A Warm Reception?
The good news about Jesus is based on the bad news about people. We’re sinful, and our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). Because of our sin the only thing we deserve from God is His eternal wrath and judgment. In fact, our sin made it necessary for Jesus to suffer unspeakable anguish and die, but God extended His mercy and grace in the person of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Through faith in Him, we can have peace with God. That is the heart of the good news. God justifies those worthy of judgement through their faith in Jesus:
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).
Yes, the Lord has made man in His image, and He loves us with an everlasting love. Yes, we are of inestimable value. Yet, as image bearers we’ve been corrupted by sin, and that sin separates us from a holy, perfect, and righteous God.
The gospel makes a statement about the inherent condition of man: we are not good. This flies in the face of a common perception that man is inherently good. Have you ever asked someone why God will let them into heaven? In witnessing to people through the years, I have posed this question. Not surprisingly, many have responded God will let them into heaven because they are basically good people. But the reality is there are no good people! Jesus Himself said that only God is good (Mark 10:18).
No, we are not good. We are sinful. David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). In Jeremiah 17:9 the prophet stated, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
We understand clearly the message of the good news of God is couched in the bad news that something is terribly wrong with people. The natural man doesn’t want to hear that we are born into and live in a state of depravity.
The late British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge put it this way: “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”
Nobody likes to be the object of criticism, but the truth remains.
With this truth crystal clear, how do people grapple with this uncomfortable knowledge about our true spiritual condition as human beings? Well, the natural man’s pride will attempt to reject and rationalize it away, for this blast of reality is not so quickly embraced. The natural man isn’t going to hear that message and respond, “Cool. I see your point. I’m a filthy, rotten sinner who needs saving.” No, this reality will be rejected by the natural man.
On the other hand, a supernatural response, that of humility, is to receive this truth and confess sin before God. Praise God. He can and does move in human hearts and is brings people to a place where we can agree with God about our true condition. With this admission and confession, we can then receive a new life through God’s provision found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up” (James 4:10), and, “He who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans10:13). (See also 1 John 1:9, Romans 10:9-10, and John 1:12.)
As we think about our witness in light of these truths, we shouldn’t harbor illusions about the nature of the message and people’s response to it. Many will cringe and reject the gospel. Some will receive, it believe it, and trust in Christ.
The very nature of the gospel message is polarizing. It creates a strong response when presented. Some will respond positively, others negatively, but there will be a response. The Apostle Paul noted, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). To illustrate, we need go no further than to examine the gospels and the book of Acts to see how people responded to Jesus and the Apostles as they proclaimed the gospel. It was always mixed, and a powerful mix at that.
As we walk as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19), we are simply called to be faithful to share this message.
We can’t and don’t control how anyone may respond. Our mandate is to share the gospel and allow people the opportunity to hear it and respond, even if that response is rejection.
As Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU), rightly noted, “Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God.”
So, pray God would soften the heart of that precious one with whom you share the gospel, that they would agree with God about their true spiritual condition of depravity and His precious provision of Jesus, and trust in Him. Amen.