Pagans, Atheists, and Believers, oh my!

1 Corinthians 12:3

3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul the Apostle was writing to a congregation who prior to conversion to Christ were pagans that worshiped a variety of gods. It is somewhat hard to imagine in our day that someone would worship a wood carved imagine or a man made statue and think of it as a god that possessed the power to alter the positive or negative flow of their lives. Most people during Paul’s time in history were theists. From a high level view it seems that Paul’s challenge was not so much to convince his listeners that God existed, but rather it was to present to them the message of the one true God. In contrast, today the basic question is often how do we know God exists. Much of the dialogue and antagonism toward the message of Christ found on the internet and in academia is the viability of God existing at all. Likewise there is also a great deal of discussion and debate by non-Christian theists over the exclusive claim of Christ for eternal salivation. In my experience the atheism or anti-theism is the greater of the two debates. But it does it really matter what the debate about Jesus is? Do we need to satisfy atheism or become more inclusive to see the number of Christians increase? Do we need to overcome opposing opinions about Jesus and the Gospel to win the unconverted to Christ?

Looking at Paul’s missionary and church planting works of the first century, we find Paul working in the context where he was placed. Many of the arguments he made for the Gospel were based on the audience he was given. When he preached to Jewish listeners he tailored his message to the Judaic ideals of the redemption of Israel and the promise of the Messiah, when he preached to the polytheistic intellectuals of Athens he appealed to their theism an their intellect, and when he preached to men in authority in Rome he presented Jesus as one who had be given ultimate authority. Seemingly, Paul was keenly aware that in order to win people to Jesus he had to give just the right message or make just the right plea so that his audience would respond, but was it Paul’s right message that converted some of his listeners?

If we read today’s verse from the letter that Paul wrote to his congregation in Corinth we find Paul teaching us something very interesting. He says that no one who professes the lordship of Jesus does so except by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. When I study this verse it leaves me scratching my head a bit. Why would Paul go through all the effort to contextualize the Gospel to different audiences if ultimately it would require only the work of Holy Spirit to save his listeners? What is helpful is that Paul interjects this verse in the midst of teaching  the Corinthians about their spiritual gifts. The main point of his teaching is that all the gifts that we have for ministry are just that, gifts. Simply,  God has through the Spirit apportioned for each Christian certain gifts for ministry. I would submit that Paul’s ability to contextualize the Gospel to his audiences was part of his gift of teaching and preaching. I would also submit that Paul is challenging us to identify and understand what gifts we have been given by the Spirit. He later goes on to emphasize that because we have each been gifted that it takes all Christians exercising their individual gifts to fully manifest the body of Christ. Notice Paul is not focusing in this teaching on the results of gifts but rather on fact that we all have them and should exercise them.

Lets conclude by returning to the initial question. Do we need to overcome opposing opinions about Jesus and the Gospel to win the unconverted to Christ? I would say no. I am convinced that there is nothing I can say or do that would change the heart of a man or his relationship with God.  The psalmist proclaims in Psalm 3, “Salvation belongs to the Lord”, and I think Paul concurs with today’s reminder that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit”.  I think if we embrace this truth we will be less likely to worry about our own shortcomings, less likely to worry about how well we present the Gospel, and more likely to rest in God divine’s will and power to bring all things He desires to pass.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your work of salvation. Thank you God that even though  we deserved your wrath you chose to offer mercy and grace and redemption through your Son and our Savior Jesus Christ. Father also thank you for the gifts you have given us through the Spirit. Please help us identify and walk more fully in them. Father, we pray for those who are not yet reconciled to you and pray that you would extend your mercy and salvation to them according to your will. We offer praise and this prayer to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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3 thoughts on “Pagans, Atheists, and Believers, oh my!

  1. Good post Bro, yeah I am with you on this one. We know that we are chosen by God and that Beliveres are used by the Holy Spirit in the conversion process of others but it’s all God! We are just methods which He uses to reach the ones He has called.

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