Have you ever wondered why one person responds to the gospel message in faith, while another rejects it? What’s the difference? Why does one see the gospel of Jesus Christ as the truth, while another sees it as a fictitious story? Why does one see the wisdom of receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, and another sees it as foolishness?
In chapters 1 thru 4 of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives us the answer. It’s not the actual words of the gospel message that has power to save, it’s the power that God Himself gives to those words that saves (1 Cor 1:17; 1 Cor 1:24; 1 Cor 2:4-5; 1 Cor 4:20; Ro 1:16; 1 Th 1:4-5). If it were the actual words of the gospel that has power to lead someone to salvation, then everyone who heard it would respond in faith and be saved. But such is not the case. God must empower the words of the gospel in order for a person to see and understand the truth of that message, through which God also provides the necessary faith to receive Christ (Ro 10.17; Acts 14:27; Ga 3:2; Eph 2:8-9; Ph 1:29; 1 Pe 1:20-21; 2 Pe 1:1; Ro 16:26). In other words, God illuminates the truth in the hearts of those whom He regenerates and calls to Christ.
No one comes to faith in Christ apart from the power of God. Salvation is totally a matter of God’s power and grace. Sinners have no power within themselves to see (spiritually) and believe unto salvation. God Himself must open our spiritual eyes to the truth (Lu 24:45; Acts 16:14). It’s not within the sinner to muster the needed faith to be saved. Just as it is impossible for sinners within themselves to spiritually see and understand the gospel of Christ, so is it impossible within themselves to believe unto salvation.
Many Christians believe that God merely enables faith, whereby a sinner can choose to believe or not believe. But that is not what Paul reveals in these chapters of 1 Corinthians (and elsewhere). What Paul actually reveals is that God Himself must provide the required faith. Saving faith is a gift, not something we stir up within ourselves (Eph 2:8-9). Since we don’t have it within ourselves to believe, God must intervene. Which also means that such intervention must be a matter of God’s sovereign choosing.
Those whom God has chosen for salvation (2 Th 2:13), He must also call (2 Th 2:14). For those whom He calls, He empowers the gospel message. He makes the message come to life for those whom He gives life (regeneration – Tit 3:4-6). He empowers the gospel to be seen and understood. Furthermore, they themselves are empowered with the faith that is required for salvation. In other words, everyone whom God chooses to reveal the truth, will respond to the truth in faith. They will believe the gospel message and willingly place their faith in Christ.
No one for whom God reveals the truth can ever just walk away from it in unbelief, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ has total power to save those whom God calls (1 Cor 1:24).
As we look at the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, we won’t be dealing with every verse, but only those verses pertaining to our subject. However, we’ll do so with the overall context in view.
(1 Corinthians 1:10-16) — 10 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose. 11 For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! 16 (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else). (NET)
In chapters 1-4 of 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about a dispute the Corinthian church had that he must settle. Some were elevating and following certain men of God above others (1 Cor 4:6) — namely Paul, Apollos and Peter. Others had it right, they didn’t elevate anyone but Christ. In these four chapters Paul scolds them for elevating one servant of God above another. He also tells them why.
The reason we’re not to elevate one servant of the Lord above the other is two-fold: First, Jesus is to be our total focus. He is our Lord, our King, our God. Servants of Christ are mere vehicles through whom God uses to deliver His Word (1 Cor 3:5). Second, it’s not the eloquence of one’s speech that changes lives, it’s the Word of God and the power that God gives to His Word that saves a person and that causes them to grow in Christ (1 Cor 2:1-5).
(1 Corinthians 1:17-19) — 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (ESV)
It’s not our “eloquent wisdom” as Christians that leads a person to salvation, but “the power of God” that He applies to the “gospel” message (“cross of Christ”). God is to receive all glory (1 Cor 1:29-31). Therefore, God not only gives power to His own words, He empowers His words for those whom He’s chosen to reveal them (1 Cor 1:26-31; 1 Th 1:4-5). That’s why the gospel of Christ is “folly to those who are perishing.” God has chosen not to reveal the gospel message to them. Therefore, He chooses not to empower His Word to them. Rather, the gospel remains “hidden” (veiled) from them (1 Cor 2:7; 2 Cor 3:14-18; 2 Cor 4:3-6; Col 1:25-27).
(1 Corinthians 1:20-25) — 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? 21 For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of what is preached. 22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, 25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (CSB)
(1 Corinthians 1:26-31) — 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (NIV)
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5) — 1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. 2 I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power. (CSB)
(1 Corinthians 2:6-7) — 6 We do, however, speak a wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 On the contrary, we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory.
We may wow the unsaved with our knowledge and skill in explanation, and we may even gain their respect for our intelligent and scholarly arguments, but that is not what leads people to Christ. It’s only God’s Word that will lead a person to faith in Christ. It’s the truth of God’s Word that God uses to open people’s eyes.
Therefore, the truth is, it’s not the intellectual discussions and answers that we give to people that leads them to faith in Christ, it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ that does that. If a person is going to get saved, it doesn’t matter if they hear all this extra stuff or not. In the end, it’s only the life-changing Word of God that’s going to open their eyes.
The idea that we need apologetics outside of God’s Word is to say that God’s Word is not enough. Does God use apologetics? I believe He does. But the real question is, are they necessary? The answer is no. No one can give an accurate estimate, but I think it’s a reasonable guess that maybe 1% of Christians know apologetics, who are able to present impressive arguments about Christ. I think it’s also a reasonable guess that maybe 1% of people come to faith in Christ with the aid of apologetics. The point is, we may impress both unbelievers and believers with our intellectual arguments, but it’s only the gospel message that actually saves.
Therefore, don’t be concerned that you don’t have all the answers or that you’re not able to use persuasive arguments when sharing Christ with people. It doesn’t matter that you’re not able to answer all the questions of the skeptics and critics of Christianity. Just give them the gospel message, and God will apply it to their hearts as He sees fit. We may plant and water, but it’s God who causes His Word to produce (1 Cor 3:6-7). We’re to live in humility and to share the truth in humility. We’re to be faithful in studying the Bible and providing the only answers that matter. If a person is going to get saved, it won’t matter if they hear a thousand hours of intellectual and academic arguments outside of the Bible or not. The only thing that’s going to save them is what’s inside the Bible.
If it’s about impressing people, our motives are in the wrong place.
Yes, God’s Word is powerful to lead people to faith in Christ, to change lives, but it’s God Himself who empowers His Word. God’s Word is powerful to change lives, but not indiscriminately. If the words of the Bible alone changes lives, then everyone would get saved. But such is not the case. It’s the Author of those words who gives them their power. To those who do not get saved — the non-elect — the words of the gospel message are foolishness to them. But to those who get saved – the elect – those words are received as the truth, because the Holy Spirit empowers those words in their lives, enabling them to see and understand.
If a person doesn’t receive Christ as Lord and Savior, then they didn’t truly see and understand. The truth was not actually revealed to them. Those to whom God reveals the truth, always get saved. Because those who truly see Christ for who He is, those who truly see their sinfulness and need for forgiveness, those who truly see their need for Christ as Lord and Savior, cannot turn away from the reality of it — but will always be drawn to Christ to the experience of salvation (Jn 6:44-45).
All those to whom Jesus chooses to reveal Himself, get saved (Matt 11:25-27). No one whom Christ reveals Himself ever walks away in rejection of Him.
As a supplement to this study, I suggest “Why Regeneration Must Precede Faith.” You may find that here.