Troubled in Heart
From the beginning, the gospel message has been one that cut to the heart of its hearers. The very first time it was preached, we find that some in the audience “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37); truly, the message is one that goes right to the heart, because it convicts us of wrongdoing – sin. Earlier, Peter said to these same people that they had “taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” Jesus, the Son of God (Acts 2:22), noting again that they were responsible for having Him crucified (Acts 2:36). The text plainly tells us the message troubled the hearts [minds] of some who heard, but that is as it should be. Peter did not ‘tone it down’ to avoid offending his audience because he knew there had to be conviction in their hearts before there would be repentance – something Peter said they must do in order to be forgiven of sin (Acts 2:38).
We, as Christians, must surely know and acknowledge the reality that the message we must preach and teach is one that is not always going to be accepted favorably – sometimes not even amongst our fellow believers! The message we must preach and teach is one that reproves and rebukes, as well as exhorts (2nd Tim. 4:2), yet some believe [even some within the Lord’s church] that it should all be exhortation and ‘positive’ words. Some would have the exhortation of the gospel and none of the reprimands or rebukes! Friends and brethren, if we are to preach and teach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), it will be necessary to include the things hard and uncomfortable to hear, as well as those parts we like and enjoy hearing over and over.
The message we must teach and preach must be one that reveals to the sinner that he or she is a sinner; very few people I know like to hear that, and I know it will trouble many upon hearing it, but I cannot arbitrarily omit that point if I care about their soul. A practicing homosexual might be receptive to God’s word until he hears it condemns homosexuality as a sin; one who loves to get drunk might be receptive to the word up until the time he hears that such behavior must be put away once he follows Christ; a liar might listen to the message up until he hears all liars will have a part in the lake of fire. The reality is, we love to hear people talk about the ‘good news’ but we want the whitewashed version of the gospel – the parts that don’t tell us where we “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). But we don’t have that choice – as teachers or as hearers. Again, without conviction, there will be no repentance.
And to better understand the need for a convicting message, let’s consider some of the reasons why men do not like the true gospel message; let us consider for a few minutes some of the reasons why men are troubled by the message we must teach and preach. If we consider these things, maybe we will be better prepared and more willing to teach the true gospel message, with love for the souls of those who hear. Remember: We aren’t seeking to offend, but we must know it will offend some. At the same time, even as we preach and teach the parts that convict us of sin, we must also preach and teach the parts that reveal the answer to that sin. So, what is so troubling about the gospel message?
It Causes Shame. When Peter said to the audience, “you crucified” the Son of God, that had to be an extremely upsetting thing to hear! I imagine some were extremely upset and ashamed that they were ‘called out’ as ones guilty of putting to death the very one they awaited – the Messiah and Savior. On top of this, these words are recorded for all time, so now millions, if not billions, of people have read or heard these words and have learned of the guilt of these individuals. [As a side note: Do you think anyone in the audience wanted to tell Peter, “Judge not, that you be not judged”?]
But shame is a natural consequence of the revelation of sin. When Adam and Eve were created, they initially were naked, yet unashamed because they did not yet have the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:25). It was not until they had that knowledge that they tried to cover up (Gen. 3:7). Shame moved Adam and Eve to corrective action [covering up], and we need to understand that shame is something that is a means of motivating us to do the right thing. Consider the command to “not keep company with” a sinning brother “that he may be ashamed” (2nd Thess. 3:14); God’s people are to do that which causes shame, with the intent of motivating him to do the right thing! Let us be careful to make the distinction between ‘shame’ and ‘humiliation’; shame is to motivate, while humiliation is degrading.
It Condemns. The true and complete message of the gospel is sometimes troubling because it is a message that condemns. That is right; the ‘good news’ also contains a message that condemns us! [Of sin.] But let us note that what is condemned by the message is not us, per se, but sin. Jesus Himself said He was sent into this world not “to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17), but we must also note that He also said the words contained in that message He preached will condemn us in the end if we have rejected them (John 12:48).
It is important to, as clearly as we can, note that what is condemned in the message is sin, and that we will be condemned only if we are guilty of it. Of course, all are guilty (cf. Rom. 3:23), but that message also gives us the answer to that problem: Christ! Unfortunately, some who hear the message don’t like to hear that they are among the condemned, and they will respond, ironically, with hate and vitriol to a message they nowadays declare as “hate speech.” They are troubled in their hearts, but have no desire to change, and some will respond by seeking to rid the messenger, such as was done with Stephen by the religious leaders (Acts 7:51-60).
It Excludes. While God desires all men to be saved (1st Tim. 2:3, 4) and wants none to perish (2nd Pet. 3:9), the reality is, God leaves it to us to either obey or not and, thus, not all will be saved. But that is a part of the full message of the gospel, too; as Jesus put it: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Not all will believe and be baptized, so not all will be saved. Add to this the fact Jesus spoke of two paths we may take, and one that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13) which many [the majority] take, and it becomes all the more clear that not all will be saved.
The message preached and taught by the apostles was one that clearly made a distinction between those who would be saved and those who would not. Paul listed some sins of which the Corinthians once were guilty, and noted “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1st Cor. 6:9-10). Some have recently strongly condemned a man for publicly quoting this passage, which equated homosexuality with a sin like extortion; they were troubled by what they heard because it meant those who practiced that sin [and any sin, we must admit] would be excluded from the kingdom and, thus, excluded from heaven.
So, what do we do? We “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2nd Tim. 4:2). We continue speaking the truth in love, aiming for receptive hearts.