Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
Then Jesus replied, “I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way.”
1 Corinthians 3:9
For we are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
Salvation is the work of God and not men, but we are called to play a role in the salvation of others. We are called to be coworkers with God. But it must be understood that He is the leader and He is the one that gets glory for the accomplished work. Apart from God working through His Holy Spirit to lead people to salvation in Christ all our efforts would be in vain. Since men are hardened in their sins, only God can break through their defenses and humble their proud, rebellious hearts. So if we intend on being successful in the winning of souls we better understand the nature of how God draws people to salvation.
Jesus said that the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery, but not in every sense. He compares the work of the Spirit in drawing men to salvation with the blowing of wind. The wind is free to go where it wishes and we can’t control it. But, on the other hand we are able to see and hear where it is blowing. We can see the effects of the wind on the trees, and in the same way we can see the effects of God’s Spirit on the hearts and minds of men. And when we see Him working, we can join Him in what He is doing in the same way a sailor is able to discern the direction of the wind and adjust his sails accordingly. As the sailor must be familiar with the movement of the wind, so we must be familiar with the saving grace of God. So in this lesson we will look at the various ways God works on rebellious hearts and discuss how we should work with Him.
Romans 1:18-20 & 32
For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse…. who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
In the last lesson we mentioned the grace that is given to all men, namely common or restraining grace. This grace does not lead men to salvation but is given in order to preserve the human race from self-inflicted ruin before God’s plan of redemption is complete. Though God has handed humanity over to their own desires, He has not left them completely to themselves. They are not as bad as they could be, but He has restrained their evil to some degree by giving them the basic knowledge of right and wrong in their consciences and by establishing governments to enforce general morality for the good of all. This grace is the reason men are not as bad as they possibly could be. If God left them with only the desires of their hearts to guide them, they would be as obviously fiendish as any demon of hell.
These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
Those who are yet dead in their sins are enamored by the things of this life. They don’t pay any attention to eternal things because they are delighted with the things of this world. They might be very diligent at religion, but they are not spiritually open to consider the claims of the Gospel. Their religion, though it looks “spiritual” and talks about eternal things, is yet a part of their rebellion and love of self. Though they seem to be spiritual, they are yet carnal and focus their attention on what they consider interesting, important and true. It is only the preparative grace of God that can grab a person’s attention and turn it to seriously consider the claims of Christ. Preparative grace causes a person who has been uninterested in understanding the message of God become interested. Preparative grace is the first sign that God at work on people’s hearts. Though it will often seem like mere natural interest, it is the grace of God covertly preparing the person’s heart, making him willing and interested in learning more about the Gospel.
Someone who is unprepared by God’s grace lives like the problem of sin in the sight of a holy God and the claims of Christ as the Savior of mankind are not really pertinent to their life. They might be Christian in name, but their soul’s standing before the Holy One of Israel is rarely in their thoughts. Worries about relationships, finances, health and pleasure take the center stage of their attention. When the Gospel comes to such people they will consider it of little importance and only give it a casual consideration. But when God’s Spirit prepares a soul it will begin to sense the importance of the message being presented. Their attention will become more fixed on hearing what the preacher is trying to communicate. Though they will not be thoroughly alarmed at the depth and danger of their sin at this point, they will become more attentive to considering the claims of the Gospel. This is not a natural phenomenon, this is the work of God. When one truly becomes attentive to the message and begins to think seriously about how it concerns their soul, this is a sure sign that the preparative grace of God is at work on their hearts.
When we find people in this condition, or see them come into this attitude of mind while we are presenting the Gospel to them, we need to focus on them. As long as they are willing to hear us preach, or sit down and discuss the Gospel, or go through an evangelistic Bible study with us, we should focus our attention on them. Of course if we have shared thoroughly and gone through the evangelistic Bible studies with them and yet they are still not alarmed at the depth of their sin and the judgment to come, we should consider the seed planted and move on to other hearts that God is preparing. But we must not leave a soul that is truly interested too hastily, we should give the Holy Spirit ample time to grip their hearts with true conviction by pouring the word of God into them. We should add fuel to the fire which the Holy Spirit is kindling in their heart. Just as Israel followed the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire through the wilderness, so should we follow the Holy Spirit as we see the effects of His work on people’s hearts. Salvation is the work of God, and we should recognize where He is working and join Him in His work.
Our goal in dealing with sovereignly prepared hearts is to lead them into conviction. While we have their attention, we should press on them the depth of their depravity, the holiness of God and the just wrath to come. When presenting the Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection, it should be as a means to bring them under conviction. Since they are not alarmed, they will certainly not flee the wrath to come and cling to the Savior. But as we present Christ crucified for their sins we must make it clear that this further condemns them and vindicates God’s justice because they have rebelliously rejected it up to this point. We must strive with all of our persuasive power to bring them to a point where they see their need of salvation. At the same time we should be praying to God that He sends His convicting grace.
- What is difference between those who only experiencing common grace and those whose hearts have been prepared by the Holy Spirit?
- How should we deal with, or what is our goal, with a person who is interested in understanding the Gospel?
Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer.
John 16: 8
And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…
In the previous lesson we discussed the hardness of mankind’s heart apart from the drawing grace of God. People, apart from grace, can’t leave their sin, because they won’t leave their sin. They are in total rebellion to God, and therefore self-condemned. To give up their own will to follow God’s will would be death to them; and they avoid this death like an antelope avoids a lion. As long as God leaves them in their natural hardness, they will never repent and place their trust in Christ. But thank God Jesus is still seeking and saving the lost.
Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He does this by His Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel means “good news,” but the beginning of it is anything but good news. The Holy Spirit quietly comes to prepare men’s hearts so that they will give serious attention to the message of the Gospel. But His next goal is to convince men that they are sinful to the core and deserving of eternal judgment, and that without salvation in Christ they will surely perish.
The convicting grace of the Holy Spirit comes to tear down and uproot the blinding power of sin. This convicting grace is a negative kind of grace. It is the grace that Jesus showed when he made a whip and drove the money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. In order for a soul to place their trust in Christ, their faith in themselves must be driven out.
There are 2 “money changers” that convicting grace drives out of our heart. The first one is self-righteousness. Every lost soul is enslaved to pride. They are the center of their universe and they feel, whether they admit it or not, that they are the final authority on what is right and wrong with everything and everyone. When someone is bound to self-righteousness they can never place their trust in Christ. They don’t imagine they need a savior because they are blinded to their own depravity. They imagine that though they might have made some mistakes, they are generally a pretty good person. But the Holy Spirit comes to tear this blinding lie to shreds! The Holy Spirit convicts them of sin. He shows them that in them “nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:18). He removes “the pride of life” by revealing their depravity (1 John 2:16). Only by losing faith in their own righteousness can they ever turn to Christ and receive His.
The second “money changer” that the Spirit of Truth comes to cast out is the hold sin has on our attention. “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh;” the lusts of the flesh have their complete attention (Rom. 8:5). He does this by warning us “of the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). The Holy Spirit convicts them of judgment. When a soul sees the eternal wages of sin that are waiting for him, sin loses its mesmerizing effect on their attention. His desire for salvation becomes more urgent than his desire for the pleasures of sin. Whereas before he stayed up thinking about how to fulfill his various lusts, now he spends all his waking hours looking for a way of escape from the wrath of God that he knows abides on him (John 3:36, Eph. 2:3).
It must be pointed out that while under the conviction of the Holy Spirit the natural man is not transformed and freed from the love of sin, but merely distracted from it by being shown the consequences of his sin. He might stop some bad habits for a brief season, or even forever, but if he resists the conviction of the Spirit and refuses to come to Christ, he will be as blind as he ever was the moment convicting grace departs; and he will consequently die in his sin. We must be able to discern the difference between convicting grace and saving grace. People under conviction might make many changes, but until they have fully surrendered to Christ, trusted in Him alone for peace with God and received the assurance of the forgiveness of their sins, they are yet unsaved.
At the same time the convicting grace is tearing down faith in ourselves and warning us to “flee the wrath that is to come,” it is convincing us that we should place our faith in Christ (Luke 3:7). A heart devoted to sin can’t give its devotion to Christ. And a heart that trusts in its sincerity and decency can’t cry out, “Have mercy on me a sinner!” But when sin is shown to be a destroyer and a deceiver, the soul has a window of opportunity to turn from sin and place his hope in Jesus Christ. By exposing the “deceitfulness of sin” the heart is opened up to the possibility of saving faith (Heb. 3:13). The Spirit of God points out sin and the hold it has on us in order to turn us away from sin and towards Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness. He testifies about Jesus Christ. He shows us that though we are spiritually bankrupt, Jesus has been vindicated and seated at the right hand of God where he intercedes for all who will humble themselves and come to Him for mercy. The Spirit of Christ warns us of the danger in order to reveal to us the deliverance God has already provided.
Jesus told His disciples that the Spirit of God would testify about Him as well as convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. But he said they would also be His witnesses (John 15:26-27). And throughout the book of Acts we see them not only preaching Christ, but also exposing the sin of mankind and warning them to flee the wrath that is coming (Acts 24:24-25). If God’s Spirit is going to work through us to grant people the repentance that leads to life and the faith that leads to the pardoning of their sins, we must seek to persuade men of the same truths that He is coming to persuade men of, namely the wickedness of their hearts, the righteousness of Christ and the judgment that is soon to come upon every soul. It was said of the Methodist circuit riders of the 18th and 19th century that they, “Entered a village, sounded the alarm, raised the Cross of Christ, and were gone.” We also must sound the alarm and raise the Cross if we expect people to come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Our goal with people that are under the conviction of sin and judgment is to lead them to repentance from sin and to faith in Christ. We should plead with them to forsake all sin, and do it immediately. We must tell them that God commands them to repent. They are responsible to do it, and they must do it immediately. And we must command them to place their trust in Christ. We must tell them it is futile to hope in anything other than Christ, and we must make it very clear that they are responsible to trust in Christ. They must not imagine that God is going to do it for them, they must obey the commands to repent and trust in Christ. With every moment they delay they are tempting God. With every moment they grieve the Spirit of Christ they are increasing the danger that the convicting grace that has alarmed their heart will soon depart and they will be asleep in their darkness once again. They might not ever see their condition clearly again until it is already too late and they are standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ on the Last Day.
- What is difference between those whose hearts are prepared by grace and those who are under conviction?
- How should we deal with, or what is our goal, with a person who is under conviction?
A Couple Convicting Illustrations
One way to help people understand the holiness of God is by asking them why they think God created an eternal hell as a place of punishment for sinners. By asking this we can help them to see how God feels about sin. He is holy and doesn’t view sin the same way sinful men do. God hates sin so much He has created eternal fire for sinners!
To help people realize how sinful they are in God’s eyes we can ask them how many times Adam sinned before God sentenced him to death and separated Adam from His presence. We can also ask them the nature of that sin, namely taking a bite of forbidden fruit. Then we can ask them how many times they have sinned in their lives, whether in thought, word or deed. We can point out to them that if God was so angry over Adam’s one sin, imagine how He feels about their lifetime of sin.
The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple complex, and He healed them.
2 Timothy 2:24-26
The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will.
A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul.
When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers wrote to the disciples urging them to welcome him. After he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace.
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus cleared the money changers out of the temple the blind and the lame came to Him and He healed them. In the last lesson we saw that men are lost in sin because of their willful blindness and their unwillingness to walk in righteousness. Here we see that the goal of God in humbling a sinner before the reality of their depravity and His wrath is so that they will be led to the feet of Jesus Christ for salvation. He drives out self-righteousness and stubborn attachment to sin so that the individual might cry out for mercy and be saved.
Converting grace is that gracious work of God that pours spiritual insight into the heart of a sinner that has become desperate under the heavy hand of conviction. God leads the desperate and lost soul into true repentance and saving faith. Through converting grace God gives the sinner a holy hatred for sin and a total trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ. It impresses on his heart the worth, value and sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ on his behalf. And at the same time makes him despise the sin that made that sacrifice necessary. Converting grace converts the sinner’s heart away from sin and towards Christ. Through converting grace the sinner’s heart becomes absolutely determined to forsake all sin forever. His heart hates sin and wants nothing more to do with it. Through converting grace the desperate soul sees life, mercy and hope in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His heart fully receives the truth that Christ’s sacrifice was offered on his behalf, and in that he finds hope that God will give him mercy through Christ. That is to say, the sinner repents of their sin and places their trust in Jesus Christ.
It must be clear to us that this conversion will not take place without the willful determination and active obedience of the convicted sinner. He must decide to repent of his rebellion and place his trust in Christ. But it is no less clear that this cannot take place without the enlightening and delivering grace of God. God makes conversion possible, but men must obey the command to repent and believe. Though we might not understand how the sovereign grace of God and the free will of men can both be true, we must not reject either truth. Like the unity and plurality of the Trinity and the divinity and humanity of Christ, our minds cannot fully reconcile the truth of God’s sovereign grace and humanity’s responsibility, but we must accept what God has revealed whether we can fully explain it or not.
Salvation is totally by the grace of God, and man is responsible to receive it through faith after repentance. So we must pray for the sovereign God to reach out to people self-condemned in their willful rebellion, and we must plead with men to forsake their wickedness and trust in the mercy of God. When we stand before men we are prophets demanding that they do what they must do. When we stand before God we are priests pleading with Him to lead them to do what they will not do without His grace.
Convicted or Converted
A person who is under conviction can often change many things in their life. Their zeal to change, and their genuine desire to know and please God, can make them seem like a born again believer. It is important that we recognize the difference between a person who is changing because they are under conviction and one who is changing because they have been converted. If we make a mistake at this point we will begin to treat them like a Christian instead of someone who is still lost in their sin. Instead of trying to lead them to salvation we will try to lead them in sanctification.
Not discerning the difference between a person under conviction and one who has been truly converted will cause two major problems. The first problem is that we will find leading them through the process of discipleship very frustrating. Since they are not converted their rebellious heart will continue to resist the truth and ways of God. They might be willing to change in many areas, but we will find that in some areas they are still as stubborn as ever. The second, and most important, problem that arises from failing to discern the difference between a converted and a convicted individual is that we will give them false assurance of their salvation. They will begin to imagine that they have been born again because we imagine that they are born again. In time, their resistance to conviction will grieve the Holy Spirit and He will pull back from them. We will then be left with a rebellious and hardened sinner in the midst of our fellowship.
To avoid this we must be very clear about the difference between conviction and conversion. The convicted heart is seeking salvation, but knows they have not yet found it. The converted heart rejoices that he has already found hope in Christ; that is, the converted person is already trusting in Christ for salvation. Without the person testifying that they are confident in God’s willingness and ability to save them through Christ, we should assume they are unconverted and continue to lead them towards genuine repentance and saving faith.
Those who have repented of their sins and trusted in Christ should then be identified with Christ through baptism in order to complete their conversion. Baptism in water is the act of faith God has ordained as the capstone of conversion wherein we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). Through faith in Christ the waters of baptism become the place where our old life is buried with Christ and our new life begins (Romans 6:3-4, Titus 3:5, John 3:5).
- What is difference between those who are under conviction and those who have been converted?
- How should we deal with, or what is our goal, with a person who has been converted?
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
When someone submits to God and trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation, God pardons their sins, declares them innocent and accepts them as His children. Though the repentant and believing sinner has done nothing to earn God’s forgiveness, God in His grace, for the sake of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, grants it to the one who believes. The condemnation that the sinner has earned is replaced with favor, God mercifully pardons their sin and graciously adopts them as His children because of their faith in God’s Son.
But when the goodness of God and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us — not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.
After we have been made right with God through the forgiveness of sins, God will send His Spirit into our hearts and make us into new creations, with brand new desires. He will write His law on our hearts so that we will desire to do God’s will. This is called being renewed by, and born of, the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5, John 3:5).
When a sinner repents he makes the decision to forsake all sin and live only for the will of God. But in himself it is impossible to carry out what he is determined to do. Through converting grace he takes God’s side against sin and rebellion, but if a divine work is not done in his heart he will quickly return to his sin as a dog returns to its vomit. But God is faithful; He has promised that if anyone will repent of his sin and place his trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ God will regenerate (i.e. rebirth) them and renew their hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. So it is not only the grace of God that leads them to repentance and faith, it is also the grace of God that supernaturally changes them within so that they can love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Comforter], that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
When we trust in Christ for salvation we receive a measure of assurance through our faith in the reliability of God’s word (Romans 4:19-21, Hebrews 11:1). We firmly believe that God has offered salvation to everyone who will repent and trust in Christ, and we are fully convinced that God will keep His word. When we examine our hearts we are convinced that we have repented and trusted in Christ, therefore we conclude that God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake according to His promise.
All that have truly trusted in Christ receive the assurance of faith, but this type of assurance does not provide the full assurance that God offers us in the New Covenant. The assurance of faith is weakened because it is dependent on our own judgment; it is arrived at by considering the state of our hearts and concluding that we have truly repented and believed. But every true believer has a distrust in his own judgment. We are aware that our hearts are deceitful and not to be fully trusted (Jeremiah 17:9). For this reason God has provided us with another form of assurance that is more direct in nature.
When God gives us His Spirit He also gives us His direct divine testimony that we have been forgiven of our sins and accepted as His child. Before receiving this direct witness we examine our hearts and conclude that we have indeed trusted in Christ, but there is always a lingering doubt, “Is my faith the kind of faith that God requires in His word?” God understands our weaknesses, so when He pours His Spirit into our heart, His Spirit testifies to our heart that we indeed are His children. God confirms directly what we had already deduced by examining our hearts and the promise of the Gospel. The honest testimony of our spirits to our genuine repentance and sincere faith is good, but the heavenly testimony of God’s Spirit to our salvation is even better!
And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or faint when you are reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
After one has been converted, conviction of sin and the judgment to come still remains in their heart. God in His grace always disciplines us so that we can share in His holiness. He doesn’t condemn us as His enemies, but disciplines born again believers as His children. Though He exposes the corruption that lies deep within us, and warns us to fear Him in light of the judgment to come, it is not a condemning or desperate fear. Our hearts are assured of our peace with God and His loving acceptance of us. The difference between an unsaved person under convicting grace and a saved child of God under God’s sanctifying grace is that the saved person knows He is safe in the hands of His heavenly Father, and the lost soul is sure that He has fallen into the hands of a holy, just and offended God.
- What is difference between the conviction God brings on a saved person and the conviction He gives to an unsaved person?