NEW ORLEANS (BP)—Speaking to a large crowd of students, Kelley assured them that a life of following Christ will not be easy. He called on the audience to submit to God’s call and go wherever God leads.
“It was the cross that bought our souls and gave us an opportunity and gave us salvation and gave us all that we have in Jesus,” Kelley said. “But it wasn’t just in our salvation. Throughout all of our history of the church, the cross has been necessary for the expansion of faith.”
The story of how the Gospel spread illustrates the power of the cross to overcome obstacles, Kelley said. Expansion of the Kingdom came with great personal costs to those who shared God’s Word. Kelley used 2 Corinthians 11, a brief summary of the challenges the apostle Paul faced, to illustrate the point.
“How did the Gospel get from the streets of Jerusalem to you?” Kelley asked. “The people of God embraced the cross and they did whatever God wanted them to do at whatever the cost so that the Gospel could get all the way across the pond and into your heart.”
Kelley said people today may be tempted to read 2 Corinthians 11 and dwell on how difficult it was to follow Jesus in the ancient world. But he insisted it is not any easier to follow Christ today. Sharing the Gospel will entail great personal costs just as it did in Paul’s life.
“The cross that God calls you to embrace will feel every bit as much a cross as the ministry of Paul felt to him,” Kelley said. “We are trained to think that being safe and having more than enough and living life without many obstacles is just the way life is. Not for those who follow Jesus. The cross is still necessary for the Gospel to get from life to life.”
The challenges facing the Southern Baptist Convention are evident from a look at declining baptisms, Kelley said. From 1990-2012, SBC churches experienced a long, sustained decline in baptisms. From 2001-11, 34.5 percent of SBC churches experienced an increase in baptisms and 12.1 percent stayed the same, but 53.4 percent of SBC churches experienced a decline in baptisms.
Cities in the United States and throughout the world are major battlefields for the Christian faith, Kelley said. Cities have been a challenge for Southern Baptists whose roots lay in the small towns and rural areas of America. The world tells people to pick a place to live based on whether it is a great place to raise a family, Kelley said, but the believer must consider the call of Christ and the demands of the Gospel.
“Cities are a pearl of great price that we can offer to Jesus. It will cost us to reach the cities of our nation,” he said. “[Cities] are not the best place to live and raise a family if you want a life without threat, intimidating circumstances and difficult experiences.”
Kelley pointed to Acts 20:17-32 to illustrate that God’s sovereignty calls for obedience from His people. In the passage, Paul was planning his return to Jerusalem even though he knew the trip would bring hardships into his life. He was determined to finish the course God had set before him. Paul knew his calling came from God and that God had the right to set the agenda, even if that agenda was dangerous or unpleasant.
“Does God have the right to take you places that you don’t want to go? Does God have a right to demand of you ministry that will bring hurt in your life?” Kelley asked. “What begins at the cross is a journey in which that cross follows you every day of your life.”
This, Kelley said, is an important aspect of God’s sovereignty that every believer should embrace early in life. The toughest test for seminary students will not be the Hebrew or church history final in the classroom, he said. The toughest test is to live in obedience to God’s call.
“We have a world that needs the Gospel, and a church that is struggling to find its way. How about it if we send them some troops from NOBTS? Let’s not only live by the cross, let’s embrace it as a way to live and minister.”
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