Calvary Road Baptist Church

ďTHE DEFINITION OF INSANITYĒ

Luke 13.23-24

 

I first heard it on the radio while driving on the freeway. Someone said, ďThe definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.Ē If that is the definition of insanity, then I was a certifiable nut case for the first twenty years of my Christian life.

As most of you already know, I first heard the gospel as a little boy during a vacation Bible school conducted by two women who had come to the Fort Totten Indian Reservation, just outside Devilís Lake, North Dakota, where my dad worked as a federal bureaucrat. At the time, it seemed the gospel presentation had no effect on me whatsoever. Five years later, our family had moved a number of times and we were located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We attended a nearby church several times, always being careful to sit in the back where you can distract yourself from the message by observing the movements and listening to the whispers of those sitting in front of you instead. One day, suddenly feeling very strange, I walked forward during the pastorís invitation, was then taken aside by one of the men in the church, and before I knew it, the service was over. A few days later the pastor visited our home and asked me if I wanted to become by baptism a Baptist, a Methodist, a Lutheran, or a Presbyterian, and gave me some brochures, which I did not read. I was immersed the following Sunday night, which was the last time I ever set foot inside that church building. Though the baptismal service was on April 15, 1962, my baptismal certificate was not prepared for some reason until July 2, 1964. Four years passed before we moved yet again, this time to Oregon, and my favorite uncle, who had recently come to Christ after two decades of heavy drinking to drown his Japanese prison camp memories, witnessed to me. I listened intently; keenly interested in pleasing this heroic man I greatly admired, but honestly understood nothing that he said to me. Five or six years later I allowed a sissified college campus evangelist to witness to me while I was in engineering school because I thought his wife was very pretty. As I look back on that situation, it might be that she had a radiant Christian countenance, though I did not know what that was at the time. I just knew I was smitten by her, so I did what her wimpy husband suggested and read the pamphlet with him and repeated the words at the end. However, once again, nothing happened. I was the same guy, just as lost and in the dark as I had always been.

It was here in LA, several years later, that a number of seemingly unrelated events disturbed me just enough to leave me bored and without direction. I then read Godís Word, was greatly affected by what I read and what I remembered from my very first encounter with the gospel message some seventeen or eighteen years earlier, and embraced Jesus as my savior. Life has never been the same for me since then. I began attending the church where I was baptized shortly after my conversion, became thoroughly immersed in that churchís ministry, met and married my wife a year later, and was called to the gospel ministry shortly after we were married. My pastor directed me to go to Bible college, so we moved and joined a church near that school, after which I resigned my job, enrolled in classes to prepare for the ministry, and was then led into an insanity that I remained in for twenty years.

Remember, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. How did I become insane? I did not feel insane. I do not think I looked insane. I was no different from anyone else in the school I attended. However, it was in that school that I was taught what every other student in that school was taught about evangelism, which is what every school like that teaches about evangelism. After I graduated from school, my classmates and I went forth and did over and over and over again what we had been taught to do. The problem, of course, was that what we had been taught to do did not bring sinners to Christ, except accidentally. I did preach the gospel and occasionally sinners would come to Christ. In addition, sometimes people would come to church as a result of my efforts and continue to attend. The problem, of course, was that very few of those I thought were converted had actually come to Christ.

I was no more effective in dealing with the lost than that pastor who baptized me when I was twelve had been, or the man in his church who dealt with me when I responded to the invitation to go forward, or my uncle who was a brand new and a very inexperienced Christian, or that college campus evangelist twit who thought that salvation resulted from reading a brochure and repeating his words. You would think that after God in His abundant grace drew me to Jesus Christ that I would have figured out the difference between my own conversion experience and the repetitive nonsense I had been trained to perform. I did not. At least for twenty years I did not. I certainly knew from my own experience that closing your eyes and repeating some words written on a page does not necessarily result in a real conversion experience. Yet I continued to try to accomplish what I had been taught to do, even though it was contrary to my own conversion experience. I did what my teachers instructed me to do, and what their teachers had no doubt instructed them to do, and what all my classmates who are still in the ministry have no doubt been doing, until God in His goodness altered my thinking.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, why do so many preachers do what they do over and over again when the results are so pitiful, when so few people are truly saved, and when so many professing Christians give no thought to faithfulness, to growth in grace, and to involving themselves in their churchís outreach? Yet they think themselves Christians. Methinks that the typical conduct of church ministry and efforts to reach sinners with the gospel is the very definition of insanity, doing something over and over again without seeing people come to Christ; really come to Christ, as a result.

Allow me to make mention of three illustrations of this insanity in the ministry:

 

First, INSANITY IS TAKING THE VERY SAME APPROACH TO THOSE WHO HAVE HEARD THE GOSPEL AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN WITH PITIFUL RESULTS.

 

Billy has attended church since he was a baby. His parents placed him in the nursery on Sunday mornings, on Sunday evenings, on Wednesday nights, and even during their churchís outreach. When he was old enough, he attended Sunday School faithfully, was involved in church activities for the young people, was taken to camp every summer, without Billy (now Bill) ever demonstrating anything approaching a serious response to the gospel. Yet his parents and his pastor are still committed to proceeding with him in the future in precisely the same fashion they have always dealt with him in the past. Is that not the definition of insanity?

When the Lord Jesus Christ passed through the region known as Perea on the East side of the Jordan River before crossing over to Jericho and proceeding on to Jerusalem, someone looked around and noticed so many who had heard the gospel so many times before without any apparent effect and asked Him, ďLord, are there few that be saved?Ē[1] The man was as much as saying, ďLord, are we to expect such pitiful results from our attempts to reach the lost?Ē

What you have to understand is that Perea was where John the Baptist had preached the gospel, and where Christ had earlier dispatched His disciples to preach the gospel on several occasions, and where the Lord Jesus Christ had Himself ministered previously. So, what we have here is a situation quite similar to Billyís, or should I say Billís? They had heard the gospel preached by some of the most effective communicators who had ever lived; John the Baptist, apostles of Jesus Christ, and even the Lord Himself. Yet they had not responded, just as Bill has not responded.

How did the Lord Jesus Christ answer? Luke 13.23-24 tells us: ďAnd he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.Ē The word strive is an imperative verb, meaning the Lord Jesus Christ is not making a suggestion here, but issuing a command, a directive.[2] Many people want to go to heaven, but will be disappointed. Why so? Because there is a consequence of hearing the gospel again and again without responding to it. Your heart hardens and your conscience sears. Your mind deadens and your sensitivities dull, when you are unresponsive to the gospel of Godís grace, which is a terrible sin. If you doubt what I say, ask those unsaved who have grown up here and find out if they are in any way moved by the truth like they were when they were younger. If they are honest about it, and I suspect they will be, they will admit that almost nothing moves them anymore. That is the price one pays for refusing the gospel and rejecting the Savior again and again and again.

Therefore, to continue to deal with such as those in the same fashion is insane. They will just become harder and harder and harder, their consciences becoming more and more seared, until some college professor overwhelms their mind, or some cutie overwhelms their hormones, and then they will leave. Or they will attend so infrequently that they might as well have left. Sinners like that have to be dealt with differently for there to be any hope of reaching them. As per the Lord Jesus Christís command, they have to strive. It has to be their own initiative, their own concern for their eternal and undying soul, that produces the only effort that will prove useful to alleviating the hardness of their hearts and sensitizing their consciences once more. If they will not strive they will be forever lost. Yet who these days shows to such as these the Lordís command that they strive?

 

Next, INSANITY IS TAKING THE VERY SAME APPROACH TO THOSE WHO HAVE HEARD THE GOSPEL AND HAVE RESPONDED, BUT WHO EXPERIENCE FALSE HOPES AGAIN AND AGAIN.

 

A false hope occurs when someone sincerely thinks he has come to faith in Christ, only to discover that his conversion was not genuine, or to think that for him salvation seems not to work at all. Such was the experience of Judas Iscariot, that ended with great tragedy and the betrayal of the savior. Such was the experience of Simon the magician in Samaria, Acts chapter eight. Such was the experience of the Corinthian fornicator, First Corinthians chapter five, and the trashing of that entire churchís reputation. It may even be that Demas, who had for so long served with the Apostle Paul, had what eventually came to be seen as a false hope. In a move that may have been prompted by Paulís imminent martyrdom, making him no longer useful to Demas, we read what Paul writes to Timothy about him: ďDemas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica.Ē[3] Jim here had false hopes. Karen had a false hope at one time. Mike had a false hope at one time. Jack back there had a false hope at one time. You already know that I experienced false hopes. False hopes are more common than preachers want to admit.

A great tragedy in our day results from an unwillingness on the part of most pastors to admit that such a thing as false hopes exist, because it would require of them a courage they do not seem to possess, to address some of the issues arising in their churches as a result of false hopes. Therefore, instead of owning up to the reality of false hopes actually existing, many preachers explain away a personís concerns about his soul, after he supposedly came to Christ, by telling him he is only backslidden, or by telling him he just needs assurance. The reality, so much of the time, is that the person has a false hope, and never really experienced a saving encounter with Jesus Christ.

The insanity? To always accept a personís declaration that he is a Christian as being true, as being accurate, and as being authoritative. On what basis does anyone accept the say so of an individual without independent verification? Brian is a building inspector. How many years would he serve in prison if he just took a contractorís word and did not inspect the work himself? Can I walk into a bank and claim to have a large sum of money I want to withdraw without having to prove to the bank not only who I am but that I am authorized to withdraw from that account? Of course not. To do otherwise would invite disaster, yet that is what most pastors do who baptize anyone who says he is a Christian, or who accept into their membership from another church anyone claiming he is a Christian.

Is it not obvious that a person who has experienced a false hope is not saved, and he is not saved because he was mistaken about some aspect of the gospel? How, then, can a preacher or an evangelist be justified by backing up and trying the same approach with such a person again and again, without making any effort to discover where he went wrong on the gospel, so you can correct the misunderstanding and bring him to Christ for real? Keep in mind that a false hope does not have to end badly, unless it is not recognized for what it is. The greatest horror is the false hope that is not discovered. Dealt with properly, a false hope can be useful in illustrating how broad ways lead to destruction, and the recognizing that the narrow gate is yet to be found.[4] So, the gospel minister leads the seeking sinner to discover and remedy the error. Is he mistaken about who Jesus is? About what Jesus does? Does He think Jesus saves in sins instead of saving sinners from sins? Does he not really believe Jesus rose from the dead? How about the terms of salvation? Is the sinner attempting to save himself by works? By praying? By keeping the Ten Commandments? By some form of works righteousness?

It is possible that great gains can result from even a discouraging false hope that will result in a poor sinner truly coming to Jesus and knowing the blessedness of sins forgiven. Sadly, so many today treat those with a false hope the same way they treated them before the false hope was discovered, as though they just didnít trust Jesus hard enough, or their faith was not strong enough, or some other such nonsense. My friend, such is insanity. Jesus will wonderfully and gloriously save anyone who comes to God by Him, whether it be by means of faith that is strong or weak, so long as He is the Object of the sinnerís faith. Even more tragic, however, is the false hope that is not discovered because of the pretense that false hopes do not occur.

 

Finally, INSANITY IS TAKING THE VERY SAME APPROACH TO THOSE WHO HAVE DIFFERENT PERCEIVED NEEDS.

 

When the Lord Jesus Christ dealt with Nicodemus, that Bible scholar who spoke to Him one night, He took him back to an Old Testament prophecy about the New Covenant.[5] When He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well who had come to fetch water, He spoke to her about the living water, which would quench her spiritual thirst.[6] He spoke to the crippled man next to the pool of Bethesda about healing.[7] Throughout the New Testament accounts of His dealings with people, we see the Lord Jesus Christ interacting with people at the point of their perceived need. In other words, the starting point of our Lordís dealings with people was where they were at that moment most sensitive. It is true that we cannot feed thousands of hungry people with a few loaves and fishes, but we can recognize and take advantage of a personís tendency to be most concerned about his most immediately pressing problem.

Understand, however, that when the Lord met people at their place of perceived need, that was only the beginning. He always began with a need someone felt, and then led them to a consideration of their greatest need, their need of forgiveness. It is true that people do not often recognize their need of forgiveness. However, no matter how sharp are the pangs of hunger, the need of forgiveness is always more important. Therefore, our Lord addressed the one need so that He might then meet the more important need.

In light of our Lordís conduct, how much sense does it make to teach people that the way to bring others to Christ is to walk up to them and ask them, ďIf you died right now, where would you go, heaven or Hell?Ē Not that such a question is not valid at the appropriate time, but moments after you knock on the door of someone you have never before seen? Yet, throughout the twentieth century young men were prepared for the ministry by training them to talk to lost people in that fashion, despite the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ never dealt with people in that fashion.

Here is another example: Someone does seem to be somewhat interested in becoming a Christian. Where do you find in the Bible a single instance of urging him to bow his head, to close his eyes, and to repeat the words of a prayer as a means of bringing him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? My friend, there are no such examples in Godís Word.

To be sure, there are things common to every lost person. Every lost person is dead in trespasses and sins, every lost person is utterly depraved and incapable of saving himself, and every lost person can find salvation only through faith in Jesus Christ. So, we know where the lost sinner must end up to become a Christian; he must end up at the place where his faith is placed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our task is to interest him, to befriend him, to love him, to inform him, to arouse his curiosity, to cultivate his concern, to bring him under the gospel, so that he will eventually place his faith and trust in Jesus Christ. You simply cannot engage every person in the same way and expect success. Individuals must be dealt with individually, recognizing that it is unlikely a sinner will ever know Jesus as his personal Savior until he himself is dealt with as an individual.

Jesus dealt with different people differently, and I am of the opinion that we should always be open to dealing with a lost man or woman as a unique individual, and not try to force them into some mold so we can treat everyone the same way. That, in my opinion, is the very definition of insanity.

 

Jesus is such a wonderful and glorious savior, so altogether sufficient to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him, that He would be held in high esteem by everyone, saved and lost, were it not for the clutter of so many Christ rejecters, of so many with false hopes, and of so many who have been approached improperly and intrusively. Such people are often left with a bad taste in their mouths. Those of us who have served God for any time at all mourn the tragedy that so much of professing Christianity does such a disservice to the savior. There are so many fake Christians that sometimes people wonder if Christianity is genuine.

Though we do have a supernatural foe named Satan who constantly opposes our efforts, and though it is the very nature of sinful man to oppose and object to the plan and purpose of Almighty God, many of our obstacles are of our own making. It is true that sometimes the worst thing about Christianity is Christians, while there can be no doubt that our Savior is both wonderful and glorious to save. So, what are we to do?

Stop the insanity. Quit repeating failure. Give up on dealing with the stubborn and the resistant in the same fashion you have dealt with them before. It may be that they are not so stubborn and resistant as we imagine, but are confused and distracted. When someone experiences a false hope, or when someone who claims to be a Christian but simply cannot for long act like one, seems to you to have a false hope, do not pretend such things do not occur. I have experience with false hopes, as do a number of you here today. Let us recognize that the discovery of a false hope is a wonderful opportunity, while concealing or denying a false hope can only lead to tragedy. Is there some mental obstacle to coming to Christ, with some fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to come? Then trust Christ, or receive Christ, or look to Christ. Faith in the person of Jesus Christ is the means by which sinners are saved from their sins and reconciled to God, so whatever Biblical means can be employed to show my Lordís goodness, my Lordís power, my Lordís tenderness, my Lordís gentleness, my Lordís willingness, or my Lordís desire to save you, is a means we should all be committed to using.

Life is typically not well settled for a lost person. There are always distractions, needs, desires, discouragements, hopes, and all sorts of other things that serve as barriers to getting his attention focused on his sins and his need for a savior. Knowing that, we try different things. Are you lonely? We try friendship, genuine friendship. Are you energetic? We try activities. Are you curious? We provide answers. Are you seeking? We hold up the One who is to be found. Everyone has different perceived needs, so we prayerfully attempt to begin there, that we might bring you to Christ.

Once you have embraced my Savior, once you are reconciled to God through His Son Jesus Christ, once you have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Godís dear Son, it will be all different for you. You will then be a new creature in Christ.



[1] Luke 13.23

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 181-182.

[3] 2 Timothy 4.10

[4] Matthew 7.13-14

[5] John 3.10

[6] John 4.10

[7] John 5.6



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org