Sometimes when Christians know they will be meeting with family members or friends who are not saved, they will ask other believers to pray that there will be an opening to present the gospel. This opening may come in the form of a pause in the conversation in which the believer can introduce the topic of Jesus Christ. Or, it could be that the unbeliever brings up the subject of faith. Either one of these situations is helpful. In Acts 8 Philip was directed to go to a certain road (Acts 8:26). When he arrived there, he saw a chariot which he was then directed to approach (Acts 8:29). In the chariot was an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the book of Isaiah the prophet (Acts 8:30, 32-33). However, the man did not understand what he was reading (Acts 8:30-31). Philip had an amazing opening for the gospel. The Lord was clearly involved in this encounter. The text tells us that Philip began to speak to the Ethiopian about Jesus from this very text in Isaiah (Acts 8:35). Openings are great when they happen, but we need more than openings in a conversation. In the remainder of this article we will look at four openings that Scripture speaks about that are crucial to a person actually becoming a believer in Jesus Christ.
In the book of Romans Paul writes about the importance of hearing in the communication of the gospel. In Romans 10:14 he asks a number of questions. One of the major themes that is highlighted in this text is the importance of people hearing the gospel message. If they do not hear, they will not believe. A person needs to be exposed to the good news in order to be saved. This is why Scripture urges Christians to make a vocal presentation of the gospel. The Great Commission passage in Matthew urges us to teach (Matt. 28:20), and the one in Mark’s gospel instructs us to preach (Mark 16:15). In the book of Acts we see the early believers did in fact give a vocal presentation of the truth of Jesus. Peter and Paul did it on a number of occasions, and others did as well (Acts 8:4; 11:19-20). In his first letter, Peter instructed the recipients to be ready to tell people about the hope that they have (1 Pet. 3:15). We do well to follow his instruction because this counsel applies to us as well. Unsaved people need their physical and spiritual ears opened in order to respond to the gospel.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the apostle Paul tells us “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers” (NIV). The blindness he wrote about was not physical but spiritual; but it is blindness nonetheless. Unbelievers are unable to see or perceive spiritual truth. In Acts 26:17-18, Paul shares some of what Jesus said to him on the Damascus road. He tells us that the Lord commissioned him to open the eyes of unbelievers. This was so that they would leave Satan and darkness and turn to God (Acts 26:18). When this happens they are transferred from one kingdom into another (Col. 1:13). Unbelievers must have their spiritual eyes opened in order to perceive the greatness and importance of Jesus Christ. This need still exists today because there are many people who cannot see the relevance and significance of Jesus Christ. They are blind. The only way their blindness will be removed is if they are exposed to the message of Christ and the Lord opens their eyes. Both the text in 2 Corinthians and the text in Acts 26 make it clear there is a spiritual hindrance involved. The enemy seeks to keep people in darkness and blindness.
We sometimes speak of a person as being closed-minded, by this we mean that they will not even consider a particular subject. This is often the case when the subject is Jesus Christ and the salvation that is found only in Him (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). In the section above about eyes I cited 2 Corinthians 4:4. In that verse Paul indicated that unbelievers have been blinded by the enemy. The verse tells us that this blinding impacted their minds. In Colossians 1:21 Paul tells us that when people are unbelievers they are enemies of God in their minds. There are many traps in peoples’ minds today, things that can keep them from Christ. There can be strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Some of these would include things like: pride, religious tradition, intellectualism, and peer pressure. People need to have their minds changed; they need to have them opened. This is a work of God, which is accomplished when a person is exposed to the truth that is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5-6).
The Bible speaks repeatedly about the heart, not in the sense of a physical organ but as the place that determines the course of our lives. We are told to guard our hearts (Prov. 4:23). People can have good or evil in their hearts (Luke 6:45). Scripture tells us that our mouths show what is in our hearts (Matt. 12:34). It is also possible to have a stubborn heart (Rom. 2:5), one that is hard like stone (Ez. 36:26). In addition, a person may have a sinful heart of unbelief (Heb. 3:12). Christians can at times battle with improper heart attitudes but unbelievers, no matter how moral, are not right-hearted toward God. This is because they are not believing in Jesus Christ. Their hearts need to be opened, they need to be changed.
In our physical bodies eyes and ears are external body parts. They provide human beings with two senses, that of sight and hearing. They are the means by which information is carried inside a person. These senses help us to navigate life. With their help we are able to make informed decisions about the best courses of action to take. Again, speaking in physical terms the mind and the heart are located inside the body. People make decisions internally that become known outwardly when they act on their decisions. Spiritually speaking peoples’ ears, eyes, minds, and hearts are critical to spiritual life. Each has the potential to make one open to the gospel or to be an obstacle to the reception of the gospel. When we pray for openings we need to pray not only for openings in conversations but also, and even more importantly, for openings in our hearers, so that they actually can receive, and believe, the message that is presented.
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.