What is it that makes Christianity so compelling to those who believe?
First, I believe that the message of Christ is indeed compelling. The key is under what circumstances? God does not compel anyone–He offers. He has made sure that all know that He exists, and He has provided the answers for all those who seek. Yet, no argument seems compelling to someone unless they are, in some way, attracted to its contents. Rhetoric, emotion, persuasion, can all sell a response for the moment; but, no one continues unless the content meets some human need. The Parable of the Sower in Matthew’s gospel addresses this (cf. Matthew 13:18-24). Without a personal sense of need no answer is compelling.
Christianity is often berated as a crutch for the weak, as a last straw grasped by the desperate. Most Christians have an experience of personal need, of some life situation–or inward turmoil–that drives them to entertain the claims of the Gospel. This makes sense, even in modern psychology, since someone who believes they are doing just fine on their own does not feel they need God. When whatever a person relies on for coping with life lets them down, there is a heartfelt need for something more than themselves. The Gospel of Matthews clearly presents Jesus as the Great Physician. “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12).
The book of Romans begins its argument with the assurance that every person is aware of the presence of God, “...since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20).
Since the knowledge of the presence of God is internal in every human, if they do not feel the need to respond to His Revelation, they still have a need to develop some other means of satisfying their knowledge for something beyond themselves. Thus there are a wide variety of religions and beliefs that are recorded in history. Among these, the real competition in the world is for “truth.” Many worldviews call out for attention and claim to be true; and, hearers respond to them according to their own fancy. The Bible describes this as “wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:3).
God’s answer is too simple and straight-forward for human intellectualism. The Apostle Paul furthers this thought in a passage found in 1 Corinthians 1:18-23: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For, since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
In fact, Paul confronts the argument against Christianity right upfront writing, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The reason that Christians look foolish to the world is that they seem to set aside many possible choices in life and get nothing for it! If it is true that this life is everything, then only a fool would not seek self-gratification with everything they possess. Paul says in the above passage that if, in fact, Christ is a lie and only something devised by men in this life, then one must truly pity the stupid Christian who has foolishly thrown away his one chance!
However, Paul continues the argument which God has developed most fully throughout the Bible; if Christ is who He says He is, and He really did rise from the dead, then the rest of the world is to be pitied for throwing away their one opportunity to respond. The Apostle Paul writes: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’–but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-10).
Thus, the Gospel is not God compelling someone to believe. As Paul said above, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words.” God has presented Truth and invites you to seek, if the compelling nature of the offer is recognized for what it is: “but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” His promise is that if you seek (with genuine need) you will find. “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).