It is not uncommon, nor unreasonable, for people to ask us for evidence of why we believe in Jesus. It is perfectly right and proper to give people a reason for the hope that is in us. Indeed, not only reasonable, but something the Bible demands. God condescends to reason with us (cf. Isaiah 1:18) and calls us to reason with others (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). It is good, right and proper to offer genuine reasons to believe.
But as a soteriologically reformed believer, I am well aware that unless God moves in grace towards people, they cannot and will not believe. If Total Depravity tells us anything it is that we do not by nature reach out to God. Even if you’re not reformed, it’s pretty hard to ignore the plain statement of Romans 3:9-18. And then there are the words of Jesus in John 6:44. There are other verses saying much the same thing. Unless God moves in grace towards us, we aren’t going to seek after him and we can’t come to the Father.
Similarly, we see the Pharisees in the gospels continually asking for signs that they know they will reject. They recognise perfectly well who Jesus is and yet reject him. They ask for more signs, having received countless signs already – enough even for them to have formed a clear understanding that Jesus is at least ‘a teacher come from God’ (John 3:2) – knowing full well that this sign is not going to be the one where they finally acknowledge Jesus as Son of God and Son of David. For them, no amount of signs will ever be enough.
I think three things are worth noting about that for us today. First, we have to accept that there are some people who engage with us who simply will never believe and do not want to do so. We can present Christ to them. We can point them to evidence. We can show them the scriptures. But in the end, unless God himself is drawing them, no amount of evidence will be enough. It is worth just preparing ourselves for that reality in our evangelistic efforts.
Second, if nobody will believe unless the Father draws them, it seems worth spending a bit more of our time asking the Father to do some drawing. I know my tendency is to spend lots of time working on my talks, presentations, arguments and whatnot. I am usually fairly well prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in me, with scriptural proofs and evidential reasons. But I am similarly aware that as prepared as I am that way, if I pray at all about it, that is usually a much shorter part of my preparation than the effort I put in crafting whatever I am delivering or thinking through potential answers. This seems to be a mistake to me. That isn’t to say I should be slipshod in my preparation, but I should certainly be more at prayer. It is God who is the one who draws, not my clever presentations, which suggests much more time in prayer asking God to draw his people to himself would be a more effective use of time and a solid mission strategy.
Third, and perhaps this is the one we least like to think about, we have to accept we are just wasting our time with some people. If some people will never believe, no matter how much evidence and reason we put in front of them, we have to work out when we have said all we can and then leave people to their determined rejection. This seems to be what Jesus is talking about when he speaks about casting our pearls before swine. It’s certainly what he did with the Pharisees, when he reached a point where he insisted they would get no further signs from him nor would he even bother answering their questions anymore. He instructed his Apostles to shake the dust off their feet when it became clear that their message was not going to be received. In the end, we have to make a similar judgement and determine, perhaps, whether we have done all we can and we are simply wasting our time continuing to present evidence that will never be accepted.
Of course, the difficulty with this final point is that we can never really know. We might decide that here is a person we have banged our head against a brick wall with for 10 years and seen no movement whatsoever. But we can’t know that year 11 isn’t the one in which God would finally work. Stories abound of people being prayed for for decades, almost coming to the end of their rope, when suddenly, the person they were praying for believe in Christ some 20, 30 or 40 years later. There is clearly a time to keep pressing on, continue presenting evidence, carry on sharing Christ if a door remains open to do so. There is evidently a time to cut our losses and call it a day, moving on to others who haven’t heard or who seem to be more receptive. Knowing exactly how and when to do this is difficult and requires a great deal of wisdom. But we cannot ignore the fact that such a time will come at some point.