Election and Evangelism?
If God has already chosen beforehand those who will be saved, does it matter if we evangelize? Is there really urgency? Isn't it true that God will find a way to bring his "elect" to himself?
For those churches and Christians who believe that the Bible teaches the doctrine of Election, this is a very important question. It is often assumed by those who do not, that Christians who hold this view take a very low view of evangelism, and rarely practice it. Unfortunately, there may be some truth to this perception. In conversations with reformed Christians over the years, I have heard several times a narrative that goes something like this. "I used to share my faith all the time, but then I became reformed and now that I realize it’s not up to me to save someone, I have far less energy to do it." Or, as I have recently had someone tell me: "if I’m being honest, believing in Election does NOT encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and try to bring others to Christ. Yes, I know that I don’t know who the elect are, and so I should tell all about the love of Christ because I could save one of the elect, but then I think, 'But they are the elect, they will find a way.' I am much more encouraged to go out and witness if I do not believe in Election, because then I might actually reach the lost, not just the already chosen."
These are honest responses, and many reformed Christians struggle in varying degrees with the same kind of thoughts. We know that we shouldn't have this struggle, that God calls us to share the hope within us, but the fact remains that practically speaking the doctrine of election seems to reduce the necessity and priority of evangelism for us. We don't care as much. It just doesn't seem like we need to.
How do we move forward? In what follows, I will merely summarize what J.I. Packer masterfully says in his classic book "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God." Addressing this very issue, Packer makes two points which address our struggle.
First, the Sovereignty of God in grace does not affect the nature, necessity, duty, or urgency of Evangelism
We should not be held back by the thought that if they are not elect, they will not believe us, and our efforts to convert them will fail. That is true; but it is none of our business, and should make no difference to our action...our calling as Christians is not to love God’s elect, and them only, but to love our neighbor, irrespective of whether he is elect or not.
This is a very important point, and one that bears emphasis. If we find ourselves questioning the necessity of sharing our faith because we believe in Election, it is clear evidence that we have badly perverted the Bible's teaching on Election. Election is a difficult doctrine, and as our own confession states must be "handled with great care." It is easy to allow this doctrine to take us places and draw inferences and conclusions that the Bible never does, and downplaying the necessity of evangelism is one of them. As I have written elsewhere, God does not give election as a grid by which we are to view people. The Bible is very clear not only in our responsibility to share the hope that is within us, but also that sharing the hope within us actually matters! This is why Paul can say in Romans 10, "How can they call upon him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without someone preaching to them?"
Second, the sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism
Far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in Grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility- indeed the certainty-that evangelism will be fruitful.
Apart from God's promise that he will call people to himself, nobody will ever choose to come to him. This is because, in our sinfulness, no human being will actually choose to follow God through Christ. We want to be our own masters, our own Lord's. Therefore, as Jesus himself taught, unless a man is born again, unless the Father opens our heart to draw us to himself, nobody will come. But, God promises to do this! Therefore, we can have confidence that when we share our faith, God will work and people will respond. Thus, as Packer states, Election should increase our boldness in evangelism. Packer writes: “Christ has saved you, and that should be enough to convince you that He can save anyone. So persevere in presenting Christ...you are not on a fool’s errand. You are not wasting either your time or theirs." Election should make us patient in evangelism. "We are often tempted to lose interest and give up if no immediate response...the idea that a single sermon or a single conversation ought to suffice for the conversion of anyone is really silly.” Finally, Election should make us prayerful in evangelism. Only God is able to give men new hearts. The evangelistic commission is a commission not only to preach but to pray.
May God give us a renewed desire, and many opportunities, to boldly, patiently, and prayerfully share the hope that is within us.
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