How Does The Holy Spirit Use Kingdom Community To Prepare A Heart For The Gospel?
Recently, I preached on the Parable of the Sower (AKA- The Parable of the Soils) from Matthew 13. In this parable, the “sower” is Christ, the “seed” is the gospel, and the “soils” are human hearts. As Jesus explains, our hearts can respond in different ways to the seed of the gospel. From flat out rejection, sudden, emotional responses that seems to fizzle out, to a faith that gets choked out by the world’s influences, there are a number of ways that the seed of the gospel results in an unfruitful conclusion. There are however, those hearts that seem to be fertile ground for the gospel that just keep growing and producing fruit over time. These hearts are not always the fastest growing, just the longest. Thinking through this illustration, I began to ask- What makes one person’s heart fertile soil, while another heart hard to the gospel?
The reason for hearts that are hard to the gospel or inevitably unfruitful are fairly obvious- our hearts are all corrupted by sin. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). A heart that is fertile for the Gospel is truly the result of the Holy Spirit. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44). Jesus teaches in Matthew 13:16-17 that many will not see the truth, but blessed are those that do! No man made strategy, tactic or best practice can do what only the Holy Spirit can do- make hearts fertile ground for the Gospel. However, I believe that among the many ways that the Holy Spirit accomplishes His work, He often includes the people of God to be used by Him. One might ask,
How does the Holy Spirit do His Work to prepare a human heart for the gospel? This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I believe these three means for accomplishing His Kingdom ends are some of the most common. In addition, I believe that the third, “Authentic Kingdom Community,” is what brings meaning and connectivity to the first and second.
- Pain and Suffering- Various struggles and hardships often bring someone who is hardened to the gospel to a place of spiritual receptivity. As CS Lewis once said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It should not be surprising that Jesus most often ministered to the broken, hurting and suffering. They were the ones who most clearly understood their need and were open to the message of salvation that Christ offers.
- Power- When God reveals His power, people’s hearts are touched and become open to His gospel. Jesus used miracles then and still does today. His power is revealed through answered prayers and the power of God working through and in His disciples. Never underestimate how God might reveal Himself powerfully in order to prepare hearts for the Gospel.
- Authentic Kingdom Community- Pain and suffering, as well as the power of God, are best understood and applied within the context and relationship of non-believers with an authentic, Kingdom community of believers. Within this community, they discover the purpose of pain, the hope that we have in Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, and the love of God that transcends circumstance. This community brings understanding to the power of God by identifying God as its source and praising Him for His gracious love and grace for providing it. When non-believers experience pain and suffering or the power of God with little to no interaction or relationship with authentic Kingdom community, it is very unlikely that they will be open to any proclamation of the Gospel. For this reason, we believe the Holy Spirit works most powerfully in conjunction with the people of God when…
* The Kingdom comes to the Community: When authentic Kingdom community intentionally engages its local community with service, humility and an intentional desire to build loving relationships, the hearts of non-believers begin to become more receptive to Christ. When demonstrate the love of Jesus in our actions, unbelievers are led to rethink their preconceived bias’ and opinions about Christians. Jesus instructed His disciples clearly on this very matter, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works any give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 I believe that the Holy Spirit uses every act of service in the community to remove stones and pull weeds in the hearts of the unbelievers that see us.
* The Community comes into the Kingdom: Equally important, those in authentic Kingdom community should seek to invite non-believers into opportunities to see and experience this community personally. When we invite a lost friend or neighbor into our lives and into our Kingdom community, we demonstrate the love of Jesus in our relationships. Unbelievers have the opportunity to see true Christian love up close and personally, which often leads them to desire this kind of community for themselves. Jesus often invited unbelievers into relational settings with Him and His disciples. This is why I believe Jesus taught His disciples; “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 He also prayed in this way by asking God, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21 In my own experience, as well as the testimonies of many other believers, I have found that it was this invitation into authentic, Kingdom community that ultimately became the Holy Spirit’s instrument for preparing my heart, and the hearts of many others for the seed of the Gospel.
So, one may ask, What are the takeaways from this understanding? Here are a few simple thoughts-
- Neither pain, nor power, make sense to an unbeliever apart from an engaging relationship with an authentic Kingdom community. As a result, we should be particularly sensitive to reaching out and inviting in those unbelievers, which may be enduring a painful season or experiencing the power of God in their lives.
- We must go into the local community, as an Authentic Kingdom community. When God’s people serve together as an authentic Kingdom community within the local community, we demonstrate a picture of Christ and His Church that forces unbelievers to see Christians more favorably. It makes it much more difficult for unbelievers to share the sentiment of Gandhi who once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
- We must bring unbelievers into a relationship within Authentic Kingdom community. We must be intentional about creating spaces where our unbelieving friends can engage with a loving group of believers. This may not necessarily mean inviting them to church. It could be a group hike, a cook out in your back yard, or a board game night that is best suited for this type of endeavor.
- Everything matters. Every thing that we do will either be used by the Holy Spirit to soften peoples hearts for the Gospel or strengthen their resolve against it. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17
We do not have power over human hearts, but the Holy Spirit uses our efforts and intentionality to prepare the hearts of those whom He has chosen to receive the Gospel seed. Let us then all be focused on fulfilling our role as a part of authentic Kingdom communities to bring about God’s Gospel harvest.
"What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:5-6
DISCUSSION: (Find an authentic Kingdom community and discuss the following together.)
- How did experiencing personal pain or the power of God impact your coming to faith in Jesus?
- How does serving and loving the local community bring light to a community? How does the Holy Spirit use our service and intentional love to help prepare hearts for the Gospel? How have you seen this personally or in ministry?
- How did entering into an authentic Kingdom community impact your decision to trust in Christ? How have you seen that impact others? What are you doing to help bring people not just to church, but into community?
- What are the benefits of taking an “everything matters” mentality when thinking about how the Holy Spirit is using your life to prepare people’s hearts for the Gospel? How does this challenge you?