Functioning Auditory Receptors
Three times in the Gospels, Jesus said to the audience, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 11:15; Matt. 13:9, 43); while this may sound odd or even nonsensical, Jesus was noting that not all who have ears will have the willingness to hear, or an interest in what He said. Albert Barnes commented: “It is a proverbial expression, implying that the highest attention should be given to what was spoken.” That is exactly the point! We might say something similarly today: “Pay attention — this is important!”
Hearing is an important human physical ability — so much so that it plays a part in God’s plan for our salvation! I know of no one who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ who would deny the importance of faith in our salvation, and God’s word plainly tells us, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:13, 14); he would then conclude, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
The point in Paul’s Divinely-inspired words was not to teach a ridiculous doctrine that some hold, that deaf people can’t be saved because they can’t hear, but was pointing out that faith comes from hearing the word of God [the gospel] preached, for no one can call on Christ for salvation if they know nothing about Christ. That fact is still true today, and will always be. One may not have functioning auditory receptors [i.e., they are deaf], but the message of the gospel can still be delivered to them in a way that can be comprehended and believed. And, as is the case with those with perfectly functioning auditory receptors, those who cannot literally ‘hear’ the words being preached can choose to reject those words and disbelieve.
The point is not that each man must have functioning auditory receptors, but that each man must have, as Jesus put it, “ears to hear.” One may have perfectly-fine hearing, but not have “ears to hear” because the message is displeasing or difficult or, in many cases, the words that are spoken condemn a certain type of behavior one wants to continue practicing. It is not that the words of the gospel message are unheard; it is that those words are disliked and, therefore, unwanted.
As noted earlier, hearing is an integral part of God’s plan for our salvation, as revealed by Paul’s Divinely-inspired words in Romans 10:17. To that Point, Albert Barnes also commented: “faith does not exist unless there is a message, or report, to be heard or believed. It cannot come otherwise than by such a message; in other words, unless there is something made known to be believed. And this shows us at once the importance of the message, and the fact that people are converted by the instrumentality of truth, and of truth only.” [Barnes’ Notes, Rom. 10:17.] Barnes was absolutely right, and this passage denies the commonly-preached and commonly-accepted [but false] doctrine that faith comes by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of predestined individuals — without the preaching of the gospel message!
Hear what this doctrine teaches:
“The gospel invitation extends a call to salvation to everyone who hears its message. It invites all men without distinction to drink freely of the water of life and live. It promises salvation to all who repent and believe. But this outward general call, extended to the elect and non-elect alike, will not bring sinners to Christ…the unregenerate will not respond to the gospel call to repentance and faith.
“Therefore, the Holy Spirit, in order to bring God’s elect to salvation, extends to them a special inward call in addition to the outward call contained in the gospel message.”
[David Steele, Curtis Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented, p. 48.]
Now, you can put your eternal trust in those words, or in God’s word, but they do not agree. God says, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” while man says, “Faith comes by a special operation of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of individuals God predestined for salvation.” I reject the words of men, for they are plainly contradictory to God’s word, and Jesus has said the words that He spoke will judge me in the last day (John 12:47, 48) — not the words of men.
[There are many more problems and contradictions in this doctrine, but I will save that for another day and article.]
But let us not get caught up in emphasizing the need for hearing the word of God without the simultaneous emphasis on doing the word of God [obeying it]. When Jesus was concluding the Sermon on the Mount, He challenged the audience to do more than just hear what He had to say; He then taught the need for doing by giving the illustration of the wise and foolish builders (Matt. 7:24-27). It is the wise man, Jesus said, who “hears these sayings of Mine, and does them,” and the foolish man who “hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them.”
James adds to this, admonishing the early disciples, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (Jas. 1:22-25). If we hear what God’s word says, and do not do, then we are fooling only ourselves if we think that is enough. Sitting in the pews and listening attentively to the word preached will not bring the eternal reward; it comes when we do what the word of God teaches.
When the gospel was first preached, it is said of the audience who heard it, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Then would have been the perfect time for Peter to tell them, “Nothing! God will do all the work and you must wait for the Holy Spirit to perform “a work of grace within you that will inevitably bring [you] to faith in Christ [Steel, Thomas.] if you are one of the predestined ones.”
But he said nothing remotely close to that! What he said was this: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). What Peter told them is the same thing Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:16), and there is one plan for salvation that was for all men, Jew and Gentile (Acts 15:11). The question is: Do you have “ears to hear”?
Jesus Himself said plainly that it is the one who “does the will of My Father in heaven” who will “enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21); the writer of Hebrews likewise reminds us Jesus is not Savior to those who merely hear Him or even to those who just believe, but “to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:8, 9). Hearing, without doing [i.e., obeying] is foolish and self-deceiving.
It is good to have functioning auditory receptors, but it is far better to have a heart willing to heed and obey the words God has preserved within the written record of His will, the Bible.
Are you willing? — Steven Harper