Editor’s Note: Below is a guest post from Steve Swan. Steve is the associate pastor at The King’s Fellowship, a church in the heart of Winnipeg, Canada. Steve is married to his best friend, Sarah and they have two daughters, Nora(3) and Lulu(1). You can find his blog at Words of Truth & Reason.
How can you evangelize if you’re a Calvinist? Every once in a while someone will challenge me, specifically about how I can believe in the Reformed view of salvation and be into evangelism. Many know, that entails a view of God’s sovereign election and predestination. In plain English that means that God in the end gets to decide who will come to believe. Isn’t there a contradiction between that and evangelistic zeal? Truth be told, I’m not an argumentative Calvinist and would really rather talk about the other JC if given the chance. But I do believe in Calvin’s view and while I don’t like to force it, I don’t hide it either. And yes, I do have John 3:16 in my Bible just like everybody else does. When someone does ask me I usually point them to my all-time favourite passage from Calvin himself. Reading Calvin himself (something more people should do) is like trying to take a sip from a waterfall but this passage, aside from Scripture, has shaped my passion for sharing the Gospel more than any others. The logical order of these two sentences is important.
Men indeed ought to be taught that God’s loving-kindness is set forth to all who seek it, without exception. But since it is those on whom heavenly grace has breathed who at length begin to seek after it, they should not claim for themselves the slightest part of his praise.
John Calvin – The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.10.
The first of these sentences confirms that the Good News ought to shared as widely as possible. Everyone needs to hear about Christ and His atoning work. Everyone needs to be told of the love of God that is offered to us through that work. Everyone needs to be challenged to repent and believe in the Good News. This is Gospel work – talking, persuading, explaining, inviting to believe. Personally I derive great pleasure from sharing about Christ with others. I love to ask questions to see where they’re coming from, and I love to talk about the One whom I love. There is no contradiction between telling everyone we can and the fact that God’s irresistible grace draws those whom He has called. We aren’t to preach pre-destination, we are to preach Christ crucified and risen. We are not to guard the Gospel Story for ourselves but to tell as many as we can. The invitation to believe is extended to all. Those who seek will find, that’s a promise from the highest authority. People need to be told that very thing, if they search for God they will find Him. The Gospel is like an open door above which reads: Enter All Who Will.
The second sentence is even more amazing. All who seek find but after the fact it can be realized that even the seeking was an act of God upon the heart. Above the open door is an invitation to all but once through, looking back we can read above the lintel: Chosen From the Foundation of the World. It turns out that it was wholly and completely God’s work from the very beginning. Why is the looking back part important? Because we don’t always lead off with the doctrines of grace. Those are primarily for enjoyment afterwards not necessarily part of the invitation. It is the looking back that produces thankfulness, humility, and confidence. Thankfulness because we see that God’s will has been acting on us the whole way. Our seeking was His drawing. It humbles us because we see that even as we may have seemed to choose to believe, there is not an ounce of self-congratulation to be had. It was Him all along. Confidence because when we tell others about Him, we don’t need to rest on our own ability. I’m all for being persuasive, but it is not up to us. I become much more confident telling the Gospel when I really believe that it is God’s sovereign will that makes any of us believers at all. First, we say “come”, then we say “it was Him”. That why He gets all the glory!