August 14, 2014

A Frequently Missed Apologetics Text And The Noetic Effects of Sin

by Lyndon Unger

A while ago, I reading Acts 4 when I noticed something I hadn’t seen before and I thought I would share with the fantastic Cripplegate readers. Acts 5:14-21 is a great little text that gives a wonderful example of the noetic effects of sin; how sin affects the mind and the rational process.  The unbelieving mind is anything but neutral regarding facts and their relationship to God, and Acts 4:14-21 displays that in rather stark language.


Acts 4 follows Acts 3, where Peter and John heal a lame man who’s more than 40 years old (Acts 4:22).  He’s lame, asks for money, they command him to rise up and walk, and he does (Acts 3:1-9) in full view of many people in the Temple and thousands had heard about it almost immediately (Acts 4:4).  Everyone knows the guy because he’s been lying on his mat for a long time(Acts 3:10) and then Peter preaches the good news of the resurrection of Christ in the temple (Acts 3:11-26).  Then, in Acts 4 Peter and John are called before the Sanhedrin the next day and the Sanhedrin read them the riot act (Acts 4:4-13)  Then, comes this passage:

14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.

Now that’s an amazing apologetics text with some amazing implications to apologetics and evangelism.

– The facts were irrefutable.

– The guy who was healed was standing in plain sight; everyone know he was the guy who had been paralyzed, lying outside the temple for decades.

– The Sanhedrin recognized that it was a sign, meaning a divine sign (an act of God).

– The Sanhedrin themselves admitted that they could not deny it, as much as they desperately wanted to.

– They knew that it was “evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem”, meaning that the whole city knew the guy and would eventually hear about it.

– Their main concern was that more people would hear about the clear and obvious sign (and thus become followers of the way).

– The facts of the healing weren’t in question.  The facts were plain and irrefutable.

no brainer

So did the Sanhedrin recognize the facts that were glaring them in the face and submit to the obvious and irrefutably proven conclusion that Peter and John were speaking on behalf of the God that they claimed to worship?

Did the Sanhedrin follow the facts to their admittedly logical conclusion and believe the message of Peter and John?

Not for a second.

– Instead, they attempted to suppress the distribution of the story.  All they could do was hope to stop the spread of the story regarding these irrefutable facts.

– Also, they attempted to suppress the apostolic interpretation of the facts.  They didn’t tell them to shut up completely, just to shut up about Jesus.

– When that didn’t work out well, the Sanhedrin threatened them.  The Sanhedrin knew that Peter and John were speaking on behalf of God and they hated itThe people likewise knew that Peter and John were speaking on behalf of God and the Sanhedrin hated it.

As If

Unregenerate people can see the facts of reality (including the facts of science, history, etc.) and the facts are never the problem.  The interpretation of the facts in relation to God is the problem; the unregenerate person’s hatred of the God to whom the facts point is the problem.  To say it another way, the carnal mind is powerless to see the facts of reality rightly in relation to God; not rightly in relation to other facts (i.e. that’s why they can balance their checkbook, do successful research, etc.).

The carnal mind will not understand the facts of reality rightly in relation to God’s interpretation of all facts (namely, scripture) because they cannot, and in facing the facts and then responding in warfare against the logical conclusion of those facts, they display the irrationality of sin.

That doesn’t mean that unbelievers are stupid, but rather rationally powerless to see and interpret facts in their relation to God.

In other words, the reason that basically every unbeliever isn’t a biblical creationist is because they cannot be; the whole notion of a creator God necessitates a whole tsunami of moral implications and unbelievers are slaves to sin (John 8:34) and dead in their sin (Eph. 2:1, 2:5).  They’re powerless to emancipate themselves from their bondage to sin and death.


Just some biblical food for thought.

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him didn’t.
  • tovlogos

    Lyndon — Greetings in the Lord. It’s always nice to hear from you. You have articulated some of the pithy messages set forth by the Spirit.

    “The carnal mind will not understand the facts of reality rightly in relation to God’s interpretation of all facts (namely, scripture) because they cannot…”

    Absolutely. One cannot miss, in John 3, Nicodemus’ confusion talking to God in the flesh. 2000 years later, when we read the story, some of us may be just as perplexed that Nicodemus couldn’t grasp the Lord’s intent.
    In fairness, he was just being introduced to the New Spirituality; however, he should have been able to “see” (verses 9-10).
    Yet Jesus was illustrating that we cannot “figure out” the truth without possessing spirituality; or being born from above. Undoubtedly, that’s why He felt compelled to forgive them for what they were incapable of seeing (He spoke in parables). I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of those who did understand and refused to listen. That unique love He introduced to us was impressive.
    Thanks, Lyndon.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Good word as always Goodword!

  • The last paragraph nails it. Thanks!!!

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks Melissa! Glad I could be of help at all.

  • Facts: they been mess’n with the carnal mind since the dawn of man.

    …they display the irrationality of sin…. doesn’t mean that unbelievers are stupid, but rather rationally powerless to see and interpret facts in their relation to God.

    Oh to see others through this lens always and without fail. That truth makes me shudder at God’s working in my own life, so undeserved, so nothing at all to do with “me”…in other words, *phew*!

    I wanted to better understand this thing called the “noetic effects” of sin but after a little research here and there I still couldn’t really grasp it. Then I heard Al Mohler’s message from this years Shepherds Conf and that helped immensely. This article opened my understanding up all the more! Thanks, Lyndon.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Glad I could bring a little light into a dark theological corner. It’s not something that is talked about that much…but it definitely gives us good and plentiful reason to praise the Lord for his grace in our lives.

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  • Adam James Howard

    “That doesn’t mean that unbelievers are stupid, but rather rationally powerless to see and interpret facts in their relation to God.” – That phrase, “Rationally Powerless” is such a concise way to phrase a thought that’s been sitting in the crockpot of my head for a long time now. Thank you, Lyndon.

  • Your writing is only triumphed by your use of photographs.

  • Theodore A. Jones

    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. ROM. 2:13 Reality frequently missed.