The first work that God does in His elect is a work of preparation. Confronting an unprepared heart with the gospel is like a farmer who tries to raise a crop without breaking up the ground or who tries to sow his seed among thorns. Jer. 4:3.
This is the reason men respond differently to the gospel. In John 6:44-45 Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” The natural man hates this truth because he is a rebel, but it is the truth nonetheless.
Jesus was certainly God’s voice to his generation. The only ones able to recognize him and receive his ministry were those sovereignly prepared by God.
In Jesus’ day the primary means God used to prepare men for Christ was the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke 1:17. Luke 3:3-6. The effect of John’s ministry on those who heard Jesus is noted in Luke 7:29-30: “And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”
In general, the work of God to prepare men’s hearts is as varied as are those who experience that work. Even among God’s elect we differ one from another as does God’s purpose and plan for each individual.
In broad terms, however, this work is one of revelation — God making Himself known in some measure perhaps through the creation, or in some experience, or in someone who has Christ in them. There may be exposure, perhaps as a child, to some anointed ministry of the word that makes a lasting impression upon the heart, an awareness of God.
It is not the circumstances themselves that bring about this awareness, however. Two people could travel life’s road side by side and experience similar things yet one be softened and prepared for the gospel and the other untouched or even hardened.
Jacob and Esau were brothers — they had the same environment, the same father and mother — yet see how differently they turned out. Though Jacob was by nature a schemer, yet God brought him to a place where he became Israel, a prince of God (Gen. 32:28).
Esau was a profane man, interested solely in what his flesh needed and desired. He saw no real value in his birthright. He totally missed the spiritual significance of being heir to Abraham and Isaac. Even when he realized he had lost out and begged for his father’s blessing, I doubt he understood what he had lost. He saw only the natural blessing of being heir to a wealthy man. Gen. 27:34. Heb. 12:16-17.
God has, down through the ages, similarly separated men and women unto himself, revealing Himself by various means — according to His own schedule — that their hearts might be made ready to receive the King, who died and rose again that we might live and reign with him forever! Hallelujah!
One thing needs to be made clear, however. Unless a man is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Even one prepared of God is still a natural man until he experiences the new birth. I Cor. 2:14 says, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
He may be around a true ministry of the word. He may be able, through his natural intellect, to grasp in a measure many of the ideas and teachings that pertain to God’s kingdom and its citizens. He may even seem to be able to put them into words in such a way that you would think he truly understood. Yet, unless he is born again, such a religious profession — in reality a religious effort — is in vain. Like the house built upon the sand it may appear to be very solid and impressive, but let just the right conditions arise and it will be evident that the necessary foundation is lacking. The house will fall and the ruin will be great (Luke 6:49).
No religious “house” will succeed that is built upon that which is merely human. No amount of intellect, will power, zeal, resolve, self-righteousness or human effort of any kind will avail.