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How to Persuade Unbelievers: Evidence from Acts


Evidence to believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible: miracles, fulfilled prophecy, resurrectionWhen someone does not believe in the Bible, Jesus, or God, how can we convince them? Should we use archaeology, science, logic, secular history? Yes, but examples in the book of Acts emphasize creation, miracles, fulfilled prophecy, and the resurrection of Jesus.

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Introduction:

What should we do when confronted by someone who does not believe in the Bible, Jesus, or God?

Sometimes people think there is nothing we can do in such cases. They think people either believe or they don’t. If they do not believe, just pray for them but go on to somebody else.

Other people seek evidence outside the Bible to convince such people: science, archaeology, secular history, or logic. Any or all of these may be of some help.

But what did teachers in the New Testament do when they faced such situations? Beginning at Pentecost in Acts 2, every person that the early Christians tried to convert was an unbeliever. Many believed in idols instead of the true God. Others believed in God or the Old Testament but not in Jesus or the New Testament. So how did faithful teachers proceed?

The purpose of this study is to consider examples in the book of Acts showing how teachers persuaded people to believe in God, Jesus, and the gospel.

As we examine examples, please watch for language that emphasizes evidence: proofs, testimony, witnesses, testifying, etc.

Examples from the Book of Acts

Acts 1:3 – After His resurrection, Jesus presented Himself alive by many infallible proofs. So the book of Acts claims that many infallible proofs are available to convince honest people. Let us examine some of these evidences as inspired men presented them to others.

Acts 2:14-43

Jews had assembled for the feast of Pentecost. These were essentially the same people who had demanded Jesus be crucified fifty days earlier. They believed in God and the Old Law but not Jesus or the gospel. In verses 1-11 the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the gift of tongues.

Verse 14 – Peter began by explaining the miracle of tongue-speaking.

Verses 16-21 – He claimed the event was a fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2 that the Holy Spirit would be poured out. “This is what was spoken by the prophet” (verse 16).

Verse 22 – Jesus was attested by miracles, wonders, and signs done through Him.

Verses 23,24 – The people crucified Him but God raised Him from death.

Verses 25-32 – David “being a prophet… foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ.” His flesh did not see corruption nor did His spirit remain in Hades. The apostles were witnesses.

Verse 36 – Conclusion: They could know assuredly that God made Jesus Lord and Christ.

Verse 40 – With many other words he testified and exhorted them. 3000 obeyed.

Verse 43 – Many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

So Peter convinced these unbelievers to believe in Jesus by presenting the evidence of miracles, fulfilled prophecy, and Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts 3:12-26

Again, the people taught were Jews who did not believe in Jesus or the gospel.

Verses 1-11 – Peter and John healed a lame man at the temple.

Verses 12-15 – A crowd gathered and Peter said the people crucified Jesus, but God raised him from the dead. The apostles were witnesses (verse 15).

Verse 16 – Jesus provided power by which the lame man had been made strong (miracle).

Verse 18 – “Those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled .”

Verse 19 – So the people should repent and be converted.

Verses 21-24 – This fulfilled the message God spoke through the prophets since the world began, including Moses, Samuel, and all the prophets that followed. “All the prophets … have also foretold these days” (verses 20,24).

Verse 25,26 – As a result, the people could receive the forgiveness of sins in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of a blessing on all nations.

So, Peter convinced these unbelievers to believe in Jesus by presenting the evidence of miracles, fulfilled prophecy, and Jesus’ resurrection.

Action 10:38-47

Here Peter taught Cornelius: a Gentile who believed in God and the Old Testament.

Verses 30-33 – Cornelius believed in God, did many good works, and prayed regularly. An angel told him to send for Peter who then came to teach about Jesus.

Verse 38 – Jesus healed those oppressed by the devil for God is with Him (miracles).

Verses 39-41 – The apostles were witnesses of all things He did. The Jews killed Him but God raised Him up on the third day and showed Him to witnesses who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. They were commanded to preach and testify about Him.

Verse 43 – All the prophets witnessed that those who believe in Him will have remission of sins.

Verses 44-47 – The Holy Spirit fell on those who heard empowering them to speak with tongues (miracle). So Peter commanded them to be baptized in water.

So Peter convinced these unbelievers to believe in Jesus by presenting the evidence of miracles, fulfilled prophecy, and Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts 17:17-31

This case was different from the previous ones. Here Paul taught idol worshipers in Athens. Unlike the Jews, they believed neither in the true God nor in Scripture.

Verses 17,18 – He reasoned with the people preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

Verses 22-29 – He proclaimed that God made the world and everything in it and gives to all life, breath, and all things. So, He is Lord of heaven and earth. In Him we live and move and have our being for we are His offspring.

Verses 30,31 – He commands all men to repent because he will judge the world through Jesus. He has given assurance by raising Him from the dead.

Since these people did not believe in one true God, Paul began with the evidence of creation. Yet he soon proceeded to the resurrection. He was interrupted, so we do not know what else he would have presented.

Acts 26:8-23

Paul been arrested and was in prison. He had an opportunity to speak to king Agrippa who believed in the Jewish scriptures.

Verse 8 – He began by referring to the resurrection.

Verses 12-16 – He described how Jesus had miraculously appeared to him which proved Jesus was alive after His death. This would make Paul a witness.

Verse 22,23 – Paul was a witness to the things predicted by Moses and the prophets that Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead.

So as in earlier examples, Paul sought to convince this man to believe in Jesus by referring to fulfilled prophecy, miracles, and the resurrection.

Conclusions and Applications

Summary

The pattern should be obvious.

The approach used with those who believe in God and some of the Scripture

To those who believed in the existence of God and in some of the Scriptures, the teaching method was to begin with the faith they had. Beginning with the portion of Scripture they accepted, the teachers presented three main lines of evidence. Bible teachers repeatedly used these lines of evidence to establish the truth about Jesus and the gospel.

Fulfilled prophecy

Isaiah 42:8,9; 41:21-23; 46:9,10 – God often claimed that His ability to predict the future proves that He is the true God in contrast to idols.

Deuteronomy 18:21,22 – It likewise follows that those men who speak these prophecies must be speaking by the direct guidance of God.

Luke 24:44-46 – Since Jesus fulfilled the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah, He must be the Ruler of God’s people who came to save men from their sins.

Miracles

Mark 16:20 – When Jesus sent apostles to preach, He confirmed the word by signs.

The resurrection of Jesus

Romans 1:4 – Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – The evidence of miracles and Jesus’ resurrection is based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw those miracles and have recorded their testimony in the New Testament. This constitutes valid testimony such as is used in any courtroom.

The approach used with those who do not believe in the true God or in Scripture

For those who do not believe in the true God or in the Bible as the word of God, the evidence began with creation to prove the existence of God.

Psalm 89:11 – The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all its fullness, You have founded them.

From there it would proceed to the resurrection of Jesus and eventually to miracles and fulfilled prophecy. Again, this would be based on the testimony of eyewitnesses.

(Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20)

Conclusions

Scripture contains within it all the evidence we need to convince unbelievers.

Did the apostles and inspired New Testament teachers conclude that nothing could be done to convince unbelievers, or did they attempt to present evidence to convince them? Did the method they used work?

Did they teach the way God wanted them to, or did they make a mistake? Obviously, being inspired, they taught unbelievers the way God wanted them to be taught. Why should we not use the same approach? If this approach was good enough for them, why should we not do the same?

2 Timothy 3:16,17 says that the Scriptures provide us to every good work. This should include the good work of giving people evidence why they should believe.

Romans 10:17 says faith comes by hearing the word of God.

Surely there is some value in other evidence from outside the Scriptures: archaeology, logic, secular history, science, etc. But why should we trust these approaches as our main evidence when they are not what inspired teachers emphasized? Why should we neglect the evidence used by inspired teachers and put our trust in other approaches?

Teaching should emphasize testimony, evidence, and sure knowledge.

The examples show that the apostles repeatedly claimed to give testimony on which the people could know assuredly the truth of the gospel regarding Jesus.

Acts 1:3 – Jesus presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs.

Acts 1:8 – Jesus promised the apostles would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they would be witnesses to Him throughout the earth.

Acts 2:36 – People should know assuredly that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ.

Faithful teachers in the New Testament did not seek to convince people to believe by appealing to their parents’ faith, emotions, majority view, or the scholarly views of educators. Nor did they simply throw up their hands and say nothing could be done to convince the people.

The example of the inspired teachers is that people should be led to believe based on proof: evidence and eyewitness testimony. We should do as they did.

What evidence given in these examples can we use in teaching unbelievers?

We are not personal witnesses of Jesus after his resurrection, nor can we do miracles as were done in many of these cases. So what should we do? We have something they did not have!

John 20:29-31 – Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed. The evidence used by inspired men in the first century has been written in Scripture. So, even when people cannot personally see Jesus or His miracles, they can be convinced to believe and be saved.

Acts 17:2,3 – Paul’s custom was to reason from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” We can use Scripture as Paul did.

Acts 17:11,12 – The Bereans received the word with readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. As a result, many believed. God put the evidence in the Scriptures so that honest people who search diligently can know the truth and believe.

Luke 16:29-31 – The rich man in torment said his brothers would repent if someone went to them from the dead. Abraham responded that they had Moses and the prophets. If they did not believe them, they would not repent if someone went back from the dead.

God gave sufficient evidence in Scripture to convince honest people to believe the message of the Old Testament prophets. Anyone who did not believe, would not really believe if he personally saw a great miracle.

Likewise, today God has placed in Scripture all the evidence that we need, including the evidence that Jesus is the Christ. Any honest heart will accept and believe. Those who would not believe that evidence, would still not be converted if they personally saw miracles.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 – The inspired Scriptures are profitable for doctrine and instruction. They provide us to every good work.

People should respond by believing, repenting, and baptism.

Having presented the evidence, inspired teachers urged people to believe and obey.

Acts 2:36,38,40 – People should know assuredly that Jesus is Lord and Christ. They should then repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (verse 38). They should save themselves from the evil of the world (verse 40).

Acts 3:19 – People should repent and be converted. They could then receive the forgiveness of sins as promised to Abraham (verses 25,26).

Acts 10:43,47 – To have remission of sins they should believe on Jesus and be baptized.

Acts 17:30,31 – They should prepare for the judgment by repenting of their sins.

Acts 26:27,28 – They should believe the message of the inspired writers and become Christians.

When one has learned the truth, he must believe it. But saving faith is not simply a conviction in the heart. It includes obedience to the gospel conditions for forgiveness. One must then repent of sins, confess Christ, and be baptized for the remission of sins. One must then live a faithful life. Only then has one properly responded to the evidence in the word of God.


(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2021

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