My mom used to teach high school typing. Now, you have to try very hard to get an F in typing. But every year a few students managed to do it. Parents came to complain, “Why did you give my Johnny an F in typing?” Mom would respond: “I didn’t give Johnny an F in typing. He gave himself an F, and I simply wrote it down!”
Paul’s statement to the Jews of Pisidian Antioch falls in the same vein. After they rejected the gospel message, Paul said,
“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
What a sad way to think about it. They didn’t judge themselves worthy of spending eternity with God.
God judged them worthy! God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4). God set apart Paul and Barnabas for the work of preaching the gospel, and sent them to Antioch (Acts 13:2).
Paul judged them worthy! He sacrificed his time and effort for two weeks to convince them of the truth of the gospel.
Jesus judged them worthy! He gave His life on the cross to save them from their sins (Rom. 3:19-30).
The Sinner’s Role
When a person accepts the gospel, he opens the door of salvation for Jesus to walk through.
“They received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
But when a person rejects the gospel and refuses to obey it, he misses out on his opportunity to be eternally saved. Blame lays squarely at his feet, and he shuts the door on himself.
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51).
We can never discount the role of the individual in his own salvation. God blesses us with a mind that works and a heart that is able to respond to the truth. God speaks to us with a word that is sharper than any two-edged sword. Ultimately we must choose to make the good confession. We must judge ourselves worthy of eternal life!
Still, there are others involved in the process of converting the soul.
The Messenger’s Role
The preacher has a role. Now, it is limited. As long as the preacher faithfully communicates the truth of the gospel, he deserves neither the credit for its success nor the blame for its failure. It’s God’s word that does the work (Eph. 6:17, Rom. 1:16, Isa. 55:11).
Still, we would be silly to think that preachers shouldn’t prepare themselves with knowledge of the word, skill in communication, diligence in effort, humility in approach, and consistency in behavior. It may very well be that a preacher can, in some small but meaningful way, derail or assist the work of the gospel message. Consider the efforts Paul and Barnabas made in the various places they traveled.
“In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed” (Acts 14:1).
“According to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead…” (Acts 17:2-3).
“He entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them…” (Acts 19:8-9, cf. 11:23-24).
God has the biggest, most important role. He planned salvation, He revealed it, He performed it, and He calls people to it.
“When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region” (Acts 13:48-49).
“A woman named Lydia … was listening, and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
“When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27, cf. 10:22, 16:10).
Acts 13:48 (“they had been appointed to eternal life”) does not contradict Acts 13:46 (“you judge yourselves unworthy”); they highlight different parts of the same process. God has decreed from before the foundation of the world that those who confess Jesus shall be saved. When a person responds to the gospel, the best response is not to congratulate someone on making the right call, but to thank God for His mercy. Even though God is working through the means of preachers, and even though God holds people accountable for their decisions for and against (2 Thess. 1:8), it is God who is at work to save the lost! —John Guzzetta