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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 Morning, January 11, 2009

“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 trying to teach a deaf man to appreciate Mozart. Before you can have a real conversion, you must have a real awakening. Let’s think about the subject of awakening this morning.

I. First, what is awakening?

Awakening is when you begin to think very seriously 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 [your] tenderness of conscience should cause [you] 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 you are sinful, and deserve to be punished by God, “by nature [a child] of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).

II. Second, how did awakenings happen to people 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 one night, and he was awakened to his sinful condition. 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” for your sins?

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 because of his sins. Have you been awakened like Jacob was? Have you been afraid and filled with dread at the thought of God – a God who knows your sins?

Please remember that this was not Jacob’s conversion. He was not converted for over twenty years (cf. Genesis 32:24-31). He went on in conviction of sin for over twenty years before he was converted.

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 Spirit of God 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 to your sinfulness 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 to his sinful condition 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 and deeply troubled by your sins, and realize that you deserve damnation. Spurgeon said:

When I was under conviction of sin [when I was awakening] I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin… 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 God’s Spirit comes to you, you will not be convinced of sin. You will remain unawakened. You will remain asleep. You will remain unconcerned, not worried at all 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).

Only when you are awakened, and feel the sinfulness of your sin – that you are a lost sinner who cannot save himself – only then will you desire Christ enough to seek Him with all your heart. Only then will you come to Christ and be washed clean from sin by His Holy Blood.

May God grant you the grace to seek Christ, that He might save you from the guilt of your sin; that you might seek Christ until you find Him and are saved. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 13:11-12.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Open My Eyes, That I May See” (by Clara H. Scott, 1841-1897).


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.   First, what is awakening? Ephesians 5:14; 2:3.

II.  Second, how did awakenings happen to people in the Bible?
Genesis 15:12; 28:16-17; 32:24-31; Matthew 27:44;
Luke 23:39-41; Luke 23:42-43; John 16:8.