Calvinists are often shunned or frowned upon for placing lots of weight on the doctrines of God’s sovereignty. One of the critiques is that Calvinistic doctrine does not lead anyone to any kind of evangelistic zeal, or burden to see men come to Christ. Have you ever heard this kind of thinking? I have, more often than I’d like to. I think one reason while so many believe in this ridiculousness is that they are allergic to doctrine. Upon entering into doctrinal debate with someone, they feel out of place or in over their head which causes a response like, “Is this doing any good? Why aren’t we sharing the gospel with the lost?” While some Calvinists certainly do fall into this error and place an unhealthy zeal on doctrinal debate, it is a straw-man argument to lump all Calvinists into the same boat. I submit that you cannot know what evangelism is or have any hope in sharing the gospel with any pagan, if you’re not a Calvinist. Here is why:
In Acts 18, Paul is discouraged in Corinth because a group of Jews did not believe his preaching that Jesus was the Messiah sent to save them. Paul says in 18:6, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Afterwards Paul went to Titius Justus’ house and then to Crispus’s house, preaching the same Christ, and was amazed that all the households believed; along with many other Corinthians. Paul seemed to still be discouraged though, as if the stink of what had happened earlier with the Jews was still heavy on him. God encourages Paul in 18:9-10, “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” It seems like a usual encouragement from the Lord here. He makes sure to tell Paul that He is with him always and even promises safety, which Paul did not often have.
But what makes this encouragement so astounding is what God ends with, “for I have many people in this city.” What does that mean? Not very many people in Corinth had come to faith in Christ yet. So how could God say that He had many people in this city? Is God wrong? Certainly not! What then is going on? It’s because there are elect people within the city of Corinth that God has chosen from before the world began to believe, that have not heard the gospel yet. God encourages Paul to keep on preaching, because of those people. This is simply the outworking of Romans 10:14-17 in which it is clearly said that no one comes to faith apart from hearing the gospel. God was encouraging Paul to be the vessel of salvation for these people who God had chosen from before the foundation of the world, that are now residing in Corinth. Paul was obviously so strengthened by this word from God that he later encourages Timothy to labor and “endure all things for the sake of the elect, so that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Tim. 2:10) Paul labored and endured all things for the sake of the elect in Corinth, why? Because God was using him to gather in His elect. The sovereignty of God in election gave Paul hope that God’s Word, the gospel, would never return void, but always accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
What does this have to do with evangelism? How does the sovereignty of God empower us to bring the gospel to the people we live among? Because we to, along with Paul, have this same encouragement from God. No matter where we live, we can truthfully cling to the fact that God has chosen people before the world began in our cities, and God has ordained that the gospel be preached to them so they can believe. We are invited to be the means that God uses to carry out His eternal purposes.
If I did not believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation, I would be so utterly discouraged every time I share the gospel, because if they do not believe, it is my fault. I did not make it clear enough, wasn’t as persuasive as I could’ve been, or I didn’t try as hard as I should have. But this isn’t the case. Knowing that God has chosen people who will come to faith upon hearing the gospel gives me hope in sharing my faith. It is as if God were taking us fishing and promising a huge catch.
One other thing though, because we do not know who these elect ones are that God has chosen within our cities, we share with everyone. When people come to faith, we can know for sure, that it’s because they have been chosen from long ago.
I know of no doctrine that leads to a greater evangelistic zeal than the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election. Take heart, be encouraged, and share the gospel with all people, for God has many people in your city, and upon hearing the gospel, His elect will come to faith.