In Acts 13:38-46 we read about Paul and Barnabas’ work in Pisidian Antioch. After some of the Jews began to oppose them Paul describes them as having judged “themselves unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46). This doesn’t mean that they didn’t want eternal life. Everyone wants eternal life (if they recognize the need for it). But, they didn’t recognize that Paul offered the only means to eternal life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life (Acts 4:9-12). The Jews in Antioch didn’t like the message he brought. In so doing, they made a choice for themselves that they were unworthy of eternal life. They probably didn’t realize that this was their choice. They may have thought that they were holding on to the way of eternal life. Yet, by refusing to accept the only true way to life, they “judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.”
Today people do this same thing for a number of reasons. One reason is fear. It is a frightening thing to follow God. It calls on us to trust the unseen. It calls on us to fight powerful foes. It is easy to have misplaced fears. This was Israel’s problem. God had delivered them from Pharaoh. He had conquered oceans and deserts and hunger, but when they were called on to be conquerors, they didn’t think they could do it (Numbers 14:1-11). God describes their reaction as rejecting Him. Fear is rejection. Yet, sadly this kind of fear ignores what man should truly fear (Luke 12:4-5). We must hold an awe for the fact that God will judge us. This “fear of God” is a choice. Yet, choose to hate knowledge and refuse to choose the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:20-29).
Why would anyone do this? Some do so because of ignorance. That is how Paul describes it (Ephesians 4:17-19). Such souls are the very souls we should seek the most. They do not know the truth. Perhaps, if they can only learn the truth, that hard heart might melt. Others cling to tradition. Jesus condemns this and identifies it as a cause of for some people’s rejection of God (Mark 7:5-9). These kind of traditions are religious. People do what they have always done. Thy do what their family has always done. That may or may not be a good measure of truth.
Some traditions have nothing to do with religion. They are simply what the flesh chooses to do. Following Jesus may demand spending our time differently than we would choose. It may mean we must deny certain pleasures. These are traditions which concern what we do with our bodies or put into our bodies. This tradition leads many to reject God because of the love of pleasure (2 Timothy 3:1-4). Paul teaches that this is love of self, focused on love of pleasure. These people are not just the drug users, the fornicators, or the alcoholics. Sometimes lovers of pleasure are people that look very kind and self-controlled. However, they will not follow Christ because they choose to follow the dictates of their heart (Jeremiah 13:8-10a). The heart is fickle. The heart is selfish. The heart is only as sound as the content it has received within it. The heart is not a reliable standard. Yet, many follow it. The heart can convince us to accept as true what is in fact a lie. It leads us to love the lie and to love being deceived (Jeremiah 9:5-6).
In every individual there may be an infinite number of reasons, or combination of reasons why people reject God. Yet, when all is said and done we must recognize that when those around us do this a couple of things are going on: first, they are failing to truly look and listen (Matthew 13:10-17). The good and honest heart will not be blinded by its own preconceptions. Second, the one who rejects God does so by choice. Joshua taught the people that one must choose for his or her self whether they will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14, 15). The task of Christians’ is to do all that we can to help the souls around us come to obedience to the gospel. However, all we can do is lead them to the truth, they must listen and make the choice for themselves. Some will—some will not.
Kyle Pope, July 2010