I firmly believe that the doctrine of unconditional election encourages us to evangelize. As John Piper likes to say, it puts holy fiber in our bones, strengthening us with the knowledge of a big and holy God to take the gospel boldly to the lost. In this post, however, I want to show the reverse–how preaching the gospel without a deep sense of God’s sovereignty leads to one of two places: to despair or to universalism. If you haven’t already, you may want to first read part 1 which is much shorter and a much easier read.
I want to look a little more closely at Romans 1, because I think if we take Romans 1 to teach that everyone can choose God based on what they see in creation (or everyone gets an equal chance to choose God), then we will likely not evangelize and engage in missions like the Bible clearly commands us to.
Romans 1:18-23 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
This text says nothing about people being able to be saved by seeing God in nature. It simply says that everyone knows inwardly that there is a God and so they are without excuse. Romans 1 says that everyone knows that there is a God and they have rejected him.
If you read on into Romans 2, Paul teaches that Jews and Gentiles alike are under the same curse of sin. Here is an example from Romans 2:
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
You see God doesn’t judge us based on whether or not we choose him, instead God judges us based on our works. We will be judged because we have chosen to do what is evil and our evil deeds deserve to be punished. Jews will be judged on the basis of the law-so it is possible to say that they will be judged with a stricter judgment than the Gentiles who did not have the law. However, the Gentiles not having the law doesn’t exempt them from God’s judgment as Romans 2:11 makes clear that God shows no partiality-for all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law. Further, if you go back to Romans 1, Gentiles “suppress the truth” in their unrighteousness. Rom. 1:21 tells us that everyone knows God because His hand is obvious in nature and yet they do not honor him as God. What man can see in nature is revelation enough for him to face judgment but it is not revelation enough for him to be saved-every man looks at creation and sees God’s handiwork and yet while knowing in their heart that God has done all this, still chooses to worship created things rather than the creator. Romans 1:18-23 tells us that every man is an idolater and every man deserves God’s just punishment. When we read Romans 2, it makes clear that Jews are included in God’s just judgment for sin-the Jews had an advantage, they had the Law and yet they are still under sin.
Romans 2 ends by clearly stating that Jews are under the same curse of sin as Gentiles and that whether one is a Jew doesn’t matter if their heart is full of sin:
28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
Romans 3:19 makes clear that “the whole world is held accountable to God under the law.” How can that be true if the Law was only given to the Jews? This can be true because what is in the Law is true. The content of the Law is God’s divine, perfect, inerrant revelation to man. For instance, just because the 10 commandments were given to the Jews doesn’t mean a Gentile is free to murder and commit adultery. God will judge gentiles for breaking these commands because “the whole world is held accountable to God” whether they have received the Law from God or not. Look at Romans 2:14-16 again. It says the “work of the law is written on [Gentiles’] hearts” meaning that every Gentile has a conscience and deep down knows they have broken God’s law even though they have not received it (i.e. they haven’t received the written law). Everyone knows deep down it is wrong to lie, murder, steal, and commit adultery-but by God’s standards we have all fallen short, we have not kept God’s law and Romans 3:9 says that both Jews and Gentiles are under the power of sin-Paul asks “are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin.” Thus, “none is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Jews and Gentiles alike “have become worthless” and none of them do good, “not even one.”
The climax of Romans 1-3 is found in the statement in Romans 3:23 that. “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul’s point here is that Gentiles (Romans 1) and Jews (Romans 2) are all in sin and do not measure up to God’s standard of holiness. This is even clearer when you realize that in the verses immediately preceding Romans 3:23 Paul is quoting from Psalm 53 which clearly indicates that Paul felt that Jews and Greeks are under sin. If Jews or Gentiles are to be saved, it is through the grace of God in Christ.
Romans 3:23-31. 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
This text makes clear that Jews and Gentiles are under the same judgment apart from Christ and they both find redemption in the same way-through faith in Jesus’ act of propitiation (i.e. his act of atonement-taking the penalty for our sin) on the cross. Thus it does not make sense to say that Jews and Gentiles are saved the same way but only Jews are elect and Gentiles are saved by choosing Christ. How could we possibly consider a Jew “elect” who rejects the messiah? Further it is clear that any Jew who fails to put his faith in Jesus will be damned.
I am worried that such a distinction between Jews and Gentiles will keep us from evangelizing to Jews and to the nations. If we believe that God gives everyone a chance to believe in him from what we see in nature, then what need is there to take the gospel to the ends of the earth? Romans 1 gives no such offer. Romans 1 merely says that everyone knows that there is a God from nature and they are therefore guilty because “they have not honored him as God but worshipped created things rather than the creator.” Romans 1 merely says that everyone knows that there is a god and everyone has rejected him. To know there is a God isn’t enough to be saved. You can know that there is a God but if you don’t believe in Christ then Christ’s sacrifice is not applied to you and you are still in your sins. Everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Further, it is clear in Matthew 28:18-20 that Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples of all nations and to teach them all that Christ has commanded them. Furthermore Romans 10:13-16 makes clear that all who call on the Lord will be saved and how can they call on him unless they believe? How are they to believe unless they have heard? How will they hear without someone preaching to them?
It is our responsibility and divine calling as believers to be obedient to God’s call to take the gospel to the nations. Though someone may come to know Christ from reading about Jesus in the Bible on their own, that is not the normal pattern of how people come to know Christ. The normal pattern is through the preaching the gospel as Romans 10:14-15 makes clear. Thus we ought not to hold out hope that the nations will find God in nature but we must see it as our calling as believers to preach the gospel to the nations-to all men here in the U.S. and to the ends of the earth!
The simplest way I can describe what is happening with the Jew is this-the Jews were God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. All of the Old Testament is preparing for Messiah. Jesus says this in Matthew 5:17-all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Him. Also he explains everything concerning himself from the OT in Luke 24:27. Thus any Jew who doesn’t believe on Christ as messiah is not elect and is in sin and faces the judgment of God for their sin. Further it should be noted that neither the OT nor the NT hold out that all ethnic Jews were elect.
Here are a few examples:
Romans 9:6-8 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
Ezekiel 18:30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.
1 Kings 19:18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
In the case of Elijah here in 1 Kings 19, Elijah thought that he alone was left as the only one remaining faithful to the Lord (1 Kings 18:22), but here in 1 Kings 19, God reminds him that though Israel has fallen into deep idolatry, God has preserved for himself a remnant of 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Clearly not all Israel is “elect.”
Daniel 9:11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.
Jeremiah 35:17 Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.”
Romans 11:2-8 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”
The Biblical pattern for evangelism is people saved by grace preaching the gospel of grace to those who have not heard it. That’s it. That is how people are going to hear and respond to the gospel-by us preaching it to them. The reformed view of evangelism is much stronger because it rests on God’s command rather than on human impetus and it is motivated by God’s matchless glory rather than human ability.