It’s fun watching people have epiphanies. At our last GCM gathering, I witnessed three of them in connection to this passage.
For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:11-14)
After talking through Paul’s words here, one person remarked that he had never seen this before. He always figured that if you were knowledgable enough to answer the questions of skeptics or could put together the perfect presentation of the gospel, then unbelievers would believe. Yet he was struck by the Scripture’s insistence that the “natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him.” Something clicked. That’s why the storyline of the Bible makes perfect sense to him but is complete rubbish to his friends. God creating the world, human beings sinning, Jesus dying for our sins, rising again – he believes it all. His friends think he’s nuts. Of course they do (read verse 14 again).
Another agreed. For example, when Pastor Binu addressed the issue of injustice caused by the Church, he was sure it was exactly what a skeptic friend of his needed to hear. Finally, he had an answer to his friend’s questions. So with great expectations, he forwarded the sermon along. But his friend wasn’t moved by it at all. It had little or no effect. How could that be? It wasn’t until this passage and our conversation at GCM that he understood.
A third person spoke up. She had always wondered how people she knew could come to Sunday worship, take part in a service where God seemed palpably present, and never come back. Didn’t they hear the same sermon she did? Weren’t they in the same room taking it all in? How could it profoundly impact her faith and yet not move the dial for them? Now it made sense.
And from these small epiphanies, here are three simple takeaways.
1. Conversion is the Spirit’s work, not ours.
This passage frees us from the pressure of thinking that it’s all on us. As if the salvation of our friend is on our shoulders. We need to have just the right words and all the right answers. No way. This also means that it’s not professional, varsity Christians who share their faith and see people converted. It’s the work of the Spirit. If you have the Holy Spirit living in you, then you qualify.
2. If conversion is the Spirit’s work, then prayer must be part of our work.
During the night, one person asked, “If someone can’t see spiritual things without the help of the Spirit, then would it be appropriate for us to pray that the Spirit visit that person?” Talk about connecting the dots! What a perfect response. Yes, we should desperately pray for the Spirit to open blind eyes, soften hard hearts, and illuminate dark minds. After all, many of us came to believe in part because there were others who prayed that way for us.
3. If conversion is the Spirit’s work, then we must be humble and gracious towards those who do not yet believe.
There is no boasting for the Christian. Our eyes were blind. Our ears deaf. Our hearts hard. Our minds dark. That it is no longer so is only because of the Spirit. So how can we be anything but humble? Moreover, there is no room for condescension to those who do not believe. It’s not as if we in our wisdom figured out something that others haven’t. Even as we received the “Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God,” so we must long for that same grace to be extended to others around us.