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Does the Sovereign Election of God Discourage Evangelism?

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The Bible clearly teaches sovereign election. God has a redeemed for himself a people unto salvation from his righteous wrath against sinners. The 1689 Second London Baptist Confession sums this up:

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice.

1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 3

The Scriptures that prove this doctrine are many, however, here are just a few: John 6:37-39; John 6:65; John 17:9;  Romans 9:11-13; Romans 9:16; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29; Deuteronomy 10:14-15.

However, the point of this article is not to prove the doctrine of sovereign election, but to deal with a common accusation leveled against this truth. Many ask that if Calvinism (the common epithet for sovereign grace) is true, then what is the motivation for evangelism? If God has already decided who will be saved, then why bother trying to reach the lost?

First, I would like to show three biblical examples of how the sovereignty of God did not dissuade Paul or even Christ Himself from evangelizing the lost — then how God ordains not only the end but the means.

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—  that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh

Romans 9:1-3

Romans 9 is the spear in the arsenal of weapons for the man who affirms God’s sovereign grace. By it, many false Arminian notions have been slain. Silenced are all men who seek to attribute the final say in salvation to man’s free will. Look no further than the debate between James White and Leighton Flowers on Romans 9 and you will see how clearly this text lays out God’s sovereign right to give or withhold grace.

Before Paul begins this amazing assertion of God’s freedom of choice, he shows his sorrow and great desire to see his fellow Jews saved. He is so anguished over the salvation of his people that he downright declares that he would rather himself be cut off from Christ for their sake!

Do these words flow from the mouth of a person who is unmotivated to preach the gospel? Does an unmotivated man go into the synagogue three times a month to preach the gospel Jews (Acts 17:2)? Pauls words and actions show he was zealous to reach the lost. Paul was also zealous for the sovereign election of God and it did not hinder his evangelism.

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Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

2 Timothy 2:10

God’s sovereign election did not hinder Paul in evangelism, it motivated him. Paul was willing to endure suffering and persecution for preaching the gospel so that all God’s elect might be brought to Christ. Knowing that God is sovereign does not hinder evangelism because it promises that evangelism will be effective.

If you believe that your salvation is dependent on the sinner exercising free will to chose God you will be discouraged. What motivation is there in knowing that your preaching may be for nothing? However, the Calvinistic preacher knows that God will use the preaching of the gospel to fulfill the purpose he predestined. The Calvinist cannot fail because he serves God who cannot fail (Isaiah 46:9-11). Therefore he ought to be bold in his gospel proclamation for he knows that God will bring the increase.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, for such was your gracious will…Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:25-26, 28

We turn our attention now to our Lord. Was there ever a greater evangelist than Christ? was there ever a man who proclaimed the truth as did our Savior? Take Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Carey — all the preachers on this Earth past and present — they are all secondary to Christ. Yet we see here that Christ rejoiced in the reality of God’s sovereign election.

After proclaiming the wrath of God (Matthew 11:20-24) Christ breaks into a doxology. It is key to see that Christ praises the Father not just for opening the eyes of the weak, but also for hiding the truth from those who the world considered wise. He affirms that indeed God has chosen some to be saved and has chosen to withhold grace from reprobates.

Notice that within the same passage (Matthew 11:28) that Christ calls men to come onto him. He calls all who are weary to come onto him and be saved. He knows that the Father through the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of some men to come. Right in the same paragraph, Christ both affirms sovereign election and then proclaims the gospel to those in the same audience. If sovereign grace does not hinder Christ’s motivation to evangelize then it should not hinder our motivation.

When we look at Church history, we see many great gospel preachers raised up and motivated to see Christ receive the fullness of his reward. John Knox, George Whitefield, Jonathon Edwards, Augustus Toplady, Charles Spurgeon, and William Carey were all great evangelists who affirmed sovereign election. It does not follow that the knowledge of God’s sovereignty dissuades evangelism.

God has ordained both the ends and the means. This is to say that God has not only ordained who will be saved but how they will be saved. God has ordained that the preaching of the gospel would be the means he would use to draw his elect to Christ (Romans 10:14-17, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

As servants of Christ, we are to be obedient to his will. God has commanded us to preach the gospel to the lost. That is motivation enough. However, we have the promise of God that he will save his elect. Thus we preach with confidence.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians1:3-6
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