If you ever do evangelism, you can sometimes tell when the Holy Spirit is working on someone’s heart and when He isn’t.
Some people are simply dead to any spiritual conversation. They may know about “religious” things but have no genuine interest in them. They do not understand why salvation and the possibility of life after death are important. They do not wonder where the world came from or whether their life has any ultimate meaning. And they certainly do not have any particular concern for the Lord Jesus Christ. You provide arguments and evidence for the gospel, and it makes absolutely no difference to them at all.
Why is that?
Why don’t they get it?
But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually (1 Cor 2:14).
Atheists are physically alive but not spiritually alive. They exist apart from the indwelling Spirit of God and so cannot receive things from Him. You can point them to Jesus, but they will not “see” Him. Evan Hopkins illustrated it this way:
“You may put a telescope into the hands of a man who is blind and bid him look at some distant star, or on some lovely landscape. He tells you he sees nothing. Well, his witness is true. So the agnostic affirms of all supernatural religion, that he knows it not. His witness is also true. But if the blind man goes further, and asserts that because he sees nothing there is nothing to see, his assertion is untrue, and his witness is worthless, because he speaks beyond the range of his capacity” (Hopkins, The Law of Liberty, p. 62).
If an atheist cannot receive the things of the Spirit, how do they ever believe the gospel? I have some ideas, but I want to hear from you. Please send them to the email below.*
*In this blog, I am referring to atheists who have never believed in Jesus.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.
I think man’s pride has a lot to do with it. They reject the truth they can see so their minds are darkened even further.
“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.”
Romans 1:20-21 NLT
Hello Shawn, I believe that what Paul is saying in 1 Cor 2:14 about the unregenerate (natural) man (especially the atheist and agnostic) being not able to receive and understand the things of God, is that they do not see it as truth. They do comprehend the message, but instead see it as foolishness so they do not believe it.
God however, is actively drawing men unto His Son and Jesus Himself is also doing the same (John 6:44-45; John 12:32). [This drawing is revelatory in nature, the revelation of His truth- not drawing in the Calvinistic sense of an irresistible drawing]. Satan at the same time is also busy blinding men's hearts lest they see the light of the gospel and be saved (2 Cor 4:3-4; Luke 8:5, 12). Once God pierces that barrier of darkness with the light of His truths and the hardened man is persuaded of the truth- the veil over his eyes are lifted; the scales remove; and his heart is opened (like Lydia in Acts 16:14), then he can on his own volition believe and be saved.
I like your clarification that God's drawing is revelatory. It's the point of "piercing the barrier" that I am interested in, but unclear about. Why does it pierce some barriers but not others? We read that, just before she believed, God opened Lydia's heart. "The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14). What is that opening? What does it involve? Why didn't God do it earlier? Does He do that for everyone who believes, or did she need a special opening? So many interesting questions.
Hi Shawn, in Chafer's "He That is Spiritual", he makes the point that one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict the unregenerate of their separated from God status. So perhaps the issue lies in the individual who rejects that nudging? In other words, not everything of the Spirit is foolishness to the unbeliever, but most of it would be because that person can't understand it without the benefit of Spirit indwelling. If this is true, it comes down to the atheist being true enough to himself to consider those 'nudging' in a real way.