Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lydia, A Woman of Faith and a Recipient of Prevenient Grace

And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. (Ac 16:14 AV)

A proof text for those who advocate a pre-faith regeneration, the above passage is sometimes abused by those who tend to read their theology into the text, a careless exercise by any measure.  Lydia has been presented as an unbeliever whose worship was tainted by insincerity. Is there any truth to that? There is nothing in the text to indicate any sense of vain worship. There is no revelation of her being far from the heart of God. It merely tells us that she worshiped God. Being from Thyatira or the modern city of Ahkisar in central Turkey (to the north-northeast of Ephesus), Lydia was a Gentile proselyte to the Hebrew faith. This tells us she came out of her heathen life and embraced the God of the Hebrews. The passage tells us at least that much, she worshiped God. This indicates that rather than being regenerated when God “opened” her heart in this instance, she came out of whatever depravity she was born into prior to the visit by Paul and the others of his entourage. By worshiping God, she was already a woman of faith. Granted, her faith had not been converted to Christ at that point but then, neither had King David’s faith been such in his day. Should we suggest that David’s faith and worship was done in vain? God forbid for the scriptures tell us he had a heart after the LORD.

It is important to recognize that not all of Judea was swallowed up in vain worship tainted by the religious rulers of the day. The bible tells us God has always had a remnant of believers among His people. Given the text, it seems entirely reasonable that God saw Lydia as one of that faithful remnant and when the time came for that Gospel to be preached, He provided the grace necessary to fully comprehend and embrace that Gospel. If Lydia is said to have worshiped God, it seems short sighted and rather hasty to delegate her to the spirit of this world rather than being of God the Father. To do so in order to further a philosophical, dogmatic teaching is, in my opinion, damaging to one’s faith in the veracity and infallibility of scripture. A surprising defense of this reading into scripture has been the suggestion that Luke was merely passing on his opinion of Lydia’s outward appearance of religion rather than the indicated truth of Lydia being a worshiper of God. That is quite convenient but at what point do we accept what the Bible instructs as truth rather than question that given truth? If the Bible tells us that someone worships God and gives absolutely no indication of a vain faith, we should accept what scripture tells us rather than try to force it into a poorly fitted argument.

The doctrine of pre-faith regeneration is forced upon this passage because it has God’s work of grace preceding the delivery of the Gospel through which faith comes to those who hear. However, God’s prevenient grace better matches the narrative especially when regeneration is regarded as that born again experience proceeding from the burying of the old self through conviction and repentance. As  a proselyte, Lydia was converted from her heathenism and entered the fellowship of those who worshiped the one true God, the God of the Hebrews. God tells us so in His very word. Lydia worshiped God. Whether one wishes to argue that regeneration precedes faith or not, it would have to go to the place where Lydia ceased being an unbeliever in the God of the Hebrews under the old covenant. It has to go to the same place that such occurred to David and every other saint who worshiped God, assumingly in truth and spirit.


Pumice said...

Although I enjoyed the entire post the part that challenged me was at the beginning:

"those who tend to read their theology into the text"

I pray that I would be able to avoid that trap. Thanks for a reminder in the course of a discourse.

Grace and peace.

A.M. Mallett said...

I think we all have to admit that each of us do the same thing at times. I can find myself coming across a passage that Calvinists use for their perspective and I then look for the holes. That is not always the case but sometimes in our in-house battles, we forget to put down the iron on occasion.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I agree. The lengths to which they go to put regeneration ahead of faith would be humorous if the error were not so constraining on their system.

Ken Hamrick