How should we understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility to evangelize? J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, is a helpful book for those considering this important question.
God’s Sovereignty and our Responsibility
Packer gives various examples of the sovereignty of God. He points out that just by praying to God we acknowledge His sovereignty. Packer points out that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught side by side in Scripture. And “far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility—indeed, the certainty—that evangelism will be fruitful.”
God’s sovereignty is a great means of encouragement to us in our evangelism. Packer helpfully says that in our evangelism we
have every reason to be bold, and free, and natural, and hopeful of success. For God can give His truth an effectiveness that you and I cannot give it. God can make His truth triumphant to the conversion of the most seemingly hardened unbeliever. You and I will never write off anyone as hopeless and beyond the reach of God if we believe in the sovereignty of His grace.
So, we are responsible for sharing the gospel but God is sovereign. A proper understanding of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility is important and practical. It is important for us to realize, as Packer says, that “it is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument that He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: It is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument.” So, “the belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the necessity of evangelism.” Will Metzger, in agreement with Packer says, “We should not consider… sovereignty and responsibility as enemies but rather see them the way the Bible does—as friends!” So, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility may seem at odds but they are really not, although we may not understand. We must remember that the secret things belong to the LORD but the things that have been revealed belong to us that we may do what God has called us to do (see Deut. 29:29).
- “Even though there is real warfare going on, our engagement should look more like diplomacy than D-Day” (19).
- “You must be careful not to use your tactics merely to assault others… I am not opposed to being assertive, direct or challenging. However, I never intend to be abrasive or abusive” (27).
- “Always make it a goal to keep your conversations cordial. Sometimes that will not be possible. If a principled, charitable expression of your ideas makes someone mad, there’s little you can do about it. Jesus’ teaching made some people furious. Just make sure it’s your ideas that offended not you, that your beliefs cause the dispute and not your behavior” (31).
- “The ability to argue well is vital for clear thinking. That’s why arguments are good things. Arguing is a virtue because it helps us determine what is true and discard what is false” (33).
- “It doesn’t follow that if God’s Spirit plays a vital role, then reason and persuasion play none” (35) (cf. Acts 17:2-4).
- “Some people think Christians are the only ones who need to answer for their beliefs. Of course, we should be able to give reasons for what we think is true. But we are not the only ones; others should be able to do this, too” (58).
- “Many Challenges to Christianity thrive on vague generalities and forceful but vacuous slogans” (58).
- Ask people for facts to support their conclusions. “Most critics are not prepared to defend their faith” (61).
- “Reversing the burden of proof is not a trick to avoid defending our own ideas. When we give opinions, we have to answer for them just like anyone else. We have a responsibility, but so do they” (65).
- “When someone asks for your personal views about a controversial issue, preface your remarks with a question that sets the stage—in your favor—for your response. Say, ‘You know, this is actually a very personal question you’re asking. I don’t mind answering, but before I do, I want to know if it’s safe to offer my views. So let me ask you a question: Do you consider yourself a tolerant person or an intolerant person on issues like this? Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse points of view, or do you condemn others for convictions that differ from your own?’ Now when you give your point of view, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to call you intolerant or judgmental without looking guilty, too” (78).
- “The quickest way to deal with a personal attack is to simply point it out with a question. When someone goes after you rather than your arguments, ask, ‘I’m a little confused about your response. Even if you were right about my character, could you explain to me exactly what that has to do with this issue?’” (79).
- “Think about using the phrase ‘Have you considered’ to introduce your concern, then offering a different view that gently questions the person’s beliefs or confronts weaknesses with his argument… ‘Have you ever considered… that the existence of evil is actually evidence of the existence of God, not against it?’… ‘Have you ever considered… that if Jesus was wrong about being the only way of salvation, it is difficult to call him a good man, a prophet, or a wise religious teacher? What do you think about that problem?’” (84).
- “Can you help me understand this? If there is no evidence that life came from non-life (abiogenesis)—that life spontaneously arose from inanimate matter to kick off the sequence of evolution—and there is much evidence against it, how can we say that Darwinian evolution is fact?” (85)
- “If someone’s thinking is flawed, the key to finding the error is to listen carefully to the reasons and then ask if the conclusions follow from the evidence. Point out errors with questions rather than statements. You might soften your challenge by phrasing your concern as a request for clarification or by suggesting an alternative with the words ‘Have you considered…’ before offering your own ideas” (88).
- “As a general rule, go out of your way to establish common ground. Whenever possible, affirm points of agreement. Take the most charitable read on the other person’s motives, not the most cynical. Treat them the way you would like others to treat you” (95).
- “If all religions are true, then Christianity is true. Yet a central claim of classical Christianity is that other religions are false when taken as a whole. Clearly, Jesus was not a pluralist. Either Christianity is correct that Jesus is God’s Messiah for the world and other religions are deceptions, as Scripture teaches, or Christianity is false and some other view is true. In no case, though, can all religions be true and valid” (119).
- “If you help someone see in advance that the route his map recommends will actually lead him off a cliff, he might consider changing his course. He might even discover he is using the wrong worldview map altogether and exchange it for one that is more reliable” (143).
- “When there is a conflict between methodology and materialism, the philosophy always trumps the facts. Modern science does not conclude from the evidence that design is not tenable” (171).
- “When an academic begins with naturalism, a series of ‘facts’ fall into place before any genuine historical analysis begins… Starting with one’s conclusions, though, is cheating. Nothing has been proved, only assumed” (173).
- “Carnage of unimaginable proportions resulted not from religion, but from institutionalized atheism” (177).
[Kuhn, Mike. Fresh Vision for the Muslim World. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009.]
Kuhn proceeds then to talk about the theological differences between Christianity and Islam. For instance, “the essence of the Christian faith—God became human being in Christ—is diametrically opposed to Islamic faith” (69). There is also a vast difference in the view of what constitutes humanities problem and thus our view of salvation is different. Islam teaches that “individuals are neither dead in sin nor in need of redemption; rather, they are weak, forgetful, and in need of guidance” (78). The heart of the difference between Islam and Christianity is how man is put right with their Creator (81).
In chapters seven through nine, Kuhn reminds us that Jesus’ concern was not with “the geopolitical state of Israel during his earthly ministry. His concern is with his kingdom—the kingdom of heaven” (120). The place of the state of Israel is a subject filled with tension for many Muslims and Christians alike but it is also a very important and practical subject. So, we must seek God and His Scripture for wisdom, we must understand Jesus’ words (130, 171). Kuhn points out that the need of the entire world is to see “the manifestation of the kingdom of Jesus in his people” (158, italics mine), not in an earthly nation. As we have seen, we are to love our neighbors and part of loving someone is understanding them, their history, their perspective, their past hurts.
Chapter ten talks about jihad and explains that not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way, some have a spiritualized understanding of jihad (e.g. 199). So, it is important to understand that Muslims, like Christians, are not all the same. In fact, “the primary concerns of most Muslims are similar to ours—raising their children, providing for their children’s education, saving for that new car or outfit… We must exercise care not to be monofocal in our understanding of Islam” (187). Chapter eleven challenges us to faithfully speak for Jesus and live for His Kingdom and not our own. In part 5, chapters twelve through thirteen, we see steps to incarnation and what it means to live missionally (see esp. 225).
I believe Kuhn could have had more Scriptural argumentation at places but I realize his book was not meant to be exhaustive. However, I agree with most of what he wrote and believe it is truthful. That is, I believe Kuhn made a cogent case in what he said. I also appreciate that he gave a recap of each chapter, it helped give the book clarity.
Stylistically, I appreciate that Kuhn covered many different topics yet did not lose the focus of the book. For example, he introduced incarnation at the beginning (8) and then weaved it through the rest of the book (see e.g. 13, 16, 75, 85. 242). What is needed Kuhn pointed out, though sadly rare, “is an extended hand, a caring smile, someone who is willing to go the extra mile to help someone in need” (259) (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; Jn. 13:35; 1 Cor. 10:33).
I appreciate Kuhn’s reminder that “The kingdom of Jesus as opposed to empire is not concerned in the least about the political boundaries of a country. It is a reality that overlays the political boundaries” (256). We must remember that the Roman Empire came and went, but Jesus’ Kingdom is eternal (254) (cf. Jn. 18:36). Kuhn’s challenge is timely, he says, “if Western Christians are able to bid farewell to our fortress mentality, we will find that our countries have already become exceedingly accessible and potentially fruitful mission fields” (244). Kuhn further points out that if American Christians are overly aligned with their governments’ policies then their missional impact will likely be impacted (241). Instead, as Christians, Jesus should be our King and His policies should hold ultimate sway. The real hope of the Muslim world, and the Western world for that matter, is not democracy, it the diffusion of the good news of Jesus the Christ and the establishment of His reign (218).
As Muslims grow increasingly suspicious and fed up with the violent response of Islamists, they are beginning to look for alternatives. Some are finding their alternative in secularism. Others are turning to materialistic pleasure. Will we as Christ-followers have anything to offer them? (214-15)
The Bible teaches us that we, as Christians, are exiles (1 Pet. 1:1, 17; 2:11; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 13:14). That is, we as Christians are separated from our true country. This is a biblical reality and more and more becoming an empirical reality. For instance, Newsweek has said, “Christians are now making up a declining percentage of the American population” (cf. U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious“).
America has been postmodern and now we’re told America is post-Christian. But it’s not surprising. And it’s actually ok because this is not our home. We are “exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1, 17) and so we shouldn’t expect to have a nice cushy Christian majority (not that a Christian majority is wrong). We function, as the early church functioned, from the margins, not from the center.
Also, notice that Peter doesn’t tell us to wage war to ensure that we are the “moral majority.” No. Peter says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:11-12 see also 1 Cor. 5:9-13).
It’s actually Christian’s morality that Peter is concerned with. Peter doesn’t say watch out for the world’s morality (and Peter lived under Roman control). No. He says, watch out for your own morality. Wage war against your soul. We are called to live our lives “constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals” (Lee Beach, The Church in Exile, 183). Read More…
As we read in Philippians we see that Paul lived to share the gospel. That’s what he was all about. Even when he was imprisoned for sharing the gospel he said, “It’s okay. It actually worked out quite well because I was able to tell the prison guards about Jesus.”
Paul lived to share the gospel. But what made him live like this? He hadn’t always lived for the gospel so what changed him? And what perhaps needs to change in our own lives so that we will live to share the gospel of Christ?
As I was preparing to write this I struggled because this portion of Philippians (1:12-18, 27-30) seems irrelevant. It seems disconnected from our everyday life. So, I was trying to think of some angle that I could share to make it relevant and I was struggling to do so. I was thinking that if I were talking about procrastination, lust, or something else then that would be relevant.
As I continued to think about it, however, I realized the problem is not with the passage. The problem is with us, with me. The passage doesn’t seem relevant because we don’t share the concern that Paul had, and that the Bible has. We, I am afraid, our deficient in our devotion to the gospel.
Sharing the gospel and our…
This first point comes from my own mouth and mind and not directly from Philippians. However, upon reflection, I think it is important that we consider our potential deficiency.What is our deficiency? Or, what would make this passage seem irrelevant?
I fear we (myself included!) get used to the gospel. It ceases to amaze us. We take it for granted. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was likely written 30 years after his conversion but we see that he is still amazed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and later on he says everything is rubbish compared to Christ (3:8).
Our deficiency is our deficient view of the gospel. We esteem it of low worth. Until that deficiency changes we won’t delight in sharing the gospel and we won’t carry out our duty of sharing the gospel. So, briefly, what is the gospel?
Philippians 2 talks about Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, made Himself nothing and humbled Himself to die for us, even by death on a cross. 2 Corinthians 8:9 reminds us of the wonder of the gospel: our Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich. This is the good news of the “great exchange.” Jesus, God in flesh, took our filthy sinful stains upon Himself on the tree; and He gave us His beautiful robes of righteousness.
The apostle Paul understood that and that’s why he said everything—everything!—is rubbish compared to Christ. We too need to understand that. It makes sense logically but often times it hasn’t worked itself into the nooks and crannies of our lives.
So, we see the need of cultivating a heart of worship, a heart that is amazed by the gospel. As John Piper has said,
“No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the missionary cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ. There will be no big world vision without a big God. There will be no passion to draw others into our worship where there is no passion for worship.”
It is when we taste and see that a restaurant is good that we tell others about it. It is the same with the gospel. We need to “taste” that it is good. We need to know understand that the LORD “has done gloriously.” Look at Isaiah 12:1-5:
“I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation… Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.”
It when we taste the God’s goodness that we say, “Let this be known in all the earth!”
Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Devotion (Phil. 1:12-18)
In a letter such as this, it would have been customary for Paul to explain how he was doing. It would have been natural to discuss his physical conditions. I expect Paul to say something like:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, especially for the gift you gave me. That was really helpful. However, as you know I am in jail for preaching the gospel and I am fresh out of funds. I don’t have a lot of food and my sneakers are worn out. It’d be great to get some help. I am also very tired as my bed is very uncomfortable and the blanket they gave me is terrible. The guards also keep me up late. They like to play cards and their cursing is terrible…”
However, Paul says nothing like that. Actually, we’re not even really told about his physical well-being, let alone the state of his sneakers.
Yet, imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul. One commentator has said, “For a traveling apostle to be put in prison must have seemed like a concert pianist having his hands tied behind his back.” Yet, Paul was not complaining.
Why is this the case? Certainly, Paul had material concerns. There are times when Paul let his material needs be known. For instance, he asks for his coat and books (2 Tim. 4:13). Paul surely had physical/material concerns but they weren’t main concern. We see Paul is concerned with the gospel and its advancement.
Paul’s good is wrapped up with the gospel. Even though he was locked up he could rejoice because it “served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Paul made known to his guards that he was in jail for telling people about Christ. It was such a big deal that it got around to a bunch of people, “the whole imperial guard,” it says (v. 13).
“The soldiers were used, of course, to the ‘gospel’ of Caesar—the supposed ‘good news’ that a new emperor had taken the throne, bringing (so he claimed) peace and justice to the world. Now here was someone out of the blue announcing that there was a different ‘gospel’: that Jesus of Nazareth had taken the throne of the world, and was summoning every man, woman and child to bow the knee to him.”
The guards were interested in hearing Paul’s story because they probably thought Paul was crazy at first. After all, they must have thought, who worships and confesses as King and Lord a crucified Jew?!
Yet, upon further discussion with Paul, they would have seen that Paul was not a lunatic but rather quite sane. If what Paul said about Jesus was true it would make sense that he would be willing to be imprisoned for Him (the guards themselves had suffered for their own king). Further, in light of Jesus being the King and Lord, it makes sense that Paul was encouraged, even in prison.
We see also the impact that Paul’s example had on the Philippians; they were emboldened to “speak the word without fear” (v. 14). How might our boldness help others to be bolder in sharing the gospel? You never know, God may use you to stir up a revival.
Perhaps the most surprising thing we see is that Paul even rejoices when people “preach Christ from envy and rivalry” (v. 15) and “out of selfish ambition” (v. 17). So, we see Paul had a delight in the gospel that bled out into the way he thought about the sharing of the gospel. Paul was passionate about the gospel and desired it to be shared. He had written previously, in Romans, that “he was ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it was the power of God for salvation to all that believe” (Rom. 1:16). Paul continued passionately and boldly unashamed.
So, what are your aspirations? To make money? To travel? To find a new job? To be in a relationship? To do well in school? To be successful in life (however, you define success)? “None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of existence entirely.” Our central concern should be the gospel and its advancement.
Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Duty (Phil. 1:27-30)
In Philippians 1:27 Paul tells us about our duty. Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul is telling us that the gospel is amazing and calls us to life change. We cannot understand and be impacted by the gospel without being changed. When we taste the sweetness of the gospel then we begin to be moved to desire to live our life in line with the gospel. We begin to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27). We even begin to see it as a good thing if we suffer for the sake of Christ (v. 29).
Paul’s form of ambassadorship changed but not his purpose and duty. Paul was an ambassador in chains (Eph. 6:20). This is the case for us too. We might serve in different locations and different circumstances but we are still called to be ambassadors for Christ wherever we are. So, the specific call and circumstance might change but we are all called to share and care about the gospel.
When our devotion to the gospel of Christ is waning and deficient we need to work at cultivating a heart of worship. Because not only is the gospel a delight but we also have a duty to share and care about it. We are called to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27) and notice as we stand side by side and encourage each other we can stand firm not and not be afraid of our opponents (v. 27-28).
A Few Questions:
1. What did you find encouraging and what did you find challenging about this post?
2. How is our view of the gospel sometimes deficient?
3. The gospel is the most amazing reality in the world but sometimes it may seem irrelevant. What does that say about us and our focus when that is true of us?
4. What are you tempted to care about more than the gospel? What is your “good news”?
5. Do you care about the gospel? Do you share the gospel?
6. How might your boldness help others to be bold in sharing the gospel?
7. Is it true we should have a devotion to Jesus and His gospel? Or, is it legalistic to say we must be devoted and that we have duty?
8. What would a devotion to the gospel look like in your everyday life?
9. Why would we be devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ? What would motivate us in that way?
 John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 40.
 Paul’s letter “is thoroughly transformed by the gospel” (Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 106 cf. 108).
 N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 89.
 “This passage shows us that when our joy is connected to the advancement of the gospel rather than to our physical condition or to the responses of other people to us, it remains firm, even when these circumstances stand against us” (Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians, 66).
 We see that “God works not merely in spite of but through adverse circumstances” (Ibid.).
 Ibid. Cf. D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 23.
 D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 26.
 John Stott, The Message of Philippians, 72.