“God Opens Hearts”
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
The book of Acts shows us, among many other things, the wide response to the gospel in the first century. Luke’s record describes how people came to believe and follow Jesus Christ, giving us an invaluable pattern today. Though each situation is unique there are several elements which are always present when a person is converted: someone is preaching the good news while someone is listening to it with God at work in the process.
Take the conversion of Lydia. Paul preached, Lydia listened, and “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) The preacher, the message, the listener and God all worked together resulting in Lydia’s salvation.
Hearts are opened by God — God is the initiator and author of salvation. He is at work opening hearts and minds (cf. Lk. 24:45), drawing sinners to himself for salvation (Jn. 3:5; 6:44; 12:32). The Lord promised that when the Holy Spirit would come, he would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn. 16:8) How does God affect hearts like that today?
God opens hearts through the gospel — Salvation comes through the message of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:14). People believe the gospel when it comes to them “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (1 Thess. 1:5) As Paul preached to Lydia, God’s Spirit was working on her heart through the gospel to convict and convert her.
God opens hearts through preaching — For Lydia to have heard the saving message in the first place necessitated a messenger (Rom. 10:13-17). While God was at work in the process, this in no way lessened Paul’s responsibility to preach and persuade Lydia to receive the gospel (2 Cor. 5:20; 6:1; cf. Ezek. 3:16-27).
God opens hearts through love not coercion — God’s activity in no way removed Lydia’s responsibility to “repent and believe the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15) We mustn’t mistakenly pit God’s activity over against human responsibility in regard to salvation. Scripture teaches that the two work in concert. In God’s wisdom, he has devised a way to save us while not overriding our will in the process. The door of Lydia’s heart was not pried open. Jesus does not barge in uninvited; he lovingly knocks on the door of our heart (Rev. 3:20).
In the gospel, God both proves his love and calls us to love (1 Pet. 1:22-25). This life of love we are called to is a gift we may accept or reject (Rom. 6:23). Since love cannot be coerced, God gives us the dignity of choice (Josh. 24:15; Deut. 30:19). Making this gift available to all ensures that those who ask, receive, those who seek, find, and those who knock, it will be opened to them (Mt. 7:7-8).
The human choice of obedience works in cooperation with God resulting in salvation (Acts 16:14), while the human choice of rebellion colludes with Satan resulting in condemnation (2 Cor. 4:4).
Paul wrote of those who do not believe the gospel, “in their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.” (2 Cor. 4:4) This blindness is both self-inflicted and imposed upon them making them both culprits and victims. The gospel, therefore, is the ultimate litmus test; our response to the priceless gift of God’s Son reveals the condition of our heart (Mt. 13:1-23). This system of salvation by grace through faith ensures that no one who earnestly desires eternal life will ever miss it. And best of all, because salvation is a gift, when anyone is saved, God gets all the credit!