Amidst a bustling New York afternoon rush hour outreach on a busy street corner, I was sharing the gospel with a young businessman. I asked him if he believed that Jesus died for his sin and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. He answered in the affirmative. Then I posed another question. “Have you ever received Him by faith to be your Lord and Savior?” He answered in the negative. I then continued, “Is there any reason you shouldn’t pray to receive Jesus?” Again, he answered in the negative.
At this point I explained a “sinner’s prayer” and he prayed with me to receive Jesus! Hallelujah! But not so fast! After he ‘prayed,’ I once more inquired, “Do you realize what you just did?” His response was striking, “I was having a bad day, needed a pick me up and thought praying that prayer with you couldn’t hurt.” Ouch! So much for being a vessel of grace in the hands of God to usher a human being into the kingdom!
I tell that story from my missionary days in the Big Apple, New York City, to introduce our topic in this post. You see, for someone to truly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, conviction of sin must be present. Because without true conviction, there is no true confession, no real heart change – only pretense.
The good news about Jesus is based on the bad news about people. We’re sinful and our sins have separated us from God. In fact, our sins made it necessary for Jesus to suffer unspeakable anguish and die. The bad news is also that because of our sin the only thing we deserve from God is His eternal wrath and judgment. But God extended His mercy and grace in the person of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and through faith in Him, we might have peace with God. That is the heart of the good news.
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. To enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a person must understand this.
Additionally, the gospel makes a statement about the inherent condition of man: we are not good. And this flies in the face of the common perception that man is inherently good. No, people are not good. Jesus Himself said that only God is good (Mark 10:18). 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 shouldn’t be surprised that a message of the good news of God is couched in the bad news that something is terribly wrong with people. Naturally, we don’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. What should we do with this uncomfortable knowledge about our spiritual condition? Pride will attempt to reject and rationalize it away. Humility will receive it and confess it before God. This blast of reality is not so quickly embraced. In the natural, no one is going to hear that message and respond, “Cool. I see your point. I’m a filthy, rotten sinner who needs saving.” Such an admission is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit showing us our sin and need for a Savior.
As John declared regarding the convicting power of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8, “And when He [Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”
A conviction about our sinfulness must include a confession that we are, in fact, sinners. As John added in 1 John 8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
To confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, a person must be convicted that he or she is a sinner in need of a Savior, and that they can do nothing on their own about this spiritual reality, apart from the grace of God found in Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
He can move in the heart and bring us to a place where we can agree with God about our true condition. Then we can receive a new life through God’s provision found in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. For 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” (Romans 10:13).
We shouldn’t harbor illusions about the nature of the message and people’s response to it. Many will cringe and reject it; some will receive it and believe. For those who believe and receive Christ, conviction of sin must precede confession of Christ. Otherwise, a profession of faith may simply be about spiritual or religious “pick me up,” as I witnessed one day on the streets of New York City, and not an actual conversion wrought by God, the Author of Salvation.
The gospel is polarizing. It creates a strong response when presented. Some will respond positively, others negatively, but there will be a response. Paul notes: “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.
As we serve others as witnesses of Jesus, may we be cognizant of the Holy Spirit bringing about conviction of sin in a person prior to that person confessing Christ. And while we can’t control how anyone may respond to the presentation of the gospel message, take heart in remembering that success in witnessing means to take the initiative to share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God. Praise the Lord for the convicting work of the Spirit that brings about confession of Christ for those who believe in the Son!
“…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:9-10