Calvary Road Baptist Church

“SOME OBSTACLES TO CONVERSION”

 

Is there any issue that should be more important to a sinner than the conversion of his own soul? Can there possibly be an item on a thinking man’s agenda that ought to rank higher than preparing his soul for eternity?

It is true that Jesus spoke during His earthly ministry more about Hell and eternal damnation than He did about the destiny of the righteous, therefore we would do well to focus our attention on this topic of conversion. After all, there are only two places to spend eternity, and one of those places is really bad.

Sadly, little is done these days by men of God and theologians in the way of conversion. By that, I mean little research and little in the way of writing on this issue beyond my good friend, Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.[1] The Calvinists of our day so oftentimes focus their attention on the certainty of the eventual salvation of the elect that they ignore any serious study of the right use of means to bring the lost to Christ. It should be noted that any man who would be a physician of souls would do well to read Puritans like Thomas Hooker and Jonathan Edwards, while at the same time taking into account the peculiarities of their situations and the implications of their theology. There is so much we could learn from them. At the other end of the theological spectrum from the Calvinists are those who tend to view evangelism as being so mechanical that, once you have the “formula” worked out, you only need to polish your techniques and hone your leadership skills to bring large numbers to Christ . . . they foolishly think.

In either case, there is a profound inattention to the close and skillful personal work that is sometimes needed to bring a poor, blind sinner to Christ. If such attention was actually paid to pastoral evangelism, greater concern would grow among pastors concerning the obstacles to conversion that present themselves, and how those obstacles are to be overcome in reaching the lost.

Let me explain: You come upon a sinner and present the gospel to him as clearly and as carefully as possible, yet he does not come to Christ. You come upon that sinner once more and present the gospel to him as clearly and as carefully as possible, and again he does not come to Christ. Perhaps this pattern repeats itself a number of times. Consider two of the more likely things to then happen in the mind and heart of the sinner not come to Christ: First, he may think that the gospel has no power to save, since he thinks he tried it and it did not work, so he gives up. Second, he may think the gospel has power to save, but not to save him for one reason or another, so he gives up. Even those who continue attending church may have actually given up any hope or expectation of ever being saved from their sins.

What about the thinking of the gospel preacher? Is he to conclude that his approach to the sinner, having been unsuccessful so far, should continue in exactly the same fashion as previously? Not that the gospel message should be changed, since there is only one saving gospel, Galatians 1.9. What if there are identifiable spiritual obstacles to conversion, if anyone had the interest to search for them in the Bible and discover them in the hearts and minds of the sinners not come to Christ?

When you consider the stakes, an eternity in the lake of fire, do you not think it would be worth some of our time and attention to consider the obstacles to conversion mentioned in God’s Word, and seek to discover them in the hearts and minds of those we are working with and praying to bring to Christ? Perhaps you are in that category of sinners who have heard the gospel on many occasions, and have heard me and other preachers come into the gospel from many different directions, though always ending at the person and work of Jesus Christ, the unique Savior of sinful men’s souls. However, for one reason or another, you not only do not enjoy the blessedness of sins forgiven, but you have become somewhat doubtful about the whole matter, and you even secretly wonder where there really is joy unspeakable and full of glory when sins are forgiven and when Christ is truly known.

I do not blame you. I might hold the same views were I in your predicament, and I would be just as guilty of sin in so doing as you are. You see, whatever obstacles exist to you coming to Jesus Christ, whatever interferes with your conversion, must be recognized to be entirely your responsibility before God. If you had heeded Christ’s command to strive to enter in at the strait gate, you no doubt would have discovered whatever obstacle lies in your path to conversion and overcome it.[2] However, you have not yet, and likely will not ever, so I will do my best to help you in any way I can.

I do not want you to remain lost. I do not want you to perish. I do not want you consigned forever to the lake of fire. Therefore, let me review for you some of the obstacles that may lie across the path to your conversion to Christ:

 

First, THERE IS THE OBSTACLE OF SPIRITUAL DEADNESS

 

Spiritual deadness is every sinner’s problem, since every sinner comes into this world dead in trespasses and sins, as the Apostle reminded his readers in Ephesians 2.1. Lest you think there is little testimony to this affliction of the soul, consider the following verses: In John 5.24, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” In Ephesians 2.5, the Apostle declares, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” Then, in Colossians 2.13, Paul reminds his readers of their former condition: “And you, being dead in your sins. . . .”

Spiritual deadness is the universal condition of all men separated from God by their sins, as we find in Isaiah 59.2: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you.” Spiritual deadness is the direct consequence of being separated by your sins from the life of God.

What is the remedy for spiritual death? Is it the turning over of a new leaf? Is it the remedy of learning, as though spiritual deadness is the same as ignorance? Of course not. The only remedy for death is life, which is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[3] Moments later, He told him, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”[4]

So we see, the real remedy for spiritual deadness is the miracle of the new birth, which miracle the Spirit of God alone works, and which miracle cannot be conjured up by manipulative techniques so often employed of late when trying to bring the lost to Christ. We know the miracle of the new birth is wrought in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel, from First Corinthians 1.21: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” We also know the miracle of the new birth is wrought in conjunction with God’s Word, James 1.18: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Other means are also associated with the new birth, such as prayer, striving, the combined good testimony of the congregation, as well as other things. Keep in mind that it is the miracle of the new birth, however, which is the singular solution to the problem of spiritual deadness as an obstacle to conversion.

 

Next, THERE IS THE OBSTACLE OF JUDICIAL BLINDNESS

 

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul dealt with the perplexing problem of God’s chosen people, the Jews, and their obstinate rejection of the gospel and their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Explaining their conduct, Paul points out that the Jewish people were resistant because they had been judicially blinded by God:

 

7      What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded

8      (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.[5]

 

The purpose of God’s judicial blinding of Israel was twofold: First, it was God’s punishment for their longtime refusal to obey Him, opposing both His prophets and also His Son. Second, it was useful to God to reach the Gentiles, and the responsiveness of the Gentiles would, in turn, provoke the Jewish people to jealousy, that God would then use to save Israel:

 

25     For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

26     And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

27     For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

28     As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.[6]

 

Are we to accept that the judicial blindness of the Jewish people prevents any of them from responding to the gospel? Not at all. Though the present ingathering of Jewish people will be sparse in comparison to those who will be saved at the end of the age at the time of Christ’s second coming, Jewish people are coming to Christ. Remember, the Apostle Paul was Jewish. Several good Christian men known to you are Jewish Christians.

If you are witnessing to someone who is Jewish, it is likely that your efforts will take a bit longer than others you have worked with, and your presentation of the gospel will need to be well thought out. However, the judicial blinding of Israel does not mean no Jewish people will come to Christ in this era, but that comparatively few Jewish people will come to Christ in this era. The Bible still says, “To the Jew first.”

 

Third, THERE IS THE OBSTACLE OF SELF-DECEPTION

 

If Christians are capable of deceiving themselves, James 1.22, unsaved people are certainly capable of self-deception: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” It is not at all uncommon for unsaved people to engage in massive amounts of self-deception with respect to the gospel message.

What would this kind of self-deception entail? It could be almost anything, though it should not be thought unusual for a lost person to think that Jesus could never save someone as sinful as he is, that Christians are unhappy and never have any fun, or for a lost person to think Christians are wrong about such things as evolution, creation, and intelligent thought in general.

As well, self-deception could include thoughts that salvation comes from self-effort that you are not able to produce, or that service and ministry to God as a Christian makes demands that no one is capable of fulfilling. Thus, self-deception is oftentimes the result of real ignorance or dishonesty about the terms of salvation, and about God’s dealings in a Christian’s life after conversion.

How is self-deception properly dealt with? Decisionists, with their simplistic presentation of the gospel, and their refusal to interact in a meaningful way with the lost to discover their misunderstanding of the gospel and related issues, cannot usually address this matter of self-deception very effectively. However, consistent gospel preaching, followed by attempts to interact with the lost to investigate their understanding of the gospel and related issues can oftentimes expose areas of ignorance and self-deception and successfully address those matters with the truth of God’s Word.[7]

Some fellow thinks he cannot be a Christian because he does not think he can live up to God’s expectations? Who can live up to the demands of the Christian life? Why do you think Paul asked, “. . . who is sufficient for these things?” in Second Corinthians 2.16? Grace is needed to live the Christian life, and grace is both available and supplied by God to Christians for just that purpose.

Self-deception is a tragic problem that results in many lost people avoiding the gospel and refusing every opportunity to come to Christ, even though it is a problem that can be successfully dealt with by Christians who will take the time to treat each sinner as an important person who needs to be brought to the place of understanding the gospel clearly as he is prayerfully challenged to respond to it.

 

Fourth, THERE IS THE OBSTACLE OF SATANIC BLINDNESS

 

You know, there really is a devil, and he is not the clownish object of humor the late comedian Flip Wilson tried to make him out to be. Instead, Satan is an astonishingly intelligent and wicked creature who is determined to oppose the plan and purpose of God to the bitter end.

Not only is he the accuser of the brethren, he is also the god of this world and the prince of the power of the air.[8] A liar from the beginning and the father of lies, Satan works to blind the minds of the lost, so they will not see the greatness and the glory of the gospel of Christ.[9]

So, how might the devil work to blind people’s minds to the truth? Keeping in mind that Satan can influence anyone’s thought life, and that he is the deceiver of the whole world and the accuser of the brethren, let me construct a scenario. Christians know that a person can only concentrate on one serious matter at a time, and that conversion is far more important than either a job or a girl friend or boy friend. However, when a lost man is cautioned to consider Christ first, and to subordinate matters of job and romance to a proper consideration of Jesus Christ, the accusation is made that Christians are unfriendly and want to spoil everyone’s fun. In reality, Satan’s lie keeps the sinner from seeing that Jesus Christ is more important than anything else, and Christians are usually just trying to help some silly fool avoid a great deal of heartache. How is trying to keep someone out of Hell spoiling his fun?

Of course, the lost cynic’s solution to such a problem as this is very simple. Say nothing and do nothing and let people make a mess of their lives without comment. Stand far enough away to avoid any blow back, and watch it happen with a smirk on your face as you practice the wicked game of noninvolvement that denies you are your brother’s keeper. However wise that approach may seem at first glance, it is really the logic of a person who is overcome with moral cowardice.

The Biblical approach is fasting and prayer, along with exalting Christ to the sinner, and by cautious counsel and loving rebukes. An eternal and undying soul hangs in the balance. You dare not do nothing, since we have been called to wage spiritual warfare. Paul tells us that we are supposed to “stand against the wiles of the devil,” Ephesians 6.11. Of course, exactly how that is to be done would take a series of sermons to develop.

 

Finally, THE OBSTACLE OF GOSPEL DEAFNESS

 

The Lord Jesus Christ made mention of having the ears to hear eight times during the course of His earthly ministry leading up to His crucifixion. There are differences of opinion concerning the meaning of the phrase “ears to hear,” but I would like to call attention to one aspect of the meaning of that phrase that deserves our attention.

Throughout the history of man our race has been primarily an oral traditional species. True, we have possessed the skill to read and write from the beginning, but most men who have lived since the flood have been illiterate, resulting in the development of considerable skill to learn from oral tradition, to teach with oral tradition, and to pass on oral traditions.

We have been a primarily orally communicating race until the middle of the twentieth century, when technology advanced to the place where we began paying more attention to visual communications in the west than oral communications. To be sure, some few have always been great readers, but most people have mostly communicated orally, even with the coming of radio.

Moving pictures made barely a dent in this habit, since so little time was actually spent looking at moving pictures. However, when television use became widespread, and even more when computers covered the landscape in the developed west, mankind for the first time began to lose his skills to listen and to grasp truths from what he heard. As well, attention spans began to shorten to accommodate the rapid scene changes common on most television programs.

What are the implications of this tendency toward shorter attention spans, the loss of listening skills, and the increased reliance on visual means of communicating? The implications are serious, in light of the fact that faith comes by hearing the Word of God preached, Romans 10.17, and in light of the fact that God’s grace is mainly though not exclusively ministered through hearing, Ephesians 4.29.

If you have a population that is accustomed to communicating orally, with a longer attention span and with greater skill to learn from what is heard, you have a population that more easily grasps the gospel as it is delivered by means of preaching. However, if you have a relatively inattentive audience, possessing diminished skills to grapple with truths they hear, and coupled with a shortened attention span, then you have a group of people who are relatively deaf to the gospel message, to whom faith comes only with great difficulty, and to whom grace is ministered in little droplets rather than as a steady stream.

My friends, this is not to say that someone who hears enough gospel sermons may not piece together enough of the picture for a coherent response, but it occurs with greater difficulty than in days gone by when people knew how to listen. Used to be, a sinner could and would listen carefully to a well-crafted gospel sermon, would understand the message and its implications, and would respond to the saving of his soul. Such happens less frequently these days, because audiences are now less skilled as listeners, and because attention spans are considerably shortened.

The solution to this problem of gospel deafness? Most preachers, hardly realizing what was happening, but being discerning enough to know what was needed to hang on to their audience’s attention, have shortened their sermons, have filled their sermons with illustrations, have filled their sermons with jokes and humor, and have greatly simplified the doctrinal content of their sermons. Sadly, in many cases, preachers have gone too far in their efforts to hold their audiences, leaving their sermons powerless and without meaningful and saving content.

What if the solution to the problem is not to reduce and dumb down sermons, but to improve the listening skills of the audience? What if the solution to the problem is not to diminish the doctrinal content of the sermons or to make them funnier, but to increase people’s attention span? What if the solution is to reeducate people so they will once again know how to listen to sermons?

Each person is affected differently by his exposure to television and his time spent in front of computers, but it is safe to say that if you are not one given to reading instead of television watching and Internet surfing or gaming, and especially if you are not one who thoroughly enjoys meaty doctrinal sermons from God’s Word (like you who tend to doze off or mess around during preaching), you have been adversely affected by the technology shifting our culture from one with listening skills to one who focuses on the visual, with a relatively short attention span.

The impact of that change on you? You pay less attention to sermons. You grasp less of the content of the gospel that is presented. You do not hear enough of the preaching to acquire saving faith. And you miss out on the primary means God has provided to have grace ministered to you. In short, you are gospel deaf. Of course, the implications for you are very serious, but since you don’t listen to sermons very well, you don’t receive this warning very well. However, the rest of us are warned of your predicament.

 

If you doze off during preaching, if you find your attention wandering while the person next to you is glued to the preacher and his sermon, if you simply have to have sermons that are funny and filled with time consuming illustrations, then you are suffering from some degree of gospel deafness.

This does not mean you cannot be saved. However, it likely means you will need many more sermons, with very careful counseling, to offset the difficulty you have grasping the entire message of a sermon at one sitting.

Perhaps you can be greatly helped by simply calling attention to the problem that confronts you. I hope so. In any case, we will take steps in our church’s ministry to address this very serious obstacle to a sinner’s conversion.



[1] R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Preaching To A Dying Nation, (Los Angeles, CA: Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles, 1999) and R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism Is Destroying Our Churches, (Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 1999). These and other books authored by R. L. Hymers, Jr. can be purchased by calling (818) 352-0452.

[2] Luke 13.24

[3] John 3.3

[4] John 3.7

[5] Romans 11.7-8

[6] Romans 11.25-28

[7] Decisionism holds sway among evangelicals and most fundamentalists today as the belief that a person is saved by coming forward, raising the hand, saying a prayer, believing a doctrine, making a Lordship commitment, or some other external, human act, which is taken as the equivalent to, and proof of, the miracle of inward conversion; it is the belief that a person is saved through the agency of a merely external decision; the belief that performing one of these human actions shows that a person is saved.

Conversion is the result of that work of the Holy Spirit, which draws a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for justification and regeneration, and changes the sinner’s standing before God from lost to saved, imparting divine life to the depraved soul, thus producing a new direction in the life of the convert. The objective side of salvation is justification. The subjective side of salvation is regeneration. The result is conversion.

[8] Second Corinthians 4.4; Ephesians 2.2; Revelation 12.9-10

[9] John 8.44; Second Corinthians 4.4



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org