The Extent of Our Predicament
When evangelists make getting a response their primary goal, they become salesmen who must conceal a truth of first importance: that the unregenerate can’t respond. Iain Murray writes:
Where ‘receiving Christ’ is made the first object in evangelism, then the primary concern may be to do nothing to hinder that result, nothing should be said to antagonize or to awaken resistance, so man’s impotence and helplessness, his being ‘dead in trespasses and sin; his condition as an individual who ‘is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’—come to be related as truths likely to put off those who are to be won, for the same reason the wrath of God (a truth spoke of ten times in the Epistle to the Romans) is often considered to be a hindrance to the reception of the message.
The problem with this thinking is the assumption that somehow, after all, salvation is ultimately in the sinner’s own hands, and that nothing must be done to provoke his resistance. But such thinking is really to deny that man is in the condition that God has revealed. Either it is true or it is not, that ‘the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God’ (1 Cor. 2:13). If it is true, then conversion does not come about by the preacher gaining the sinner’s acceptance of his message. Paul’s whole argument in the passage in 1 Corinthians, where he asserts the impossibility of the natural man receiving spiritual things, is that all men are offended by the preaching of the cross—‘a stumbling to Jews and folly to Gentiles.’ It is that fact that makes the intervention of divine grace and power essential: ‘Faith is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God’ (Eph. 2:8). Instead, then, of hiding their helplessness from men, and avoiding what might offend, the preacher needs to show the full extent of their predicament and their dependence on the mercy of God. The unregenerate are as unable before the invitations of the gospel as they are before the claims of the law, yet their lack of faith is no more to be excused than their disobedience to the law. Indeed unbelief heightens guilt (1 John 5:10).
—Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005)