I learned from the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews that it is not what we hear that changes our lives but how we respond to what we hear. He said, “The same gospel was preached to them as well as to us. But it did not profit them because it didn’t mix with faith in their hearts therefore they failed to obey the Word.” We are exposed to any number of experiences and sociological encounters daily and the general belief is that these tend to shape our worldview. Our perspective to life is formed based on these interactions hence we are said to be a product of our environment, experiences or education, both formal and informal.
This is an incomplete theory in my view and it is important to understand that it is not so much what you are exposed to that determines the outcome of your life but how you respond. For instance, two children brought up under the exact same circumstances in the same house can turn out to be diametric opposites. Some were raised in rough neighborhoods within the inner city and the lifestyle they witnessed pushed them to a life of crime. To another, it forces him to develop a hatred for crime and creates a resolve to earn an honest living.
The psychologists will attribute this incongruity to some complex theories about the uniqueness of each person’s personality and temperaments and they would be right. How then do we as Christians respond to what is heard? Personality should play little to no role in our response to the Word because we are now spiritually minded; or are we? Our response to the Word should be the response of a spiritually minded person and that manifests in faith. I might be going ahead of myself but let me explain using the texts below.
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. – Acts 2:37, 41 (NKJV)
54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. – Acts 7: 54, 57-58 (NKJV)
These are two texts which highlight the climax of two very powerful sermons during the era of the early church; one by Peter and the latter by Stephen. Peter spoke to a crowd of curious onlookers who gathered after the dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Stephen spoke to the council after being falsely accused of blasphemy. Both sermons are very similar in theme: Jesus was the son of God who came to earth to fulfill the many prophecies about Him and was crucified by the people. God raised Him from the dead, they were witnesses, and He is the Savior of the world.
In Peter’s account, the people heard the exact same sermon and the Bible says those who believed were saved, about 3,000 of them. He said the same thing but subsets of people responded differently. Those who gladly received his word were saved and those who did not receive were not.
In contrast with Stephen’s version, Stephen delivered an equally powerful sermon at the council yet not a single person was saved. The Bible is clear that Stephen spoke with power and under the influence of the Holy Spirit and yet the people responded, not by repenting but by killing him. In both cases, they were convicted, also called cut to the heart, yet some repented and some became hardened murderers. How do two groups of people hear the same Word and respond differently?
For you and I, there ought to be a consciousness that helps respond appropriately to the Word. We attend church or hear a Word in passing, and must immediately decide what our attitude would be. Will I obey the Word or will I resist it? Will I ignore it or just accept it without necessarily acting on it? The right attitude to the Word is to act on it. That is faith; acting on God’s word to prove that you believe Him.
I mentioned in the introduction that the incongruity of outcomes between two people who are raised in the same home is attributable to unique temperaments and personalities. In Christianity however, and as far as it relates to the Word of God, personality and temperament should play no role. We have become spiritually minded and a spiritually minded person should only have one response to God’s word – Faith. Our minds have been renewed and this renewal leads to transformation which subdues our temperament or what not.
Several times, we hear a Word that convicts us yet we do not act on it. Even worse, as a result of conviction, we rail against the Word as a ruse to deflect the conviction we feel. The preacher has spoken the truth which somehow makes you angry and you blacklist that preacher. Stephen’s audience was convicted because they were cut to the heart just as Peter’s audience yet they chose to murder him as a result. I have met people whose default posture to the Word from the pulpit is antagonistic and confrontational. Nothing can be said that would be agreed with unless that which they are comfortable with.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin but would never force you to surrender. It has to be your choice and conviction never saves. Stephen’s audience was convicted yet they were not saved. It is repentance that does save. If a Word touches you, simply accept it and repent. You are better off for it. The Bible calls that profiting from the Word because it mixed with faith.
Similarly, Jesus died for the world yet not everyone has responded or would respond appropriately to His grace. Hence, we are saved by grace but only through the right response – Faith. Shalom.