Witnessing and the Natural Man; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16
In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul said, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." That doesn't mean that he is just going to tell Jesus Bible stories to the people in Corinth, but that is a profound statement related to the overall subject matter of these first three chapters. The overall subject matter of these first three chapters has to do with knowledge. It is the conflict between human viewpoint and divine viewpoint. The point that Paul is making in 2:2 is that it is Jesus Christ and the cross that is the starting point for all true human knowledge. This is the same thing that he articulated back in 1:18, "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." From this we see the biblical position that it is Jesus Christ who is our starting point, and that is because He is the one who is the revealer of God; not in the sense that the Holy Spirit reveals information through the Scripture but that we know God because of Jesus Christ—John 1:18. So the starting point at any level of real knowledge, according to the Scripture, for the believer is what God says, God's revelation. So we start with a point that would seem to be obvious, and that is that if the God of the Bible exists then he determines and defines reality, and He is the one who has revealed to us the nature of that reality. So live in harmony, to think in harmony with God's Word so that God's Word becomes the starting point of our thinking means that we are living consistently with reality. For the person who rejects the Scripture, everything that they are constructing upon their false foundation of knowledge is to one degree or another divorced for reality, and at some point they cannot live consistently within their own framework because at most points the unbeliever has to live as if there are absolutes, as if there is a concept of right or wrong. We often hear in the course of some debate between a Christian and a non-Christian that a non-Christian will in some form of statement or another reject the gospel, reject Christianity, and they are making a value statement that that is wrong. You can't even make a statement of right or wrong, you can't use phrases like are or should as a non-Christian without presupposing that there is some external absolute that establishes absolute right or wrong. So our position is that the only consistent way of thought is to start with the reality of the existence of God and His revelation.
If we look at 1 Corinthians chapter two there are a number of things that are said there that have profound implications for the believer's impact on the unbelieving world, specifically through witnessing. Remember that as believers we are going to view reality from the viewpoint of the truth of Scripture. Unapologetically we are going to use the Scripture, and we must use the Scripture, as our starting point.
1) If God exists, then reality is what he says it is. Therefore we must operate within the framework and the boundaries of what He says because that is reality. So then divine viewpoint is going to equal reality. If at any point we step outside of that boundary then at that point we are going to be divorced from reality and are going to be operating on false assumptions and methodologies.
2) If God exists, then He has revealed that reality to us. (When we use the term God here we are not talking about some abstract deity. This can't be conformed to just any god out there, the god of the Hindus, the god of Islam, the god of deism. We specifically refer to the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who revealed Himself through the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ) The God of the Bible wants fellowship with His creatures and He is a person and therefore one who communicates. In other words, He tells us what the rules are. The unbeliever isn't the one who determines what the rules are, the cosmic system, the culture around us isn't what determines what the rules are; it is God who determines what the rules are for us. It is always the unbeliever's strategy to change the rules of the game, it part of what it means to suppress the truth in unrighteousness and be a rebel against God and live in autonomy and independence from God. So as believers we know what reality is, we know something the unbeliever doesn't know, so we stay within the framework of reality.
3) Rom 1:18-23, 25 "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures… For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." So here we have our two categories established by the Scripture. Divine viewpoint is the thinking of the creator; human viewpoint is a separate and distinct category that is the thinking of the creature. The creature is going to use as his starting point for all thought something inside the creation; he is going to start with history, with human reason, with morality, with some level of human experience, that everything is inside the creaturely realm. So what happens is that in his thinking he is going to elevate some principle of the creation to some sort of independent or autonomous status so that he is now using that standard to judge God. We have to be aware of this, not because it is something we are going to bring up in witnessing, but this is our framework, understanding where we as believers are coming from in the whole process of witnessing and explaining the gospel to an unbeliever.
4) The unbeliever is able to ascertain enough of the meaning of non-verbal revelation to know God exists and be accountable for that, but that is not enough to get saved. The unbeliever can't get saved just by looking out at the creation and saying it just couldn't happen by chance, there has to be something more, and he wants to know more about that. That is the expression of positive volition and then God, because God is just and because He is fair, is going to get specific, verbal information to him. The testimony of the creation—Psalm 19:1 NASB "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands"—isn't specific. Non-verbal revelation is non-specific revelation, it just gets us information that God exists and something about His power and His nature, but it is not enough to be saved. We recognize that the unbeliever we are trying to witness to already has an inherent internal witness. He knows and knew at some point that God exists and he rejected it. He rejected it not because he may come up with certain excuses but ultimately the rejection is that he doesn't want to submit to the authority of God. He may amass rational and empirical and moral reasons that are used later to rationalize and justify that unbelief but that is not the foundational reason for the unbelief.
5) The ultimate issue, therefore, is not evidence. Scripture says there is more than enough evidence. It is not reason, it is not empirical data. The problem isn't intellectual, it is spiritual. Though the issue isn't reason, isn't empiricism or evidence or history, though it isn't intellectual, that doesn't mean that Christianity is anti-intellectual, anti-reason or anti-empiricism. That is mysticism; Christianity is not mysticism. The issue is, what is the ultimate criterion? For the believer the ultimate criterion is not going to be history or reason or morality or experience because when you pick these as your criterion to determine truth what you do then is elevate something inside creation over and above God and then that becomes this autonomous, independent abstract criterion for determining truth and reality. All that we are saying as believers is that the ultimate criterion isn't reason, isn't experience, it is the fact that God speaks, that God has spoken and given accurate and true information. So the issue is the starting point, i.e. the assumption that you and the unbeliever bring to the table before you ever start talking. We must realize that the ultimate issue is not going to be reason or empiricism, and that means that we don't have to have all the answers, we don't have to be able to answer every question that an unbeliever may come up with. The issues are ultimately going to be spiritual issues, they have to do with the revelation of God; they don't have to do with trying to present enough arguments, enough evidence for the existence of God.
6) If God exists—i.e. the God of the Bible who has revealed Himself and has revealed truth to us in the Scriptures—then the Holy Spirit is doing certain things behind the scenes in terms of making the gospel clear. It is not you who are trying to convince the other person. When you sit down and engage in a conversation with an unbeliever and you are going to witness to that unbeliever you know that you have an ally in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is doing certain things behind the scenes. It is not up to you, then, to try to convince the other person because ultimately you and I can't convince the other person. Ultimately you and I can't convince the other person, it is not a one-on-one argument. The issues are spiritual and so there has to be spiritual information or affirmation given, and that is provided by God the Holy Spirit. That raises another question in light of what we see in 1 Cor. 2, that in his thinking he is going to elevate some principle of the creation to some sort of independent or autonomous status so that he is now using that standard to judge God. That is the thesis of what we are saying here. [Gap in recording] …. John 16:8, 9 NASB "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me." John 3:18 KJV "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God"—not because he sinned, not because he committed adultery, not because he was a mass murderer, but because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. So the first thing the Holy Spirit is going to be doing when you are witnessing to an unbeliever is He is going to be convicting them of the fact that they do not trust in Christ as their savior. They are trusting in something else, and they are always trusting in something else. Often what happens is the unbeliever says he is not a man of faith. There you are, your faith is in your autonomous reasoning and your ability to find reality apart from the revelation of God. Everybody at root level is a believer. The issue is what you are believing in. Sometimes in explaining the gospel you have to expose that kind of irrationality. Secondly, John 16:10 says, "and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me." The point of righteousness here is that God is righteous, man lacks righteousness [-R]. For absolute perfection to have fellowship with anything that object of God's fellowship must also have perfect righteousness. So part of that conviction is that we do not meet the standard of God. Third, verse 11: "and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged." That is a prophetic perfect tense indicating that the ruler of the world would be judged—the next day actually, on the cross. So that is what the Holy Spirit has been convicting them of, that sin has been judged and the rebellion has been judged and dealt with, and that all sins have been paid for. So this is a threefold element to the gospel that God the Holy Spirit is going to be emphasizing in any witnessing encounter. If we are off trying to argue creation and evolution, or some other facet, then we are not giving the Holy Spirit a whole lot to work with, because the Holy Spirit doesn't work in a vacuum, He always works with the Word of God, so we have to focus on what God is emphasizing. That doesn't mean these other issues are ignored, it is how we handle it, and learning that is part of growing and maturing and developing experience. We just have to express the gospel to the best of our ability and God the Holy Spirit is going to be working to make sure certain things are clear.
7) Witnessing involves two areas, the lips and the life. What we communicate verbally is more important than what we communicate through the witness of our life, but we need to have a life that at some level substantiates what we are saying. The life gives us a platform in many cases to communicate clearly. It is the lips that give the specific requirements for salvation.
8) Our life, therefore, becomes a platform from which we witness. Unbelievers watch us. We must realize that witnessing is not simply communicating abstract concepts about an abstract God.
9) Our verbal witness must be one that doesn't compromise our view of reality. Don't be sucked into "proving" that God exists. a) Witnessing isn't a debate and we mustn't get into an argument over information; b) Our job is to communicate information and to leave the rest to God the Holy Spirit. How we witness is as important as the content of our witnessing. Don't try to bring someone to salvation through some sort of human viewpoint approach that keeps man as the ultimate determiner of truth. Actually, in witnessing the only real failure is silence. [Gap in recording] ….
10) …… Don't worry about problems such as inadequacy, fear of rejection…
11) ……In various surveys about 15% of all conversions occur through some sort of big event, like a Billy Graham crusade, through a church "revival" or some kind of major evangelistic event; 85% of conversions occur through one person telling another person the gospel.
12) Let the Holy Spirit do the convincing, don't try to badger or beat somebody with the gospel. A series of questions to think about: Ask them a question: Do you have any kind of spiritual belief? Everybody at some level has some kind of spiritual belief, and they may start telling you. Don't judge, don't critique, just let them talk. When they get through, ask the next question: Do you believe there is a heaven or a hell? Don't evaluate anything, just say, Isn't that interesting. If you were to die today, would you go to heaven or hell? If they say heaven, you respond by saying, On what basis would you go to heaven? The next question after that: If what are believing wasn't true, would you want to know? They are either going to say no, in which case you just shut up and go on because they are negative—you have done your job, you have tried to create an opening to see if there is any level of positive volition there—you just move on. If they say yes, you pull out your New Testament and open it up to a verse like Romans 3:23 and say, Would you please read this verse? Let them read it. What does that say and what does it mean to you? And let them tell you. Then go to the next verse, Romans 6:23. Remember, God says that he uses His Word. You are just using the Word, you are not telling them anything. Then eventually get to Acts 16:31. What does that mean?
13) No two witnessing situations are the same. Don't try to use a canned approach. Be flexible. Flexibility, like anything in life, only comes through experience. If you never start witnessing to anybody you are never going to develop the kind of experience you need to be able to communicate the gospel in a relaxed manner to unbelievers. So you have to start, and it is always difficult to start. But it will come, just pray about it and God will give you the opportunity. Different kinds of people are going to come across your path. Some are ready, they are primed. Other people you run into are in the process of being prepared.
The challenge for each of us is to recognize that this is our responsibility to witness. We need to start at the starting point which is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We have to work our from there and understand that God defines what reality is, and reality means that ultimately there is a point of accountability in time. That accountability is going to be at the end of time with the great white throne judgment when unbelievers will stand before God and all they will have with them is their works. It is our responsibility, a mission that God has given each and every believer, to witness. So it is up to us to be properly trained, to apply doctrine and to be involved in that process.