Heresy and the Urgency of Biblical Evangelism – I Peter 3:18-20

How likely is it that Satan will leave important Biblical doctrines alone? What are some of the things that Satan teaches about Christ? What is the Satanic doctrine about Hell? What are some of the things that he teaches about evangelism? If Satan is preaching anti-evangelistic messages, it makes the urgency of Biblical evangelism all that much more important.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could count up all the people that we know. I wonder how many that would be: 200? 500? 1000? Now, how many of those people that you know, are you reasonably sure are genuine Christians? Of course, we are somewhat unique people, because as Christians, more of those around us are Christians than is true of the average American. Because we are Christians many in our families are Christians, and those in our church are Christians. Perhaps 10% to 20% or more of the people that we know are children of God. But for the average American it is probably more likely that 1% to 2% of their friends and family are Christians. Do you think that my estimates are close to accurate? If I am right, then those kinds of numbers say something about the urgency of evangelism.

There are lots of ways to highlight the urgency of evangelism, but many of them are unbiblical. We could talk about how disease and war are decimating certain populations in the world. For example, there is a particular need for missionaries and evangelists in Central Africa and South East Asia. Is the nearness or prevalence of death, the highest of all arguments for evangelism? Aren’t there more important things than death? What?

I’m not going to say that our theme this morning is the most important argument for the urgency of evangelism, but getting back to Satan’s constant attacks, his heresies make Biblical evangelism important. And some of them have a direct bearing on the subject of this series of lessons.

Eternal judgment.

Is the preaching of what the Bible says about Hell and the Lake of Fire essential? Why? Does the average American believe in a Biblical Hell? If he did, wouldn’t he be terrified and fighting his way through the disciples to get to Christ.

What are some of the things that people misunderstand about eternal judgment? There is no such thing as Hell. It is only for the really, really evil. It is only for the Devil. It is the property of the Devil, and Jesus defeated the Devil. It is temporary. It is for purification of the nominally wicked.

What should all the heresies about Hell do to the preaching of the gospel?

Why do you think that I picked I Peter 3 for our opening scripture this morning?

This is a scripture which is used by heretics to teach that souls which die without Christ will be given a second chance for salvation. How necessary is the death of Christ for a sinner’s salvation? Try to climb out of your shoes and into someone else’s and answer this question: If Jesus purchased salvation in 35 AD what about all those poor people who died prior to that time? If faith in the sacrifice of Christ is essential what about those didn’t have opportunity to hear about it? They didn’t have the opportunity to hear about Jesus’ death; they were never evangelized. Some people look at this scripture and say that Jesus went to the souls of those who died during the flood, and preached the gospel to them, so that they could have a choice either to believe on Him or continue their eternal judgment. The people who say such things can then easily add that those who died during the days of the Judges or the Babylonian captivity should have the same opportunity. Thinking unbiblically, might it be argued that the heathen, who have never heard the gospel before their deaths – out of fairness to them – should be given that opportunity after their deaths? How easy is it for the mind of fallen man to go on to say that even people today, should be given a second chance?

It is amazing how many non-Christian, world religions have some sort of idea like this. What is reincarnation? The really sad fact is that professing Christendom is filled with various shades of the same idea.

How many Roman Catholics are there in the world? (About a billion.) How many people are there in this world who are taught about something called Purgatory. Someone please explain to me the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory? As far as ultimate salvation is concerned, what does Purgatory mean? If there is the possibility of sinners being delivered from Purgatory, how important is it to be saved or to be a faithful Catholic at this very moment? Have you ever seen any of the gangster movies like “The Godfather” or something like that? Why is it that the majority of the murderous, adulterous, criminal Mafia have no problem being religious? Sure the Catholic priests want their people to be better Catholics than they currently are, but there isn’t any urgency in it because they have all been dealt a “Get-out-of-jail-free” card.

What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about Hell? What do they think will happen to the really, really evil people of this world? What do they think will happen to those who are moderately good, but not J.W.s? (Second chance.) Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses the only cult to preach heresy about Hell? Most of them have some sort of secondary salvation or conditional immortality for the wicked.

What does I Peter 3 actually teach us?

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

Besides the heresy of a second chance, there are two major interpretations of this scripture. There are some who interpret this to say that through the Spirit, the gospel was preached by Christ to people before they died in the Noahic flood. I believe that is essentially true – but it was actually Noah who was the Spirit-empowered preacher. And yet I don’t think that this is what Peter was saying in this passage. My understanding is that after His death, Christ went into sheol and declared, or preached, to the believing souls there that the requirements of their salvation had been met. For example, Lazarus, in contrast to the rich man, died and went into Paradise or “Abraham’s Bosom.” He was in “sheol” – the place of the dead, but it wasn’t the place of torment to which the rich man went. Upon the completion of the sacrifice of Christ, the people of Paradise met with their Saviour. Then He led captivity captive into Glory, to await the arrival of our souls and the great resurrection day. This scripture certainly does not teach that there is a second chance for salvation for anyone.

There are many other heresies which either hinder, or demand, the urgency of Biblical evangelism.

By the days of Origin, in the 3rd century, the idea of universal salvation began to arise. Today, Unitarians, many cults like the Christian Science, and most post-modern Protestant Liberals believe that ultimately everyone will be saved. It’s not that they will be given a second chance to rethink their need of Christ; the Lord will just save them. Obviously, if everyone is going to be cleansed, glorified, sanctified, sanitized and transported to Heaven what need is there of the gospel at all?

And if there is no difference between Catholicism, Methodism, Mohammedanism, Zionism, Hinduism, Shintoism and Christianity, then there is certainly no need to evangelize the world. Are there people who say that Buddha and Confucius are saviours just like Christ? Has anyone ever told you that Allah is just another name for Jehovah? Is it common for even professing Christians to believe and say this sort of thing? How many people in this world believe that through good character and a semi-virtuous life, eternal bliss is guaranteed? If your blasphemous, partying, adulterous neighbor is going to heaven just as much as you, what need is there of Biblical evangelism?

Urgency in Biblical Evangelism

Does the Bible emphasize urgency when it comes to preaching the gospel? What did the Lord mean in Luke 10:2? “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” Luke 14:23 – “Go into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”

Does the Bible emphasize urgency when it comes to receiving the gospel? If there is urgency to receiving the gospel, isn’t there urgency in spreading it? Joshua 24:15 – “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” I Kings 18:21 – “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” Psalm 95:8 – “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” Three times Paul repeats this verse in the Book of Hebrews. Isaiah 1:18 – “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 55:1-3 – “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” Jeremiah 25:5 – “Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD hath given unto you and to your fathers for ever and ever.” Ezekiel 33:11 – “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” II Corinthians 5:20 – “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” II Corinthians 6:2 – “I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Hebrews 12:25 – “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.”

The urgency of Biblical evangelism lies in God, not in the sinner.

Despite all that we might say about the need of the sinner, in a sense it is of little importance. Our first father made a deliberate choice to rebel against God, becoming a sinner. Whether any of us thinks that it is fair or not, we all became sinners when our father became a sinner. A person may think that it’s not fair that eagles get to fly naturally, but humans have to invent airplanes. And that eagle may think that it’s not fair that he has to flap his wings once in a while, but those lazy humans just pay a small fortune to make machines do all the work. None of this has anything to do with being fair or unfair. And whether a lost man is eventually saved or not, has nothing to do with being fair or unfair. Not only were we all born sinners, but we have all spent countless hours enjoying our sinfulness. Is there someone here who doesn’t deserve eternal damnation? If the Lord saves someone and not someone else, it has nothing to do with being fair. If someone hears the gospel and another person doesn’t, again its not about being fair. That the Lord actually wants to save anyone is pure miraculous mercy. It’s not man’s need that creates the urgency of evangelism.

The urgency of Biblical evangelism comes out of God Himself. Who is the source of all those verses that I quoted and read a few minutes ago? Did they come from the God of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Did they come from Allah or Buddha? How many gods are there in this world who can actually save sinners? How righteous and holy is the God who saves sinners? Does James 2:14 says: “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” Does that verse say that God’s mercy renders His justice or righteousness null and void?

But isn’t it true that God is love? That is what the Bible declares in I John 4:8; 4:16 and elsewhere. Is the fact that God loves infinitely any reason to say that He will not cast the wicked into eternal Hell? To say such a thing is to contradict the Son of God who is the love of God incarnate. If God’s love is infinite, not to respond to that love is an infinite crime and sin. What is the meaning of the often used phrase “unrequited love”? To reject the love of God ought to incur everlasting banishment from His presence and eternal judgment. In fact, it does exactly that.

This is at the heart of the gospel’s urgent appeal.