The Forgotten Gospel
Robert Wurtz II
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. (Acts 26:19-21)
Paul is explaining to Agrippa that Christ had appeared to him on the road to Damascus, commissioning him to preach the Gospel. His objective was to open the eyes of the Gentiles, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:18) He was to turn them or convert them to Christ. He would do this by preaching sin, righteousness and judgment to come. How do we know that? Because it is the message in harmony with what the Holy Spirit is effecting in sinners. (John 16:8) If the preacher agree not with the Holy Ghost, his words are vain. The message, in the mouth of a godly minister, co-labors with the Holy Spirit to effect a ‘U’ turn in a sinner’s life so as to prepare them to take their place in the building of God. (1 Cor. 3:9)
Everyone must begin this way. This means that all people everywhere must change their mind about sin and rebellion, and turn to God in submission and obedience. The times when God overlooked ignorance is over. (Acts 17:31) This is the sinner’s contribution, having responded in faith; not as the devil’s that believe and tremble, but as the repentant, who bring forth fruits worthy of their changed mind. They are to turn from darkness and bring forth evidence of the fact in such a way that God will believe them. Having turned, they are not to turn back. This is effectively the starting point of all relationships with God. It was the message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and as we see clearly in Acts 26:19-21 it was Paul’s message. Two thirds the way through his ministry he was still preaching a repentance that required works meet for repentance. If we side-step this fact we will fill the churches of God with goats and wolves.
In this entry I propose,
I. To examine first the three states of unrepentant sinners.
II. To explore the methods of dealing with each ‘state’ of unrepentant sinner.
III. To explore the initial evidence of conversion
I. The three states of unrepentant sinners.
A. The Careless Sinner
B. The Awakened Sinner
C. The Convicted Sinner
A. The “careless sinner” can simply “care-less” about their soul’s salvation and need for God. They are opposed to their own salvation. Some will get hostile or even violent at the proposal of being saved. Sinners are very creative in finding ways to ignore their need for God and press Him as far back in their minds as possible. They do not like to retain God in their knowledge and prefer to sin unabated. These people are enemies of both God and themselves. Some are quite subtle and simply ignore God and believe they are ‘good people.’ Yet others may be in some form of false religion. No matter which category they fall into- they are quite careless about their souls. They are deceived by Satan and are fearlessly confident in their sinful condition. They feel no need to consider the vast number of ways in which God is trying to gain their attention. They ignore the sight of a church. They skip past Christian TV and radio when skimming channels. They ignore Christian related billboards and bumper stickers. More than that, they do always resist the Holy Ghost that is using these and many other means to arrest their attention. They surround themselves with worldly things that bolster their deception and hasten their damnation.
B. The “awakened sinner” is someone that has been shocked into at least ‘considering’ their need for God. This happens at times when tragedy strikes such as a loved one passing away or being suddenly killed. It happens when the individual themselves suffer some calamity such as being diagnosed with cancer or falling into financial crisis. It can happen at times of great distress and fear such as the events of 9-11 or the Great Tsunami Disaster. It may also happen at times when sudden danger is upon them such as a Tornado Warning. The job of the minister is to awaken sinners by the truth of the Gospel. Occasionally God sovereignly shakes a sinner from slumber with prophetic dreams (Genesis 41:8, Daniel 4:5, etc.).
C. The “convicted sinner” is a person who after hearing a Gospel message and having been dealt with greatly by the Holy Spirit is convinced of their need for God and the Gospel. They are convinced they are a sinner and need to repent. They are convinced that they need to trust in Christ and turn everything completely over Him. To a lesser or greater degree they understand the Gospel. They are familiar more or less with God and His word- at least enough to be born again. The Holy Spirit has brought them to that place where they are trembling in awe of God and are halting between two opinions. They are at the crossroads- and must choose whom they will serve. At this time the Holy Spirit is in the role of Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus dealt with the rich young ruler- the Holy Spirit, in the same fashion, is dealing with this person. He is showing them in their ‘minds-eye’ what they must submit to Him in order to be saved and “have treasure in Heaven.” This is a “one-on-one” with the Holy Ghost. This is where the great striving and wrestling happens. The Holy Spirit knows what is standing between Him and them and He is showing it to them. The convicted sinner is made to know exactly what he/she is trading for their immortal soul.
II. The method of dealing with each ‘state’ of unrepentance.
A. Careless sinners require great wisdom to deal with. Proverbs 11:30 teaches us that “He that winneth souls is wise.” Since the careless sinners are opposed to themselves, they are like dealing with someone ‘suicidal.’ Careless sinners are ready at a moment’s notice to turn on themselves and harden even further. Dealing with them requires the wisdom of God. This is why prayer and the leading of the Spirit is important. Sometimes preaching will arrest their attention. Sometimes personal witnessing will do it. Dealing with sinners is on an individual basis. Awakening them with the Gospel or waiting for an opportunity to minister to them is a matter of great wisdom and timing. Sometimes there will seem to be no real opportunity and you must witness knowing there will be great resistance or worse.
B. Awakened sinners also require great wisdom in dealing with as not to miss the opportunity to share the Gospel when they are in an awakened state. The enemy is working double-time to stop their conversion when he sees them in this condition. He will distract them and fill their minds with all sorts of rhetoric and lies. He will give them a multitude of excuses as to why they should not listen to God and yield to the Holy Ghost. This is the time to take them through the scriptures leaving nothing out- nor selling the Gospel short of its requirements. A person needs to understand their condition and what salvation is as much as possible. Nothing is more important than this time! Spend the time required to bring them to genuine conversion. This is not a ‘drive-thru’ process; it can take hours, days or even weeks. The tragedy of our day is that we do not take time for reflection in the service and at the altar. This is a very serious and solemn time. Birth is a process. This is the time where they decide their eternal fate. Either heaven or hell will rejoice when it’s all said and done. Don’t yield to the temptation to take shortcuts for any reason. The enemy will fill your mind with thoughts such as “hurry-up” or “this is taking too long.” He will keep you looking at the time. Stay until you know for certain that their blood has been washed from your hands.
C. Convicted sinners are convinced of their sin and know they need to repent. They understand what is required of them. The Holy Spirit is showing them what ‘thing they lackest’ and they are striving with Him. DO NOT give them a place of refuge if they start rationalizing and minimizing their sins. FLUSH THEM OUT until you know why it is that they will not submit to God. Give them time and they will tell you what it is. Maybe it’s a pet sin or bitterness. Maybe they don’t want to reconcile old enmities or make restitution to those they harmed. If the Holy Ghost is telling them to do something or lay something down don’t dare tell them differently. He knows what is holding them back and so do they. What if they go away sorrowful as did the rich young ruler? Do what Christ did and let them go. Don’t fight against the Holy Ghost by comforting them. Let them feel the full weight of what they are doing; it is their only hope. Let them dwell on it. Do not give them a false assurance. The devil will use your comforting words to fortify them in their sin and eventually damn their soul. Salvation is not a process at this stage. They have been through the process and they know what they must do! They are in rebellion. Be ye not partakers of that rebellion no matter how much the Devil tempts you to do it. Lay it all -on- the line!
III. The initial evidence of hopeful conversion
A. Once a person has fully submitted to God a relationship has begun. The person needs to go on with God. This implies a willingness to be baptized in water and receive the Holy Spirit. Paul’s Gospel took a person through a process of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ, water baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit without skipping any steps (though the order of water baptism and Spirit baptism may be reversed). He asked the repentant believers at Ephesus, “Have you received since you believed?” They had not. It is the receiving of the Holy Spirit that brings a person fully into the blessing of the New Covenant. If we ignore these steps we will raise up a group of individuals that name the name of Christ and yet have never begun in the Spirit. If we seek to see folks baptized in the Holy Spirit that have never repented of their sins we open them up to receive a different spirit (see 2 Cor. 11:4) that will effect a perpetual false experience in God that leaves in its wake all manor of confusion- both for them and others that encounter them.
B. Many times people will come to God unwilling to surrender all but want to know what are the ‘least requirements’ with which they might miss hell and go to heaven. God doesn’t believe them. As G.W. North has said, “God is the great unbeliever; He doesn’t believe you.” That is to say, He cannot be fooled by pretense and slapdash repentance. He knows when we have really believed and have truly repented. He knows when we lay down our rights to ourselves and give ourselves to Him. Many are content to merely ‘feel saved.’ They want assurance without repentance. They want Christianity without beginning in the Spirit. This is not the nature of real salvation. Real salvation is the surrender of your person to another person just as a man would be committed to his wife. It is an exclusive covenant relationship that holds nothing back.
C. Before the 20th century folks that showed fruits of repentance and faith were said to be “hopefully converted.” The evangelistic crusades of the 20th century changed this so that folks could repeat a prayer and make a public display and be called “saved”. This sad turn of events has brought much confusion. A person’s assurance must come from their own relationship with God. Logical deductions and proof texts are impotent to bring a person to New Birth. They must respond to God as He takes hold of the word of repentance and the Gospel and convinces them of its truth. If they will take these steps their conversion is “hopeful” but they must go on with God.