An Ancient & Rediscovered Evangelism

…the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demonized man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:35-39

No one could help this man. Scripture says that “for a long time” he hadn’t worn proper clothes or even lived in a house. The locals had tried to contain this man full of demons with shackles and chains but his demonization gave him supernatural strength. Nothing seemed to help.

No one needed to convince this man that the spirit realm was real. No one needed to convince him that there were supernatural things that happened in the natural world. He was living this reality; he was being tormented by these demons daily.

When Jesus shows up, the response by the demons living inside this man is telling. They cause the man to shout at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” (Luke 8:28)

A couple things to notice here. First, the very thing that they were doing to this man, torturing him, is what they were afraid that Jesus would do to them. In other words, just as the man had no power over the demons, the demons had no power over Jesus.

Secondly, they call Jesus the Son of the Most High God. There were other “gods”––we might call them demonically-backed idols (read 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; 10:19-21 & Revelation 9:20)––but the demons knew that there was only one Most High God.

What I find so fascinating about this encounter with Jesus is that this demonized man gets totally delivered and completely restored to his right mind, and the result is that he essentially becomes an evangelist to his hometown.

I believe this connection between deliverance ministry and evangelism will only grow in the coming years in the American church. I’m already seeing it happen. People are dabbling in the spirit realm and then finding themselves bound by darkness and harassed by demons. They don’t need convincing that the spirit realm and the supernatural are real. They are fully convinced that the spirit realm is real because they experience the dark side of it daily.

They have nightmares and night terrors regularly. They are racked by fear and can feel evil presences around them. They feel like they are being haunted or attacked by spirits, but they don’t know what to do about it. They visit mediums and fortune-tellers but they don’t seem to help. These so-called “spirit guides” actually make the problem worse. Even more darkness is hanging around after a visit with them.

What a spiritually harassed person needs is someone with answers as to how to get free. What they need is someone with the kind of authority and power that can break the demonic chains in their life. What they need is the Name that is above every other name, the Son of the Most High God, Jesus. They need followers of Jesus who carry His name, His delegated authority, and the power of the Holy Spirit to come alongside them and show them how to get free from all the darkness.

And when they get free, they will go and tell their story to their friends and family! When they get free, they will go and declare that only Jesus was able to rescue them from the hauntings, from the darkness, from the nightmares and spiritual oppression. When they get free, they will become the next generation of evangelists to a culture that already believes in the supernatural but has only experienced the kingdom of darkness. When they get free, they will become ambassadors of the freedom, power, and love that can only come from the Kingdom of Light and the name of Jesus!

…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:11-14

Already – Not Yet

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

The longer you live the more you come face to face with the enormity of pain and tragedy in this world. There is suffering and heartbreak at every turn. As a follower of Jesus, the only way to navigate the brokenness of the world is to have both a theology of healing and a theology of suffering. One without the other will be insufficient and will lead to despair.

A theology of suffering without a theology of healing leads us to believe we can’t have victory over sin, disease, or spiritual darkness this side of heaven. It leaves us trudging through this world of pain in a perpetual state of gloom and doom. It neglects our calling to bring heaven to earth. It never fully embraces all that Jesus accomplished on the cross and in the resurrection. It will likely lead to cynicism and attempts to escape this world rather than transform it. In Ephesians 4:11 terms, it tries to be pastoral without being apostolic.

Likewise, a theology of healing without a theology of suffering has a difficult time facing tragedy and pain. It tends to avoid the reality of suffering. It doesn’t allow for people to be in process or in grief. It neglects the important disciplines of being joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in enduring prayer. It struggles to be down in the muck walking with people. In Ephesians 4:11 terms, it tries to be apostolic without being pastoral.

A healthy and robust Kingdom theology makes room for both healing and suffering. When Jesus arrived in the flesh, He inaugurated the Kingdom of God on the earth. “Inaugurated” is a term that speaks to the reality that the Kingdom is already here, breaking out among us, but not yet here in all of its fullness and glory. Scholars call this the “already/not yet” of the Kingdom.

We now live in the in-between. This means that our reality will bear witness to both the “already” of the Kingdom and the “not yet” of the Kingdom. Our theology of healing expresses the already of the Kingdom. Our theology of suffering expresses the not yet of the Kingdom.

We must hold the already and not yet in tension with each other. Leaning too far in one direction or the other causes problems. For instance, when it comes to physical healing, we must admit these two truths: 1) God wants to heal and 2) not everyone is healed this side of heaven. Likewise, we must admit these two truths about salvation: 1) God wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, and 2) not all will be saved.

There are a number of variables that prevent the Kingdom of God from expressing its fullness. Sin has caused a general brokenness in all of creation. It’s the background noise of brokenness that seems to infect every part of the world. Not only that, but sin has caused a break down in the way people treat each other. It has also caused a break in the way we relate to ourselves and to God. Add to all of this a real enemy, Satan, who is actively employing the kingdom of darkness to work against God’s purposes in the world, and you can begin to get a picture of the real mess we are in.

So while God’s Kingdom has come and is breaking out out among us–seeking to restore, redeem, and renew–there are many factors that are pressing against the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the world. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) gives us a picture of this reality. God’s Kingdom is growing in the world, but so is the kingdom of darkness.

A healthy theology of healing acknowledges things like our victory in Christ, that sin and death have been defeated, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, and that all things have been placed under His feet. A healthy theology of healing declares that God wants to heal in the same way that God wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), that healing is a mandate given to the Church by Christ, and that there is no sickness in heaven. This is why we pray expecting healing when we pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We have been given supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we are expected to use them to the glory of God. We aren’t waiting to get to heaven to experience the Kingdom of God. We are called to partner with God now in ushering in His Kingdom in increasing measure.

Likewise, a healthy theology of suffering acknowledges that, this side of heaven, not everyone will be miraculously healed, that God’s will is not always done on earth as it is in heaven, and that pain is a part of this broken world. A healthy theology of suffering acknowledges that in this world we will have trouble and that the enemy doesn’t play fair but is out to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). A healthy theology of suffering will not blame God as the author of suffering, but will acknowledge that sin has stained all aspects of life and that we wade through a sea of brokenness as we live in this world. We are called to come alongside people and walk with people through their suffering. We are called to love others in the same way that Jesus loves us.

In the end, God is with us through it all. Sometimes we’ll be healed. Sometimes we won’t. Some aspects of God’s Kingdom are already here, and some have not yet arrived. But what is always available to us is the peace of Christ that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). His comfort and Presence are always available to us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. His love for us is our unending source of strength even in the midst of brokenness. And we can take comfort in the fact that we serve a God of resurrection. He specializes in bringing new life out of death. We confess that whether in healing or in suffering, Christ is all in all. For we have died with Christ and our life is now hidden in Him.

God Is Not Your Enemy

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

This is one of the most important parables in all of the Gospel accounts. This is Jesus explaining how the Kingdom of God in the world interacts with the kingdom of darkness. More people need to spend time meditating on the truths of this parable, especially people who struggle with idea of why there is evil in the world.

One day God will end history and bring an end to evil in the world. One day all wrongs will be made right. One day God will intervene in the most dramatic of ways. There will one day be a harvest and a judgment, and no one will escape this reality.

But until then, we have to understand that the wheat and the weeds will both grow. The Kingdom of God will grow but so will the kingdom of darkness. The spread of the gospel, the bringing of justice, the power of God on display in the world will continue to increase. Yet, so will the ways the enemy sows his seeds of evil. Evil will also continue to increase. According to this parable of Jesus, God will one day remove evil from all of creation, but if He does so too early it does damage. Peter explains this phenomenon this way:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:8-9

God is not being slow as He waits for the final harvest. God is being patient. He wants more and more people to enter the Kingdom of God. The moment God removes evil from the world, history transitions into eternity. And once that happens, the doors shut on the wedding feast of the Kingdom (Luke 14:24) just as the doors of Noah’s ark shut before the rains came (Matthew 24:36-39). God is keeping those doors open as long as possible.

As we see the pain and suffering in the world, our reaction to the evil we witness should be the same as the farmer’s reaction to the weeds, “the enemy did this.” As Jesus later explains the parable to His disciples, He makes clear, “the enemy who sows them is the devil“(Matthew 13:39). God gets blamed for so many awful things because people don’t understand the truth of this parable. Satan is actively sowing seeds of evil and darkness into people and into the world. We have a real enemy and it’s not God.

As followers of Jesus, we should be encouraged that the Kingdom of God is growing and advancing. The Church will continue to prevail around the world. As Jesus said to Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it“(Matthew 16:18).

And just as we are encouraged by this truth, we need to be vigilant about the reality that the enemy will continue to try to advance the kingdom of darkness everywhere he can. As Peter says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour“(1 Peter 5:8). We need to be alert and of sober mind, aware that we will run into growing weeds even as the wheat grows.

Not every situation in your life is from God.

Have you been blaming God for something He’s not responsible for?

Without God

If we were to run into a Gentile pagan from the first century who somehow time-warped to our culture today, most Americans would say things like, “They seem very nice and very religious. They are so faithful to be mindful of all of their gods…They are just a really good person…They are more religious than I am…I find their religious practices so interesting.” It might be similar to how most would respond to living next door to a Hindu swami.

Without question, as a follower of Jesus, we should be gentle, kind and loving to those of all faith traditions. It’s the fruit of the Spirit! Yet, the typical American attitude about the truthfulness of polytheistic religions is very different than the apostle Paul’s attitude.

This is what the apostle Paul said about the polytheistic faith of the Gentiles in the first century:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 

Ephesians 2:11-12

Paul looked straight at those who used to worship a pantheon of gods and told them that not only were they separate from Christ in their old life but that they were “without hope and without God in the world.” It wasn’t just that they had a different religion than Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in affirming a universalistic religious pluralism. The worship of many gods was (and still is) completely bankrupt when it came to the promises of God, completely void of hope, and completely disconnected from the true God.

Before we follow Christ, here is how Paul describes us:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 

Ephesians 2:1-2

Following the ways of the world is the same as following “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” otherwise known as Satan. He is called a “ruler” because he has a measure of power in this world to deceive and torment people. Satan is “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” He is actively trying to get people to reject Christ and live in unbelief. Satan is happy to have people believe anything but the truth of the gospel regardless of how “religious” they are.

Yet, Satan is a conquered ruler. He does exert a measure of power, but all of his authority has been stripped away by Jesus. Jesus now has all authority as He Himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”(Matthew 28:18).

Imagine an oppressive ruler who had been completely conquered and overthrown by good and generous Kingdom yet was still on the run trying to exert his power over the kingdom he once had. All of the oppressive ruler’s authority has been taken, but by using the power he has left, he tries to get people to believe he still has authority. And so he only has the amount of authority that people are willing to give him. He goes from village to village usurping the people’s authority who haven’t yet been told “the good news” of their freedom. And even those who have believed the good news are a target and must stand firm against his attacks (Ephesians 6:10-18).

This is why we can’t sit idly by in silence, but we must “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, and teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:18). Following Jesus isn’t about having one set of beliefs among a myriad of comparative religions. It’s about a relationship with the rightful King and Lord.

By the Spirit

Paul spends all of Galatians 5 talking about the difference between trying to be justified by the Law and being justified by faith in Jesus. He tries to get them to realize that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”(Galatians 5:6).

But if they aren’t following the Law, how to they avoid a life full of sin?

Paul’s answer is the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”(Galatians 5:16-18). He concludes with, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”(Galatians 5:25).

And Paul tries to paint a picture of the difference between walking/living by the Spirit (keeping in step with the Spirit) and living by the flesh. He believes the difference between what the flesh does and what the Spirit does in our life is so drastically different that they cannot be confused.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21

Paul just spent the chapter condemning works-righteousness. Is Paul really saying that if you do these things you won’t go to heaven? I think many people have that view who think the Kingdom of God is only something that we will experience in eternity. But Jesus brought the Kingdom of God into our here and now. And He commissioned the Church to continue His mission of bringing the Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

So what is Paul warning us about when it says that “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

Paul is not saying if you do these things you are disqualified from heaven. Instead, he is reminding us that by being justified by faith in Jesus and through living by the Spirit we begin to experience our Kingdom inheritance right now. However, if we continue to live by the flesh, we will not experience that inheritance.

Another way of saying it is that by keeping in step with the Spirit we inherit the stuff of the Kingdom of God, the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”(Galatians 5:22-23). But when we live by the flesh, instead of inheriting the Kingdom of God, we inherit the kingdom of darkness and all the pain, suffering, and torment that accompany it.

Paul was inviting them to make a choice as to what their inheritance would be in this life and which kingdom their life would reflect to the world. This wasn’t about choosing eternal life in heaven; this was about choosing eternal life right now. Their true identity is a people who have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and who now are empowered to live as people of the Kingdom of God.

The way Paul wrote it to the Colossians was like this:
“…giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”(Colossians 1:12-14).