FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS,
volume 13, number 23, June 5, 2014
Lydia . . . the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul, Acts 16:14.
While in Uganda recently, teaching evangelism with my friend Dr. Dave Eby, at the Westminster Theological Seminary in Kajannsi, a village near Kampala, we experienced a mighty example of the provision of the Holy Spirit in applying the doctrine of salvation to someone. I will have more to say about that in a moment, but first of all-how is the Triune God involved in the work of redemption? Ezekiel records the words of Yahweh, “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you walk in My statues and you will be careful to observe My ordinances,” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). God the Father, in His electing grace, promises eternal salvation in Ezekiel 36 and many other places (Deuteronomy 5:9-10, 6:5-6, 10:16, 30:6). God the Son, in His sacrificial, expiating, propitiating, reconciling, redeeming death produces that eternal salvation (John 1:29, Isaiah 53:5-6, 1 John 4:10, Colossians 1:19-21, Ephesians 1:7). God sent Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). And God the Holy Spirit, in His renewing love for His people applies the electing, sacrificial grace of God to those who call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Ephesians 1:13-14, Titus 3:5-6, Acts 2:37, Romans 10:13). When Paul went outside the city of Philippi with his disciples to pray, the Spirit led them to Lydia who was open to hear the gospel. The Father had elected her before the foundation of the world. The Lord Jesus had died for her a few years before this encounter. And the Holy Spirit now opened her heart to respond to the good news of the gospel. Salvation, indeed, is totally from the Lord. Here’s another way to look at it-God the Father chose a people for His own possession in eternity past; God the Son, at Calvary, purchased our redemption by His shed blood; and the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3-4, 2:9-10).
Now, back to the story of our evangelistic encounter. For three days, I was teaching sixteen students from several East African countries in the School of Evangelism. Each afternoon we went into a nearby village where a Ruling Elder from the Zana Presbyterian Church is hoping soon to plant a church there. I was with two of the students doing door to door evangelism and we met a woman working in her garden, just outside her modest home. One of our team members sought to engage the woman in Luganda, the indigenous language of the area, but they were unable to communicate. She was speaking Swahili, and very few people in Uganda speak it. But as the woman was speaking, another student was walking by on the dirt road, about sixty feet from where we were standing, and he immediately came to us and said, “I speak Swahili. I can translate for you.” From there we went ahead with proclaiming the gospel to her and she called on the name of the Lord to save her. She was very happy.
Here’s the point-the Triune God is infinitely more concerned about the salvation of the elect than we are. One whom the Father chose before the foundation of the world, and for whom Christ died on Calvary two thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit will regenerate that one at a specific time. Furthermore, Almighty God will engineer circumstances, garner resources, and deploy His servant who will share Jesus with the person. This explains why some people see others call on the name of the Lord and why many Christians never see this happen. The former are faithful and God knows He can count on the them to reap the harvest. The latter are not and seldom get the opportunity.
We see this wonderfully illustrated in the life of Lydia, the seller of purple fabrics. The Father had chosen her, the Lord Jesus had died for her, and the Holy Spirit directed Paul from Troas, to hear the Macedonian call, to make his way to Philippi, and to go outside the city at His appointed time to meet Lydia and preach the gospel of grace to her. Amazing!
Paul went to the people and consequently he consistently reaped a harvest of souls. We are called to do the same. To be sure, some have a spiritual gift for evangelism. Most of us do not have this gift. However, since we have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Christ we have the Spirit; and since we are indwelt by Him we have the capacity for usefulness in the kingdom. How does the Holy Spirit do this work? As you go forth in your community and God directs you to people who are open to hear the good news of the gospel, the Holy Spirit can enlighten your mind, giving you Scripture verses or illustrations to help make the gospel more clear and relevant. He can enlarge your heart as well, giving you a deep love and compassion for the one to whom you are speaking, even if he is hostile or hard-hearted. He can also loosen your tongue so that the knowledge you have then received, and the enlarged heart of compassion now bubbling up from within you finds an outlet in your anointed speech. Furthermore, the Spirit can give you a deep, abiding confidence in the authority of God’s word as you declare it.
But what if the person does not believe God’s word? Should you use something else? No, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16). In reminding the Thessalonians that he had preached the gospel to them, sharing his life as well, Paul says, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God which also performs its work in you who believe,” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Imagine that I have a daughter who has just enrolled in college, and I want to make sure she can protect herself against anyone who seeks to harm her. So I teach her to shoot a pistol and obtain a firearm permit for her. One evening, late at night, after studying for an exam in the university library, she is walking back to her dorm room when a big man with a big knife appears out of the shadows and threatens to kill her. She takes her gun out of her purse and says to him, “If you come one step closer I will shoot you.” He says, “I don’t believe in guns.” Now what is she to do? Should she panic and not use her gun? Of course not. It matters not if he does not believe in guns. They do exist and they work and they will do what they are designed to do if necessary.
The unregenerate man suppresses the knowledge of God in unrighteousness. He is without excuse. As you are filled with the Holy Spirit, as you make yourself available to share Jesus, as you ask specifically for the Lord to give you open gospel doors, believe that He will put you into situations where you can share Jesus with power and effectiveness. Use the Bible. It is your divine authority. Jesus said to the devil on the three instances of temptation, “It is written,” (Matthew 4:4-10). The prophets repeatedly declared to their recalcitrant hearers, “Thus saith the Lord,” (Ezekiel 36:22, Jeremiah 45:2, Isaiah 28:14). Step out of your comfort zone and see what God will do with and through you.