A sermon by Harry Goodhew
Good morning! Sometimes we have the privilege of seeing God at work in a clear and remarkable way. We know from Scripture that he is always working out his purposes but for us those purposes are at times hidden or ambiguous.
I‘d like to share an example of God working in a clear and remarkable fashion in and through the life of an individual whom it has been my privilege to know personally.
It is a story that had a very local and, in a sense, unexceptional beginning, but in a relatively short space of time has developed international significance.
It is another example of what can happen when God finds a willing person and determines through that person to accomplish a new work of grace in the world.
My story has its beginnings in the 1960s when a young, recently ordained, Presbyterian minister accepted an appointment to a new congregation in a developing area of Florida in the USA. Initially, the start-up was not that successful but God had his purposes.
As Jim Kennedy amusingly told his own story he would say that his first six months of ministry were an outstanding success! In spite of preaching some of the best sermons in the world – he had borrowed them from Spurgeon, Moody, Warfield and other great preachers – his congregation grew from 49 to 17. Even his wife, he said, was contemplating transferring to the local Baptist Church.
With such success to offer him doubtful encouragement he accepted the invitation of a friend in another city to come and preach an evangelistic mission for a couple of weeks. That mission was life changing.
During the days of the mission his friend took him out visiting people with whom the church had contact. To his amazement he saw people, some on them the most unlikely prospects, turning to Christ as his friend shared the message of Christ with them. When he asked his friend how he had learned to do that, his friend said, “O, last year we had a real evangelist come to preach. Each day he took me out and showed me how to do this.”
Profoundly impressed Jim went home and developed a simple and easily remembered outline of the Gospel message. He taught it to some of his parishioners and took them with him so they could watch him share it just as his friend had done. They learned to do the same. Over the next few years that church grew from its unpromising beginnings to be one with many thousands of members.
So impressive was the growth of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church that people from other North American Churches, and indeed people from other continents, came to Coral Ridge to learn how to share the message of Christ and how to train lay members of the church to be effective in that ministry.
Let me tell you just how simple and easily remembered his outline is. If you hold up your thumb in the gesture that would indicate that you want someone to give you a free lift in their car, you can remember the word GRACE: and tell someone that heaven is an absolutely free gift from God, it cannot be earned or deserved by anyone.
We point with our index finger. If you happen to point that finger at someone, three of your fingers are pointing back at yourself. So, let your index finger with its accusatory character allow you to recall SIN: human beings are sinners and cannot save themselves. The fact that one of your fingers points away from you while three point back towards you carries its own message.
Then if you look at your middle finger, usually the longest, you can recall GOD who is greater than all. You can remember and share that God is loving and kind and does not want to punish us but is also just and therefore must punish us because we have all sinned,. That leaves the God of love with an issue- our sin and his justice.
With those three simple Bible truths of GRACE, SIN, AND GOD explained, it is then possible to talk about God’s solution to this dilemma.
Hold up your ring finger. Remember, God’s people are described as the Bride of Christ in the Bible. So the fourth point of the Gospel outline is CHRIST: who was, and is, both God and man. As such he came into the world as one of us and took our sins upon himself. He died representing us and took the just penalty of our sin, which is death, onto himself. God then raised him from the dead and exalted him to heaven from where he will come one day as the judge of the living and the dead. Your ring finger can help you remember that this is how God has dealt with sin. He satisfied and vindicated his justice and shows his love by offering forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus to all who will receive it.
The last point is easy to remember. Look at your little finger, usually the weakest of all five. It can represent FAITH: not simply faith for the ordinary things of life like health and daily provisions nor historical faith, which is the just the mental acknowledgement of the facts about Jesus, but saving faith, a trusting attitude that relies upon Christ alone for salvation.
That sort of trust is no great thing in itself, just like your little finger is not the strongest of your five fingers. It is to indicate that saving faith is the act of committing one’s self to Christ alone for salvation. It’s like a drowning man or woman accepting rescue by grasping a life belt that is thrown to them.
I am not exaggerating when I say that over the fifty years that people have been using this simple outline of the Gospel, millions of men, women, and children all around the world have come to put their trust in Christ and experience the grace of God in his merciful pardon and upholding love. That is why I believe I am justified in saying that I have seen God clearly and remarkably at work in Jim Kennedy’s efforts to serve Christ and to help Christians both lay and those in paid ministry to advance the kingdom of God around the world.
With that simple and easily remembered outline of the Gospel message Jim Kennedy fashioned one other powerful and effective tool. That tool is expressed in two simple questions that can be asked of anyone when the moment is appropriate. The questions probe the certainty someone may or may not have about their relationship with God and the grounds upon which they think of themselves relating favourable to him.
Here are the questions Jim Kennedy developed. The first is: “If something happened to you just now and you were to die, are you absolutely sure that you would go to heaven?” The question raises the issue of death, one’s own death, and allows someone to articulate what certainty or otherwise they have about themselves in eternity.
The second question presses a little deeper. “If you were to die now and stand before God and he asked you, “Why should I let you into my heaven, what would you say?” This question faces someone with the grounds of their hope for eternity. People’s answers vary as much as people do from one another. However, there are patterns that are worth noting. Many will answer with responses like: “I have done my best”, “I’ve helped others”, “I have never willingly hurt anyone else”, “I have prayed”, “gone to church”, “read the Bible” “I’ve given to good causes”. Those answers and ones like them make it clear that the person answering is not trusting in Christ for their salvation.
I recall talking to a woman who meant a great deal to me. She attended church and was a gentle a gracious person. In a situation that made it appropriate to do so I asked her if she knew for certain that when the time came for her to leave this life she was sure that she was going to heaven. Her answer was hesitant and uncertain. She knew she was not perfect and therefore was not sure that someone like her would be accepted by God.
I asked her if she knew why Christ died on the cross. With confidence she replied, “To take away sin”. “Would that include your sin as well,” I asked. “Yes, of course” she said warmly. “Well,” I relied, “if he has taken your sins to the cross and taken them away for ever are they still being held against you?” There was a pause. Then she smiled and said, “No they are not. He has taken them away,” That moment she stepped into a sense of assurance which remained with her for the rest of her life and carried her through death to the Lord whom she trusted as her sin-bearer.
Those two questions are ones we can wisely ask of ourselves. Are we sure of going to heaven? Do we have a Gospel based reason for believing that God will accept us? It is important to be able to answer that second question with an answer from the heart that indicates that we are trusting Christ alone for our salvation. It is possible to be trusting in other things and not Christ alone. It is possible to trust in Christ but to add other things to that trust which intrude into the equation something we do to add to his work. That is not trusting Christ alone. Saving faith trusts him alone as our Saviour and Lord. It means giving up any idea that we can in anyway save ourselves. It means relying upon Jesus as the old hymn says, “Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling.”
Salvation is by the grace God of alone. It is also by Christ alone. And it is by faith in him alone. To live in and with those spiritual realities is to know certainty, joy, and a desire to respond to such a loving God with one’s own love.
Watching the ever expanding progress of those questions and simple Gospel outline around the world make me certain that I am seeing a work of God initiated by him through a man who wanted the whole world to hear of Jesus.
You can know certainty in your own life by trusting in Christ alone for your salvation and in everything that goes with it.
You can share that knowledge with others by the use of that simple five finger exercise: Grace, Sin, God, Christ and Faith. Use it to remind yourself of how you are made right with God, and pray for opportunities to share that with others.
God be with you.