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.