But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.
And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment
God by His Spirit destroys people’s self-deception so they can see their sin for what it is. But seeing ourselves is not enough to break the powerful grip sin has on our souls. In order for the allure of sin to be broken people need a glimpse of the eternal consequences of sin. It is one thing to be humbled by realizing we are wicked people. It is quite another to find out that our sin is so offensive to God that He is going to send us to a place of eternal torment because of it.
Sin has the complete attention of lost souls. Some are consumed by the sin of lusting for power and prestige, others lust after wealth and pleasure. Some are focused on the hidden sins of the heart and mind, others on the outward sins of the mouth and hands. Maybe a soul is captivated by carnal sins like adultery and pornography, or maybe they are committed to spiritual sins like witchcraft and hypocrisy. Whatever form sin takes, the lost souls of this world are enamored by the pleasure and gratification it promises. God knows the grip sin has on people’s attention, and He also knows how to turn their attention towards thoughts of eternity and salvation. God pulls back the veil and shows people the true wages of sin. Though Satan, their flesh and the world will only point to the immediate gratification of sin, God graciously points out the eternal consequences that awaits the sinner. By grace God grants the lost soul a touch of spiritual sanity by inscribing the terror of hell on his heart.
We preach the law of God so that God can use it to expose the sinner’s self-deception and convince him of his guilt. After the sinner sees himself clearly, we must help him consider the holiness of the God he has offended. After proclaiming the sinner’s sin, we must proclaim God’s holiness, righteousness and justice. After exposing the sinner’s guilt, we must magnify the glory, purity and perfection of God. The work of biblical evangelism always begins with humbling men and glorifying God.
As the sinner becomes aware not only of his sin, but of the blameless justice of His Judge, desperation will begin to settle on his heart. This is not a bad thing, this is a manifestation of the grace of God. Before someone can be saved he must cry out to God for mercy. And before someone can seek salvation he must be convinced that he needs it. The fear of wrath puts that cry for mercy into the sinner’s heart. Where once the sinner used to stay up at night anticipating sin, he now loses sleep anticipating eternal judgment. The thought of sin becomes distasteful to him because he knows how much it costs. As his thoughts consider the desperation of his situation he begins to search for the way of escape; this is the starting place of hope.
But we must be careful how we deal with people in this situation. Many souls reach this point and begin to reform many areas of their life. If we are not careful we might imagine that they have been converted to Christ. They appear very zealous to conform their lives to biblical standards. They seem to be truly repentant, but as we will see in the next section, the fear of judgment is not enough to convert someone to Christ. So we must learn to recognize the difference between religious resolve and true biblical conversion of the heart. The fear of God’s wrath, and the moral reformation that often accompanies it, is important, but it alone cannot save a person’s soul. It only prepares the heart to pursue the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ.