Touching the raw nerve
Charles Hodge used to call "intuitive truths," such truths that are indelibly impressed upon the human mind, fundamental truths that have to do with the Creator-creature relationship.
In presenting the gospel to what we like to call "a post-modern society," we need to remember what every unbeliever always remembers, though he does not really like to remember it. We tend to reject the task of evangelism as engaging in an impossible work, for, we reason, the unbeliever cannot understand our language, taken from the Bible; the unbeliever, we are prone to assume, cannot handle such subjects as the judgement to come and moral accountability.
The paper clears away such misconceptions; it rightly claims that every contact we have for the gospel has what's called "a raw nerve." He, being made in the image of God, immediately responds to what he hears from us, and though he may perversely negate the message, yet deep in his heart he knows that what we're saying is right on the dot.
It's so instructive to see the apostle Paul as he dealt with the pagan and amoral Felix and his wife Drusilla. Steeped as Felix was in pagan idolatry and ignorant as he was of the Bible, this did not hinder or intimidate Paul from presenting him such fundamental truths as the necessity of faith in Christ, the need of righteousness, self-control and the judgement on the Last Day. Paul convinces us, with his methodology, that we do not really need to find and adopt a peculiar and intricate system of apologetics before we even start to present the gospel He went right ahead assuming that Felix know about the being of God, and the nature of sin. He held it as a presupposition that Felix, and all unbelievers, have some awareness of the existence of God, and they still have a conscience. Paul knew that Felix could easily understand his obligation to God. His approach was direct, incisive and powerful. He knew man's make-up as a creature of God, fallen indeed, but a creature that cannot escape the God "who is out there."
Paul took the issue with Felix and reasoned with him about gospel matters, the first time he met him. He laid it out before him. His address was extremely direct and challenging. Paul assumed that Felix would have little difficulty in understanding him and responding to the truths presented deep within his conscience. Paul counted on the fact of man's constitution: man cannot hide from God. He knows about Him. And whenever the true and living God is presented or talked about to him, lost man has an answering chord in his heart. He grasps the truth, at least intellectually, even though he may deny it and bring innumerable excuses and raise a thousand problems.
Paul knew Felix how lacking in self-control he was, and that was one of the primary issues taken up with him. He focused on his most vulnerable and sensitive point, expecting all the while to make an impact on the conscience.
Every evangelist should assume that men know that they are accountable to God. He must not be afraid to tell the unbeliever that he knows this about him. He does not need an elaborate apologetic approach. In Felix's case, Paul's assertions struck home with such penetrating power that he felt great fear. Don't be tempted, then, to think that you need to prove that sin is sin. After presenting the message, full-fledged, plead with sinful people to repent, assuming that they have understood, even though they may say, "This is Greek to me!"
Paul shows us that the gospel has unique "connecting" power, whether people show it or not. When we declare that every human being is created by God all men will instinctively realize its truthfulness, and feel challenged.
This is further elaborated in Romans 1 and 2. Several aspects of our message are already plain and evident to man, because they are indelibly impressed upon each person's inner awareness. Truths in this category include the existence of one God, invisible, powerful and holy, and that we are all sinners destined for judgement. Although lost people may not consciously believe these thing, once we explain them, they will carry a powerful ring of truth and considerable authority. These truths are even naturally receivable. They may be suppressed from conscious knowledge, as happens to those who adhere to false world religions, but they are there in the soul, lying just beneath the surface, so that the evangelist can stir them up. We should not, then, regard the unregenerate as totally unreachable and unteachable. Even in their lost condition they would know that whom we proclaim is obviously the only plausible, logical, true God. Even with unregenerate eyes certain things are plain. The true God is the most natural and obvious concept to all people! Natural theology, what can be learned about God from the creation, is within everybody's reach, and it is a great stepping-stone for Christians to reach others to Christ.
For instance, people know that there is a standard of morals; they show this by their readiness to judge others (Rom.2:1ff). Everyone has the capacity to see evil in others, though they may deny it in themselves. By this censorious spirit unbelievers betray that their consciences are alive and well, and leave themselves inexcusable in the sight of God.
At some time or another, everyone experiences some kindness or goodness of God, in deliverance from sickness or accident, and so on. At the time of crisis, they feel unworthy why they have been delivered. But later on they choose to forget and continue in their disobedience and lack of repentance. These can be brought up in our evangelism. No lost person can deny it.
It is perfectly clear that saving illumination is essential if our contacts are to come under genuine conviction of sin, and see the need to flee to Christ for forgiveness. But even without this vital illumination people's minds are aware of a number of fundamental spiritual matters, and all biblical evangelism is based upon this fact.
Considering that the raw nerve is within every human heart, however depraved or sinful he might be, this is a great incentive and encouragement to gospel-workers. For this raw nerve can be touched, and they can be brought face to face with the God with whom they have to do!