The natural man knows there is a God. We know this because he suppresses this truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18). There is no such thing as an innocent pagan. Deep down they know there is a God, and if they know there is a God they know they do wrong (sin) and someone has to call them to account for it. (Romans 1:19-22).
I remember before coming to the Lord at age 43, I’d pursued all sorts of lines of questioning. The basic unanswered question that drove me was this:it seemed ridiculous to assume that man’s life ended at death. For man to have ‘evolved’ over millions of years only to life a short life of 40 or 50 or 70 years and then die for good seemed a waste. And if man’s life did not end at death but continued in some sort of afterlife, how was it decided who got in? It seemed equally ridiculous that everyone got in. That would simply replicate life on earth, and so, what would make it heaven? I mean, would Hitler get in? It was logical to think there was some sort of standard. But what? And there my queries ended, because I could not understand the Jesus-blood-resurrection part of it. That seemed ILlogical, so I abandoned the issue. But the issue remained in my heart and mind, like a burr under a horse’s saddle. I had angst about it.
man knows he is a sinner. He knows that even if he attends church, does all the good works, but without Jesus, he feels empty. He feels the lack. Mother Teresa certainly did. In this excerpt from her diaries, she had written,
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who has been put on the “fast track” to sainthood, was so tormented by doubts about her faith that she felt “a hypocrite,” it has emerged from a book of her letters to friends and confessors. Shortly after beginning her work in the slums of Calcutta, she wrote: “Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God — please forgive me.”
Nicodemus was THE teacher of Israel. He was a Pharisee, part of a group of a highly intellectual, top men of Israel. He knew he scriptures inside out, he kept the Law to exacting degree. And yet he came to see Jesus because he lacked the assurance that he’d been forgiven. In John 3:1-5 we read,
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
You notice that Nicodemus asked a question. You notice that Jesus did not answer the question of his mouth, but answered the question that was in His heart. Jesus demonstrates His omniscience here by getting to the point of man’s eternal question- what must I do to be saved? How can I be saved from the punishment I know I deserve? Nicodemus knew he was just going through the motions just as Teresa of Calcutta knew she was just going through the motions. Nicodemus felt empty.
He [Nicodemus] is full of fear, anxiety as hypocrites are. He fears judgment. He fears hell, punishment, exclusion from heaven. Pharisees believed in all of those things. Pharisees believed in divine sovereignty. Pharisees believed in human responsibility. The Pharisees believed in angels, they believed in the resurrection, they believed in heaven, they believed in hell, and he’s got that much in his theology and that’s enough to frighten him. By the way, this is necessary angst for anybody to be saved, because until that fear rises in your heart, you don’t pursue salvation. (Source)
The necessary angst that precedes salvation is knowing there is a God, knowing we sin, knowing we fall far short of the standard. It’s knowing there is something more, and trying to reach it but not knowing how. It’s fearing God and hell.
The thief knew he was guilty, he knew. Just as much as he knew Jesus was innocent. (Luke 23:39-43). If the unbeliever stops lying to himself, he will admit it all. But he won’t, because his unrighteous mind won’t let him. That’s why the angst is necessary.
Satan is so subtle he knows that to remove the angst from the equation is to remove the step necessary for the human to remain uncomfortable in his disquiet. Man’s schemes and methods are insufficient. See this recent headline from the Christian Post. Evangelism Using Death, Heaven, Hell Talk Don’t Work on ‘Unchurched’ Americans, Survey Finds.
Really? The one truth the non-believer suppresses in unrigteousness…the one truth the Gentile has on his mind but does not want to discuss…the one truth that is clearly perceived by even the most dense unbeliever? We are going to change the method of evangelism based on their unrighteous preference? The article confidently assures us,
But Christians should be prepared to change their evangelism approach as many unchurched Americans say they never (43 percent) or are not sure of the last time the question came to mind (20 percent) of “If I were to die today, do I know for sure that I would go to heaven?”
The article goes on to say that the non-believer’s concerns in these days are civic safety, social justice and having genuine relationships. This entire world is in the hands of satan, why would we cater to the unconverted’s preferences at all? Jesus said we need to be born from above. It was the answer to Nicodemus and it’s the answer now.
What if Jonathan Edwards had heeded such foolish advice to alter the rock solid truth that saves men and exchanged it for temporal blessings? Would the Second Great Awakening have occurred? God is sovereign and brings all He wills to pass, so the question is somewhat moot. But look how the Spirit prepared Edwards to preach the sermon that sent arrows of fire straight to the hearts of the hearers who had also been prepared. He had preached in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; …watched
The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. — That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.
You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, as the good state of your bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should withdraw his hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.
Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it;
“The awakening sermon and all it expressed—the awful weight of sin, the wrath of an infinitely holy God, and the unexpectedness of the moment when God will execute justice—were integral to Edwards’s theology”, as we read in the essay at Yale University’s Jonathan Edwards Center.
Many in the hard-hearted congregation that day were awakened to the true standing of their unconverted souls and wept uncontrollably and pleaded for the solution. Helping the unchurched set up neighborhood watches simply doesn’t have the same impact.
Back when the Lord was instilling me a seeking, a burning need to know the answer, the question of heaven, hell, and eternity burned in me. I could not determine what made the difference in who was let into heaven and who wasn’t. Believers, we have that answer. Whether the unconverted person claims to want to know it or not, they need the answer we have.
Stay the course, preach in season and out of season. We are all only spiders being held on a gossamer strand.