Sunday, September 11, 2022

Sincerity and Salvation

Proverbs 11:30 reads “Whoever captures souls is wise.” Does that mean a person is prudent to spend time in witnessing? Or does it teach us that when we succeed in winning souls we show ourselves to be wise or skillful in that activity? We will let you decide.

Sincerity is a virtue found in both sinners and saints. You cannot be saved if you are not sincere, but no one is ever saved simply by being sincere. Sincerity is a good quality to cultivate, but it will not make you righteous before God. Sincerity means you act without any pretense or hypocrisy according to the standards you have been taught and have accepted. Those standards may be right, partly right or altogether wrong.

Two men serve as examples of how sincerity is a quality to be valued, even if it is ignorant and misguided. I am also going to use these cases to show how careful we should be when witnessing to people we do not know well. We may very easily make statements that may be misunderstood by people who are biblically illiterate.

The Pharisee

Saul of Tarsus had been nurtured in a religious atmosphere that called for the strictest adherence to the Law of Moses. He lived by it himself and imposed it upon others, even to the point of taking part in the stoning of Stephen. He thought he should do many things contrary to Jesus of Nazareth; he did not believe in him, regarding him as an imposter. Piecing together the testimonies he gave in his defense, you have to be convinced of the man’s sincerity before he was saved as well as after. To the high priest he said, “I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” To the governor Felix he testified, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.”

Sincere? Yes, but sincerely wrong in the earlier part of his life.

When Paul said, “I am a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee”, he was not confessing he was a hypocrite or insincere, as were the Pharisees the Lord denounced so strongly in Matthew 23. What he meant (as the context of Acts 23:6 shows) was that, along with that sect, he held to the hope of Israel, the resurrection of the dead.

Jumping to Conclusions

If the above statement was all I heard a person make, I could easily jump to the conclusion he was relying on his orthodox faith for salvation. I might decide to hammer him with the eight woes the Lord pronounced on Pharisees. I would be using the scriptures, but misapplying them and shutting his ears to the gospel. How often I have heard “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” applied to all without allowance being made for seekers who are convicted of their sins and are sincerely trying to do what they consider right. That was something the Savior never did. Nicodemus was a highly trained Pharisee. What he had learned about Jesus made him a seeker; the Lord did not accuse him of being a hypocrite. If a lost soul attends a service where the gospel is preached may he/she not be equally sincere and needing instruction?

Are we suggesting salvation can be won or earned if people are only earnest enough? Far from it! But even though sincerity has no purchasing power as far as our redemption is concerned, it is far from worthless. God desires to show his salvation to sincere seekers. We must faithfully show it to them. The path for them to follow is outlined in the psalm that follows (compare Psalm 51 with Psalm 32 and Romans 3:5-8). Should we not give thanks if people are sincerely seeking, rather than accusing those we hardly know of hypocrisy? The winning of souls calls for wisdom.

Devout But Unsaved

The conversion of Cornelius holds a strategic place in the history of God’s dealings with mankind, a place as significant as the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. Gentiles as well as Jews were now to be included in the formation of a new body, the church. This was signaled by the Holy Spirit falling upon the group of Gentiles in the home of this Roman centurion just as he had done on the predominantly Jewish company at Pentecost. We are not overlooking these truths when we ask if there was something commendable to God in this man’s life.

He was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God”. This he did, not as a Christian, but as one who had been drawn towards the God of Israel. He, his relatives and close friends had gathered to hear from Peter “words by which you and all your household will be saved”. This “unsaved” man had previously been assured by an angel that “your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God”.

Despite the sincere religious behavior of Cornelius, God as a righteous judge could not overlook where the centurion had failed. We can be certain that, along with all others, he had sinned and fallen short of the divine glory. But God is merciful. He sent Peter to expound the gospel of Christ to this sincere seeker. His servant began speaking about righteous behavior being something commendable, and ended up with the need for faith in the Savior and the promise of the remission of sins on the basis of the death, burial and resurrection of the One anointed by God.

A Starting Point

The “Four Spiritual Laws” is an orderly outline to follow but, guided by the Holy Spirit, Peter turned it upside down and, beginning where the man presently stood, he showed him the next step. A study of the messages recorded in Acts all reveal the same basic lesson: Always lead your audience to the cross, but begin from the point of their present limited understanding, otherwise you will not connect.

  • What is the age of the person you desire to win — a child, teenager, middle aged or elderly?
  • What is their religious background — high church, low church or no church?
  • What knowledge do they have of scripture — the meaning of its terms like “law” and “grace”?
  • If you want them to be sincere and open, show that spirit in the way you speak.
  • Your method is important but your motive must be love.

Be yourself but present Christ.

— Colin Anderson, “Witnessing to Sincere Sinners”, September 2013

No comments :

Post a Comment