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The center of the gospel is the death of Christ and the reason why He died is to deal with sin. Therefore, the proclamation of the gospel is incomplete without addressing the issue of sin. This means explaining that men and women are sinners and are therefore under the wrath of God is important if we want to present the gospel properly.
Although talking about sin and God’s wrath is not acceptable to our contemporary culture, we have to do it if we are to have a proper understanding of God and recognize our need for a Savior.
It is unfortunate that the subject of sin and God’s judgment is out of vogue not only in society in general but even in some evangelical circles.
Our church runs a school in Davao City where I serve as School Pastor and Administrator. One day, some of our parents who were Christians pulled out their children from our school and were even convincing others to do the same. The reason is because the pastor of the church they were attending told them that it was not healthy for their children to be exposed to a school were their children, young as they were, are being told that they are sinners. For this pastor, it was wrong to teach small children that they are sinners and are going to hell. Like the thinking of the world, children should rather be taught about their good nature and their self-esteem should be raised.
But what we were teaching our children in our school simply reflects the teaching of Scripture and the method of Scripture evangelism:
- David said in Psalm 51:5, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
- Solomon says in Pr 22:15, Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (ISV, “A child’s heart has a tendency to do wrong, but the rod if discipline removes it far away from him.”)
I believe that the earlier the kids realize by God’s grace that they are sinners and therefore exposed to the wrath of God, the sooner they will repent of their sins and put their trust in Christ so that they will be delivered from God’s judgment.
It is interesting to note that in the 17th to the 19th centuries, the book from which most of the children of colonial America learned their ABCs was the New England Primer. This also presented the basic elements of the gospel. Some of the things that were emphasized in this children’s book included the fact that children were sinful by nature, the certainty of death, God’s judgment, and that the only way to escape God’s judgment is to receive Christ as revealed in the Bible.
Here is a sample of the first six letters of the English Alphabet in the New England Primer:
This method of instruction that first exposes sin and God’s judgment before presenting salvation through faith in Christ is based on the New Testament’s approach in presenting the gospel.
This is what we will find particularly in Paul’s presentation of the gospel in the book of Romans. Paul presents his gospel by first beginning with the bad news before the good news.
Today, I want us to look at the first three chapters of the Book of Romans.
My objective in today’s study is for all of us to see more clearly Paul’s approach in his gospel presentation and then to stir our hearts to align our evangelism methods to Paul’s.
When Paul had the opportunity to explain his gospel in a more systematic way, he first began with God and the response of God to man’s sin. Paul spent much ink to explain the bad news before he presented the good news.
Until people are convinced of their fallen condition and God’s condemnation they will not see their urgent need to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. If this is the approach of the Bible, then this also should be our approach when we evangelize.
Let us now jump into at the first three chapters of Romans.
The book of “Romans is the longest and most systematically reasoned of Paul’s letters” (ESV SB).
It is extremely important to note how Paul structures this book. The first three chapters of this letter, with the exception of the introduction and the theme of the letter, are dedicated to the doctrine of condemnation. For three chapters, the apostle has this one objective: to prove the sinfulness of all humanity and why everyone apart from Christ is under the wrath of God.
First, Paul opens his letter with his GREETINGS and introduction in 1:1-15.
After that, Paul introduces the theme of his book, which we see in Romans 1:16-17:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
These two verses show that the gospel is about the revelation of God’s righteousness. The “righteousness of God” has several aspects:
(1) It refers to God’s absolute moral perfection. God’s righteousness is is essential to His very nature. It is not not merely something that He decides to do. Being a righteous God, He loves righteousness with all His being and hates the contrary with a perfect hatred. Thus, He cannot be morally neutral or apathetic towards the character and works of men or angels, but He will judge them with perfect justice.
When you think seriously about this, this implies that the righteousness of God is going to be the biggest problem for man. If a man wants to have a relationship with God, God demands only one thing of him: that he live a life of absolute moral perfection without flaw or failure every moment of every day of his life. God will not tolerate the slightest deviation from His perfect standard. REmember that it only took one act of unrighteousness on the part of our first parents to bring condemnation to all men and to bring the whole of creation under God’s curse. (Ideas from Paul Washer, TGP&M).
(2) The righteousness of God also refers to Christ’s perfect righteousness. “Christ’s every thought, word, and deed conformed to the will of God without the slightest derivation. Every moment of His life, He loved the Lord His God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. Everything he did, even the most menial tasks of eating and drinking, He did for the glory of His God. Thus, the Father could always testify of Him, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ ” (Paul Washer, TGP&M, 173).
Christ’s righteousness is the only righteousness that God approves. Christ’s righteousness perfectly matches God’s perfect law and holy character. Christ’s righteousness is what man needs so that he can stand before God and be delivered from His wrath and condemnation.
The gospel reveals that this righteousness of Christ will be imputed or placed in the account of the person who believes in Christ. This is all by grace and a gift of God apart from works. This we shall see in Romans 3:21-26.
Notice that Paul did not immediately jump to this good news which is found in Romans 3:21-26 after presenting the theme of his book. In 3:21-26 Paul presents to us the heart of the gospel. He shows us the means to receive the righteousness of God which is by faith in Christ apart from works. He will also introduce there the concepts of justification, redemption, and propitiation. But Paul does not jump there immediately. These positive aspects of the gospel will have to wait until he has first presented the bad news.
Immediately after the THEME presented in 1:16-17, Paul first shows why the world desperately needs the righteousness of God (1:18-3:20).
The passage that was assigned to me is Romans 3:9-20. But this is the conclusion of all that Paul said beginning with Romans 1:18 up to 3:8. And so for us to understand 3:9-20, we have to understand the previous section first. And so I will take some time to look at this long section fist 1:18-3:8 before getting into my passage: Romans 3:9-20.
The very first thing that we notice about this long section that begins in 1:18 is the opening word: “For.” This works here as a conjunction to explain why people need the righteousness of God.
People need the righteousness of God because of the wrath of God. That is how Paul begins his gospel.
But this is not how people begin their gospel today. Often when sharing with an unbeliever, Christians want to begin with something like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” But Paul doesn’t begin with God’s love; he begins with God’s wrath.
TODAY’S GOSPEL, AUTHENTIC OR SYNTHETIC
Thousands of sinners think of God as having only one attribute – ‘love’. Though that is part of the truth, when it is taken for the whole truth it becomes a lie. When you tell a stranger, ‘God loves you,’ his mind registers something like this: ‘Yes, He loves me and would never harm me. He loves with forgiving and merciful kindness; so, all is well with my soul’ In the concept of the average American [and Filipino too], there is no idea that God is holy; only a perverted concept that he has a gushy, all embracing kindness. Modern evangelism is helping to foster this misconception of God by its silence and vagueness. To say to a rebel, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,’ is terribly misinforming. The truth is that God is holy. Thus He is angry with the sinner at this moment. His sword of wrath already hangs over the head of the guilty and will forever torment him unless he repents and trusts Christ. This plan is not so wonderful. God’s redeeming love for sinners is found only in Christ, and the sinner is out of Christ.
According to Romans 1:18, God’s wrath is revealed from heaven and is directed towards all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Humanity fails in those two areas. God requires men to please Him, not only by rightly relating to their fellowmen but also to God. The summary of God’s commandments are: You shall love the Lord your God with all of your mind, heart, soul, and strength and love others as you love yourself. The first part is godliness. Even if you do righteous deeds to your neighbor or outwardly you appear to be religious, but inwardly, you hate God and do not act for the glory of God, then you are still subject to God’s wrath.
This is the reason we need a righteousness that is outside of us, a righteousness that only God can offer and thus acceptable to Him. This is why we need Jesus Christ as Savior and Mediator and Lord. All of humanity have fallen short of God’s standard. None of us conform to God holy and perfect character; we are all ungodly and unrighteous.
After Paul gives a GENERAL STATEMENT (1:18) regarding the wrath of God, he begins to explain in more detail why all humans deserve God’s wrath and need the righteousness from God.
Paul begins with those who are openly hostile to God and wicked and moves on to those who consider themselves to be either moral or religious. And so, first,
- The Gentiles deserve God’s wrath (1:19-32)
First, the wrath of God is revealed against pagans who are openly hostile to God (1:19-32). Paul said that God has left evidences of His existence and attributes in nature, which should have led man to turn to God in worship and thanksgiving, but instead, they have suppressed the truth and distorted their understanding of God and worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. As a consequence of this willful ignorance God gave them over to the very sins they have chosen for themselves. [This tells us that there are no real atheists. There are only suppressors of the truth.]
- The Moralists deserve God’s wrath (2:1-16).
After the Gentiles, Paul moves on to the next group who fall under God’s wrath: the Moralists (whether they are Gentile or Jew). The moralists think they are exempted from God’s purpose to punish all sin because they are performing some good deeds. But Paul says that even they are under God’s wrath, for although they approve of higher behavioral standards, they also fail to live up to those standards. And so his guilt is even greater than the pagan’s.
3. The Jews deserve God’s wrath (2:17—3:8)
Finally, in 2:17-3:8, the wrath of God is revealed against the pious and religious Jews. The Jews thought they were superior to the Gentiles. They judged and looked down upon the Gentiles, because of their special privileges from God. They were descendants of Abraham, they had the law, and they had circumcision, which was the mark of their belonging to the covenant people. Their error was that they thought that having those privileges automatically saved them. And so Paul deals with them by showing them that mere possession of the law did not automatically save them. Their disobedience to the written law of God exposed them to His wrath.
- The conclusion (this is my text): The whole world deserves God’s wrath because all are under sin. (3:9-20)
In light of everything he has said about the Gentile, the moralist and the religious Jew, Paul makes his concluding indictment 3:9:
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin
This is the condition of every human being apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ all men, whether Jew or Gentile are sinners. They are all under sin.
When Paul says that all are under sin, what he means is that, apart from Christ, every human being is under the power and dominion of sin; he is polluted by sin and is subject to the wrath and final judgment of God.
So now, having made that great statement, “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin,” Paul quotes several OT Scriptures to confirm this.
Paul quotes from the Psalms, Proverbs, and from the Prophets in order to confirm his statement that all, universally, without a single exception, the good people, the very best and nicest people, as well as the worst and the most vile—are all under sin.
If you look at these passages you will observe that Paul had a definite system in his mind. Paul is very logical and he did not just pick those verses at random. These passages can be divided into three.
- The first, (vv. 10-12) is a general description of man under sin.
- The second (vv. 13-17) refers to particular sinful acts.
- The third, (v.18) is the cause of those sinful acts.
I. The general description of man under sin (3:10-12)
A. He is morally corrupt.
Paul quotes Ps 14:3 that says, None is righteous, no, not one. Most people are willing to admit “nobody’s perfect; but they will not admit that nobody is righteous.” Of course, when they say that they are righteous, they are using their own standards and not God’s. This is why Scripture says:
- 1Ki 8:46 there is no one who does not sin
- Eccl 7:20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
B. His mind is blinded: “no one understands” (v.11b)
- Paul is not saying that all human beings apart from Christ will not be able to intellectually understand bible concepts. They may understand about God, Jesus, sin, heaven and hell, and even the gospel, but they will not have any impact or saving influence upon them. They may find the gospel to be foolish or scandalous or too demanding and they won’t see it as relevant in life.
- 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.
C. His will is not directed towards God: “no one seeks for God”
Paul is still emphasizing the universality of this charge. It is still “no one.” There is no single exception. Paul asserts that there is no individual who seeks after God.
[Illustration: When I did not know about this passage, I thought that when I entered the Catholic seminary, it was because I was seeking God. And even when I left the seminary and joined Transcendental Meditation, I thought it was because I was seeking for God. But this was not true. When I entered the seminary when I was in high school, it was not really because I was looking for God but it was because I wanted to run away from my father who used to spank me. And I was attracted by the swimming pool, the basketball court and other sports facilities of the seminary. When I joined TM, it was not because I was looking for God but because I could not say no to my father and because I liked the benefits promised by the Maharishi to the TM practitioners.]
D. “All have turned aside” (v.12)
Sin is a wandering or departing from the right way which leads to God. A wanderer cannot restore himself to the right way without the help of a guide, in the same manner the sinner cannot restore himself apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
E. “together they have become worthless”
All men have become unfit for that for which God made them. God’s intention is that our lives give glory and honor to Him. But we do things to get glory for ourselves.
F. “no one does good, not even one.”
Isa 64:6 says, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Even if one tries to do good to others, it is polluted at the source.
What the Apostle had said in 3:10-12 was general; he now goes into particular areas.
II. Particular sins in SPEECH and actions
A. The particular sins that relate to SPEECH (vv. 13-14)
- “Their throat is an open grave” (v.13)
- “they use their tongues to deceive”
- “The venom of asps is under their lips”
- “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (v.14)
B. Particular sins that relate to the actions. (vv. 15-17)
- “Their feet are swift to shed blood” (15)
- “in their paths are ruin and misery” (v.16)
- “and the way of peace they have not known.” (v.17)
The daily news on crime, corruption, wars and murders proves that the first three lines of this final stanza are true today as well as in Isaiah’s time. The destruction and misery brought about by the evil deeds of humans are evident everywhere.
What is the reason for those specific sins?
III. The REASON FOR those specific sins
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (v.18)
“the fear of God” according to Scripture means, reverence for God, devotion towards him, honoring Him and obeying Him; or fear, in the more restricted sense, dread of his wrath. The wicked man acts as if there were no God, no Being to whom they will be accountable to for their conduct, and who has the power to punish them for their sins.
Paul put together these OT verses to support his conclusion that all humanity is under sin. Many will object strongly to those words and say that it is not true in their case or in the case of someone they know.
James Montgomery Boice: These verses do not mean that every human being has done every bad thing possible. What they mean is that all men are morally corrupt they have the potential to commit any of those sins. We may not get a chance to murder someone. We may not even be tempted to do so. But given due provocation, right circumstances, and the removal of the restraints provided by society to limit murderous acts, we are all capable of murder and will murder, just as others have. So also with God’s other commandments.
[Illustration: I had my son stand to reserve a vacant parking space. Then somebody ”bullied” him to force him to move away so he could park his car. I imagined doing bad things to him in mind…]
After looking at this section from 1:18 up to 3:18, I expected Paul to quickly show what the solution is. I thought that Paul would say something like this: “Now that I have proven to you by argumentation and Scriptural support that all humanity, whether Jews or Gentiles are under sin and therefore exposed to God’s wrath, I will now tell you what they should do to be delivered from that.”
But that is not what Paul did. Instead, he inserted a comment regarding the law here vv. 19-20.
Perhaps the reason why Paul does this is he is anticipating an objection from others who may be thinking, “If every one in the world is under the wrath of God, then why did God give the law? Is it not for us to have a standard so that we could know God’s will and thus live accordingly and have a relationship with God?”
Paul responds to that objection by explaining the purpose of the law.
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law,
“Now we know,” i.e., it is a thing plain in itself, and universally accepted. What is universally accepted? What is plain to common sense, and does not need any more arguing about? That those who possess the law, those who are under the authority of the law, those who are being addressed by the law—are responsible to obey the law.
It does not really matter whether Paul is specifically referring to the Law of Moses here, or to the who OT or to the law written in the hearts of individuals. The same principle applies. I think what Paul is saying is this: “everybody agrees, and this is universally accepted, this is common sense, that everyone whom the law addresses is bound to obey the law that is directed to them.
- For the Jews, God gave to the specifically His OT Scriptures. What he is saying, is that the declarations contained in the OT, which was the revelation of God’s will made to the Jews, were the standard or rule to which they were obliged to conform their beliefs and conduct.
- For the Gentiles who do not have the OT Scriptures or the laws of Moses, they have the requirements of the law written in their hearts (2:15). This rule in their hearts tells them what should and what should not be done, and their response to it either accuses them or defends them.
What is the purpose of God for giving the law, (whether it be the rule written the OT Scriptures that was given to the Jews or the law written in the hearts of Gentiles)?
We see here three purposes of God in giving the Law:
- First, so that every mouth may be stopped. In other words, what Paul is saying: “The law whether it is written in Scriptures or on the heart is designed by the Almighty God to silence every mouth. All men will be reduced to silence under the conviction that they have no excuse and no defense, or nothing to say against the charge of sin. For example…
- The Pharisee who is ready to speak when he enters the temple. (Lk 18:9-14). He begins to describe himself and tells God what a good man he is, how unlike the tax collector, how unlike other people who does this and that. He talks constantly. The law will silence such talkers.
- The rich young ruler (Lk 18:18-23) who is also ready to say, “Lord, I have obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” I know all about it, he says. He is ready to talk and to justify himself. Look at how the Lord deals with him. He speaks to him in such a way so as to silence him.
- [Illustration: When I share with a taxi driver, I ask two diagnostic questions of EE. Then I use the law to those who think they are good enough to go to heaven.]
(2) The second reason why God gave the Law is …
and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
The law was given so that every individual Jew and Gentile of every age and every nation might be compelled to acknowledge that they are guilty before God.
The final reason why God gave the law is to show that we are sinners. (v.20)
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
The Living Bible: Now do you see it? No one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what the law commands. For the more we know of God’s laws, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying them; his laws serve only to make us see that we are sinners.
And so that is what the Law does. It silences man so that he is rendered without excuse and he is held accountable to God, he is exposed to God’s judgment because of sin. This is our great problem. Paul is not dealing here so much with what is wrong inside of us. That will come later. But now, Paul is dealing with what is wrong with our relationship with God. That should be our first concern in evangelism. It is not so much that God will make us good people inside, but that God will restore our relationship with himself. Now that is important to understand, because Paul is going to deal with the subject of justification in the next section. How can we be right in terms of our relationship with God.
How should this study affect our evangelism?
We should re-evaluate the way we share the gospel. Paul does not begin his exposition on the gospel and the righteousness of God with John 3:16 or with a “God loves you and has a wonderful purpose and plan for your life.” To start that way would lend to much misunderstanding. Unrepentant sinners tend to think that God condones sin. The tendency for people is to think, “God understands because we’re just human beings. Nobody’s perfect.” They have the tendency to be trivial regarding sin. And so what the evangelists in Scriptures do is to convince their hearers first of their sinfulness and sins against God. They need to first show them that they deserve God’s wrath. This is what Paul does in his letter to Romans. That is why he starts with the wrath of God.
Our greatest need is not healing or prosperity or success. Our greatest need is to be reconciled to God, to be delivered from His wrath. And again this will only happen when we put our faith in Christ, the mediator. We cannot reconcile ourselves to God whom we have offended. Christ must do it. His righteousness must be ours. He must be our Lord and Savior.
So again. Don’t lose sight of what Paul has just done here. After he presents the theme of his gospel in 1:16-17, that the gospel is about the revelation of God’s righteousness, He shows us why humanity needs this righteousness that can only be given by God. He tells us why we cannot create righteousness on our own. It is because we are all sinners and deserve only God’s wrath.
This is how our evangelism should begin. This is also the reason why I agree with the approach of Ray Comfort’s approach in evangelism that he calls “The Way of the Master.”
The Way of the Master is based on the story of how Christ dealt with the rich young ruler who came to Him to ask what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ approach in evangelizing the young ruler is to present to him the commandments. The rich man insists that he has obeyed all of them since he was young. But Jesus gives him another command to sell all that he had and give to the poor. Jesus did not mention the first command from which it is based but I think it is the greatest command which is to love the Lord your God with all of you heart, soul, and strength. But Jesus lays it down to him by way of application. If he truly loved God more than his possessions and comfort, then he would be willing to give them up for the sake of the kingdom. But the rich man wanted to enjoy both worlds. He wanted to enjoy the world and at the same time the kingdom of heaven. Jesus gave the law to silence him and to make him feel that he is exposed to the condemnation of God because of his love for material prosperity.
If we want a person to be conscious that he is a sinner, let us learn to present the law to him to show him that he has failed God’s commands and thus bringing conviction. By addressing the conscience, the person is made aware that he has not obeyed the law of God fully and so he deserves to go to hell. Then when we present Christ, He will truly be good news. He will see why he needs a Savior.
Listen to these comments from discerning ministers of the gospel.
From Will Metzger: Tell the Truth:
Francis Schaeffer was once asked the question, “What would you do if you met a really modern man on a train and you had just an hour to talk to him about the gospel?” He replied, “I’ve said over and over, I would spend 45-50 minutes on the negative, to really show him his dilemma—that he is morally dead—then I’d take 10-15 minutes to preach the Gospel. I believe that much of our evangelistic and personal work today is not clear simply because we are too anxious to get to the answer without having a man realize the real cause of his sickness, which is true moral guilt (and not just psychological guilt feelings) in the presence of God.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in “The Presentation of the Gospel”
“How do you suggest that the work should be done? I reply again…we must present the truth; it must be a positive exposition of the teaching of the Word of God.
First and foremost, we must show men their condition by nature in the sight of God. We must bring them (and I include boys here) to see that apart from what we do, and apart from what we may have done, we are all born the ‘children of wrath’; we are born in a state of condemnation, guilty in the sight of God; we are ‘sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (Ps 51:5). This is the first thing.
Having done that we must go on to show the enormity of sin. That does not just mean that we show the wrongfulness of certain sins. There is nothing so vital as the distinction between sin and sins. Far too often we spend our time in calling attention to particular sins, whereas our real business is to convict of sin, the thing itself which destroys us, and which shows itself in the form of particular sins.
Then we must call upon our hearers to confess and acknowledge their sin in the sight of God and of men.
After that we must go on to present the glorious and the wondrous offer of free salvation which is to be found only in Jesus Christ and in Him crucified. We must show that only He can remove the guilt and power of sin; that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, bore ‘our sins in his own body on the tree’ (1Pe 2:24), and that it is only as we yield and surrender ourselves entirely to Him that, at one and the same time, we are made right with God, and are enabled to live a life that is well-pleasing in His sight.
The only decision which is of the slightest value is that which is based upon the realization of that truth. We may get men to decide as a result of our singing, as a result of the charm of our own personality, but our business is not to get personal followers. Our business is not simply to increase the size of Bible classes or organizations or churches. Our business is to reconcile souls unto God. I repeat that there is no value in a decision unless it is based on an acceptance of the truth.
I was reading a sermon of Spurgeon on evangelizing children and I was impressed at his insight into the gospel. He said that if we are to evangelize children, we must share with them about the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And then Spurgeon adds these very important thoughts:
This will necessitate your teaching the child his need of a Savior. You must not hold back from this needful task. Do not flatter the child with delusive rubbish about his nature being good and needing to be developed. Tell him he must be born again. Don’t bolster him up with the fancy of his own innocence, but show him his sin. Mention the childish sins to which he is prone, and pray the Holy Spirit to work conviction in his heart and conscience. Deal with the young in much the same way as you would with the old. Be thorough and honest with them. Flimsy religion is neither good for young nor old. These boys and girl need pardon through the precious blood as surely as any of us. Do not hesitate to tell the child his ruin; he will not else desire the remedy. Tell him also of the punishment of sin, and warn him of its terror. Be tender, but be true. Do not hide from the youthful sinner the truth, however terrible it may be. Now that he has come to years of responsibility, if he believes not in Christ, it will go ill with him at the last great day. Set before him the judgment-seat, and remind him that he will have to give an account of things done in the body. Labour to arouse the conscience; and pray God the Holy Spirit to work by you till the heart becomes tender and the mind perceives the need of the great salvation.