Can we blame poor evangelism when people’s fail to believe in Christ?
Compare the following verses:
Acts 2:22-24. “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
Acts 4:12 And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.
In Paul’s message to the Athenian philosophers on Mar’s Hill, Paul leaves no question about the necessity for all to believe in Christ, along with God’s awareness of their hearts and nearness to bring them to Himself if there is any desire to know Him. But note a further point as you read this. Men are without excuse no matter where they are because there is plenty of evidence for the reality of God in creation. If anyone is positive and wants to know, God will draw them to Himself and get information to them (John 7:17).
22 And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’ 29 “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Ultimately, we cannot blame the indifference or unbelief of people on poor evangelism or on their circumstances. Yes, there is poor evangelism. We often don’t witness as clearly as we should, and Christians are often very indifferent to spreading the gospel. In fact, this is one of the areas of concern we are to pray about (cf. Eph. 5:18f; Col. 4:1-4). But God knows the hearts of people and is at work to draw them to Himself and if there is a response, then they will hear the gospel from someone, somehow, no matter how weak or poorly it is explained, and they will come to Christ. The issues of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are basically beyond our comprehension.
No one can come to Christ apart from the work of the Spirit; in fact, no one can even begin to seek God apart from the work of the Spirit. But God’s promise is that He is at work throughout the world using creation and the problems of life to draw them to Himself. He has put the law of God in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-16), but the fact is men the world over ignore the law and clearly fail to fulfill it, thus showing their sinfulness.
Note the following verses from Paul in Romans. In the preceding section of the verses quoted below (see Rom. 1:18-2:29), he had just shown that the immoral man, the moral man, and the religious man were without excuse. All are in the same boat, and as he will show later (3:23), they all fall short of God’s glory or holiness. But first, he sums this up and focuses on the fact of the sinfulness and need of all men:
3:1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, And mightest prevail when Thou art judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” ; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace have they not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
Paul’s point here in this last verse is to show how the Law shows the whole world under sin and separated from God. God gave the law to the Jews and the Law showed them God’s holiness and their sinfulness, but in proving the Jews sinful, God was also showing the whole world as sinful, for the Jews were simply a sample of the whole of mankind. He then goes on to clearly demonstrate that the only way any person can have salvation and God’s righteousness is as a gift by faith in Christ.
Romans 3:21-30. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.
We are responsible to care, to witness, and to seek to make the issues clear. We should not muddy up the plain truth of the simple message of the Gospel with human or religious works, but still, only God can reach their hearts. Winning them is God’s responsibility and only He can change their heart or open their eyes. Because of our love for people we know, it is easy for us to blame ourselves or feel responsible to get someone to trust in Christ, but this is not scriptural.
Undoubtedly, God’s plan of election reaches out to all the world, unreached people included. But on the other side of this is their responsibility to respond to the revelation of God in creation and then, as He gets the gospel to them, respond to the gospel as well. We can only assume that if anyone responds to God’s revelation in creation and to the wooing ministry of the Spirit, then He will somehow get revelation to that person via a missionary or somehow.
I have heard missionaries report that on going into an unreached area, they have found those who come to believe in the one Divine Creator and were wanting more information. On hearing the gospel, they responded immediately. I have also heard missionaries tell of those who told them that their people knew there was one true God, but had chosen to worship the demon powers and idols instead. In other words, they rejected the true knowledge of God.