Predestination and Election: If God has Already Decided Why Should We Preach and Evangelize?
Last week I wrote concerning the issue of predestination and election. Specifically, I addressed the question “If you believe in election, doesn’t that leave you with the problem of why God doesn’t choose to save everyone?” This question is asked and answered in a well-written article by Tim Keller, author, pastor, and theologian. (You can read that article here.)
Today I want to address the second question in Keller’s article: “But if everything is fixed and certain, why pray, evangelize, or do anything at all?”
This objection is often leveled at supporters of reformed theology. The argument says that if God has already decided who will and will not be saved, there is no need for evangelism at all. But this is a misunderstanding of the doctrines of election and predestination and, more importantly, a misunderstanding of the Gospel.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This is just one of many verses in the Bible that makes it clear that faith and salvation are connected with the hearing of the Gospel in Scripture. What we can, therefore, conclude is that the only way a person can be saved is by first hearing the Gospel as recoded in the Scriptures. Apart from hearing the Gospel message there is no vehicle by which faith can be gifted to an individual so that repentance and salvation may take place.
With this in mind the idea any doctrine would eliminate the preaching of the Gospel is not just unbiblical, it is heresy. But, the doctrines of election and predestination in no way eliminate the necessity of the Gospel for salvation, or the personal responsibility for believers to be actively engaged in evangelism. Keller shares wise words on this point:
“We are not supposed to second-guess God. We are never to try to guess who is ‘elect’—ever! God calls all to repentance and so should we. In fact, the doctrine of election should give us far more hope about working with people. Why? Because no one is a hopeless case! From a human point of view, many look totally hard and lost, but since salvation is by God’s election, we should treat everyone and anyone with hope, since God calls the dead to life through us.”
You see the doctrines of election and predestination don’t eliminate the preaching of the Gospel or evangelism because those are the only means by which any person can be saved. And since, as Keller points out, no one knows who is and who is not part of the elect, we have a responsibility to preach the Gospel to “all men.” It is not surprising that the Bible calls “all men” to repentance on many occasions. We see the Apostles in the New Testament often preaching to large groups of people and calling them to repent and be saved. And on many occasions Jesus preached to large crowds. More than once we read of many people being saved, but not all. But at every opportunity all were called to repentance and no one was singled out as part of the elect.
We have to ask, why did Jesus preach to large crowds? Surely, as God, Jesus knew who would and would not be saved. So why would He expend energy preaching to large groups of people when He knew many would not be saved? The simple answer is that Jesus was setting an example to us of how the Gospel would go out to “all men” and how some would receive it, and some would not. Jesus wanted us to know that salvation is not based on us and our ability to communicate it. Salvation is based entirely on God and His will.
But, as Keller mentions, we often act as though salvation is based on our efforts:
“If everything was not planned by a holy and loving God, there’d be enormous pressure on Christians when we evangelize. We would know our inarticulateness could result in a person missing his or her one “chance” for salvation. It would be a horrible prospect.”
I can remember being terrified to share the Gospel with anyone because if I couldn’t answer a question or wasn’t smart enough to counter objections; my efforts would be in vain. This fear is often validated in much of the Protestant church as we hear about new “techniques,” and “methods” for evangelizing. Many churches even have events and meetings and ministries dedicated to evangelizing their neighbors and communities. And it’s not unusual to see churches offer classes aimed at teaching people how to evangelize. As well meaning as these tools and classes are, they often miss the most important aspect of evangelism: the sovereignty of God.
Foundational to any effort to share the Gospel and evangelize is the understanding that the results of our efforts are solely in God’s hands. Nowhere in Scripture do we see that the salvation of any person rests in our hands. There won’t be an angel standing at heaven’s gate making sure we met our quota of salvations before entering heaven. We are called by Christ to “go into all the world and preach (Matt. 16:15). The only responsibility we have ever had was to share the Gospel. The results of our efforts rest in the sovereignty of God. Keller shares insightful input on this point:
“God’s absolute sovereignty is a motivation to evangelize, not a discouragement. In Acts 18, Paul is in Corinth and the gospel has been rejected by the Jews there. How does God encourage Paul not to be afraid, to ‘keep on speaking and not be silent’ (v. 9)? ‘I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city’ (v. 10). God assures Paul of his presence, his protection, and his election. And Paul responds by staying ‘for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God’ (v. 11). The point is this: the next person you pray for and/or share the gospel with may be one of God’s elect, and you may be part of the way God has ordained to bring them to faith.”
What a blessing to know God can use my feeble efforts to share His glorious news and that the results of my efforts are in the hands of God. Knowing that God has chosen to use me, as a tool is an amazing reality. Knowing that I don’t have to be able to answer every question, or counter every argument is a relief. God can use my efforts even when it looks like a failure. God is not dependent on me being clever or gimmicky, He simply needs me to be faithful.