Wednesday, January 4

When Good News Becomes Bad News!

Even the important truth re: the conviction of sin can be overdone IF it forces the knowledge of God out. But what comes first? What do I mean? Well, I think John Newton explains it quite well in small paperback book entitled "A Pen Dipped in Love." He writes in a letter:
We commonly speak as if conviction of sin was the first work of God upon the soul that he is in mercy about to draw to himself. But I think this is inaccurate. Conviction is only a part, or rather an immediate effect of that first work; and there are many convictions which do not at all spring from it, and therefore are only occasional and temporary, though for a season they may be very sharp, and put a person upon doing many things. 
This insight is in itself enough to garner at least some respect for Newton's grasp of the work of God in salvation. But he goes further to make the larger point:
In order to a due conviction of sin, we must previously have some adequate conceptions of the God with whom we have to do.
J. C. Ryle also sees this issue:  "If you do not love Christ, let me plainly tell you what is the reason: You have no sense of debt to Him." For me to know that I have offended someone, it is evident that I must know that person. Newton goes on:
Sin may be feared as dangerous without this; but its nature and demerit can only be understood by being contrasted with the holiness, majesty, goodness, and truth, of the God against who it is committed. No outward means, no mercies, judgement, or ordinances can communicate such a discovery of God, or produce such a conviction of sin, without the concurrence of this divine light and power to the soul.
What does this mean to the Gospel message? Everything. Men by nature have a natural disinclination toward God and especially Jesus Christ. But he is exactly whom we must preach. It seems that these days, we are finding a tendency arising that wants to skirt the person of Jesus Christ in deference for his gifts. But who can want the gift he offers unless he sees his own need? And how will one see his own need until he sees how far short he comes from the absolute and majestic holiness of him whom Paul describes as a God, “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:16) To the Jews who had a great knowledge of Scripture, Jesus responded, but "you will not come to me that you might have life." Do you not see it? The knowledge of the person of Jesus is at the heart of salvation, both in its proclamation and its experience. 

Ask not, "How will people receive this?" That is not our problem. That belongs rightly to the work of the Holy Spirit who does his job perfectly. Just like Job, men who truly come into contact with God will say, "I thought I knew you, but now I see you and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).

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