Posts Tagged ‘The gospel


Less or More?

  • One gets the impression in listening to soteriological synergists [Arminians, Semi-Pelagians, Southern Baptist Traditionalists, and those who flirt with Pelagianism like Leighton Flowers] that they think Calvinists believe God has done less to bring all sinners to salvation than they believe he has done. In reality, Calvinists believe God has done nothing less to bring sinners to himself than they believe he has done. Both groups believe God has flooded sinners the with the revelation of his glory, in creation, conscience, commandments, Christ’s redemptive work, and conviction by the Holy Spirit. We both believe he has clearly expressed his desire that sinners repent and bow before him in humble submission to his sovereign reign and that he has promised to pardon freely all who thus return.

    If you should ask about prevenient grace, my questions would be what is there that is accomplished in this mysterious work of God about which the Scriptures never once speak, that is not accomplished by what Calvinists would call common grace? If someone should answer that it grants to the sinner the power of free will, we would have to ask how the speaker understands the concept of free will. If we should take the definition the Traditionalists have given, i.e., “the ability to choose between two options,” we would have to ask whether all do not concede that all rational beings have that ability as a part of their constitution as human beings. Do we mean by the term, the ability to choose other than we have chosen? If so, we would state that this ability is not granted either by prevenient or by effectual grace as long as we do not mean that we have the ability to choose that for which we have no desire and to which every fiber of our beings is totally averse. This ability does not need to be granted to any sinner. Additionally, the same would apply to the concept that sinners act voluntarily and not by compulsion. No one should deny this. The problem is that all the prevenient grace in the world will not remedy the sinner’s indisposition to choose what he ought to choose and reject what he ought to reject. The problem is not his inability to choose the right if he so desires but his lack of desire to choose the right. There is no evidence that prevenient grace, whatever it may be, does anything to change a sinner’s inmost desires

    The difference is that Calvinists believe God has done more to bring some sinners to himself than he has done to bring all sinners to himself, and synergists don’t think he has the right to do that. He is not free to do for one sinner what he does not do for another. When one boils all the fat out of it, the issue is whether God has the right to be God or not.

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    An Examination of the Carnal Christian Doctrine

    A question that often arises in response to the biblical teaching that God is sanctifying everyone he has justified is “What about the carnal Christian?” The implication is that what we are saying about sanctification invariably following justification cannot be true because we all know Christians whose lifestyle is no different from that of unbelievers. It never seems to occur to those who make this argument that such people may not be believers at all. Though this a not a direct quotation since I no longer have access to Lewis. S. Chafer’s book, He that is Spiritual, he wrote. “A “carnal” Christian is a person whose “walk” is on the same plane as that of the “natural” man” (Chafer, 1919,12). He is one who has confessed faith in Christ but whose life is no different from the life of an unconverted person. Notice that he is not merely claiming that there are times when believers act in a fleshly manner. He is describing a separate “class” of individuals that he calls “carnal” Christians. Being a “spiritual” Christian is the ideal, but it is only an option for the true believer. What Mr. Chafer failed to understand is that “spiritual” is simply the biblical designation for those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

    You have no doubt seen the three circles representing the natural man, the carnal Christian and the spiritual Christian. In that drawing, the only difference between the natural [unconverted] man and the “carnal Christian” is that in the case of the “carnal Christian” the cross is on the inside of the circle instead of the outside. Ego is still on the throne, Christ is dethroned and every aspect of the person’s life is in a complete state of disorder just as it is in the case of the unconverted person.

    By contrast, in the circle representing the “spiritual Christian,” ego is dethroned, Christ is enthroned, and every aspect of the person’s life is represented as in perfect order. Perhaps your circle of experience has been broader than mine, but I have never known a person whose life could be represented in that way.

    This doctrine has been widely accepted by the evangelical church to the extent that anyone who dares to question its validity is considered a false teacher. It has become so pervasive that in most quarters it makes no difference how immoral and ungodly a person’s lifestyle may be, he or she will be considered a true believer since at some point they have made a profession of faith in Christ.

    Unless someone is willing to assert that Paul was identifying himself as a “carnal Christian” in Romans 7:14 [I do not consider this passage as autobiographical at all but as a redemptive-historical description of the contrast between the inability of the Law and the efficacy of grace (see Rom. 7:5-6)], there is one lone passage on which one might base the carnal Christian doctrine. That passage is 1 Cor. 3:1-16. The popular view of this passage is that Paul was teaching that there are believers in Christ whose lifestyle cannot be distinguished from that of an unbeliever.

    At the risk of being branded a heretic, I would like to offer what I believe is a view that is more consistent with the teaching of the rest of the New Testament Scriptures. Before I make several hermeneutical and exegetical observations, I would like you to consider a list of propositions that I either affirm or deny. I hope these will help to clarify the view I am proposing.

    Affirmations and Denials

    I affirm that:

    1. Believing sinners are as fully justified the first moment they believe the gospel as they will ever be. The level of their sanctification can neither augment or diminish the perfection of their righteous standing before God.
    2. There are areas in every believer’s life in which he or she acts in the same way an unconverted person would act. Every believer is “carnal” in some area or areas.
    3. Some believers have advanced in their spiritual growth beyond others. Some continue to be more carnal and others are more in tune with the Spirit.
    4. It is possible for a believer to lose ground in the conflict that we call progressive sanctification even after having made advancements in a particular area.
    5. Not every believer struggles in the same areas in conflict with sin.
    6. There is a difference between a believer in conflict with sin and an [unregenerate] professed believer complacent to sin [see John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. p. 145].

    I deny that:

    1. The sanctification of believers is automatic and does not require exhortations to obey or effort on the part of believers.
    2. There are true believers who never experience God’s sanctifying work.
    3. There are true believers whose lives are completely characterized by fleshliness and act in every way like unconverted people.
    4. There are true believers who continue under the dominion of sin.
    5. There is a difference between becoming a believer and becoming a disciple/

    Hermeneutical and Exegetical Considerations

    There are several hermeneutical and exegetical considerations that we must consider if we are going to interpret correctly the lone passage from which the carnal Christian doctrine is drawn. It is clear that these have been ignored by the proponents of this doctrine. In this section, we will consider some of these principles and see how they apply to the interpretation of this passage.

    An Important Principle of Interpretation

    There is an important hermeneutical principle that is often ignored by would be interpreters of Scripture. I say “would be interpreters” since one has only “interpreted” a passage when he has rightly understood what the Holy Spirit and the human writer had in mind when they wrote the text. If we ignore certain principles of interpretation, we will never arrive at a correct understanding of a text.

    Though there are many such principles that one must consider in seeking to interpret passages such as the one we are considering, the particular principle to which I am referring is this—Theological doctrine is to be derived from didactic passages where a doctrine is being expounded and not from hortatory [tending or aiming to exhort] or narrative passages. The passage we are considering is clearly a hortatory passage.


    What is the context in which this passage occurs? To answer that question, one needs to go back to the first chapter where Paul began to deal with one of the problems that existed in the church at Corinth. There, he expressed his desire that they all speak as with one voice and that there be no divisions among them. He desired that they be perfectly joined in the same mind and in the same judgment (see 1:10).

    It is important we understand that the issue was not theological in nature. The problem was that people in that church had divided into sects based on personalities. Some were Paul enthusiasts, other were devoted to Peter, others to Apollos etc. It was not that these men were teaching different doctrines. Paul made it clear here and in other passages that they were united in their understanding and message. Ultimately, the problem was that the Corinthians were giving glory to men, either to themselves or to their favorites teacher, and not to God alone. As one reads this Epistle, it becomes that the one sin that characterized this church, the sin from which all their other problems resulted, was the sin of pride. Paul often wrote to them, “and you are puffed up.”

    Though Paul expounds a great deal of solid theological truth in dealing with this problem, this section is not in itself a theological exposition of a particular doctrine. That is to say that it was not Paul’s intention in this context to expound the doctrine of sanctification. If one wishes to develop a doctrine of sanctification, he must do so from other passages where the apostles have intended to deal with the doctrine of sanctification specifically.

    A Specific Problem

    Based on this one passage, the advocates of the carnal Christian doctrine have asserted that it is possible for a person to be a true believer and yet live in every respect in the same manner as an unconverted person. The question one must ask is whether there is anything in this passage that suggests that these people were failing to be obedient in every area of their lives. Is there anything here that suggests that every member of the church was continuing to live in fornication, drunkenness, idolatry, thievery, homosexuality and the like? Of course, not! In fact, in chapter six Paul makes it clear that those to whom he was writing had been delivered from such sins and stated that those who have not been delivered from such sins will not inherit the kingdom of God. He wrote,

    Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, not thieves, nor covetous, not drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

    It should be clear that he was writing about personal righteousness and not imputed righteousness since these words follow an exhortation not to do wrong and cheat one’s brother (see v. 8).

    Notice Paul’s words in our passage. He wrote, “for you are still carnal, FOR there are among you envy, strife and divisions” (v. 3). It is like saying to a group of people after a Baptist business meeting, “You acted like a bunch of unconverted people.” Such meetings seem to bring out the baser qualities in people. If you have ever attended such a meeting, you will understand what I mean. That doesn’t mean that the people who acted this way pursue a sinful lifestyle in every area of their lives. It simply means this is one of the areas in their lives in which they need to make progress in sanctification.

    A Particular Time

    Another issue that seems to have eluded the attention of “carnal Christian” advocates is that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, is addressing a situation that existed at a particular time in the life of the Corinthian church. There is not a word in the text that gives the slightest indication that the attitudes or actions he was describing would persist for a lifetime. We might think of this chapter as a snapshot or still photo of a situation that Paul was addressing. If we viewed a video recording of the lives of these people, we would see a completely different view. In fact, in his second Epistle he wrote the following words to them,

    For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.  Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

    Although it is likely Paul was speaking specifically about another issue he had addressed in his first Epistle, it is clear that God had used his exhortations to effect a genuine life change in his readers.

    I suspect that if we could take a still photo of any believer’s life at a given point we could catch them acting out of character with their Christian confession. We could say to them as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to fleshly. It is also possible that a person could continue in such a state of arrested development for a time. In Chapter 17 of the Philadelphia Confession [essentially the same as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of 1689] “Of the Perseverance of the Saints,” paragraph 3, we read,

    And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.


    There can be no question that at the point when Paul penned this letter to the Corinthians, they were in an arrested state of spiritual development and needed to be exhorted to grow up. That is not the issue. Every believer, due to remaining sin, will continue have areas of carnality their lives. No one argues that believers are not carnal in some areas of their lives. No one argues, at least no one who argues based on biblical texts considered contextually, that growth in grace is automatic and requires no conscious effort on the believer’s part. Immediately before assuring the Philippians that their sanctification would be a certain reality because it was God who was working [the word means effectively and energetically accomplish] in them both to will and to do for his good pleasure, the apostle Paul exhorted them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (see Phil. 2:12-13).

    No one should argue that exhortations to obedience are unnecessary because the believer’s sanctification is certain to occur. God uses such exhortations to effect obedience in the lives of his people

    The issue is whether true believers will continue in such a state throughout their entire lifetime so that there is no difference between them and their unconverted neighbors. Is there any evidence in this passage to support the carnal Christian doctrine as taught by C. I. Scofield and L.S. Chafer and others? As we have shown, the answer is an unequivocal, no! All Christians are carnal in the sense that we still have areas of fleshliness in our lives and we all continue to struggle with certain sins, but there are no carnal Christians in the sense that a true believer can be perpetually indistinguishable from an unconverted person.

    “Saved Yet So as By Fire”

    If our analysis of Paul’s teaching in this passage is accurate, what was his meaning when he spoke of every man’s work being tried by fire and some, having produced nothing but wood, hay and stubble, being saved like a man escaping a burning building with nothing but the clothes on his back? Does it not appear that he is teaching that a person may be a believer and never produce any evidence of having been converted?

    That would be an easy conclusion for us to draw if we failed to consider the context in which these words were written and the issue with which Paul was dealing. Additionally, it is essential that we pay special attention to the words he employed and the metaphors he used.

    The Context

    Let me remind you that, in this passage, Paul was continuing to speak to a problem that he had introduced in chapter one of this Epistle. The problem was that the Corinthians had divided into splinter groups based on allegiance to their favorite preacher. His remedy for this problem has been to show that the success of his ministry or anyone else’s ministry depends not on the persuasiveness of his arguments or the eloquence of his speech but on the demonstration of God’s power in the application of redemption. At the end of chapter three he concluded that no one should glory in men. Earlier he had shown that no one should boast in their ability to unite themselves, since it is of God’s doing that believers are in Christ Jesus (see 1 Cor. 1:30-31). In this chapter he has shown that since it is God alone who can cause the planted seed to grow, Paul and Apollos are nothing but servants, instruments in God’s hand by whom they had believed (see chapter 3:5-8).

    What is important for us to understand is that it was not Paul’s purpose in this chapter to talk about a believer’s works or lack of works in the process of sanctification. Instead, he was continuing to address the issue that he had begun to address in chapter one. He was writing about the ministry God had given him [his work] and the ministry God had given others. His exhortation was to those who are engaged in the work of the gospel. Each one must be careful how he builds on the foundation Paul had laid (see verse 10).

    The Metaphors

    Paul used two metaphors for the work of the ministry; one was agricultural the other architectural. In verse eight he had written “He who plants and he who waters are one: and everyone shall receive his reward according to his own labor.” It should be clear that he is making reference not only to himself and Apollos, but to all those who are involved in the gospel ministry.

    Now in verse nine he mentions two metaphors for the gospel ministry. Ministers of the gospel are like farmers in a cultivated field and construction workers erecting a building. He wrote, “For we are laborers together with God; you are God’s cultivated field, you are God’s building.”

    We and You (One Must Know the Difference)

    Notice that Paul is not discussing the works of the cultivated field or of the building. He is discussing the work; the ministry God has given. Charles Hodge wrote of this passage, “Paul is here speaking of ministers and of their doctrines, and not of believers in general” (Hodge, 78, 1997). To arrive at this conclusion, one must merely know the difference between “We” and “You.” “We are laborers. . .You are God’s building” (verse 9).
    When he wrote, “Let every man take heed how he builds on the foundation” his reference was not every person without exception, or even every believer, but everyone who is engaged in the gospel ministry, i.e., everyone who is involved in cultivating the field or erecting the building.
    Since this is clear from a careful reading of the chapter, it should be obvious that Paul’s reference was not to the works of believers being judged (v. 13) but to the work, i.e., ministry of those who are building on the foundation Paul had laid (see verses 14-15).


    One can only conclude that Paul did not intend to teach in this passage that there will be believers who will stand before God in judgement with nothing but wood, hay and stubble to offer as evidence that their faith was genuine. There will be no believers who stand before God who are saved by the skin of their teeth. Instead, it was his purpose to admonish those who are cultivating the field and building the building to take care how they carry on the work God has given them.


    The issue in this discussion is not whether true believers continue to have unsanctified areas in their lives. No one who understands the clear teaching of Scripture would deny that they do. This issue is whether there are true believers who continue throughout their entire life-times in a state that is indistinguishable from their unconverted neighbors.

    As we have seen, there is absolutely no evidence in this lone passage that forms the basis for the carnal Christian teaching that these Corinthian believers were characterized by fleshliness in every area of their lives or that they continued in a state of carnality throughout the duration of their lives. In fact, we have the word of the apostle Paul writing under divine inspiration that when confronted with their sins, they were sorrowful and repented of these sins. Upon careful examination, any honest observer will have to conclude that this passage simply does not support the “carnal Christian” view.


    Justified By an Alien Righteousness

    It seems to become more and more obvious with each passing day that the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ is under attack as never before. Of course, as has always been the case, the most severe and biting attacks come not from pagans outside, but from professed Christians. Under the guise of combating “the Heresy of New Calvinism,” some are denying truths that have been held by true believers for centuries. The chief Guru over at “Paul’s Passing Thoughts” (a blog I would never recommend) seems hung up on an idea that was emphasized years ago by a group called “the Australian Forum.” That concept is that the emphasis of the gospel is not on what God is doing in our hearts, but on what he has accomplished objectively in Christ. Additionally, they emphasized the idea that the basis or ground of the believer’s justification before God is not grace (or enablement) that he imparts or infuses to the believer as a result of Christ’s redeeming work, but an alien righteousness that he imputes to (legally puts to the account of) believers. The believer’s justification was objectively accomplished by the redemptive work of Christ.

    I was probably in my early twenties before I heard a clear sermon on the doctrine of justification through faith alone, based on the redemptive work of Christ alone. The “gospel” I had heard was “Jesus died for you; if you will just let him come into your heart, he will forgive.” I challenge anyone to find a biblical writer or preacher either telling an unconverted audience “Jesus died for you,” or “If you let Jesus come into your heart, he will save you.” I can save you a bit of time. Don’t bother looking for it, because it isn’t there.

    This does not mean God does nothing in the believer; of course, he does. It does mean what he does in the believer in the work of sanctification (an ongoing and internal work of God in which he makes us holy) forms no part of the basis of the believer’s justification(an instantaneous legal declaration in which God declares believers righteous in his sight). The ground of a believer’s justification has nothing at all to do with what God does in the believer.

    Another way of stating this truth is to say justification is not through sanctification, instead, sanctification is through justification. This does not mean believers are not required to be obedient because Christ’s obedience and righteousness have been imputed to them. What it means is that believers now have free access to enter God’s presence boldly. People with a guilty conscience don’t worship or obey God. We need to be forgiven before we can be obedient. God’s method of putting sinners right with himself sets believers free from all guilt. No longer must we struggle to be acceptable to God. Everything we do post-conversion that pleases God, we do because we have already been accepted in the Beloved.

    How important is this distinction? A person’s eternal destiny depends on it. If you believe even the slightest part of the basis of your right legal standing before God is an internal righteousness you possess personally, that is, by your own obedience, even if you believe that righteousness and obedience has been brought about by grace God has infused to you as a result of Jesus’ death, you are lost and doomed to eternal destruction.

    If you have questions about what I have written here, Let’s discuss it. Don’t just make assumptions and then accuse me of heresy



    The Gospel Message

    Accurate communication can be difficult. This is especially true since there are no perfect communicators and there are no perfect hearers/readers. There may be times when we think we have communicated an idea with crystal clarity, when we discover the person who heard or read our remarks completely missed the point we were making.

    A woman who had heard me preach every Sunday morning for eight years said to me, “Just like you have always said, ‘As long as we do the best we can, God will certainly accept us.’” The truth is, I had never said anything of the kind. Either I had been a very poor communicator, she had been a very poor hearer, or perhaps it was a combination of the two.

    There is no message that deserves proper communication as much as the message of the gospel. Men and women’s souls hang in the balance. It seems people are always trying to fine tune the message to make it more intelligible. In the process, they usually make it less so.

    Some have suggested we should omit any call to repentance since that may give people the idea they need to amend their ways so that God will accept them. Others insist we must, in our initial gospel presentation, explain that faith will always produce a life of obedience to Christ. The reality is we do not need to fine tune the gospel at all. We simply need to proclaim it as Jesus and the apostles proclaimed it. If people misunderstand us and think we are teaching that we may go on living in sin so that grace might be more fully manifested, we are in good company. This was the charge leveled against the great apostle to the Gentiles. If, then, we are not open to the same charge whenever we preach the gospel of justification through faith alone, our message must be different from that of the great apostle himself. Dr. Lloyd-Jones wrote.

    The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge [antinomianism] being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel (Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 1973,8).

    We must never give sinners the idea they must bring something of merit with them when they come to Christ. Charlotte Elliott was born in the late 18th century. She became disabled in 1821 and remained so until her death in 1871. In May of 1822, Dr. Caesar Malan of Geneva, a friend of her father, came to spend some time with her family. As he conversed with Charlotte he discovered she was a stranger to Christ and the joys and comforts of the Christian faith. At first, she resented his efforts to witness the gospel to her but later asked forgiveness for the way she had treated him. She asked his counsel as to how she might find Christ. He saw that she was being held back by her own efforts to make herself better and to save herself and said to her, “Dear Charlotte, cut the cable. It will take too long to unloose it. Cut it. It is a small loss anyway. You must come to Christ just as you are.”

    I was not until twelve years had passed that she wrote a poem that was first titled, “HimThat Cometh to Me I Will in No Wise Cast Out.” She penned the hymn on a day when she had been feeling especially despondent over her helplessness and apparent uselessness. She had lapsed into spiritual depression and was questioning the very reality of her faith. The night before she wrote the hymn she had been exceedingly troubled by doubts and fears. Concerning her experience on the next day Bishop H. C. G. Moule, wrote as follows,

    . . . the troubles of the night came back upon her with such force that she felt they must be met and conquered in the grace of God. She gathered up in her soul the grand certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation: her Lord, his power, his promise. And taking pen and paper from the table, she deliberately set down in writing for her own comfort the formulae of her faith. So in verse she restated to herself the gospel of pardon, peace and heaven.

    Today, we know her poem by a different by a different title. It reads as follows,

    Just as I am, without one plea
    But that thy blood was shed for me,
    And that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come.

    Just as I am, and waiting not
    To rid my soul of one dark blot,
    To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    O Lamb of God, I come.

    Just as I am, though tossed about
    With many a conflict, many a doubt,
    Fightings and fears within, without,
    O Lamb of God, I come.

    Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
    Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
    Yea, all I need, in thee to find,
    O Lamb of God, I come.

    Just as I am! Thou will receive,
    Will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
    Because thy promise I believe,
    O Lamb of God, I come.

    Just as I am! thy love unknown
    Has broken every barrier down;
    now, to be thine, yea, thine alone,
    O Lamb of God, I come.

    I cannot imagine a better expression of the manner in which we should invite sinners to Christ. Another hymn-writer expressed the gospel in this way,

    Come ye sinners, poor and wretched,
    Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
    Jesus ready stands to save you,
    Full of pity joined with Pow’r.
    He is able, he is willing, doubt no more.

    Let not conscience make you linger,
    Nor of fitness fondly dream;
    All the fitness he requireth
    Is to feel your need of him;
    This he gives you;
    ‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

    Joseph Hart 1759

    Both these hymns express the same thought. Sinners do not have to do anything to make themselves better or prepare themselves to come to Christ. You do not need to change, just come.

    But, if you are thinking, you will ask, what about repentance? Don’t sinners have to turn from sin when we come to Christ? I would unequivocally answer yes! So, is that not a contradiction? Not at all. The call to repentance is not a call to amend our ways. It a call to understand that we cannot ameliorate our ways. It is a call to bring our sins to Jesus that he might change us. The sinner who comes to Jesus in faith and repentance is a sinner who has come to understand his absolute helplessness to do anything about either his guilt or his pollution because of sin. Additionally, he has learned that his sins are a great burden from which he longs to be free. He has grown tired of his nagging and accusing conscience and wants more than anything to be freed from this load. It is futile to tell him to leave his sin; he has tried to mend his ways through self-reformation time after time and knows himself to be a miserable failure. Our message to sinners is “Stop trying to free yourself.” You will fail every time you try. I have never been a life-guard, but I have been told that life-guards at times must disable those they are attempting to save, because the intended victim persists in trying to save himself. Don’t wait to “Rid your soul of one dark blot,” but come to him “whose blood can cleanse each spot.” You will never be ready; you will never be fit. The good news of the gospel is that he is ready; he is worthy; he is able.

    We don’t invite sinners to Jesus that he might forgive their sins and then leave them in those very sins for which he has forgiven them. We invite them to Jesus to be saved from the sins themselves. When the outward call of the gospel is accompanied by the internal and effectual call of the Father and the regenerating work of the Spirit, to slightly paraphrase John Flavel’s words, “we see not only the weapons of hostility falling from sinner’s hands, but the enmity itself falling from their hearts.” This is why the Scriptures talk about God giving repentance to sinners.

    C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “. . .the gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.”

    He describes his own experience of conversion as follows,

    When I was under the hand of the Holy Spirit, under conviction of sin, I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden. It was not so much that I feared hell, but that I feared sin. I knew myself to be so horribly guilty that I remember feeling that if God did not punish me for sin He ought to do so. I felt that the Judge of all the earth ought to condemn such sin as mine. I sat on the judgment seat, and I condemned myself to perish; for I confessed that had I been God I could have done no other than send such a guilty creature as I was down to the lowest hell. All the while, I had upon my mind a deep concern for the honor of God’s name, and the integrity of His moral government. I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly.

    Once sinners are thus convinced, we do not need to persuade them to leave their sins. Those sins will now be the great burden of their souls.