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Phil Roberts underscores uniqueness of Christian faith in chapel message

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–“The biggest barrier to missions and evangelism has nothing to do with the environment and the culture outside the church, but with what is going on inside the church,” said Phil Roberts in a Nov. 28 chapel address at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.

Roberts is a vice president for strategic cities at the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. Midwestern’s search committee unanimously recommended Roberts to serve as the school’s next president in an announcement later the same day.

“As we look at the world around us and especially North America, we are prone to say, ‘We are in a different context than those in the first century. We are in a postmodern age, a pluralistic environment and a relativistic situation. Secularism has taken hold, and bizarre and absurd religious concepts and neo-paganism has predominated our cultural mindset.’ We tend to think those are the great barriers to missions and evangelism in our age.

“But I want to say to you that if there was ever any more pluralistic day than today it was Paul’s day when a multitude of gods reigned and ruled and demanded and competed for the affections and the devotions of people everywhere,” Roberts said.

“The biggest barrier to the spread of the gospel has little to do with the world and everything to do with us,” he continued, asking, “Is it possible that you and I have heard the gospel so often that somehow or another we have become calloused to the radical nature of that message?”

After reading his text from 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, Roberts asked, “What caused Paul, a Jew of the Jews, to preach a crucified and resurrected Jewish Messiah to a Gentile world? What were Paul’s missionary motives?”

Paul’s main motive was that “he had an appreciation for the uniqueness of the message,” Roberts said. After referencing the sacrifice of Christ in verses 14 and 15 of 2 Corinthians 5 and God’s initiative in verses 15 and 19, Roberts pointed to verse 21 as “the gospel in a nutshell:” Jesus became sin for us that we might find our righteousness in him.

“That is a unique message in all the history of all the religions of the world,” Roberts declared, calling salvation God’s gift. “The message of salvation is not ‘do this’ and ‘do that’ and if you ‘perform exceptionally well’ or ‘up to standard’ one day you might have the hope of heaven,” he noted. “No! The gospel says that it is done, it is finished. Christ died, paid the price for sin. By faith and trust in him each one who believes may know the reality of a home in heaven, the assurance of sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life.”

Roberts went on to note that the major religions of the world do not have such a unique message.

Islam, he said, requires that a person keep the five pillars — fast, journey to Mecca, pray five times each day, give to the poor and confession. “And if you do those things well enough, consistently long enough, maybe Allah will forgive you.”

As for Hinduism, Roberts said, “We have to go through this seemingly endless cycle of reincarnations. And perhaps over the passage of those numerous and lengthy reincarnations we might one day achieve reabsorption into the great universal world.”

Mormonism says that God through Christ paid only for a form of salvation, Roberts said. “But if you want to have and know the fullness of salvation you have to become temple worthy. If we are baptized by the LDS church, have the laying on the hands by the proper authority, support with our tithes and keep the Word of Wisdom and so on, one day we might achieve the celestial kingdom.”

Roberts continued, “Friends, the gospel says that Jesus Christ died for sin. In spite of our efforts and whether we have made any effort at all at achieving salvation and morality, the gospel says that by faith and trust in him alone we may know the reality of everlasting life. This was a concept that Paul could not get away from and it was a concept which drove him to give uncompromisingly of himself in the spreading and the sharing of that message.”

Roberts noted that this led Paul to accept the mandate for the message.

Referring to the “ministry of reconciliation” noted in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 that God has entrusted to Jesus’ followers, Roberts said, “Is that not unbelievable? This is the Christmas season. Consider all of the unique preparations God made for the coming of Jesus Christ: a star, angels singing, shepherds to witness and testify, magi from the East. Consider, too, that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life, taught the greatest ethic that was ever taught, was an example for all time, embodied and revealed to us the very truth and reality of God, carried in his face and his character the glory of God, died on the cross for the sins of the world, was raised on the third day the conqueror over sin and death, and ascended to heaven to the right hand of the Father so that anyone and everyone who comes by faith in his name will be received and heard.”

Noting that God gave the message to Christians, Roberts said, “It is our stewardship and our accountability to see to it that that message is heard.”

Roberts then related the story of a missionary, Tom Tipton, who went to a village in Uganda to share Christ. The only person who was willing to listen to the gospel was a leper who had lost both legs and part of one arm. The leper accepted Christ and Tipton taught him some Bible verses and a few choruses to sing. Tipton left and returned less than a month later to find the people gathered together singing those choruses as the leper led them with the stump of one arm. Asking how this happened, Tipton was told that the leper had crawled from hut to hut using the stump of that one arm and had shared the gospel with everyone in his village.

“If you and I will be faithful, less reliant on ourselves and more reliant on God, and dependent on the fullness and the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, we can see fruit that will honor God. We have the treasure in an earthen vessel.”

    About the Author

  • Larry B. Elrod