Summary: The mysterious way that God brings us to faith is wonderful to consider.
God, the Evangelist (Part 1)
April 9, 2005
How did you come to the family of God? How did you enter a relationship with Jesus Christ? Was it God’s doing? Was it your doing? Was it a bit of both?
We’re concerned with doing the ongoing work of the church, which, as Jesus directed, is, beyond feeding the flock and caring for those already in the Family of God, to go to the world with the good news message of Jesus Christ. We’re, based on Jesus’ words to help or welcome others into the family. However, as we consider doing this, what do we expect? What can we expect? What difference do our efforts make? Are we simply to be harvesters, helping the already determined crop to go forward in personal relationships with Jesus Christ? Or, are we to be ones who prepare the soil, plant the seed, and do some weeding and watering, as well?
Some scripture indicates that coming to a relationship with Jesus Christ is entirely dependent on God. One of these is John 6.44, one that we all know very well.
However, others indicate that there’s a high measure of personal responsibility and involvement in coming to Christ. One of these is Rom.10.8, 9. This passage speaks in terms of what the individual must do, in a context that speaks of people’s seeking God.
Can you understand how what we believe about reaching out to others affects what we’ll do, or not do? If we believe that it’s all up to God, then we can, justifiably, wait for God to bring new people along, that we can, then, come alongside and assist. We might choose to be rather quiet, we could say, about our evangelistic activity. On the other hand, if we believe that individuals have a great deal to do with their own conversion, then we will be out there, talking and encouraging and helping people to understand, first, then to respond. Then, we’ll be happy to position ourselves alongside as helpers of new relationships with Jesus Christ.
In Christian conduct, what we believe affects what we do. Theology- good theology- leads to good activity. We want the best possible theological understanding in order to have the best possible actions, and this matter of what to expect to do, in evangelism, is an important topic.
As you can imagine, I am not the first person to recognize these two possible positions and their impact on the work of evangelism. For centuries, Christians have wrestled with how to approach the subject and how to view people around them, consequently. We all know that God is the ultimate evangelist, but in what way does He do evangelism? Does He do it all? Or, does He enlist mere people to assist in the task?
Understanding a small bit of church history will help us in this discussion and understanding. Where have discussions, of those before us, led, on this important topic
John Calvin was a French church reformer who lived between 1509-1564; he began his active ministry about a generation after Martin Luther, so he never met Luther, but continued in the tradition of the new, what we call, Protestant Reformation. Calvin, whose name you may recognize, and whose influence, you have certainly known, took a position that puts all responsibility for conversion on God. To quote one source, “Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the Gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, and regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.” Calvin was very clear on how he saw the matter, and this approach has impacted whole portions of the Christian church for the last 550 years or so.
One old Baptist deacon, who is quoted speaking to someone else about evangelization of the heathen, expresses the approach that sprang from this: “Young man, sit down. When God is pleased to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”
You might assume that those who believed and believe this have not done anything in evangelizing. This could not be farther from the truth. However, it has led to an approach of preaching looking for those who were part of the already determined ‘elect’, and giving an opportunity, if this was the time, for them to declare themselves. The idea of people, who were not of the elect, deciding to respond, is not considered possible, in this way of understanding how God is evangelistic.
Then, let’s consider a second Reformer. A Dutch reformer, who lived from 1560-1609, and who was taught, in Geneva, by Beza, the successor to Calvin, was Jacobus Arminius, from whom Arminianism derives. He developed an understanding which has become the belief of most Christians, and which is rooted in the idea that God has given man the choice to accept Him or reject Him. This understanding developed in response and opposition to Calvin’s teachings. Arminius believed, and taught, that one of the greatest ways in which God bestowed His nature on humanity was through the ability to choose and to exercise free choice. He developed an understanding, which the following quote summarizes: “1. God has decreed to save through Jesus Christ those of the fallen and sinful race who through the grace of the Holy Spirit believe in him, but leaves in sin the incorrigible and unbelieving. 2. Christ died for all men (not just for the elect), but no one except the believer has remission of sin. 3. Man can neither of himself nor of his free will do anything truly good until he is born again of God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.” So, individuals can choose to respond to God and become part of the family.