Barriers that block people from committing themselves to Jesus Christ and accepting His gift of salvation appear to fall under three general categories: 1) self-imposed ignorance, 2) pride, and 3) moral impurity. In time, the presence of any one of these three leads to the other two. Often the problem of clearing one's way to the most important relationship in life boils down to discerning and removing the primary barrier.
Refusal to carefully examine and consider the claims of Jesus Christ and the evidences for their veracity or to respond to the personal implications of those claims and evidences is self-imposed ignorance. The danger of this form of ignorance about the gospel is that it represents the starting point on the path to apostasy, which means "total desertion from faith in God." The process by which a person becomes apostate generally involves searching out philosophies and religions to find one that is not so strict in defining evil or sin and in identifying its consequences (cf. Jer. 2:19; Luke 18:8; 2 Thes. 2:3; 2 Tim. 3:1-8; Heb. 3:12). The New Testament outlines these seven steps to apostasy (Rom. 1: 21-23):
- ignoring God, i.e., refusing to honor God as God (v.21).
- becoming ungrateful toward God (v.21).
- becoming a lover of argumentation, especially about theology and philosophy, thereby building up vanity and pride (vs. 21-22).
- willfully separating oneself from the grace of God; foolishly refusing God's gifts and blessings (v.21).
- building up a facade of worldly wisdom; becoming a sophisticated intellectual (v.22).
- trusting one's natural inclinations in response to life situations (vs. 21-22).
- worshiping that which is corruptible, imperfect, undependable, and temporal instead of the eternal, unchanging, magnificent God in all His glory (v.23).
A person can break his fall into the trap of apostasy by seeing himself for what he really is, seeing God for what He really is, and recognizing that all efforts to bring God down to man's level—to force Him into a human mold-are vain. One must put himself in humble perspective with respect to God. He must take these seven steps, given in the Scriptures, to get back to God:
- put away idolatry in all its forms, including sexual immorality, impure fantasies, uncontrolled passion, and desire for other people's possessions (Col. 3:5, Eph. 5:5).
- put an end to self-reliance, realizing that no one can take even the first step toward God without God's help.
- stop running away from God; instead, expose self to God's truth and righteousness by diligently searching for light-praying, reading the Bible, and fellowshipping with believers in Christ.
- humble self before God, remembering that God "resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (Prov. 3:34,18:12; James 4:6; and 1 Pet. 5:5-6).
- hold fast to the simplicity of the gospel message.
- maintain a grateful attitude and cultivate increasing gratefulness by giving appropriate thanks to God and to others.
- give honor when and where honor is due.
The barrier of pride manifests itself in the following reasons for rejecting Jesus (see John 5:31-47):
- belief that Jesus is bearing witness to Himself (v.31); unwillingness to accept the tremendous claims that Jesus makes for Himself (vs. 36-38, 43).
- preference for a lesser light than the infinite illumination that Jesus offers (v.35).
- refusal to give God the prominent place He deserves in one's life, i.e., rejection of the authority of the Word of God (v.38).
- failure to receive light in reading the Scriptures (v.39).
- lack of faith to yearn after the glory of God (vs. 36-38).
- suppression of the love of God that God Himself planted in one's heart (v.42).
- greater desire for approval from peers than for approval from God (v.44).
- disbelief of the most fundamental teachings and prophecies of the Old Testament prophets (vs. 46-47).
Why, one might ask, is pride identified as the root sin in each of these reasons?
- To believe otherwise would result in validation of Jesus' claims and would thus put Him in a position far above that of man, a position worthy of worship; one would have to yield to Christ's claim to lordship.
- One would have to submit to whatever that infinite illumination reveals, if he were to accept it as infinite, divine.
- One stubbornly insists on priority of self over God, when God clearly insists on and deserves top priority.
- Unwillingness to humble oneself to obey God's commands inevitably leads to spiritual blindness and a darkened mind.
- Faith to trust in God is sacrificed for trust in self.
- Since love requires giving to another's needs without selfish motives, prideful exaltation of self over others hardens the heart.
- In attempting to exalt self over others, one is compelled to measure self against others rather than against incomparable God.
- It is impossible to ignore God's claim to lordship and worship unless one chooses to disbelieve Biblical doctrine and prophecy.
What gives rise to the barrier of pride?
- comparison of self with that which is imperfect and temporal.
- insistence that one's own efforts have accomplished what in reality God and others have done.
- a poor self-image that shows itself in one’s wanting to be and do better than someone else, i.e., exalting oneself over others to make up for that part of self that one refuses to accept.
- refusal to forgive others' offenses, which Jesus' death already has paid for. Here, one actually exalts self above God, judging that which He alone has the right to judge and that for which His forgiveness already is offered.
The key reason a person enslaved by pride does not come to Jesus is that the comparison between self and Jesus devastates the ego.
In light of the radiant purity of God, a person's moral impurity—no matter how it is measured or rationalized—is exposed as horrible filth (Is. 64:6) and gives rise to unbearable guilt. One common and cowardly response to this guilt is simply to ignore God (1 John 3:19-20). The person who sees himself as a slave to moral impurity so much fears this comparison and exposure that he tries to run away from God. Sadly, by ignoring and running away from God, one is, in fact, making the pursuit of evil desires the god of one's life (Col. 3:5).
The sin nature: an account of the links between barriers
These barriers to salvation clearly reveal the sinfulness of man's nature; in fact, they arise because of that sinfulness. Human nature is in rebellion against God—challenging the very right of God to rule as God, i.e., choosing life that revolves around oneself instead of around God. All unrighteous acts and attitudes—including pride, self-imposed ignorance, and moral impurity—are manifestations of the sin nature and thus are inevitably interrelated.
Moral impurity leads to pride when one learns to salve his guilt by comparing self to a lesser standard than God. Compared with the moral decrepitude of others, his own filth seems justifiable.
Moral impurity leads one to self-imposed ignorance, again through attempts to salve guilt, in this case by ignoring the reality of sin and the God who convicts of sin. One's line of reasoning here is that if there is no God, there is no sin, and if there is no sin, then there is no real guilt.
Pride leads to moral impurity in that outside of the correcting influence of God, one falls prey to sinful desires. A prideful person has no grace for handling temptations since God gives grace only to the humble.
Pride leads to self-imposed ignorance in that one tends to elevate self by putting others down or pushing them away. God is too powerful to put down, but one can push Him away either by distorting the truth about His nature or insisting He does not exist.
Self-imposed ignorance leads to moral impurity along these lines: One tells him or herself that if there is no God (or at least no knowable God), then there is no real moral conscience (God's conviction of sin), for there is no such thing as sin. Thus, he seeks to eradicate conscience, which he now sees as manmade, man-imposed repression, by throwing off its restraints.
Self-imposed ignorance leads to pride since it leads to denial of the authority of a perfect God. As one continues to ignore God, he or she begins to compare self with the imperfect and temporal, quite naturally choosing comparisons that flatter his or her ego.
A possible fourth barrier
If none of the three basic barriers exists in a person's life to any significant degree and he or she still is unable to receive salvation, it is likely some door to Satan's power has been left open. This "door" could be a deep-seated grudge against another (Eph. 4:26-27) or some unconfessed involvement in the occult either by the person or by some close relative. In the case of grudge-holding, one must develop a willingness to forgive (see Matt. 6:14-15 and Eph. 4:30-32). In the case of some involvement in the occult—whether it be dabbling in astrology, having a fortune told, playing with a ouija board, or whatever—one must repent of the involvement, i.e., agree with God that it is sin and turn completely away from such activity. (The latter may require the destruction of some books or charts or other items. See 2 Samuel 7:18; 2 Chronicles 7:14; and Deuteronomy 18:10-13.)