Everywhere Paul preached some believed and some did not. How are we to understand why some of those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 5) believed and some did not?
The answer why some did not believe is that they “thrust it aside” (Acts 13:46) because the message of the gospel was “folly to them, and they [were] not able to understand” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The mind of the flesh “is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). Those who hear and reject the gospel “hate the light” and do not come to the light lest their deeds should be exposed (John 3:20). They remain “darkened in their understanding . . . because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). It is a guilty ignorance. The truth is available. But “by their unrighteousness they suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).
But why then do some believe, since all are in this condition of rebellious hardness of heart, dead in our trespasses? The book of Acts gives the answer in at least three different ways. One is that they are appointed to believe. When Paul preached in Antioch of Pisidia, the Gentiles rejoiced and “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
Another way of answering why some believe is that God granted repentance. When the saints in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles were responding to the gospel and not just Jews, they said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
But the clearest answer in Acts to the question why a person believes the gospel is that God opens the heart. Lydia is the best example. Why did she believe? Acts 16:14 says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Notice four aspects of this conversion.
1) “. . . what was said by Paul.” First, someone must speak the gospel. God does not open the eyes of the heart to see nothing. He opens them to see the glory of Christ in the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). Therefore, we must speak the gospel. We don’t make the new birth happen when we do. But we fit into God’s way of doing it. The point of the new birth is to grant spiritual sight. The point of speaking the gospel is give something to see. New birth is for the glory of Christ. Therefore, God causes it to happen when Christ is lifted up.
2) “The Lord . . .” Second, the speaker of the gospel relies upon the Lord. Prayer is not mentioned here. But that is what we do when we realize that it is the Lord who is the decisive actor, not us. We have a significant role in speaking the gospel, but it is the Lord himself who does the decisive work.
3) “. . . opened her heart . . .” Since the key problem in not believing the gospel is the hardness or the closedness of the heart, this is where the Lord does his decisive work. He “opens the heart” of Lydia. This means he takes out the heart of stone, and puts in the heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26); he says with sovereign authority, “Let there be light,” and “shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). So the darkness flies away and the light of truth reveals the irresistible beauty of Christ in the gospel.
4) “. . . to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” The effect of the Lord’s opening her heart is a true spiritual hearing of the gospel. “Pay attention to” is a weak translation of the Greek prosechein. It is stronger than that in this content. In this verse, it is a hearing with attachment. The work of the Lord does not just help her focus. It brings about faith. She was “granted repentance” (2 Timothy 2:25) and faith (Philippians 1:29).
Or, in the terms of John 6, she was given by the Father to the Son (v. 37), and was drawn by the Father to the Son (v. 44), and was granted by the Father to come to the Son (v. 65). She was “made alive” (Ephesians 2:5) and born again (John 3:3, 7).
Would you pray with me in these weighty and wonderful days at Bethlehem that God would do this for hundreds of people in our services? I have heard of three conversions in the last week. Mercy drops around us are falling, but for the showers we plead.
Praying to the Lord of life,
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org