Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Praying for Unbelievers
Pastor Steve Schell
Romans 10:14-21
Have you ever heard someone say, “I wish I had faith like you do. For some reason I just can’t seem to believe.” They may sense something inside that prevents faith. For them it’s a struggle to believe God exists or that they could have a relationship with Him. Faith is a remarkable quality. For some it comes as naturally as breathing while others find it hard to even imagine a spiritual realm exists. Why is this? Are some people “wired” by nature to perceive spiritual realities and others not? Actually, I suspect there is some truth to that statement, but in the passage we’ll study today Paul says faith is available to all. He says when the gospel is preached faith is present. God offers it to us as a gift. It isn’t something we can produce naturally; it’s a miracle that’s given to us, but we still have a part to play: that gift must be received. And that’s where the problem lies. There are powerful forces at work in the human heart that can prevent people from receiving faith. Real faith is a miraculous change of mind implanted in us by the Holy Spirit, so any human being, regardless of their background, can believe and be saved when they hear the gospel. Yet many don’t. Today let’s listen to Paul explain why, and then let’s reflect on how a believer can pray effectively for someone who struggles.

What is Paul teaching us? (Ro 10:14-21)
(v14) Paul acknowledges that calling on Jesus is the final step in a sequence of events. Faith doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Someone must tell me about Him before I can believe.
(v15) Ultimately, God is the One who motivates believers to tell others, and He promised to send messengers to announce the arrival of His Messiah (Isa 52:7).
(v16) You can’t blame a person for not believing a gospel they’ve never had the chance to hear. And it’s not enough to merely “hear” a message; they must understand what they hear before they can be held accountable for rejecting it.
(v16) Judaism’s widespread rejection of the gospel wasn’t because no one told them or they didn’t understand what they heard. The problem was they rejected the Savior God sent (Isa 53:1). He was not who they expected. His cross shocked and offended them. They refused to believe that God would allow His Son to be treated that way, nor would they accept the verdict that their sin had caused His suffering (Isa 53:4-6).
(v17) Faith arises when I hear God speak to me. The Holy Spirit accompanies the truth and offers me the gift of faith. Whenever Christ is truly preached, saving faith is available. It’s effortless; I don’t generate it, but I do have to receive it (Gal 3:2, 5).
(v18) Israel’s reaction to the gospel at that point in history illustrated this. God had faithfully sent the gospel to even the most remote places where people lived (“mountains”, Isa 52:7). His messengers had preached Jesus as thoroughly as the heavens witness to God as their Creator (Ps 19:1-4).
(v19) Not only did Judaism hear the gospel, they also understood its message. They heard believers proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah who suffered, died and rose from the dead, that He is the One Isaiah (52:13-53:12) said would come. But they rejected what they heard just as Moses predicted they would (Dt 32:21). He warned that God would turn away and give His blessings to Gentiles. He said they would watch ignorant, foolish people receive the gospel by faith and become blessed. He said this would provoke them to anger and jealousy.
(v20) Later when Isaiah came along he reinforced Moses’ warning. In response to the prophet’s prayer for his nation God told him only a “remnant” would believe in the Messiah, but many Gentiles would come (Isa 65:1).
(v21) God assured him that He would faithfully reach out to Israel, but in spite of this most would refuse. Instead they would insist on “following their own thoughts” (Isa 65:2). The real reason behind their rejection is human rebellion and stubbornness. When God calls, the human heart is still able to say “no”.

The Human Heart
Two people can hear the same gospel and in one it’s combined with faith resulting in salvation, while in the other it’s not. Why is that? Why do some believe and some don’t? Paul tells us the choice is up to us. Faith is a gift God wants to give, but we are the ones who decide to reject or accept His gift (Eph 2:8, 9). Here’s how it works: The gospel is not merely the communication of information. It is an invitation from God accompanied by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes and opens our understanding. He convicts and convinces; He makes us conscious of God’s presence. And in that very moment when He’s drawing us, our hearts begin to calculate the price we’ll pay. We ask ourselves, what will I have to give up if I say “yes?” Will I accept His verdict that I am a hopeless sinner? Will I try to justify myself? Am I willing to bow my knee to a Master? Am I willing to have my life reoriented from glorifying myself to glorifying Him? No matter how troubled my life has been, for that brief moment my will is free, the door is open, the Lord stands before me with open arms… and I can believe or I can refuse to believe.

Praying to unbelievers
If faith is a gift freely given then why doesn’t everyone say “yes?” There must be forces at work in people’s hearts that hinder them from receiving such a wonderful salvation. While we can’t make anyone choose one way or another we can pray for them, and it helps to know what the obstacles are that may need to be removed. So let’s reflect on some of the forces that hinder people from receiving faith in Jesus. By the way, as we do this, it’s important to remember to never take a judgmental attitude towards someone. We always pray humbly and in love, never with a superior, critical spirit.
Before we list these let’s recognize the pastoral authority the Lord has given us to pray for others (Jn 20:21-23). Please notice, God deals with each person differently depending on the issues in their heart.
Depending on what the Holy Spirit shows us we might ask God to:
1) Humble the proud.
• Show them their sin (need for forgiveness).
• Show them the limits of their mind.
2) Make the “full” hungry (Mt 5:6).
• Break their love for the pleasures of the world.
3) Awaken their consciousness to their mortality.
• Ps 90:1-12 “Teach us to number our days.”
• Ps 103:14-18
• The young may assume they will never die, the old live in denial believing the doctors will heal anything that goes wrong.
• Alcohol and drugs may be used to numb the gnawing awareness of mortality.
• We can’t make good decisions until we recognize how quickly life passes.
4) Suspend demonic deception.
• 2Co 4:3, 4 “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so they might not see the light of the gospel….”
• 2Ti 2:26 “They may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
• Unbelieving spirit, lies about Christ, the example of false Christians, distorted doctrine….
5) Break the grip of bitterness.
• Mt 6:14, 15 “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
• Bitterness prevents me from receiving God’s grace (bitter at God or others).
• People often hold on to bitterness because of fear. They feel they have to stay angry to protect themselves from further injury. The real antidote to bitterness is faith (Ge 50:15-21).
6) Lift the grip of shame and anger at self.
• Some people believe they have done things that God can never forgive.
• “I deserve to go to hell. I hate myself.”
• Isa 53:6 “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

There’s something even better than having God show someone else my heart so they can pray for me, and that’s having Him show me, so I can confess it and escape it’s grip. Today, I might need to say:
1) I’m proud and my mind is in the way.
2) I’m greedy and sensual and my love of this world is in the way.
3) I’m so afraid of death I refuse to think about it. My denial is in the way.
4) I’m under a spiritual assault. Every time I move toward Jesus all hell breaks loose. My fear of that backlash is in the way.
5) I’m angry at God for letting bad things happen, and I’m angry at certain people for doing bad things. My bitterness is in the way.
6) I’ve been so stubborn for so long that now I’m embarrassed to admit I was wrong. My shame is in the way.
7) I’ve done things that are so bad people like me should be punished in hell forever. My self-hatred is in the way.

But when all is said and done there is really only one thing standing in the way and that is the decision not to “call on the name of the Lord,” because everyone who does will be saved.
That “name” is Jesus and if you’ll call on Him He’ll overrule all your history and bring you to Himself.
Is anyone ready to call on that name, the name of Jesus, today?

1) Was there an obstacle in your heart that prevented you from believing? What released to receive faith?
2) Did people pray for you before you became a Christian? Who was it? 

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