Okay, not literally. I'm talking about the kind of spiritual and numerical church explosion we read about in the book of Acts. And these principles don't just apply to a church setting. They can apply to a youth group or campus ministry as well. There's a very interesting statement in chapter nineteen and verse twenty of Luke's most excellent book that points us the nitrogen and glycerin mix to make a big and lasting boom in our churches,
â€œIn this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.â€
The three words "in this way" should point us to the verses leading up to the kaboom and help us identify what the ingredients were that enabled the great bomb maker, the Apostle Paul, to be used by God to see such rapid spiritual and numerical growth in the church of Ephesus. Here is the first of three ingredients that Paul used to make his church growth bomb:
1. The Nitrogen: Preach the gospel clearly!
When Paul comes into Ephesus he meets twelve dudes who know only about the baptism of John. They may have heard him preach decades earlier when they were visiting Jerusalem but somehow had missed on the punchline of his sermons. They missed Jesus and so they missed everything. Paul fills in the blanks in the message in their minds and then the Holy Spirit filled the blanks in their hearts. So Paul didn't go into Ephesus and try to plant a church alone. He instantly had twelve compadres at his side helping to expand and explode the message of grace.
We must share the gospel clearly and completely with those we come in contact with on a daily basis. We canâ€™t share just bits and pieces. We must tell the whole story of the gospel. And we must share it as clearly as possible. Thatâ€™s why I love Napoleonâ€™s three instructions to his war time messengers:
1. BE CLEAR! 2. BE CLEAR! 3. BE CLEAR!
In Colossians 4:4 Paul asks the Colossian believers to "Pray that I may proclaim it clearly as I should." Sharing the gospel clearly was an obsession with the great apostle and it should be an obsession with us as well.
How clear is the gospel you are sharing with others? Here's a few questions to help you wrestle through it.
Does it focus on what you must do or what Jesus has done?
I love what Chuck Swindoll writes in his phenomenal book The Grace Awakening. He reminds us that a weak gospel is any gospel that distracts you from the cross, any message that makes you focus on what you must do instead of what Jesus has done.
Too many gospel presentations focus on what you must do: turn or burn, try or fry, forsake or bake! They focus on what we must start doing or stop doing to be saved instead of what Jesus has done. Those who pedal such a grace-challenged message think that itâ€™s too simplistic to assert that just believing in Jesus will save a person from their sin. But thatâ€™s exactly what Jesus asserted to Nicodemus in John 3:16, â€œFor God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in himâ€¦.â€
If you have a problem with simply believing in Jesus for salvation you have a problem with Jesus and his relentless message of grace. You have a problem with the most famous verse in Scripture.
Does the gospel you preach offend religious sensibilities?
The message of the gospel makes the legalists twitchy and itchy because legalistic abhor the smell of grace. They want to add the poison of human self-effort to the clear, pure and free Living Water. But when they do it they poison it with the works of the flesh.
You can always tell when youâ€™re preaching the message of true grace because the â€œyou mean to tell meâ€ people will start qualifying and questioning. Theyâ€™ll say â€œYou mean to tell me that all a person has to do is believe in Jesus and it doesnâ€™t matter what they do or what theyâ€™ve done and theyâ€™ll be saved?"
They build WORST CASE SALVATION SCENARIOS that sound something like this...
â€œOkay a mass murderer kills a thousand people and, right before they die they trust in Jesus, do they go to heaven or hell?â€
â€œLetâ€™s say that a person trusts in Jesus when they are young but then they turn their back on God, rob a bank, kill a dude, run naked through a church and then spit on the Bible right before they dieâ€¦where do they go?â€
What these people fail to understand is that grace has the exact opposite effect. When you trust in Jesus he gives you a new identity, a new you! That new you wants to serve Jesus! Do you always? NO! Can you abuse it? YES! But is that the natural response to grace? NO! The natural response to grace is not a life of morbid sin but a life of thankful service to God. Sure you have Corinthian type exceptions every now and again but this is not the norm. Thatâ€™s why we canâ€™t be afraid of grace. We must preach the gospel clearly and let the untampered with power of grace do its work of soul transformation!
If we want to blow our churches, youth groups and campus ministries up we must start by preaching the gospel clearly, faith alone in Christ alone. This is the nitrogen for our salvation bomb that can explode into our communities and transform lives. Stay tuned for the next ingredient based out of Acts 19. In the meantime keep preaching the gospel clearly.