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Luke recounts the story of Paul’s trip to the city of Thessalonica. For three Sabbaths, Paul reasoned with the people in the synagogue about how the Messiah had to die and that the Messiah was Jesus. Some people believed while others set the town on fire in protest. What made the difference?

Scripture teaches sin has had an awful effect on us. Psalm 36:1 states, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” Like a taproot, sinful desire penetrates deep within our hearts, corrupting us from the inside out. You and I are like shiny apples full of worms on the inside!

Sin has so corroded our minds we believe evil is good and good is evil (Romans 1:32; Ephesians 4:17-19). In our sinful state, we cannot think, feel, or reason correctly. Physically, we are dying. Spiritually, we are stillborn, DOA, RIP.

Considering this spiritual reality, 58% of Southern Evangelicals agree “the Holy Spirit gives a spiritual new birth or new life before a person has faith in Jesus Christ.” 28% disagree with that statement, and 14% are not sure.

Let’s think about it closely. We are saying that the Holy Spirit must change a man internally before he embraces Jesus Christ for salvation. In our sinful state, no amount of altar calls, revivals, soft piano music, or fiery preaching will persuade us to believe in Christ. You and I, alone, cannot convince anyone to be saved. This is a work only the Spirit of God can do.

Thus, Paul wrote, “But a natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, because he is a fool, and is not able to know, because [it is] spiritually judged.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, my translation). Preaching the Gospel to a lost man is like soaking up water with a rock.

So Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly I am saying to you, if someone is not born from above, he is not able to behold the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, my translation). Sin has so darkened our understanding that we cannot perceive God’s kingdom. We cannot know or understand it until we are “born from above.” In other words, the Spirit of God must bring us back to spiritual life and enable us to embrace Christ as Savior and Lord. The new birth happens first, then faith. And no one who is born again will reject Christ.

This is why you pray for your lost friends. You ask God to work in their hearts, removing the darkness of their sinful minds, so they will believe in Christ and inherit eternal life through him.

This is why we preach the Gospel of Christ. The Spirit gives new life through the Word. As the Scriptures say, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). We preach and pray with confidence, not in the wit or wisdom of men, but in the infinite power of the Holy Spirit who revives the heart and gives light to the darkened mind.

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