â€śWhat if I do it wrong and the man goes to hell?â€ť The Russian Christian businessman was in dead earnest. He wanted to learn how to witness but was sincerely afraid of being personally responsible for someone spending eternity in Hell. I truly felt his misplaced fear. Early in my Christian life, I was almost driven to despair by a message preached from Ezekiel 33. (Ezekiel 33:7-8 "Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand.")
The message was then driven home - if God wanted you to witness and you did not witness, or you witnessed halfheartedly or you witnessed ineffectually, then you will suffer the wrath of God for allowing this poor soul to enter an eternity in hell! What a fearful burden to place upon the shoulders of a young zealous believer.
It was Jim Petersen, Navigator missionary to Brazil, who freed me from this debilitating fear. I had listened to a cassette tape message preached by him on witnessing and the mercy of God. Later that same day, I spent over an hour on this subject with Jim over coffee at the Navigator headquarters in Colorado Springs. From that moment on I began to close my correspondence with the following:
â€śBy His mercy, II Corinthians 4:1â€ť
You see, it is one thing to minister by the grace of God. When we minister by the grace of God, we receive that which is not deserved. We receive the Holy Spirit, we receive the Word of God, we receive the effectual gospel message, we receive both our spiritual gifts and our callings, we receive these and a host of other undeserved and in most cases unasked for blessings. The grace of God is indeed both glorious and wonderful in the life of the believer. Yet ministering solely by the grace of God still leaves us vulnerable and in fear of judgment if these gifts of His graces are used poorly. The Bible is replete with both examples and teachings on poor stewards and their fates in the â€śouter darkness.â€ť
Below is the full quotation of God the Holy Spirit on this subject of ministering by the mercy of God.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 â€śTherefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.â€ť
Four great truths are found in this passage concerning the mercy of God and the ministry.
First: Ministering by the mercy of God frees us from fear of failure in the lives of those to whom we witness. Because of the mercy of God we need not â€ślose heart.â€ť Because of the mercy of God, men will not go to hell because of us. God has not only had mercy on us at the point of our personal salvation, but He will also have mercy on those to whom we witness. God will not bring them into judgment because of our sin and shortcomings. He will have mercy on them. I remember talking to a young father who had a ministry to street gangs. He often brought members of these gangs into his home, many times they lived in his home for days and weeks. I cautioned him concerning the potential danger to his wife and children. His response was, â€śWhen you weigh the danger to my wife and children against their spending an eternity in hell, then I must do all I can no matter the danger.â€ť This is only true if we minister by grace alone and not by mercy as well. This, however, is not true. We also minister by mercy, and because of Godâ€™s mercy, we may have confidence that despite our limitations, Godâ€™s mercy will reign supreme. Because of the mercy of God, we need never fear that a wrong decision on our part will send a person to an eternity in hell. Because of the mercy of God, we do not stand in the balance as mediators between the lost and God but rather Jesus alone has this position.
Second: Ministering by the mercy of God frees us from the fear of the consequences of failure in our own lives. Again, â€śwe need not loose heartâ€ť because of fears concerning the consequences of our own frailties and our relationship with God when it comes to witnessing. Mercy is not receiving what is deserved. Because of this, not only will the lost not suffer because of our frailties when witnessing but neither shall we. We will never recognize all the opportunities, we will never accurately quote all the verses, we will never use the perfect illustrations, inflection or timing. We will never use our gifts, calling and the indwelling Holy Spirit as we should. We will be found wanting in every attempt as stewards of the manifold graces of God. This would indeed be debilitating and crushing were it not for our confidence in the mercy of God. Despite our frailties in witnessing, we have this ministry â€śas we have received mercy.â€ť God will respond to our poor stewardship in mercy in every situation. Christ has experienced our judgment and humiliation, and we therefore will experience Godâ€™s mercy. We need not fear the response of God in our failures as stewards of all He gives us in terms of our witnessing and outreach.
Third: Ministering by the mercy of God frees us from the temptation to manipulate others to avoid the horrific consequences of failure. Because of the mercy of God, God the Holy Spirit goes on to assure us â€śbut we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God.â€ť Were it not for the mercy of God, we would be forced to use every trick in the book to get men to receive Christ. Were it not for the mercy of God, when we weighed the consequences of failure in the lives of those to whom we witness (eternity in Hell) and the in our own lives (judgment for their lost state), the logical conclusion would be that any type of manipulation was justified in view of the results of failure. This, however, is not the case. Godâ€™s mercy will reign supreme, not our efforts. Thus we are not forced to resort to manipulative means of squeezing out a decision for Christ. We may cast both ourselves and the listener upon the mercy of God.
Lastly: Ministering by mercy of God frees us to present a simple and straightforward gospel presentation leaving the outcome to God and the listener. Having been freed, by the mercy of God, from the fear of God as it pertains to the consequences of our frailties in witnessing in the life of the unbeliever. Having been freed, by the mercy of God, from the fear of God as it pertains to the consequence of our frailties in witnessing in our own life. Having been freed, by the mercy of God, from the need to manipulate and change the message because of our own fear of failure in witnessing. Because of the mercy of God, we are free to present a simple, straightforward, Biblical witness to those with whom we have contact. Our witness is simple, to the point, centered on the person of Christ, communicated through the Word of God, includes a request of a decision on the part of the listener and is done in the confidence of the mercy of God.
A number of years ago, I was thumbing through Eleanorâ€™s copy of the Book of Common prayer. She had received this from her parents when she completed her confirmation class in the Episcopal church. I was struck by the emphasis of this prayer on the mercy of God, and its application in our day to day walk with God, and as a result, added it to my prayer notebook.
"Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your name. AMEN." (Book of Common Prayer - page six)
The mercy of God is indeed a daily need and a daily gift by God. It is not simply a one-time event to be memorialized in oneâ€™s testimony but an ongoing expression of Godâ€™s love for us. The hymn, â€śCome Thou Fount of Every Blessing" has long been a great blessing to me in this area of daily mercy in the ministry. In it is found the phrase â€śstreams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.â€ť This is indeed what it takes to do the ministry. Not a one-time experience of mercy at the point of salvation but â€śstreams of mercy, never ceasingâ€ť throughout one's ministry career.
As it pertains to our witnessing to the lost, I close with this exhortation of assurance from God the Holy Spirit, "Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.â€ť
By His mercy, II Corinthians 4:1 Rev. John S. Mahon- Director Grace Community Int. / St. Petersburg, Russia