Weekend Broadcast

Pre-Evangelism

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Dr. Sproul, explains that, even though only the Holy Spirit can change a person’s heart and mind (bring them to repentance), we see the very important dimension of apologetics in what he calls “pre-evangelism” and also what we call “post-evangelism”.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Divine Initiative

  2. article

    The Sovereignty of God and Evangelism

  3. article

    Be Prepared

The Divine Initiative

The real difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is over the primary agent who brings us to faith. Both sides affirm that faith is necessary for salvation, but who effectually enables us to put our trust in the Lord: God or man?

A common illustration used by evangelists from an Arminian background is that human beings are desperately ill. As sinners, we are on our deathbeds and will die unless something is done. Thankfully, the Lord stands before us with the life-saving medicine of Jesus only inches from our lips. All we have to do is exert the little bit of effort to take the medicine, and we will be born again.

Ultimately, Arminianism leaves men alive, if only a little bit. It gives us an island of righteousness within ourselves that, along with prevenient grace, can recognize God’s truth and assent to it. Salvation is therefore up to us. Yet as today’s passage indicates, we are dead in sin, not sick. We have no inclination to follow Jesus unless God makes us alive (Eph. 2:5). He does not offer medicine, He resurrects our souls, and then we trust Christ. We must believe, but Calvinists remind us that faith is the evidence of the Lord’s preceding effectual work in us. Calvinism is truer to Scripture, for it credits redemption wholly to the Lord’s initiative and thereby brings more glory to God.

We will conclude our study of election by answering one final, common objection levied against Calvinists. If the Father has chosen only select persons for salvation, why should we preach the Gospel to lost people? Let us first give the most obvious answer: We evangelize non-Christians because Jesus orders us to do so (Matt. 28:18–20).

However, evangelism is a privilege as well as a duty. The Lord usually saves His people through our preaching of the Gospel (Rom. 10:5–15). He desires to use all of His people to accomplish His plan. God certainly does not need us; our failures will not thwart His plan. But that is not the most important point. He has given us the honor of being vessels through which He performs His greatest work. What could possibly be better than actively participating in His mission and fulfilling the purpose for which He made us?

The Sovereignty of God and Evangelism

Paul Helm

Many people struggle with God’s sovereignty in election because they believe it excludes the activity of evangelism. If people are eternally elected or not, they ask, what good will preaching do? What difference will it make? However, as Scripture teaches, God’s sovereignty in election and the activity of evangelism are not enemies but friends. Evangelism is rooted in election, and while man may plant and water the seed of the gospel, God brings the growth.

Means and Ends

The sovereignt y of God in salvation is most clearly and vividly seen in Scripture’s teaching regarding election. Election is “unconditional,” that is, God’s choice is not based on anything good or meritorious in the one chosen, something deserving that inclines or biases God in His choice. Instead, God’s choice is made solely on the basis of His good pleasure.

It may seem that such a choice makes any human activity unnecessary. How could any creature affect anything? But consider this simple example: Suppose that God eternally wills that you receive a letter from me. For this to occur, other things must happen first. Obviously, I must write the letter and then use some means or other to get the letter to you. These activities — the writing and the sending of the letter — do not take place apart from the will and purpose of God Almighty but as part of His will and purpose. They are means to the end of you receiving a letter from me.

What does this show? It shows that in the divine purposes, means and ends are connected. Perhaps in electing people “in Christ,” God could have immediately glorified them. But according to Scripture, He has not chosen to do this. Instead, He uses means. He brings the good news of salvation to our attention. How does He do that? He could presumably have done this by imparting the news immediately to a person’s mind in a dream or by a “whisper.” But, in fact, He does it by the twofold agency of “Word” and “Spirit.”

Scripture has various different ways of making this clear. In the Gospels, there is the parable of the sower: “Behold, a sower went out to sow.” The seed is the Word; the various kinds of soil are different kinds of hearts. “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit” (Matt. 13:23). So, there is seed sown, and there is fruit, according to the type of soil. And this represents hearing the Word, understanding it, and being fruitful. No one can “understand” the Word without it first being “sown.”

Here is a second example. Let us consider the words of the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that l have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19– 20). Jesus instructs or commands His eleven disciples to “make disciples.” And how are they to do that? By “teaching them [people from all nations] to observe all that I have commanded you.” Discipleship comes by being taught what Christ commanded His first disciples.

Paul uses very similar language to that of Christ in the parable of the sower as he describes his ministry, both its importance and its limitations, when he writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). What is he saying here? That he sowed the seed and his fellow preacher Apollos came along and, by what he taught, “watered” what Paul had sown. But who made it grow? Only God, by His Spirit, gave life — understanding, faith, and obedience — to those who became believers at Corinth.

Similarly, other things that Paul writes echo the teaching of Jesus’ Great Commission. For example, in Romans 10 Paul discusses the relation between calling upon Christ, belief in Him, and preaching the need to call on the Savior:

How, then, can [people] call on the one they have not believed in? 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? (Rom. 10:14—15)

Paul’s questions answer themselves: no believing, no calling; no hearing, no believing; no preaching, no hearing; no sending, no preaching.

All these passages have one thing in common. They reveal the connection, a connection set up in the wisdom of God, between communicating the gospel through preaching — sowing, teaching, calling, and watering — and belief — faith and calling on the Lord, conversion to Christ in its various aspects. So, under ordinary circumstances, preaching and teaching are the indispensable means of the Lord bringing men and women to faith in Christ. More than such preaching is needed, of course. God Himself must prepare the heart, and by His Spirit He alone can “give the increase.” But He ordinarily does this “by the Word” proclaimed by ministers of the gospel.

Election

There is one passage above all others in the Bible that clearly sets forth the scope of this interplay of means and ends, from election on the one hand to glorification on the other. In Romans 8, Paul teaches that God’s ultimate purpose for His people is their conformit y to the image of His Son. How are we to understand this?

Paul’s answer is to first take the reader back to “those who are called according to his purpose” (v. 28). These, he says, are foreknown by God. That is, He knows before they are born who these individuals are, for He has chosen them. And He predestines them to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (v. 29). And what does this predestining involve?

“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (v. 30). In a few words, the Apostle takes the reader from eternity to eternity. To stress the certainty and completeness of this process, Paul uses the past tense, as if all of the saints were already enjoying glorification. But for our purposes, it is the two critical and important words called and justified that need highlighting. They underline the need for the elect to be glorified by being brought by the Spirit out of spiritual darkness — the new birth — and their need for change in status, as their sins are pardoned and Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to them.

When do these changes, regeneration and justification, occur? The answer is during the earthly lives of men and women. By what means? By the communication and presentation of the gospel through preaching and teaching. Moreover, these changes occur by the sovereign agency of God the Holy Spirit, who opens the eyes for understanding, renews the will, grants repentance and the faith that justifies, and enables the growth of Christian virtue, that is, sanctification.

The View from the Other Side

So, preaching is ordinarily an indispensable means for calling out God’s elect. In a parallel fashion, listening to and making an effort to understand gospel preaching is indispensable. This is not a bit of good reasoning: “Either I am elect or I am not. Either way, there’s no point in listening to good preaching. For if I am elected, God will bring me to heaven somehow. And if I am not, I can find better ways of spending my time than in going to church.” Jesus, for example, emphasized the importance of listening carefully: “He who has ears, let him hear (Matt. 13:43). What does Jesus mean? That we should listen intently, with the aim of gaining “understanding.” After His resurrection, Jesus spent time opening the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). If we are puzzled and perplexed, we should continue to search the Scriptures for all we are worth (for Scripture interprets Scripture) and to pray to Jesus for understanding. Paul recounts how the Thessalonian Christians came to faith in Christ as follows: “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13).

The reasoning that says, “Either I am elect or not; either way it is pointless to attend to the Word of God,” makes the very same mistake as does the belief that God’s eternal election makes preaching unnecessary. We separate the end of election — renewal in the image of Christ — from those means of communicating the gospel through preaching and the other ways God has ordained. It divides what God has, in fact, united. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Be Prepared

Philip Ryken

Make no mistake: there is an aggressive new atheism in America. The new unbelievers are eager to win people to their cause. Not content simply to disbelieve in God for themselves, they want to persuade other people not to believe in Him either.

Some of these evangelists for atheism are famous authors with a high public profile. Others are professors on college or university campuses. Still others are ordinary people we meet at work or in the neighborhood.  They may even be the members of our own families. But in each case, their opposition to the God of the Bible poses a challenge to our faith. In fact, some Christians may find aggressive atheism more than a little intimidating. Any time our faith is under attack, we face the real temptation to keep quiet about our firm confidence in biblical truth or our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to believers who were facing similar challenges in the days of the early church. Their faith was under attack and there was real danger that standing firm for the Gospel would cause them to suffer for the cause of Christ. Thus Peter told them to be ready to witness with courage — an exhortation that still applies to us today: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:14–16). 

Peter’s words of comfort are reassuring: “Have no fear of them.” Even more reassuring is the reason why: Because Jesus is with us to help us. If we know Christ, then we regard Him as the Lord of our hearts. Now Jesus is with us — in all the power of His grace — in every difficult situation we face. This includes every opportunity we have to bear witness to His sufferings on the cross and His triumph over the tomb. There is no need for us to be intimidated by people who deny the Gospel, or who even deny the very existence of God. The true and living Lord is with us to help us speak the truth about His crucifixion and resurrection, giving people the hope of eternal life.

We must be ready to witness, however. The helping presence of our Lord does not eliminate our own obligation to be well-prepared to tell people about His saving grace. Peter’s exhortation about how to do this is comprehensive. We should always be ready to explain the hope that is within us. We should be ready to do this in a logical way, giving reasons for our faith in Christ and answers to the legitimate questions people have about the Bible. We should be ready to do this for anyone and everyone who asks, regardless of their religious commitments.

Are you ready to give people an answer when they ask about your hope in Christ, especially people who claim to be atheists? Reading this issue of Tabletalk is one practical way to get ready to give people an answer. Another good way to get better prepared to share our faith is to read good Christian books like R.C. Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. It is also important for us to develop growing friendships with people outside the church. The better we know people, the more they will share their spiritual questions, and the better we will understand all the ways they need the Gospel. Peter’s words remind us to do this with gentleness and respect, loving people who still need to know Christ.

Yet the most important thing for us to do is point people to the Scriptures. The best reasons we can give people for our hope in Christ are biblical reasons; the clearest answers we can give to their question about God are biblical answers. The Holy Spirit will use the true words of God to do His spiritual work in people’s lives. God has not promised to use our personal testimonies to bring people to Christ. No matter how eloquently or persuasively we speak, our words in themselves do not have the power to give people spiritual life. What God has promised to use in a saving and sanctifying way are His own words — the words we read in the Bible and understand by the help of the Spirit. God’s Word always does God’s work (see Isa. 55:10–11).

The Word of God even has the power to save atheists, changing the minds and hearts of people who say they do not believe in God. The real truth, of course, is that even the most hardened atheist actually does believe in God, he just works very hard to deny it. In order to maintain a consistently atheistic point of view, unbelievers must actively suppress what they know to be true about the existence of God. Deep down, everyone knows there is a God (see Rom. 1:21). 

The inescapable reality of God’s power should give us tremendous confidence for personal evangelism. Although we may not have very much confidence in ourselves, or in our ability to respond to every objection an unbeliever may raise against the Gospel, we ought to have every confidence in the goodness of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Bible confronts every person’s conscience, testifying that the God who is really there speaks to people today. Whether we are fully prepared to give an answer or not, God is always ready and able to save people by His mighty Word. 

Since the beginning,

our aim has been to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it, and how to live it…

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