Only the Lost Can Be Saved
In 1990, after immersing myself in the writings of the persecuted church, after reading a number of powerful missionary biographies, and after working with sold-out missionaries overseas, I wrote the book How Saved Are We? As you can tell by the title, the book was a challenge to complacent, compromised, carnal Christianity. Following Jesus is a radical thing!
Here, I produce some of the chapter titled, “Were You Ever Lost?” May it minister life and truth to your heart.
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Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mat. 9:13). Even God can not heal a well person! Only sick people can be healed. In the same way, only sinners can be forgiven, and only the lost can be saved. Jesus died for the lost alone.
On one occasion, George Whitefield was preaching to a small gathering of British nobility. Lord Chesterfield, who was always fascinated by Whitefield’s illustrations, was listening intently. John Pollock tells the story:
Whitefield had said that a man without Christ resembled a blind [old] beggar with a stick, using his little dog as guide. They are walking on a grassy downland slope not knowing they are at the top of a cliff. The string breaks and the dog wanders off. The beggar desperately puts both hands on the stick and pokes his way forward as best he can. He draws nearer, nearer the cliff. He pokes the stick out once again and its point goes over the edge and the unexpected motion makes him drop it. (Whitefield’s hearers were now taut with excitement.) The chasm is too high for an echo so the beggar thinks the stick has fallen into a soft shallow ditch. He leans over to feel. He loses his balance, his foot slips —
“‘He’s gone!’ Lord Chesterfield yelled,” leaping to his feet. That is the description of the whole human race — “They’re gone!” And the hour is late.
Are We Preaching the Full Gospel?
Most of us are still waiting to hear the full gospel. Our modern version leaves much to be desired. We love to preach on heaven, but hardly say a word about hell. We make long appeals for salvation, but damnation sounds like a dirty word. We talk about the cross and the blood, but Jesus seems to hang there for nothing. Why in the world did He die?
The cross makes sense only if mankind is hopelessly lost; only if no one can be just in God’s eyes; only if all of us have fallen infinitely short; only if we truly deserve the sentence of death; only if He would be perfectly fair in condemning us forever; only if we can do nothing to save ourselves. Only then does the cross makes sense. Otherwise it is the ultimate divine waste — Jesus suffered and bled for no reason. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Gal. 2:21).
Our gospel has failed to attack one of the basic plagues of our race: self-righteousness. Is there any sin God hates more than this? Self-righteousness is idolatry. Self-righteousness makes man into god. Self-righteousness sets its own standards. Self-righteousness brings a foul curse. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). “Go and learn what that means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mat. 9:13). God can not help the self-righteous man.
We Have Not Grasped Our Lost State Without God
Why do we have so many proud, self-sufficient believers in our congregations? Why is there so little brokenness in our midst? Why do some of our preachers seem to show off and strut? Why are we so quick to praise man? It is because we have not seen the depth of our sin. We have not grasped our lost state without God. We have not comprehended our natural condition — not diseased, but decomposing; not critical, but a corpse! The unsaved human being is dead; he can not resurrect himself.
We must approach the unsaved with this reality. “Take the bandage off their eyes which Satan has bound round them; knock and hammer and burn in, with the fire of the Holy Ghost, your words into their poor hardened, darkened hearts, until they begin to realise that they are IN DANGER; that there is something amiss. Go after them” (Catherine Booth). They are perishing without the Lord.
When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, the people “were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Why were they so convicted? What was it that challenged them so? “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” What a horror, what a shock, what a jolt. We crucified our Messiah! We nailed the hope of Israel to a tree! And now He sits enthroned as Lord. Brothers, help us! What shall we do?
“What Must I Do to Be Saved?”
When people see the greatness of their sin; when they recognize that they can do nothing to remove their guilt; when they understand that judgment is near, they will “flee from the coming wrath” (Mat. 3:7), crying “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Suddenly God’s grace seems so big!
Was ever the remembrance of your sins grievous to you? Was the burden of your sins intolerable to your thoughts? Did you ever see that God’s wrath might justly fall upon you, on account of your actual transgressions against God? Were you ever in all your life sorry for your sins? Could you ever say, My sins are gone over my head as a burden too heavy for me to bear? Did you ever experience any such thing as this? If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake, do not call yourselves Christians; you may speak peace to your hearts, but there is no peace. May the Lord awaken you, may the Lord convert you, may the Lord give you peace … before you go home!” (George Whitefield).
Consider the words of the Lord: “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from … Away from Me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets of God, but you yourselves thrown out” (Luke 13:25, 27-28).
What an overwhelming thought. Some people will be “thrown out!” There will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” — utter darkness and never relief. And to think of the bitter indictment: We haven’t told people the truth!
The Sinner Must Understand the Criminal Nature of His Sins
“Here is the sinner in rebellion. God comes with pardon in one hand and a sword in the other, and tells the sinner to repent and receive pardon, or refuse and perish” (Charles Finney). Is this the gospel we preach?
Listen to Finney again: “It is of great importance that the sinner should be made to feel his guilt, and not left to the impression that he is unfortunate. I think this is a very prevalent fault, particularly in books on the subject. They are calculated to make the sinner think more of his sorrows than of his sin, and feel that his state is rather unfortunate than criminal.
“Make the sinner see that all pleas in excuse for not submitting to God, are acts of rebellion against Him. Tear away the last LIE which he grasps in his hand, and make him feel that he is absolutely condemned before God.” This is the gospel of grace.
“I preached from George Whitefield’s pulpit, the wall … Many, I am persuaded, found themselves stripped, wounded, and half-dead; and are therefore ready for the oil and wine” (Charles Wesley). The patients were prepared for surgery. It was time for mercy to come forth.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Why So Many Christians Have Left the Faith. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.