Penetrating Tough Skin Souls
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Matthew 11:12
“Grab it and growl” is one of the late Paul Anderson’s frequent quotes. In a sense, it captures the meaning of this text. The Gospel, the Kingdom of Heaven, must of necessity move forcefully to make headway in a fallen, hostile world, and if there are those who want to climb on board that moving Gospel train, they need to “grab it and growl,” take hold of the Gospel message with all their might and hang on as Satan tries his hardest to get them to relinquish their grip. Believing and acting on the Gospel is a life transformative, all-encompassing act of faith. A new creature is created, and consequently all things “become new.” The Gospel is never something that can be dabbled in with any success. It is not, “I’ll try a bit of it and see if it works.” It is all or nothing.
It is no easy task to present the Gospel to an increasingly secular society. At the PAYH, we have in essence a “captive” audience; bodies maybe, but hearts and minds are not necessarily captive to hearing and understanding the saving message of the Gospel. That is, until the Holy Spirit generates a spark of new life. It is most discouraging to present Gospel truths when your hearers do not really want to hear anything about God; or, it may be that they honestly believe it will not make a significant difference to their life and predicament, so why try? Sometimes a boy will choose to “go along to get along” and say the right things when asked, but upon leaving the Home or graduating, his true heart appears and a spiritually fruitful life is non-existent; the Gospel has not penetrated and transformed, making it his primary reason for living and the true mark of his character. This is the end for which we strive and hope in both speaking and living the Gospel message into and in front of these lives. It is our reason for being here; that unbelieving and troubled youth might come to know the Savior as theirs, committing to Him as the Lord of their life.
Saul was not only a hardened soul to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; he was an aggressive and violent enemy of its message and followers. He lived to persecute Christians. The disciples not only did not seek to witness to him, they steered clear of him entirely for their own safety. Though Saul heard the truth from Stephen’s mouth before they put him to death by stoning him, he fully approved of his execution even though he did not himself throw a stone. It appears Saul would not be softened to hear the truth by any ordinary means; he had to be arrested by the direct hand of God. Jesus confronted him within a blinding light as he traveled to Damascus to persecute and imprison more followers of the Way. The penetration of his heart and mind was not by persuasion of the tongue, or the convincing witness of a life, but more like a 2 x 4 miracle upside his head. God has many diverse and mysterious ways to get the attention of hardened unbelievers whom He has pegged to be His own. The Lord not only got his attention, he crushed his pride, and turned his heart from rock to malleable flesh. Saul/Paul became the greatest first century evangelist in God’s kingdom.
We often wish that each young man who comes to the PAYH, as well as our family or neighbors, those we have sought after in proclaiming Christ, would all have a Damascus Road experience, but it is normally not to be. The result of salvation turns out the same eventually, but the means of getting there are most often through the grind and perseverance of faithful witness, prayer, and persuasion; engaging a friendship with eternal goals. God has a vital purpose in calling us to follow the witness, prayer, persuasion route, even though He Himself holds the option of working alone; yet even in the instance of Paul’s conversion, God still used Ananias once He had Paul’s attention. Romans 10 describes and praises the one who perseveres to bring others the Gospel of Peace, but it explains realistically the nature of obstinate hearts who refuse to believe. This is the condition of being a bearer of the Gospel of Peace: Your feet will be blessed in going, but your message will not always be received. Still, go!
Can our persuasive presentation of the Gospel be improved? Yes, always. But the improvement should never keep you from telling others now of Jesus. There is improvement accomplished in telling the Gospel message over and over. Training on the job, never training to do the job. We are always concerned with the human mechanics of presenting the Gospel more persuasively, persevering in prayer, seeking for the Holy Spirit to act, but we must never grow weary in what is the highest part of our calling as followers of Jesus: telling others about Him no matter the cost. And as you tell, live it out. Living the Gospel is the constant backdrop of telling it; living it makes the telling authentic, giving the telling untold persuasive power.
It is always comforting to know that the Holy Spirit must regenerate tough skin souls. Continuing in unbelief is not the failure of your lack of persuasion. Your perseverance until the opportunity is completely closed is ever your calling, like the importunate widow before the unjust judge, but it is never the final reason the Gospel does not penetrate that thick skinned soul. That is God’s business alone. Leave it always in His hands when you have truly done all you can.
Would to God our young men would grab it and growl, commit to Christ no matter what. It would make all the difference in their lives. But until then, in the time you are given, short or long, persevere in telling and living the Gospel. A new day is another opportunity. But the day is coming when opportunity ceases. May it cease with no regret that you did not give it your all.
“In the midst of opposition let them trust, O Lord, in thee; when success attends their mission, let thy servants humbler be. Never leave them till thy face in heav’n they see.”
(5th verse of Thomas Kelly’s hymn, “Speed Thy Servants, Savior, Speed Them”, 1820)
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