Spiritual Discernment is for the Spiritual
"the things of the Spirit of God ... are spiritually discerned" ( 1Cor 2:14)
"he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24"45)
I would like to challenge each one of you to take a friend from work out to lunch; someone that you know is not a Christian. This person preferably is a someone with whom you developed some degree of a good relationship with. During the course of your meal, when it seem appropriate, you can lead the conversation toward the Gospel. Tell him or her that God Himself has truly entered into human history from the time of Israel through the time of Christ, and not only has made himself known to us in the Person of Jesus Christ but has redeemed us from our sin and rebellion against the Creator. He Himself fully endured the wrath we justly deserve for sin by His death on the cross. Living the life we should have lived and dying the death we deserve. Then, vindicating the truth of what He accomplished God raised him physically from the dead on the third day. There were over 500 witness to this historic event and different witness to the same event wrote down their testimony which now makes up the Holy Scripture.
Then when you are done explaining the unfolding drama of redemption in history ask him or her whether they acknowledge the truth of these factual claims. If he responds that these events are something less than historical, just a myth or a fairy tale, I challenge you to consider the question of why he rejects something that should be as plain as day. it is true is it not. It is not that he lacks sufficent data so one thing you can be assured of is that he/she is spiritually blind in some way and cannot see the plain truth as put before them. Their eyes are closed to the gospel, but why? If you have also shown them great love and patience and presented these facts with warmth and a genuine spirit with great eloquence and done so till you are blue in the face, your effort, while it may leave a seed, does not convince and will be of no avail if the Holy Spirit does not remove his blindness and give him new spiritual eyes to see the truths you presented him/her. All your exegesis, proclamation and logical persuasion will have no effect unless the Spirit remove the veil of darkness, clearing the way for them to believe the truth of the message you put before Him (John 6:63-65). This means if the Lord is to use us to win souls to Christ we must pray that the Holy Spirit disarm their innate hostility, overcome their lack of faith (heal their faithlessness), remove the barricades erected in their heart and enlighten the truths we herald from the Scripture. The reason they reject is, not simply because the evidence you provide is not strong enough, but because their affection remains set on the darkness (John 3:20).
Let no one misunderstand, I am not at all, in any way, encouraging you to forget using persuasive arguments, for these are good, and the Holy Spirit utilizes them concurrantly with His work to open eyes, but they are useless if they are alone. Like a seed is is dormant until germinated, the Spirit must also germinate the seed of the Word for it to produce its intended effect. Only the Holy Spirit can actually open and illuminate the truth of the gospel to the unbeliever's understanding because they are spiritual truths, and spiritual truths require the spectacles of the Holy Spirit to see clearly. Prayer and intercession of behalf of the spiritually dead is, therefore, absolutely essential as we engage those in the world. We must prophesy and pray over "dry bones" that God would add flesh to them. Perhaps much of our frustration to the lack of response to the message of the gospel lies simply in the fact that we have not spent time praying that God would save them. Prayer only makes sense in the context of the sovereignty of God, for we believe only He can change a hard heart and illumine a darkened mind. I often wonder why the 'free will' people pray for people's salvation for this is inconsistent with their theology if God really cannot do anything to change them aside from external persuasion (which is no more than a preacher does). Those who believe in the free will of man can really offer no explanation for prayer, for, in their view, God cannot interfere with hardened sinners in any way ... so the free will position leaves one without God the Holy Spirit in the process of salvation because the sinner, by definition, would be left to his own devises to make up their own mind through external persuasion alone. For movement of a persons' will by God, in any way, betrays their theology. On our knees, therefore, I believe they must pray like the rest of us and the fact is that most of them do pray for people's salvation. But why pray if God can do nothing more than a preacher who works to persuade? What can God do for them?
The Scripture itself says that "the things of the Spirit" [spiritual truths] "...are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14) What does it mean that something is "spiritually discerned"? It points to the fact that the unspiritual cannot understand it, that they are completely in the dark about it. One must first be spiritual to grasp spiritual truth. As we proclaim to gospel to our friends they are either in one condition or another: spiritual or unspiritual. The Scripture does not allow anywhere for a middle ground between the two. So no matter what kind of grace is given to unspiritual people prior to salvation, if it does not actually change their heart and make them spiritual, they simply will not grasp any spiritual truths for they still lack the mind of Christ. The problem with synergism is here because they believe God's grace to unbelievers does not make spirtitual but only gives an opportunity to unspiritual men. But let's ask, an opportunity for whom? An oppotunity for an unregenerate person who, by nature, cannot understand spiritual truth (1 Cor 2:14). And unless he is regenerated (i.e. born again) then he is still unspiritual and by definition "...hostile toward God; for [he] does not subject itself to the law of God, for [he] not even able to do so."(Rom 8:7). Jesus says you do not look for figs on a briar bush. That bad trees do not bear good fruits. In other words, if something's very nature is different or bad, it does not produce the intended results. An unspiritual man does not exercise faith because he is by nature unspiritual. Jesus says the tree must first be made good for the fruit to be good.
Again, the message of the gospel is "spiritually discerned", so only the regenerate apprehend it, only those whose minds have been illumined by the Holy Spirit can see the truth in it. But all synergists would have us believe that unspiritual men actually exercise spiritual thoughts. Again we must ask, how can the unspiritual be spiritual? The Bible does not allow for this and it is an impossible supposition. The prerequisite for being spiritual is the Holy Spirit. All spiritual acts, such as faith in Christ, require one to be illumined and changed by the Spirit. "No one, the Scripture says, can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Holy Spirit." Only those who have the "mind of Christ" can think thoughts after Him ( 1 Cor 2:16).
That is why verse 13 of 1 Cor 2 says "we have received...the Spirit who is from God that we might know the things freely given us by God" (That is, that we might know Jesus Christ and the gospel). The same text says unregenerate persons cannot know such thoughts BECAUSE they are spiritually discerned. They think of them as foolish. So no amount of persuasion on its own will make any difference.
The work of the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite to spiritual understanding. Consider, in this world, we have two ways to obtain knowledge: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is simply the created world and special revelation refers to the Holy Scriptures directly revealed by God. General revelation itself should be enough to know God, but due to the noetic effects of sin on the mind in the fall we do not read creation correctly, so we also need the Bible for saving knowledge. We cannot now read the world around us correctly apart from Scripture. But again salvation cannot be known merely by reading the page of Scripture either, even though it is infallible. It may have been sufficient before the fall, but now, general and special revelation are insufficient to give us life through saving knowledge of Christ. Let there be no mistake about this. it is not because either general or special revelation are defective in any way. Romans 1:20 and following says that God is clearly known to all persons through general revelation so that men are without excuse. The problem is not with revelation but with the heart of man, who "suppresses the truth in unrighteousness." (Rom 1:18)
What humans still need above and beyond general and special revelation is the illumination of the Holy Spirit who gives man spiritual eyes to see the truth of Christ in the gospel. Only the mind of Christ will suffice to understand the things of Christ. Unless the Lord opens the heart we do not understand or "take heed" to the things of the Lord (Acts 16:14).
People, therefore, do not reject the gospel because they are unintelligent, uneducated or simply do not have enough data. You could give them all the data in the world and they still would not believe. Romans 1:20 says that all men, in some respect, 'know the Lord', the question is, do they know him as an enemy or as a friend? By nature man is in rebellion. Only the Spirit can transform and disarm our hostility toward Jesus Christ. Only He can illumine the text in such a way that we might understand it. Man is blinded to the gospel because his affections are still fixed on this world. he loves darkness and hates the light (John 3:19, 20). Persuasion is not sufficient without the Spirit shining a light on the message.
Important to remember in all this: the Holy Spirit is not giving any new revelation. Rather He enlightens man by doing a work of grace in his heart so that he can perceive the revelation already given. Even as believers we pray that God would open our eyes to see wonderful things from His law. The law already exists in its full clarity and He has already turned on a flashlight, as in a dark room, for us so we see some saving truths, but others still remain hidden until God shines a light on them. But unbelievers are still completely in the dark. We need to ask the the Holy Spirit to illumine their mind and remove the veil that they may see the beauty and excellency of Christ in the gospel. They may already understand the gospel to a degree intellectually but they do not see any beauty, truth or excellency in it. Only the Spirit can change our affection for Christ. And just as we cannot lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, and just as water does not rise above its source, so the unspiritual man does not see or grasp or love spiritual things. No addition to revelation is needed. Instead we need a remove of the darkness that shrouds the hearts of unbelievers that they might see what is already there ... a darkness that prevents them from seeing the goodness of Christ.
In light of what was just said, consider Elisha's prayer to open the eyes of his servant that he might see what was already there:
"Alas, my master! What shall we do?"
So he answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
17Then Elisha prayed and said, "LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see " And the LORD opened the servant's eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Like Elisha we need to pray for our friends that God open their eyes to see the plain truths already before them.
Jonathan Edwards once explained that this knowledge (light) is given immediately by God and not obtained through natural means that operate by their own power. While God often makes use of natural means, yet the medium is not what causes the effect. God may teach us many things through nature and reason, and even use the words of Scripture to convey a doctrine or proposition, but only God can illumine them in such a way wherein we see their beauty and excellency. Those who are unregenerate have no capacity to love what is spiritual and so they are not partly but wholly dependent on God to translate them from darkness to light.
Paul likewise said he knew God had chosen the Thessalonians because...
"...this gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." (1 Thess 1:4,5)