We tell people they shouldn’t try to fix their lives before they come to Jesus. It’s God’s job to fix people. We shouldn’t try to fix ourselves. The thing is, I’m not sure that’s entirely true.
What about John the Baptist’s ministry?
For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT !’ “… Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan ; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come ? “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance…” Matthew 3:3, 5-8
Was John only a pre-game pep rally to get people excited about Jesus? Or does his ministry and message indicate that repentance might be necessary before a person will even be ready to come to Jesus?
Before you head on over to my house with pitchforks and torches, hear me out.
Jesus says in John 3:
“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
Who does evil? Well, everyone—to one degree or another. But notice the contrast. The first group is in an antagonistic relationship with their own consciences. They know they are compromised but they practice lying to themselves, and they don’t want the motives of their lives to be exposed for what they really are. In that condition, they will NOT come to the Light.
On the other hand, the person who is trying to live out his conscience desires to know the truth, to do what is right, and to embrace what is good. When the Light shines on his heart, sin will certainly be exposed, but this is of value—it means he can get better. He has already bent his heart toward pursuing that which he will find embodied in Jesus.
So…was John the Baptist exhorting folks to do what is descent so that they would, in a very practical sense, be ready to receive and follow Jesus? Did they need to start living differently so that they would no longer be motivated to protect their intentionally smothered consciences from the Light of Christ? Was pre-redemptive repentance the only thing that would soften their hearts enough that they would even be willing to come to God through Christ?
And do we have it quite right then, when we say there is nothing that can or should be done before a person comes to God? It’s not a question of whether God is willing to meet a person right where he is (He says He is), but whether that person is capable of receiving Him in their present condition.
I see this principle at work even in my experience of the redeemed life. When I’m practicing compromise in some area, I am very reluctant to approach God. Why? Well, it certainly isn’t because I’m afraid God won’t forgive me. No—it’s because I have no intention of repenting, and I don’t want God stirring up the conscience that I’ve been working so hard to pacify. I don’t want the light to shine on my darkness.
All things considered, is it be possible that inviting a person to live decently and morally could be a legitimate and effective form of evangelism?