Hi friends, brothers and sisters. A few weeks ago, I was driving to the bank for work and listening to Moody Radio for a few short minutes. The preacher on the broadcast read these words from 1 Corinthians 14: 7-8, “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” Wow! I didn’t remember hearing or reading this verse before. The Lord really got my attention. To be honest, I didn’t really take the time to see what Paul is saying here in his particular context, but I KNOW what the Spirit said in my spirit. It resonated so strongly, particularly because of the way in which the word picture spoke to an issue that is oftentimes prevalent in today’s church.
An item which needs to be addressed is the term, “indistinct.” It is an adjective which describes something which is unclear or not sharply defined. Some synonyms would include blurred, cloudy, fuzzy, unfocused, hazy, vague and indecipherable to name a few. When I heard this, it was like Ezekiel described in chapter2, verse 2 of the same book, “As He spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard Him speaking to me.” What the Lord Jesus is emphasizing is that there are many—many—today who hear the Gospel presented to them in such a way, that it has been drained of its message and its power to the point where its “notes are indistinct.” And if this Gospel is unclear, “how will anyone know what is played?… who will get ready for battle?” How many people today, in churches and out, have heard the most important, most valuable, most life-transforming and life-saving declaration of all time in a manner which is improperly or unclearly dispatched?
If the announcement is vague, or if it is weak, watered-down or sugar-coated (so as to make it more palatable), or if we market it or sell it (in order to make it attractive, or to otherwise draw people in), or if it is incomplete or without power from on High, then the souls with whom we share it will either not respond, or not respond correctly, and so will remain unsaved. I have seen it and heard it again and again and again. I have probably been guilty of it myself on one or two occasions.
Sometimes, perhaps, we know we have a mandate to obey the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 19-20), but we may be fearful of the reaction we may get. To this, Paul says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of G-d for salvation to everyone who believes (trusts), to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.” In Matthew 7: 21-23, our Lord Jesus Christ recognizes the danger and warns, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do mighty works in Your name?’ And then I will (have to) declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” The Lord Jesus is not being harsh; He is simply sharing the truth. Remember, He willingly suffered and laid down His life for all. It is His desire for all to be saved. What He is saying is that, whether it be the fault of the messenger who gave “an indistinct sound” in his sharing of the Gospel or whether the hearer filtered the true message through the sieve of his or her own itching ears (2 Timothy 4: 4), the confession of sin, the godly sorrow, the repentance did not occur and so salvation never took place. The restoration and reconciliation never transpired and so the Sinless and the sinner remain separated. There is no right relationship, so they never “knew” each other. Perhaps the knowledge is there—in the mind—but the heart did not receive, the seed never took root, and so no transformation ever occurred.
We really do have to be obedient to the Word in Romans 12: 1 which exhorts us “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to G-d, which is your spiritual worship.” We need to, most assuredly, offer the pleasing and aromatic sacrifice of our lips and mouths (and hearts and minds) to the Lord Almighty so that He can speak through us without filter, hindrance or stumbling block. Paul admits in 1 Corinthians 2: 4, “And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Further, Holy Spirit spoke to me on another occasion revealing the need for love and grace, yes, but not at the cost of the full measure of the Truth. In fact, it is He who uses truth to bring about conviction which, ultimately and if responded to sincerely, leads to forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life. Consider these powerful, Spirit-filled, non-politically-correct, possibly-offensive testimonies which not only prove that confrontation is often necessary, but does not need to be feared, avoided, obstructive or heated.
Peter says in Acts 2: 23, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of G-d, YOU CRUCIFIED AND KILLED by the hands of lawless men.” And again in verse 36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that G-d has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED.”
Peter speaks boldly again in Acts 3: 13-15, “The G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob, the G-d of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus WHOM YOU DELIVERED OVER AND DENIED in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But YOU DENIED THE HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS ONE, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and YOU KILLED THE AUTHOR OF LIFE, whom G-d raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”
Yet again, Peter proclaims in Acts 4: 10, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH, WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED…”
Peter and the apostles answered the council and the high priest in Acts 5: 30 declaring, “The G-d of our fathers raised JESUS, WHOM YOU KILLED by hanging Him on a tree.”
Stephen was direct and bold, yet filled with the Holy Spirit and Truth when he addressed the people in Acts 7: 52, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of THE RIGHTEOUS ONE, WHOM YOU HAVE NOW BETRAYED AND MURDERED.”
(To personalize these truths, we must be willing to accept the responsibility and admit that MY and YOUR sins crucified Jesus, MY and YOUR sins murdered Him, MY and YOUR sins betrayed Him, MY and YOUR sins rejected Him, MY and YOUR sins hung Him on a tree, MY and YOUR sins killed the righteous One and the Author of life…) This is why we are guilty. This is why we need salvation. This is why we need forgiveness of sins.
Remember the Word of G-d promises us in 1 John 5: 14-15 that “This is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And since we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” Their prayer and that which should be ours is found in Acts 4: 29-31 and says, “’And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your Word with all boldness, while You stretch out Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.’ And 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 G-D WITH BOLDNESS.”
We can’t tell people to simply, ‘accept Jesus into their hearts.” Although Revelation 3:20 does say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door (of his heart), I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me,” the understood command and necessary prerequisite is stated in Matthew 3: 5-6 of John the Baptist’s ministry, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, AND THEY WERE BAPTIZED by him in the Jordan, CONFESSING THEIR SINS.” We can’t assume, when giving an altar call, that the hearers will grasp the biblical context of the invitation, since so many are biblically-illiterate; that is to say that they lack knowledge of the overarching narrative of Scripture and thus, have little or no understanding of the context from which we take the message of the Gospel. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7: 8-10, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
I like church signs and the messages they post, for the most part. They served and still do serve and predate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. But sometimes they get it wrong. I still have a picture of one of them in my phone that I took, not to blame, but to keep as a reminder of what our focus should be. It reads, “Free trip to Heaven: Details inside.” It’s true and it might make us chuckle, but what the Spirit says in between the lines is, “We, the church, need to go out and tell the world; not to expect them to come to us.” The Great Commission in Matthew 28: 19-20 reads in part, “GO, therefore, AND MAKE disciples…” It doesn’t say, STAY AND INVITE all to come.” I used to be so much better at this, about evangelizing (face-to-face). I am, in this last paragraph, preaching to myself as well. It is so easy to get and to be distracted, busy, even with good things. We’ve got to be intentional and purposeful. If we don’t, our congregations will age, die off, there will be no one to carry the baton in our place, and the church will close its doors. We are seeing this happen all the time today. G-d will surely answer this prayer! Again, to apply 1 John 5: 14-15, if we ask according to His will, we KNOW we have our prayer answered. All we have to do is make sure we know His will in a certain area, and the Word will tell us this. The Lord Jesus assured us in John 4: 35,”…Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Again, in Luke 10: 2, our Lord Jesus points out, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Now let me say this, which follows the same scriptural principle. It may sound harsh, but I hope not. Regardless, we need to know this. In the same way that Christ Jesus distinguishes between the true and the false, the fruitful and the vain, John 10: 11-13 relays, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing (or little) for the sheep.” So the Master makes a distinction between a hired hand and someone who truly cares, and the same principle is at work when we sew good, true seed versus pushing a type of “Easy- Believism” as opposed to a “Lordship Salvation,” to use an example. It is true in many areas of life that we cannot—and do not want to—force anyone to accept the good that we want to share with them and give to them, but let us ENSURE that the reason they do not choose, or do not find themselves allowed, to enter the kingdom of G-d on that great and anticipated day, is not because we have watered-down, sugar-coated, or otherwise misrepresented the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ! If there is no godly sorrow, if there is no conviction of sin, if there is no confession, if there is no repentance, then there will be no rebirth (John chapter 3). There will be no regeneration.
Our Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ would not have left the Father’s presence. He would not have come down from the splendor of Heaven. He would not have laid aside His authority and glory, and assumed many of the limitations of His creation willingly, and would not have submitted to a bloody and unjust crucifixion if all we had to do was accept Him into our hearts, say a prayer, respond to an invitation—all bugles with indistinct sounds—or something else that wasn’t as clear as a commitment, grace, faith, the cost of discipleship, as well as a death and burial of our very selves and our very lives.
Matthew 6: 24 states, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other…”
Romans 5: 8 shares, “But G-d showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Luke 9: 57-62 necessitates committed devotion, “As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ To another He said, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
The Gospel means “Good News.” If the sinner asks where the good is when we proclaim it, we gladly explain the exchanges that take place: First, that He took our sin upon Himself so that we can receive His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5: 21). Second, that though the disobedience of one man—Adam—was passed on to all of us, the obedience of one man—Jesus the Christ—is made available to all (Romans 5: 18-19)!!!
Amen and amen! Speak the truth in love, graciously and boldly. No watered-down flavor of Gatorade. No icing, honey or cotton candy. No “Try Jesus: if you don’t like Him, the devil will always take you back.” Just the Word of the Lord.