You can listen to the audio lesson here.
You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.
PART III – THE PRESENT ESTATE OF MAN
Lesson Seven: Man’s Sin and Its Wages
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23; NKJV).
Man’s need for redemption. One of the biggest obstacles we face in our society, when considering the task of evangelism, is helping people see their need for the gospel. Many are simply unconcerned about their eternal state. Even those who affirm the existence of a god out there somewhere believe His primary attribute to be that of mercy, so they live as though they will never have to answer to God for their sins. As we saw in our last lesson, this has never been the Christian affirmation of who God is.
“Q.11. Is not God therefore merciful?
1. Yes, very much so! He is merciful, but He is also just, wherefore His justice requires that the same which is committed against the divine majesty of God should also be recompensed with extreme, that is, everlasting punishment both in body and soul,” (Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Q.11).
We live in a nation that has largely forsaken this understanding of who God is. In fact, many Christians will tell you never to talk about sin, guilt, or repentance when sharing the gospel with people. They don’t mind discussions of the love and the mercy of God. They don’t even mind discussions of His holiness, as long as there is no correlation drawn between His complete holiness and the sinfulness of man.
The problem is that man cannot truly understand their need of God’s mercy unless they first understand His holiness and their complete lack thereof. Individuals must be brought to an honest, prayerful contemplation of their own personal sinfulness in light of God’s utter holiness and justice. They must be brought to understand that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23; NKJV), which means they personally have sinned and fall short of His glory. Until then, the gospel will make no sense whatever.
Until man is brought to an understanding of his sinfulness and the consequences thereof, he will see no danger in staying the course. He must be brought to an understanding that his sin means eternal destruction and damnation apart from the gracious provision of God, but engulfed in His eternal contempt. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise, where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell; where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day; besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none,” (The Baptist Confession, 31.1)
The sinfulness of the individual. Truly, man is fallen in Adam and death has thus spread to all men (Rom. 5:12), but the carnal man must be made to see the particular offense his own sin is against a holy, righteous, and just God. He must be brought, as by a schoolmaster, to Christ and His gospel by nothing less than the sheer condemnation of the law of God (Gal. 3:24). Until then, he will see no need for redemption. He will think himself basically good and in no need of atonement. He will think himself basically good, because he is self-deceived.
“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled,” (Titus 1:15; NKJV).
The mind untethered to the word of God is a mind in darkness. Even Christians, the farther we stray from the word of God, wander into self-deception and the defilement of the mind. We must ever be confronted by the word of God in order to come to a true understanding of our sinfulness and how far short of God’s holy standard we fall.
One way that this conviction has been attempted in recent years is through an exercise in which the unbeliever is ask if she thinks herself to be a good person. If she says, “Yes,” the Christian asks if he can test that affirmation. If she concedes, he proceeds to ask a series of question about her obedience to the Ten Commandments. The unbeliever inevitably fails this test and, if convicted of sin, is then offered the gospel. I largely agree with this approach. There are just a couple issues, though, that I take with it.
First, there seems to be an assumption that a short 3-5 minute presentation should be enough to convict people of their sin and help them see their need for Christ. In most cases, much more work needs to be done. There needs to be a prolonged period of sitting under the preached word and much soul-searching on the part of the unbeliever. So, while the initial presentation of the law and the gospel might whet a person’s appetite for Christ and the preaching of His word,
We should not expect that most of these initial encounters will necessarily lead to the individual’s immediate conversion. Most often, the unbeliever needs to get under the preached word at a local church where they can be discipled and taught to observe all that Christ commanded. Through that process, Lord-willing, he may eventually turn from his sins toward God and put his full trust and allegiance in Christ Jesus alone for his salvation.
Second, there is often an extremely erroneous assumption made in the way that this method is employed. Some well-known adherents to this approach teach not to even share the gospel with the unbeliever unless he demonstrates a conviction of sin and a concern for final judgment. They claim that offering the gospel to such individuals is a casting of pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6). The problem is that the law only has the ability to lead one to the gospel. It has no power, though, to convict. That power is found in the gospel alone (Rom. 1:16). It’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance.
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4; NASB).
The universal sinfulness of man. The individual must be brought to an understanding of his or her own personal sinfulness. In the process of bringing the unbeliever to this understanding, though, an understanding of the universal sinfulness of man can be instructive. Imagine you are talking to a man, and he says that he is better than most. How do you respond? This individual needs to understand that he is comparing himself to a mass of fallen, depraved individuals who also fall short of God’s holy standard.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5; NKJV).
It always baffled me that pastors and theologians would point to this passage in Genesis, before the flood, when speaking of the universal depravity of man. Then, one day, it occurred to me that there was not real change in the constitution of man after the flood. We are still just as depraved as they were back then. The change that occurred after the flood was in God’s dealings with man’s sin. He established a covenant with all mankind whereby He promised never again to destroy the world with water.
Man, on the other hand, is still totally depraved and under the condemnation of the law. This is indeed a universal depravity. We are all sinners and thoroughly sinful. For a man to stand and say that he is not a sinner is for him to say that he is better than every other human being that has ever lived. It is the height of arrogance, because there is none good.
“10As it is written:
‘There is none righteous, no, not one;
11There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.’
13‘Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit’;
‘The poison of asps is under their lips’;
14‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’
15‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17And the way of peace they have not known.’
18‘There is no fear of God before their eyes,’” (Romans 3:10-19; NKJV).
Another response, especially in the South where a lot of erroneous ideas have been floated in the name of Christianity, is to say, “Well, you don’t know my heart, and you can’t judge me.” While there is some truth to this statement, the Lord has revealed enough about the heart of man in Scripture that we can state with confidence that every man is a sinner in need of redemption. In fact, those who convince themselves that they are not sinners have actually been deceived in their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?,” (Jer. 17:9; NKJV).
We, then, are up against impossible odds. We stand in a valley of dry bones and seek to preach to the self-deceived that they are utterly sinful both in body and in mind, the very sin that hinders them from receiving our message with gladness of heart. How can we have any rational expectation, then, that they will respond aright? Lest the Lord act, we cannot. Nevertheless, the gospel message must begin here: with an accounting of both the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.