Is Thy Heart Right With God?
From Acts 17, we find two common reactions to gospel preaching from those in the cities of Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Some “believed,” yet others “believed not” (cf. vv. 4-5, 11-13, 32-34). God has revealed in his word why these are the two reactions people have when “Jesus and the resurrection” are preached (v. 18). It is because of the nature of religious truth as opposed to religious error. Truth contains commands to which a sinner must submit whereas error does not. Whenever truth is preached, these commands will be declared. The grace of God teaches man to turn from sin rather than continue sinning “that grace may abound” (Titus 2.11-12; Romans 6.1).
A comparison of Acts 17.3 with Acts 2.36 reveals that Paul and Peter preached the same message. Do you suppose the Jews who heard Paul had the same question in their minds as those Jews on the day of Pentecost (i.e., “What shall we do?”)? Do you suppose that Paul gave the same answer that Peter gave Would not Jesus’ commands given to the twelve apostles also apply to Paul? Jesus commanded that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24.47). Jesus commanded the twelve, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28.18-20). In Acts 1.2, we are told that Jesus had “given commandments” to the apostles regarding their preaching. These commandments also pertained to how a sinner was to “call upon” the Lord. All this is found in the book of Acts.
Let it be pointed out that in “calling upon the name of the Lord” there is a “form of doctrine” to be obeyed “from the heart” (cf. Romans 6.17). This “form” must correspond to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.1-4).
We learn from Romans 10.17 that “faith cometh by hearing…the word of God.” Was the word preached by Paul? Yes, for we read that Paul “reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom i preach unto you, is Christ.” Yet we find that others who heard the same message “believed not, and moved with envy” (v. 5).
Consider the difference as to why some believed Paul while others did not believe. today, why is it that some readily accept truth while others reject and despise the message of truth? The key lies in Jesus’ teaching about the heart of man (cf. Luke 8.4-15).
Three other texts that show why some can understand truth clearly while others cannot:
John 3.16-21 — Some cannot understand the truth because their deeds are evil, and they don’t want their evil deeds reproved. The truth is not beyond their ability to understand; rather, their heart’s desire is to continue in evil. Others obey out of a desire to “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5.7; Romans 10.17).
John 7.14-18 — Some cannot understand the truth because of their will. They refuse to yield their will to God’s will (read again John 3.16-21 above). Others have no problem understanding or obeying, for God’s approval is their desire.
2 Thessalonians 2.10-12 — Some cannot understand the truth because of their love for sin’s pleasure. Others love truth because they desire freedom from their sin. For these, obedience is not a problem (John 8.32). Those who had a prior desire for freedom from sin, upon hearing that their freedom was through Jesus, responded readily. This was why they were described as being “God-fearing” or “devout.” Their hearts were honest and sincere, as was Cornelius, Lydia, and Saul of Tarsus, who “lived in good conscience,” even during his persecution of Christians (Acts 23.1). However, those with evil hearts “believed not and moved with envy.”
So likewise will people do today when the truth exposes their evil deeds. The word of God is described as “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4.12).
How people react to the truth reveals whether they are just religious, honoring God with their lips while their heart is far from him (Matthew 15.8-9). If one’s heart is honest and sincere, whenever they see that they are not in harmony with what Jesus commanded, they will change (repent) because their will is “to do the will of the Father.”
What about you? Have your affections been nailed to the cross (Proverbs 23.7)?