Hell’s Best Kept Secret II ~ July 01, 2018 ~ Luke 10:25-29
Here at South Church, I’ll let you know, I’ll be looking for volunteers (and Delano has already volunteered to help), to go through training and to hit the streets sharing the gospel with this community. As a part of this project I am preaching this sermon on evangelism, broken it up into three Sundays. It was a message that I heard from evangelist Ray Comfort years ago. This is the first time in 21 years I’ve ever preached a sermon that is not completely and 100% mine, but by the time I got done editing this it is probably 40% mine anyway. I thought it was just too important to keep to myself. I’ve listened to this message probably a dozen times on a CD, and I wanted to share it with you as a part of this project.
As I mentioned last week, in the late 1970s a gentleman by the name of Ray Comfort discovered to his horror that 80-90% of people who made a decision for Christ, who “got saved,” ended up falling away from the faith not too long after that. Now, he believed it was because the message of modern evangelism had degenerated to “Jesus Christ will give you peace, joy, love, happiness and lasting fulfillment.”
Now that sounds great, but that is simply not biblical. Nor, apparently, is it very effective, as the 80-90% dropout rate, failure rate bears out. So we continue addressing this issue this morning with part two of Ray Comfort’s “Hell’s Best Kept Secret.” Let’s pray.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
So, years ago, Ray was ministering in Australia. After one particular event, he was told there was a young man down back who wanted to give his life to Christ, and he went back and he found a teenage boy who was not even able to pray the sinner’s prayer, he was so overcome with emotion, weeping profusely.
Now, to Ray, this was awesome! This was so refreshing. Because for many years he had suffered from evangelical frustration. He wanted sinners to respond to the gospel so badly, but didn’t even realize it that he himself was preaching a man-centered message, the essence of which was “You’ll never find true peace without Jesus Christ. You have a God-shaped hole in your heart that only He can fill.”
I mean he preached Christ crucified, he preached repentance – it all sounds correct. He thought it was working because people were responding to the altar call. He’d go down front and people would be there, ready to give their lives to Christ. Then he would look at them, and he would say to himself, “Oh no. This guy wants to give his heart to Jesus, and there’s a better than 80% chance he’s going to backslide. I am so tired of creating backsliders. I better make sure this guy really means it. He’d better be sincere.”
So he’d approach these poor people with a Gestapo spirit. He’d walk up and say, “Vat do you vant?” and the young man would reply, “I’m here to become a Christian!” And Ray would say, “Do you mean it?” He’d say, “yeah.” Ray would say, “Do you REALLY mean it?” He’d say, “Yeah, I guess.” “OK, I’ll pray with you, but you’d better mean it from your heart!” He says, “OK, ok.” “OK, repeat this prayer after me, and sincerely after me, and mean it from your heart sincerely, and really mean it from your heart sincerely and really mean it! Oh God, I’m a sinner.” And the guy would repeat, “Oh God, I’m a sinner.” And Ray would think, “Man, why is there no visible sign of contrition, of remorse, of repentance?” There was absolutely no outward evidence that this guy was truly sorry for his sins.
Now, Ray was of the mind that if he really could have seen his motive, if he could look inside, he would discover that he was sincere, he meant it, 100% with all his heart. He was really making a decision for Christ. He sincerely wanted to give this Jesus thing a go, see if he could get a buzz out of it. He had tried sex, and drugs, and materialism, and alcohol. He just wanted to see, sincerely, if this Christian thing really was as good as all the Christians say it is. So he’s ready to give it a shot. He was not fleeing from the wrath that was to come. He was seeking peace, joy, love, happiness and lasting fulfillment. Why? Because, Ray finally admitted to himself, I haven’t told him there was wrath to come! And that was a glaring omission from his message.
This young man was not sorry for his sin, because the poor guy didn’t even know what sin was! How could anyone repent if they don’t know why they need to repent? They’re not even really sure what sin is. Any so-called repentance that this young man might have, would merely be what Ray calls horizontal repentance. This guy was coming because he lied to men. He had stolen from men. But think about it: when David sinned with Bathsheba – he broke all ten commandments, he coveted his neighbor’s wife, he lived a lie, he stole his neighbor’s wife, he committed adultery, he committed murder, dishonored his parents, and thus dishonored God – David didn’t say I’ve sinned against man. He said:
Against you, and you alone, I have sinned. I have done what is evil in your sight.
Psalm 51:4. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, what did he say in Genesis 39:9?
“How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”
When the prodigal son returned in Luke chapter 15, he said:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and you!”
You see, when someone does not understand that their sin is primarily vertical, against God, they will merely exercise superficial, experimental, horizontal repentance, and then quickly fall away when tribulation, temptation, and persecution comes.
Unfortunately, friends, I gotta tell you – this is not a secret – Hell is full of people who fell for “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and he will give you peace, joy, love, happiness, and lasting fulfillment.” Because when that was not what they received, what they experienced when they accepted Christ, they were angry, and they walked away from the Lord, never to return. The truth is, they were never really saved, because they came for the wrong reasons. Those who never hear the law, and confess their sin, and fall on their knees in front of the cross, never receive God’s grace, because they never asked for it. They never knew why they needed it, or if they needed it.
And that’s why, Satan believes (Psalm 19:7, we read it last week):
The law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul
Is hell’s best kept secret. It’s a secret because nobody talks about it anymore. We don’t talk about sin. We don’t talk about the law. It’s hell’s best kept secret because no one hears it. Because it’s so effective, it’s the best kept secret, because it works. The law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul.
There was a gentleman by the name of Absalom Backus Earle, he was a 19th century evangelist.
Absalom Backus Earle, can you imagine that? His parents must have hated him. That’s why he went by the name A.B. His name was A.B. Earle, and he was a famously successful evangelist in the 19th century. Hundreds of thousands of people came to know Christ through his ministry. A.B. Earle said, “People must see themselves lost before they will cry for mercy. They will not escape danger until they see it.” And A.B. was right. No one attempts to escape danger until they see danger. Why did the anvil always fall on Wile E. Coyote?
Because he didn’t see it coming! If he’d have seen it coming, he would have moved! He would have done something about it! The wrath of God is coming for all of us. Do we want to do something about it?
John Newton wrote a famous hymn we all know, Amazing Grace. Every time we sing Amazing Grace, right – “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” You can’t sing I am found until you understand you were lost in the first place!
I mean, if you came to me and you said, “Hey Adam,” and I said, “Yeah?” (cause that’s my name). You said, “I got something for you. This is a cure for Growninson’s Disease. I sold my house to get the money to get this cure, and I’m giving it to you as a free gift.” I’d probably say, “What? Cure to what? Growninson’s Disease? You sold your house to get the money to get this cure, you’re giving it to me as a free gift? Um, thanks. Bye.” That guy’s a nut! I mean, that’s probably my reaction, right? If you told me you sold your house to raise the money to get a cure for a disease I’d never heard of, and you’re giving it to me as a free gift, I would think you are rather strange.
However, if you came to me and said, “Adam, you’ve got Growninson’s Disease,” and then you point out ten symptoms clear on my flesh, I can see them now that you’ve pointed them out. And you say, “If you don’t do something about this, you’re gonna be dead in two weeks!” I’m now convinced I have the disease! The symptoms are evident. I’d probably react like, “Oh my gosh, what am I gonna do?” and you would reply, “Don’t worry. This is a cure to Growninson’s Disease. I sold my house to raise the money to get this cure, and I’m giving it to you as a free gift.” I’m not going to despise your sacrifice. I’m going to appreciate it. In fact, I’m gonna use it, because I understand I have the disease. I need the cure.
Unfortunately, what has happened in the United States, and throughout most of the Western world, is that we have preached the cure without ever showing people they have the disease. We preach a gospel of grace without first revealing to people the law, why they need grace, that they are sinners, just like me, just like you! In general, they don’t understand they need a cure or grace, because they don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. They believe, “Well, I’m basically a good person who should be easily welcomed into heaven.” You see, too many people think at the end of this life, we’ll get a little scale. And on this scale, we’ll place the good things we’ve done – the good things we’ve said, the good deeds we’ve done – on one side, and the bad things on the other side. And as long as the good things outweigh the bad things, we’re good to go! That is so not true!
First of all, even if almost everything you’ve ever done was good, all it takes is one bad thing, just one, and that outweighs the good, because the standard for heaven is perfection. I’m not perfect, so if I think I’m good enough to get into heaven, you know what that is? That’s the sin of pride. That’s me believing that I did enough good things to warrant heaven. It reveals someone who does not understand that they, like everyone else, have a disease called sin, and they need a cure. That’s what the Bible says about evangelism. Biblical evangelism is always, without exception, law to the proud and grace to the humble. I talked last week about the word righteous, and how righteous is a contraction, a word that comes from a contraction of to be made right with God, or to be in right relationship with God, boils down into the word righteous. Because if you confess your sin to God – you recognize you have sin, you confess it to God – you ask him for mercy, and grace, and forgiveness, he gives it to you. You are now in a right relationship with God. You are righteous because of what Christ did on the cross, not because of anything you did, because of what Christ did on the cross.
But if you believe this, that because of things that you did you’re saved, that’s called “self-righteous.” You believe you’re righteous because of something you’ve done yourself. The righteous get into heaven, not the self-righteous. If I believe I’m good enough to merit heaven because I’m such a great guy, first of all, that’s not true; secondly, it’s pure arrogance and pride. Jesus never evangelizes that way. Jesus never gives the gospel, the Good News, the grace of God to a proud, arrogant, self-righteous person. Never. Instead, with the law he breaks the hard heart, and then with the gospel he heals the broken heart.
One example is in our reading this morning, in Luke chapter 10. It’s one most of us are familiar with. It says in verse 25:
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
This guy, a supposed expert on God’s law, stands up, asks Jesus what he should do. How does Jesus respond? “What does the law of Moses say?” He gives him the law. Why? Because Jesus knows this man’s heart. He knows he was proud, he knows he was arrogant, he knows he was self-righteous. He was a Pharisee, he knew that as long as he did more good things than bad he was going to heaven because of what he’s done. Jesus knew that about him, so he gave him the law.
Tell you what else he knew about him. Even though he answered the question correctly – see, we can all memorize Scripture – What do I have to do? Oh, you have to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength, love your neighbor as yourself. That’s just memory. However, the last verse, verse 29 is really key here. The man wanted to justify his actions. What actions might those be? So he asked Jesus, and who is my neighbor? See, he’s looking for a qualifier. He’s looking for an out! He’s looking for a way to justify his heart. What I mean by that is this: many Bible versions put this verse different ways. One of my favorite versions is the Living Bible, who translated it this way:
The man wanted to justify his lack of love for some kinds of people, so he asked, “Which neighbors?”
You see, this man – he didn’t mind Jews. He was a Jew. He hated Samaritans. He didn’t want them to be my neighbor. Which is why Jesus tells him what? The parable of the Good Samaritan! That’s what follows. In verse 26 he talks about a Jewish man who was traveling to Jericho, he’s attacked by bandits, he’s stripped of his clothes, he’s beat up and left on the side of the road half dead.
A priest comes by, doesn’t help him, keeps going. A Temple assistant comes by – Holy Jews! – goes by, doesn’t help him. Finally a guy stops, has compassion for him, goes over to him, soothes his wounds with olive oil and wine, bandages them, puts him on his donkey, takes him to an inn where he’s taken care of, he hands the innkeeper two silver coins telling him, “Take care of this man, if his bill runs higher than this I’ll pay next time I return.” Who was the neighbor? It’s the third guy! And the third guy happens to be a Samaritan. That’s why Jesus told that story. To convict that man that his heart was in the wrong place. Jesus knew that he hated Samaritans, so he tells a story where a Samaritan is the hero. He knew. This guy knew he didn’t love those people, not to that degree. The story was meant to drive this man to his knees, recognize his sin, and ask God for mercy and forgiveness. That’s the point of the law. That’s what it’s supposed to do: drive us to our knees and ask God for forgiveness. Law to the proud, to the arrogant, to the self-righteous.
Now, on the other hand, there’s that great story of Nicodemus. We see grace being given there in John 3. Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews, he was thoroughly versed in God’s law, but he was humble of heart. Nicodemus came to Jesus and acknowledged he was the Son of God, a leader in Israel recognized Jesus was the Son of God. He said to Jesus:
“… we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
Jesus knew that Nicodemus was a sincere seeker of truth who had a humble heart and a knowledge of sin by the law. Therefore he gives Nicodemus – not the law, but the good news of grace. That his sin would be paid for through the sacrifice of God’s son. He tells Nicodemus the verse everyone knows: “Nicodemus,
… this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
He gives Nicodemus grace. Law to the proud, grace to the humble. Law to the self-righteous, grace to the righteous. That’s how it works. If you wanna bring a Jew to Christ, lay the weight of the law upon him. Let it prepare his heart for grace. You wanna bring a Muslim to Christ, give him the law of Moses (they accept Moses as a prophet). Give them the law – Ten Commandments. Strip them of their self-righteousness, that there’s something they can do to be right with God. Bring them to the foot of a blood-stained cross.
The law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul. We see it again and again. Think of the woman caught in the act of adultery in John chapter 8. She’s guilty of violation of the seventh commandment. No excuses, no justification, she’s done for. She had no option but to fling herself at the feet of the Son of God and pray for mercy. So she did. And she received it. That is the function of God’s law: to lead us to recognize our sin, drive us to our knees, confess to a holy God whose love is unconditional and whose mercy and grace is everlasting. That’s the point, folks. You see, so many people love to say – I’ve heard it, I’m sure you’ve heard it, maybe you’ve even said it – “We don’t have the right to judge those who sin! We don’t have the right to condemn them!” We don’t have to. Just keep reading after John 3:16. Read verse 17, read verse 18, which says:
“…anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”
You don’t have to judge them. God has judged them already. The law reveals that.
Ladies, think about it this way. Your living room coffee table needs to be dusted. You certainly can’t get him to do it, right? So you dust it, clean. All the dust is gone, right? Then you draw back the curtains and you let the early morning sunlight in. What do you see on the table? Dust! What do you see in the air? Dust! Did the light create the dust? No. The light simply exposed the dust. When we take time to draw back the curtain of the holy of holies and let the light of God’s law shine on a sinner’s heart, he sees himself for the first time in truth. He sees his dust. He knows now, “I need a cure. Can you help me?” Yes I can, because I have a cure.
Now, Ray Comfort and I both are strong believers in following the footsteps of Jesus, so what would Jesus do? Ray says never ever would I go up to someone and say, “I’d like to talk to you about Jesus Christ.” Why? Because I would never awaken you from a deep sleep by shining a flashlight in your eyes! That would offend you! I’d turn up the light dimmer very gently. That’s how we’re supposed to evangelize. That’s how Jesus evangelizes. First the natural, then the spiritual. Why? Because 1 Corinthians 2:10 says:
… people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them…”
I don’t have Growninson’s Disease!
… and they can’t understand it…
What are you talking about?
… for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.
The example of personal evangelism is found in John chapter 4 with the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, which I did a message on a little while ago. We see what Jesus does. He starts in the natural, he just walks up and he says, “Hey, can I have a drink?” Natural! Non-threatening. Then he swings to the spiritual and starts talking about, “Now that we’re talking about water, let me know, let me tell you about this living water.” Wow. Then he brings the law, conviction, using the seventh commandment – “You’re right, you’ve had five husbands before, and you aren’t married to the man you’re living with now!” and then reveals himself as the Messiah, the offerer of grace. That’s how it works, it’s the same thing we should do. It’s the same process. When we meet someone, talk about the weather. “Man, it’s freakin’ hot!” Talk about sports. “What a great game last night, huh?” Talk about whatever. Let them see you’re not a nut! Get to know them a little. Maybe a little joke here or there, start a rapport. Then, deliberately swing from the natural into the spiritual.
Now the way Ray does it is with gospel tracts. His ministry, Living Waters, has over 30 different gospel tracts that are conversation starters. If they are open to spiritual things, you hand them one, it starts a conversation. If they are atheists who want nothing to do with you, you just say, thank you, God loves you, and walk on. They have to be open to spiritual things; but, they are powerful. I have an example here. On the back is the gospel message, which is a conversation starter. So you walk up to someone, you say, hey – first you talk about the natural – “Kind of hot weather we’re having, huh?” “How about that game last night?” “Why’d the chicken cross the road?” Whatever. Break the ice, get a conversation going.
Say, “Hey, you know what? Which one’s bigger?” Any guesses? Which one looks bigger? There’s a purpose to this, and you’ll have to come back next week to find out what it is! For part 3 of Hell’s Best Kept Secret. Let us pray.
Father, we are grateful for the truth found in the law. We pray that we can share that truth in a gentle and respectful and loving way with those who have yet to hear they have Growninson’s Disease. Lord, our goal is not to point out to someone that they have a disease so much as to point out to someone that there is a cure. They will not receive a cure for a disease that they don’t believe or don’t think that they have. So help us, Lord, to use the right words, help us to take the opportunity. Mostly, Lord, help us to have an opportunity and not be silent. If we have to use Bible tracts, or jokes, or stories, or parables – whatever it takes. Help us, Lord, to take every chance we get to share with folks there is a need for forgiveness. I have it, you have it, we all have a need for forgiveness. And it is represented by what is here on this table. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.