Convince or Confuse?

By Joe R. Price

Harry S. Truman is quoted as saying, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” Jesus was accused of using confusing language: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly,” to which Jesus replied, “I told you, and you do not believe” (John 10:24). Our Lord spoke the word of God openly and clearly to the people (John 18:20). He commissioned his apostles to do likewise (Matt. 28:19-20). The purpose of gospel preaching is to convince and to persuade men of the Christ and his salvation (Acts 19:8; 2 Cor. 5:11). The Word did not come to confuse men. The Light of the World shined, and people who sat in darkness saw a great light (John 8:12; Matt. 4:16).

A tendency which has developed in our preaching is to avoid clarity of speech and decisiveness of doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2-5). Some brethren appeal to the complexity and difficulty of a doctrine as a reason for tolerance of and unity with opposing (and even contradictory) teachings and practices (cf. Eph. 5:8-11; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). Some try to convince us that those who boldly preach the gospel on the controversial topics of the day (i.e., divorce and remarriage, fellowship, the role of women in the church, morality, etc.) are making themselves the standard to which compliance must be given. Is every man a law unto himself when it comes to these questions? Or can we know and obey Christ’s will, even on controversial topics (Eph. 5:17; cf. 1 John 4:1, 6; 1 Thess. 5:21-22)?

The “convince or confuse” approach preaches an uncertain gospel. For instance, what passes for gospel preaching on divorce and remarriage appears at times to be an exercise in confusing the audience. Can we not speak plainly and persuasively on this Bible topic? Jesus did (Matt. 19:3-9). He spoke with conviction on the origin of marriage (from God, 19:4-5). He plainly taught that what God joins together (the man and woman who are free to marry and who agree to marry) man is not to put asunder (Matt. 19:6). He was persuasive in clarifying a difference between the teaching of Moses and God’s intention on marriage from the beginning (Matt. 19:7-8). Without confusion he taught that anyone (“whoever”) who divorces his wife for a cause other than sexual immorality (fornication) and then marries another person is guilty of adultery (Matt. 19:9). There is no confusion in his words that “whoever” marries a person who has been put away (divorced) commits adultery (Matt. 19:9). The confusion does not lie with Christ and his word. He is not the culprit of any confusion which exists on the topic of divorce and remarriage.

Some scoff at the notion that Christ’s teaching on divorce and remarriage is simple, straightforward, and can be consistently applied by men to their lives. They strenuously labor to convince us that the Bible teaching on the subject is confusing. They attempt to prove a complexity in God’s word which exonerates their fellowship with those who violate Christ’s teaching and with those who have not heretofore repented of their sin (2 Cor. 12:20-21; 2 John 9-11).

One’s marriage affects his eternal salvation (Heb. 13:4). Therefore, we can be sure that Christ has given us a clear message on the subject. The standard by which we must live and by which we shall be judged is within our ability to read, understand, believe, and obey (Rom. 10:17; John 6:44-45; 8:31-32; Matt. 7:21; Eph. 3:3-5; John 12:48; 2 Cor. 5:10).

At the same time, God expects man to use his intellect in learning the truth: “. . . how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)” (Eph. 3:3-4). Just as reading a newspaper requires the use of our reasoning capacities in order to understand it, God requires that we apply our ability to reason, comprehend and understand when it comes to his word of truth. God has revealed his will to convince us, not confuse us, but we must give our- selves to learning it. To be convinced rather than confused by the word of God, there are several things we need:

1. A good and honest heart (Luke 8:15). The heart that is closed off to truth will not be convinced to walk in truth regardless of the cost (Luke 8:11-14).

2. A desire to do the will of God (John 7:16-17). The person who wants to know and obey truth will be convinced by it, because its evidences of authenticity are adequate (John 20:30-31).

3. Diligence in our study of God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15). Some may be confused by the Bible because they have not adequately learned how to study it. Or, perhaps they have failed to diligently pursue an accurate use of it. Effort is required to come to a proper use of God’s word.

4. Spiritual growth through being nourished by the word of God (1 Pet. 2:2; 3:16-18). Rome was not built in a day, and our journey toward spiritual maturity is a daily quest to press onward to the goal of heaven (Phil. 3:13-14). As we do so, we must commit ourselves to “walk by the same rule” of truth which was revealed by the apostles and prophets of Christ (Phil. 3:15-16; 2 Thess. 2:15).

The gospel convinces us of heaven’s reward. Let there be no confusion!