It is not in the nature of man to see himself as God sees him. None of us thinks we are as bad as we really are, hence the need for the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit, who will "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." (John 16:8) Through the Spirit's ministry, we are convicted of our sinfulness and our need to be redeemed. On the Day of Pentecost those who heard Peter's message "were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" The Spirit had convicted them of their sinfulness and, in desperation, they cry out for deliverance. They are told, "Repent and be baptised everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… Those who accepted his message were baptised." (Acts 2:37-41)

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is seen working in the life of Lydia and her family as they listened to Paul telling them about the crucified and risen Christ. "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home." (Acts 16:14-15) Like those on the Day of Pentecost, Lydia also had her heart opened by the Holy Sprit and responded to the gospel by being baptised. But not everyone has been so responsive.

Resisting the Holy Spirit

Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He shared the redemptive message of Christ with an audience that proved to be unreceptive. "You stiff-necked people," he said, "with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers; you are always resisting the Holy Spirit… When they heard this they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him… they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him." (Acts 7:51-58)

The Holy Spirit was being resisted, the illumination of the Spirit was being rejected. They were behaving just like their forefathers, who also resisted the Holy Spirit.

In the city of Antioch, Paul made his customary visit to the local synagogue and preached the gospel there. "We tell you good news," Paul said. "What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus… I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you." (Acts 13:32-28) The following Sabbath "almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord." However, the Jews became jealous "and talked abusively against what Paul was saying." Paul responded: "Since you reject it [the gospel] and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles." (Acts 13:44-46) The Jews at Antioch made a conscious decision to reject the gospel by resisting all the overtures God was making to them.

Paul was brought before governor Felix and " discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.'" (Acts 24:25) (Many reject the gospel because it is not 'convenient'.). Felix's rejection of the gospel is confirmed by his conduct. "When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison." (Acts 24:27) This is not the behaviour of a man who had become a believer.

At his trial before Agrippa and Festus, the Apostle Paul gave a fearless proclamation of the gospel. "At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defence. 'You are out of your mind, Paul!' he shouted. 'Your great learning is driving you insane' 'I am not insane, most excellent Festus,' Paul replied. 'What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things… King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.' Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" (Acts 26:24-28) The tone of Agrippa's words shows he rejected the gospel. His unbelief was his own choice.

And so it is today. People hear the gospel and many reject it. Yet God is not silent. What he said in ancient times is still applicable for our generation. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart." (Hebrews 4:7)