The mistake of God's people has always been to view election as a privilege rather than a responsibility. God warned Israel about this in Deuteronomy 9:6; “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Rather, while some were destined to disobedience, we have been chosen so as to “declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Pe 2:8-9). We were predestined in order that we tell others about Christ. Predestination requires evangelism. This was the realization William Carey came to, a realization that drove him around the world to India to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. Carey’s work became the foundation for the modern missions movement, used by God to save millions.
And the Lord does command us to spread the gospel to the whole earth. Obedience is never a bad reason to engage in an activity. The same sovereign God who decreed our salvation also decrees that we should be involved in the process. God has chosen to call out his elect from the nations through the voices of his people. God has not only ordained the end of salvation for his elect. He has also ordained the means by which those elect will be saved.
God will not do without evangelism what he has ordained to do through evangelism. We don’t want to be foolish and think that God will save the nations without the gospel. Indeed, God tells us explicitly otherwise. In Romans 10:13-15, after discussing predestination for two chapters, Paul tells us that unless we send a missionary, no one will be saved. If we don’t send a preacher, no one will preach. And if no one preaches, no one will hear. And if no one hears, no one will believe. And if no one believes, no one will call upon Jesus. And if no one calls upon Jesus (“the Lord”), no one will be saved. We are God’s eternally designated instruments of eternal life.
Predestination gives us the confidence to talk about the claims of Christ with other people. Predestination encourages evangelism because we can know that the God who sends us into the mission field is the same God who controls whatever happens. He is the same God who is able to turn the most sin-hardened heart to faith in an instant! Their stubborn free wills don’t matter—God can change them. God could change Paul, the worst enemy of the Christian faith, into the greatest of missionaries in a flash!
And God sovereignly leads us in our evangelism. God could encourage Paul to keep preaching the gospel in Corinth because there were still others appointed to eternal life: “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Knowing that God is in control and that He can change hearts when we preach the gospel can give us the confidence needed to proclaim Christ with boldness in obedience to the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). We have been successful in evangelism when we have communicated the gospel in love and trusted God to do the rest.
William Carey (1761-1834)
We don’t have to persuade anybody. We don’t need to change anybody’s heart. No amount of manipulation will add one soul to the Kingdom of God. We are simply message bearers, and our message is good news to God’s elect! The Holy Spirit converts people. British evangelist C.H. Spurgeon was known to pray, “I believe in the Holy Spirit” as his foot touched each of the many stairs into the pulpit each week—Spurgeon would preach the truth; God would change the world. God freely offers all men eternal life if they turn from sin to His Son, and he will enable us to spread that message.
In fact, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty elevates evangelism to a place of ultimate value. The salvation of human souls is a noble motive for evangelism, but an even higher motive is the glory of God. Souls are not ultimate. God’s honor is ultimate. And as we lead other people to join us in worshipping God and honoring him with our lives, God’s name is praised upon earth, and all the creatures in the heavenly realms can witness the glory of God on display. There is no higher good than this, and no more powerful motivation for a life committed to evangelism or missions.
And the same holds true for the life of prayer. God will not do apart from prayer what he has ordained to do through prayer. Prayer changes things, as James 5:17-18 reminds us. God has given us a central place in carrying out his decrees. Take this as an example:
If God is going to save Sally Elect, he first lays Sally upon the heart of a particularly average believer named Christina—Christina Christian. And God leads Christina to pray for Sally and ask God to give her opportunities to talk about Jesus with Sally. God then leads Christina to ask him to give Sally a heart of flesh, to change her heart and give her new life. God burdens Christina to ask Jesus to save Sally. Christina even secretly fasts one day a week as a prayer of reliance on God to save Sally.
C.H. Spurgeon (1834-92)
And God leads Christina to ask her friend Bill to pray for Sally too. Bill gets his whole church praying for Sally, because Bill believes that only the Holy Spirit can truly convert Sally. Neither Bill not Christina try to manipulate Sally, and neither try to hide their own faults—they want God’s power displayed in their weakness.
Suddenly God starts bringing Christians into Sally Elect’s life. First a new co-worker, and then Christina, and then Bill.
One day, when Christina has five more things to do than she can possibly finish, she remembers she has some library books overdue and runs into Sally in the library parking lot (What a coincidence!). God leads Sally to mention some things have really been rough in her life recently, and Christina asks, “So how have things been between you and God recently?”A long conversation develops, and after a few weeks of discussions, God pours out his Spirit upon Sally one evening as she’s thinking about her discussions with Christina, and Sally commits her life to Jesus Christ.
Sally then joins a Methodist church and learns that it was all about her free will. (Ouch! Sorry—I couldn’t help myself!)