Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Evangelism and God's Sovereignty (part 2)

As we look at evangelism in light of God’s sovereignty, we must look at both the why and the how. Today we begin with the why.

We start with a familiar passage from Romans:
13 for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rom. 10:13-15, NIV)

There is a wealth of evangelistic doctrine in this short passage. Starting in verse 13 we read that Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The Calvinism-Arminianism debate is not relevant here—that debate is about who will call. It is not disputed that all those who call will be saved.

In verse 14 it asks rhetorically how they can call if they do not believe? And how can they believe if they have not heard?

The message is as clear as can be: To be saved you must call, to call you must believe, and to believe you must hear the gospel. This chain momentarily sets aside, in an explicit sense, the issue of God’s sovereignty, and tells us that any hope for salvation requires that one must hear the gospel. The issue of how God’s sovereignty works in this process is debatable, but the plain fact is that without hearing the gospel there is no hope.

One can perform thought experiments about hypothetical elect who never hear the gospel, or those who die as infants, or "virtuous pagans", but none of these issues is relevant or even profitable to contemplate. We must at a minimum accept that in a normative sense, if you do not hear the gospel you can not be saved.

And that, is an obvious reason why we evangelize. Closely connected is the commandment to love our neighbor—what greater way to display love than to offer the message of eternal live?

We also evangelize because it is an unspeakable privilege. At the end of verse 15 we read How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!. The image is of the messenger of antiquity who ran from the battlefield back to the city to bring news of the outcome. If he brought the good news of a victory, the feet which delivered the message were said to be beautiful. And his job, strenuous and difficult as it was, surely felt like a privilege as he approached the gates of the city—assuming he brought a message of life and not a message of death.

And this is key—especially for the Calvinist evangelist: The point of evangelism is the message, presenting the gospel—that should be the goal. Having someone make a positive response is a wonderful thing, but it should not be the reason we evangelize. The message brings glory to God, the results are out of our hands. We proclaim salvation, but God alone saves.
21For 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. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:21-24, NIV)

That fact that God is sovereign relieves us of a terrible burden: God does not need us, and nobody goes to hell because of our failure to be convincing.

That God does not need us should be a simple lesson but it is hard to get it through our thick skulls. This may have been the message God was teaching through the unfortunate fate of Uzzah:
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Sam 6:6-7)
God does not need us to prevent his plan from stumbling. He always succeeds in spite of us, not because of us. Yet it is His pleasure to ordain not only the ends but also the means, and means he employs to proclaim His good news is the preaching and teaching of the gospel, from the lips of the believer to ears of then non-believer.

Far from a Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty rendering evangelism pointless, we find that just the opposite is true. Evangelism would be doomed to fail were it not for God drawing people near to Him. Left on our own, none of us would be successful evangelists. We are faced with two impossible stumbling blocks. One is man’s own fallen nature. Here is a little reminder of our condition prior to regeneration.

The intent of our heart is "only evil continuously". Gen. 6:5
Our "righteous" deeds are filthy garments. Isa. 64.6
Nobody is good. Luke 18:19
We cannot see the Kingdom of God .John 3:3
We are not righteous. Rom. 3:10
We do not understand; we do not seek God. Rom. 3:11
We have turned aside; we are useless. Rom. 3:12
None of us does good. Rom. 3:12
We do not fear God.Rom. 3:18
We are hostile to God. Rom 8:7
We are unable (not just unwilling) to submit to the law of God.Rom 8:7
We cannot please God.Rom 8:8
We were dead (not just gravely ill) in our sins.Eph 2:1
We walked according to Satan.Eph 2:2
We lived in the lusts of our flesh.Eph 2:3
We were children of wrath.Eph 2:3

The other little problem is that Satan himself is working on unbelievers
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.(2 Cor 4:4)

Man is totally corrupted. If that weren’t enough, Satan and his minions are preaching the gospel of this world to him. How could I, on my own, find an argument to persuade a non believer, given his terrible plight? I cannot. Yet I can be optimistic because I do not have to "win him to Christ". I hope to, but I don't have to. I present the gospel, God in his sovereignty moves the heart, and to Him goes the glory.
In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. (Is. 4:2, NIV)

Ironically, the Calvinistic evangelist can be optimistic. The Arminian evangelist has little cause for hope.

All questions about "who is elect" must be put aside. It is not our business, indeed it is impertinent to ask such questions. This is part of God's secret will. However, His glorious message is of His revealed will:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. (Deut. 29:29, NIV)

God is sovereign, man is responsible. God is our King, God is our Judge. God has a plan, God has given us His law.

Incomprehensible and indispensable. If we could understand God completely then he would be a god in man’s image.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD . (Is. 55:8, NIV)

To be continued.

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