Evangelism and God’s sovereignty, part 1

Last Sunday’s message was about what we do and what God does in evangelism.

The best work on this subject is J. I. Packer’s book, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God.  The last chapter of the book ties together the two themes of our work and God’s work in the process of evangelism.  The entire chapter is excellent, but I offer a couple of brief excerpts to whet your appetite for the entire chapter and book (part 1 today – the question posed):

Evangelism, we have learned, is a task appointed to all God’s people everywhere. It is the task of communicating a message from the Creator to rebel mankind. The message begins with information and ends with can invitation. The information concerns God’s work of making His Son a perfect Saviour for sinners. The invitation is God’s summons to mankind generally to come to the Saviour and find life.   God commands all men everywhere to repent, and promises forgiveness and restoration to all who do. The Christian is sent into the world as God’s herald and Christ’s ambassador, to broadcast this message as widely as he can. This is both his duty (because God commands it, and love to our neighbour requires it) and his privilege (because it is a great thing to speak for God, and to take our neighbour the remedy — the only remedy — that can save him from the terrors of spiritual death). Our job, then, is to go to our fellow-men and tell them the gospel of Christ, and try by every means to make it clear to them; to remove as best we can any difficulties that they may find in it, to impress them with its seriousness, and to urge them to respond to it. This is our abiding responsibility; it is a basic part of our Christian calling.

But now we come to the question that has loomed over us from the outset. How is all this affected by our belief in the sovereignty of God?

We saw earlier that divine sovereignty is one of a pair of truths which form an antinomy in biblical thinking. The God of the Bible is both Lord and Lawgiver in His world; He is both man’s King and man’s Judge. Consequently, if we would be biblical in our outlook, we have to make room in our minds for the thoughts of divine sovereignty and of human responsibility to stand side by side. Man is indubitably responsible to God, for God is the Lawgiver who fixes his duty, and the Judge who takes account of him as to whether or not he has done it. And God is indubitably sovereign over man, for He controls and orders all human deeds, as He controls and orders all else in His universe. Man’s responsibility for his actions, and God’s sovereignty in relation to those same actions, are thus, as we saw, equally real and ultimate facts.…

Now our question is:  Supposing that all things do in fact happen under the direct dominion of God, and that God has already fixed the future by His decree, and resolved whom He will save, and whom not — how does this bear on our duty to evangelize?

(Part 2)

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