2 Corinthians 5:20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
The Sovereignty of God in Salvation
We believe in the sovereignty of God in all things — especially in missions and evangelism. Why? Because we must. The pulsating, thumping heartbeat of the Scriptures is that God is God, He alone is the Almighty, and there is no other. But the necessity is not merely ideological; it is infinitely practical, particularly in the realm of salvation. If God does not save, then all men (including us!) are hopeless and damned. If God is not powerful, then evangelism is the most foolish activity on the face of the earth. If God is not sovereign, then we would have a puny god, unworthy of proclaiming among the nations. Why would we want to worship a weak god?
But we do not have a small god. We have the True and Living God. Our God is the Almighty, the King, the Judge, the Ruler of the heavens above and the earth below, and all that they contain. Our God scoffs and laughs at the arrogance of men who try to kick Him off His glorious throne (Ps 2:1-6). He is the Supreme, the Everlasting, the Infinite, Holy One, the Majestic One, the Self-Existent One. The depth of the riches of His wisdom and knowledge know no end! His judgments are unsearchable and His ways unfathomable by the minds of men! Who has known the mind of the Lord? — that is, who is His equal? Who became His counselor? — that is who is His superior? Who has first given to Him, that it might be paid back to Him again? — that is, who is His provider? None (Rom 11:33-25) . No one, and no thing. God is the First and the Last, the Pre-Eminent, the Creator. He is God, and there is no other.
We Have a Bold Confidence
And so we, who have the incomparable blessing of knowing this God as Father, have an unshakable confidence for our own personal salvation. If God is for us, who is against us (Ro 8:31)? Well, all the world, Satan, and his demons, but what do they matter? They are nothing in comparison to God! We rest in the Father's hand, the One who is greater than all, and no one will snatch us out of His hand (Jn 10:29). He is Power (Mk 14:62) and will not lose us. For His own glory He has sworn for His own Name's sake to take us home to Himself (Jn 14:2). What a bold faith and confidence we have, that God will finish what He started (Php 1:6)!
In addition, we, who have the incomparable promises of knowing that this God is sovereign, have an unshakable confidence that He will save His elect. Jesus Christ swore to bring His sheep to Himself (Jn 10:16). The LORD God chose His own before the foundation of the world to be His own (Eph 1:4) and He will save them for His own glory (Eph 1:6). Those whom He foreknew, He predestined, He called, He justified, and He will glorify (Ro 8:30). Our God is sovereign — yes, upon this rock-solid truth we stand — and no one will bar God from claiming His own.
There is a Task That Yet Remains
So then, having exulted in the joy of the sovereignty of God for just a brief moment, I want to walk down the mountain of the glory God along a river that flows on it surface. It's called the Responsibility of Man in Evangelism.
I know that we believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation. We rest in it. And we should. Yet, in my own life, I have noticed that within the rich trellises of this robust and fully biblical theology of salvation, there sometimes grows a subtle, sinister, unbiblical thought: 'If salvation is of God, then full, biblical evangelism is simply this: find unbelievers, present the gospel, and trust the Lord to cause the growth."
Did you catch it? What is missing from that understanding of evangelism? One thing: pleading. It is grievously possible to preach the gospel without pleading; my cold-hearted sharing is testimony enough of that. But if there no pleading — pleading with God and pleading with sinners — there is no biblical evangelism. Let me say it another way; if we have not begged God to save the sinner, and have not begged the sinner to be saved unto God, then we have not evangelized as we ought. It is at best a crippled evangelism, a limping evangelism, and not the powerful evangelism of Christ or His apostles.
This crippled evangelism hobbles along even today. And lo, what is the crutch it is using to prop itself up? The sovereignty of God. The argument goes: 'Since God is going to save who He wants anyways, desperate prayer and desperate begging of sinners have no real place in evangelism. God is going to do what He wants anyways."
If this is not the damnable heresy of so-called hyper-Calvinism, (which said the gospel should not be offered freely to all), then it is its little brother. Beloved, the sovereignty of God does not destroy the impetus to pray and to plead; rather, without a biblical understanding of the sovereignty of God, there is absolutely no reason to plead.
We must return to a full orbed, biblical, pleading evangelism. And the way to do so is to embrace the sovereignty of God, for it gives us confidence to (1) plead with God and (2) plead with sinners.
Pleading With God
Paul says in Roman 10:1, "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation." Now, this is, of course, not surprising coming from the huge-hearted apostle. He is the man who said that his ambition was to "become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some" (1 Cor 9:22). He is the man who rejoiced that even though he was scorned and imprisoned, the gospel was going forth and accomplishing salvation (Php 1:18-19). He is the man who suffered and suffered and suffered for the sake of the gospel of salvation (2 Cor 11:23-32). No sinful man compares to him in his love for sinners to be saved. So, of course, we would say, he prays to God to for their salvation.
Yet, we often forget, that this man, this lover of sinners, is also the one who fought hardest for the sovereignty of God in salvation. Chapter 9 of the book of Romans alone establishes him as a predestination-believing Calvinist:
Romans 9:11, 15-16, 18-20 … so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, … For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. … So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?
And yet, right after he extols the absolute, unchallenged, authority of God in choosing who He would save, Paul says, "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them [the Israelites] is for their salvation." Knowing that God is sovereign over salvation, Paul prayed! And it was no complacent, reserved, stoic prayer, but a heart-pounding, weeping, desperate prayer, birthed out of a "great sorrow and unceasing grief in [his] heart" (Ro 9:2). It was not a small, flickering sorrow. It was a great, overwhelming torrent. It was not a passing peak of grief. It was unceasing, unending mourning. See how great a love for sinners God gave the apostle!
And, see how the sovereignty of God fuels this kind of bold, confident, pleading prayer. If Paul was not confident that there was "a remnant according to God’s gracious choice" (Ro 11:5), then he would not have prayed — he would have despaired. His confidence that God would do what He had sworn to do, that He was indeed sovereign over salvation, led Paul not to fatalistic, passive prayer, but assurance that God would undeniably hear his prayers and do what He had promised.
Do we pray like Paul? With a great sorrow, an unceasing grief? Do we indeed love sinners like he did, rather, like God does? And, do we pray as we ought because of a biblical understanding of the sovereignty of God? As Piper so famously said, "Missions hangs on prayer." Why? Because we can't save sinners! God alone can! If we will not pray, we confess that we do not really believe that God, and God alone, can save. If we will not pray, we subtly insinuate that our tactics, our words, our methods, our Bible knowledge, our persuasive arguments, can save. Brothers and sisters, may it never be!
Pleading with God is, many times, the best and most effective thing we can do in the work of evangelism and missions. Yes, the gospel must go forth from our lips. And it must advance by beautiful feet. But equally, the "…impossible work of missions can be accomplished only through the power and wisdom of God. Therefore, prayer must be at the forefront of all our missionary endeavors" (HeartCry Ministries, Essential Conviction #3). If we will not pray, God will not act through us. Do we believe that?
Thus, when all is said and done, our faith in the sovereignty of God does not nullify desperate prayer to God for salvation. It is the fuel of it.
Pleading With Sinners
But pleading with God is not the only thing missing from modern day evangelism. We also fail in that we do not plead with men to be saved. The sovereignty of God is no hindrance to passionate wooing of sinners unto Christ. It was no hindrance to God (Jer 3:11-14, Jer 31:1-22, Eze 18:30-32, Eze 33:10-11)! It was no hindrance to Christ (Mt 11:28-30, Jn 7:37-38)! It was no hindrance to the apostles (Ac 2:37-40)! The sovereignty of God, rather, gives us the only confidence we have that sinners will hear our pleas.
Now, some may plead out of a belief that sinners will not come otherwise. Thus, they are compelled to muster up persuasive words and desperate tears out of a desire to make the sinner come. Yet, this will not do. We have no power to raise a dead man to everlasting life! We must not plead out of a fear that the sinner will not come unless we do so. We must not plead out of a fear that God will fail to save them unless we do so. By speaking, can we make a dead corpse live? By crying, can we make our loved ones come back to life? By begging, was any dead man ever been made less dead? No. Never. If then, we have no power over the physically dead, how much less so over a spiritually dead sinner? Pleading because we doubt the sovereignty of God is foolish at its best and utter blasphemy at its worst. This belief exalts emotional tricks and subverts the pure gospel message. May we never walk that path, beloved.
Rather, we must plead because we know that God is powerful to save. He, by His power, and His authority, uses feeble, stuttering words to raise dead men to life! Think of it brethren! By the word of the gospel, God chooses to work the miracle of atonement! of regeneration! of salvation! of adoption! Blind eyes are opened, hearts of stone are shattered, rebels are made subjects to the Kingdom, slaves to sin are made slaves to righteousness, prodigals are brought home! By what? By pleading with the gospel.
This is how Paul, the Calvinist, spoke: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." We are ambassadors, representatives with an authority derived from Christ Himself, conveying God's own imploring. We beg, on Christ's own behalf. For what? For them to be reconciled to God, that is to be brought to God (1 Pet 3:18).
This, I think, is what is so sorely lacking in our evangelism. We know Bible verses. We know outlines. We know illustrations. We know apologetic arguments. We know the heart of man. We know theology. And we must.
Yet, do we know how to beg? Or do we consider such begging beneath ourselves? Are we humble enough to beg sinners to come to Christ? Are we above bending down on our proverbial knees and pleading with the sinner? "Come to Christ. He will not turn away a repenting sinner. He can take all of your sin – all of it! He knows what you've done, and He knows how wicked you are. Within His wounds there is forgiveness and mercy and love. Come. Come to Christ."
How can we look an unbeliever in the eye, a rebel against our beloved God, who hates the Source of all that is good, and not plead for him to be reconciled to God? How can we possible live and coexist with sinners damned to the eternal fiery hell of the wrath of God and not beg on our knees and with tears for them to believe the gospel? How dare we take the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He made paid for by His precious blood, speak it to a sinner, and say, "Your choice. Take it or leave it. It's entirely up to you." No! May it never be!
Those that come to Him are His elect children, in whom His Spirit is working, convicting them of sin (Jn 16:8). Those that come are His children, predestined before the foundation of the world to be His sons and daughters (Eph 1:4-5)! They are His beloved! They are destined to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 5:17), to be given new hearts (Eze 36:26), to be raised up with Christ (Eph 2:6)! They are our future brother, our future sister, and God loves them!
And even if the sinner with whom we plead is not one of the elect, what does that matter to us? We know not, and need not know. Spurgeon said it well: "If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for." The man who stands in the gap between God's wrath and sinners indeed pleads with God. But he must plead with sinners as well.
I ask myself often, if I know that God has sworn to use the gospel to save sinners, how can I not plead? I want to see Him save the sinner. I want to see Him do miracles. And His sovereignty over salvation gives me the undying hope that by the proclamation of the gospel, they will come. He will save them. We have the unbreakable promise of salvation for ourselves and for all else who will trust in Him.
So, beloved, preach the gospel well. Evangelize with the gospel of truth, the gospel of love. And plead with all that you are. God will hear. And, by His grace, the sinners will too.
"Pity the nations, O our God, Constrain the earth to come; Send thy victorious Word abroad, And bring the strangers home." - How Sweet and Aweful is the Place
[Originally written for the Evangel Chile Missions Team 2014]