“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” -Romans 10:17
It’s very often the question Christians immediately ask when election is explained to them: “If God is just going to choose people, why would you waste your time sharing the gospel?”. It’s understandable, especially in the american evangelical landscape. The idea that God isn’t in Heaven worrying that some people might not choose him, is startling. It sounds like you’re uprooting everything the average church teaches, including evangelism.
The truth is: God is allowing us to participate with Him, our loving Father, in His work of saving men. It’s an honor and a privilege… not just a duty.
The Means of Salvation
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” –Romans 1:16
You see, the gospel isn’t just information. We’re not simply telling someone what Jesus did, and hoping they accept it (although we are doing that). The gospel is very, very special. The words themselves have power. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, the message of Jesus is the power of God that saves men. It is, in fact, the ONLY way that God had ordained men to be saved.
So first of all, don’t misunderstand this: the Biblical teaching of election does not deny the absolute necessity for all men to hear the gospel. No man will be saved unless he calls upon the name of, and trusts in the work of, the Lord Jesus.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” –Acts 4:12
God has not only chosen a people to be saved, but has also chosen the means by which they will be saved, namely through the hearing, and receiving of the gospel. When the elect hear the gospel, the Holy Spirit regenerates their hearts, and they believe.
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” –Acts 13:48
Preaching to the Elect
So how do we know who the elect are? Why would we waste our time with the non-elect? Again, the average Christian already knows the answer, but has just never applied it in the correct context.
In Jesus’ parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15), Jesus tells of a man that spreads seed all over the ground, on different soils, and only the seed that falls on the good soil grows to fruition. Jesus also explains the parable to His chosen disciples. The seed is the word of God (the gospel) being shared with all kinds of people. Some of the people don’t receive it at all because of the devil. Some get excited about it, then fizzle out as they move on. Others seem like they’re growing, but get choked out by the cares of the world. And finally, those whom Jesus calls the “good soil” receive, believe, and produce fruit.
Now, we see that the sower was not specifically searching out good soil, or being stingy with the seed. So, was he wasting the seed, or was he trusting that it would grow where it should?
This is what the kingdom of God is like. We are to share the gospel with everyone, and we just assume that they are all elect. We know that many will reject the gospel, but those whom God has prepared – the good soil – will receive it. So we preach confidently knowing that God will move on His people, and save them. Our job is to simply be obedient, and know that it isn’t our convincing that saves people.
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” –1 Corinthians 3:7
An Overly Semantic Calvinist?
Ok, so I’m saying that we should preach the gospel to everyone, but only some will believe. Isn’t that what the Christian who denies sovereign election teaches? Aren’t we saying the same thing, but from different perspectives? No. Here is where the theological rubber meets the road.
If you believe that the offer is simply made to all men, but God isn’t working to irresistibly save His chosen people, the catalyst to salvation then lies in your words. You must be convincing, you must be smooth, you must be a better salesman than the Buddhist, and Jehovah’s witness that your audience has heard philosophies from. And anything that isn’t chalked up directly to what the preacher says, is in the hands of the hearer. They must be spiritually sensitive, and innately willing to have faith like a child. When these two human traits (salesmanship and receptiveness) kiss, magic happens… right?
This is the gospel according to the flesh. The gospel of sinner’s prayers and decision cards. No matter how much lip service is offered up to the Holy Spirit working in these situations, He is discredited as unable to make you do anything against your will. Man is the deciding factor.
Worst of all, this kind of philosophy, mixed with a zeal to save lots of people, produces a bad gospel. As anyone who has preached the bloody Christ of scripture quickly learns:
“…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” –1 Corinthians 1:18
When your main task becomes convincing someone to “make a decision for Jesus”, you have no choice but to remove the offense. You need to water down the sin, blood, wrath and Hell of scripture, or remove them completely. That kind of offensive talk has no place in the seeker-friendly gospel. When it’s about your words, and not strictly dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work in the sinner’s heart, the flesh will always compromise the message.
No, my friends, salvation is not a cooperation between lovable men and a lonely God that just wants you to choose Him. Salvation is of the Lord, and the Lord alone!
Necessity is Laid Upon Me
“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” –1 Corinthians 9:16
We do not have a quota to meet, we are not doing God a favor, and God does not need us to save His people. He compels us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to preach His gospel, and save souls. The Saints are not only blessed with forgiveness, adoption, and eternal life, but we also are invited to participate in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ to establish His kingdom and save more men and women from their sins. It’s no easy task, but it is not a burden, as all of the heavy lifting is done by God. All he requires of you is your mouth. If you are His, you will naturally present it as part of your living sacrifice.
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” –2 Timothy 4:2
Christians, I encourage you to practice your gospel preaching. Be fully prepared to explain God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, Christ’s perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection from the grave. Let the hearer know that through faith in Christ they can be forgiven, and receive eternal life. Don’t water it down. And trust that ‘all who are appointed to eternal life will believe’. Not because of your words, or their obedience, but because of God’s grace, alone.
If there is, indeed, anyone who feels that they don’t need to work for God’s harvest, that is a clear sign that you are not one of God’s workers. And you need the very message you refuse to preach: Repent, and believe.