What, Then, Is Our Message?
By Dr. Tom Wallace
(Pastor, Franklin Road Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee)
My message is entitled "What, Then, Is Our Message?" We have a message. What is it? What really is it all about? "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."—I John 1:5. John, who wrote this simple phrase, "This then is the message," wrote fifty chapters of our Bible. And, boy, are they loaded!
Believe, Behave, Behold
Those twenty-one chapters teach us how to believe. Ninety-eight times believe is used in that book. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" is so important. And John’s Gospel teaches us how to believe.
In I, II and III John, he teaches us how to behave. You have to know how to believe before you are able to behave. Until your doctrine is straight, your deportment will not fall in line. Until you have figured out what you are supposed to be doing about believing, you are not able to understand how to behave.
When John wrote these seven chapters on how to behave, then he wrote the twenty-two chapters of the book of Revelation on how to behold. In these chapters we can see what God is going to do in the days ahead. '
Happy, Holy, Help and Hope
In the book of I John, we are given four basic reasons why he wrote the book.
First, "And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full" (1:4). He wanted them to learn how to be happy.
Then the second reason he mentioned was, "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not" (2:1).
‘First, I write that ye might be happy. Second, I write these things that ye sin not. I want to produce happiness in your life, but then I also want to produce holiness.’
Third, he says in chapter 2, verse 26, "These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you." He is telling them there are people all around trying to pull them away from the fundamentals, trying to get them off that track. Many are out there with those side roads, diluting the message and bringing in all kinds of extras that appeal to carnality and to the flesh, and John wanted to warn them and us about these things.
John is saying that if he is to produce happiness and promote holiness, he must provide some help concerning all these outside attractions which are appealing to our carnal side.
Then he said, "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (5:13). He wrote to proclaim hope.
The One Message
So this is why he wrote the book. He wants all to learn how to walk in the Lord. He says, "This is THE message." He didn’t say, "This is ONE OF the messages." He didn’t say, "This is A message." "This is THE message."
He says, "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you" (1:5). In other words, "Here is where we got it, and here is what we are doing with it."
It’s important that we learn where to get it in order that we might know what to do with it. If I get it in the wrong place, I will not be able to help very many people.
Notice the Apostle Paul said, "For I delivered unto you…that which I also received." He is saying, ‘I have given to you that which had been given unto me.’
It’s so important that we learn that simple approach. Get it, then give it. Get some more and give some more. Get and give. Keep on getting and keep on giving.
In I Corinthians 11:23 Paul said again, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you." Again, he received and he gave.
Then another verse says, "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?" (I Cor. 4:7). He is asking, "What do you have that I didn’t give you?" What do you have that God didn’t give you?
We must realize that we don’t have anything that we got on our own. We have to get plugged in if we are to help and do anything for anybody else!
An old man had been janitor in the church for years. The church had built a big, new auditorium. The pastor was so proud of it.
A guest pastor came by and asked to see the new auditorium.
The pastor and the visiting preacher were walking about admiring all the new things. The janitor was running the vacuum cleaner up and down the aisles, in and out through the pews.
The visiting preacher said, "Boy! That is the quietest vacuum cleaner! What kind is it?"
The pastor said, "I don’t know. Let’s go and look."
The old janitor was pushing that vacuum cleaner back and forth just as he had been doing for the last two hours. They looked and saw that the cord was a short distance from the wall and not plugged in! The guy had been going through the motions for two hours, and he wasn’t plugged in!
I have met lots of people just like that. I know a lot of preachers like that—just going through the motions.
‘This is the message that we have heard and gotten from the Lord, and now we deliver it, or declare it, unto you.’
Our Message Is Distinctive
Our message is not like Charles Darwin’s. Darwin said evolution is behind the origin of the species. He said everything came out of a little amoeba and that we are all the product of evolution. It takes a lot more faith for me to believe in evolution than to believe the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
Evolution is not our message.
The message of Karl Marx is not our message. He developed and advocated the notion of modern communism. He said the state is sovereign and everybody dedicates all he has to the state. Wouldn’t that be a sad message to believe; that we owe the government our total, complete allegiance, and to have to put Christ and the Bible in second and third and fourth places? Our society is filled with people holding to this or some similar thing.
But that is not our message. Our message is not Charles Darwin’s or Karl Marx’s philosophy.
Then there is John Dewey’s philosophy, which prevails with the majority of people here in the United States. Because of Dewey’s message, the education system is focused on problem-solving through experimentation—trial and error. "Kids, go out there and have sex before you get married. Try it out. Find out what it’s all about. You men, you women, live together for awhile and see if you want to be married. If you do, then you can have a wedding ceremony later on if you so choose."
All that philosophy came out of the educational system fostered by the man known as the father of modern education, John Dewey.
That is not our message.
Then there are Julius Wellhausen’s theories—the German rationalism, higher criticism, the liberal and modernistic thinking that says you question everything and everybody.
When you read in the Bible, "In the beginning God…," hold it! You question that. You analyze and scrutinize, put it in the test tube, measure it with a slide rule, and weigh it on the scale. If you can find any kind of a little crack in it, you don’t accept it.
Our Bible says, "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
Wellhausen’s message is not our message. We don’t question God. We don’t question the Bible. We believe, then we see. We don’t see, then believe.
Then there is the philosophy of Sigmund Freud who said sexual instinct is the driving force behind all human action; that all action and behavior is based on childhood experience.
I am warped. I go out here and kill a cop, rob a bank, rape some beautiful, young lady; and I say, "The problem is, my mother fed me cod liver oil when I was a little child," or, "I got beaten when I was two years old, and I’ve never been able to forget it," or, "I was abused sexually, so I have an excuse to go out and mow down ten or fifteen people with my automatic gun." All that comes out of the philosophy of Sigmund Freud.
That is not our message. Our message is not Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, John Dewey, Julius Wellhausen or Sigmund Freud.
It is not the message of John Maynard Keynes, either. His philosophy produced the policy for reducing unemployment and expanding the economy through deficit spending and government involvement and control. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal came from John Maynard Keynes.
That’s not our message.
Then came the Great Frontier with John Kennedy, and the Great Society with Lyndon Baines Johnson came out of that philosophy; so did the liberalism and the political mess we’re experiencing, the social programs that we know today.
But that is not our philosophy; not our message.
Then there is the message of Soren Kierkegaard. Existentialism was his philosophy. In terms that we understand a little better—"Do your own thing." Get a bumper sticker and put it on your car: "Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Tomorrow You May Die." No God for us! We are our own God.
That started in the Garden of Eden, when the Devil said to Eve, ‘Take of the fruit of that tree, and you will be like God. You will be God yourself.’ Man has been trying to do that ever since. That is the philosophy of humanism—centered around man, egocentric or man-made philosophy. It came out of the thinking of Soren Kierkegaard, the theologian in Sweden years ago; and it developed into a philosophy called, "If it feels good, do it. Give in to your desires. Refuse to accept any school of thought or system of belief. Make up your own mind. Find out what you want to believe, then do it."
As a result of the Kierkegaard philosophy, there developed a group of people called hippies. From there we had beatniks, then the Black Panthers and the inner-city gangs, the yuppies, the cults and all these new folks who hang around.
A couple of fellows have combined Soren Kierkegaard’s philosophy with evangelism. They are sending out disciples all over the country. What they are saying is: "You can come in your bikinis or your shorts and bring your picnic baskets to the early service. You can have a rock concert, if that’s what you want—do anything you want to do. If you like, you can smoke in the serv-ice. Just do anything you have a desire to do. After our little specially designed, feel-good kind of ten- or fifteen-minute sermon, we send you on your way for the week. We aim to give you what you want."
That is the result of Soren Kierkegaard’s philosophy. But that’s not our message!
Charles Darwin didn’t give us our message. Karl Marx didn’t give us our message. John Dewey didn’t give us our message. Julius Wellhausen didn’t give us our message. Sigmund Freud didn’t give us our message. John Maynard Keynes didn’t give us our message. And Soren Kierkegaard didn’t give us our message.
What, then, is our message? This:
I. THE SCRIPTURES ARE STILL RELIABLE
"All scripture [from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, every verse, every passage, every line, all of the 66 books, all of the 1,189 chapters, all of the 31,175 verses] is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works."—II Tim. 3:16,17.
This is our message: The Scriptures are still reliable. These Scriptures promised that Jesus would be born of a virgin—and He was.
The Scriptures promised that Jesus would die on the cross of Calvary and pay for our sins—and He did.
The Scriptures promised that Jesus would intercede for us on the right hand of the Father—and He does.
And the Scriptures promise that Jesus would come again and receive us unto Himself—and He will.
Holy men of God spake, the Bible says, "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (II Pet. 1:21).
So, what is our message? It is that the Scriptures are still reliable.
What, then, is our message? This:
II. SALVATION IS STILL BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
There is no other way to get saved. Works will not do it.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."—Eph. 2:8,9.
Mrs. Josephine Cerrato, a little Italian lady, had been born again and was teaching a little boys’ Sunday school class. I went to visit her class in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. She was a Bible-believer.
She said, "Boys, I want you to memorize a verse of Scripture for next Sunday. And here is our verse: Ephesians 2:8,9."
I memorized my first verse, and it has always been a part of my philosophy and a part of my preaching and teaching.
Several years before that, I wanted to visit an uncle who lived over in West Virginia, where I was born. I wanted to go back to the old homeplace, so I went.
My uncle taught a Sunday school class. He said, "I want all you boys to sit around in a circle." As a little boy, I remember sitting there in a circle.
Oh, we had a Bible at home that had the back torn off. It had in it a curl of my sister’s hair (the first curl my mom cut off my sister’s head). And it had a picture of Grandma in her casket. It had some flowers from my Uncle Elmer’s funeral. It was a real file cabinet, but nobody ever read it.
I remembered Mom saying one time that a verse in the Bible says, "Jesus wept."
While we were all in this circle, my uncle said, "Boys, I want each of you to quote a verse of Scripture. We’ll start over there. Now, son, you quote a verse." Well, one boy quoted John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The next boy quoted a verse and gave its location. My uncle went all the way around. I was trembling. I didn’t know one single verse.
Then I remembered that Mom had said "Jesus wept" was a verse in the Bible. So I was ready. A first cousin was sitting in the seat next to me. When it came his turn, he said, "My verse is, ‘Jesus wept.’" That almost caused me to have heart failure!
My uncle looked at me next and said, "All right, Tom, it’s your turn."
All I could say was, "And so He did." He let me get by with it! To this day, those boys may think that was a verse out of the Bible.
I didn’t know any verse of Scripture until Josephine Cerrato taught me these wonderful verses—Ephesians 2:8,9. And now, today, salvation is still by grace through faith.
Paul recorded this verse. And the Paul who wrote this verse by inspiration knew that he was saved. "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (II Tim. 1:12).
He not only knew he was saved, but he knew when he was saved. He said, ‘O King Agrippa, it was on the Damascus road when the light shined in my face and I heard the voice of God saying, "Why persecutest thou Me?"’ He knew when he was saved.
And he knew where he was saved, for he told exactly where it was.
And he knew how he was saved, and wrote about it throughout his books.
He knew why he was saved. Everybody ought to know that.
Then, thank God, Paul knew for how long he was saved: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it UNTIL THE DAY OF JESUS CHRIST" (Phil. 1:6).
So Paul declared that salvation is by grace, through faith.
And this is our message: The Scriptures are still reliable. Salvation is still by grace through faith.
Then this also is our message:
III. SURRENDER IS STILL THE PREREQUISITE FOR SERVICE
You just can’t serve God until you surrender. He will not come and make me serve Him. He is not going to put a harness on me and say, "You’re going to do this whether you like it or not." He offers me the opportunity, and He says to me through the Apostle Paul’s writings in Romans 12:1: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
This is not an order from some ecclesiastical headquarters. This is not some tough sergeant on the drill field at Fort Knox. This is not some denominational leader passing down some ecclesiastical dogma. This is a passionate plea from the heart of one so concerned and burdened that he said, "I beseech you…that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
What we give Him, He accepts; and what He accepts, He cleanses; and what He cleanses, He fills; and what He fills, He uses; and what He uses, He blesses.
Oh, how many times I’ve tried to take a shortcut! I’ve wanted to go around it to get the blessing. I’ve wanted to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it is never there.
Happiness is not discovered while we are out searching for it. It is discovered in the pathway of duty. I realized that I had to turn it over to Him, had to sacrifice, surrender, yield, give over to, and let Him put the harness on me; for He said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me….For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:29,30).
Surrender is still the prerequisite for service. That is our message.
And then our message is:
IV. SERVICE IS STILL THE PATHWAY OF JOY
Would you like to have happiness, genuine contentment, satisfaction and joy? You will not find it in pleasure. You will not find it in people. You will not find it in prosperity. To have joy and happiness and contentment, you have to understand what He said: "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11).
Isn’t it wonderful to have joy! Getting around people like you in conferences like this is what I live for. I don’t know about the rest of you preachers, but I love to go to church, and I love to be in our services. Now, I don’t have to go. It’s not because I have to do it.
An irate husband arrived home from church and raved at his wife, "I will never go back to that church!"
She very calmly said, "Oh, you’ll go back next Sunday."
"No, I won’t!" he shouted.
Cool and collected, she reasoned, "Give me two good reasons why you won’t go back."
"I could give a hundred," he replied, "but here are a couple: first, no one in that church likes me; and second, I don’t like anyone in that church."
Very confidently his wife said, "You’ll go back—fact is, you’ll be there next Sunday."
"Give me two good reasons why I should go back," he snapped.
"Well, my dear, I could give you a hundred, but here are a couple: first, you are a mature person, and you know it is right to go to church; and second, you are the pastor."
My wife, Jan, and I were sitting in our living room one beautiful spring day. The windows were open, and the kids were playing outside. We heard our kids talking to these little neighbor children whose parents were Roman Catholics.
The neighbor kids said, "We’re going to the circus. Mom has extra tickets, and she said if you want to go with us you can, if your mom will let you."
They ran in the house all excited and said, "We want to go to the circus! They’ve got extra tickets. Can we go?"
We said, "Oh, no, no, no! That’s at church time."
Dejected, our kids went out and said, "No, we can’t go; we GOTTA go to church."
We hauled them back in and said, "Look, kids, we don’t GOTTA go to church; we GET TO go to church. You’ll never win your friends to Christ saying that. You go out there and tell them that you GET TO go to church at circus time. Be excited! Make them want to come and see why it is exciting."
I don’t know how it is with you, but I don’t GOTTA preach. I GET TO preach!
We were having nine special Wednesday nights, with nine special speakers. It was my son-in-law, Bruce Barton’s, turn to preach on Wednesday night. A soloist sang a wonderful song about the blood. Our people were excited! I got up and said, "Bruce, you just go sit down! I’m going to preach!"
I don’t GOTTA teach Sunday school; I GET TO teach!
Praise the Lord for somebody who says, "Man, I get to drive the bus! Man, I get to give in the offering!" We don’t GOTTA do it; we GET TO!
Service is still the pathway of joy. That is our message.
This, then, is our message: Scriptures are still reliable. Salvation is still by grace. Surrender is still the prerequisite for serv-ice. Service is still the pathway of joy.
But there is something else:
V. STUDY IS STILL THE SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE
Knowledge doesn’t just come falling out of the sky and land on your shoulder like a bird. "Study [not just read] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15).
Wouldn’t it be great if the Lord just bored a hole in the top of our head, put in a funnel, poured in about a quart of liquid knowledge, then screwed the cap back on? Boy! We wouldn’t have to spend tuition money on that. If you could do that, you could charge $100 a gallon for that stuff!
Since this computer thing has gotten so exciting, I’m looking for a surgeon who can put a little copper wire up under the back of my ear into the front lobe of my brain, then run another little copper wire up into the back lobe of my brain, then put a little receptacle right here behind my ear. Then I want to get one of those little chips filled with complete knowledge of the Bible and click it on. Then I’d have total knowledge of the Bible!
I’ll tell you what else I’d like—another little chip with total knowledge of history and click it on. Then I would have total recall of all history, then science and music, etc. I would carry this little plastic box in my pocket. When someone wanted to talk about chemistry or social work—any subject—I would just "click" and have all the answers!
Hey! While we’re doing this in the day of modern technology, let’s put them together in one little chip and "click" that thing on there. Now I have total knowledge!
Guess where I am now? Back in the Garden of Eden where Adam was! God created Adam in His own image. Adam knew everything—except evil. He knew the names of all the animals, the names of all the flowers, every tree—everything. He knew all about his circulation system, about cells, chromosomes, neutrons and all of it, without the strenuous process of learning.
Then sin came. Now we’re born blank. Now we must put millions of dollars into education and tuition. We put hundreds and hundreds of hours—you wait till I see Adam!
This is how it will be in the millennium. The Bible says we will know as we are known. And that means we will know what God knows. The way God knows us is the way we are going to know. And we won’t need computer chips then!
But until that time, study is still the source of knowledge. So by the sweat of your brow, go ahead and labor and get everything you can through the midnight hours. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. Plant your seed and reap your crop.
There is something else. We need to be sure that we understand our message.
This is our message:
VI. SUPPLICATION IS STILL THE SOURCE OF POWER
Little prayer—little power; much prayer—much power; more prayer—more power. There is no shortcut to this. If you are not plugged in, you can go ahead through the motions all you want to, but it’s just not going to happen.
I hunger and thirst to see things happen that cannot be blamed on people. God did it, and everybody knows God did it.
In Luke 11:11–13 the Scripture says: "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?" Of course not! "If he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?" No! How about if he asks for an egg? Will he give him a scorpion? Of course not! Then he said, "How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?"
"Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
This is the message: Supplication, begging, pleading, spending time agonizing at the altar before God, is still the source of power.
Then there is one more:
VII. SOUL WINNING IS STILL THE MAIN BUSINESS
This is our message: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42).
Proverbs 11:30 says, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life." There is no mention of the word root. Now there was root, because you can’t have fruit without having root. But for some reason He didn’t bother to mention root.
There is no mention of the word trunk here. There was a trunk on the tree, but it is not mentioned.
There is no mention of the word limb in the passage. You can’t have fruit without having a limb hooked onto a trunk that is hooked onto a root. But He didn’t bother to mention the limb.
He didn’t mention the branches on the tree. And you can’t have fruit without branches.
He didn’t mention leaves. He didn’t mention blossoms. He didn’t mention the sap that runs up and down through the tree. All He talked about was the fruit.
We get together like this and put a lot of accent on our buildings. They are important, but they are not most important. We really accent music, and that is great too; but that’s not it. We emphasize our equipment—our buses, our machinery—our staff, our deacons, our ushers, our Sunday school workers, the missions program and all the rest of it. All of it is vital, essential, a part of the tree; but that is not it.
Jesus didn’t come down to build buildings, to buy buses, to hire staff, to buy equipment. He came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). If I let the rest of these things be the means to the end, I’ve got it figured out. Soul winning is still the main business. This is our message.
That has always been the emphasis of the Sword of the Lord. Let’s go get ’em and get ’em saved.
"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you": (1) the Scriptures are still reliable; (2) salvation is still by grace through faith; (3) surrender is still the prerequisite for service; (4) service is still the pathway of joy; (5) study is still the source of knowledge; (6) supplication is still the source of power; and (7) soul winning is still the main business.
Let’s keep our message straight!
How to be Saved