Please turn with me to acts 8:36-38: “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Sometimes in talking with other ARP ministers, they say, “We are Evangelical Christians.” I have heard that term frequently. Once in a meeting of presbytery, I was moved to ask what a student standing examination meant when he said he was an “Evangelical Christian.” I asked the question because there seem to be as many different meanings for the term “Evangelical” as there are evangelicals.
Cal Thomas says, "An evangelical Christian is one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and who has repented of sin and accepted Jesus as his or her savior. The evangelical believes he has the privilege and obligation to share the "good news" that Jesus came to save sinners with others so they might go to heaven rather than hell." [Cal Thomas, "God, Satan, and the media," 2003-MAR-5, at: http://www.townhall.com]
The California-Nevada Annual Conference Evangelical Renewal Fellowship says: "...evangelicals believe in the affirmations of the Nicene Creed, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the authority and reliability of Scripture, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the necessity of conversion to experience salvation by grace through faith, the reality of heaven and hell, and salvation through Jesus Christ alone." ["Frequently Asked Questions," California-Nevada Annual Conference Evangelical Renewal Fellowship, at: http://www.newpathways.com]
Jim Packer says an Evangelical gives "ultimate authority to scripture" (as compared to liberal Christians who give major weight to science, biblical, archaeological research, etc., and to Roman Catholics who give considerable weight to church tradition).” [Jim Packer, "Fundamentalism and the Word of God" ]
Leon Morris says "...someone concerned for the gospel....for him [sic] the gospel of Christ is central....The gospel is at the centre of his [sic] thinking and living." [Dr. Leon Morris, "What do we mean by "evangelical"? at: http://www.worldevangelical.org]
Historically that last definition by Leon Morris is on target. The word "Evangelical" is derived from the Greek word which means “gospel or good news.” During the Reformation, in the fifteen hundreds, Martin Luther referred to the reform movement as the evangelische kirche (that is, the gospel church). The reformers would say that evangelical Christians, that is, gospel believing Christians, are the only kind of Christians there are. The term “Evangelical Christian” is actually redundant. If a person is not evangelical, if a person does not believe the gospel then that person is not Christian, and if they are Christians, they do believe the gospel. That might seem logical, but it is not so. Many people claim to be Christians and yet reject, in whole or in part, the definitions of evangelical that I have cited above.
Barna Research is a polling organization. They estimate that only about 5% of the population and 11% of Protestants are Evangelical Christians. ["Evangelical Christians," Barna Research Online, at: http://www.barna.org/ ]
Perhaps it would help us if we looked at a scriptural example. In Acts chapter 8, we have the story of “Philip the Evangelical.”
Philip was one of the seven deacons of the church in Jerusalem. He fled the city when the authorities launched the first persecution of the church. He went to Samaria, where he told everybody he met about the saving power of Jesus. After that, Acts 8 records that Philip had a revelation that he should go south along the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. Being an obedient man, he did that, and, in God’s providence, he met an Ethiopian official, the treasurer of Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia. By the way, Candace was the title of the queen not her name, Just as the king of Egypt was called Pharaoh and the King of Persia was called the Shah, the queen of Ethiopia was called Candace.
In any case, we are told that this official had been to Jerusalem to worship and was now on his way home. He was sitting in his cart or chariot, riding along, reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. In ancient times, when books were few and expensive, it was customary to read aloud. So Philip came up to the man and said "Do you understand what you are reading?" The official answered, "How can I understand unless someone helps me?" (Act 8:31). He said, I can read the words, but I do not get the meaning. We are told that he was reading Isaiah 53:7-8, which reads:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (ESV).
The Ethiopian’s perplexity is easy to appreciate. Imagine that you have never heard of Jesus Christ. You know nothing about the gospel, but you have this Isaiah scroll you are reading. The prophecies would make no sense at all.
The Ethiopian asked Philip, “Was the prophet talking about himself or about someone else?" Was Isaiah the lamb led to slaughter? Who does this prophecy refer to?”
This was an invitation to talk about Jesus and Philip seized upon it. We read in v35 “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” He said, Isaiah is talking about Jesus. Jesus was the “lamb that is led to the slaughter.” He was “cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.”
And Philip proceeded to explain the gospel, that Jesus died for our sins and through his death we are reconciled to God. Acts summarizes all this in a few words, but obviously Philip talked for some time about what God has done in Jesus.
The Ethiopian was convicted of the truth. He said, I want this Jesus in my life. There is some water over there. I want to be baptized.
Philip seems a little taken aback by this, and he wants to make sure the man knows what he is talking about. So he says, If you sincerely believe, you can be baptized. The man said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And so we are told in v38 that both Philip and the Ethiopian went down to the water where Philip sprinkled him, if you happen to be Presbyterian or Methodist. If you are Baptist, you can say he immersed him. In any case, Philip baptized him.
Now Philip teaches us several things about what it means to be an Evangelical Christian.
First of all, notice that evangelicals take scripture seriously—just as Philip took Isaiah seriously. The Westminster Confession says that the Bible is “given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” Do you want to know what to believe? Read the Bible. Do you want to know how to live? Read the Bible. The Bible is the “rule of faith and life” because it is inspired by and derived from God. The authority of scripture rests on God.
We ought to get excited about that. We ought to be passionate about that. What turns you on? What gets you excited? Im not talking about a mild interest. What gets your blood pumping? Your adrenalin flowing? For example, is it NASCAR? Who is the best driver? Which company makes the best car? Which is the best track? These are questions that elevate temperatures and start arguments. And if you look at the way people fill stadiums on race day, you have to know that a lot of people are extremely passionate about NASCAR. What about football? South Carolina is a small state, yet we have two major football stadiums that are usually filled to capacity on game day. In a couple of weeks, when Carolina and Clemson collide, you will see passion.
Our passions are easily identified. A passion is something that you invest time, thought, energy, and money in. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” That which you put yourself into is your passion.
An Evangelical is passionate about scripture. But more than that, and Evangelical is passionate about the theme of the whole Bible which is Jesus Christ. Notice that in Acts 8, the Ethiopian says I need to make sense of this, I need someone to interpret this so that I can understand what it is all about. Philip is his interpreter. Philip tells him what the Bible is all about. It is all about Jesus.
Now I know that is an oversimplification. The Bible is a complicated book. It is a book by many authors. It contains stories, histories, commandments, good advice. It has many themes, but the overall theme of the whole Bible is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is that Jesus was not just a great teacher and not just a great prophet, but that he died for my sins on the cross. He died in order to make me acceptable to God. This is called the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, if you are interested in that sort of thing. I should have died for my own sins, but Jesus was my substitute who atoned for my sins.
So when Evangelicals talk about Jesus, we are not talking about some theoretical or abstract philosophy that we are mildly interested in. We are talking about something that concerns me. I am talking about my relationship with God. I am talking about whether I go to heaven or hell. This is important stuff. This is something that I ought to get worked up about.
I heard an old story about a little boy who went to Sunday School for the first time in his life. He came home and his mother asked, “Who was your teacher?” “I don’t know,” he said. “You don’t even know her name,” his mother asked. The boy thought about it for a moment, then he said, “She must have been Jesus grandmother, because she didn’t talk about anybody else.”
We ought to all talk about Jesus like a grandmother or grandfather talks about grandkids. We ought to all be passionate about Jesus, because he has saved us from our sins. And that passion for Jesus should lead us not only to talk about Jesus but to obey Jesus.
There is an evangelical obedience. Notice that when the Lord revealed to Philip that he should go south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, Philip did it. And when the Lord told him to go up to this chariot and talk to this Ethiopian he did that too.
Moreover, verse 30 says, he ran to the chariot! He did not slowly and reluctantly meander over. He wants to obey God. He wants to do God’s will. We should have the same passionate care for the will of God in our lives.
This is an obedience not out of duty or responsibility or necessity, but an obedience of gratitude. Considering how much God has loved us, how could we not be his grateful and willing servants?
God loved so much he gave us Jesus. We live in a world that wants answers. Jesus is the answer. We live in a world that wants hope. Jesus is our hope.
John Newton (July 24, 1725 – December 21, 1807) as a young man was a sailor on a slaveship. He eventually became a slaveship captain. But then he encountered Christ and left off that horrible trade in people and became Anglican clergyman. He is the author of many hymns, including Amazing Grace. Newton continued to preach until the last year of his life, although he was blind by that time. At 82, shortly before he died he said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour." [http://www.reformedreader.org/newton.htm]
Newton touches on the core of what it means to be an Evangelical Christian. We know that we are great sinners. We know that Christ is our great savior. Our passion for the lord arises from this knowledge. I am the great sinner Christ has saved. How could I not feel passionate about that? He should not have saved me. I did not deserve to be saved. He should not have substituted himself for me. That makes no sense. Why would anyone do that? Out of love. Only out of love and not out of human love, but out of divine love. Christ, God incarnate, died for me.
That ought to bring me to tears, tears of remorse, tears of gratitude. That ought to cause me to love Jesus with all my heart and soul and mind, and to willingly obey him in everything I do.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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