Earlier this summer, Brian Burgess, our Minister of Outreach, taught a two-part series on “Things God Never Said About Evangelism.” He did an outstanding job and I encourage you to listen to his remarks from both messages. In last night’s Equipping University, we learned that one of the things God never said is “Since I am sovereign, I don’t need your help in evangelism.” Of course, this raised a few issues and probably not a few hackles. One question was asked early and any reformed theologian worth his salt knows exactly which question it was:  “Well, if God is sovereign and He has already chosen who will be saved, then why should I bother to witness?”

When Brian and I discussed this over lunch prior to the class, I told him that no orthodox believer is really going to think God ever said such a thing. Now, a hyper-Calvinist will believe that ridiculous statement but Hyper-calvinism is not Christian. By the way, a hyper-Calvinist is not a Calvinist who really believes the doctrines of Calvinism. With that in mind, we must note that believers will fall into different categories as to WHY they think God would never utter that sentence. Some would say that God is sovereign but has freely “given up” (not the best choice of words) part of that sovereignty to ensure that man engages Him of man’s own libertarian free will. I, on the other hand, would reject that sentence because while God is sovereign He gives up none of it. Yet that same extensive sovereignty in no way interferes with that fact that man is responsible for his sins. Let these three statements be true: God is sovereign in all of salvation, man is responsible, and Christians are to witness and pray.

This is called compatibilism, which means that God’s sovereignty is compatible with man’s will and does not remove his responsibility (nor is it at odds or contradictory to either). The familiar texts used to buttress this theological position is Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 10; and Acts 4:27-28. However, while sitting in Brian’s class, I thought of another Old Testament example that I think makes a good point. In fact, the same type of event occurs over and over in the Old Testament (see Joshua 1:3, Joshua 6:2, Joshua 10:8 and more). Here’s just one example.

In the opening verses of Judges, Joshua has died and the people were worried about the plan to conquer Canaan without their faithful and courageous general. Read the following:

After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand” (Judges 1:1-2, emphasis mine)

What just happened here? The Israelites were asking God to find someone to help them against a strong army occupying the Promised Land. Instead of bringing in outside help, the Lord chose Judah to fight and then gave Judah the news that the outcome of the battle had already been decided – the Jews would be victorious. God had already decreed that He would give the land to Judah and it was going to happen just as God said (unless you want to open a whole ‘nuther can of worms and say God could have been incorrect or ignorant of future events).

Now, pertinent to our discussion, what if the tribe of Judah responded to these words from YHWH and said, “Whew, what a relief. The battle is already won. The land is ours. We can just stay here. We don’t even have to fight. Thanks God, for winning the battle for us”? What would have been the outcome of that type of response. Well, we will never know because God ordained the ends (victory) as well as the means to achieve victory (Judah’s ability to fight).

We read of the outcome later in the same chapter:

Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites (Judges 1:4-5, emphasis mine).

One thing is for sure: the people of Israel were not sloppy theologians (well, at least most of the time). They did not think that just because God has ordained/predestined a very real and definite future that they had no part in that future. The Hebrews were not fatalists and neither are Calvinists. A fatalist believes that whatever is going to happen will happen no matter what you do. A Calvinist believes that whatever is going to happen will happen because of what you do. There’s a tremendous difference.

The thoughts held by the Israelites in the days of Joshua still hold true for us today, especially in the area of evangelism. God has promised us that His word will not return void and we are to preach that Word.  God has promised us that His sheep will come to Him when they hear His voice and we are His voice. None of this negates the need to witness. Instead, this truth gives power and confidence for the task of witnessing. How wonderfully freeing and empowering it is to realize that we cannot fail when we are simply obedient to witness. We only fail when we are disobedient to the command to witness. Our positive proclamation of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ will either serve as a just cause of the unbeliever’s righteous condemnation or as the tool used by God to draw people to Himself. In both, God is glorified.

That is why I – a Calvinist – evangelize.

    17 replies to "If God is Sovereign, Why _________?"

    • Kevin Davis

      A fatalist believes that whatever is going to happen will happen no matter what you do. A Calvinist believes that whatever is going to happen will happen because of what you do. There’s a tremendous difference.

      No, that’s not the difference. Both fatalism and Calvinism believe that whatever will happen will happen because there is a determinant plan making is so. The difference is that Calvinism posits the will of God as the determinant, while a secular fatalist finds no will, no reason, no meaning behind the determinant processes. Therefore, Calvinism teaches that regardless of what you decide to do, e.g., evangelize a co-worker, God’s plan to either save or not save that co-worker will be fulfilled. The same, of course, is true for your own salvation. If God chooses you to be saved, he will save you — through secondary processes of course, but he will move hearts and wills in such a way that everything fulfills his plan. “Free” will for humans is what God makes of it — even if we suppose we are choosing between alternatives, it is actually the root desire from which we always choose and this is determined by God.

      This is Calvinism — it is as clear as day in the Princetonians, in Edwards, in the Westminster Standards, and in 17th century Reformed orthodoxy.

    • Charles Page

      “It is the privilege of all who are truly born again of the Spirit to be assured of their salvation from the very moment in which they trust Christ as their Savior.”

      Does trusting Christ precede being born again of the Spirit?

    • R.A. Servin


      I appreciate what you’ve written here. Good post. There are many many examples of compatiblism in God’s Word, and you’ve shown me another one! Keep up the good work.

      Grace & Peace,


    • Aaron C. Rathburn

      Fantastic post, Jeff. This is a point of such frustration for me from the non-Reformed camp.

      Romans 10:13-15:
      For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

      We have to preach!

      Charle’s asked, “Does trusting Christ precede being born again of the Spirit?”
      The Reformed position would say, no- being born-again of the Spirit comes first, and the Spirit imparts faith.

      If I were to have on my own accord trusted in Christ, by my own doing, then salvation is up to me. The resounding teaching of scripture is that salvation is a gift from God, by grace alone- in order that no man may boast.


    • bethyada

      Jeff, this is not evidence of compatibilism, it is merely consistent with it. I am a non-Calvinist and I have very little problem with your analysis of the Judges episode.

      You need to discuss discriminatory evidence.

    • Charles Page


      If you are regenerated you can hear. If you are not regenerated you are depraved totally and can/wont hear.

      If you have hearing you are alive! Alive is not enough you have to have instruction. “When they were pricked in their hearts, they ask, what must we do?” (not what must we do to be saved but what must we do) “Repent and be baptized…and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
      Remission of sin follows regeneration!! Hearing and obeying are not at the same time. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit. One gives life the other is a gift of power.

      Faith follows regeneration.

    • Charles Page

      can’t/won’t hear sorry

    • Aaron C. Rathburn

      That’s what I was intending to say, in spite of however it came across the first time =).

      God (the Holy Spirit) regenerates the believer first and foremost- salvation is entirely a gift of God.


    • Jeff Spry


      I had the same thoughts as I awoke this morning and then I read your comment. Compatibilism deals with the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s will. However, the issue of man’s responsibility, which I address in the post, naturally follows this discussion and follows closely. That is the point compatibilists make from the Gen 50, Acts 4, and Isaiah 10 passages. The issues are joined but there are fine distinctions.

    • Jeff Spry


      I am not talking of secular fatalism but the common misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty in election. Grudem says that an objection of fatalism is based on the incorrect idea of a “system in which human choices and human decisions really do not make any difference. . . . no matter what we do, things are going to turn out as they have been previously ordained” (Systematic Theology, 674). So I am not speaking of blind fate but a passive resignation that says “que sera, sera.”

      I agree that what will happen will happen because of the predetermined plan of God. At the same time, part of that predetermined plan is the means to reach that end, or “secondary processes” as you say. I don’t think it is wise to use the word “regardless” when discussing these issues.

    • Saint and Sinner

      “This is Calvinism — it is as clear as day in the Princetonians, in Edwards, in the Westminster Standards, and in 17th century Reformed orthodoxy.”

      Actually, Bavinck would definitely side with Jeff on this one. Same with Thomas Schreiner, and I’m pretty sure Turretin would as well. Ends through means even if the means are ordained as well. Free and yet determined.

    • Kevin Davis

      Okay, I’ll rephrase it: According to Calvinism, it does matter what you do in order to fulfill God’s predetermined plan, but you cannot frustrate or control this plan — so, in a way, you do not control what you do. It will happen because God will change hearts/desires/wills to fulfill his plan. Now, I don’t agree with this, and I find it highly problematic, but it is the, by far, dominant Reformed position.


      I agree with you on Bavinck, not surprised that Schreiner would say the same, but I couldn’t say about Turretin (Heppe has been my main guide to the Reformed scholastics, so I’m thinking about Polanus, J. H. Heidegger, etc.). Regardless, this is an almost impossible issue to pinpoint theologians on, since many prefer a sort of dialectic both/and.

    • Charles Page


      Your Church’s belief states: “It is the privilege of all who are truly born again of the Spirit to be assured of their salvation from the very moment in which they trust Christ as their Savior.”

      This is not a reformed position rather a position that allows trusting Christ to precede being born again.

      Since your Church believes man is “totally unable to please God” what is your Church’s position as to how a person comes to trust in Christ?

    • Jeff Spry

      You say that the statement “allows trusting Christ to precede being born again. It does not demand it.

    • Charles Page

      I attend a very good SBC but I can’t seem to get the pastor to tell me if he is a Calvinist or not. He says we’ll know all about it in heaven.

      I want to understand why pastors won’t commit, esp SBC pastors.. One of my pastors said that he certainly was not Arminian and after a long answer he said he had trouble with two of the five points in TULIP. They are good pastors and it is a good Church.

      However I am a strong Calvinist non-compatibiilist and very evangelistic (supra) and I can stay in a Church as long as they will allow me. I am bold about my Calvinism. I was raised a Wesleyan-pentecostal.

      When I come across a belief as your Church’s I wonder how open they are to Calvinist and specifically how someone like yourself adapts to it.

      It states “..from the very moment in which they trust Christ as their Savior.” It neither allows nor demands faith following new birth. It states it clearly, the new birth follows trusting Christ.

      Brian has a struggle with hyper-Calvinism, a worn out strawman. I have a struggle with hypo-Calvinism and their free offer. It is a genuine struggle and I am looking for perspectives.

    • Ed Kratz

      I find the example texts themselves to be problematic, it could easily be that the Israelites remember that in Numbers 12-14 God told them He was giving them the land of Canaan and they ‘chose’ not to believe in Him and ended up spending an extra forty years in the desert.

      In Numbers, God specifically told them he was giving them the land of Canaan, they decided to not follow suite and they did not get the land, at least not at that point.

      So using times when the Israelites followed God and got what He said they would get needs to balanced with when God told them they would get something but because they didn’t follow His words or believe in those words they did not get what God said.

      God said one thing, but because of the Israelites actions, God did not do what he said he would do. In this instance, Israels actions appear to be causing a reaction from God, so our actions could have an outcome, though I would agree they don’t change in the least bit God’s ultimate plan.

    • Jeff Spry


      I am not avoiding your questions. My pastor is in London for two weeks and I am covering most of the bases in his absence. Perhaps it would be better if you and I correspond through email.

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