God’s sovereignty over evangelism

There is no shortage of tasks prescribed to Christians within the Bible. Whether it is our call not to conform to this world (Romans 12:2), to lay down our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), to love God with everything in us (Matthew 22:37), or any of the other callings we receive throughout the Scriptures, we can always count on the Word of God to provide the Christian with direction and purpose. 

One of the most important of these commands is the Great Commission, found in every Gospel and the book of Acts. We also have the beautiful example of the apostles to mimic as they took the gospel of Jesus Christ both to their people and to every corner of their Roman world. 

Today, Christians refer to this spreading of the good news of Jesus as evangelism, a term with which I would venture to assume nearly all Christians are familiar. 

Evangelism is simple on paper. Tell people about Jesus. Tell them what He has done for you. Tell them what He has done to redeem the whole Church to Himself. Finally, tell them how they can partake in the death and resurrection of Christ and how they can glorify God and enjoy Him forever. 

Evangelism really is the sharing of the simple gospel, and if you’re looking for concrete, practical advice, that is really all there is to evangelizing. But to understand the truths about God revealed through evangelism, we must consider it in light of God’s sovereignty. 

We know that God is sovereign. It is a fundamental attribute of God and clearly defined throughout the Scriptures (Ephesians 1:11, Lamentations 3:37, Colossians 1:16-17). We also see clearly that God’s sovereignty holds in regard to those who will ultimately come to know Him and be glorified in heaven. 

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians tells us that God “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 to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5) The apostle likewise makes explicit that those who will ultimately be glorified have been foreknown and predestined (Romans 8:29-30). 

It is obvious that those who will join the Church have been set to do so from eternity past. Whether this occurs by unconditional election or by God’s infinite and timeless knowledge of human free will is an important conversation, but we can set it aside for the time being. 

How do these two truths interact with one another? How do we evangelize knowing that God in His sovereignty has already set in motion an eternal plan that will not be thwarted or altered by human action? I think the apostle Paul provides us with beautiful insight into what it looks like to “go forth and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). 

We see in 1 Corinthians that Paul acknowledges this intricate interaction between man’s actions and God’s sovereignty, saying “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). This is our imperative; plant, water, and wait in humility for God to give growth. 

There are several instances in the Scriptures that come to mind regarding God’s people interceding, yearning, and laboring to the end that others are saved from God’s wrath—which is exactly what we do as we evangelize. Consider Moses’ return from Mount Sinai to find the nation of Israel riddled with idolatry. God tells Moses that He will destroy this nation and build a new nation from the offspring of Moses. Moses then asks God that He would “turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people” (Genesis 32:12). 

God does relent, turning His wrath away from the nation of Israel. God is then brought immense glory as His mercy and grace are amplified, and Jesus is foreshadowed as the Messiah who will ultimately intercede for His people as their atoning sacrifice and High Priest. Like Moses, believers ought to desire for others to be saved from God’s wrath, so that God’s mercy and grace would be magnified in His work to save undeserving sinners.

But not all will be saved. We know that “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). Even in God’s sovereign plan, many people—including our friends and our family who do not know Christ—will be subject to the wrath of God unless they surrender their lives to Him. We read in the book of Romans that it is both reasonable and possible that “God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22-23). We are therefore in no position to question God’s goodness. 

This is a difficult truth to accept as Christians: that we are subject to the sovereignty of God even as it pertains to His saving—or not saving—of those whom we love. But it is undeniably true, and we can trust that it will ultimately lead to God’s glory and our good (Romans 8:28). 

Therefore, as we proceed with our alien citizenship on this earth, let us remember a few realities. 

First, recall that God is sovereign. This is a truth that can only put the heart of the Christian at peace, knowing that it is far better for God to rule than for us (Isaiah 55:8-9). Remember also our calling to love God with all of our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves, not forgetting that in order to do this we must seek to make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 22:37, 22:39, 28:19-20). Finally, remember that God will work things according to the purpose of His will, in His patience desiring that all should come to repentance, and allowing us to partake in His plan (Ephesians 1:11, 1 Peter 3:9, 1 Corinthians 3:6). 

With these realities in mind, we can go out with confidence, proclaiming Christ to a world in desperate need of a savior.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
for His steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
 Psalm 107:1-3

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