In a recent blog about the broken-record approach to evangelism, I said that “the truth of God’s Word will win out to anyone who is open.” I then received the following question via email,
“Now, to be open doesn’t one have to be first given the gift of faith? What about 1 Cor 2:14, which says that ‘a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.’ I am agreeing with you that the broken-record approach is a good one, but just trying to better understand it.”
Great question. I am constantly impressed by the quality of questions we get. Fortunately for me, I asked many of these questions during my seven years at Dallas Theological Seminary and many more during the thirty-three years since then. I’ve gotten a lot of help from others. I’m glad to share what I learned from others.
The point is well taken that in light of 1 Cor 2:14 God must do something for the natural man to receive the things of the Spirit of God. One option is that the thing God does is that he gives faith as a gift. The problem is, all the passages which allegedly teach that do not actually teach that. See this article by Greg Sapaugh, this video by Rene Lopez, and this article by me.
Acts 16:14 and 2 Cor 4:4 give the answer. Satan is in the business of keeping people from understanding the promise of life and believing it (2 Cor 4:4; compare Luke 8:12). But God is in the business of moving people to understand and believe that promise. See Acts 16:14. God opened Lydia’s heart that she might heed the things which Paul preached.
Before any of us believes in Jesus for everlasting life, God opens our heart. That is, He makes it possible for us to see the truth. Once we see the truth for ourselves, we believe. God does not give us faith. He gives us the truth and the ability to see the truth for what it is.
That is not the same as saying that one only becomes open after God opens his heart. The truth is people who end up coming to faith in Christ often if not always are first open to God’s Word and then God opens their hearts to believe the saving message.
If you remember Acts 16, you will know that Lydia was not minding her own business and suddenly God zapped her. She was at the place of prayer. She was a God-fearing Gentile who was worshipping God and seeking God. It is reasonable to conclude that God opened her heart because she was responding to God’s drawing.
However, if you read on in Acts 16, you learn of a man who was minding his own business. The Philippian jailer was not seeking God. Yet God gets his attention and he then seeks, “What must I do to be saved?” He showed only a tiny flicker of interest, and then only after his life was spared since none of the prisoners had escaped. But he too comes to faith in Christ and is born again.
Remember the Bereans of Acts 17:11. They “searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” They were not yet born again. Yet they were open.
Remember Acts 13:42, “The Gentiles begged [Paul] that these words might be preached to them the new Sabbath.” On the next Sabbath many of those open Gentiles came to faith (Acts 13:48, compare verse 46).
Whether we are seeking God aggressively and have been for months or years, or not at all, the new birth only comes by faith in Christ. And no one believes in Jesus until God opens his heart. How that happens the Bible does not say. But it does happen. It is not forced on anyone. One must be willing as the Lord clearly said in John 5:40. We must “be willing to come to [Him] that [we] may have life.”
So keep on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to all who will listen in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave the results up to God. Some will be open to the message and if they remain open they will eventually come to faith in Christ and be born again. While it is great to be a witness, it isn’t about us. It is about the Lord Jesus Christ. We tell people about Him, about what He did for all of us at Calvary by shedding His blood, and about the everlasting life He promised to all who simply believe in Him. Regardless of whether we are a direct or indirect influence in a person coming to faith in Christ, we rejoice. We are simply beggars who have found the source of Bread. The Bread of Life (John 6:35).