The Law, the Conscience, and the Gospel

A few years ago, I was driving to Spring Green from Madison after watching a movie at the theater late one night.  It’s an hour drive from Madison to Spring Green, and most of the ride is through small towns where gas stations aren’t open very late.  Knowing it might be difficult to find a bathroom so late in the night (and believing public urination probably wouldn’t be the best thing to have on my record), I remember thinking maybe I should go to the bathroom in Madison before I left.  But then my Y-chromosome called me a sissy and convinced me I could make it all the way home.

I realized pretty quickly that I had made a wrong decision, and so at every little town I came to, I looked left and right for any sign of some place where I could pull over and use the bathroom.  After passing through a few unpromising towns, I remember finally seeing ahead of me a gas station brightly lit up.  I could even see the attendant inside working at the counter.

I was so happy that, without turning on my signal or looking behind me, I immediately turned left from the right-hand lane and aimed towards the gas station.

Bright blue and red flashing lights behind me quickly revealed I had cut off a police officer in my pursuit of a toilet.

The law had found me.  And there was no escape.  I was caught red-handed, guilty.

When I came to a stop, I rolled down my window, held out my driver’s license, and shouted, “I really have to use the bathroom!  Can I give you my license and go run to the toilet?”

The officer nodded his ascent, so I ran as fast as a guy can run whose bladder is about to explode and took care of business.  When I returned to the car, the officer explained that under the circumstances, he’d let me off with a warning rather than a ticket. Boy, was I relieved! (In more ways than one.)

I share this to illustrate a truth:  To share the gospel effectively, my job is to help a person to see that he has broken God’s eternal law, that there are red and blue flashing lights behind him, and he’s been found guilty. Only then will he find the peace and the relief his soul needs, and only then will he gladly surrender all to Jesus.

One of the basic skills we’ve been teaching in the evangelism class this summer is how to partner with the Holy Spirit when sharing the gospel.  Jesus tells us in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”  While the He certainly manifests Himself in believers through miracles, prophetic words, healing the sick, and all sorts of other fun supernatural means, the Spirit of God also works in the conscience to bring conviction of sin.  When we share the gospel, whether through giving a sandwich, street preaching, praying for a deaf man, or passing out a tract, this is what we want to concentrate on: speaking to the conscience.

Recently, I’ve become a big fan of the method used by Ray Comfort (from Living Waters and The Way of the Master ministries and the web series The Comfort Zone) in which he uses the Ten Commandments to help a person see his need for salvation and recognize what Jesus offers him.  (Check out some of the youtube videos to get an idea for what I’m talking about.)  While there are certainly many atheists in Bucharest, I’ve found that most people consider themselves to be Christians and are confident that, because they’re generally good people, sometimes go to church, feel bad for their sins, and usually want to do right, then God will certainly welcome them into heaven when they die.  Most people I speak with aren’t at all concerned about the sin in their lives.

This is where the Ten Commandments are so helpful.  They help people see that, in God’s eyes, they really are not good but are breakers of the law and hate His very commands, and that for this they deserve to go to hell.

Paul wrote in Romans 2:15, “They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”  When I learn to speak to the conscience, I can kindly and gently lead a person to the place of recognizing his failure before God.  I don’t have to yell and scream.  I don’t have to blame or condemn.  I don’t have to know a lot of arguments for why God is real.  I don’t even really have to know what that person believes or what other religions teach.  I just have to know how to awaken a person’s conscience and then partner with the convicting that the Holy Spirit is already doing there.

In practical terms, one thing this means is that I can gently walk someone through the Ten Commandments, helping them to see that they are, in reality, not good, and that I can then trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

This method has been really useful here lately. Recently, a group of four university students with whom I was speaking started out by telling me they really didn’t believe in God but were willing to talk with us.  As we went through the Ten Commandments, they laughingly admitted to having broken one after another.  After six of them, I stopped and kindly asked, “If this was a Romanian test, you would score a 4, and we haven’t even gone through all ten yet.  Knowing this is God’s standard, not a teacher’s, does this score concern you?”

It was really quiet, and nobody was laughing any longer.

“What would God’s judgment be concerning your life?  Would he let you into heaven or send you to hell?”  I watched one after another lower his eyes under conviction, too afraid to say the judgment that he knew God would announce.

At last, one of them said, “Hell.  He’d send me to hell.”

“Do you want to hear what Jesus did so you don’t have to go to hell?”

Of course, they were very interested.

Last week, I saw the same thing happen with a group of three high school students who had all been baptized as children but only sort of believed in God.  That same day, two atheist college students reacted in a like manner.  And a week before that, I spoke with two New Age/Buddhist university students who became very concerned about the state of their souls and how they would be reincarnated. (I didn’t even bother arguing with them about reincarnation but instead just focused on the conviction the Holy Spirit was already bringing.)

When we use the law in witnessing, helping someone to honestly judge himself not by his own standards but by God’s, it immediately brings the conversation into an area where God has guaranteed us the Holy Spirit will be working:  conviction of sin through the conscience.

“In [Him] we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him” Ephesians 3:12.

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrews 4:16.

“Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” 1 John 2:28.

Let’s help a generation find grace in Jesus and discover the secret to bold access to the throne, where they do not shrink back from Him in fear and shame but rather run to Him in gratitude. Amen!

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