Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
"Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving That which I have vowed I will say Salvation is from the LORD." (Jonah 2: 8-10)
Last time, we talked about the second and third purposes for evangelism which are loving God and loving your neighbor. We also looked at some practical ways as to how the Christian shows his love for God and love for his neighbor by simply following God's commandments concerning evangelism because when the Christian follows God's commandments he is showing his love for God and for his neighbor (Matt. 28: 19-20, Acts 1:8; John 14:15). Both the second and third purposes of evangelism of loving God and loving your neighbor stem from the primary purpose of evangelism which is the Christian evangelizes for the glory of God (2 Cor. 10:31). And we also explored the issue that even if the Christian follows God's commandments concerning evangelism, but fails to lead a holy life, ultimately, his evangelistic efforts will be in vain and not glorifying to God. The Christian gives glory to God in everything he does including his evangelism.
The Plan of Evangelism
So we have looked at the purpose of evangelism, now we will start looking at the plan of evangelism. It is always important to have a plan especially when it comes to evangelism. You don't want to go out haphazardly witnessing to your friend or neighbor or go out and do street evangelism without some type of plan in mind. In fact, the Bible promotes having a plan when you undertake any project. The king counts his army before going off to war and a person who builds his home counts his materials and sees if he has enough funds to finish the project (Luke 15: 24-31). They would be foolish if they didn't have some sort of plan. Likewise, it is the wise evangelist who formulates a plan prior to undertaking any type of evangelistic endeavor.
Trust in God's Sovereignty
The first point in the plan of evangelism is to trust in God's sovereignty. The sovereignty of God as defined by Easton's Dictionary states that God "has the absolute right to do all things based on His good pleasure" (Dan 4:25, 35; Rom. 9: 15-23; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 4:11). God's attribute of sovereignty is probably the most comforting attribute of all of God's attributes especially for the Christian evangelist because the evangelist can rest on the fact that God is in control of all things especially in the salvation of the unbelievers he is witnessing to.
The salvation of the unbeliever does not depend on how perfect my Gospel presentation is or how many times I go out to evangelize or how I made that apologetic argument concerning the problem of evil. Ultimately, the unbeliever's salvation rests on the grace of God alone because man is dead in his trespasses and sins and he does not have the ability to come to God by his own freewill (Eph. 2: 1; Rom. 3:18).
In addition, it will take God's divine intervention through the power of the Holy Spirit to call, draw, and finally regenerate a dead sinner, who is a child of Satan. (John 3:8 ; 6:44, Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 5:17). So the evangelist must not put his trust in his evangelism presentation or his evangelistic efforts to save the unbeliever. The Christian must trust in God's sovereignty as to whether God chooses to save the unbeliever or not.
God's Sovereignty v. Man's Responsibility
So if God is sovereign over all things including evangelism, what is my responsibility in terms of evangelism? Does that mean that if God's sovereign over evangelism including the salvation of unbelievers, do I have to forgo my responsibility to evangelize as some extreme hyper-Calvinists believe? Well, no, just because God is sovereign over all things including the salvation of unbelievers, the Christian has still been commanded by God to proclaim the Gospel to every living creature (Matt. 28: 18-20; Acts 1:8).
Your responsibility, dear Christian, is to faithfully proclaim the Gospel no matter what the result, give the best Gospel presentation you can, preach the best sermon you can, work hard in your evangelistic efforts, and leave the results of that unbeliever's salvation to God's grace and mercy alone (Eph. 2: 8-9; Rom. 9:15, Titus 3:5). We work hard in our evangelistic efforts because we want to glorify God in everything we do, but we always leave the results of that person's salvation to God (Jonah 2: 8-10; 1 Cor. 10:31).
It is God's declarative will to use Christians as his means to get the Gospel out despite the fact that ultimately salvation for the unbeliever rests on God's grace alone. Christians have the honor and privilege of proclaiming the King's Gospel message to a lost and dying world (2 Cor. 5:20). God dictates the ways as well as the means of our evangelistic efforts based on His sovereign grace. God uses sinful yet redeemed, imperfect, broken vessels as his agents to proclaim His Gospel to the world. As my old apologetics teacher used to say, "God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines". Christians are those crooked sticks.
A Quote from J.I. Packer
I would like to end this article with a recommendation of J.I. Packer's book "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God" and a quote from that book. Dr. Packer's book is excellent and he clearly shows the reader the importance of God's sovereignty in regards to evangelism. I finished this book for the second time earlier this year and I plan to read it again in the near future. Here is just one of Dr. Packer's many great insights from this wonderful book:
“It is necessary, therefore to take the thought of human responsibility, as it affects both the preacher and the hearer of the gospel, very seriously indeed. But we must not let it drive the thought of divine sovereignty out of our minds. While we must always remember that it is our responsibility to proclaim salvation, we must never forget that it is God who saves. It is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument that He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: it is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument. We must not at any stage forget that. For if we forget that it is God’s prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through will lead us astray." (J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, pg. 25, Intervarsity Press 1991)
Fight the Good Fight of Faith
Some Resources to Consider
Trusting God by Jerry Bridges
Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer
The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink
Tony Zabala is currently the lay leader of Grace Community Church's Neighborhood Outreach Ministry located in Sun Valley, California. Neighborhood Outreach is an evangelism ministry which reaches out to the community surrounding Grace Community Church. The views and recommendations from this blog site do not necessarily represent the views and recommendations of Grace Community Church, John F. MacArthur, Grace To You, the Master's Seminary, the Master's College or any other associated ministry.