Evangelism 101 – Know Your Sins

In our Sunday evening worship services I have been preaching a series on Evangelism. We’ve looked at what it means to share the gospel, the pitfalls many encounter when giving a testimony, and will soon be considering (when the weather allows us to come back together) what is essential in sharing the faith.  Within that greater conversation, I thought I would share this excerpt from the Memoirs of Robert Murray McCheyne.  This is a letter he wrote as a pastor to a young girl who has inquired about whether it is necessary to be convinced of one’s sins before salvation.

I think this worth sharing because it is a completely different approach to how many do evangelism today.  We tend today to focus on the benefits of salvation, without ever really explaining why we need salvation in the first place.  Telling people they are sinners, and sinners to the very core of their being is unpalatable, offensive, and not the preferred method of witnessing today. Yet, as McCheyne points out, almost 180 years ago, “you will never go to Christ, the heavenly Physician, unless you feel that your soul is sick even unto death.”

To a Soul Seeking Jesus—No. I.
Seek to Know Your Corruption
Dundee, 1841.

ACCORDING to promise, I sit down to talk with you a little concerning the great things of an eternal world. How kind it is in God that He has given us such an easy way of  communicating our thoughts, even at a distance! My only reason for writing to you is, that I may direct your soul to Jesus, the sinner’s friend. “This man receiveth sinners.” I would wish much to know that you were truly united to Christ, and then, come life, come death, you will be truly and eternally happy.

Do you think you have been convinced of sin? This is the Holy Spirit’s work, and His first work upon the soul (John 16:8; Acts 2:37). If you did not know your body was dangerously ill, you would never have sent for your physician; and so you will never go to Christ, the heavenly Physician, unless you feel that your soul is sick even unto death. Oh! pray for deep discoveries of your real state by nature and by practice. The world will say you are an innocent and harmless girl; do not believe them. The world is a star. Pray to see yourself exactly as God sees you; pray to know the worth of your soul. Have you seen yourself vile, as Job saw himself (Job 42:5, 6); undone, as Isaiah saw himself (Isa. 6:1, 5)? Have you experienced anything like Psalm 51? I do not wish you to feign humility before God, nor to use expressions of self–abhorrence which you do not feel; but pray that the Holy Spirit may let you see the very reality of your natural condition before God!

I seldom get more than a glance at the true state of my soul in its naked self. But when I do, then I see that I am wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). I believe every member of our body has been a servant of sin (Rom. 3:13, 18)—throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, eyes. Every faculty of our mind is polluted (Gen. 6:5). Besides, you have long neglected the great salvation; you have been gainsaying and disobedient. Oh, that you were brought to pass sentence on yourself, guilty of all! Hear what a dear believer writes of himself: “My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination, like an infinite deluge, or mountains  over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. When I look into my heart and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deep, and yet it seems to me that my conviction of sin is exceeding small and faint.”

Perhaps you will ask, Why do you wish me to have such a discovery of my lost condition? I answer, that you may be broken off from all schemes of self–righteousness; that you may never look into your poor guilty soul to recommend you to God; and that you may joyfully accept of the Lord Jesus Christ, who obeyed and died for sinners. Oh, that your heart may cleave to Christ! May you forsake all, and follow Jesus Christ. Count everything loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. You never will stand righteous before God in yourself. You are welcome this day to stand righteous before God in Jesus. Pray over Philippians 3:7, 9. I will try to pray for you. Grace be with you.

Bonar, Andrew A., and R.M. McCheyne. Memoir and Remains of R.M. McCheyne. electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996. Print.

On the Wrong Side of the Line

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…”
(Romans 3:23–24)

Here’s my confession for the day: I am a Stresser.

Maybe you already knew that.  Maybe you’ve seen me in one of my “moments,” when I’m harried, distracted, a little brusque in my greeting.  That’s me – stressing.

I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been “stressing out” a lot more than I used to.  My fuse is shorter, my temper hotter; I found myself nodding in agreement with Bruce Banner, “That’s my secret, Captain, I’m always angry.”

My wife, and even the children, have noticed this too.  “What’s the matter with daddy?” they will ask.

What is the matter?  I could try to come up with some rationale to explain this: poor balance between work and life; unhealthy stress management; taking on too many obligations; it’s just the normal way of things with a job, a wife, and four kids…

Instead, I think I’ll just cut straight to the chase.  I don’t have the time, don’t need the extra stress, to try to explain away my Stressed Out behavior.  I just tell you – It’s Sin!

I know what they say, some stress is healthy – but my sinful stressing is destructive and deadly.  My stress is sin.  It is gratifying the desires of the flesh, reveling in the delight of the moment at the cost of the eternal.  Look – I’m stressed because my egotistic personality insists that if something going to be done, it’s got to be done right (and I will determine what’s right), and I’m probably the only one able to do it.  I’m stressed because I’m unwilling to ask for help, and cannot understand why no one will step up to help me out.  I stress out because, secretly, momentarily, it feels real good to blow a gasket and erupt with a Vesuvius-esque fury all over those closest to me, even though the damage is lasting and hard to undo.

I was reminded the other day of something an elder said to me, long ago, in the first church I was serving. We were discussing marriage, ordination, sexual immorality – you know all those things that Presbyterians have been debating since time immemorial.  The church was discussing taking a Biblical stand on the matters at hand, when the elder said, “I don’t like drawing a line in the sand, because eventually I’ll find myself on the wrong side of the line.”

Friends can we just learn to accept this one fact: we are all on the wrong side of the line.  We are all sinners, everyone of us.  “For ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23).  When you stand in the light of God’s righteous judgment, all of us are on the wrong side of the line.  We can try to dress up our sins, call them by a different name – to paraphrase the Bard – but a sin by any other name would smell just as bad.

We call it “an affair,” when the Bible calls it adultery.

We call it “anger issues” when the Bible calls it hating your brother – which is murder.

We call it “embezzlement” when the Bible calls it stealing.

We call it “misrepresenting the truth,” when the Bible says it is a lie.

We call it “keeping up with the Jones’” when the Bible says it is covetousness.

We say “there’s just not enough time in the week to get everything done,” when in reality we are breaking the Sabbath.

We compromise on Biblical truth, because we do not honor Scripture as the very word of God.

We are anxious because we do not believe God’s promises.

We are short tempered and angry because of our self-importance and cold, unmoving hearts.

We are slow to forgive one another because we downplay our own sinfulness and underestimate the magnitude of God’s grace towards us in Jesus Christ.

The call of Christ is the same for each of us.  Whether you are caught in immorality, or disobedient toward your parents – the call of Christ is “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  In His grace, trusting in that Gospel, turn from your sin – for sin is what it is – turn from your sin and know his gift of forgiveness, peace, and life.

Don’t hold on to your sin, thinking that it is a crutch that will support you, for it will only bring you down.  Instead, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24).

They say confession is good for the soul.  These deeply ingrained “fits of rage” in my life will take some time to conquer, and only by the strength of the Holy Spirit working in me will they be ultimately defeated.  And yet, they will never be defeated as long as I deny their sinfulness and hold on to them.  I confess.  I repent.  And I believe the Good News, that by the grace of God I am forgiven and delivered.

In the words of John Newton, I will hold to these two truths: “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior!”

Sola Deo Gloria!