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Lazarus not Hercules

Hercules-at-the-CrossroadsThe gospel is not 'the clever option' for a discerning religious consumer.  It's "life unto the dead".  What does that mean for our evangelism?

Many times I've written against 'Hercules at the cross-roads' evangelism. Unbelievers are not decision-makers who need to be cajoled or coerced to 'take a step'.  Unbelievers are 'Lazarus in the tomb' - dead in sins and desperately needing the voice of the Son of God.

Well alright, I hear you saying...  But, Glen, at some stage you need to "close the deal", surely.  At some point the unbeliever needs to make a choice right?  Even if it's all about 'receiving Jesus', fine, there's still something for the unbeliever to do, isn't there?  So how do you preach that without falling back into Decision Theology?

Now before I have a stab at an answer, let me distinguish between what must happen in evangelism and what the unbeliever is capable of.  What must happen is that the unbeliever must be born again, they must be forgiven by God, they must be adopted by the Father, they must be united to the Son, they must be sealed with the Spirit, they must be cleansed by the blood of Jesus, they must be pronounced righteous (i.e. justified), they must be made a new creation.  I'm not laying out discrete stages in salvation here - I'm speaking about the same truth from different angles.  The unbeliever must be converted.  But notice this: they must be converted. No-one can get themselves reborn or forgiven, or adopted, or united, or sealed, or cleansed, or justified, or recreated.

What must happen in evangelism is precisely what the unbeliever can't do.  I know I keep stressing this, but it needs to be stressed: sinners can't save themselves.  Salvation belongs to the LORD.

But, having said all this, there is a call to repent.  So what does it look like?

Well think of Lazarus called from the tomb.  "Come forth" was the resounding command.  Here's something very definite for Lazarus to do.  And he did it.  But just think... later that day, as Lazarus had the unusual experience of enjoying his own wake, he could have said: "I heard Jesus' voice and I decided to obey" (cf John 5:25).  That's one way of putting it.

But put yourself in the shoes of those would-be mourners, listening to Lazarus.  As he recounts how he beat death, you'd be smiling and nodding, all the while you'd know what had really happened.  You'd seen it all from Christ's perspective.  It was the voice of the Son of God that raised him and Lazarus found himself unable to do anything but "come forth".

Lazarus's story is a conversion story - Jesus set it up like that back in John 5 (see v24-29).  And this story includes the perspective of the listener - a perspective which involves decision.  Every sinner has a "how I beat death" story. There are rational processes that we can reflect upon.  But all this is reflection upon a miracle.  What was actually decisive was the Word raising the dead.

So... and now, finally, I'm going to say something mildly practical... when I call unbelievers to receive Jesus, I try not to frame it as a "decision" they need to weigh up.  I announce Jesus as the Lord.  I paint Him in biblical colours, I tell them what He's done and along the way I say things like:

"Don't you just love this Jesus?",
"Are you finding yourself drawn to this Jesus?",
"Are you beginning to feel that He really is Lord?"
"Do you want Him?"

Basically I allow the word of Jesus to draw them.  (That's the point of biblical evangelism - letting the voice of the Son of God be heard).  And then, at certain points, I'll say "If you are feeling drawn to Jesus, that is God calling you." Or I'll say "If you are now sensing in your heart that Jesus really is Lord, you're becoming a Christian. Because a Christian is someone who looks to Jesus and says "Yes, He's the One."  Is that happening to you?"

I'm not so much into telling them "Choose to make Jesus Lord of your life."  I'm telling them "Jesus is Lord, whatever you feel about the matter.  If you can't see it you must be blind.  If you can see it, that's God opening your eyes.  Don't refuse His Gift - receive Jesus, He's yours."

That's my take anyway.  What's yours?

7 thoughts on “Lazarus not Hercules

  1. Cal

    I think you're right to attack "decision evangelism" and that sort of Hercules at the crossroads makes the one choosing the hero. It's the switch from a Liberator and King to a Cheerleader or Coach, even a divine one at that.

    What do you make of "Repent and believe"? I don't see that as "decision", but the man does do something. It just happens that very thing is in fact the Word gave power to do: Lazarus had to get up and walk out of the tomb, but clearly, the fact that he was doing that means a miracle had occurred because he was just dead!

    So if someone were to say, "Yes, turn to Christ! He is for you!", I don't see that as Hercules, but the calling to someone who was dead and now alive.

    But maybe I'm off!


  2. Glen

    That was a fast comment!

    Completely. "Turn to Christ" is not only the thing to do, it is the *only* thing to do. And I'm very happy unpacking what a life of repenting and believing looks like - belonging unashamedly to Jesus and His body, confessing you're wrong and He's right, living in unbreakable oneness with your new Lord. And I'll say "This aint a hobby, it's an all-of-life revolution. But it's free and it's for you. Do you want Jesus? Call on Him now."

    That's not Hercules - setting off on a bold new adventure, that's Lazarus directed into new life.

  3. Rich Owen

    Lazarus was walking to Jesus - that is the life of repentance. When your eyes are fixed on Him, they are turned away from idols.

    I guess this Herculean thing jars again when it comes to Christian living. Even if we are big on grace and offering Christ in evangelism, we can come unstuck with discipleship (well I do anyway). Discipleship and sermon application become very worksy - rubber on road, Monday morning fare. Saved by grace, but live by works.

    But what if sin in a Christian is simply walking away from what you were called into - turning from Jesus and heading back to the tomb? So, to pastor a back sliding believer, we need to challenge them: "brother, why are you walking away from the life you were saved into?

    I wonder if discipleship is basically the same thing as evangelism. Offering Christ.

    Look, there He is, isn't He fantastic! Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author AND FINISHER...


  4. Glen

    Totally Rich. The whole of life is repentance and faith, which is to hear the summoning voice of Christ. And at points He'll say "Take off the grave clothes" - but it's all part of that same call.

  5. theoldadam

    "The whole of life is repentance and faith, which is to hear the summoning voice of Christ. And at points He’ll say “Take off the grave clothes” – but it’s all part of that same call."

    Amen. If you believe...then you've got it (faith). But it's not a one time shot. We need to hear it over and over and over...

  6. Ken

    A reflection upon a miracle (sometimes we can't see)

    'Lazarus is dead'
    So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.
    The tomb was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
    Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
    So they removed the stone.
    Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”
    The man who had died came forth...
    (bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth)

    So if we could ask Lazarus what happened that day, what might he say?
    Maybe something like this;
    "I don't know for sure, all I know is I heard Jesus call my name."
    Then what? we ask
    "Well I couldn't see, something was covering my eyes, and my hands were bound.
    My feet were also bound, but somehow I managed to get up and I walked to the one who called me."

    We know the rest of the story;
    Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

    If you hear His call, no matter how much you must struggle or however you're bound,
    Go to Him because Jesus is the resurrection and the life !!!

  7. Pingback: Offer the offer? | Christ the Truth

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