In reading through the book of Acts, it’s so awesome to see that when Paul spoke to Jews or Gentiles, he spoke in the Holy Spirit with power. What is this power? What does it mean? Where does it come from? Who initiates it? With much of modern day Christianity submerged in a secularized culture like ours, it seems much of modern evangelicalism (whatever that means anymore in our contemporary context) we have lost what it means it speak in the power of the Holy Spirit. This has to do with the intellectual infiltration of godless, secular thinking into the minds of believers within the American church. Our minds have been enslaved to the culture. And so when we as a church witness to unbelievers, many tend to preach as if people are saved by what they say, by their own strength, that somehow others are saved by their forceful, convincing arguments, without any reference to the working power of the Holy Spirit within the unbeliever. Preaching the Gospel then becomes a burden for us that we cannot bear instead of a delight, because in this line of thinking unbelievers will only be saved if we as believers work hard enough to get them saved. This is just another law though! These believers will indeed preach the true Gospel, and God saves people anyway despite the believing sinner He chooses to use, but they seem to not understand or believe that the Holy Spirit alone effects change within unbelievers, this blessing itself purchased by Christ on the cross. We should indeed speak in a clear manner so people understand what we say, but it seems many forget the underlying principle at work that when we preach the Gospel, the Holy Spirit alone effectually regenerates unbelievers (or chooses not to) as He wills so that they are (or aren’t) freed from their bondage in sin to believe in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit alone creates that which was not there: a desire for Jesus Christ. Just as God spoke creation into existence from nothing, so also the Holy Spirit creates in wicked sinners that which was not in existence: a desire and love for the things of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul clearly understood that this was the case when he went before the Ephesians, the Corinthians, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, the Jews, and so many others, that he himself did nothing to effect change. Yes, he did indeed exercise his will to get up and speak. But he was simply a conduit, a vessel of God to deliver the message of the Gospel, an instrument in the hands of the great Redeemer. But only the Holy Spirit could (and can) actually change an unbelievers sinful disposition, disarming them, removing their hostility toward Himself, in order that they see and perceive the divine truths within Scripture, salvation through Jesus Christ and Him crucified for sinners, risen from the dead.
For Paul himself said in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Paul knew the Christians in Thessalonica were chosen by God to inherit salvation because the message of the Gospel came not just by the words of his mouth (i.e. that’s not what actually effected their change), but it came in 1) power, 2) in the Holy Spirit, and 3) as a result, with full conviction. He knew they were chosen because the Holy Spirit alone came in power and changed them, and their change was made apparent through their belief in Christ as Savior and Lord. Grace alone is what brought repentance, and is what gave rise to the Thessalonian Christian’s faith in Christ, in order that they were then saved. Paul in no way relied upon his own eloquence for people to be saved (though it is still important to communicate the Gospel clearly), but He relied on the Holy Spirit alone, because that’s where true change comes from, and he knew that.
Paul also reiterated this point to the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [in order] that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (Emphasis mine) Paul wanted to make sure they knew the roots of their election, salvation, faith, sanctification, justification, their everything lied not in the power of man in any respect (especially not their own power), but in the power of Christ, effected by the Holy Spirit alone. And this blessing of grace bestowed on sinners by God through the Holy Spirit, was purchased by Christ through the shedding of His blood for His bride, the church. And this atonement blessing is applied by the Holy Spirit alone to those people the LORD God has chosen from eternity past to inherit salvation through the indiscriminate preaching of His people (i.e. preaching to all people everywhere). Paul states in Romans 10:14-15, “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” And so we are to go out and preach to all people everywhere the forgiveness of sins and redemption through faith in Christ’s blood.
We must preach the Gospel knowing there is great and awesome power from the Holy Spirit in what we say, and God does as He wills among those He chooses to work in through our words. And so this alleviates us of feeling like we have to work harder to convince people (when they continue in their unbelief) when really all we need to do is clearly preach the Gospel to people, concisely articulate all of the aspects of man, God, His attributes, sin, wrath, judgment, the cross, Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and His final return, and the Holy Spirit alone changes people through that message. If someone remains obstinate and refuses to heed your words, that’s not a failure on your part in witnessing (unless, that is, you are not preaching the true Gospel). They simply won’t believe until (if) the Holy Spirt chooses to effectually save them. By believing in grace alone, we see that we are freed from the burden of “getting people saved of our own doing and working” because only the Holy Spirit works in and through our preaching as He wills. I would like to add too though that if someone does reject what you say but will continue to listen to you and work with you, give it your best shot to reason through the Scriptures with them, being patient, merciful and loving, just as Christ was infinitely patient, merciful and loving toward you.
So if you preach the Gospel clearly and know in your heart you preached it accurately from His word (i.e. using Scripture as your only infallible authority) and preached it as clearly as you possibly could, then if someone doesn’t believe, it’s because they are still in bondage to their sin and are unable to see the things you speak of. If we forsake belief in grace alone in the preaching of the Gospel, we’ve lost the very thing, the very power that will bring any change at all. I do believe unbelievers will still be saved regardless of whether or not a believer accepts this doctrine (mainly because of grace alone working despite the believers’ theological convictions). But if we fail to recognize and believe that the Holy Spirit alone changes people in our Gospel preaching, what power are we relying on in our preaching? Ours? I have no strength apart from Christ. Man forget that. Praise God He saves sinners despite the vessels He uses! Talk about about drawing a straight line with a crooked stick …
So basically, in our witnessing, the two principles here are:
1) God is sovereign, saves who He chooses, and it’s only by grace alone that men are regenerated from their deadness in sin and then able to believe in Jesus Christ. Basically, God must first come and unlock the chains of sin binding up our hearts and free us in order that we may freely choose Him. “We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19),” not the other way around.
2) Being that God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners and saves who He chooses, we are not apathetic toward His sovereign rule so that we think people are saved by His sheer decree without the preaching of the Gospel. Anyone who is saved is always saved in relation to Jesus Christ. Also, no one is saved apart from the preaching of the Gospel. But instead, because God is sovereign, and has sovereignly chosen the preaching of His word by His people as the means by which people are saved, we are now empowered and emboldened to go and preach the Gospel fearlessly and freely (without burden), precisely because we believe the Holy Spirit alone is the only power and agent who effects change within unbelievers and that we do nothing but open our mouths. Because of God’s sovereignty are we now truly free to preach the Gospel knowing that God can and does save sinners in His great, infinite love and mercy!
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