Question: “If God sovereignly elects people to salvation, why should I evangelize?”
This is an important question and is often a major issue people have as they wrestle with the concept of God’s sovereignty in electing sinners to salvation.
While I will try to give a complete answer to this question, I do not expect to fully remove the tension between the sovereignty of God in salvation and the command for us to share the Gospel.
The primary question we must ask, then, is are both of these things taught in Scripture?
I am convinced that the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty in electing sinners to salvation (John 6:44; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4) and that we are commanded to evangelize and spread the Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20).
So what are we to do? Is it the work of God entirely, or are we supposed to play a part in evangelizing? We shouldn’t let the fact that these two are difficult for us to reconcile in our minds as a reason to neglect either doctrine.
As C.H. Spurgeon said, “Beloved, cling to the great truth of electing love and divine sovereignty, but let not these bind you in fetters when, in the power of the Holy Ghost, you become fishers of men.”
There is a way to embrace election without having our hands bound by it when it comes to evangelism. Scripture teaches both sovereign election and necessity of evangelizing the lost.
FIRST, WE ARE COMMANDED TO EVANGELIZE
This is not a small issue. God has decided that we are to be the instruments through which He will reach the lost. This is our duty and our privilege to be involved in so great a task.
Paul addressed this issue in Romans 10:13-15:
For “whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”
As R.C. Sproul comments on this passage, “God not only foreordains the end of salvation for the elect, he also foreordained the means to that end.”
When we properly understand that God is sovereign and yet He chooses to use us to bring others to Himself it becomes a joy, a blessing to us and to the individual we are sharing the Gospel with.
In short, the task of evangelism is not solely for the benefit of the one being evangelized.
Yes, God has elected some to salvation. But He has also chosen to use us to call these people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Can we thwart this plan to save others? No, God will accomplish all His holy will and these people will still be saved (Ephesians 1:5-12). Can we disobey God’s commands? Yes. To our own hurt and to the detriment of those around us, we often fail to obey God.
If we do not evangelize some other means will be used by God to bring that individual to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But we should be eager for the opportunity to be the person God uses!
Our task is not to fully understand why God has chosen to use us in bringing people to Himself – He has not promised to reveal this to us. Instead, our task is simply to recognize that He has called us to share the Gospel and to respond in faith and obedience.
SECOND, GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IN SALVATION MAKES EVANGELISM POSSIBLE
While it may seem that the doctrine of election makes evangelism unnecessary, in reality election is what makes fruitful evangelism possible.
We know from Scripture that those who are without Christ are “dead in their trespasses and sins” and that it is God who makes them alive with Christ by His grace (Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13). There is nothing that we can say or do that will make someone accept Jesus.
If it were dependent on our efforts, no one would be saved. And if it were dependent on mostly God and a little bit of us, it would rob God of His sovereignty in salvation.
Because God saves sinners (and chooses to do so through His people), sinners can and will be saved. It is a miracle that God does in the heart of the unbeliever, and we get to be witnesses and, in a sense, fellow workers in it (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).
At the same time, understanding that it is God who elects sinners to salvation keeps us humble and prevents us from either thinking too highly of our own efforts. Furthermore, understanding God’s sovereignty in salvation keeps us from despairing at the thought that our fumbled attempts at sharing the Gospel might prevent someone from being saved!
When we obey the command to evangelize while holding fast to the doctrine of election, we can be bold in our proclamation of the Gospel, humble in our own estimate of our contributions, and patient with those to whom we are sharing the Gospel. It also brings us to prayerful dependence on God to do what only He can do.
No wonder some of the most impactful evangelists in church history were staunchly Calvinistic in their theology: John Elliot, David Brainard, George Whitefield, William Carey, David Livingstone, Adoniram Judson, CH Spurgeon, and many others. Clearly there is hope in being able to hold to sovereign election without hampering our evangelistic efforts.
The trouble with this and other difficult theological questions is that we like to be able to resolve everything and keep things reconciled in our own minds. Our tendency is to reject or minimize one of the two ends of the equation in order to do so.
In reality, things are often more difficult than that. We end up where Spurgeon ended up when he said, “If I see in God’s Book two truths which I cannot square with one another, I believe them both,” and that can be a very uncomfortable spot to be.
Hopefully the above explanation has helped to relieve some of the tension and confusion surrounding these important (and non-contradictory) truths of Scripture.
In short, evangelism is still necessary in light of God’s sovereignty in salvation for two main reasons:
1) God has commanded us to do it, as this is His chosen means of advancing His kingdom on earth. We have the privilege of being used by God to accomplish His will. When God answers the prayer of someone for food, He sends a person with food – He does not ordinarily drop food down in their laps from the sky (manna from heaven excluded, of course). What a blessing to be used by God to bless others with the bread of life!
2) God’s sovereignty in salvation is what makes fruitful evangelism possible. Without God electing, calling, and regenerating believers none would respond to our efforts to share the Gospel.
A helpful book on evangelism and election
Sermons by Alistair Begg