Scripture teaches that it is the Spirit that overcomes people’s hardness of heart and gives spiritual life. So, John 6:36 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (see also Ezek. 11:19-21; 36:25-27). Notice it says, “the flesh is no help at all.” The Apostle Paul also says it is “the Spirit that gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Thus, salvation does not come from “human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). So Paul says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
James 1:18 says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Whose will was it? It was “His will.” Of course, God uses means to accomplish His will. People are brought to new life through “the word of truth” (cf. Rom. 10:14; 1 Pet. 1:23).
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). That is because, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6). It is the supernatural work of God that makes a person a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). That is why we “must be born again” (Jn. 3:7). And of course, no one can make himself or herself be born, let alone born again. It is the Spirit’s prerogative; the Spirit works the way He works (Jn. 3:8). We also see that even faith is a gift from God (1 Chron. 29:14; Jn. 3:27; 1 Cor. 4:7; James 1:17). No one would believe without God first giving the gift of faith. Therefore, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16 cf. v. 19).
So, we say with Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again.”
In this series of posts we are looking at proof of God’s grace (Planned, Resurrecting, Outrageous, Overcoming, and Forever grace ). In the previous post we looked at Planned Grace. In this post we are looking at…
The Bible teaches that people need resurrected or brought to life spiritually because they are spiritually dead and don’t go to God apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Why is this the case? And where does the Bible teach this?
People do not turn to God apart from the Spirit’s intervening grace of regeneration because they are dead (Eph. 2:1-5), slaves of sin (Rom. 6:20), deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9 cf. Gen. 6:5; Ps. 51:5), and blinded by Satan so they don’t see the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4ff).
In our natural state since the Fall we are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We follow “the course of this world,” “the prince of the power of the air,” and “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (v. 2). That is how “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” (v. 3).
The Bible shows us over and over again proof of God’s abundant grace. Here we are going to look at the acronym PROOF to look at God’s grace. We are going to look at: Planned grace, Resurrecting grace, Outrageous grace, Overcoming grace, and Forever grace.
Why is it important that we consider the proof of grace? First, because when we understand all the proof of God’s grace we praise and glorify God for His abundant grace. Second, anything that is the teaching of Scripture is important and profitable for us to understand (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Third, when we understand the extent of God’s grace it humbles us. Fourth, when we understand more of the extent of our desperation we will (or should) love God more (Lk. 7:47).
The sovereignty of God is perhaps one of the most difficult doctrines in Scripture and yet one of the clearest. However, just because something is hard does not mean that it’s not helpful.
To think about and discuss the sovereignty of God can be challenging but also sweet. I think for instance of the rough shell of a coconut but of the reward contained inside. Or the difficulty of building a house but of the protective refuge you have at its completion. It may at times be difficult to wade through the deep waters of God’s sovereignty but we will never get to the island of peace if we don’t.
Our knowledge of God’s sovereignty is limited but Scripture certainly does not shrink back from saying that God is in absolute control. The Bible is replete with texts that teach us that is LORD of all (see e.g. Dan. 4:35; Is. 40:13,14; Rom. 9:15-18; Eph. 1:5, 11).
The Westminster Confession of Faith says it this way:
“God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy… God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.”
The word “sovereignty” is nowhere in the Bible, yet the teaching is all over the place. We see that God declared the “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” God says “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose” (Is. 46:10). Daniel tells us that “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” Job tells us that “He is unchangeable, and who can turn Him back? What He desires, that He does. For He will complete what He appoints for me.” Indeed, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases,” says the psalmist (Ps. 115:3; cf. 135:6). That is what is meant by the sovereignty of God.
A.W. Tozer said this in his excellent book The Knowledge of the Holy:
“God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. The reasons are these:
Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all the creation, He must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign.
Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply that He must be free to His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free He must be less than sovereign” (Knowledge of the Holy, 115).
God is Meticulously Sovereign
I learned an important thing from a good friend, a young Christian that was struggling with drug addiction. He told me one night he was really upset so he turned on the radio hoping that it would help him. As he turned on the radio he prayed that God would play an awesome song. And my friend’s song came on, and no it wasn’t “My Heart Will Go On” (you know, the Titanic song); instead, his song is “I am Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave. And it came on not at the end of the song, but at the very beginning. One of the lines he heard, since he heard the whole thing, was: “I’m not who I used to be. I am redeemed.” This song had a big impact on my friend and helped him fight his enslaving sin of drug addiction that night.
I was recently asked, “Do ‘Calvinists’ practice evangelism?” I think we see a parallel to this question in the motivation of the Gold Rush. During the Gold Rush, people went West because there was a good chance that they would strike gold. Calvinists, or at least healthy Calvinists, are motivated by this chance of “striking gold” as well. Let me explain…
During the California Gold Rush (1848-55), men and women left everything they knew to go “out West” because they knew that there was a chance—a good chance—that they would strike gold. Clearly, they would not have left family, friends, and security to go West if there was only a random chance of striking gold. However, there was a chance, and so there was a “Gold Rush.”
In total, around 300,000 people saw the potential gold as a great opportunity and set out for California. Men and women left their lives in the East—many times at great cost, sometimes even of life and limb—to travel to the West. This Gold Rush even brought people from as far away as Latin America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The life of a prospector was a difficult one: the work was hard, the environment was harsh, and there was the constant fear of Indian attack.
God Says There is “Gold” Among the Nations
Paul tells us that he endures everything for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2:10). Thus, far from making Paul relax his missionary zeal it encouraged it. In fact, one night the Lord said to him,
“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent… for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9-10)
Paul was encouraged to keep speaking because God had many elect people in the city.
There are elect people among the nations—or “gold”—that only have to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved. So, it is true that Calvinists believe that God elects people to salvation (see for example Eph. 1:4) but it also true that God uses us as means to bring about that salvation (see Rom. 10:13 for instance). So it is a great evangelistic encouragement to us that there are people ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (see Rev. 5:9-10). This truth, far from causing us to cease our evangelistic efforts, should cause a type of evangelistic “gold rush.”
One of the greatest encouragements in evangelism and missions is that there is a chance that we will “strike gold.” There is a chance that those to whom we are ministering are of the elect—chosen by God to be saved. Far from discouraging from evangelism, this truth should stir us up all the more to evangelize. When we read the passages we looked at we should see “Gold!” God has not only made evangelism possible, but He has in fact guaranteed that our evangelistic efforts are not in vain, for “He has many people in this city.” Our eyes should light up with the prospect of spiritual riches for us and for those with whom we can share Christ.
So yes, Calvinists do, or should, believe in and practice evangelism.