Awakening Sermon #1 — the 3 C’s

 Title: Awakening Sermon #1, The 3 C’s

Text: Acts 2:22-41

Time: June 4th, 2008

During the First Great Awakening in the 1740’s of America, there were basically three things that happened to people who experienced that great revival. First, they experienced the conviction of sin. Second, they experienced confession and repentance from sin. Third, they experienced absolute commitment to Christ for salvation. These three things occurred then, and occurred again in the Second Great Awakening of the 1800’s, and they will occur wherever revival comes because they are the essential and irreducible components of revival as found in the Books of Acts. Today, we hear talk of revival here and there, but I only ask one question of these reports: do they manifest the three essential components of all great revivals – conviction, confession, and commitment? If not, it’s all just wishful thinking. The first description of this pattern for revival occurs in the Book of Acts, chapter two. Peter begins to preach a sermon to the gathered crowd. As he describes the death of Jesus and the personal responsibility of each person for it, he stirs conviction of sin in each of them. This led to everyone present confessing and repenting of their sins. And then finally, it described how they all committed their hearts to Christ by faith as a result. Conviction, confession, commitment. The three C’s. Now contrast that description in Acts with what is typical today and we’ll see that usually only one c is emphasized, and that is the c of commitment. But how can commitment be valid if conviction and confession are not present at the same time? Maybe that explains why so often “commitments” to Christ don’t last; it’s because the commitment wasn’t valid in the first place because there wasn’t any conviction of sin nor confession of sin beforehand. How can one commit to Christ without feeling the conviction of sin and feeling a need to confess that sin and repent of that sin? It’s only as an end result, not as a starting place, one commits to Christ. This explains also why so much of Christianity is shallow today. It’s because people are not properly brought along through the process of true Christian conversion; they are only invited to decide to belief in Jesus, but how deep can that belief be if they’ve not been convicted of sin or confessed that sin before committing to Christ? It seems like a shallow commitment where there is no conviction or confession. But that is sadly the state of many people in churches today. The answer, the solution to this problem is to return to the pattern of the early church and later the Great Awakenings, and preach the true conversion message that leads people to true conversion to Christ, not the overly simplified message we hear often today. So let’s outline that true conversion message.

First, there’s conviction of sin. Acts 2:37, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” What brought this distress, this great disturbance among the people that day? It was the preaching of Peter. And what specifically did Peter preach to so disturb and distress the people? He preached that they were personally responsible for the death of Jesus on the cross, and what a terrible crime it was: “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you . . . and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Peter blamed the Jews present for the death of Christ. They killed Christ, according to Peter. Not only did Peter preach about sin, he applied sin directly to every person present. He wasn’t preaching vague generalities about sin, he was preaching specifics and applying sin to the people present. This is an absolutely essential point in revival preaching: sin must be preached clearly and applied pointedly and specifically. Today, we hear general talk of sin and even more general applications of it in our lives today, which is why we hardly ever see genuine conviction of sin, at least in the depth and frequency of former times. It’s because sin isn’t preached correctly. Preachers today are too fearful of offending people. They don’t deal with sin enough and they certainly don’t expose the sins through pointed application today. But Peter did, as did the preachers during the times of great revival. Peter talked specifically about sin and specifically exposed the sins of the people directly. He wasn’t too worried about offending his audience; he was more concerned about getting out the truth. So too, we need to start preaching sin correctly so as to bring about deep conviction of sin. Now mind you we aren’t trying to make people feel guilty who aren’t guilty. We aren’t trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone who isn’t guilty. What we are trying to do is convince the guilty that they are guilty. Today, it’s almost taken for granted that in a free society everyone is entitled to freedom from guilt. Nobody has a right to make me feel guilty because that would violate my right to freedom of conscience. How utterly foolish. If someone is truly guilty of a crime, how wrong is it for that person to be convicted of that crime? It’s done every day in the court of law. How much more important before God’s court of law? No. We are to preach God’s Word, God’s law, God’s will, in order to show people that they are truly guilty; no small task in a psychologically saturated, guilt-free society. We are to define sin, clarify the meaning, and then make pointed application to people’s lives. We are to ask people to search their souls for conviction of sin, and pray that the Holy Spirit truly does bring about true conviction in every guilty heart. Without conviction of sin, conversion is impossible.

Second, there’s confession of sin. Acts 2:38, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’” So then here’s the process so far. Peter preaches sin and makes application to the people. They then are convinced and convicted and respond by asking Peter what to do. Peter in turn tells them to repent. Repent of what? Repent of their sins. What does that mean? It means first confessing their sins to God and then turning away from their sins. In their specific example, it meant first acknowledging their guilty role in the death of Christ – just letting it happen or even worse voting for it to happen; then second, it meant turning away from such sinful apathy or sinful direct evil. Specifically, for the people of the first century here it meant admitting that they were sinful in their attitude towards God and turning away from that sinfulness towards God. Confession of sin means no longer trying to make excuse or justify sinful behavior. For us today, it means no longer blaming our personal sins on others or our environment, which is a very popular excuse through the influence of modern psychology. Today, it’s popular for everyone to be a victim, but nobody is guilty. Confessing and repenting of sin today would call for a frank and honest acknowledgment of personal sin and guilt. Repenting of sin today would mean a clear cut turning away from any and all sin, in thought, word, or deed. But again, this cannot happen properly without a strong conviction of sin produced by the Holy Spirit through strong preaching. Weak preaching produces weak conviction of sin, as we see today, and weak conviction of sin produces weak confession and repentance from sin, again, as we see today. It’s common today for preachers and evangelists to invite people to confess and repent of sin generally, but then never explain what it means to do these things specifically and practically. The fact is today, people today don’t know what confession and repentance is, and more importantly, they don’t know how to do it properly. What good is inviting someone to do something they don’t understand? What usually happens is that people agree to do it, but don’t really do it because they don’t know what it is they are supposed to do; and nobody explains it or leads them through it. Preachers usually jump right to the commitment stage, which is the final stage of conversion, without properly dealing with stage one, conviction; or stage two, confession. That’s why practically every other person in the United States has prayed a prayer of commitment to Christ, but few people are actually committed to Christ! They’ve never been led properly to conviction of sin and confession of sin. There can be no conversion, let alone revival, without these two important things.

Third, there’s commitment to Christ. Acts 2:38, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Peter calls the people to confession and repentance, which they can’t do without conviction of sin. He then calls them to commitment to Christ through baptism. In the early church baptism was the physical, visible symbol of commitment to Christ. So what Peter is doing is calling people to commit their lives to salvation through Jesus Christ. Acts 2:40-41, “With many other words he warned them: save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Those who accepted his message were baptized.” In respect to his message, in other words, Peter said a lot more than we have recorded in this passage in the Book of Acts. He told them about the plan of salvation, how Jesus died on the cross for their sins, how through faith alone they could be forgiven and declared righteous in God’s sight. Having been convicted of sin and confessing their sins, they were now in a place to commit to Christ; and they did. They were instructed in the meaning of commitment to Christ and invited to express that commitment by being baptized. Acts :2:41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” And then what happened? Did most of them fall away? Did the majority turn away from their commitment to Christ as is typical today with decisions for Christ? No. Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” These converts didn’t just drift away; they lasted. Why? Because they had been dealt with properly before they were asked to commit to Christ, unlike today, where people are asked to commit to Christ upfront before dealing with conviction for sin and confession of sin. We won’t ever see another revival like the First Great Awakening or the Second Great Awakening until we return to the proper preaching of the gospel. And we won’t return to the proper preaching of the gospel until we return to a proper preaching of sin, which produces conviction and confession. Unless preachers are willing to preach sin properly there can be no revival, because there can be no conviction of sin until sin is defined, clarified, its consequences explained, its seriousness declared, and its evilness exposed with full application made. Also, no revival can occur until sin is specifically confessed and repented of. A person must know what sin is specifically to be convicted of it, and he must be convinced he is a sinner to confess it properly. Then and only then, can a person turn to Christ in full, wholehearted commitment for salvation from sin. When these three things are preached properly we will see revival return again in our land.

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