Friday, November 7, 2014

How Are Sinners "Convinced" To Turn To Christ?

Luk 16:27  And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house--
Luk 16:28  for I have five brothers--so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' Luk 16:29  But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' Luk 16:30  And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' Luk 16:31  He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"

As I was thinking about this passage about Lazarus and the rich man I thought there was a point to be made.  There is something in these verses that completely destroys the idea that everyone has the ability to accept or reject the gospel; Arminianism to be precise.  Dives makes the mistake that so many do, even many Christians, which is that it is possible through convincing evidences, miraculous displays or some kind of human reasoning to convince the natural man that he should repent of his sins and trust in Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

The problem is that the Bible is quite clear that until one is regenerated, is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he cannot exercise faith.  Simply put one cannot demonstrate signs of spiritual life until one is given spiritual life and we are all born spiritually dead, 1Co 2:14  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Notice that Dives says that if Lazarus rises from the dead or appears in some way to his brothers they will take his warning more seriously than the Scriptures that they already have.  The presupposition is that they can be convinced; they just need strong enough evidence.  He assumes that the written Word is not enough but to see someone raised from the grave is a sure fire way to prove that there is a God and his Word is true. 

But Jesus’s rebuttal is crystal clear and if one is honest with the Bible he must deal with this doctrine.  The Word of God, the good news recorded in it, is sufficient to convert sinners and the most spectacular miracle will not convince sinners when the gospel cannot. 

The reason is expanded on later in John 3 when Jesus explains to Nicodemus that one cannot see the Kingdom of God until he is born again.  There must be an inward work because a work from without falls on deaf ears and blind eyes. 

Christians often are tempted to think that simply preaching Christ isn’t enough but we have to convince sinners through “proving” the existence of God or entertainment or by performing miracles or something that will catch their attention.  But the text above is unmistakable that all they need is the gospel for it alone is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  The reason God saves only through the gospel is so that when a sinner is converted God alone gets the glory for it was his power not our mental abilities.  If Lazarus came back from the grave and convinced the brothers to repent it wouldn’t have been Christ who would have been the focus but Lazarus.  

In fact someone did rise from the dead and the issue for sinners isn’t really proving whether he did or didn’t rise, it is that the natural man doesn’t want to submit to his God.  It takes a new heart to repudiate who we are and turn to Christ and until that happens, miracles and proof aren’t the issues, repentance of our sinfulness is.


  1. Nathan,

    I come down on the side of story of the rich man and Lazarus being a parable. Therefore, I am reluctant to try to glean meaning from every detail.

    But that being said, say Dives is a real person. Just because he makes some statements doesn't make those statements theologically correct. And technically, it wasn't Christ that responded; it was Abraham. But again, from the perspective of it being a parable, I wouldn't read too much extra into Dives or Abraham's statements. Parables are there to make one major point and perhaps a side point or two.

    All in all, I agree whole heartedly with where you end up in your last paragraph. Believing based on a quick and current miracle is a recipe for disaster. Repentance is the beginning of salvation.

    However, I do take a slightly different tack on your next to last paragraph. I don't think it is our responsiblity to "convince" sinnners like you say. But I do think it is our responsibility to "persuade" sinners. That's what Paul did in Acts 19:8-9 and apparently in all of Acts 26 per Acts 26:28. Paul reasoned and persuaded. We should too.

    I think our #1 way of persuasion (or weapon if you will) is the Bible. It can do the persuading for us.

    Kenny B

  2. Hi Kenny,

    Let me respond in the reverse order of your comments. Obviously I agree that we can't convince sinners to repent. If you read my statement carefully I think you will see that what I said was that some are tempted to think we must convince through means other than the gospel. As I read it and as I meant it anyway, I think I said the same thing you did. Of course, maybe it is because I am reading it through the lens of what I meant to say!

    I also agree generally with what you said about parables, but I would be interested in what you think the main point of this one is. Also this "parable" is different to others in that Jesus isn't speaking about hypothetical people who are merely illustrating a truth. He names people who actually exist. So if he said that Abraham said something I think it best to assume Abraham said it and that the others in the story are real since Abraham is. Certainly one of his points must be that when Abraham corrected Dives, we can take that as truth.

    This puts it in a different light than a simple illustration. Again, if we don't pay attention to what is being said and who said it, what lesson is there in Jesus relating the conversation to us? I agree that Dives' statements aren't theologically correct. In part, that is the point; Abraham corrected his faulty understanding which in turn is the point of my blog. I would also say that by Jesus quoting Abraham, Jesus is saying what Abraham said. Are we to assume that Jesus is quoting Abraham and Abraham is wrong and Jesus doesn't tell us he is wrong? I would see this as an actually conversation that Jesus relates to us to teach us some things otherwise it seems to me we are in danger of saying that Jesus is misleading us.

    Have you heard Don Carson's sermon on this parable? If you get a chance, Google it; he makes some great points.

    Thanks for the reply,


    1. Gonna google and watch Don Carson like you recommended.

      But first,

      When I taught this story earlier this year, the first order of business was to decide if it was a parable or a true story. My many consulted commentators were split. One of the keys for me was the opening phrase: "a certain rich man". This seems to be the key tip-off words which open many parables in Luke: 10:30, 12:16, 15:11, 16:1, 16:19 akin to "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." Of course, opposite that, is the actual name of Lazarus in the story. My own little guess is that Jesus just probably saw a man named Lazarus and was using him as an example that the whole town could relate to--kinda the well-known town poor man.

      As to meaning, I propose 3.

      #1 Reversal of fortune is possible! --Along with first/last-last/first theme of Luke.
      #2 Miracles are not the magic elixir! -- Just what we both were saying earlier.
      #3 Resurrection is foreshadowed! -- You referred to this one too.

      This parable (my take) has more risk to overinterpretting the details than the average parable. But all parables do. We tend to take analogies and make a zillion comparisons and thereby let the analogy run the whole thing.

      To me, the characters and the action in parables are all fictional (obviously) that work together to make BIG points. When we delve to far down into the details, risks of wrong unintended meanings go up.

      I am very reluctant to build understandings of heaven, hell, hades, and the general after-life from this story, which I think is more probably a parable.

      Kenny B

  3. Well, we can talk in circles about this and pretty much agree on most of what you say anyway. Let me just say this as to why I see this as a little more than just an ordinary parable that illustrates one point.

    You yourself see at least three main points which is a lot for one parable. In fact, if we go back and read the context miracles and the resurrection weren't in view but self-righteousness and the difficulty riches pose in that equation.

    It seems Jesus could have stopped in vs.26 "And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us", and the point would have been made. But he continues on and gets into a different subject about what we need in order to believe the gospel. So it seems to me, even if one doesn't think any of this relates to events that actually happened, that it is perfectly proper to see vss. 27 and following as of theological importance. We have to ask ourselves why did Jesus think it important that we read that; it seems he is continuing on beyond the main point.

    I add to that the fact that the information he relates about Hades and Paradise I believe fit well into what I think the Bible teaches about these places before the cross; but that is another subject.

    Thanks for making me think more on the subject,

    1. I watched Don Carson's sermon on the rich man & Lazarus and was blown away. It is definitely the definitive sermon on the parable. I learned so much and told my wife all about it.

      I think I'm gonna watch more of his sermons. I've always loved his slow pace, allowing you to think after the important statements.

      Thanks a ton for that tip.

      I hear you on 3 being a lot of points to a parable. And there is something about this gravity of this parable that does seem to make it more stern than your average parable.

      One of the little things that gets me about this parable is the way, in the search for context, we have to skip over v.16-19 and get a probable context from v.14-15. But I do feel strongly that this parable comports strongly to a main general theme of the gospel of Luke, which is indeed the larger context!, of the first shall become last and the last first.

      So I mostly gravitate towards point #1 and say that points #2 and #3 are ancillary.

      Kenny B