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AWAKENING - BEFORE CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, November 3, 2002

 

"Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).


Awakening is not conversion. Awakening prepares the heart for conversion. It comes before conversion. One of the great errors of modern evangelism is that preachers try to get people converted without first making sure they are awakened. This is as impossible as teaching a blind man to ride a bicycle, or a deaf man to appreciate Mozart. Yet Christians run up and down the street in certain out-of-the-way parts of the country and try anyway. The blind don't ride the bicycle. The deaf don't listen to classical music. And those who pray a slipshod prayer at their doorstep don't come to church. But knowing no other form of evangelism, and being too filled with the false pride characteristic of modern Americans, these decisionist "soul winners" stumble on - never thinking that there might have been a better way at one time, or that someone in the past might have written it down.

Many American preachers will not read Richard Baxter. They are too busy reading Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Robert Schuller, and Jack Hyles. They want to learn how to move more dead bodies into their churches. They seem to have no concern for getting the dead to live. Just bring in a few more bodies and prop them up for awhile, so say these "decisionists."

But you will notice that the "decisionists" can't build churches in the inner city - even in the deep south. Dr. Cagan pointed out to me that a certain catalogue of independent Baptist churches doesn't list a single church in Atlanta, Georgia! What does this show? Why, it shows that the mindless tricks and gimmicks of "decisionism" cannot build even one church in the largest city in the South - that's what it shows! No wonder they can't start even one church in Los Angeles! If they can't start one in Atlanta, Georgia, they certainly can't start one here!

See, way out in the country the problem is masked - by the fact that you can still get unconverted "church people" to attend - at least occasionally. Unconverted "church people" will transfer into another church if the pastor tells better jokes or there is a slicker music leader, or a jazzier youth program. Unconverted yokels way out in nowhere land will still transfer membership for those baubles. But none of those gimmicks work in the big city! That's why "decisionists" start churches way out in the countryside, but can't start even one church in Atlanta or Los Angeles. The best they can do in most big cities is to "steal" a church from old-line Baptists by trickery and deception - not terribly good foundations! No, decisionism can't add any new Baptists to the gene pool, so if you can't trick people into coming to church in a big city, you have to move out in the sticks and see if you can snag a couple of lost Southern Baptists and get them to transfer in!

In the city, on the other hand, you can't build a church without real conversions. And before you can have a real conversion, you must have a real awakening.   You can't teach a blind man to ride a bicycle.  You can't teach a deaf man to appreciate Mozart.  And you can't get an unawakened man converted!  Therefore, let's think about the subject of awakening logically tonight.

I. First, what is awakening?

Awakening is when you begin to think about the salvation of your soul. Here is what great Spurgeon said about awakening:

Great numbers of persons have no concern about eternal things. They care more about their cats and dogs than about their souls. It is a great mercy to be made to think about ourselves, and how we stand before God and the eternal world. This is [very] often a sign that salvation is coming to us. By nature we do not like the anxiety which spiritual concern causes us, and we try, like sluggards, to sleep again. This is great foolishness; for it is at our great peril that we trifle when death is so near, and judgment is so sure… If we are sensible, we shall pray that our anxiety about our souls may never come to an end till we are really and truly saved… It would be an awful thing to go on dreaming down to hell, and there to lift up our eyes with a great gulf fixed between us and heaven. It will be equally terrible to be aroused to escape from the wrath to come, and then to shake off the warning influence, and go back to our insensibility. I notice that those who overcome their convictions and continue in their sins are not so easily moved the next time: every awakening which is thrown away leaves the soul more drowsy than before, and less likely to be again stirred to holy feeling. Therefore our heart should be greatly troubled at the thought of getting rid of its trouble in any other than the right way. One who had the gout was cured of it by a quack medicine, which drove the disease within, and the patient died. To be cured of a distress of mind by a false hope, would be a terrible business: the remedy would be worse than the disease. Better far that our tenderness of conscience should cause us long years of anguish than that we should lose it, and perish in the hardness of our hearts (C. H. Spurgeon, Around the Wicket Gate, Christian Focus Publications, 1989, pp. 11-12).

Then Spurgeon gives us his own experience of awakening:

When I was under conviction of sin I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden… I knew myself to be so horribly guilty that I remember feeling that if God did not punish me for sin, He ought to do so. I felt that the judge of all the earth ought to condemn such sin as mine. I sat on the judgment seat and I condemned myself to perish, for I confessed that, had I been God, I could have done no other than send such a guilty creature as I was down to the lowest hell… I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if [my sins] could be forgiven unjustly. The sin that I had committed must be punished (C. H. Spurgeon, How Can a Just God Justify Guilty Man? Chapel Library, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, Florida 32505, pp. 1-2).

These are the essentials of true awakening: you see that you are a lost sinner. You see that you deserve to be punished for your sins. You see that you are in great danger. You see that your sins must be punished - or God is not just. Those are the essentials of true awakening. Until a person feels these things, he is not going to be converted.

"Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).

Remember, awakening is not conversion. Awakening comes before conversion. It is when you see that you are sinful, and you feel sinful and deserving of punishment by God.

II. Second, think of several examples of awakening in the Bible.

Take the example of Abraham. Abraham's conversion came when he was ninety years old. It was marked by the change of his name from Abram (great father) to Abraham (father of many nations) in Genesis 17:1-5. This happened in about 1911 B.C. But two years earlier, Abraham was awakened. The Bible tells us that "an horror of great darkness fell upon him" (Genesis 15:12). Terror and great darkness fell on him in his dreams. This experience led to his conversion two years later. Have you ever felt terror and great darkness concerning your sins? Have you ever been awakened, like Abram was? Have you experienced "an horror of great darkness"?

Then, take the example of Jacob. Jacob came to Bethel and went to sleep. God spoke to him so strongly in his dreams that he awoke abruptly:

"And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place!" (Genesis 28:16-17).

This is a perfect picture of awakening. Jacob awakes from sleep. He understands, for the first time, the reality of God. He is filled with fear and dread. Have you been awakened like Jacob was? Have you been afraid and filled with dread at the thought of God?

Please remember that this was not Jacob's conversion. He was not converted for over twenty years (cf. Genesis 32:24-31).

Then, there is the example of the thief who was crucified next to Christ. As this man hung on the cross next to Christ's, the Holy Spirit awakened him. Earlier in the day he had been railing Christ, just like everyone else who passed by when Christ was dying on the Cross. The Bible says:

"The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth" (Matthew 27:44).

But later that day God began to awaken this second thief. Here is what the Bible tells us about that:

"And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds…" (Luke 23:39-41).

When this man was awakened, he feared God - surely for the first time in his life. He acknowledged his sinfulness. He admitted that he was receiving what he deserved for his sins, "And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds." Have you ever been awakened like this man? Have you ever feared God? Have you ever felt deeply guilty because of your sins?

Remember that this man was only awakened for a few minutes before he was converted (cf. Luke 23:42-43). Abram was awakened for two years. Jacob was awakened for over two decades. This thief was awakened only for a few minutes. These examples show that it is not the length of the awakening that matters. Spurgeon said:

Awakening is not a thing to rest in, or to desire to have lengthened out month after month. If I [wake] up in a fright, and find my house on fire, I do not sit down at the edge of the bed, and say to myself, "I hope I am truly awakened!"… No, I want to escape from threatened death, so I [hurry] to the door or to the window, that I may get out, and…not perish where I am. It would be [no good] to be [awakened], and yet not escape from the danger. Remember, awakening is not salvation (Around the Wicket Gate, p. 12).

Awakening is not salvation - yet it is important. You will not be saved without it. Awakening is when you are horrified of your sins and realize that you deserve damnation. Spurgeon said:

When I was under conviction of sin [in awakening] I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden… I knew myself to be so horribly guilty that I remember feeling that if God did not punish me for my sins, He ought to do so (How Can a Just God Justify Guilty Man?, ibid.).

You should be praying every day for the Holy Spirit to convince you of your sins:

"And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin…" (John 16:8).

Before the Holy Spirit comes to you, you will not be convinced of sin. You will remain unawakened. You will remain asleep. You will remain unconcerned that you are sinful and lost and hopeless, without Christ! I hope you will pray every day for God to awaken you to the great danger you are in - without Christ! Awakening is not conversion. Awakening prepares the heart for conversion. It comes before conversion.

"Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).

"'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear"
   ("Amazing Grace" by John Newton, 1725-1807).


(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 13:11-12.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Come, Ye Sinners" (by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).

THE OUTLINE OF

AWAKENING - BEFORE CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).

I.   What is awakening? Ephesians 5:14.

II.  The Bible gives examples of awakening, Genesis 15:12;
Genesis 28:16-17; Genesis 32:24-31; Matthew 27:44;
Luke 23:39-41; Luke 23:42-43; John 16:8.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."