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06 July, 2009 / theexpositor

Phil Johnson-Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

People often claim that God’s sovereignty in salvation nullifies our duty in evangelism. If God has ordained that His elect will be saved, what need is there for preaching and personal evangelism? That is one of the favorite arguments Dave Hunt, Ergun Caner, and most of the rabid anti-Calvinists in the SBC (and elsewhere) like to use against the doctrine of predestination.

But it’s nonsense if we understand that God ordains the means as well as the end, and the means He chose by which to call the elect is by the preaching of the gospel. Romans 10:14-15: “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? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” In fact, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

It is in no sense incompatible with the truth of election or the principle of God’s sovereignty in salvation to persuade sinners, plead with them, beseech them—even beg them as ambassadors of Christ, in His stead, to “be reconciled to God” (v. 20). That plea is the very instrument God has ordained to turn the hearts of people to Himself. That’s what Scripture means when it says the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation.” First Corinthians 1:21: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

If you understand this principle—that God in His sovereignty normally accomplishes His plan through the use of ordinary means, it will clear away most of the confusion and perplexity that is so often associated with the doctrine of divine sovereignty and its twin truth, the doctrine of human responsibility. Our duty as ambassadors of Christ is to proclaim the promise of forgiveness, to urge men to repent, and to plead with them to be reconciled with God. Those are the very means God uses to save those whom He effectually draws to Christ. He does not save sinners apart from the means He has chosen.

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