Preaching the reality and torments of hell is useful for awakening the careless. However, the fear of hell is not a sufficient motive for true conversion. The eloquent and anointed preacher, Paris Reidhead has stated, “…whereas fear is good office work in preparing us for grace, it’s no place to stop.” The goal of evangelism is convincing the rebel to lay down his weapons of warfare and love God with all his heart. As the Apostle John states, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1Jn.4:18). If an appropriate response to proper truth has produced fruit in the heart and mind of the careless sinner, it brings about awakening.
The Awakened Sinner
An awakened (concerned) sinner is initially concerned with the results sin might produce upon himself. We can see that the prevailing motive in operation at this point is still selfishness. An awakened sinner, though disturbed by the negative consequences of sin, is generally not ready to deal with this issue properly. They are often full of excuses that are intended to justify wrong behavior (past or present). They also love to blame others for their situation as well as focus on the sins or shortcomings of other people, taking the attention and pressure off themselves. An awakened sinner who has gained a degree of religious experience will develop a list of accomplishments and achievements as a form of false comfort and security. They are likely willing to talk about religious and moral issues as long as it remains objective or serves as a source of self-promotion.
Dealing with the Awakened Sinner
Recalling that Proverb 11:30 states, “…he who is wise wins souls,” wisdom, discernment and sensitivity are needed when ministering to the awakened. I hesitate to say so but have a tendency to believe that most religious people are awakened sinners. It is easy to be swept away by their justifications, excuses, blame and / or discussions of religious activities. They can tell sad stories of abuse that stir sentiment and sympathy. They can spin out tales of religious achievement that convince of impressive spirituality. Blinded by such hollow diversions, the faulty Christian worker simply allows the awakened to remain in their unconverted state or, worse, assures them of their rightful place before a loving God.
The awakened sinner must acknowledge, deal with, confess and repent of their own sin. It might be true that they experienced abuse, and we can acknowledge that such abuse is wrong. However, their response, their choices and behavior are the things upon which we must focus. Ezekiel 18:20 states, “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” Wrong and sinful responses and choices have no justification. This might sound harsh to some, but helping the awakened deal with this reality is the most loving thing the Christian worker can do. Religious achievements motivated from selfishness and pride are still sin. Do not allow the fact that the awakened sinner can quote Scripture and tell stories to become a diversion. The awakened sinner needs to be willing to confess from their heart, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son…” (Lk.15:18-19).
If the awakened sinner responds to his sin the way he should, it produces conviction. In our next article, we will consider the nature of and ministry to the convicted sinner.