Monday, April 05, 2010

Why It Is Absolutely Unnecessary to Make a Person Feel Conviction of Sin

Many conservative evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, want to ensure that the world knows it is guilty and going to hell. The philosophy that drives our evangelism is "make sure all people know they are guilty sinners before we ever give to them the good news of Jesus Christ." For this reason, the starting point and greatest emphasis in evangelism for many conservative Christians  is the universality of sinfulness. Or, to put it more precisely, the conservative Christian seems more concerned that the sinner knows he's a sinner than he is that the sinner sees the glory and goodness of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The idea clung to by conservative evangelicals is that "the law" must condemn before the Lawgiver can save. This leads the soul winner to bypass proclaiming the goodness of God in the risen Christ  until the sinner has been worked over really good with the law and to produce the feeling of  condemnation. Sounds legitimate, right?

Well, not so fast. One of the reasons I absolutely love the heritage given us by 18th century Baptists is because they held to a radical emphasis on simply preaching and proclaiming Christ--leaving the work of conviction and conversion to the Spirit. You can't read the old works of our forefathers without being saturated with the goodness and grace of God in Christ Jesus. We Baptists have historically been supremely Christocentric. Our ancients were not as concerned that the sinner knew and felt his sin as they were the sinner realized experientially the goodness of God in the person of Jesus Christ. This is how they put it in the First London Confession of Faith (1644):

Article 25 in the The 1646 London Confession of Faith

The preaching of the gospel to the conversion of sinners, is absolutely free; no way requiring as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, or terrors of the law, or preceding ministry of the law, but only and alone the naked soul, a sinner and ungodly, to receive Christ crucified, dead and buried, and risen again; who is made a prince and a Savior for such sinners as through the gospel shall be brought to believe on Him. John 3:14,15, 1:12; Isa. 55:1; John 7:37; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 4:5, 5:8; Acts 5:30,31, 2:36, 1 Cor. 1:22,24.

The starting point for these 18th Century Baptists was the goodness of God in Christ, not the sinfulness of man. Christ fulfilled the law of God. The law and the prophets in the Old Testament all pointed to Christ. The law was never given to drive a man to be righteous in himself, but rather to drive the sinner to faith in the Lawgiver to provide a righteousness that comes from outside the sinner's own obedience. The feasts, the Sabbaths, the festivals, the sacrifices, the laws of Israel, the Temple, the priesthood, and all the other important features of the Old Covenant were realized in Christ. With the establishment of the New Covenant, signed and sealed by the blood of Christ, the Old Covenant faded into oblivion because it possessed a fading glory, but the goodness and grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ has an eternal glory (I Corinthians 3:7-18).

So the next time you hear a Southern Baptist yell and scream and berate the sinner with words of judgment and condemnation, please know that the he/she is neither speaking in a manner that focuses the listener on the centrality of Christ and His goodness which leads sinners to repentance, nor is he/she being true to his/her heritage as a Baptist.

If one objects, "But Christ spoke harsh words of condemnation to the Pharisees in Matthew 23!" I respond: Christ reserved His words of condemnation to the religious who deemed themselves righteous and far superior to sinners. Were we conservative Christians to be biblical in our evangelism we would do two things:

(1). We would always proclaim the finished work of Christ to sinners while showing them grace, kindness and love while they are sinners--for it is the goodness of God and the Spirit alone (not the law) that leads sinners to repentance, and
(2). We would never complain when the media, the world or cultural liberals ridicule and condemn Southern Baptists for what they perceive as our self-righteousness because self-righteousness is the very thing Christ Himself condemned the Pharisess for having.

Isn't it odd how we get things reversed? We want to yell and scream at the world for its sin, and yet we also get angry and feel the victim when the world yells and screams at us for our self-righteousness. Maybe if we simply loved sinners and proclaimed Christ all the shouting would stop.

In His Grace,