God’s Sovereignty in the Spread of the Gospel

I received a question that I thought could be helpful to write about. The question was

Why did the Holy Spirit stop Paul from preaching the Gospel in Asia?

Acts 16:6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.
Acts 16:7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul has been forbidden by God to bring the Gospel to the people in Asia and Bithynia. How are we to understand this? And what should our response be?

This passage points out to us very clearly that God does not want the grace of his Gospel to touch everyone. Some are blessed to hear to the Gospel of Jesus and will respond in repentance and faith and some never will never hear the Gospel.

On the face of it, it seems unfair, harsh, or even cruel. The image for some, may be an image of people longing to hear the Gospel. They desperately want to find God and be reconciled but their cries are met with God’s deafening silence. On the face of it, it seems unfair and we ask “What have these people done that they would deserve such a treatment?” We must understand this verse as Scripture has portrayed all of humanity and not how we “think” humanity is. In other words, our anthropology (how we understand humanity) must be informed by Scripture. We don’t form our anthropology outside of Scripture and then make it fit Scripture.

In John 3, Jesus says that he hasn’t come to condemn the world but he came so the world would be saved through him.  Jesus then makes two groups of people, those who believe and those who don’t believe. He speaks to the status of the second group (the non-believers) in John 3:18 ” Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Jesus reveals that unbelievers are already condemned. The implication for us is how we are to see the state of humanity before belief. Our anthropology must be formed by these words and understand first that before any of us become believers we are non-believers. Secondly, Non-believers are in a state of condemnation and not a state of innocence.

We return to the Apostle Paul. Paul is prohibited from bringing the Gospel to a particular people. A people group that do not believe and are therefore not innocent but condemned. These communities are already under the judgment of God.  Thus in the vast ocean of non-believers God has shown mercy and spared many while the rest he will not. The rest will be left in judgment.

How do we respond? We respond in thankfulness. We among the many that have been shown mercy. We are among the number who have heard the testimony of God in Jesus. The testimony that says God has sent the Son to die for the sins of all who will believe. All who believe this and are identified by this confession, respond in thankfulness.

How about those have heard and have not believed? The fact that you have heard the message of salvation that God has prohibited others from hearing should be jarring. Why you? Why not them? Ultimately those answers are known only to God. However, we should not be foolish and put off our response till tomorrow. Rather today is the day of salvation and those who have heard and have not believed are called to repentance and faith in Jesus once again.

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