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Collegiate conference urges renewed focus on missions

by C. Walter Overman
  • C.J. Mahaney, leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries, shared during the 20/20 conference that God saved him from a life of destruction.

  • Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis, Mo., challenged students to find their identity in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 7, 2013 | 3 yrs old

Before knowing Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, C.J. Mahaney described his life as a “mad career” of sin. Mahaney, who now leads Sovereign Grace Ministries, was heavily involved in illicit drug use and headed on a path toward destruction.

“What should I have been if the Lord in His mercy had not stopped my mad career? It would be frightening to consider where I would be tonight if I would even still be alive,” Mahaney said.

Mahaney’s life changed in an instant when a friend told him about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“In between tokes on a pipe God acted on my dead soul and made me alive,” he said. “I responded to His invitation to turn from my sins and trust in the Savior for the forgiveness of sins.”

Mahaney shared his testimony during the 20/20 “Gospel and Missions” Collegiate Conference held Feb. 1-2 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS). The conference included plenary sessions, panel discussions and break out sessions. In addition to Mahaney, plenary speakers included Danny Akin, SEBTS president; Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey in Saint Louis, Mo.; and Bruce Ashford, SEBTS associate professor of theology and culture.

Speaking from Jude 1:1, Mahaney shared how the gospel includes God’s call of sinners to salvation, God’s love of sinners and God’s sustaining grace.

Mahaney said his testimony is no different from anyone else who has come to saving faith in Christ, as God’s call and love of sinners is miraculous and awe-inspiring regardless of when or where it happens in a person’s life.

“There is no such thing as a boring testimony. They are all dramatic and miraculous,” he said. “Your conversion was a miracle initiated by God. The earlier you were converted, if anything, the more amazed you should be at the grace of God.”

Mahaney encouraged believers to recall daily the miraculous nature of their conversion as a way to remember God’s grace and love, which not only calls sinners to salvation, but also sustains believers in their spiritual walk with God.

“This was a kind and gracious call when we consider what we might have been [without Christ],” Mahaney said. “If there has been sometime since you felt and stressed intense gratitude and earnest love, then perhaps you need to remember your call.”

Law, Gospel and Missions

Focusing on Galatians 5:16-26, Patrick spoke about how people place themselves under the law when they try to gain acceptance from God that is based on religious performance, which leads to legalism.

“The biggest enemy Jesus railed against is legalism, and it is the biggest issue we face,” he said. “Legalism causes us to focus on our behavior alone for our acceptability to God.”

By contrast, the heart of the gospel is that God accepts believers on the basis of what Christ has accomplished for them on the cross. When Christians have a proper understanding of the gospel they are empowered to obey God’s law without reverting to legalism.

“You don’t obey for your acceptance. You obey from your acceptance,” Patrick said. “You don’t work for God’s favor. You work from God’s favor.”

When believers work for God’s acceptance they give in to the flesh, or the old sin nature that entices Christ-followers to seek acceptance and purpose apart from the finished work of Christ. Patrick said believers must kill the flesh every day by being aware of how they seek meaning, purpose, righteousness and significance outside of Christ.

“Your flesh will take every good thing in your life and try to make it the best thing. Your flesh will take your identity apart from Christ,” he said. “That’s what you have to kill. That’s how the gospel is turned loose on the inside.”

Speaking on the theme of missions, Akin stressed that a commitment to fulfill the Great Commission is an obedient response for believers who have been transformed by the power of the gospel. He spoke from Romans 15:14-24 and called the church to divert its resources away from inward focused ministries and channel them toward reaching the nations with the gospel.

“The nations are crying out for hope and we have it. The nations are crying out for deliverance and we have it,” Akin said. “Will we do something about it? Or will we be content to sit back in our comfortable, convenient culture and turn a blind eye to the massive needs all around the world?”

Akin also reminded attendees of the Great Commission’s urgency, and encouraged them to consider committing their lives to serving on the international mission field.

“The issue is not lostness. The issue is access to the gospel,” he said. “Why should any of us get to hear the gospel twice when so many will never hear it?”

All five plenary sessions can be viewed here. For more information about Southeastern Seminary, visit