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THE THREE STAGES IN CONVERSION -
UNDER SIN, UNDER THE LAW, BROUGHT TO CHRIST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, April 3, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:22-26).


Here we are given a marvelously clear picture of the three states a sinner goes through, resulting in salvation by God's grace. Look with me at these verses and try your best to see which of the three stages you are in right now.

I. First, you come in to church as a natural man, under sin.

First, verse 22, "concludes all under sin." That is the way you come into our church from evangelism, or from being born and raised in the church. Whether you come in through evangelism, or by being born and raised in the church, makes no difference. Both groups come into the local church "under sin."

"But the scripture hath concluded all under sin" (Galatians 3:22).

This shows that you come into the church in a natural state, whether you were born in the church, or were brought in through evangelism. In either case, you are a "natural man" "under sin."

By the words "under sin" we mean what the Apostle Paul describes when he says

"They are all under sin" (Romans 3:9).

Sin has a complete hold on your natural mind, so that you cannot do, or even think, truly spiritual things. That is what it means to be "under sin." It means that you are completely dominated by sin.

By the words "natural man" we mean unconverted man. This term "natural man" appears in the Apostle Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, where he says,

"The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14).

You come into the church, either by birth or evangelism, as a natural man under sin.

The Bible describes your condition as a state of sleep - utterly ignorant of God, knowing nothing of Him by experience, as you should know Him. You are fast asleep. You are in some sense at rest, but it is the "rest" of death, the peace of a dead man. Because you are sleeping in a state of death, you are also secure. You do not see that you are lost, and that you stand at the very edge of Hell. Therefore you have no true sense of your danger, and you don't fear judgment.

From this condition of being a lost man, under sin, you may experience a kind of joy when you come to church. You hear the happy singing. You see the lively young people. You enjoy coming here. But you are asleep spiritually, dead in sin, under the drug of sin, which keeps you asleep to the message we preach.

Although you enjoy coming to church for the happiness you feel here, you have no connection with God, no thought of God.

"The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts" (Psalm 10:4).

That's the way you come into church, whether you were raised here or came in through evangelism. You came in as a natural man, under sin. God is not in all your thoughts.

"But the scripture hath concluded all under sin"
      (Galatians 3:22).

II. Second, you may come under the law.

God does not leave you asleep, in a natural state of death. By His grace He brings you under the judgment of the law so that you will become aware of your sinful, lost condition. Let us stand and read Galatians 3:22-23 aloud.

"But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed"
      (Galatians 3:22-23).

You may be seated.

"But before faith came, we were kept under the law"
      (Galatians 3:23).

It is a mistake to think that the Apostle is speaking only to the Jews "being kept under the law." Verses 26 through 29 show that this entire passage refers to the whole human race, especially verse 28. Also, verse 22 says, "The Scripture hath concluded all under sin" (Galatians 3:22). This immediately reminds us of what the Apostle wrote in Romans 3:9,

"We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin" (Romans 3:9).

Therefore, I think it is best to say, since "all" are under sin (Galatians 3:22), that verse 23 applies to all awakened people before conversion. I think this verse is a picture of an awakened sinner.

"But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed"
      (Galatians 3:23).

You are taken by God from being "under sin" to being "under the law." Notice the words "under sin" in verse 22. Underline those two words. Then notice the words "under the law" in verse 23. Underline those three words.

All people, Jews or Gentiles, who experience saving faith in Christ go from being "under sin" to being "under the law."

"But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed" 
      (Galatians 3:23).

Matthew Henry, the great commentator, gave this sense of the verse when he said,

The law was given to convince men of the necessity of a Saviour All, both Jew and Gentile, are in a state of guilt The law discovered their wounds, but could not afford a remedy; it showed that they were guiltythat being convinced of their guiltthey might be persuaded to believe on Christ (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson, 1991 reprint, volume 6, p. 533).

John Wesley was wrong, I think, on sanctification. But Wesley was absolutely correct, and in the mainstream of Protestant thought, on human depravity and salvation by grace. Who would disagree with Wesley that God does not leave those whom He will save in a natural state? Who would disagree with him that God brings those whom He will save under the judgment of the law, so they will be awakened to their lost condition? Therefore, Wesley says we should not normally begin with

preaching the gospel, speaking of nothing but the sufferings and merits of ChristIt does not answer the very first end of the law, namely, the convincing men of sin; the awakening those who are still asleep on the brink of hellthe ordinary method of God is, to convict sinners by the law, and that onlyIt is absurd, therefore, to offer a physician to them that are whole, or at least imagine themselves so to be. You are first to convince them that they are sick; otherwise they will not thank you for your labour. It is equally absurd to offer Christ to them whose heart is whole, having never yet been broken (John Wesley, M.A., Sermons, II, p. 61).

That was the old way of preaching, by Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. The purpose of the old-time preachers was to bring unawakened sinners "under the law" - and I believe that is the evangelistic thrust of verse 23.

"But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed"
      (Galatians 3:23).

I am sure we will hear a great deal about the Old and New Covenants, which are of course spoken of here in "modern" preaching. But is that all that Paul is talking about? Surely not! He is also talking about how people are converted today. First, they are "under sin" (v. 22). Then they are "kept under the law" (v. 23) "before faith came."

Was that not the exact experience of John Bunyan, our great Baptist forefather? Read his testimony, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, if you think I am wrong. Was not that the exact experience of Luther and Wesley, as well as Bunyan? Was this not the exact experience of Spurgeon, the greatest Baptist preacher of the ages? Was this not the exact experience of hundreds of thousands of people in the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and the Third Great Awakening? And, since it was their experience, are we smarter than them today? I don't think so!

I believe that we need a great deal more preaching on the law today. That is one of the missing elements in "modern" preaching. Most modern preaching presents the gospel without first showing the sinner why he needs it - by preaching the law and the wrath of God against sin.

I must tell you that you are lost. You are going to Hell. Yes, to Hell. You are a very great sinner in the eyes of a thrice holy God. Nothing that you do or say can change you from being a lost person. You were born in sin. You have lived in sin all your life. You are under sin. Sin has total dominion over you. Moreover, you are under the law. The law of God reveals your sin. It describes your natural state. It describes your sinful heart, as well as your sinful acts. It shows that you have no love for God. It shows that you are in rebellion against God. It describes your end,

"And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night" (Revelation 14:11).

"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment"
      (Matthew 25:46).

Have you felt any of this? Have you come "under the law"? Does the law of God flash about your head like lightning? If you have felt any of this, then for the sake of your eternal soul, come to Jesus Christ - and do it now!

III. Third, you may come to Christ and be justified.

Look at Galatians 3:24. Let us stand and read this verse aloud.

"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).

You may be seated. The word "schoolmaster" is "paidagogos" in Greek. It means "the one who takes you to the Teacher" (cf. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Nelson, 1983, volume V, pp. 172-173).

The law "leads" you to Christ. When the law has done its work, and you are convinced of sin, the law will

"bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).

I am going to quote John Wesley again on this. I have deliberately chosen to quote the founder of Methodism, because he was not a five-point Calvinist. I am quoting him to show that this was the general teaching of all Protestants (and Baptists) before Charles G. Finney led evangelism to the ruin of "decisionism." John Wesley said,

The first use of it [the law], without question, is, to convince the world of sin. This is, indeed, the peculiar work of the Holy Ghost; who can work it without any means at all, or by whatever means it pleaseth HimBut it is the ordinary method of the Spirit of God to convict sinners by the lawBy this is the sinner discovered to himself. All his fig-leaves are torn away, and he sees that he is "wretched, and poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked" [Revelation 3:17]. The law flashes conviction on every side. He feels himself a mere sinner. He has nothing to pay. His "mouth is stopped," and he stands "guilty before God" [Romans 3:19] (quoted by John S. Simon, John Wesley, the Master Builder, The Epworth Press, 1927, pp. 294-297).

The work of conviction and awakening under the law may occur as a swift stab in the heart, as the believing thief experienced it (Luke 23:40-41), or it may be more prolonged, as in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48). But, whether short or long, conviction by the condemning force of the law is usually the case when sinners are awakened, convicted and prepared for "justification by faith."

Some say that this is exclusively the view of five-point Calvinists, but I have shown that it was also the view of John Wesley, a classical Wesleyan Arminian. Now I will show that it was also the view of Martin Luther, the man God used to start the Reformation. Luther, like Wesley, was not a five-point Calvinist. Martin Luther said,

It is necessary, if you would be converted, that you become terrified, that is, that you have an alarmed and trembling conscience. Then, after that condition has been created, you must grasp the consolation that comes not from any work of your own but from the work of God. He sent His Son Jesus Christ into this world in order to proclaim to terrified sinners the mercy of God. This is the way conversion is brought about; other ways are wrong ways (Martin Luther, Exposition of Psalm 51:13, A.D. 1532).

Luther here refers to the humbling and conviction of sin that precedes faith, and prepares the heart for saving faith in Christ.

Now hear John Bunyan, our great Baptist preacher and author, as he describes this awakening and conviction in his own soul before he came to Jesus by faith. Bunyan said,

At this [the words of the women who witnessed to him] my own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition to be nought [not saved]; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth did never enter into my mind, neither knew I the comfort of the word, and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart (John Bunyan, "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners," The Works of John Bunyan, Banner of Truth Trust, 1991 reprint, volume I, p. 10).

And, so, we have seen that John Wesley said, "It is the ordinary method of the Spirit of God to convict sinners by the law. By this is the sinner discovered to himself. All his fig-leaves are torn away, and he sees that he is 'wretched, and poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked.'"

Luther said, similarly, that "It is necessary, if you would be converted, that you become terrifiedthat you have an alarmed and trembling conscience."

Bunyan said, "My own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition to be nought [not saved]."

Finally listen to great Spurgeon, prince of Baptist preachers, describe the lashings he received from the law of God before he was converted. Spurgeon said,

[Never] is there one who received a new heart, and that was reclaimed from sin without a wound [of conscience] from Jesusa solemn sermon made our hearts melt within us!... but who can tell how much each of these separate woundings [of conscience] contributed toward killing by the law, which proved to be the effectual work of God?... I felt with much sorrow the evil of sin I feared lest the very skies should fall upon me, and crush my guilty soul. God's law had laid hold upon me, and was showing me my sins. If I slept at night, I dreamed of the bottomless pit [of Hell], and when I awoke, I seemed to feel the misery I dreamedGod's law was flogging me with its ten-thonged whip, and then rubbing me with [stinging] brine afterward, so that I did shake and quiver with pain and anguish, and my soul sought strangling rather than life, for I was exceeding sorrowful (C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography: The Early Years, Banner of Truth, 1985 reprint, vol. I, pp. 17-18).

At last, Spurgeon looked to Christ and was saved. But it was conviction of sin by the law that drove him to Christ. He said, "I had heard of the plan of salvation by the sacrifice of Jesus from my youth up; but I did not know any more about it in my innermost soul than if I had been born and bred a Hottentot," until in conviction he looked to Christ (C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography: The Early Years, Banner of Truth, 1985 reprint, volume I, p, 80).

To all of these classical Protestant and Baptist preachers, Wesley, Luther, Bunyan and Spurgeon, our text was filled with meaning when it said,

"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).

Let us stand and read that illuminating text aloud. Galatians 3:24:

"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).

You may be seated. These men, Wesley, Luther, Bunyan and Spurgeon, were taken from being "under sin," in foolish thoughtlessness about their souls. They were then brought "under the law" and felt themselves "shut up to the faith" as hopeless sinners. And, at last, they were drawn by God, out of this horrible law-condition of condemnation, to Christ. The conviction of the law drove them to Christ for salvation. The conviction of the law brought them "unto Christ, that [they] might be justified by faith" in Him alone.

That is a solid exposition and application of the path to faith for every lost sinner. You were foolishly and carelessly a slave of sin, under sin. God broke through and terrified you more or less, by the threats of His law. These stinging threats in your conscience at last drove you to the Saviour, "that [you] might be justified [and saved] by faith" in Him.

Ask yourself which state you are in tonight. Are you a foolish spiritually dead person, who merely comes to church because it is fun? Or are you a convicted sinner who knows you are ruined and lost - deserving the full penalty of sin in Hell? Or are you a person who is so sick of being condemned by your sins, by your conscience, and by God, that you will now be drawn to Christ for justification by His Blood, and full salvation by believing on Him with all your heart?

Christ said,

"He that believeth on him [Jesus] is not condemned"
      (John 3:18).

Come out of your light and foolish ways. Come under the curse and threatenings of the law. Then come to Jesus and be justified, saved, through faith in Him alone. May God grant some tired soul, weary from the terrors of the law, the grace to come to Jesus and be saved tonight. He alone can save you. And He alone will save you. Throw yourselves into the arms of the loving Saviour! He will cancel all your sin, cleanse it all by His Blood, and give you full salvation. Amen.


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


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Galatians 3:22-24.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"Once For All" (by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).



THE OUTLINE OF

THE THREE STAGES IN CONVERSION -
UNDER SIN, UNDER THE LAW, BROUGHT TO CHRIST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:22-26).

I.   First, you come in to church as a natural man, under sin,
Galatians 3:22; Romans 3:9; I Corinthians 2:14;
Psalm 10:4.

II.  Second, you may come under the law, Galatians 3:23;
Revelation 14:11; Matthew 25:46.

III. Third, you may come to Christ and be justified, Galatians 3:24;
Revelation 3:17; Romans 3:19; Luke 23:40-41; Acts 10:1-48;
John 3:18.