By Eric Johnson
This was originally printed in Mormon Coffee on January 24, 2013.
If you are like me, one of the most frustrating things in sharing your Christian faith is having the message rejected, sometimes even “in your face.” Recently I had a pair of Mormon missionaries come over to my house, unannounced. We had a very good one-hour conversation. The elder who had been on the field longer wanted to leave after 15 minutes, but the new elder expressed his desire of staying and engaging. It was a friendly dialogue. As they left, the junior elder (who, at 21, had admitted that he had just received his testimony earlier that year) shook my hand. He looked me in the eyes and said that no matter what anyone said, nobody was going to be able to convince him that his testimony was not true.
Talk about frustration. This missionary had no answers as to how he “knew” that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. He couldn’t explain why he “knew” the Book of Mormon was true except he had a good feeling. And how did he “know” that his testimony was valid? Well, he just did. How is it even possible to communicate in an intelligent manner with someone who holds fideism so close to his heart?
The answer to my frustration is found, very clearly I might say, in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 25 (NIV): “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him; God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
According to the original Greek text, the word for “foolishness” is where we get the English word “moron.” Interesting choice of words, wouldn’t you say? According to the Bible, people left in their natural state are “morons.” Now, I’m not saying Mormons are morons. (Have you ever slipped on your computer and written “moron” instead of “Mormon”? The spell checker just won’t catch the mistake!) However, left to the unbeliever’s natural state, the cross and the heart of Christianity’s message will be rejected 100% of the time as being foolish. It just doesn’t make sense to them. This has been confirmed by the many conversations I’ve had with dozens of missionaries and thousands of other Latter-day Saints.
Paul goes on. He says in verses 27-30 that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
On the surface, the cross isn’t very exciting to those who believe that, somehow, their good works must be added to the payment owed due to sin. Even though Christ has paid it all, we naturally believe that somehow we must make our contribution, even if it just ends up being 1% of the total. But desiring to make a “contribution” means that a person has not fully grasped the idea that nothing more is owed once the gift has been accepted! Notice, Christ is “our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” It’s His work, not ours, that is needed. The debt is fully paid yet there is nothing you did to earn it.
In chapter 2, Paul explains that it wasn’t through earthly wisdom that he shared the gospel with the Corinthians, but rather “with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Why? In verse 5, he explains “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” Otherwise, the individual would have room to boast on his or her own accomplishments. (See Ephesians 2:8-9.)
Be careful, because Paul is not saying that we should walk up to Mormons, touch them with a spiritual magic—no words necessary—and all of a sudden they will grasp the true gospel. This concept is certainly not supported in how he shared the gospel in Jewish synagogues or at Mars Hill in Acts 17. Verse 7 is important here in explaining “God’s secret wisdom,” which “has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” In the Greek, the word “predestined” is used here. Translate it as you will, but understand that God’s sovereignty is the key for people to be able to know God. “God’s secret wisdom” will remain hidden unless, as verse 10 says, “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”
Do you grasp this? It’s hard, isn’t it? After all, if I had my way, every missionary and Latter-day Saint with whom I come into contact would comprehend the message of Truth that I’m trying to share. But Paul says I wasn’t ever supposed to understand how this all works. He said that just as no person can understand his own thoughts like the person himself, so “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (v. 11).
For verse 13, let me quote the Contemporary English Version, for I think it grasps the concept of what Paul was communicating better than the KJV, NIV, and NASB: “Every word we speak was taught to us by God’s Spirit, not by human wisdom. And the same Spirit helps us teach spiritual things to spiritual people.” In order to be able to understand, those recipients must have wisdom—spiritual and not earthly. As verse 6 says, a person must be spiritually “mature” to understand the wisdom of God. Spiritual wisdom, not natural wisdom, is needed to fully understand this incredible message.
Finally, the killer point comes in verse 14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
How many ex-Mormons have you met who have said something like this: “For all those years, I just didn’t understand the gospel. Then (blank) happened and all of a sudden it made sense. How did I not see this before?” The answer, my friend, is found in these first two chapters of 1 Corinthians. The Holy Spirit is in charge of “secret wisdom.” The key to unlocking that secret wisdom involves more than just verbally sharing your Christian faith. Prayer on our part, both during and after the evangelistic encounter, will go a long way! After all, we’re not involved in a conflict of flesh and blood but with things involving the spiritual realm. (See Ephesians 6:12.)
I have to say, as the missionaries walked away, I silently admitted to God that I was frustrated. But as my friend Bill McKeever likes to say, “We’re only in sales. God is in production.” When presenting the gospel, some of us are involved in planting seeds and others are in charge of watering, “but God made it grow” (1 Cor. 3:6). I have been commissioned to present truth to the lost, however that might be, but I must always remember that it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to bring people to Him. I encourage you to continue sharing your faith and don’t let rejection affect you personally. You just never know who God is going to touch next, even if it’s not in your presence!