If we don’t feel thirsty, we won’t want a drink of water. If we are not hungry, then we won’t want a bite to eat. If we are not sleepy, then we won’t feel the need to nap. If we don’t have a medical problem, then we won’t want to buy a medicinal salve. Unless we feel the need for something, we will not act freely to obtain it. And unless we feel the sting of sin, we will not desire to be saved. Before a person will be ready to obey the gospel, he must feel that he is guilty of sin and that he needs forgiveness.
Before we can feel that we are guilty of sin, however, we must believe that we are accountable to some higher law. Sin is the transgression of the law of God (I John 3:4). If a person does not believe in God or does not fear God, then that person is not likely to seek God. When Abraham came into Gerar, he was not honest with king Abimelech because he thought “Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake” (Gen. 20:11; cf. Rom. 3:18). Abraham understood that if one did not fear God, almost anything could happen.
When the Jews on the day of Pentecost heard and understood that God had made that same Jesus whom they had crucified both Lord and Christ, they were pricked in the heart by the word of God that the apostles preached and cried out to them for guidance (Acts 2:36,37). Saul of Tarsus was a relentless persecutor of the Lord’s church. But on the road to Damascus, as he was traveling to imprison Christians found there, he was stunned by a bright light, one which was brighter than the noonday sun, and asked “Who art Thou Lord?” (Acts 9:5). When the Lord identified Himself Saul trembled and asked what he needed to do (Acts 9:6). Paul would later confess that he felt he was the chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15).
It is possible that a person may acknowledge that something is amiss in their life or lifestyle, but not know exactly what it is. They may feel an emptiness in their life or a longing for something more. They may try to find fulfillment in pleasure, people, wealth, or things and never realize what it is they are missing. Solomon tried all of the things that these type people try and came to the conclusion that the whole of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Eccl. 12:10). This is only the thing that makes man complete and feel complete.
Another motivation for seeking salvation is the fear of God (cf. Acts 13:16,43). Too many preachers today do not like to talk about it, but the fear of God is a preeminently scriptural emphasis (II Cor. 5:10,11). “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30-31). Jesus said we are to fear Him that can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9).
In a society that seems to be increasingly secular and skeptical, we must preach the fact of God’s existence. In a society which is ever more materialistic and worldly, we must proclaim the coming judgment of God upon a sinful world (Col. 1:28). We must warn people that there is a great day of judgement coming. As Paul wrote:
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:5-11).
It is fine and necessary to preach the love of God. But if we do not fairly balance the love of God with the fact of His judgement, then we do the world and ourselves a disservice. Even when the Lord declared God’s love for mankind, there was an implicit warning against unbelief lest those who do not believe perish (John 3:16). The great commission serves as a final example of this. Jesus said “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16).
I have heard many people say something to the effect, “God is a God of love, He would never punish a person for this or that action” and then continue in their sin. But I have never heard someone who believes that there will be a judgement say, “Oh, God is a God of judgement, He wouldn’t punish a person for that action” and then go about their way. Until a person is hungry and thirsty for righteousness, he will not seek to be filled. Until a person comes to the point where he is ready to say, “Give me this water of life that I may live,” he will not drink of the water of life. Until a person is afraid that if they do not act they will suffer eternal torment they will not repent.
Eric L. Padgett