The Sovereignty of God: What About Evangelism?

If God is Sovereign over His salvation, then what of human responsibility? What of human accountability? What of evangelism and prayer and holiness and the rest of the means of conversion? In essence, what about me? Where do I fit in to this redemptive plan?

In these questions and the like stands a prominent problem. I do not here intend to type with an expansive keyboard about the aforementioned thoughts, but only to address this problem quite briefly that I see in the questions such as these that I have encountered from the lips of genuine, Jesus-loving Christians. Allow me, first, to address the problem, then the Scriptural support in contrast with the problem.

The problem is cultural individualism. At some point we grow out of a Christ-centeredness and become immersed in a self-centered culture, and as it pervades and permeates and flavors the thinking and affections of the body of Christ, so we digress back into an Ephesian state of affairs. We have continued in Christian activity but abandoned the right context for them, namely, our preeminent love for Christ. Many have come to view evangelism and prayer as things that we do because God is rendered disabled if we do not so engage, rather than the activities of a heart set ablaze by and for Christ.

The thought is that we are something, we are special, we are really awesome and on the cutting edge, and indeed, many churches today in this contemporary scene would boast in as much. But in so far as we adhere to this, we move away from the glory and beauty and honor due Christ. The apostle Paul knew of his inadequacy, his insufficiency for Christian ministry, and he made his boast Christ and Him crucified. And it is not that we should focus so much on our own inadequacy or insufficiency for these things as much as this is a cry for us to return to a vivid love of the adequacy and sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ for these things. For it is in a radical love and passionate dependency upon Christ’s sufficiency to save rather than our own that will advance the Gospel most truly and powerfully.

Must we evangelize? Must we pray? Must we live holy lives? Must we venture into distant islands? Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! But if God were not the Lord of the harvest, all of our laboring would amount to something, just not sound, biblical born again Christians. If the Lord does not build the house, the laborers labor in vain (Ps 127:1). Must we labor? Absolutely! But our labor is met with worth and fruit because it is built by and upon God. I would emphatically state that God does need you and me to evangelize and pray, etc.; but, more than this, God wants us to do these things, and be assured of this, that unless we do these things the Gospel will not be advanced. But this is not to assume a human-centered advancement as if God is handicapped without you. God has made a donkey speak with greater wisdom than a man, angels attest of His glory, and if you do not delight in these means of conversion, then God will give mouths of praise to rocks, and they will cry out to sinners. God does not need you; but He enlists you for Himself, not to evangelize from a dutiful, human-centered soul, but from a soul that delights in Christ, delights in God, delights in what has been accomplished for you, and delights to share with others this Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

It is necessity, rightly considered, that we must adhere to, and this necessity belongs to active decree, not human exaltation. That is, if one begins to think themselves a necessity in the scheme of Gospel propagation because their complacency would thwart the plan and purpose of God, or that the omnipotent God would somehow become paralyzed by our sloth from saving sinners, then our understanding of our role is unbiblical. However, if when we say that God needs us to bear testimony of Christ unto the lost, and by that need, we mean that God in His infinite wisdom has actively ordained that His redeemed would proclaim the excellencies of our Redeemer, and that He has ordained that our sharing of the Gospel and our going to the nations and our praying for the lost is the sole and chosen means of propagating His grace and that His ordained end of saving sinners will not be accomplished without the means of conversion that He has decreed, then, indeed, God needs us to be the means of conversion. But, again, our necessity in the kingdom of God is an ordained necessity. In infinite wisdom, God chose to save sinners like you and me, and then to send us to those still in their sins. He could have ordained another way, but He did not! God’s need is not due to a shortcoming of His ability as if He could not save apart from men; rather, the need is one that God chose as the means to the end of salvation.

One would do well to consider our Gospel endeavor as a thing necessary because it is what God has ordained as the means to His ends, but with that felt-necessity we ought to be humbled, not puffed up with pride; the need that we have expressed is better stated to be the desire of God and the overflow of the soul satisfied in Jesus Christ to the point where we are a continual aroma of Jesus to all men. The need is synonomous with an active desire on God’s part, a “want” if you will may be more accurate, and so we ought to “want” to go to the nations armed with the Gospel.

I urge you to reconsider your motives in these things. As God has appointed ends, God has appointed means to those ends, and it is certain that if you do not participate in these things that God will enlist another who will delightfully do them, and you might consider again the state of your soul, as the father of modern missions, William Carey (a Calvinist), would write in his Enquiry, “conscientious activity therein (evangelism, etc) would form one of the strongest proofs that we are the subjects of grace.” In other words, Gospel activity is one of the greatest evidences of your personal conversion. Spurgeon would add, “if you have no great desire to see the lost saved, then you yourself are not saved.” Carey had two missionary motives that I believe we must keep in mind: “love for and obedience to the God who had redeemed him, and the state of the world without Christ. It is because of this twofold consideration that the people of God are obliged ‘to use every lawful method to spread the knowledge of his name'” (Carey and the Missionary Vision, Webber, pg. 21).

In Romans 10:13-17, we are blessed with a wonderful text of God’s missionary strategy:
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Hearing the Gospel is the means of faith. And God has sent preachers to proclaim and live this Gospel before all men unto the end of conversion. These are called the ‘means of grace’ without which no one would be “believe” and “call on the name of the Lord”. We must go with the Gospel. This is our loving obedience for God and His grace, and our in depth awareness of the state of the sinner, made practical. We must go with the Gospel of grace. But be assured of this, though we go, if God does not there meet our endeavor by appointment and grace, our audience will reject the message because their own natural desire is to do just that. There were many that the disciples met on the road, stopping from door to door, and yet were greeted with rejection and scorn. Our encouragement in these things is that not all will reject; some will believe, and when they do give glory to God for their faith.

We are vessels of mercy, Beloved, garbage cans with the greatest Treasure within for the purpose of delighting in God, losing our lives by comparison to that delight, and moving actively with the Gospel. But we are vessels, garbage cans in the Greek (2 Cor. 4:7). We are not the mercy within; we are not the Treasure that saves; this is the Lord Jesus Christ, to “show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

There is a greater motivation inherent in God’s sovereign rule and grace than in self-centered, human-empowering, demigod forming, individual exalting evangelistic methods. What becomes of Christ if one goes in this direction? Why need Him if we can do it? What of His power if He necessarily needs us? He is lost in the noise of human logic, philosophy, and pride. I would contend that God is sovereign in salvation, that He overcomes in power the rebellious faculties of the human soul, and that the whole of salvation belongs to God; and that we as the redeemed bride of Christ have been plucked out of the harvest by the Lord of the harvest to be commissioned by Him to be placed back in it for His glory and the means of grace unto the conversion of others still in the soils of the world. And this is a delight for us! God saves! God saves! God saves! And He does it through the Lord Jesus Christ alone! Because of this let us go more boldly with the Gospel of grace!

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 1:31. Soli Deo Gloria!

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