Why Do Calvinists Publicly Call for Repentance?

One common objection to Reformed soteriology is that Calvinism makes public calls for repentance illogical or unnecessary. The objection may present itself like this: “The Calvinist is inconsistent and unfaithful to his own worldview to issue a public call for repentance. After all, won’t only the elect repent of their sins and believe in Christ?” I would like to provide four brief thoughts on this objection.

I pray, in sincerity and good-intention, that this article proves helpful to you, reader. May these meditations exalt God as supremely glorious, satisfying and lofty: worthy of all praise, honor and adoration!

Calvinism Simply Wants to Confess Scripture

My Calvinism is not a box within which I want to squeeze God’s revelation into. My Calvinism, I pray, is my articulation of what I see God’s revelation most plainly teaching. The logical implications of any doctrine I believe are always subject to the explicit statements that Scripture makes. My foremost question is always, “What does Scripture say about this?” Calvinism makes a point to say what God says – but where God makes an end of speaking, we too must shut our mouths.

For this reason, it is entirely irrelevant to me whether or not I am condemned for a public call to repentance. I want to speak and do what Scripture says – nothing more. Below, I have provided a brief review of the Biblical witness concerning both Unconditional Election and public calls for repentance.

  • Biblical Clarity on Unconditional Election: This is not a full treatise on the Scriptural testimony for Unconditional Election. However, I do believe that this sufficiently proves the Bible to be ‘clear’ on the issue.
    1. The Father’s giving of specific individuals to Christ for salvation (Jn 6:35-51).
    2. The Father’s selection of True Israel for salvation, distinct from His selection of Ethnic Israel for bearing His oracles (Rom 3:2; 9:6-13; cf. Gen 12; 15).
    3. The Father’s purpose to save certain individuals being the grounds of Christian peace (Rom 8:28-39).
    4. The Father’s Christicentric work to salvifically bless certain individuals (Eph 1:3-14).
    5. The Father’s unconditional election of sinners being harmonious with past revelation of His character (Rom 9:14-18; cf. Ex 33:19).
    6. Christ’s High Priestly ministry proving sufficient to atone for all whom He intercedes for (Heb 7:23-28).
    7. The Holy Spirit’s calling being qualitatively effectual (Jn 6:44; Rom 8:30).
    8. The Father’s election and the Spirit’s effectual calling made a hallmark of New Testament discourse (Rom 1:1, 7, 16-17; 11:33-36; 16:25-27; 1 Cor 1:1-9; 2:1-5; 3:6; 12:11; 15:10; 2 Cor 1:9-11; 2:14-17; 3:18; 4:15-18; 9:14-15; 13:5-6; Gal 1:3-5; 5:1, 8, 13; Eph 3:7; 4:1; Phil 1:6; 2:12-13; Col 1:12; 3:12; 1 Thes 1:4; 5:9-10; 2 Thes 1:11-12; 3:3-5; 1 Ti 1:16; 2 Ti 1:8-14; 2:10; Tit 1:1-3; 1 Pe 1:1-9; 5:10; 1 Pt 2:10; 1 Jn. 4:7; 5:1; Ju 1-2, 24-25).
    9. Salvation made wholly creditable to God on the last day (Rev 7:10-12).
  • Biblical Clarity on Public Calls for Repentance: There are so many more examples and commands of public calls for repentance than I have included here. I have included enough to prove, I hope, that there is in fact a Biblical precedent and mandate.
    1. Precedent: Moses (Deut 30:15-20); Joshua (Josh 24:14-15); Samuel (1 Sam 12:19-25); Josiah (2 Ki 23:1-3); Nehemiah and Ezra (Neh 8:1-9:37); Psalmist (2:10-12); Solomon (Ecc 12:13-14); Jonah (Jon 3:1-10); Jesus (Mk 1:15); Peter (Ac 2:38-39); Paul (Ac 13:38-41).
    2. Mandate: Nu 21:6-9; Ps 51:10-13; 67:1-7; Matt 28:18-20; Ac 1:7-8; Rom 10:9-15; Phil 1:12-18; 1 Thes 1:2-10; 1 Ti 2:1-8; 2 Ti 4:1-5; He 12:1-2.

I hold many opinions concerning the texts referenced above, but two things seem plain to me: 1) God chose before time began to save certain individuals, 2) I have a responsibility to command all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. Calvinism affirms that salvation depends solely on God’s will. However, Calvinism does not affirm that the logical implication of this truth is that we are not to offer salvation to all people.

Taking Unconditional Election to such an implication is what we call “Hyper-Calvinism.” In contrast, Calvinists affirm that Scripture holds the highest authority on all matters of doctrine. Explicit Scriptural statements hold an even higher place in our thinking than what appear to be logical implications. As a Calvinist, it is not on my agenda to device an unmysterious, neat box of theological principles. Calvinism simply wants to confess what Scripture confesses.

You’re Thinking of Hyper-Calvinism

Despite the work of some to equate five-point Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism, the two ideas are distinct from each other. At ReformedCon 2016, James White provided four distinctives of Hyper-Calvinism that I believe would prove beneficial for the reader to take note of (you can listen to White’s lecture here).

  1. Theological Perfectionism: The conviction that my theology is absolutely correct, that other people are absolutely wrong, and that if you are not Calvinistic in your soteriology then you are not saved.
  2. Claimed Knowledge of the Secret Decree Rather than Prescriptive Will: The conviction that I should minister as though I understand God’s secret decree – as though I am given the identity of those whom God has elected.
  3. Looking for Regeneration Before Offering Christ: The conviction that a preacher must first look for signs of regeneration before he offers Christ to someone.
  4. A Refusal to Promiscuously Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature: The conviction that some reservation must be taken in preaching the gospel – that the gospel must be in some way a guarded secret.

If a Calvinist takes his doctrine to any of these four conclusions, he has now become a Hyper-Calvinist. In doing so, he denies the explicit testimony of Scripture. It is my aim, as a Calvinist, to always let Scripture set the boundaries for my doctrine. If you think a Calvinist is inconsistent to issue public, universal commands for repentance (even if you think we shouldn’t do it), you are thinking of Hyper-Calvinism, not Calvinism.

But Let Me Clarify: Repentance Flows from Unconditional Election

In light of the previous two thoughts, I need to affirm Calvinistic doctrine concerning the relationship between Unconditional Election and repentance. Calvinism confesses that faith (Eph 2:8-9) and repentance (Ac 11:18) are gifts from God. How is it, though, that God gifts men with an appropriate response to His gospel? Let me briefly walk you through what I see in Scripture.

  • Unconditional Election: Before the foundation of the world, God chooses certain individuals out from the mass of sinful humanity (see Scriptures above) and gives them an eschatology (ie. determines to make them into the image of Christ; this ‘eschatology’ is often separated from Election and called ‘predestination’ [ex. Rom 8:29; Eph 1:5]).
  • Effectual Calling: As time progresses, at the appropriate moment, the Holy Spirit goes forth and beckons the elected individuals, one by one, to come to Christ (Jn 6:44; Ac 16:14; Rom 8:28-30; 9:6-13, 24). Involved in this process is Regeneration, where the Spirit resurrects a dead spirit to love and respond to Christ (Jn 1:9-13; 3:1-9; Eph 2:1-10; 1 Jn 5:1; cf. Ezek 36).
  • Repentance: Having a living spirit/heart within that loves Christ, the regenerate individual freely, gladly and desperately cleaves to Christ (see Scriptures above). The love and obedience rendered will not be perfect, but it will be true (Eph 6:24).

I hope it is clear from this explanation that repentance flows from unconditional election. If God does not choose to save an individual, that person will never repent of his sins. Because God chooses to save an individual, that person will repent of his sins. Repentance, then, is a gift.

How Does Scripture Apply Unconditional Election?

When Scripture speaks of Unconditional Election, how does it apply the doctrine? What implications do the authors draw from God’s choice to save specific people in Christ? To be clear: however Scripture applies this doctrine is how I, as a Calvinist, want to apply it. A Hyper-Calvinist will draw further implications – a Calvinist will stop and say, “The Word makes a point to stop speaking here: therefore, I shall as well.” Consider these four applications of Unconditional Election.

  • I Repent (Deut 7:1-11)
    God gave the Israel instructions for when they would enter the Promise Land. Rather than intermingle with the peoples (vv.1-4), they were to be sanctified by wiping them out (v.5). This sanctification was required because God had already sanctified them by choosing them to be His people out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (v.6). God’s election of Israel was not due to anything about them (v.7) – and in faithfulness to this choice, God brought them from Egypt (v.8). God chose Israel by choosing Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen 12, 15, 21, 25). The point? God’s choice and faithfulness to that choice are independent of the actions of those He chooses. In light of this: “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, (v.9). The principle is that God is faithful. He deals with men consistently and can be depended on to abide by His promises. Because God is faithful, we can therefore trust that our faithfulness to Him is not in vain. God’s sovereignty in election should give us confidence that if we repent of our sins and sanctify ourselves to Him, He will never reject us. Unconditional Election in Deuteronomy 7:1-11 implies that we should repent of our sins and trust God.
  • I Trust (1 Kg 19:9-21; 2 Kg 19:1-7; Isa 1:9; 10:22 [cf. Romans 9:27-29; 11:1-6])
    Elijah cried: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kg 19:10). Again in verse 14, he grieves that “I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” God response by calling him to action and reveals that He will leave a faithful remnant of 7,000 Israelites. Elijah was not quite as alone as he suspected. God’s preservation of a remnant of faithful people is clung to in faith by Hezekiah (2 Kg 19:4). The remnant remained, by God’s power and mercy, throughout the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:9; 10:21-22). These texts demonstrate that God exercises His sovereignty in a merciful fashion. In response to God’s sovereign election, we can find comfort in any situation. Nothing we suffer can eclipse our opportunity for trust in God’s gracious purposes.
  • I Rest (Rom 8:28-39 [cf. 9:1-24])
    God’s sovereignty in salvation means that it is a monergistic work (monergism means “with one energy”). God alone accomplishes it. After articulating Divine monergism in Romans 8:29-30, Paul asks in verse 31, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” The implication is that if God has a disposition to be for someone then no one may effectively stand against that person. So what is the basis for Christian peace? Is it your pleasure in and obedience to God, or God’s pleasure and choice to save you? I suggest the latter. God’s sovereignty in salvation is the foundation for Christian peace. If God’s choice to save any individual was ultimately influenced by something within that individual, then salvation suddenly hinges upon mankind and Paul’s argument in Romans 8:31-39 is made void. This application drawn from Unconditional Election is peace in salvation. I know that my salvation ultimately hinges on God’s will, so I rest in His sovereign purpose.
  • I Worship (Eph 1:3-14)
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” (Eph 1:3). In verses 4-14, Paul explains in detail how God has blessed us in Christ. It could be divided several ways but for simplicity sake we may see the blessing three-fold: election (vv.4-6), redemption (vv.7-8), sealing (vv.9-14). The Father chose to save the saints before He created the world. The Son secured the saints’ salvation on the cross. The Spirit seals the saints in salvation as history progresses. Every facet of this blessing, and the blessing in sum, moves Paul in an overflow of praise. Paul’s basis for blessing God is that He has blessed us. Verses 3-14 seem to be one long sentence in the Greek. It is as though Paul’s words were spewing from his pen as a whelming chorus of praise. God’s monergistic work of salvation (blessing certain individuals in Christ) drives Paul to a lofty expression of gratitude and praise.

Does Scripture deduce from Unconditional Election that we need not issue a universal call for repentance? Does God’s sovereignty in salvation warrant laziness from us? By no means. Unconditional Election is to teach us repentance, trust, peace, and praise. Unconditional Election encourages us in our repentance and preaching. It tells us that our repentance and preaching is not in vain – that God ultimately will have His purposes accomplished. It likewise leads us to worship, as we behold the power and grace of God.

Scripture simply does not apply Unconditional Election as the Hyper-Calvinist asserts it must be applied.

Exhortation

I suppose more could be said. A fifth point would be that God ordains the ends as well as the means. God does not simply ordain that a person be saved, but that a friend preach the gospel to them. Regardless of what I leave un-asserted, my four points above seem to provide a sufficient witness to the following conclusions:

  1. One may believe in Unconditional Election and yet, with good conscience, issue a public call for repentance.
  2. The Calvinist is consistent and faithful to his own worldview when he commands all people everywhere to repent of their sins.
  3. Furthermore, the Calvinist who refuses to issue a public command for repentance is inconsistent and unfaithful to the Doctrines of Grace (as articulated in such confession as the 1689 London Baptist Confession), and has crossed into the heresy of Hyper-Calvinism.
  4. No productive dialogue can be had if both parties ignore the distinctions between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism.

The Ministry and Work of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Context (v.17-19)

From the death and depravity of the flesh, God Almighty raises people to live in Christ. Conversion is an act of creation by God. It is characterized by old things passing and new things coming (v.17). The work is from God, in that He alone is the active and capable agent in reconciling rebellious people to Himself (v.18). This reconciliation is accomplished through Christ. No other context will bear the fruit of conversion. Not only does He convert people, but He gives the converted a glorious task: a ministry of reconciliation. These new creations are servants alongside God in the conversion of others. They do not do the work, but rather serve as agents through which God makes His appeal to the world. Christ – the revelation of God – walked the earth in compassion, not condemnation (John 3:16-17). There will come a day when He will judge, but that was not His office when He first came. First the cross, then the throne, then the gavel. The glorious result/work of His first visit was this: that those converted sinners would not have their transgressions counted against them (v.19). Complete grace. Utter mercy. This is the means of reconciliation, that God took the initiative to do-away with the debts we owed Him. We had no initiative/desire to be reconciled. it all came from Him.

The Ministry of Reconciliation (v.20)

Since God has given His new people the task of reconciliation ministry, they are ambassadors for Christ (v.20). This is the principle definition of their ministry. It is a task, not of their desires, wills, wishes, or agendas, but of Christ’s agenda. These people are simply communicators – diplomats to the world on behalf of Christ. When they are faithful to their call, it is as though God were making an appeal through them. Faithfulness in this ministry involves an event and a message. An event, because the diplomacy must actually happen. Knowledge without action is disobedient Christianity. The Great Commission cannot be fulfilled in our thoughts and intentions. It can only be realized through the work of evangelism. Our obedience to go is necessary for faithfulness in the reconciliation ministry. A message, because that is the purpose and content of the diplomacy. The purpose for the interaction is the message itself: that reconciliation is possible. God did not commission His Son to suffer on the cross in order to keep His gospel secret and hidden. By no means! The content of the interaction is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the message: that He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (v.21).

This is how we are reconciled. This is the act of reconciliation. To the extent that we are obedient to proclaim this, we are faithful and representing Christ. Faithfulness is important for our joy and assurance in salvation. Representation is important for there to be any power demonstrated in our ministry. If we accurately represent Christ, then God Himself is making the appeal. If we accurately represent Christ, then as His diplomat we can have utmost confidence in the face of rulers, offenders, hostile powers, apathetic hearts, reluctant listeners, and all kinds of rebels in between. Yet if we are not obedient to proclaim the true gospel, then we are neither faithful nor representatives of Christ. Here, then, there is not lasting joy in the heart or fruit in the ministry.

What must also be emphasized is who these ministers of reconciliation are. They are not church elders, worship pastors, men, or outstanding citizens. All who are recreated (v.17) are ambassadors (v.20). God’s act of creation whereby old things pass away and new things come is His work of making diplomats for His gospel. You do not choose whether or not you are part of this ministry – God Himself enlists you. Among Christians, we cannot distinguish between ambassadors and non-ambassadors. We can only differentiate faithful ambassadors from the unfaithful. Jesus analogized this point in Matthew 5:14, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house,” (Matt. 5:13-15).

The Work of Reconciliation (v.21)

We must know, then, what this message is. We know what the appeal is: be reconciled to God. But what is meant by verse 21, the reconciliation itself? We find here 1) the Lamb of God, 2) the work of God, 3) the intention of God. This is the cross of Christ – God’s great, effectual redemption of His elect. It is the Lamb upon the cross, the work upon the Lamb, and the intention of the work that brings us reconciliation. And might I say, friends, that there is no other way? Behold the narrow gate! Enter through this way, or tarry upon lesser avenues.

The Lamb Upon the Cross

The Lamb of God is He, Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb because he suffered on our behalf. This is what the Old Testament sacrificial system foreshadowed. In the sacrifices, a spotless lamb was needed – one without blemish. Only such a lamb would e accepted as payment for sins, because only such a lamb was sufficient for the task. Now, we know that “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins,” ().It was Christ who bore all His people’s sin – both in the Old and New Testaments. The Mosaic analogy was put to substance and flesh in Christ. He lived a sinless life. Not once did He fail to love God as God deserved to be loved – and that is the heaviest point. No man is perfectly externally righteous – but how much more do we fall short in reference to internal righteousness? You cannot possibly wrap your mind around this, that Christ perfectly loved God in every action, intention, and thought. Such living meant that Christ carried a certain treasure to the cross, a treasure unbuyable and priceless above all: righteousness. The Lamb upon the cross was spotless. It was He who knew no sin.

The Work Upon the Lamb

Yet this Christ who was not acquainted with sin was made sin. He had affiliated with rebels in His life, and He would now affiliated with their rebellion in His death. We must recognize, too, that this was the Father’s doing. God sent His son (Jn. 3:16) – it was His plan. He publicly displayed Him (Rom. 3:25-26). he was pleased to crush Him (Isa. 53:10). The cross was God’s doing, and so we resound with Paul that He made to be sin. But what could this mean? Did the spotless lamb become spotted? Did He become filthy? Though this mystery is great, I submit that Jesus did not literally become sin on the cross. First, we understand that His nature is unchangeable. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Heb. 13:8). If He is the revelation of the Father (Col. 1:15), then He must never change, because the Father never changes (Mal. 3:6). Second, becoming “sin” and “righteousness” are manifestly metaphors. Sin is disobedience. How does one become disobedience? It makes no sense. We can say that one is sinful, and be speaking in literal terms. Yet we cannot say the same of one being sin. The same is true with righteousness. Thus, Paul means this metaphorically. Third, to re-stress the first point, any other interpretation would lend itself to be contradictory to other passages that clearly speak of judicial transaction and not any sort of metamorphosis of nature.

So, the work is that of imputation. That is, God counted our sin to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness to us. A key-word to keep in mind is treated. God treated Jesus as if He lived my life, so that He could treat me as if I lived His. Jesus was blamed and cursed for my sin. I am blamed and blessed for His obedience. With this exchange in place, God poured out His wrath upon Christ. It was not because Christ was a sinner, but because He had the record of one. “He made to be sin” references the imputation of guilt and thus the impartation of wrath. This is the work of God on the cross. It is a terrible reality, but God’s purpose in it is perhaps the greatest demonstration of love ever.

The Intention of the Work

The intention of God was this: “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Again, this is metaphorical and refers to the imputation of innocence and thus the impartation of blessing. Not only is our guilt taken taken away, but Christ’s credit of obedience is given to us. Because of this glorious work, we know that God is well-pleased with us, for when He sees me He sees His Son. New life in conversion is completed in the glory of heaven when all flesh and sinful desires are finally shed by God’s power. What we see is that God, in this, reconciles mankind to Himself. The two effects of sin – guilt and wickedness – are reversed in conversion. Being justified, we are no longer guilty of sin! being recreated (v.17), we are no longer bound to sin! Having been rescued from the effects of sin, and promised the long awaited day of freedom from sin itself, we are also rescued from the wage of sin. This means, friends, that death has no value for us. There is nothing costly in dying. Nothing of value is lost in death, because god has made it into a doorway to life! Therefore, death, where is your sting? Where is your victory? You have nothing to say to those whom God has reconciled to Himself! You have been muted and neutered – you have been shackled to hell with its ruin. Thus is the reconciliation of God. So I implore you, Oh reader, bend your knee to Him and be reconciled.


God’s work of reconciliation brings about ministers of reconciliation. It all goes back to the cross of Christ and the Gospel message. This good news is what we were saved by and it is what we now concern ourselves with to proclaim to others. We never move on from its shores, but plunge ourselves ever deeper into its endless depths. Who is adequate for this gospel ministry, friends? “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” (Rom. 5:10-11).

 

God Saves Through Gospel Preaching – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

There are many distractions in the professing church today. Many things fight for our attention. The worst of all are those who attempt to add or take away from the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to bring more people into the church. Only God brings people into the church, and He only does that through His gospel. This is what we will be considering in this essay: God saves through gospel preaching. Paul understood this well when he wrote to the Corinthians…

[1] And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. [2] For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. [3] I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, [4] and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

The Priority (v.1)

Paul’s missiology did not allow for political rhetoric or fancy talk. He did not lure people with emotionalism or attract them with material things. Many ministries today attempt to bring more and more people into the church by making the church more attractive to the world. Ministers across our nation, for a century now, have dressed God’s gospel in worldly clothes in order to make worldly people feel more welcome. Truth is, the world doesn’t want to hear the gospel. They don’t want to hear about the holiness of God and the unholiness of man. They are offended by us calling-out their sinful lifestyles. The world doesn’t want to listen to us when we say that Christ is the only way to God. Indeed, the most arrogant thing to them is that we would dare to claim that this Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord of all: they want to hang on to pride and self-rule. So, they hate the gospel. They all do – as did we before God regenerated our hearts. It is an offensive, scandalous message. In light of this, many ministers seek to either take away the scandal or add enough worldly benefits that the scandal isn’t as bad as it could be. “Well, Jesus didn’t really mean ‘hell.'” “Well, you might sin, but certainly you aren’t wicked in your heart.” “Well, if you come to Christ, He’ll heal your cancer!”

As a faithful preacher, Paul didn’t give in to such temptations. When he came to Corinth, he refused to add or take away from the gospel. Instead, he came proclaiming the testimony of God. He knew that since he had been entrusted with the gospel, his one job was to simply proclaim it. All he had to do was faithfully communicate it. Paul chose to prioritize the content of his preaching above the delivery. Imagine a post-man arrives at your door in a suite and tie, clean smile, nice hair. But when he gives you your package, you see that it is all torn up. Some things have fallen out – water seeped inside and the cardboard is wet. Would you not rather have received a healthy package from a not-so-nicely-looking postman? The same is true with the gospel. This comes before this, or this, or this.

The Content (v.2)

Paul chose to know nothing except Jesus Christ. This is the gospel message. We need to understand this. This is important. Paul refused to give fancy speeches. He refused to try to talk someone into becoming a christian. In his mind, Paul was a delivery man – not a politician. His chief concern was to accurately and clearly communicate the gospel. His responsibility was not to convert but to communicate. A faithful evangelist is a faithful communicator. Our obedience has nothing to do with the conversion of sinners, but rather with the fact that we preach to sinners.

The gospel of Jesus Christ can be summarized thus: the holy, just, loving Creator of all things looked upon a hopelessly wicked and guilty group of people and chose to send His Son – Jesus Christ – to die the death they deserved. His resurrection from the dead proved Who He was and authenticated the gospel call – that whoever would turn from the world and to Him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Paul Washer says it well…

In accordance with the Father’s good pleasure, the eternal Son, who is equal with the Father and is the exact representation of His nature, willingly left the glory of heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, and was born the God-man: Jesus of Nazareth. As a man, He walked on this earth in perfect obedience to the law of God. In the fullness of time, men rejected and crucified Him. On the cross, He bore man’s sin, suffered God’s wrath, and died in man’s place. On the third day, God raised Him from the dead. This resurrection is the divine declaration that the Father has accepted His Son’s death as a sacrifice for sin. Jesus paid the penalty for man’s disobedience, satisfied the demands of justice, and appeased the wrath of God. Forty days after the resurrection, the Son of God ascended into the heavens, sat down at the right hand of the Father, and was given glory, honor, and dominion over all. There, in the presence of God, He represents His people and makes requests to God on their behalf. All who acknowledge their sinful, helpless state and throw themselves upon Christ, God will fully pardon, declare righteous, and reconcile unto Himself. This is the gospel of God and of Jesus Christ, His Son. (Paul Washer, The Gospel Call and True Conversion, viii)

The Delivery (v.3)

Verse 2 tells us what he proclaimed. Verse 3 tells us how he proclaimed it – in weakness, fear and trembling. When a Christian proclaims the gospel, he knows that he is completely inadequate to make anything good come from the conversation. He has no power to convert unbelievers through the gospel. So in this sense, we are weak, like Paul, when we share the gospel. The gospel is a mighty sword – but only God can wield it to bring about salvation.

Do you understand, brothers and sisters, how weak we are? Do you understand how helpless a preacher is when proclaiming the gospel? Ever single person is born hating the gospel. The world hates it – no exceptions. Paul says clearly in 1:18 that the gospel is “foolishness” to the world. Yet this is what Paul was doing. He chose to preach to the Corinthians a message that they had no interest in. Why? Well, simply because God has chosen to save people this way. Though all people hate the gospel, God has the power to make them love it. Through regeneration, God re-creates the hearts of sinners. He takes out the stony, cold heart and replaces it with one that hates sin and loves Christ. After this happens, the sinner loves the gospel – it is a wonderful thing! God chooses to do this in this way so that He gets all the glory for it. If people were simply persuaded to be saved, then God would not be credited with all the work. But God chooses to save people through a message that is hated by the world and considered foolishness.

So what does this all mean when we deliver the gospel today? What principles can we draw from this passage that influence how we deliver the gospel? First, nothing is helpful that obscures the message of the gospel. This can apply to both illustrations, rhetorical tools, or even things in my environment that I am thinking about using during my time in front of my audience. Second, if the gospel is not foremost in our delivery, then something else needs to be taken out. Priority must be given to the revelation of God, not the opinions of man. What I have to say is worthless – what God has to say is life-giving. Third, we should first establish the message that will be delivered, then move on to how we will deliver it. Often I am guilty of working on what rhetoric or illustrations I will use in a sermon before I actually establish in my mind how the gospel of Christ shines-forth from a certain passage. Do your studying first, and then work on your delivery! Fourth, do not use heavy rhetoric. This point is especially tempting for me. Excessive yelling, movement, etc. can actually distract from the work of the Word. Do I trust the Word enough that I’m willing to simply proclaim it, without excessive speaking tactics? Do I have enough faith in the power of God unto salvation that I can confidently give more time to the Word than to a nice introduction or conclusion?

The Power (v.4-5)

The Corinthians were not saved through a persuasive speech from Paul – they were saved by the power of God. This explains Paul’s fear and trembling in verse 3. Paul trembles with fear when preaching the gospel because he knows that through his preaching Almighty God will save people. God is un-tamable. He is wild and the only truly free being. he cannot be influenced or changed. This give a weightiness to preaching the gospel that is not present in other things. Paul wrote to the Romans that the gospel ‘is the power of God to salvation.” You know what? It’s good news that God alone saves. It is good news that God powerfully saves. I need more than principles and habits – I need a powerful God Who can wrestle me down and lead me in paths of righteousness. A God Who owns salvation. Only a God like this can bring us security in salvation. When Paul preached the gospel, people were saved in Corinth. Because of this, Paul’s preaching was a demonstration of god’s power. The fact that anyone has ever accepted the gospel is a miracle in itself that testifies to God’s power.

So God chooses to work this way, first of all to bring Himself glory. Secondly, so that we would have faith only in Him – “so that our faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, bot on the power of God,” (v.5). Everyone has faith. Everyone trusts in something. We all depend on something. What do we depend on? What give you confidence? Paul says that the power of God should give us confidence. The arm of the flesh is weak! It cannot save! The fruit of your hands is dung before God. Your best works are filthy rags. You cannot make yourself right with God and you cannot make yourself holy. Do not depend on yourself! My friends, we do not need self-esteem: we need Christ esteem. Let go of the world and cling to God!

Paul knew these things, and so he chose to preach the powerful, scandalous gospel. When he did this, being obedient to God’s will, his preaching demonstrated the power of the Spirit (v.4). God’s power is manifested through gospel preaching in the simple fact that there are people who actually accept the message! Next time you are in a church bible study or prayer meeting, look around you. The Christians that you are gazing upon are walking examples of the power of God. We all hated God – we all heard the gospel message – we all were regenerated by God’s Spirit. This is the glorious testimony of God’s church, as it was of the Corinthians!


In all evangelistic endeavors, the gospel message takes principle priority. We are not to dress-up its content with fancy rhetoric, mood-setting lights, grand displays, or loud music. The power of God is manifested through the message of Christ crucified when His Spirit brings the dead to life. Regeneration is the work of God through faithful gospel proclamation. Trust the Word to do its work, friends. God saves through gospel preaching.

 

What About the Unevangelized?

The church is involved in both local and global missions. This is good because we are commanded by Christ to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:18) As we engage the world in this Great Commission, we are bound to recognize that many people we meet have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus. Such encounters, or even the contemplation of such people, have led many to the question: What is the destiny of the unevangelized?

I would like to consider this question in this article. We must trust God to provide the answer in His Word. This means leaving our emotions and preferences at the door of Biblical exegesis, walking down the aisle of humility, and kneeling in faith at the altar of God’s consistent, unfailing character.

WHAT ABOUT THE UNEVANGELIZED?

The State of All Mankind

Those who never hear the gospel are people. They are not a separate, alien race, with different natures than those who come in contact with the good news of Christ. This is important, because we must recognize that the Biblical theology of mankind is applicable and very relevant for both the evangelized and the unevangelized. This being the case, let us first consider what Scripture says about the nature of men. Open your Bible to Romans 3:9-12.

Paul has shown, in the opening passages of Romans, that both Gentiles and Jews are guilty before God because of their sin. He restates his conclusion in v.9: “We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” To be under sin is to be ruled by it – under its authority. All men are shut up in disobedience (11:32), hostile toward God and even unable to please God (8:7-8). As if Paul’s authority as an apostle, writing Scripture, was not enough, he references several Old Testament passages to bear further witness to the condition of mankind under sin. Read through v.10-12 carefully.

Paul says several things about man, but the primary concern is that mankind is guilty before God and wicked in his heart. First, see the guiltiness: “There is none righteous, not even one…all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one,” (v.10, 12). All people have sinned against God, thereby becoming guilty in the courtroom of heaven. Whether by the Mosaic Law, or by the Law of Consciousness written on our hearts, we have all disobeyed God’s commands. In the deep caverns of our disobedience, we find a dissatisfaction with God – a supreme offense to the One Who is Himself the supreme satisfaction. Our sin is fundamentally the exchange of the truth of God for a lie in order to worship and serve creation rather than our Creator (1:25). It is our attempt to dismount God from His majestic position as the supreme end of all things (11:36; Col. 1:16-17). Idolatry is one of the most fundamental building blocks of sin.

Mankind is clearly guilty of rebellion against God. We have all committed treason against the King, and we justly deserve a punishment befitting our crime. Being that God is perfectly and eternally holy in all of His attributes, our sin demands a sentence that is equally perfect and eternal. Our punishment for seeking to defame, decry, dethrone, and reject the supremely good ruler should be equally supreme. Therefore, God’s punishment upon the wicked is perfect (it is complete, final, without flaw, and whole in its entirety), eternal (it is everlasting, infinite, and without end), and supreme (it is an exact manifestation of His holiness in majesty, wrath and omnipotence). All men are guilty, and thus all men are justly sentenced to such an end.

Second, see the wickedness: “There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless,” (Rom. 3:11-12). In examining man’s guiltiness, we saw his legal status before God. In examining man’s wickedness, we see the state of his heart. Guiltiness is on paper, wickedness is in the heart/nature. Examine Paul’s statements for yourself. What picture does he paint of mankind? A spiritually depraved mind, a wayward heart, an nature un-desirous of God, and a spiritually useless existence. The issue here is that man’s affections are set against God. He does not desire God, for he does not even seek Him. Not only does he refrain from seeking Him, but he goes in the opposite direction in turning aside. The depravity of his nature is such that he is in his entirety spiritually useless. He is not only guilty of crimes against God, but He is wicked in His ungodly affections. From birth, men are set against God (Gen. 6:5; Ps. 51:5). Regardless of ethnicity, geographical location, material possessions, or knowledge of the gospel, this is the state of every human being.

The Destiny of the Unevangelized

The unevangelized are born in the same state that the evangelized are born in. To make matters more clear, recognize that we are all born unevangelized. Since every unevangelized person is in this state, the issue then becomes whether or not their lack of knowledge of the gospel excludes them from the eternal wrath of God. Do they slide-by because they never heard the good news of Christ? Is insufficient knowledge of the gospel an adequate excuse for avoiding the punishment for sin? Lets consider another text: Romans 10:13-15.

Paul asserts in verse 13 that salvation is available for anyone who will call on the name of the Lord. With this in mind, he then begins a series of rhetorical questions. 1) (v.14) “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” How will men call on God if they do not believe in Him? Believe must precede faith. 2) “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” How will men believe in God if they have never heard of Him? Knowledge must precede belief. 3) “And how will they hear without a preacher?” How will men hear about God unless someone tells them? Evangelism precedes knowledge. 4) (v.15) “How will they preach unless they are sent?” How will preachers share the gospel unless someone first raises up an sends these preachers out to share? Commission precedes evangelism.

Here is the progression that Paul rhetorically gives us: men are commissioned by God to preach the gospel to men. Upon hearing the gospel, these men now have the knowledge necessary to believe in God, and thus to call on Him for salvation. Commission – Evangelism – Knowledge – Belief – Faith. It is important to note that Paul is using the word “belief” here to mean something other than faith in Christ and conviction of God’s existence. Instead, it is a belief that God is who He claims to be and does what He claims to do in His gospel. It is a belief in God’s revelation of Himself and His work in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Please notice the point Paul is seeking to make in this passage. By asking these rhetorical questions, Paul gives us a sequence that must be completed in its entirety for v.13 to be true. In order for someone to be saved, they must have faith. In order to have faith, they must believe in God (as explained above). In order to believe in God, they must have knowledge. In order to have knowledge, they must be evangelized. In order for them to be evangelized, the evangelist must be commissioned. If any of these facets are taken out of this sequence, then the whole thing breaks down. Especially relevant to this article is the notion that the evangelism step can be removed. According to Paul, if someone is not evangelized, then they will not receive knowledge of the gospel, and therefore will not believe in the God of the gospel, and therefore will not respond in faith to the gospel. According to Paul, no one can be saved without knowledge of the gospel. Therefore, the unevangelized are not saved.

However, one may ask: Do the unevangelized need saving? An underlying premise of this whole topic is the assumption that the unevangelized in some way merit an exception to the rule, simply because they are unevangelized. Surely God would not damn those who never knew of or how to respond to His grace, right? That’s not fair, right? Well, let us consider this. If someone does not have knowledge of the gospel, does that give them a valid excuse to be pardoned from their sin?

First of all, Paul says “no” when he adds Knowledge as one of the essential facets of the salvation of men in Romans 10:13-16. Secondly, we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin (3:9). In the above section, we saw how Scripture clearly teaches that both the evangelized and the unevangelized are both guilty before God and wicked in their hearts, and thus are both justly under the wrath of God. In light of the testimony of Scripture, and my honest interpretation of it, I am obligated to conclude that the destiny of the unevangelized is the eternal wrath of God.

Why Do We Wrestle With This Truth?

At the heart of people’s wrestling with this truth is a sense of entitlement. No human is entitled to the grace of God, for if we were, grace would cease to be grace. This being the case, neither is any man entitled to hear the good news of the grace of God. There is no right of man to the gospel of Christ, for God is not obligated to extend this gospel to any man – though He chooses to extend it to all. Related to this, we are not entitled to grace for being God’s creation. Some people argue that God loves us because He created us. However, this logic is flawed, because God clearly has not given an opportunity for salvation to Satan and his angels, even though He created them too.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to let your logic begin with God and flow downward to men. Make God the starting point of your reasoning. First: God exists in eternal holiness and perfection. Second: He chooses to create the universe for His own glory, and in so doing forms mankind. Third: Mankind rebels against him, rejecting man’s purpose (the glory of God) and latching on to a seemingly more attractive end: the glory of creation. Fourth: God send Christ to the cross to redeem a people from sin and wrath. Five: God decides to have the news of Christ proclaimed by His church to the whole world. Six: Anyone who hears this message and repents will be saved from their sin and the wrath of God.

With this logic, beginning with God, it is impossible to reasonably assert that God is unjust in damning those who never hear this message of Christ. We should recognize the love of God manifested in the giving of a gospel to wretched people, and the justice of God manifested in the keeping of a gospel from wretched people. Is God unjust to send people to hell who never receive knowledge of the gospel? Of course not, because the warrant for our eternal punishment is not dependent upon the degree of God’s revelation we receive, but rather on the simple fact that we have sinned against Him. No unevangelized man is innocent, and therefore no unevangelized man is damned unjustly.

Perhaps a greater question is how God can justly extend grace to those who committed the most atrocious grievance in the universe.

Here are some things to think about…

  • If the unevangelized are saved, then why does the Bible so clearly present the doctrine of sola fide, Faith Alone? How are men only saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) if those who never hear of grace, and thus never respond to it in faith, are yet partakers in such grace?
  • What urgency would we have for missions if the unevangelized are already going to heaven? “Well, Christianity will give them a better life on earth.” First of all, no it will not. Have you not read the many passages that speak of the world hating God’s people, and of God’s people suffering until this life is over? Secondly, why would those in the church risk their own life just so people could live differently in this life with no repercussions in Eternity?
  • If the unevangelized are saved, then our evangelism is cruel, for in evangelizing the lost we are robbing them of their eternal security. If the unevangelized are saved, then why did Jesus give us the Great Commission?