Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent….
— Acts 2:37,38
None of us likes pain. Yet pain is very important because it is a signal designed to alert us when something is wrong in our bodies. Our response to pain may be to determine the root of the problem or to simply numb the discomfort with painkillers. The painkillers may work for a while, but when the numbing effect wears off, the pain often reemerges because its source was never identified and corrected.
Generally speaking, the only way to permanently get rid of pain is to go to the root of the problem. Once the source is identified and the correct treatment is applied, the pain can usually be eliminated.
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This principle is also true spiritually, especially for people who are unsaved or are out of fellowship with God. For example, a sermon about the coming of Jesus that simply thrills my heart and fills me with joy can create great pain in the heart of an unsaved person or a Christian who isn’t walking with God. When they hear that Jesus will soon return, it scares them and causes them inner pain and discomfort because they know they’re not right with God. That unsettled feeling in the pit of their stomachs — that pain — is a signal to let them know things are not well in their souls. Otherwise, they’d be rejoicing!
We live in an age when people want to be comforted and told everything is going to be all right. The truth is, some things are not going to be all right unless a change is made. We must love people enough to be graciously honest with them, regardless of how painful it is for them to hear the truth. Especially regarding people’s salvation, we must speak the truth and not be fearful of their response. If we are not forthright with unbelievers regarding their spiritual condition, they could spend an eternity separated from God.
It’s good to preach positive, uplifting messages. In fact, this is something we need to do in a world where there is so much hurt, depression, difficulty, and disappointment. Certainly we need to be a source of encouragement to fellow church members and other people who feel put down by life. But when unbelievers are in our midst, we are obligated to make sure they understand that sin separates them from God. As much as we may like them and enjoy their company, the unsaved are not all right with God. It may be painful for them to hear the reality of their situation, but we must not merely toss “painkillers” at them to numb them and keep them ignorant of the truth. We must open their eyes to the root of the problem in their lives –– their spiritually lost condition.
Especially when we are talking about reaching unbelievers or the subject of sin, we must address the root. All the motivational and “how-to” sermons in the world cannot cure a sinner’s heart. The sin nature cannot be changed by a pat on the back or a hug around the neck. We must come to grips with our responsibility to allow the Holy Spirit to help us be lovingly candid with unsaved people about their spiritual status. If they are lost, there is only one remedy: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. It may be difficult at first for them to hear the truth, but it’s good for them to experience that kind of pain. It will make them inwardly aware that things are not right between them and God.
In Acts 2:37, we see how God used the apostle Peter to address unbelievers on the Day of Pentecost. With a no-nonsense, unapologetic, and direct approach, Peter preached the Gospel with power. He didn’t attack his listeners, and neither should we attack those we are trying to reach. There is never a reason to attack or to speak disparagingly to our audience. Even if people are dead in sin, they were made in the image of God, and they deserve to be spoken to with dignity and respect. Peter was respectful, yet he was forthright and honest as he went straight for the root of his listeners’ problem, preaching a message that made them so extremely uncomfortable and inwardly pained that they cried out to learn how to be saved!
Let’s look at the effect Peter’s message had on his listeners and see what we can learn from this New Testament example. Acts 2:37 tells us, “Now when they [the unsaved crowd] heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” I want you to especially notice that this verse says, “They were pricked in their heart.” Let’s look at the word “pricked” in this verse, which is the Greek word katanusso, a compound of the words kata and nusso.
The word kata means down. However, used in the word “pricked,” it gives the idea of something that is deep or something that is deep down. The second part of the word katanusso is nusso, a Greek word that means to prick, to puncture, to stab, to sting, to stun, or to pierce.
The only other time the word katanusso is found in the New Testament is in John 19:34 where John writes about Jesus: “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” The word “pierced” in this verse is from this same root word nusso. It tells how the soldiers with a spear pierced, punctured, stabbed, and sliced open Jesus’ side. It was a deep puncturing of His side that pierced even His lungs.
This same root word nusso that describes such a deep puncturing is used in Acts 2:37, where it is translated as “pricked.” This alone tells us that the unsaved people in the crowd that day were deeply affected by Peter’s words. In fact, it means that his words had the spiritual effect of puncturing their hearts and that they felt sliced wide open by his message.
However, when the words kata and nusso are compounded to become katanusso, the new word is even more profound, for it describes not just a piercing but an extremely deep piercing that would produce enormous pain and discomfort.
The word katanusso in Acts 2:37 emphatically means that Peter’s listeners were deeply disturbed when they heard his message. That message gave them such an intense stab to their hearts that it penetrated their conscience, sliced open their souls, punctured their hearts, and cut them so deeply on the inside that they cried out for help. The message stung their hearts and minds as they became aware of their sin. Suddenly their souls felt an ache, and their hearts were filled with anguish.
When Peter stood before that lost crowd on the Day of Pentecost, he was standing before sinners in dire need of repentance. They needed truth that would change them, not a painkiller that would make them feel good while failing to remedy their problem. The root of the problem had to be identified so it could be dealt with and eliminated. For those unbelievers to have a supernatural change of nature, it would require repentance, so Peter presented the truth boldly, plainly, and with no apologies.
That day the Holy Spirit reached deep into those people’s hearts and convicted them of their sinful condition. The crowd wasn’t offended by Peter’s message at all. Acts 2:41 tells us that the unbelieving crowd “gladly received his word.” The words “gladly received” are from the Greek word apodechomai, which means to take quickly, to take readily, or to take with a welcoming attitude.
People are thankful when someone tells them the truth, even if it is painful to hear at first. They appreciate an honest approach. That day more than 3,000 souls came into the Kingdom of God as a result of the katanusso produced in people’s hearts by Peter’s honest preaching of the Word. Those are very impressive results!
As we present truth to people — especially to unbelievers — we don’t need to be ugly or harsh, but neither do we need to water down the truth or act apologetic for what the Bible teaches. When truth is presented clearly and powerfully, it puts a sharp, doubled-edged sword into the hands of the Holy Spirit, which He uses to penetrate the hearts of the unsaved. When the message is watered down, it dulls the edge of the blade and makes it more difficult for the Holy Spirit to slice through the demonic strongholds created in people’s minds by sinful habits, bondages, and general spiritual darkness.
Of course, we should always allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in knowing how and when to present the truth to someone who doesn’t know the Lord. Then as we speak in a spirit of compassion — and as we do it boldly, straightforwardly, and with no apologies — the root of the listener’s problem will be identified and eliminated.
We must never forget that the Gospel is the power of God that leads to salvation (Romans 1:16). There is never a reason for us to be ashamed of the Gospel or to apologize for the requirements God has set forth for all who would come to Him.
When the unsaved crowd heard Peter preach that day, their hearts were sliced so wide open by the truth Peter preached that they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (see Acts 2:37). The people asked Peter and the other apostles to tell them what steps were required for them to be made right with God. That’s when Peter boldly told them: “Repent.”
Think about the way you address unbelievers, and ask yourself the following:
- When I share truth with unsaved people, do I present it compellingly, compassionately, and clearly enough for them understand the real root of their problem?
- Do I comfort the lost and leave them feeling like they’re all right in their sin, or do I help them understand their need to be saved?
- If I were unsaved, would I feel the urgent need to repent and to give my life to Christ as a result of what I’ve been telling unbelievers?
- Have I been tossing “painkillers” at unbelievers instead of lovingly identifying the root of the problem in their lives and thereby leading them to Christ?
When we speak to unsaved people, we must not jeopardize their opportunity to receive salvation by watering down the message. To refuse to speak the truth because we feel embarrassed or don’t want to be rejected by others is actually selfish because we’re placing our desire to be accepted above their need to hear truth that has eternal implications for them. To restrain ourselves in fear that we’ll hurt their feelings or offend them isn’t justified either.
The truth is, people may feel stung by what we tell them, but that sting may be the very thing that brings them to Jesus Christ. Truth is truth — and we must stand on the side of truth and make it clear that God is calling unbelievers to repent. Sin and its consequences are eternal and unchangeable after death. Before lost people leave the sound of our voices, we must make sure they understand the consequences of sin and God’s requirement to repent.
Can you think of people you know who need Jesus Christ? Do you love them enough to sit down with them and lovingly tell them the truth, explaining how serious their spiritual condition is according to the Word of God? If you were unsaved, wouldn’t you hope someone would love you enough to tell you the truth? Is the Holy Spirit directing you to go to those individuals, share the truth of the Gospel with them, and lead them to Christ?
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I ask You to help me be bold when I speak the truth to people who desperately need Your gift of salvation. In the past, I’ve been timid and shy about telling the truth, and I ask Your forgiveness for it. At times I’ve even backed away from witnessing to lost friends and family and failed to tell them about their need to repent. I know I shouldn’t be embarrassed about my faith. You said whoever is ashamed of You and Your words, You will be ashamed of them before the Father (see Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26). The truth is still the truth. Many people are lost and headed for hell, and they need to know You in order to be saved. Father, I ask You to give me a heart of love for the lost and the boldness of the Spirit so I may unashamedly proclaim the truth to them and give them the opportunity to escape future judgment and to secure a home in Heaven. Teach me to understand that there is nothing in this world more precious than a soul, and help me reach out to souls in love with the saving message of Jesus Christ.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I make myself available for God to use me to share the truth with people who are lost and who are headed to an eternity in hell. Hell is a very unpleasant thought. However, the Bible teaches that it is a very real place of suffering and that those who die without Christ will inevitably go there. Starting right now, I make the decision to let God’s Spirit put a new love for the lost in my heart. I repent for being calloused and insensitive to the spiritual needs of the lost, and from this moment forward, I will allow the Holy Spirit to release His love for them through me. I am yielding my life to God so He can use me as a vessel to reach into the fires of judgment to pull people out before it is too late. Christ died for the unsaved, and I confess that I will be His vessel to proclaim the Good News that Jesus saves!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you remember the specific moment in your life when you came to a place of true repentance and asked Jesus to be the Lord of your life? Did someone reach out to you to help you come to that moment when you received Jesus? How was your life different from that day forward?
- If you were sharing the Good News with an unbeliever, how would you explain the Gospel to him? How would you explain his spiritually lost condition? Would you tell him about the eternal ramifications of hell? How would you walk him through the process of becoming a child of God?
- How long has it been since you’ve reached out to someone who was lost to tell him or her about Jesus? If it’s been awhile since that has happened, what’s the reason you haven’t done it?