When the subject of religion comes up we often hear comments like: ‘Religion is for the weak-minded’, or ‘it is poisonous’. We also hear, ‘All religions are the same’. And if the conversation continues, we might get told, ‘Religious people are so self-righteous!’ There are also those who tell us, ‘Everyone’s right in their own kind of way.’ ‘In any case, when I die, if there is a God, I’m sure he’ll accept me: I’ve led a good life’.

So, in this indifferent and sometimes hostile world, how do people come to faith in Christ? In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul provides some helpful clues. Let me identify them briefly.

In 2 Corinthians 4: 3-4 he writes: … even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Many interpret, the god of this world as a reference to the powers of evil. Satan is responsible for blinding people to the truth of Jesus. Certainly, there is support for this in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:12) where Jesus does say that the devil takes God’s Word from people’s hearts. But when we look more closely we see that the seed of God’s Word doesn’t take root or bear fruit for other reasons as well. It may fail in a time of testing or because people’s lives are dominated by the cares of or love for the world.

That said, the phrase the god of this world, can be understood another way. This understands the god of this age to be what is called an appositional phrase where one idea sits alongside another, explaining it.

Following this reading, the god of this agemeans ‘the god that consists of this age’. In other words people make this age their god. A total preoccupation with this world blinds people to the spiritual realities of the next. As someone has commented ‘it is because they have chosen to worship what is less than God that God has given them over to a darkened mind, and so yes, the devil finds it so easy to steal the word of God from their hearts’.

Malcolm Muggeridge, one time editor of the English Punch magazine observed that men and women are trapped ‘in a tiny dark dungeon of the ego… So imprisoned and enslaved, we are cut off from God and from the light of his love.’

How then do people come to believe? Paul answers that by telling us that there are two keys: the ministry of God’s Word and the supernatural miracle of God’s Spirit.

In 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 we read: 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Verbal communication about the Lord Jesus Christ is essential. To tease out Paul’s words here, he is saying ‘I just speak about and preach Jesus. I tell people who he is, what he has done, and why he has done it. I explain that Jesus is not just a great teacher or miracle worker, but God walking in our shoes. I point out that Jesus is more than a prophet; rather he is divinity who perfectly reveals God because he is truly God in the flesh.’

And, as we learn from his ministry elsewhere we learn that he explained the negative news that all men and women are fatally flawed, far beyond what we ever think. But amazingly, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God offered us all an amnesty when we turn to him in repentance and in faith. It’s an act of love and mercy far greater than we ever dreamed.

And, Paul continues with another necessary facet to people coming to faith. As he introduces men and women everywhere to the Jesus Christ, God through his Spirit takes the veil from people’s hearts and enables them to see the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ.

Paul explains that as we conduct a verbal ministry God chooses to accompany our speaking with something we can’t provide – his miracle of illumination. God has made his light shine in their hearts.

This necessary work of God raises another facet of our partnership with God: we need to pray – pray that God whose nature is always to have mercy will be merciful to the people of our age.

Yet, is it not true that often when we do start to look for opportunities to speak with friends or family about Jesus, we neglect to pray?

Let me urge you to commit to praying regularly for at least five people you know and who you would love to see come to know the Lord.

As to our verbal ministry of communication, over these next weeks I plan to set out seven suggested topics for coffee conversations drawn from Luke’s Gospel. I will welcome your comments.