Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Evangelism



Descent of the Holy Spirit

Jesus has just described the hostility that believers can expect to receive from the world.  But is it a lost cause?  If lost sinners, by their very nature, are hostile to the gospel, how would any of them come to faith in Christ?  If the world crucified Christ, why would it believe in Him as the promised Messiah?

Once again Jesus comes back to the work of the Holy Spirit.  “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth.  It is to you advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7; NKJV).  It cannot be overemphasized how central the Holy Spirit’s work should be in the church.  When Jesus walked here on earth, the lives of the disciples revolved around Him.  He was their Master, their Lord, their Teacher.  But now He was about to depart, leaving a void.  The Holy Spirit is meant to fill that void.

But the very idea of the Spirit of God indwelling a human being is extraordinary, and it would only be possible after Christ had died on the cross and made an atonement for our sin.  Having risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, He was then able to appear before God the Father as our intercessor, and ask that the Holy Spirit be given.  Pentecost was the proof that Christ’s sacrifice had been accepted and that He was now in heaven making intercession on our behalf.  The Holy Spirit now occupies a role in our lives analogous to the role that Jesus occupied in the lives of His disciples when He was here on earth.  The Holy Spirit is to play a central role in our lives as individual believers and in our life together as a church.

In this passage Jesus specifically turns His attention to the role that the Holy Spirit will play in the world at large.  “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (v. 8).  The word translated “convict” (elegcho) “implies rebuke which brings conviction” (Abbott-Smith).  The Holy Spirit will overcome the natural resistance of the human heart to convince them of certain basic facts a person must know and believe in order to come to faith in Christ.

The first of these is sin.  “. . . of sin, because they do not believe in Me” (v. 9).  There is a great deal of discussion among the commentators about exactly how this and the next two verses should be translated and interpreted.  We will take the position that the word “because” introduces a clause which states the reason why the Holy Spirit is convicting of these things.  And the first thing of which the Holy Spirit convicts us is the terrible fact of sin.  God is perfectly just, holy and loving.  He created us to live our lives in accordance with His will.  But instead we rebelled against Him and gave ourselves to a wide variety of sinful passions and desires – anger, pride, greed and lust.  We have a general sense that these are wrong, but since everyone else is guilty of the same sins we tend not to take them seriously.  And so the Holy Spirit must show us how serious a problem sin really is.  And He does this ”because they do not believe in Me.”  He came into the world to save people from their sins, and yet they do not believer.  Why?  Because they do not believe that sin is the serious problem that it is.

And the Holy Spirit will convict the world “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more” (v. 10).  While Jesus was here on earth His life was a perfect example of what true righteousness is, and His teaching reflected the will of God on this more fully and completely than had ever been done before.  As human beings we cannot see how lost we really are until we understand how perfect a righteousness God really requires.  We compare ourselves with each other, and conclude that we are not so bad after all – after all, I am not as bad as the guy in the next cell – he got charged with first degree murder!  But to see what God Himself is really like is to experience is to experience the reaction that Isaiah had when he saw God – “Woe is me, for I am undone! / Because I am a man of unclean lips. . . .” (Isa. 6:5).  And so with Jesus physically departed the Holy Spirit must give the sinner a sense of what real righteousness is.

And then Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (v. 11).  It is tempting for us, as human beings, to think that no serious consequences will come from our sin, as long as we obey the laws of the civil authorities.  We live, we pursue our dreams and ambitions, we have successes or failures, but hopefully most of us will avoid imprisonment.  What we fail to recognize, however, is that there is coming a day of judgment in which each one of us individually must give an account to God for our actions here on earth. And what a terrifying prospect that is!  To stand before an absolutely holy God who knows every impure thought and hidden fault that we ever had, and try to explain to Him, our Creator, why we did what He did not want us to do – who could possibly escape condemnation?  And the fact of the matter is that “the ruler of this world is judged.”  We think that we are fine if we are in conformity with the standards of human society around us.  But human civilization in its entirety is in a state of rebellion against God, and its ruler is no one less than Satan himself.  But Satan has already been judged, and while his influence may prevail now his cause is ultimately lost.  This is why it makes no sense to keep conforming to this twisted and perverted standards of human conduct.

Most people have at least a vague sense of guilt.  We have consciences – we have at least a sense that there is a difference between right and wrong.  The apostle Paul calls it “the work of the law written on our hearts” (Rom. 2:15).  Most people have a sense of moral standards imposed by society and feel guilty when caught.  But the conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit is different.  The apostle Paul, in his former life as a devout Jew, could say that “concerning the righteousness which is in the law” he was “blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).  But once he understood what God really required, once he understood how deeply engrained sin really was in his personality, he was led to exclaim, “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from the body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).  And the lost sinner, no matter how outwardly respectable he may be, can scarcely have any sense at all of the righteousness of God or the reality of the Last Judgment.  Thus true conviction must be produced by the Holy Spirit.

The passage is also a sober reminder to the church of how dependent we are upon the work of the Holy Spirit in evangelism.  Evangelism is not just a matter of marketing and intellectual persuasion.  The lost sinner is spiritually blind.  He “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).  They “walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness [“hardness” – NASV, ESV] of their heart . . .” (Eph. 4:17,18).  Thus “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).Thus what has to happen in true evangelism is, as Paul described his own ministry, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Cor. 2:4,5).  “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance . . .” (I Thess. 1:5), and thus the Thessalonians, “when you received the word of God which you heard from me, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believer” (I Thess. 2:13).

True revival will come only when we acknowledge our dependence on the Holy Spirit for results, and ask for His anointing on the preaching of the word.  Secular marketing techniques and methods will not bring lost sinners to Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish that.  Even so come, heavenly Dove!



The Flood


We do not like to think of God as a God of wrath.  We would like to think of Him as a kind, benevolent Father who loves us unconditionally, understands that we are merely human, and would never think of punishing us.  But it would be a mistake to worship a God of our own imagination.  The question is, what is God actually like in reality?  And the only way we can know that is through divine revelation: God himself must tell us what He is like, and this He has done in Scripture.  We must go by what the Bible says, not our own imaginations.

And while the Bible says that God is a God of love, He is also a God of justice who hates sin and punishes it.  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness’ (Rom. 1:8; NKJV).

The first question, then, is, why is God angry?  The verse says that it is because of the “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness” of men.  The word translated “ungodliness” might better be translated “impiety” – the lack of any devotion or reverence toward God.  “Unrighteousness” refers to lawlessness and injustice.  As human beings we refuse to keep God’s law and mistreat each other.

Paul goes on in chapter 3, verse 5 to refer to “your hardness and your impenitent heart.”  They are “self-seeking and do not obey the truth” (2:18).  In other words, what is in view here not an occasional unintentional mistake or a sin committed in ignorance.  What is in view here is something conscious and deliberate, an attitude of selfish indifference to others and a stubborn rebellion against the truth.  We sin willfully, and thus we are without excuse.

In other words, God’s anger is an expression of His justice.  He is angry with us, not arbitrarily or for no apparent reason.  Rather, He is angry with us, justly angry, because of what we have actually done.  It is a matter of what we deserve for our sin and rebellion.  For God to love righteousness is to hate unrighteousness; to love good is to hate evil.  If He cares for the victim He is angry with the perpetrator of the crime.

But then, the question is, how does God’s anger express itself?  And here we are told that the wicked are “treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5).  In the day of wrath and judgment God will mete out to the wicked “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil” (2:8,9)  The wicked will experience real suffering – “tribulation and anguish.”  But it must be kept in mind that God is exercising perfect justice in this; it is not the arbitrary and unpredictable explosion of anger that the pagans predicated of some of their gods.  Rather, the day of wrath is the “righteous judgment of God,” who “will render to each one according to his deeds” (2:5,6).  “For there is no partiality with God” (2:11).

Christians, of course, have been save from the wrath to come.  “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:9).  Nevertheless, the doctrine of God’s wrath has important implications for the Christian life.

First of all, we should be careful to please God in all that we do and avoid sin, knowing that it is because of those very sins that people are in hell today.  “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:6,7; cf. Col. 3:5-7).  If God would punish a sin in that way we should dread ever to commit it.

Secondly, we may on occasion find ourselves having to disobey the civil magistrate when they command us to do something that is wrong.  As Jesus sent His disciples out on their first preaching tour He warned them in advance that they face persecution, including the possibility of prosecution by the civil authorities.  What Jesus said was grim and foreboding: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and body in hell” (Matt.10:28).  Civil magistrates and courts may decree this or that, but right and wrong are ultimately determined by God and never change.  Human governments have engaged in oppression and even outright genocide, but that does not make it right.  “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

But most importantly, Christians should be anxious to share the gospel with the lost, knowing their future destiny if they do not repent.  The apostle Paul could say that he “magnified” his ministry to the Gentiles “if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them” (Rom.11:13,14).  There is a sense in which the eternal destiny of our fellow human beings depends on our presenting them with the gospel.

If we were to take the wrath of God seriously we would live differently.  Our priorities would be different, and we would not be so casual about sin.  May God help us to see things more clearly and live accordingly!


George Whitefield preaching

George Whitefield preaching

    We recently had the occasion to read a remarkable sermon by George Whitefield entitled “The Method of Grace.” It is a fascinating example of evangelistic preaching and is well worth taking to heart today.

    Whitefield (1714-1770) was perhaps one of the most phenomenal preachers ever to preach in the English language. The famous 18th Century evangelist traveled extensively through England, Scotland and the American colonies, and was a leading figure of the Great Awakening of the 1740’s. He almost always drew huge crowds wherever he went. Untold thousands owed their conversions to the instrumentality of his preaching.

    The text for this particular sermon was Jeremiah 6:14, in which the prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the corrupt religious leaders of his day, said, “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Whitefield then began his sermon with this striking observation: “As God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere, and upright ministers, so the greatest curse that God can possibly send upon a people in this world, is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm, and unskilled guides.” Such preachers, Whitefield said, were prone to curry favor with their audiences by giving them a false assurance – by papering over the real and serious spiritual problems that plague the nation. A faithful preacher, however, will tell his listeners the truth, so that they might achieve a genuine peace to their souls.

    Whitefield then proceeded to do exactly that. He began by stressing that true religion is an inward thing, “a work wrought in the soul by the power of the Spirit of God.” Then he pointed to the fact that we are guilty of having committed actual sins. But even more that that, we are sinners by nature. “If we look inwardly, we shall see enough of lusts, and man’s temper contrary to the temper of God. There is pride, malice, and revenge, in all our hearts . . .”

    Whitefield pointed out that sometimes, when people first come under the conviction of sin, their initial reaction is to try to do better, — to try to reform their lives outwardly through their own effort. But without a renewed heart a person may be doing many of the right things outwardly, but for the wrong reasons, and that hardly gains credit with God. “. . . nature cannot act above itself. It is impossible that a man who is unconverted can act for the glory of God; he cannot do anything in faith, and ‘whatever is not of faith is sin.'” Even the good works of Christians are tainted by impure motives. “. . .my repentance wants [i.e., needs] to be repented of . . . Our best duties are so many splendid sins.”

    He then pointed out that many people who were reared in a Christian environment may think that they are Christians, when in fact they are not. They have what is sometimes termed “a historical faith” – an attachment to the Christian religion mainly for social and cultural reasons – lack what Whitefield called “a true faith, wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God.”

    Here we can see one of the most striking differences between Whitefield’s preaching and what often passes for “evangelism” today. Whitefield began by laboring to convince his listeners that they were sinners. Then, and only then, did he proclaim the promise of forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. You have to get them lost before you can get them saved!

    Having described the lost condition of his unconverted listeners Whitefield then went on and came to the crux of the matter. In order to achieve genuine, lasting peace, “You must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ, you must lay hold by faith on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and then you shall have peace . . . Before we can even have peace with God, we must be justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be enabled to apply Christ to our hearts, we must have Christ brought home to our souls, so as his righteousness may be made our righteousness, so as his merits may be imputed to our souls.” Here we can see that two different things are involved in salvation. One is the act of “justification,” whereby Christ’s righteousness is “imputed” or charged to our account, and we are thereby counted righteous in the sight God. The other element of salvation is regeneration, or the New Birth, the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls, convicting us of sin, bringing us to faith in Christ, and imparting to us spiritual life. The former element does not happen without the latter.

    Whitefield ended his sermon with a heartfelt plea to sinners to flee to Christ for salvation. He warned them of the danger of hell. He cited his own personal experience as an unconverted person. And even though he was a staunch Calvinist he urged his listeners to act, although he did not issue an alter call or ask people to walk down an aisle.

    Whitefield’s sermon is a startling reminder of what is involved in a genuine conversion, and what evangelism is supposed to be like. What is at stake is eternity, and what is involved is the inward transformation of the soul by the power of the Holy Spirit. And what are needed are faithful preachers who will boldly tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. May God raise up such men in our time!