Why evangelize? An email exchange with my father-in-law

My father-in-law, Tim, is a good, bible-believing reformed Christian.  When he comes Up North we have a good time talking about theology and the bible and other such things.  A week ago he sent me an email asking, based on a few passages of scripture, why we should evangelize.  After responding to him, Bonnie liked how I answered and suggested that I post both emails here for your consumption.  I hope you find it beneficial.  To no one’s surprise, my answer is wordy.

*****

Michael,

I thought of you while reading this morning’s scripture Rom 5.18: ‘…even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.’  This reminds me of John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world…’.

Mathew Henry’s take on Rom 5 v18 is:

There is a free gift come upon all men, that is, it is made and offered promiscuously to all. The salvation wrought is a common salvation; the proposals are general, the tender free; whoever will may come, and take of these waters of life. This free gift is to all believers, upon their believing, unto justification of life. It is not only a justification that frees from death, but that entitles to life. (2.) Many shall be made righteous—many compared with one, or as many as belong to the election of grace, which, though but a few as they are scattered up and down in the world, yet will be a great many when they come all together.

I suspect RC Sproul’s reformed theology would replace ‘all men’ and ‘the world’ with ‘the elect’.  The idea being Jesus only died for believers.

I like what RC says: grace is delivered to the elect; justice to everyone else.

So then when asked why should we evangelize, RC’s answer: because He tells us to.

What do you think?

Tim

*****

Tim,

I think Matthew Henry would probably agree with RC Sproul that Jesus died for the elect.  But we have to think about the different ways that words are used in different places.  Both Jesus and Paul make clear that salvation is not for everyone, so Romans 5:18 isn’t a statement of universal salvation.  I know you don’t think it is, but honestly, given the comparison Paul is making, and if we isolate verse 18, that sounds like what Paul is saying- that just as all are guilty through Adam, so all are justified in Christ.  Jesus didn’t teach this.  If we continue reading past John 3:16, in the next few verses he says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  He came that the world might be saved through him.  There is a possibility of salvation for all because there is a universal general call by the Spirit.  The general call- that the words of the gospel are preached to the ends of the earth- is different from the effectual call.  Two people hear the gospel preached at the same time, in the same place, and one rejects it while the other receives it.  So the whole world could be saved because the work of the atonement was made available to all.  Yet only the elect are saved.  Most will hear the gospel, but only some respond to it.  Jesus makes this clear in John 6: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Who will be raised up on the last day?  All those that the Father has given the Son.  What is the sign that they have been given by the Father to the Son?  That they look on the Son and believe.

On the issue of why some respond to the gospel and others don’t, Jesus again elaborates in John 8:47, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” All this stuff gets back to why RC and others (myself included) say that Jesus’ death was for the elect.  While the general call is offered to all, it is only received by some, and that “some” are those determined by God himself, whom he set aside for himself as a love offering for his Son (See Romans 8:29-30, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”).  God predestined some that they would be brothers and sisters of Christ, so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a large family.

Incidentally, when we read John 3:16-18, we also see that justification by faith is not a Pauline doctrine, but a teaching of Jesus himself.  “18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

This all brings us back to Romans 5:18.  Again, as an isolated verse (and even an isolated passage) it can seem to be teaching universal salvation.  Yet Paul doesn’t teach universal salvation anywhere.  We have already looked at some of Jesus’ words on the issue.  Romans 2:6-8, “He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”  Romans 3:21-25, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  In these two passages we see both that God has wrath and fury for some, and that some (not all) are saved by faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  So the passage in Romans 5 can’t be speaking of universal salvation (which I know that you know).  But it is important in laying this out to get back to your original question.

So, why do we evangelize?  The most obvious reason is because Jesus told us to.  And I can’t think of a more appropriate reason.  Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  The command is to make disciples, so it does go beyond simply telling the good news, but also raising people in the faith.  And it is a command not a suggestion.  But Paul gives us a reason as well, and it comes at the end of a lengthy discussion on God’s sovereign right to choose some for glory and others for destruction (Romans 9).  Romans 10:13-17 says, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  So right after Romans 8 and 9, where Paul spells out God’s sovereign plan of election pretty explicitly, he continues with the call to go forth preaching the gospel because it is the only way for people to hear the message.  The bible doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit preaches the gospel, but that the Holy Spirit draws those who have heard.  God in his sovereign plan has seen fit to make us, his creation, an integral part of his salvific plan.  Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  How can people call on Jesus if they have never heard of him?  So it is our job to make sure that they have.

I suspect that I have said much more than you were asking me to in giving a response.  But as those who sit in my church Sunday mornings are aware, I never say anything briefly.

Hope this helps.

Mike

3 thoughts on “Why evangelize? An email exchange with my father-in-law

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Erika Dielman

    August 15, 2013 at 1:09am

    Great job as always Father Mike, and this post really helped clarify a lot of things for me. The part where you talked about how can anyone hear if they’ve never been told, etc… makes me think of the Ethiopian Eunoch when he was asked ” Do you understand what it is that you’re reading?” and he said “How can I when no one will teach me?” The Great Commission, part of it anyway, as you have stated, is doing just that. Thanks for this well thought out, lucid, reminder, and I , too, hope it helped.

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Mike

    August 15, 2013 at 1:23am

    Thanks for your response, Erika. Yes, the Ethiopian Eunuch is another great example.

  3. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Clise

    August 15, 2013 at 4:21pm

    Father Bridge: Can you elaborate on your position concerning the “Federal Headship of Adam and Christ” and the implications on the attributes of God.

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