Total Inability

God always makes the first move.

Acts 16:11-15 (ESV)

So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 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. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Luke’s tone has changed. Starting in verse 10, he’s now using the word “we.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Luke has joined Paul, Silas and Timothy and is traveling with them.

So we now get more details – bits that Luke probably wouldn’t have gotten second hand, but as an eyewitness he picks up on. When they sit down with the women who were praying by the river, Luke describes what he sees – and he sees something important.

Paul’s doing all the talking, but Luke notices something happening to Lydia. He sees that, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” This is one of the five points of Calvinism in action. Without divine intervention, Lydia wouldn’t have even paid attention to what was said by Paul.

This is what Calvinists call Total Inability. We are incapable of coming to Christ on our own. Only through the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit can anyone become a Christian.

Here we see a fascinating example of how this can work. It doesn’t take hidebound resistance to the gospel to keep someone from Christ; a little distraction works just fine.

The best preaching in the world doesn’t matter to someone who isn’t paying attention.


Notice that Luke doesn’t give any specifics about Paul’s message. His preaching was undoubtedly good, but the point here is that God opened Lydia’s heart. Remember this when you consider what works, and what doesn’t, when trying to attract people to Christ.

Prayer is our number one weapon in this battle. Sure, a well composed pitch is worth preparing, but if no one’s listening, you’re wasting your time.

We pray for our evangelism and our missionaries a lot – and should. But today let’s pray for our own hearts. Just as people sometimes don’t pay attention to the gospel, so we don’t always pay attention to the messages we hear. Yes, God opened our hearts and we found Christ, but how well can you recall last Sunday’s sermon?

Ask God to give us better focus. We’re too busy.


The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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