Professor Howard Hendricks used to say to his students, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” That is a tough question, isn’t it? Because of the fear of man and the desire to obtain from men, many Christians act as though Jesus was some great secret in their life to be shared only with the intimate, private, inner-circle of one’s life. The message of the Gospel demands that each of us boldly proclaim it. We read in Acts 4:12, the nature of this Gospel:
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
We must be bold with this message because people need to hear this message in order to obtain salvation from God. Furthermore, we must be bold with this message because the Lord Jesus rightly deserves public recognition. He rightly deserves public adoration and acknowledgement, even among those who would reject Him. Such recognition of Jesus’ name requires holy courage and holy boldness in the hearts and the lives of the sons and daughters of the Kingdom. This world is not a friend to Jesus and will resist us in our attempts to exalt and adore His name publicly. We must prepare ourselves with steely resolve, refusing to yield even an inch of ground to the Gospel’s cruel foes. Of course, our courage is tempered by love, humility, mercy, and tenderness, but these virtues do not cause us to hesitate for even a moment in speaking clearly of Jesus and boldly of Him.
In Acts 4 we read of a living illustration of this “holy boldness” in the lives of Peter and John. They spoke the Gospel with freedom, with readiness, and with courage, and so must we. May we join this sacred tribe. For the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ, may we own such boldness for ourselves. Christian, do you yearn to have holy boldness in your lives? Does not your love for Jesus Christ call you to such boldness?
I love the story of Hans VonZeeten, a general in Frederick the Great’s army. Frederick the Great called a meeting of all of his generals, but Hans VonZeeten had duties to perform at his church that night and he had a communion to participate in, so he refused to come to the meeting. Later, he was invited to dine with all of the other generals and with Frederick the Great, himself. On that occasion, all the rest began to make light of him and to joke of his religious duties and about the Lord’s Supper. Hans VonZeeten stood before his peers, and before his earthly sovereign, Frederick the Great, and he said, “My lord, there is a King greater than you; a King to whom I have sworn allegiance, even unto death. I am a Christian man and I cannot sit quietly as the Lord’s name is dishonored, His character belittled, and His cause subjected to ridicule. With your permission, I shall withdraw.” There was a huge silence in the room for all of the generals knew that such a daring act could mean death for Hans VonZeeten. Frederick the Great was so struck by VonZeeten’s courage that he begged him to stay and he promised that he would never again demean these sacred things. May his tribe increase!
Peter Cartwright, a great circuit riding Methodist preacher in Illinois, was a man of holy boldness. One Sunday, he was scheduled to preach in a church and the deacons in the church told him that President Andrew Jackson was in the congregation that morning. Knowing that Cartwright was rather bold in his proclamation of the Truth, they warned him not to say anything that would offend the chief executive. He stood up to preach and he began this way, “I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here today. I have been requested to be guarded in my remarks. Andrew Jackson will suffer in Hell if he does not repent.” Interestingly, Andrew Jackson came up to Peter Cartwright at the end of the service and he said, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you I could whip the world.”
Wouldn’t you love to be a Hans VonZeeten or a Peter Cartwright? Acts 4:13-31 teaches us how we might obtain such holy boldness. Such courage and such boldness is not for the specially gifted or the uniquely heroic, but such boldness can be the experience of each one of us. We have to ask the question, “How? That seems so far from my own personality. How might I be able to have such boldness to honor the name of Jesus Christ in this world?” From this story, I believe that we can perceive six specific practices for Christians to grow holy boldness.
The first practice is mentioned in Verse 13, and that is the practice of spending time with Jesus. If we don’t spend time with the Lord Jesus we will never have holy boldness as in Verse 13:
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
They were shocked and astonished because, at first, they couldn’t imagine where such courage and such boldness came from. They rightly observed that it did not come from their schooling for these were “unschooled” men. By that, it didn’t mean that they weren’t able to read and write, indeed they were able to read and write, but it means that they had not gone to seminary or the religious schools and sat underneath the renown rabbi’s of the day. Furthermore, they were “ordinary men”. The King James Version says that they were “untrained”. That is to say that they had no official religious office; they were lay men.
Some believers think, “If I want boldness I have to go to seminary in order to obtain it because then I will be armed with the knowledge necessary to be bold. Then I could be bold, if only I had a seminary degree, but I am not going to get one of those so I must not ever be able to be bold.” Nothing could be further from the truth. These were “unschooled men,” and seminary never imparts boldness to its students.
Furthermore, some may consider that if they had some position in the church, a pastor, an elder, then out of respect to that office then they would be able to become bold, but, no, we find that these were “ordinary men.” They were untrained. They had no official capacity within the religious establishment.
Boldness in the world’s eyes is given to people through their education or through their office and rank in the company or within their sphere of influence, but this is not so among God’s people. Boldness first comes to the Christian through his or her union with Jesus Christ. It is this supernatural relationship, this supernatural union, in which the believer, the man or woman in Jesus Christ, receives power to enable them towards boldness.
Notice that it is the enemies of the Gospel that observed Peter and John “had been with Jesus.” How did they observe this? There are two ways that an unbeliever can observe this union, this unique relationship that a believer may have, with Jesus and that is through the words that a believer speaks and the actions that a believer does. That is the only thing a believer can look at. An unbeliever cannot look at a Christian’s heart and soul. They don’t know the inner workings of a believer’s daily schedule and their lives. They say, “They must have been with Jesus because we saw them wonder off into the woods with a Bible.” The only way an unbeliever knows that is through the words that a believer speaks and the works that a believer does.
Please understand that it is impossible to bring a testimony to the unsaved world about Jesus apart from both words and works. They are many Christians today who have adopted a strategy that says, “I want to reveal Jesus by the life that I live.” That is half-right; it is good to reveal Jesus by the life that one lives, but how will they know that it is Jesus whom you have been with? A soul that has habitually been in contact with Jesus “will imbibe the sweetness from Him”, says McClaren, the great commentator. As we spend time with Jesus we do soak up His sweetness, His Truth, His character just simply from being with Him.
When I was in high school and Kimberly and I were dating, she gave me a thick, flannel shirt that was too big for her so she offered it to me. I took that shirt that had been hanging in her closet for I don’t know how long and received it as a gift. To my great delight, I discovered that this shirt that had been hanging with Jesus, oops, forgive me (congregational laughter), I love Kimberly very much, this shirt that Kimberly had worn and had been in close proximity to other clothes that she had worn took on her fragrance, and so, when I wore it I am sure other people wondered, “What fragrance does he have on?” I loved wearing it because it reminded me of Kimberly so much. It had been with her and now I had taken on this fragrance. I always attempted to keep it clean so that I wouldn’t have to wash it because I wanted it to maintain that sense that it had been with someone I love so much because it had taken on the sweetness of the person.
When we connect our lives in close proximity to Jesus day-by-day, we are very much like that garment; just by location, it doesn’t have to have anything sprayed on it, and proximity to this One who is Jesus, we take on His sweetness so that when others are around us, they sense, “This person has been with Jesus because the sweetness of Jesus is here.” The enemies of the Gospel listened to Peter and John preach and they watched how they acted and the works that they performed and they said, “These guys remind us of someone, the One we had to deal with just weeks before.” I cannot think of a greater compliment to be said of a Christian than this; to have enemies of the Gospel say, “Obviously, this man or woman has been with Jesus!” “How do we know that?” “Because they walk like Jesus and they talk like Jesus. Everything about them reminds us of Jesus. We may hate Jesus but we cannot deny the undeniable resemblance that this person has with his or her Master.”
If we wish to do the work of Jesus we must be like Jesus and if we are to be like Jesus we must spend time with Jesus. Here is the marvel of Christianity and the marvel of the Christian faith: the most ignorant person can become the most able in the Kingdom of God. The most ordinary person can become the most extraordinary in the Kingdom of God. This happens because of the transformation of the grace of God through that union with His One who is King of kings and Lord of lords, who is all-powerful and extraordinarily Holy and Wonderful. Such qualities do not come through our own personal talents and our own natural abilities through our schooling or through the rank that we have achieved in life, but such ability comes through the grace of Jesus Christ through spending time and being united with Him. The Gospel takes weaklings, cowards, and failures and pours steel into the backbone and strength into the muscles. The scribes and pharisees did not understand what had happened to Peter and John. They didn’t all of the details as to how this came about. The only thing they could say was, “We do know that they had been with Jesus.” They didn’t understand the transformation of having Peter go from quaking in front of a little, servant girl to now speaking powerfully before a nation, even at the threat of jail and death.
There are a couple of applications in this regard. First, we must connect our lives to the life of Jesus by faith. Acts 4:12 is certain on this:
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
The saving power of the Gospel unites us to Jesus Christ so that we can say, with Zinzendorf, a Christian of old, who said, “I have one passion. It is Him. It is Him alone.” That is what the Gospel does when we say we have one passion in life, “It is Him. It is Him alone.”
Then we must maintain our connection with Jesus through our continued in Him. Are you spending time with Jesus? In Luke 10 there is this great story of two women and one of whom who chose to spend time with Jesus. Of the story of Mary and Martha, and you may know it well, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said, the Scripture will say, but Martha was distracted by all of the preparations that had to be made for the supper. Martha came to Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself. Tell her to help me.” Jesus would reply, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed.” Beloved, I will tell you that there is only one thing that is necessary and that is to spend time with Jesus. Don’t get caught up in serving Jesus to the point that you have forgotten the one necessary thing that makes such service effective, satisfying, and joyful and that is that we have taken time to relish the presence of Jesus. Are you spending time with the Lord?
Boldness also comes by obeying God first as we read in Verses 14-17:
17But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
They had nothing to say so they couldn’t deny this miracle that had happened so they did know that they had to stop this “thing” from spreading; this “thing” of course, is the Gospel. It is the transforming power of Jesus, the resurrected Lord in the lives of others who had received this message. Thousands were being transformed and they couldn’t take it because it was taking from them their influence and their earthly powers so they had to stop this “thing” from happening.
The law of the land was very clear and that was, “Do not speak of the name of Jesus Christ.” It is ironic, isn’t it, that the early Christians who spent time with Jesus had to be commanded to be quiet. So often we, who fail to spend time with Jesus, need to be commanded to speak up. These had to be commanded to keep quiet. That is the nature of the Christian church. The church has to be said by the world, “Shut up!” Here they have a dilemma, however, and that is that the law of the land contradicts the Law of the Lord.
What should we do in such cases? The Bible is very clear. It says in Verse 19,
19But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
This action goes to the very nature of their lives now and they cannot help but to speak of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and speak of His name. The disciples responded to the law of the land by disobeying. The idea of civil disobedience disturbs many people and certainly civil disobedience is not something to do without biblical merit and without biblical reason. The Bible does teach that there are certain circumstances in which it may be necessary, and not just permissible, for a Christian to disobey the laws of the land. It is important that we think clearly on this issue, however.
Turn to Romans 13:1-6. This is, perhaps, the clearest passage in all of Scripture of the nature of the government and the Christian. Paul begins by saying,
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.
A couple of questions immediately emerge. First, Christians are to law-abiding citizens. We are not to disobey the laws of the land; we are to obey them. Secondly, governments act as God’s appointed servants. God is the One who establishes these authorities and the government acts as the servant of God. That is why it says at the end of Verse 4, that this government
…is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
The government’s authority is a derived authority. This authority the government is not intrinsic to the government, but it is derived from another source and that source, of course, is God Himself. God’s authority was not given to Him by another. It was given to Him by reason of His very person. That is who He is. He is God and by definition He has authority and that authority resides within Himself and not outside of Himself. But, every other authority in the created universe is a derived authority; it is an authority that is imparted by God and as such, when the authority of the government, or the authority of anyone else who has derived authority, be it an employer, or a parent, or a husband, or in a relationship, or in a church, contradicts the authority of God then that authority looses the right to exercise authority in that matter.
We see this all through Scripture. We see it with the response of the midwives to Pharaohs command to kill the babies. The midwives refused to do so and, in fact, some would say that they were devious in their outworking of their disobedience. They refused and they did so rightly. We can think of Daniel given the edict not to pray. What did Daniel do, he opened up the windows and said that he needed to pray in front of the people. Before he could pray in his room, but now he was going to open his windows to pray. We also see this in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel’s friends, who were commanded to bow down before the statue and they said, “No, we will not bow down before the statue.” We see it in the wise men when Herrod said, “When you find the child, come back here and tell me.” The wise men decided, “No, we are not going to do it because such and action will be disobedient to the cause of God.”
In America, we have much religious freedom and I am very thankful for this, but it is vital that Christians re-embrace the biblical principles of obedience to God first. I believe that days are coming when we will have more and more decisions which we must make, both in the workplace as well as in our private lives. For instance, if the government says to churches, “You cannot teach the Bible’s morality completely. You cannot talk about homosexuality in the church,” as the government of Canada has done, we have to disobey. We have to! If the government says, “Religion must remain private so do not bring it into the public sphere and public places,” Christians must disobey because Jesus’ name knows no boundaries whereby it ought not to be honored and exulted in this world. If the government says, “You must not discipline your members and if you do you will be sued,” and there are all sorts of threats that are given to churches who exercise the discipline of its members, churches must disobey.
Indeed, if we disobey we must also know that there are consequences and we must willingly yield to those consequences. How long will the United States of America remain free? I hope it is for centuries more, but whether it is for two hundred more years or five hundred or a thousand, or whether it is only for twenty more years, eventually this land of ours, as great as it is will pass away. It will have happen to it what has happened to all the kingdoms of this world; all of them, without exception pass away for only the Kingdom of God is eternal. Christians today have to ask, “Where is my first allegiance? Where is my first loyalty?” There may be times when those loyalties will be tested and we will have to act one way or the other. Boldness will not come to anyone who fears man more than they fear God. Boldness bolsters this commitment to obey Him first.
Before we leave this point, it is important to observe that in the Bible disobedience to civil authorities is always respectful and it is always courteous. Peter and John were not in their face with this. Their response was very courteous. It was very gracious and very respectful. Disobedience to an authority must never come from a spirit of rebellion; the spirit of rebellion is a sin of witchcraft, the Scripture says. It comes from a spirit of submission to God.
The third practice is that we have a zeal for God’s glory, as we find in Verses 21 and 22:
21After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
Peter and John refused to allow attention to focus upon them. They deflected all glory and all honor to Jesus’ name. We read about that in Acts 3:12:
“Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”
Peter and John wanted the name of Jesus to be exulted through their words, their lives, and their actions. Everything revolved around this question: “How can we bring greater glory to God? How can we bring greater honor to His name?”
It is a truth that when we are zealous about something we become bold in advertising it. Isn’t that true? We go on a new diet and we are going to tell other people, “This is the greatest diet in all the world” because we believe in it. We are zealous to tell everyone else.
This past week a friend invited me to attend a University of Illinois basketball game against Iowa. It is the first University of Illinois basketball game I remember being at in my life, and, like a dummy, I wore a bright red shirt. Fortunately, that is not Iowa’s colors but it wasn’t Illinois’ colors either. I didn’t realize how many people participate in this orange and blue sea. I really stood out in this red sweater, but there was a sea of orange and blue. Why do they go and wear these somewhat obnoxious orange shirts? Why do they do that? They do that because they are zealous about this university and the basketball program and they are ready to advertise it to the world.
Interestingly, a couple of folks walked by with black and yellow shirts one. What would cause a person to walk into the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois, when Illinois has the number one ranked team in the whole nation, and a zeal for this pastime, what would cause a person to walk into that building with a University of Iowa sweater on? What would? Zeal for the University of Iowa and that creates a boldness that says, “I don’t care if there are 10,000 people here that are against me and hate me for wearing this shirt, I am going wear it because I am zealous for the name of this university.
Universities pass away and their glory fades, but Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, He is the Author of life, the Founder of salvation to everyone who would believe, how much more are we to be zealous for His name, zealous for His glory, and boldly walk about in this world with our lives so colored with the symbols of Jesus through our words and our actions so that others immediately know who’s team we are on.
The fourth practice is that we have a commitment to praying with other believers. Boldness is not easy to maintain. It is very difficult to keep from retreating in the face of intimidation and threats from this world, and in order to maintain boldness we must pray. That is exactly what happens here. We are not to just pray privately, but we are to pray with together, with other Christians. We see that in Verse 23:
23On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
They recognized, “If we are going to continue to stand firm in the midst of trials, we are going to have to continue to bring forth the Word of God boldly in the midst of threats.” These were real people. They responded to threats the same way you and I respond to threats. We would be afraid, too, of loosing our lives and loosing our livelihood and being thrown into some stinking jail, but they said that they needed to pray. Beloved, we will not be bold as a church if we are not committed to praying together. That is why call you to pray together with God’s people. I know for some of you that is very intimidating to pray with others, so much so, that it is even difficult to pray with people in your own family; with your own wives, men, I know that is difficult, but I also know the power of God is able to transform you so that this becomes one of your greatest delights. I urge you, pray.
They did not pray to have their circumstances changed or to have their enemies to be put out of office. Instead, what did they ask? They asked that God would give them grace to continue to speak the Word boldly.
Phillips Brooks writes, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men and women. Do no pray for tasks equal to you power. Pray for powers equal to you task.” This is what they did and holy boldness was the result.
The last two practices: we are called to rejoice in the sovereignty of God. In the midst of suffering, these Christians rejoiced in the truth that God is sovereign. That was the content of their prayer. They began it by saying, “Sovereign Lord, you made the sea. You are the Creator. There is nothing outside of your domain. Furthermore, Sovereign Lord, your word told us that when the nations raged and they plotted against you, you were even sovereign over the events of the nations in conflict with you; that there is nothing that these nations who are against you, or what they are doing, falls outside the sphere of your authority and of your control. Furthermore, specifically, Sovereign Lord, not just that the nations generally act in a way that is in conformity to your will, but furthermore, even in the acts of Herrod and Pontius Pilot and the other Gentiles, they did what your power and your will decided before hand should happen.”
I believe that apart from a clear and precious embracing of the Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God we will not be able to be bold because we will always be wondering, “If I do this how will the world respond? What will happen then?” The sovereignty of God clears all of that up by saying, “My life and the circumstances of my life are absolutely, one-hundred percent in the hands of God and if I obey Him, God has a plan for blessing. Is there a time for suffering in this lifetime? Yes, but there will ultimately be a time when I will rejoice and thank God for it. I don’t understand all of the out workings of His sovereign plan, but this one thing is, and I will not let it go, God is Sovereign and He is absolutely in control.” That infuses holy boldness.
We have spoken of these five actions: spending time with Jesus; obeying God first; being zealous for the glory of God; the commitment to pray; and rejoicing in God’s sovereignty; and the last one is yielding and submitting to God’s Holy Spirit as we read in Verse 31:
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
It is God’s Spirit that provides God’s power in order to be bold. Notice that the filling of the Holy Spirit didn’t result in speaking in tongues on this occasion. The result was the speaking God’s Word, as it always in the Book of Acts.
What does it mean to be filled with God’s Spirit? It means that we have a spirit of obedience and we have a spirit yielding to do what God commands us to do. If you and I begin to walk in disobedience in some area of our life it will be impossible to be bold for Jesus.
There is a Proverb that says (28:1),
The guilty flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
If you would commit your lives and say, “I am going to submit myself to the authority of God. I am going to obey God’s Spirit and His prompting, and God’s Word and His commands upon my life, the righteous becomes as bold as a lion.” Perhaps this is the reason why you have become ineffective as a witness and have lost boldness because you realize there are areas in your life where you are disobedient. God calls you to yield to God’s Spirit that He might fill you.
Let me be bold in closing and say these things: first, salvation is found in no one else. These is no other name under heaven given among men whereby you must be saved and I must boldly tell you that if you are without Jesus then you are without God and you are without hope in this world. You need salvation. God’s salvation is offered to you and I call you to respond to God’s command and that is to believe the Gospel and believe Jesus Christ as your Savior and as your Lord. Submit to Him. Yield to Him. Repent from your sins. Turn to Him and know the free gift of eternal life.
Second, God’s work cannot prosper without holy boldness. It simply cannot. Much of the church is made ineffectual in the world because she lacks boldness. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you should have the boldness to stand up on a street corner, like Peter and John, but that, as God places you in this world, that you would be bold to proclaim His name wherever He would have you proclaim it.
I want to tell you this story again to encourage you. It is another story of my wife, Kimberly, and I hope I won’t mix up some of the words. Kimberly, if you know her well, is a bit shy and it might shock some who know her from a distance. She doesn’t like calling people on the phone. It is not because she doesn’t like talking to people; she is just shy about that. About eight years ago she was taking our sons to Wal-Mart and she happened upon a young lady. It was very clear that the Spirit of God was saying, “You need to talk to that lady.” She didn’t want to do that. She didn’t know how to do that, but the Spirit of God continued to press and she obeyed, and I think that all of the characteristics of holy boldness were a part of her life. She walked up to this lady and she introduced herself. She asked her about the pretzel she was eating, but then she began talking to her about whether or not she had a church to go to. The result of that little bit of boldness, and it wasn’t that she stood up and began to preach the whole Gospel to this lady, but she opened up doors, she followed God, and she was bold enough to do that which went against her natural inclinations in obeying God. The end result was that this woman trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior and in the course of the last eight years, and at that time she had two young boys and those two young boys have now heard the Gospel and they have considered the Gospel’s claims and I believe that at least one of them has embraced the Gospel in his life and perhaps the other as well, she met a man and that young man became a believer in Jesus Christ and they got married. Now they have two little daughters and they are being raised in the faith and they are coming to hear about Jesus Christ and they have embraced Jesus Christ as their Savior. That young man grew in his walk with God and today he is the leader of worship at Living Hope Community Church.
What happens when we are bold? God begins to work, that is what happens. What happens when we are not bold? We are made ineffectual. We need a holy boldness and we have a prescription for how we might obtain such boldness. Let us follow God and seek Him in this.