One of the greatest goals in life, if not the greatest goal in life, for anyone is to know oneself. We try to attain this knowledge of self, but we live in a world that has rejected God, so our only object of comparison is the world itself, including other people. When we compare ourselves to people, we think ourselves pretty good, and so we end up with a warped view of ourselves. The Bible gives us a different object of comparison--God himself. When we compare ourselves to him, different things happen to us.
Calvin asserted two truths in chapter one of his Institutes, and they were, "without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God," and, "without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self." This may sound like circular reasoning, but one can enter such a circle through an experience of God. Such an experience need not be a mystical vision or miraculous offering. One only needs to understand oneself in relation to the God of the Bible. One must rightly think of himself as unworthy of everlasting life because of the knowledge that God is perfectly holy, and unholy things cannot be in his presence. This sounds simple enough, but the world's image of God and mankind are so corrupt that it seems nigh impossible today to get an accurate vision of ourselves and God. For this we must turn to the pages of scripture.
Two examples from the Old Testament: in Isaiah 6, the prophet has a vision of God, sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple. Even the angels that flew about him covered their faces and their feet, because he was so holy. Isaiah's reaction is to fall on his face and scream, "woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5) Our reaction to God's holiness is an acute realization of our uncleanness.
The second is from 1 Kings 19. Elijah is fleeing into the wilderness, and at mount Horeb the Lord approaches him. First there is a hurricane that rends the mountains, but scripture tells us that God was not in the wind. Next comes an earthquake, and God is not in the earthquake. Finally, there is a fire, but the Lord is not there, either. Finally, a gentle breeze comes to Elijah. We have heard this passage before, and usually the point is that the Lord comes to us gently at times, not in violence. That's a nice message, but look at what Elijah does when he experiences the breeze: he wraps his mantle about his face to protect himself from the holiness of God. Yes, God may be in gentle things and not violent things, but the point is that we are not worthy to face his holiness, no matter where it is found. The holiness of God draws out our wretchedness.
Here is an example from the New Testament: Jesus tells Peter to let down his nets in the water after a night of catching nothing. Peter obeys reluctantly and catches an enormous amount of fish. When faced with this sudden holiness of Christ, Peter falls down at Jesus' feet and says, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" Is it not clear that when faced with the truth of God--that he is perfectly holy--we end up with an accurate view of ourselves--that we are perfectly wretched?
So, do we wait for the unconverted to have a holy experience, so that they may be saved? Well, we can pray for such a miraculous event to occur, but the best way for such a conversion to happen--if it is to happen--is to take the unconverted to the Word of God. For an example of this, we look to Acts 17 and Paul's sermon in the midst of the Areopagus. His sermon is quite simple, but it brings out the two accurate views of God and mankind. He notes that the people of Athens are so religious that they even worship gods they don't know. He then proclaims that the god they don't know is the one who made everything, and the ones they do know are actually only false idols of wood and stone. He extols the holiness of God by describing his giving of breath and life to all people. He essentially hearkens back to creation in Genesis 1 and hits them with the awesome mind of God, who not only made everyone but determined their birth locations and times. "In Him we live and move and exist." He tells them that even their own pagan poets figured it out. Therefore, as Children of the one, true God, when we worship manmade gods, we are idolators, wretched sinners, and we need to repent. Why do we need to repent? Because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world through his Son, Jesus Christ, and he has proved that this will happen by raising said Son from the dead. Paul, in few words, has hit the unconverted with the most succinct exposition of God's holiness. Quick and to the point, within the limited amount of time a believer has--in this day and age, too--to get the truth of God across to the unconverted.
The holiness of God, when delivered accurately, not as genie-magic to help us in our day-to-day desires, but as the perfect goodness of a creator who will mete out perfect justice on all unrepentant sinners, is a way to get through the tough shell of worldly unbelief that permeates our culture today. Many will resist, as they did that day in the Areopagus, but many may have their shells crushed by the truth and begin to turn to their savior with repentance and faith.