And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil- mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 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 order to know how to lead people to Christ we need to know where we are leading them from. Many preachers today believe people can come to Christ if the evangelist merely emphasizes the depth of God’s love while ignoring the depth of people’s sin. This is the reason many people in the Church are actually not born again. A faulty understanding of the way one comes to salvation and what Christ saves us from has led many people into a false assurance of eternal life. They sincerely believe they are going to heaven though they are actually still on the road to hell.
Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. He did not die for the righteous, but for the ungodly. He does not merely offer people God’s love, He saves them from God’s wrath, and He does that by saving them from their sin. We must tell people the truth about their condition in God’s sight so that the truth can set them free.
The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It lets us know that this doesn’t happen later on in life but tells us that “man’s inclination is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). And the Scripture makes it clear just how thoroughly corrupt mankind is in Romans 3:10-12,
“There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.”
Not only does the Bible make it clear that all have sinned, and all have sinned their whole lives, but that even the things they thinks they have done good are actually sinful in God’s sight because they proceed from wicked hearts (Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9-10). It declares that everyone has left God and turned to their own way, and that for that reason God has handed mankind over to their own willful rebellion (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 1:28-32). Man by his own wickedness has become a slave to sin, servants of the devil, children of wrath, alienated and hostile to God and completely lost in darkness (John 8:34, Ephesians 2:1-3, Colossians 1:13 and 21).
Mankind chose sin, and for this reason God justly handed them over to their rebellion. The world said, “Let us break free from this God and His ways,” and so God gave them the desire of their hearts. They were born in darkness and they embraced the darkness, so God delivered them up to even more darkness. In this sinful condition people cannot find God because they do not want God. In fact, the Bible declares that people are enemies of God; they cannot find God because they despise Him, His authority and His ways (James 4:4, Romans 8:7-8). Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. He didn’t need to come to condemn it, because it has already been condemned. In their willful rebellion people are totally corrupt and darkened by sin.
People who are dead in their sins have no interest in the things of the Gospel. We are called to wake them up. We must plead with them, “Awake oh sleeper and rise from the dead that Christ may shine on you!” (Ephesians 5:14) We must labor to persuade them them that the Gospel is terribly important to them. We must expose them as rebels against a gracious, just and holy God. We must vindicate God by showing them that He will be just to judge them. We must seek to turn their attention away from the things of this world to the consideration of eternal things. We must spiritually grab them, shake them, and say, “Wake up to reality! Why will you perish?!”
- Did you ever realize that the Bible teaches that people don’t just sin, but that they are thoroughly evil?
- Why is it important that the people we are evangelizing see this difference very clearly?
The world despises and rejects the testimony of Scripture about the character of mankind. The world boasts in its religion and morality, its governments and education systems, its philosophy, culture and arts. Man boasts in his potential, but the word of God declares it all corruption and wickedness.
We must point out that from man’s perspective humanity can sometimes look quite good. Humanitarian efforts, upright morality and selfless acts of heroism seem commonplace in the history of mankind. But it only looks that way when we view it from a human perspective. We must remember that the heart of man is deceitfully wicked and proud, so it is not surprising that humanity paints itself in a generally good light. But Scripture gives us God’s perspective, and since He is the Creator and the Judge, His perspective is the only one that is correct or relevant.
Consider this analogy. Imagine an army general who rebels against his holy, good, wise, gracious and rightful king and starts his own little government in one part of the king’s kingdom. This general is a rebel. He has committed treason and is worthy of death. He might be a loving father, he might be very generous to the poor and he might always speak the truth as he sees it; nevertheless, he is still in total rebellion to a good and rightful king. Nothing “good” he does can make up for the fact that he has betrayed his master and exalted himself to the place of king over his own little kingdom.
This is the condition of people apart from God’s saving grace. They have made themselves the kings of their own little kingdoms in God’s universe. They might do some seemingly “good” acts, but everything they do is done while living in utter pride and rebellion. They are totally corrupt, and they can only be cleared of guilt by turning back to their Master and receiving His pardon. But this is the one thing they will never do on their own because in the hardness of their own hearts they are convinced they are not rebels; they firmly believe that their lives belong to them and that they should be able to do whatever they want to do, think how they want to think and live how they want to live. What makes turning back to God impossible for them is that submitting to God as their sovereign King would mean giving up their own little kingdoms. So they live and die in rebellion, unless God intervenes and graciously persuades them to turn from their foolishness and wickedness.
The God who made the world and everything in it — He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
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.
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 constraining mercy is called common grace. 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. In fact, the Day is coming, when God will judge the world in righteousness, and those without Christ will be completely forsaken by God and cast into hell. On that Day the darkness in them that is now restrained by common grace will be fully manifest and they will burn with their own wicked lusts for all eternity.
Amazingly, the world boasts in this restraining grace as though its source is human nature. They see things like genocide, rape and human trafficking as abnormal human behavior, when in fact these acts are actually more natural for genuine human nature. This is just another sign of the deceptive and arrogant heart of mankind trying to claim the gifts of God as their own property.
- Have you ever realized that every unconverted person you know would be as evil as a demon if the grace of God was not restraining them?
- How can you help sinners see that the goodness in their lives is not from themselves but is a fruit of their conscience which was given them by God’s grace?
Blind, Lame and Paralyzed
After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. Within these lay a large number of the sick — blind, lame, and paralyzed [— waiting for the moving of the water, because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].
One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”
“Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.
God has given us an illustration in Scripture about the rebellious and lost condition of mankind in John chapter 5. In verse 3 we see that the people that were waiting for healing near the pool of Bethesda were blind, lame and paralyzed. These three conditions represent the moral and spiritual condition of mankind apart from God’s converting grace.
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.
Mankind is morally blind: It is important that we understand that human moral blindness is willful blindness. Though they know the truth, they “suppress the truth” because they love unrighteousness.
For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Mankind is morally lame: People cannot walk in righteousness because they live for self and sin. They are hostile to God and His ways because they love their own ways. They are unable to live holy because they are unwilling to live holy.
This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.
There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless.
Mankind is morally paralyzed: They cannot come to the light because they avoid the light. They cannot move towards God and His salvation because they do not want God and His salvation.
In John 5:1-9 there was a man who had not been able to walk for 38 years, and he had been waiting by the pool in order to receive healing for a long time. Jesus came to him and asked him a strange question, “Do you want to get well?” This seems like a useless, and even rude, question to ask a man who had been unable to walk for 38 years and was sitting in an area where people gather in order to receive healing. But the Lord knew the man better than he knew himself, and so he asked the man a very relevant question.
The man responded by giving excuses as to why he had not yet been healed. He didn’t tell the truth, but made excuses, even blaming others for not helping him. But Jesus knew the man had been there for a “long time.” So Jesus knew that the man was not serious about getting healed. If he had been serious about being healed he would have sat at the edge of the pool, ready to drag himself into the water by his hands when the water was stirred. The truth is that he had become content with his situation. Yes, it is true that he could not physically walk, but it is also true that he could not walk because he had not taken getting healed seriously.
This is a perfect illustration of the sinful condition of mankind apart from the converting grace of God. Men are blind, lame and paralyzed in their sin. But they are not to be pitied for this, because it is by their own choosing. They do not want to be freed from sin, they love it. They are not victims, they are in willful rebellion to God. They cannot be free from sin because they do not want to be free from sin. They have sold themselves to sin and are content to wallow in their sin and even blame others for their condition.
- Is it possible for unbelievers to repent of their sin? Why or why not?
- How will understanding this affect the way you communicate the command to repent to sinners?
Be On God’s Side
Mankind is willfully lost and justly condemned. All true evangelism must begin at this point. Mankind has not just done a few bad things, they have not just committed some sins; they are sinners in complete and utter rebellion. And what is more, they will not leave their rebellion without God’s saving grace. Without understanding the condition people are in apart from Christ, we will not understand how to lead them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.
When we consider the situation of mankind before a holy God, we must be very careful that we do not view them as victims. Often when we hear words terms like “lost sheep” and “being saved” we think of people as helpless creatures that deserve our pity. But we must be careful to think rightly about sinners. They are lost, but only because they refuse to be found. And they need saving, but they need saving from their own stubborn hearts.
Consider this illustration. Imagine you walk by a house and see a man through the window sitting calmly on his sofa watching a sports match. Then you look at the roof of the house and see that it is in flames. You immediately feel pity for the ignorant and helpless man, so you run to the house and begin banging on the window screaming as loud as you can, “Get out of the house, it is on fire!” You think he sees you, but he continues calmly watching his TV. Your compassion grows into desperation as you realize he probably didn’t hear you. Since you can see that the flames have already spread to the front door you grab a rock and smash the window, and then yell to him, “The house is on fire! Get out now!” Then to your amazement he picks up his can of beer and takes a sip. In unbelief, you shout the same thing again, even louder, thinking maybe he is deaf. Then, with an annoyed look on his face he looks at you and says, “Leave me alone! Go away!” You reason with him, “But your house is on fire!” He then turns to you and says arrogantly, “Of course it is, stupid! I poured gasoline all over the roof and set it on fire! Now leave me to die watching my favorite team!”
We must never imagine men as poor, helpless, ignorant sinners getting ready to face the judgment of a harsh, strict, mean God. Though we have mercy and compassion on men, it is not because they are helpless victims. We have compassion and mercy on them only because the Creator loves them and would rather see them repent than perish. Men without Christ are not victims, they are willful and arrogant rebels. We must never take their side against a holy, just and gracious God. We must never imagine that they are perishing because of their ignorance. No, they are perishing because they are wicked. We must never imagine they are on their way to hell because God is too strict. No, they are on their way to hell because God is good and just. We must not seek to save the lost simply out of a love for humanity; that is humanism, not Christianity. No, we must seek to save the lost because God, in unimaginable mercy and grace, sent His Son to seek and save the lost. We must love men for the sake of Christ, not for their own sakes.
Though love for mankind, which finds its source in the heart of God, is one motive for evangelism, it must never be the primary motive. Our primary motivation for preaching the Gospel to all people is for the glory of God. We desire that God would be glorified in receiving the souls for which His Son gave His life. But we must realize, that even when people reject the Gospel of God’s grace He will be glorified through our proclamation. On the Day of Judgment all those who have never heard the Gospel will acknowledge God’s justice in sending them to hell because their conscience will testify against them and will justify God. So how much more will God’s justice be glorified by those who have heard the Gospel and yet rejected it?! They will freely confess that they are doubly worthy of hell because they not only sinned against their conscience, but that they even rejected the offer of grace given them in the Gospel. In this way, the preaching of the Gospel, though it will not always result in people being saved, it will always result in God being glorified. Either His grace will be glorified in people’s salvation, or His justice will be glorified in their just judgment. On that Day, no one will blame God!
We will never help people by taking their side against God. When they give us all their reasons and excuses for sinning, and tell us why they can’t stop sinning, we must be careful not to sympathize with them. Often we tend to give them the impression that their excuses are valid. When we are overly sympathetic they will hear us saying, “Yes, I know it is very hard, I truly understand, we are all so weak and can’t help but sin against God. But, there is nothing we can do, God is a very strict and hard God, we have to do what He says or He will send us to hell.” They hear us saying that they are pitiful victims and God is an unfair judge to demand so much from them. This is neither glorifying towards God, nor helpful towards people. We must make it very clear to them that they are the ones at fault, not God. And the only reason they cannot leave their sin is because they refuse to repent and submit to their wise, gracious and just Creator, Who gave His only Son for them. Only this truth can set them free.
- In what way should we pity people who are unsaved, and in what way should we not pity them?
- What is the two dangers of pitying unsaved people in the wrong way?