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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, July 11, 2010

“Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The “Pastors’ Conference” is always held just before the Southern Baptist Convention has its annual meeting. I left the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and am now an independent Baptist. But I was encouraged by a sermon given at this year’s “Pastors’ Conference” by Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In an Internet posting on June 14, 2010 ( Garrett E. Wishall gave several quotations from, and comments about, Dr. Mohler’s sermon.

      Mohler noted that while Jesus had many conversations with theological liberals [the Sadducees], Nicodemus was not one of those. Instead, as a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a world-class conservative.

Working his way through the account of Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus, Dr. Mohler showed the centrality of conversion in the Scriptures. He said that Nicodemus was a conservative Bible-believer who thought highly of Jesus, but was still unconverted.

      “The Pharisees were the theological conservatives: they were the inerrantists of the day. They believed in the absolute inspiration of the [Old Testament]. They were those who held to an understanding of the reality of the Holy Spirit. They affirmed belief in life after death. They sought to maximize and cherish every doctrine. Though Nicodemus was positively disposed to Jesus, he quickly learned that this was not sufficient to be saved.”
      “I want you to notice something about the New Testament: Jesus turns out not to be favorably disposed toward those who are favorably disposed to Him. Being favorably disposed to Jesus is simply not enough. [Thinking highly of Jesus is not enough.] While Nicodemus came to Jesus for conversation, Jesus quickly turned the discussion to conversion, for Nicodemus was not a believer.”
      “Jesus makes very clear that conversion is not an option. It is not a way one becomes a believer. It is not one understanding among other possible understandings; it is not one experience alongside other experiences. Jesus says the definitive, essential experience is that one must be born again. Jesus here underlines the imperative of conversion.”

Dr. Mohler said that certain essential facts must be presented for someone to be converted.

      “There has to be the declaration of the [substitutionary sacrifice], the saving death of…Christ. There has to be a declaration of our problem of human sinfulness, a problem that we [ourselves] cannot solve. There has to be a declaration of God’s provision in Christ. There has to be a declaration of the cost [what Christ did for us on the Cross] and of His resurrection. There has to be a declaration of what it means… to believe.”
      “No matter how orthodox one’s theology or how favorable his opinion of Jesus, unless one is converted from a self-centered life of sin to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ he will not receive salvation.”

Dr. Mohler said that Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 demonstrates “the centrality of conversion in Scripture.” Dr. Mohler said, “We come to understand that conversion is so central to our theology that it must be in every sermon. It must be in every church. It must always be the confession of the church that we are…[born again] by the promise and power of God and by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

I was glad to hear Dr. Mohler say that being theologically conservative isn’t enough. I was glad that he said it isn’t enough to believe the Bible. I was glad that he said it isn’t enough to think highly of Jesus. And I was glad that he said “Conversion is not an option…One must be born again…conversion is so central to our theology that it must be in every sermon.” Yes! Amen! That is what every preacher, in every church, should be doing every Sunday! Conversion should be our central message!

“Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Yet, sadly, that is not the case today in many churches. When our people come back from their vacations, they often tell me that they have heard something else preached in the churches they visited. They often tell me that they heard a verse-by-verse Bible study – aimed at Christians – a sermon aimed at getting Christians to do more, to be better, to work harder, to live better lives, to be more faithful, to have more faith, to do, do, do, do! As Dr. Michael Horton often says, evangelical sermons are often motivational messages to Christians.  Many pastors don't preach the Gospel anymore – just raise your hand at the end of a Bible study aimed at Christians! No wonder so many evangelicals are unconverted today! At the end of these verse-by-verse messages to Christians, a few words about the Gospel are “tacked on.” Where is Gospel preaching? And without old-school evangelistic preaching, how can there be very many real conversions?

Last week I watched a few minutes of Glenn Beck’s TV show on Fox News. Beck, who is a Mormon, had a panel of evangelical ministers he was interviewing and talking with. The subject was something about “How religion can save America”… something along that line. They were talking about the problems facing our country, and what we can do about it. I was surprised when Mr. Beck held up a picture of George Whitefield (1714-1770), and said that he was a great preacher before the American Revolution. I was amazed when Beck said, “We need to hear Whitefield’s message again. He told us that we can do it. We need to believe what he said, that it’s up to uswe can do it!” Of course that is exactly the opposite of what Whitefield preached! Whitefield was Reformed to the core! The last thing he would have said is “We can do it!” Yet the panel, made up of conservative evangelical preachers, nodded in agreement when Beck told them Whitefield said, “We can do it.” One even said, “Amen.” Yet Whitefield would have said the exact opposite. He would have said, “We can’t do it. We are hopeless slaves of sin. We cannot save ourselves, much less our nation. Only God in Christ can save us.” That’s what Whitefield would have said, and what he did say – repeatedly!

Take, for instance, his most well-known sermon, “The Method of Grace.” It begins with nearly three pages of Whitefield blasting unconverted pastors, whom he called, “unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm and unskillful guides…wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Whitefield said these false preachers “were for stifling [sinners’ convictions], and telling them they were good enough…And indeed people love to have it so: our hearts are exceedingly deceitful and desperately wicked; none but the eternal God knows how treacherous they are” (George Whitefield, “The Method of Grace,” George Whitefield: Sermons, Pietan Publications, 1999 reprint, volume II, pp. 108-109). The main points of Whitefield’s sermon were as follows. I hope you will listen to him – and experience real conversion.

1.  First, Whitefield said, “Ye must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail your actual transgressions against the law of God…Was ever the remembrance of your sins grievous to you? Was the burden of your sins intolerable to your thoughts?...Were you ever in all your life sorry for your sins? Could you ever say, my sins are gone over my head as a burden too heavy for me to bear? Did you ever experience such a thing as this?...If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake do not call yourselves Christians… May the Lord awaken you, may the Lord convert you.”

2.  Second, Whitefield said, “Ye must not only be [convicted] of your actual transgressions against the law of God, but likewise of…original sin, that original corruption…which renders us liable to God’s wrath and damnation…Some people may deny this, yet when conviction comes, all carnal reasonings are battered down… When the sinner is first awakened, he begins to wonder how he became so wicked: the Spirit of God then strikes in, and shows that he has no good thing in him by nature; then he sees that…he is altogether become abominable…and to acknowledge that God would be just to damn him…Did ye ever feel and experience this, any of you, to justify God in your damnation; to [agree] that ye are by nature children of wrath…If ye were ever truly convicted…ye will be made to see and feel this. And if ye have never felt the weight of original sin, do not call yourselves Christians. I am [truly] persuaded [that] original sin is the greatest burden of a true convert.”

3.  Third, Whitefield said, “Ye must not only be troubled for the sins of your life, the sins of your nature, but likewise for the sins of your best duties and performances…Ye must be brought to see all your duties, all your righteousness…to be filthy rags…We can do no good thing by nature; ‘They that are in the flesh cannot please God’…Ye must not only be sick of your original and actual sins; but ye must be made sick of your righteousness, of all your duties and performances. There must be a deep conviction before ye can be brought out of your self-righteousness…But if ye never felt that ye had no righteousness of your own…ye can never come to Jesus Christ.”

4.  Fourth, Whitefield said, “I fear, upon examination, we should find that most of you have not [as] much faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the devil himself…Merely to believe that there was once such a person as Christ…will do you no good, more than to believe there was such a man as Caesar or Alexander the Great…Did you ever pray, Lord, give me faith? Lord, enable me to lay hold on thee. Did Jesus Christ ever convince you in this manner? Did [the Holy Spirit] ever…make you cry out to God to give you faith [in Christ]?...Ye must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

5.  Fifth, Whitefield said, “These things ye must experience. I am now talking of the invisible realities of another world, of inward religion, of the work of God upon a poor sinner’s heart…Your eternal salvation is concerned in it. And may ye have no rest in your soul till ye rest in Jesus Christ….Oh, that God would bring some of you to Him!”

These are excerpts from a sermon given by George Whitefield during the First Great Awakening (1730-1760). Whitefield has often been called the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul. How I pray that you will read these quotations from his most famous sermon, that you will read his words over and over until you experience conviction of sin, and come to receive a real conversion through Jesus Christ our Lord – because He said,

“Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: John 3:1-7.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Ye Must Be Born Again” (by William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904).