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 Christ: The Friend of Unrepentant Sinners (What if I don't want to repent?) - By: Watchman Nee


1. Lead­ing the Indi­vid­ual Soul to Christ

How do peo­ple press into the King­dom? We have con­sid­ered at some length how a preach­er of the Gospel needs to be per­son­al­ly pre­pared in spir­it for the task. But what of the hear­ers? What is the min­i­mum require­ment in the sin­ner if he or she is to find the Lord and be saved? This ques­tion now claims our atten­tion, for it is as impor­tant for us to know what we are attempt­ing to do as it is for us to be prepared in spir­it to do it.

In the dis­cus­sion which fol­lows we can only deal with a sin­gle point in the preach­ing of the Gospel. I take it for grant­ed that you know the facts of redemp­tion through the aton­ing death of Christ, and that you are also born of the Spir­it. I assume also that you know how to present those facts clear­ly and with pow­er. I am con­cerned here not with the sub­stance of your preach­ing, but rather with the prin­ci­ples that should guide in the actu­al task of lead­ing the indi­vid­ual soul to Christ.

What is nec­es­sary for a per­son to be saved? How can a per­son be pre­vailed upon to come to the door of the King­dom and enter? How do we bring peo­ple who have only the absolute minimum of knowl­edge or desire for God into a liv­ing touch with Him? These are our ques­tions, and I am going to lay down four guiding prin­ci­ples that will, I hope, be found to go a long way towards answer­ing them.

2. A Three­fold Pro­vi­sion, and One Con­di­tion Demanded

God has made, from His side, a three­fold pro­vi­sion for every per­son in that person’s hour of cri­sis: First­ly, Jesus has come as the Friend of sin­ners; sec­ond­ly, it is He per­son­al­ly (and no inter­me­di­ary) whom we are called to meet; and third­ly, the Holy Spir­it has been poured out on all flesh, to bring to pass in us the ini­tial work of con­vic­tion of sin, repen­tance, and faith, and, of course, all that fol­lows. Then, final­ly, from the side of the sin­ner, one con­di­tion and one only is demand­ed. We are not required—in the first place—to believe, or to repent, or to be con­scious of sin, or even to know that Christ died. We are required only to approach the Lord with an hon­est heart.

This last state­ment may at first star­tle you, but as we go on, I think you will see how help­ful it is. We will, how­ev­er, take these points in order, begin­ning from the side of God’s provision.

3. The Friend of Sinners

In the Gospels the Lord Jesus is pre­sent­ed as the Friend of sin­ners, for his­tor­i­cal­ly He was found, first of all, mov­ing among the peo­ple as their Friend before He became their Sav­ior. But do you real­ize that today He is still in the first place our Friend, in order that He may become our Sav­ior? It is clear from the New Tes­ta­ment that the Lord Jesus came as a Friend, in order to help sin­ners to come to Him. Our com­ing to Him was made pos­si­ble by His first com­ing to us. At the hour of cri­sis there are many prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties that face the sin­ner. For exam­ple, in the Scrip­tures we are often told to believe. The Word lays stress on the neces­si­ty of faith. But you say, ​“I have not got faith.” A girl once said to me, ​“I can’t believe. I would like to believe but I can’t! It is no use; I haven’t got it in me. The desire is there, but I find faith lack­ing. It is impos­si­ble to believe.” ​“That is all right,” I said, ​“You can’t believe. But you can ask the Lord to give you faith. He is pre­pared to help you to that extent. You pray: ​‘Lord, help Thou my unbelief.’”

4. What the Sav­ior Is at Hand to Do

Or again, the Word tells us that we are to repent. What if we have no desire whatever to repent? I met a stu­dent once who said it was too ear­ly for him to come to the Lord. He want­ed more time in which to taste the plea­sures of sin and to enjoy him­self. He said to me, ​“The thief on the cross was saved, but he had his fling, and it was high time that he repent­ed. But I — I am young.” ​“Well, what do you want to do?” I asked him. He replied, ​“I want to wait anoth­er forty years and have a good time, and then I will repent.”

So I said, ​“Let us pray.” ​“Oh, I can’t pray,” he answered. ​“Yes, you can,” I said. ​“You can tell the Lord all you have told me. He is the Friend of unre­pen­tant sin­ners like you.” ​“Oh, I couldn’t say that to Him.” ​“Why not? What­ev­er is in your heart, you tell it to Him. He will help you.” Final­ly he prayed, and told the Lord that he did not want to repent and be saved, but that he knew he need­ed a Sav­ior; and he just cried to Him for help. The Lord worked repen­tance in him and he got up a saved man.

I repeat these inci­dents just to empha­size that what the sin­ner can­not do the Sav­ior is at hand to do for him. It is for this rea­son that we can tell peo­ple that they need not wait for any­thing, but can come to Him imme­di­ate­ly. What­ev­er their state, what­ev­er their prob­lem, let them bring it and tell it to the Friend of Sinners.

5. Meet­ing Christ

What is sal­va­tion? Many think that to be saved we must first believe that the Lord Jesus died for us, but it is a strange fact that nowhere in the New Tes­ta­ment does it say pre­cise­ly that. We are told to believe in Jesus, or to believe on Him; not to believe that He died for us. ​“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” were Paul’s words. We are to believe first of all in Him; not specif­i­cal­ly in what He has done.

I do believe in the neces­si­ty of His atone­ment. I trust you will not mis­un­der­stand me there­fore when I say that the appreci­a­tion of that work may not be the first step in the sinner’s ini­tial con­tact with the Lord. That appre­ci­a­tion must fol­low, but the main ques­tion is whether or not we have the Son, and not, first of all, whether or not we under­stand the whole plan of sal­va­tion. The first con­di­tion of sal­va­tion is not knowl­edge, but meet­ing Christ.

I have come to see that all that is need­ed for the ini­tial step is that there should be a per­son­al touch with God, and when that is so the rest will sure­ly fol­low. It does not matter, there­fore, which vers­es God elects to use for that first step. After all, we do not need to study the the­o­ry of elec­tric­i­ty and to under­stand it thor­ough­ly before we can turn on the elec­tric light. The light does not say, ​“I am not going to shine for you, for you know noth­ing of the prin­ci­ple on which I work.” And God does not set under­stand­ing as the condi­tion of our approach to Him. ​“This is life eter­nal, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

6. It Only Requires a Touch

Let us take three exam­ples from the Gospels. First, the thief on the cross. When he asked the Lord to remem­ber him when Jesus came into His king­dom, Jesus did not remind him of his evil life, nor did He explain the plan of redemp­tion — no, the Lord had only one answer: ​“Today you shall be with me in paradise.” The thief rec­og­nized who Jesus was, and he believed in the Lord, and that was enough.

Con­sid­er the woman who was bleed­ing and was try­ing to touch Jesus. There were many press­ing in on Him, but only one was healed. She was healed because with a spe­cial inten­tion she ​“touched” Him. And it only required a touch; for in her it rep­re­sent­ed a reach­ing out in spir­it to God for help in her deep need.

Or recall the inci­dent of the Phar­isee and the pub­li­can at prayer in the tem­ple. The Phar­isee under­stood all about offerings and sac­ri­fices and tithes, but there was from him no cry of the heart to God. But the pub­li­can cried out, ​“Lord have mer­cy upon me!” Some­thing went out from him to God which met with an imme­di­ate response, and the Lord Jesus sin­gles him out as the one whom God reck­oned as right­eous. For what is it to be reck­oned right­eous? It is to touch God. That is why our first object must be to lead peo­ple to meet Him.

7. A Cry from the Heart

We have said that a cry to God from the heart is suf­fi­cient. Because the Holy Spir­it has been poured out upon all mankind, a cry is enough. I always believe that the Holy Spir­it is upon a per­son when I preach to that per­son. I do not mean that the Spir­it is with­in the hearts of unbe­liev­ers, but that He is out­side. What is He doing? He is wait­ing, wait­ing to bring Christ into their hearts. He is like the light. Open the window-shut­ters even a lit­tle, and it will flood in and illumi­nate the inte­ri­or. Let there be a cry from the heart to God, and at that moment the Spir­it will enter and begin His trans­form­ing work of con­vic­tion and repen­tance and faith.

Per­haps the biggest con­di­tion of suc­cess in bring­ing peo­ple to Christ is to remem­ber that the same Holy Spir­it, who came to our help in the hour of dark­ness, is at hand wait­ing to enter and illu­mine their hearts also, and to make good the work of sal­va­tion to which, in cry­ing to God, they have opened the door.

8. Not a Ques­tion of Points

We come now to the sin­gle require­ment demand­ed from us. Quite often peo­ple preach the Gospel to a per­son by using a num­ber of ​“points,” only to find that the next day the per­son will say, ​“I have for­got­ten the third point. What was it?” Salvation is not a ques­tion of points! Sal­va­tion is not even a ques­tion of under­stand­ing or of will. It is, as we have seen, a ques­tion of meet­ing God — of peo­ple com­ing into first-hand con­tact with Christ the Sav­ior. So what, you ask me, is the minimum require­ment in a per­son to make that con­tact possible?

The basic con­di­tion of a sinner’s sal­va­tion is not belief or repen­tance, but just hon­esty of heart towards God. God requires noth­ing of us except that we come in that atti­tude. For it is a fact of the Gospel, mak­ing pos­si­ble the ini­tial touch with Jesus Christ, that saves the sin­ner, and not the sinner’s under­stand­ing of it.

| Excerpts tak­en from Devo­tion­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings for Indi­vid­u­als and Groups (Richard J. Fos­ter & James Bryan Smith, Edi­tors. Harper­Collins, 1993.). Orig­i­nal­ly from What Shall This Man Do?, by Watch­man Née. Copy­right © 1961 by Angus I. Kin­n­ear. Amer­i­can edi­tion pub­lished in 1978 by Tyn­dale House Pub­lish­ers, Inc. Used by permission.

Originally published April 1990

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