What would you consider “Plan A” in God’s plan to build his kingdom and call hearts to faith? That’s an easy one. All of us would look to the great commission, and we would say something like, “Preach the Word,” or “Preach the Gospel.”
What would you consider “Plan B”? Again, that’s an easy one. We would say something like “there is no ‘Plan B’” or “‘Plan B’ is to go back to ‘Plan A.’” Only God’s word can create and sustain faith. Only God’s word can give people life.
But we have all thought of some “Plan B’s” at some time or other, and there are hundreds of them out there to try. If “Plan A” doesn’t seem to be working, it’s awfully tempting to develop a “plan B.” Maybe we could develop more interesting activities and outings to lure them back in. Maybe we could provide them with more opportunities for meaningful service. Maybe we could give them modern music to sing or a gymnasium to play in.
There is certainly nothing wrong with interesting activities, and meaningful service, and modern music, and church gymnasiums. All of these can be a legitimate part of a church’s ministry. But if Jesus was telling the truth when he said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31), then we certainly can’t rely on activities, music, or buildings– all far less impressive than a resurrection– to create or sustain their faith. These things have value only if they incorporate “Plan A” and don’t stand alone as a “Plan B.”
Isn’t that what Jesus is saying when he says, “The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing”? Appeals to the flesh may be attractive, but they don’t give life. Perhaps a clearer way of translating “counts for nothing” would be something like, “it contributes nothing whatsoever,” or “it is of no benefit or help at all.” This is not the sinful flesh, the power of original sin within us. Jesus would hardly have had to say that that has nothing at all to contribute to spiritual life. This is the flesh that makes up our visible, tangible body–the senses and sensations we experience because we are physical beings. However, appeals to the flesh become appeals to the sinful flesh, and they do not create or sustain faith. “Plan B” jeopardizes souls and exposes our lack of trust in God.
“Plan A” isn’t just a command or a method. It’s a promise. The Spirit gives life. The words Jesus has spoken to us are Spirit, and they are life. This is where God has met each one of us and given us life. The Spirit came to us in word connected with water and washed our sins away. The Spirit comes to us in words that promise us forgiveness and mercy and peace and security and new life and eternal life and he sustains the faith he has given us. The older I get, the more I hear or read the bare words of Scripture that tell the same old stories I learned in Sunday school of God delivering his people or Jesus showing mercy, I don’t find them becoming dull or stale. I find them ever more moving and compelling. I find Spirit and life. Why should we assume it will be any different for others who hear those words?
Not everyone will believe. Even Jesus’ audiences turned away from him. Charles Spurgeon once commented on this fact, “I do not hear him (Jesus) say, ‘Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick, Peter, we must get the people somehow.’ Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.”
On the other hand, all those who do believe will believe for the same reason. The Spirit gave them life, the Spirit and life that came to them in Jesus’ words. May sharing that word always be our plan.