Salvation is Not A Matter of Being More Convincing
We should expect opposition to the gospel. If the same gospel preached by Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church faced opposition, why would we assume things will be any different for us? If those who will be won are drawn by God’s Spirit, it is hardly that surprising that those who will not be won will be repelled by that same Spirit. Opposition to God is inherent in all of us. We are all by nature hostile to him. It only makes sense, then, if we were not drawn by him to Christ we will necessarily be repelled by that same good news that are words of death to us. Which means opposition is inevitable.
One of the things that we consistently believe is that if we just got our arguments right, if we were just more convincing, more people would believe the gospel. Quite why we believe this, I’m not sure because the Bible is clear that it often just isn’t the case. The issue is rarely that our arguments were not as good as they might have been (even if they weren’t as good as they might have been).
One thing we see consistently in scripture – throughout the gospels, Acts and the letters – is that sometimes the same preaching that persuades in one instance leads to dissent and aggression in another (cf. Peter in Acts 2 and Stephen in Acts 7). Sometimes the same miracles that cause people to believe lead others to hate and oppose (cf. John 7:31, 12:37). Consistently, those who oppose the message begin with apparently legitimate questions of interpretation, but are really just as a means of trying to trap someone (cf. Matthew 22:15-40, Acts 6:9-10). If this fails to work, it moves on to outright lies (cf. Mark 14:56-58, 15:11, Acts 6:10-14). Soon enough, these things descend into plotting to do harm in a bid to stop this person saying the things they are saying (John 11:53, Acts 7:54-60).
We are clearly mistaken if we think the preaching of Jesus, Peter or Stephen needed to be a bit more persuasive. If we think the Lord Jesus just needed to nail his arguments better, more people would have believed, we must surely wonder how any of us could possibly say anything of any value ever! The issue in all these cases was not unpersuasive preaching or lack of familiarity with the requisite scriptures. It wasn’t even failing to understand the hearts of the people because, certainly in Jesus’ case, he knew exactly what was in their hearts. Yet, they were not won to Christ, but set against him. The sound of the same gospel that was life to some was the aroma of death to others.
Why is this the case? The bible tells us, in Jesus’ own words, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (John 6:44). Unless God is at work, no one will believe. Unless the Spirit has imparted new life, no amount of convincing arguments and gospel clarity from us will do anything about it. It is not the soundness of our arguments that draws people to Christ, but the Father at work by his Spirit. The same gospel offered with the same arguments may draw one and repel another. The drawing is not down to the arguments, but the Spirit who blows where he wills.