Can Hardened Hearts Be Successful Evangelism?
This is a “guest blog” by my son, Ben Childs, who is preparing to do evangelism among Muslims in Pakistan.
There are only two possible outcomes when a human being is confronted with the claims of Jesus: submission or rejection. While the time involved in making this decision will vary from person to person, a conclusion must be reached and neutrality is not an option. To state the matter simply, exposure to the gospel will always yield a result.
With that in mind, I pose the following question: is one result more preferable to the other? The answer we give will be intrinsically linked with our theology and soteriology, i.e. what we believe about God and what we believe about salvation. If the salvation of sinful humanity is the highest desire of God, then it should be ours as well. From that line of reasoning, it would follow that submission to Jesus as Lord and Savior is undoubtedly the preferable result of gospel exposure; indeed, it would be the only acceptable outcome.
But what about the other option?
It is my belief that above all else, YHWH is jealous for His own name and glory. When He commanded the Hebrews to not worship false gods, His reasoning was crystal clear: “The LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). How do I see this exemplified in the Bible? I see a God who is willing to scourge His chosen people for a singular purpose: “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:9-11). I see a God who will desolate a nation through repeatedly hardening the heart of their ruler so that His “name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). I see a God who will even go so far as to kill His only begotten Son: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). Now, in regards to the salvation of sinful humanity, Paul adds a needed perspective in Romans 9:21-23: “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory”.
This brings us back to our initial question: which result of gospel exposure is more preferable: acceptance or rejection? I think that Biblically, we must answer both. After all, if YHWH’s highest desire is to see lost sinners bowing the knee to Christ, why does John speak of God judicially blinding the eyes of those who witnessed the ministry of Jesus, so that they could not believe (John 12:39)? If Gospel acceptance and human salvation was the chief end of YHWH, why does Paul talk about God foisting upon Israel a spirit of stupor, and eyes that would not see, and ears that would not hear (Romans 11:8)? Because God desires something greater than the salvation of humanity; He desires His own glory, and since He alone is worthy of worship, this must be His end goal.
In light of all this, let me offer one application for all Christians as they share the gospel: if we are obedient to God, we will be successful. The obedience I refer to is intentional proclamation (through our words and lifestyle) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The success I refer to is the change wrought within the hearts of sinful humanity. At times, we will witness a heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh, and this should give us reason to rejoice. At other times, we will witness a heart of stone grow harder still, and this should also give us reason to rejoice. While you may be tempted to view the former as a greater display of God’s glory and love, I urge you to resist that temptation. We cannot minimalize the latter, nor lose sight of the fact that through the blinding of human eyes and hardening of human hearts, God’s love (His perfect and eternal self-love) is extravagantly displayed to the world. Why does YHWH welcome the elect into Heaven? So that He may worship Himself for how gracious of a God He is. Why does YHWH condemn the reprobate to Hell? So that He may worship Himself for how just of a God He is. In all this, His name and His fame are proclaimed throughout the earth and His church continues to advance, despite the onslaught of Satan and his demons.
YHWH is a jealous God – there can be no doubt about that. As long as you maintain a proper understanding of what He is jealous for, rest assured that your ministry will be more successful than you could ever possibly comprehend or imagine.
by Ben Childs