Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Predestination and the Relief it Brings to Evangelism

"The pressure is off."

Those are nice words that almost everyone likes. This is what the biblical teaching of predestination brings to evangelism.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are clearly commanded to both proclaim the gospel (see Mark 16:15) and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). However, we are never told to save anyone.

Why is this? Why would we never be told to save anyone? The reason is simple: we can't. We are not able to. We do not have the power to do it.

Only God can break through the spiritual blindness of the lost person. Only he can work the miracle of salvation in the pagan's soul. Only God can overcome the awful corrupting power of sin and cause someone to see God for how glorious he really is (see Ephesians 2:1-5).

A part of God's work in salvation is his predestination of some people to salvation. The bible is abundantly clear on this. Here are a few verses that make this point:

Romans 8:29-30 "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

Ephesians 1:4-5 "Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will."

Ephesians 1:11 "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will."

The beauty of this truth is that it takes the pressure off us when we share our faith. Too often Christians do not evangelize because they incorrectly believe that it is their responsibility bring the person to salvation. This is a huge burden to bear - one which God himself never places upon us.

God is glorified when we are obedient. When we share our faith, God is honored. He is the one who decides whether or not that person becomes one of his adopted children.

We need to be obedient and, as the saying goes, leave the results to him.


On a related topic, click here to see if Calvinism will kill evangelism.

10 comments:

Rhea said...

Eric:

I see what you're saying, and actually agree somewhat with your conclusions, BUT...I do have a concern. Though while I agree with you that if predestination (if understand as it is in Calvinism) is true, then definitely the pressure is off...but, the truth is, most people that I personally know that are Calvinists do FAR LESS witnessing/proclaiming of the Gospel than non-Calvinist Christians that I know. Why do you think that is? Do you think that that is a widespread problem among Calvinists? And if so (and even if not) what can be said or done to make Calvinists realize that even though they are not called to "save" anyone, they still are called to preach the Gospel?

Eric said...

Rhea,

Thanks for your questions and comments.

I can't answer why people you know who are Calvinists are not witnessing as much as non-Calvinists. That is a shame.

I do know that this is a stereotype in many churches that turns out to not be reality. For example, recent research done by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention showed the following two key points:

--Both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic churches believe that local congregations should be involved in sponsoring missions and planting new churches. The study showed 95 percent of both types of Southern Baptists affirmed the necessity of missions and church planting.

--Calvinistic recent graduates report that they conduct personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.

So, at least within the SBC, it appears that evangelism rates are basically the same between Calvinists and non-Calvinists.

As for your last question, I do think Calvinists know that they need to proclaim the gospel. I've never met a Calvinist who was against this.

Frankly, one of the most common attacks against Calvinism is that it is against (or at least hurts) evangelism. My experience, and the research data, tell me otherwise.

Within SBC life, there are a lot of non-Reformed churches who talk a big talk about evangelism being the most important thing. Unfortunately, they hardly actually evangelize at all. Maybe if people realized that evangelism is not the main function of the church (glorifying God is), then they would relax and end up sharing their faith more.

Evangelism needs to be part of what a church does; it shouldn't be the primary focus.

Rhea said...

Eric:

I appreciated your response, especially in regards to the SBC (though I don't attend a church in the SBC).

The truth is, for me, while I personally know of more non-Calvinists that share their faith than Calvinists, outside of the campus ministry that I'm in, I know of few Christians personally who share their faith on any consistent level (Calvinist or not). So my experience might have less to do with one's theology being Calvinist or Arminian, and just simply a result of so many churches "talking the talk" but not "walking the walk" when it comes to evangelism. We make evangelism a priority in the campus group that I'm involved with...not just "talking" about sharing our faith, but actually DOING it.

It's good to hear that this idea that non-Calvinists (as a whole) don't care about evangelism is false.

Eric said...

I agree with you that most churches talk a lot more about evangelism than they actually practice it.

We just need to continue challenging our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of denomination, to share the good news of Christ.

I'm glad that you and your campus group are doing it. Keep it up!

Aussie John said...

Eric,

Something I've discovered over the last fifty years, most of which as a teaching elder (pastor), is that those who are most earnest and active in evangelism rarely advertise the fact other than confiding in one or two who pray for them and their ministry.

On the other hand, those who do advertise are often more intent on building a record sheet of their efforts. Some have admitted their concern is more an attempt to develop favor with God than to see some saved.

Billy Birch said...

Eric,

I couldn't help but notice that the Scriptures you referenced didn't actually communicate the idea that God had predestined anyone whatsoever unto salvation. Isn't that a problem?

IMO, Calvinists equate election and predestination, and I certainly don't agree.

If you wanted to say that God had elected some unto salvation (and no others), then that is much closer to pure Reformed teaching. But predestination concerns the believer, his or her state subsequent to salvation, not before it.

A person is not saved because they were predestined unto salvation, but because they were elected unto salvation. Predestination, therefore, is the outcome of election; not a means to salvation in and of itself.

Notice that Paul wrote it was "those God foreknew" whom he also "predestined," not unto salvation, but "to be conformed to the image of his Son;" which is the believer's honor. (Rom. 8)

Notice that Paul wrote that God "predestined us," i.e. believers, not unto salvation, but to for "adoption to sonship;" a spiritual blessing he was not obligated to give. (Eph. 1.5)

And, of course, the predestining of Eph. 1.11 merely points back to 1.5.

Perhaps it's just a pet peave of mine concerning these terms. But even if I were a Calvinist, I would never use these "predestinating" verses to relate to salvation, but would rather refer to the doctrine of election.

What are your thoughts?

Billy

Eric said...

John,

It certainly is interesting to try to understand the reasons different people have for evangelism.

My primary concern is that so few people are actually doing it at all. Many Christians have shouldered too much responsibility in the salvation process.

Another concern is the shallow level of gospel presentation put forth by Christians. In our churches, we desperately need to teach people all that is involved in following Christ so that they can communicate more than just the "bare bones."

We certainly have work to do.

Eric said...

Billy,

Thank you for your response. Even though I disagree with you on some issues, I very much appreciate your thoughtful posts, as well as this comment.

As I have studied scripture, I have come to the conclusion that the doctrines of election and predestination are very similar in meaning. I certainly do not claim infallibility in this; however, I do want you to know that I've come to this conclusion based upon studying scripture and not because it is just what some Calvinists believe.

As for the Romans 8 passage, I think verse 30 clears up any confusion. Predestination leads to calling which leads to justification. I believe salvation comes at the point of justification; therefore, the predestinating act of God leads to salvation.

Regarding Ephesians 1:5, my understanding is that God predestined us (the elect, but before they are saved) to adoption, which is simply part of the salvation process.

As for the post itself, my main thrust is that if God is sovereign over salvation, then we don't have pressure on us in evangelism. However, if salvation is ultimately up to man, then more pressure is involved.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

My comment was more to do with Rhea's comments than your article. I didn't make that clear.

I was making the point that the reason some don't SEEM to evangelize is that they don't advertise the fact, while others who SEEM to evangelize are constantly mentioning their evangelistic(?) exploits and efforts.

I emphatically agree with your reply regarding my comments.

Eric said...

John,

Sorry about my lack of understanding. Sometimes I'm a little "slow on the uptake." I agree with you about some folks taking pride in their evangelistic efforts.