Does Election Kill Evangelism?
Why should we bother sharing the gospel if those who are going to be saved are already chosen?
Is your preaching and teaching ministry doing enough to prepare your church for the task of evangelism? In this series, Andy Paterson offers biblical encouragement that every Christian has a role to play, free from false guilt.
This is part 14 in the series.
The second major objection that is often raised to the Bible’s teaching on election (see Who is in Charge of Evangelism? for the first objection), and will be expressed by readers of this article, is that it kills evangelism.
If certain people are going to be saved, and that is already determined by God and nothing can stop his purposes, then why bother preaching the gospel, praying for the lost, and reaching out in acts of love and mercy?
I love the answer that Whitefield gave to Wesley: “O dear Sir, what kind of reasoning – or rather sophistry – is this! Hath not God, who hath appointed salvation for a certain number, appointed also the preaching of the word as a means to bring them to it? Does anyone hold election in any other sense? And if so, how is preaching needless to them that are elected, when the gospel is designated by God himself to be the power of God unto their eternal salvation? And since we know not who are elect and who reprobate, we are to preach promiscuously to all.”
The biblical paradox
This brings us to the heart of the paradox: though salvation is all of God’s electing grace, it must be accompanied by the proclamation of that gospel.
We must be careful that it is not flawed human logic that is trusted in here. Rather we need to see what the Bible itself teaches, and in this passage, Luke speaks of God having appointed people to salvation and also records the passionate preaching and warning of Paul himself. Listen to Paul’s plea at the end of his first sermon:
“"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: "‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’"” (Acts 13:38-41)
And then his answer to the rioting Jews:
“Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)
So here is the biblical paradox that we must at all times maintain. Chosen yet accountable.
No-one in hell will ever say there are there because it is God’s fault. Each will be there because of their own sin, guilt, failure, and rejection. Each sinner is accountable before God. God’s electing purposes are no excuse for the sinner’s lack of response.
And conversely, everyone in heaven will acknowledge they are there entirely because of God’s mercy and love and grace. They will acknowledge to his eternal praise and honour that salvation is from God from start to finish. It is all of his grace; it is nothing of our choosing.
Consequences of election
Think what this wonderful truth of God’s electing grace means to each Christian.
It humbles me before God
It exposes my utter lostness and reveals his awesome power.
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:14-16)
It assures me of my future salvation
God has chosen me so I can never be lost.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? .. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:28-31, 38-39)
It fills me with praise and wonder
As the implications of this truth sink in, I can do nothing else but praise and worship the living God.
“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:5-6, 11-12)
It helps me deal with suffering
When I have grasped the full extent of God’s sovereign purposes, I can rest in him all the more fully when trouble and difficulty and disappointment comes.
His unfailing purposes for me and promises to me are the rock on which I rest.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
It encourages me in evangelism
If I was called to be an evangelist, I don’t know if I’d be able to cope if I thought that the results were down to me and my gifts of persuasion. How could I cope every time I declare the gospel and people walk away from Christ, not accepting his claims, and realised it was my fault?
Whereas when I know that salvation is all of God, that he has his people, that he is calling his elect, that he is building his church, that he will give the gifts necessary to complete the task – I am ready to endure anything for the sake of God's elect.
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:8-10)
Because the gospel is God’s story that he will use to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, I can have absolute confidence in it. I don’t need to dilute it or add to it. I don’t need to pep it up with gadgets or gizmos, smoke machines or orchestras. I don’t need to try and make it more relevant because it is the most up-to-date and needed message going.
I just need to know it, feel it, live it and speak it to the people that God sovereignly brings my way.
There is no doubt much more that could and should be said about this subject. Let me give John Stott the final word here. “Wherever we look in Scripture we see this antinomy [a logical contradiction which cannot be resolved]: divine sovereignty and human responsibility, universal offer or electing purpose, the all and the some, the cannot and the will not. The right response to this phenomenon is neither to seek a superficial harmonisation,...nor to declare that Jesus and Paul contradicted themselves, but to affirm both parts of the antinomy as true, while humbly confessing that at present our little minds are unable to resolve it.”1
Next time: Intentionality.
1 John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today, IVP