Dear Church Family,
This morning was our first meeting of the new study in our Men’s Discipleship Group on presuppositional apologetics. This is a good time join us, as we are just beginning our discussion and study of the book Every Thought Captive: A Study Manual for the Defense of Christian Truth by Richard Pratt. So, if you’re interested, just buy the book, read the first chapter, and come next Wednesday morning, 6:30-7:30 am in the fellowship hall at the church.
In our introductory study and discussion this morning, we examined the Apostle Paul’s defense of the Christian faith at the Areopagus in Athens found in Acts 17:16-34. In Athens, Paul was reasoning (dialoging and debating) in the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles; he also preached in the market place every day (Acts 17:17). Thus, the record of Paul’s speech to the philosophers and debaters of Athens in the Areopagus is probably not all that he said, but a summary. Still, a brief overview of Paul’s speech provides a simple, four-point outline for a basic Gospel presentation that’s helpful and applicable for us today in our efforts to share our faith with others:
1. Who is God? (Acts 17:22-28)
22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'
The Apostle Paul begins his presentation of the Christian faith by explaining that there is a God who is the Creator of all things. Specifically, He is the Creator of all human beings. Paul begins by establishing the distinction between God the Creator and we the creatures. God is transcendent – separate and wholly other (“Lord of heaven and earth and does not dwell in temples made with hands,” v 24), but God is also immanent – near and involved with His creation (“in Him we live and move and exist,” v 28). Paul also explains (or at least implies at this point), that as our Creator, God is deserving of our worship and has created us for that purpose (v 27).
2. What is sin? (Acts 17:29-31)
29 "Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
From the basis of the Creator-creature distinction, Paul argues that thinking wrongly about Him and His nature (v 29) – what Paul calls ‘ignorance’ (v 30) – is actually a sin for which people everywhere should repent. This is an interesting tactic of argumentation. We often call people to repent of their sin of not conforming to the Law of God, or breaking the Law of God – we find this kind of call to repent in many places in Scripture, as well. But here, Paul calls people to repent of their ignorance which has led them to idolatry – to worship that which they don’t really know.
And, Paul explains that men ought to repent not only because God is worthy of our proper worship, but because it is in man’s best interest: a day of judgment is coming when God will judge the world in righteousness through the God-Man, Jesus Christ (v 31).
3. Who is Jesus? (Acts 17:31)
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
Paul explains that God has appointed a Man to judge the world in righteousness. And, the proof that this Man is worthy and able to judge the world has been provided in God’s raising Him from the dead. In the record of Paul’s speech that we have, he doesn’t mention the name of Jesus Christ. We can assume that his hearers knew who he was talking about, though, because when they first heard him preaching in the marketplace, Paul was “preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).
4. Who are you? (Acts 17:30-34)
30 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
The Apostle Paul was very bold and confrontational in His proclamation of the gospel. After pointing out the ignorance inherent in the idolatry of the citizens of Athens, he told them the truth about the God who created them and the Man who was raised from the dead and would judge the world. To this explanation, Paul adds an exhortation: “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (v 30). It’s not enough to understand Paul’s message, one must believe and repent.
When Paul was done speaking, there was a mixed reception. Some sneered because Paul actually believed and taught the resurrection of the dead. Others were curious and wanted to hear more (v 32). But the last verse tells us that some of the men who heard Paul that day joined him and believed (v 34). The Holy Spirit used Paul’s words to convict some people of their sin – their ignorance and disobedience.
Paul’s speech is a helpful reminder of the basic elements of a gospel presentation:
(1) God: He is our Creator and has rights.
(2) Sin: All men are ignorant and disobedient.
(3) Jesus: The God-Man died and rose again.
(4) You: Will you repent of your sin and trust in Jesus Christ (and join His people)?
Of course, as we interact and dialogue with people about the gospel, we will need to address specific issues and perhaps use different phrasings and language then Paul did on that day in Athens. In his presentation, Paul even quoted one of poets of the day to help make his point – there are times when we must do the same. But, the basic outline and structure of Paul’s speech is a helpful reminder of how we may present the gospel to others in a simple and direct manner.
May the Lord use our efforts to proclaim the simple truths of the gospel in order to draw men and women to Himself and grow His kingdom!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch