God Alone Changes Hearts
As we consider the work we do as evangelists and preachers and teachers it's good for us to consider the surgical-like work that happens in the heart or soul of another person. Acts 16 verse 14 will be our main verse today, but let’s read the paragraph so we get the context. Here we have the Apostle Paul in his travels, Acts 16, as recorded by Dr. Luke. We read this:
There's a lot here in the context that we won’t get into today, but as we focus on verse and this one concept, we should take into account a couple things:
I). God is a missionary God who is actively working in His creation for His glory.
He does it by transforming sinners like you and me into new creatures; taking out our heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh that desires His glory above all else.
II). We have in this episode a glimpse into the work of the missionary Paul and his companions with him.
Together they're proclaiming the gospel, evangelizing, making disciples, planting churches, and equipping elders to oversee the flocks. In this episode they are looking for people in this town that might have a foundation already laid - a belief in the Creator of the universe, the God of the Jews.
III). Where they would typically go is a synagogue, but this town has no synagogue, so they look for other people there to see if there are any God-fearing people.
This practice of seeking God-fearing people is one that all good missionaries seek to apply.
When we are church planting in a context like here in Italy, for example, we seek first and foremost God-fearing people as we begin to evangelize the unreached town(s). We evangelize all the people, all types of people, no matter what they claim to believe, agnostics, atheists, Roman Catholics, all of them, we evangelize, but ultimately, at the beginning of a church plant, we're seeking out and looking for those who already fear God. They are the ones who cannot deny that God exists, but they just don't know how to be made right with Him. They desire to be right, and have the burden of sin on their shoulders but don't know how to have it lifted. We look for God-fearing people who are already primed and ready and just need to be told the full counsel of God and the proper way of salvation, which is not based on works by us, but on Jesus' work. (He lived perfectly in our place, and then died in our place on the cross, and then rose from the grave to reign and rule even now). We look for the folks who recognize this truth and believe it. We don't cause the new birth, by we act as a midwife when God is actively causing one to be born again.
Here, interestingly, we find the Apostle Paul, as he's proclaiming the gospel. We have a woman that is known as Lydia. We read that she is a "worshiper of God" and that "the Lord opened her heart". As a worshiper of God, we could say, in other words, she was a "God-fearing" person.
"The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said, by Paul". If you're just reading through your Bible, and you're not studying, and you don't have a proper understanding of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, and how they fit together in God's sovereignty, you could just pass over this and not think anything of it. But this verse is a key indicator and an important verse that reminds us of the sovereignty of God; that He's in control, that He has the plan, that He knows who are his, that He has the timing for individuals, etc... You have to ask questions if you want to be a good thinker, and if you want to love the Lord with all your mind, your heart, your soul, your strength, with all of you. If you want to love the Lord, you must learn to think well too. You need to ask the question, "Why did Lydia respond and all the other women there, for whatever reason, didn't respond?"
If you don't think well on this, you might be tempted to think wrongly, arrogantly, or too much of yourself. How? Well, you yourself did respond to the gospel message, you have become a Christian, you are born again, you love the Lord, you're studying His word, you love His Word, you love His people, you love the church, you have compassion for the lost. The question you need to ask is, "Why are you this way? Is it because you are better than somebody else? Is it because you are smarter than somebody else? Is this why you believed and others didn't?"
A lot of people, without thinking deeply on this matter, actually would come to that conclusion. They would think they're better than somebody else because they chose God and they responded properly. When in effect, what we see over and over throughout the New Testament, throughout all Scripture, is that it's by grace alone that we're saved. Grace cannot be earned. No one qualifies themselves to be chosen by God, to be loved by God, to be called by God, to be born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit causes to be born again, whoever He wills when He wills. It's His sovereign work.
For reasons that only God knows, many women this day heard the word of the Lord, but Lydia's ears alone were opened. We don't read about any others at this water spot having their ears opened to listen, to give ear, and to believe the gospel message. It was Lydia's moment. It was God's timing. It was God's work. Paul, obeying Jesus Christ, doing what he's commanded, lovingly proclaiming the gospel message as we all should, understood that he must sow and water, etc... but God alone causes growth. He proclaimed it, and God was pleased to act at that moment. He was pleased to, as we read here, “open her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying”. She believed in the gospel, was baptized, and was instructed how to become part of the church of Jesus Christ.
This is a very, very important concept that we also see in numerous other places in Acts. For example, we read this account after the proclamation of the Gospel in Acts 13:48 - "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." Why do we read that? Because God is the Lord of salvation. He's the Sovereign one. We don't choose him. He chooses us. The Bible says we are enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), slaves to sin (John 8:34), and no one is seeking after God (Rom. 3:11). It's He who seeks us. When we have knowledge of this, then alone can we say, ”Soli Deo Gloria” / "all glory to God alone."
If we've been brought into the kingdom, if we've been saved, it wasn't a work of ourselves (Titus 3:5). It was a work of God in our heart, changing us, opening our eyes, giving us life, making us able to see our sin for what it is, making us able to see Jesus for how glorious and wonderful He is, and how merciful and kind. As a result, we bow the knee to Him, we repent of our sin, and we turn from it as we put our trust in Christ and Him alone for our salvation.
May this be a good and healthy reminder for us. We need to remember our role and God’s role in saving others as we apply ourselves to fish for men, to have compassion on the lost, and go to the lost to proclaim the good news and persuade others to repent of their sins and to trust in Christ to be saved. Let us be active and zealous in evangelism, and let us know with confidence that the results are in the hands of the Lord. He has the agenda and the timing for those whom He is calling to Himself, He really does. He really is in full control.
We don't read of anyone else getting saved in this episode (apart from Lydia and her household), but we do read that God is the one who opened the heart and granted saving faith. I pray that this very important concept may stir your heart and mind to know both the Word and the Author of the Word more. The better we know our Lord, the more rightly we can love Him and worship Him as we ought.
Written by Jesse Schreck
Taken from PMc podcast episode 250: Missions Moment - July 2021