Find People Interesting
Be encouraged that simply fi nding people interesting and caring about them is a beautiful pathway into their heart. Evangelism gets a bad reputation when we are not really interested in people and don’t seem to care about them. People really are interesting. Every person you talk to is an amazing creation of God with a thousand interesting experiences. Remember the words of C. S. Lewis:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.26
Yet, most of us don’t think this way. The gods bore us, and we return to our video games. Very few people are interested in others. If you really fi nd their story interesting, and care about them, they may open up to you and want to hear your story — Christ’s story.
6. Invite People to Church
In your relationships, invite people to church even before they are Christians. Some of the sheer strangeness of what it means to be a Christian can be overcome by a growing familiarity with how we sing and talk and relate in church. And the preaching of the word of God has a unique power. Every kind of speech is unique in some way. Preaching is not the only or the main way that we communicate. But it is appointed by God for a special effectiveness. “After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21 KJV). Or, nowadays, with the Internet, if they are hesitant to come to church, invite them to a website where they can watch or listen to your pastor or some other teacher.
7. Fill the City with Gospel Teaching
When the apostles were put on trial in Jerusalem, the high priest said, “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28). That is what I dream for the churches of my city. If all the Christians were talking about Christ, and giving out literature about Christ, and sending emails about Christ, and inviting people to church for Christ, and being lavishly generous to others for Christ, then someone might say, “Those Christians have filled the city with their teaching.” May it be so.
8. Use Your Giftings
Be encouraged that we all have different gifts and should not try to imitate everything about anyone. Every Christian should be a servant (Gal. 5:13), but some have a gift of service (Rom. 12:7). Every Christian should have a heart of mercy (Luke 6:36), but some have a gift of mercy (Rom. 12:8). Every Christian should
27 Metzger, Tell the Truth: Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by the Whole People,
third ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 202, orgi 1981); Packer,
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
2009, orig. 1961); Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, IL:
Crossway Books, 2007).
speak to others about Christ (1 Pet. 2:9), but some have a gift of
prophecy and exhortation and teaching (Rom. 12:7).
The point is: We are all in this together, but some are gifted one way and some another. Find where you fit, and stoke the flames of your effectiveness there. Grow in every area, but don’t paralyze yourself because you are not like someone else. God made you and means to use you—the unique you—in evangelism.
9. Read Books on Evangelism
Here are two older books and one newer one: Will Metzger’s Tell the Truth; J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God; and Mark Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.27 There are, of course, dozens of books worthy of your attention. My point is simply to encourage you to think this way—to include in your mindset the desire to be instructed and inspired by what others have written on personal evangelism.
10. Pray for Boldness
It is remarkable to notice that most of the prayers relating to evangelism in the New Testament relate to prayers for the gospel-tellers, not the gospel-hearers. Romans 10:1 is an exception to that: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” But mostly we read things like “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thess. 3:1). “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3). “Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for…me, that
words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:18–19).
Pray for yourself and your family and your church and your pastors in these ways. It is remarkable and encouraging that the apostle Paul felt the need to ask the churches to pray for his boldness. If Paul needed those prayers, how much more do you and I.
Speaking the Word of God with Boldness
Make Acts 4:31 your dream and prayer for the church of Christ: “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” If God would have mercy on us and pour out the Holy Spirit in this way on his church, our eyes would be bright with bold joy and our mouths would open with the story of the gospel. We would become a people who look and sound like we have heard the greatest news in the world—which we have. That is how we were born again. And that is how others will be born again.
You have been born again…
through the living and abiding word of God…
And this word is the good news.
1 Peter 1:23–25