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3 Things We Can Learn from Early Christians about Sparking a Transformative Spiritual Movement


Former President Donald Trump is scheduled to travel today with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to visit the border with Mexico. Several other Republican governors are sending troops to assist Texas and Arizona in securing their borders. If your sympathies lie with Republicans, you probably believe these are positive steps toward doing what the Biden administration allegedly will not do to secure our southern border.

Mr. Trump’s visit follows Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the border last Friday and her statement that the Biden administration is responding to the problem by working with the countries from which the immigrants are fleeing. If your sympathies lie with Democrats, you probably believe these are positive steps toward doing what the Trump administration allegedly did not do to secure our southern border.

In other news, the Supreme Court announced Monday that it would not review a lower court ruling granting a transgender student the right to use the bathroom corresponding to that student’s gender identity. The decision was met with great disappointment from those who believe they need to protect our children from those who would use transgender bathroom access to harm them.

By contrast, the Court ruled on June 17 in favor of a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia, a decision which pleased those who are concerned about protecting religious liberties from attacks rising from LGBTQ advocacy.

Speaking of such advocacy, California announced on Monday that it has extended its ban on state-sponsored and state-funded travel to a total of seventeen states that have enacted what it deems “anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.”

Once again, we see that leaders and judges in a secular democracy often act in ways that align with some constituents’ values while conflicting with others. David’s declaration has never been more relevant or powerful: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).

The urgency of the message

Early Christians had no leaders in the Roman Empire upon whom they could depend to bring justice to social issues such as immigration and border safety. They had no courts or governments to which they could appeal for the protection of their religious liberties. In fact, they had no such liberties.

And yet they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) and were used by God to spark the most transformative spiritual movement in human history. If we wish to make the impact they made, we must do what they did.

One significant aspect of their effectiveness was the urgency of the message.

They understood that every lost person needs to know and trust in Jesus to avoid an eternity in hell and experience an eternity in heaven. That’s why Peter could testify so boldly before the Sanhedrin, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That’s why Paul and the other apostles were willing to suffer grievously and eventually die in the cause of global evangelism.

The urgency of the mission

Another aspect was the urgency of the mission. As I noted yesterday, the first Christians lived in a day when their culture was experiencing God’s permissive judgment by which he “gave them up to the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Romans 1:24). These believers knew what we need to know: Malignancy always grows. Sin left unrepented “brings forth death” (James 1:15).

We can dismiss this threat in our culture today, deciding that the decadence we are seeing will not get worse, or it will not affect us, or it will not lead to further judgment from God. But the character of a holy God requires him to judge sin and sinners (cf. Revelation 19:16).

David observed, “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies” (Psalm 7:14). As a result, “He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends” (Psalm 7:15-16).

You can mark it down: God deals with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must.

The urgency of the moment

A third factor was the urgency of the moment. Early Christians knew everyone needed Jesus, now. Not just because their culture would further degenerate without repentance and spiritual transformation, but because they could stand before the King of kings today.

They knew that their “blessed hope” was “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). They knew that only the Father knew the “day and hour” of Jesus’ return (Matthew 24:36). And they knew that even if Jesus delayed his return another thousand years, they could die and stand before him today (Hebrews 9:27).

Yesterday, the church marked the traditional anniversary of Paul’s death by beheading and Peter’s execution by being crucified upside down. The last time I visited the locations in Italy marking Paul’s martyrdom (the Church of Saint Paul at the Three Fountains) and Peter’s burial (beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City), I renewed my commitment to serve Jesus with the courage they manifested so boldly.

I invite you to join me today.

Two urgent questions

As of this morning, twelve bodies have been recovered from the condominium collapse in South Florida, while 149 people remain missing. Reportedly, the doomed building’s basement garage had “gotten significantly worse” since an inspection about two and a half years earlier and deterioration of the building’s concrete was “accelerating.”

If you knew that the “building” in which you are living was deteriorating and could collapse tomorrow, what would you do to be ready today?

What would you do to help your neighbors be ready?

NOTE: Minni Elkins’ last day on our ministry staff is today. Minni was my ministry assistant when I was pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas and joined Jeff Byrd and me when we began Denison Forum in 2009. For twenty-three years, she has been one of my most significant ministry partners and a dear and beloved friend. She is one of the most godly and gracious people I have ever known.

My wife and I join our entire team in thanking God for Minni and celebrating her ministry with deep gratitude.

Publication date: June 30, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Sparrow Stock

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes,,, and Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

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