In the last post, we briefly examined God’s sovereignty in salvation. This is quite a difficult subject, one that deserves more attention and space than I was able to devote in that post, but at the end of the day when we’ve searched the Scriptures for ourselves whether it’s something we like or hate, we must ask is it what God’s Word reveals? As we examined, Scripture is not silent on this, but I want to make two statements regarding that post before we move into todays. First, God’s plan of redemption is simply that, His plan (Ephesians 1:3-14). This isn’t something that’s revealed outside of Scripture and it’s not man’s attempt to know the mind of God. It is what the Bible teaches us about God’s character so that we may know Him, fear Him, and love Him. Secondly, as men with finite minds we can know neither those who are chosen, nor those who are not. That knowledge is reserved for God and God alone. As we read in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Since it’s not for us to know, we cannot walk through life pretending that we know who the elect of God are nor can we lazily and disobediently say it’s God’s Gospel, let Him take it where He will and do what He wants. No doubt those who are saved have been saved by God’s gracious and merciful hand and those who are unbelievers, are so until the Holy Spirit draws them. But as we’ll see today, this is why evangelism and preaching the Gospel is so important, so vital to the lost. While, yes, this series is a look at how God is working His plan, we must similarly look at man’s involvement. What role, if any, do we play? If it is God’s sovereign choice, do we have any responsibility either in working the plan or responding to it? That will be our focus for today.
Initially at the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned we would be moving to part 2 of this series, Regeneration, but I mistakenly left out this post on the Gospel Call. Before we look at the work of the Holy Spirit in our Ezekiel passage, we must ask what the Bible, specifically the New Testament, teaches on how God involves man in His plan of redemption.
In Romans 10:13-14 we read:
“13 For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14 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?”
In this passage from the Apostle Paul we see that 1) It is necessary for the sinner to “call on the name of the Lord” for salvation, which we’ll define later and 2) Preaching is the necessary instrument which God has chosen for man to reveal His Son to other men. Remember above that I stressed the importance of evangelism and preaching? This is one reason why. Paul, who is right in the middle of his doctrinal statement on the sovereignty of God in salvation, as we read in Romans chapter 9, strongly emphasizes here that it is absolutely necessary that everyone hear the Word of God preached in order to be saved. Think about what that says about missionary work, think of the responsibility that places on each one of us to share the Gospel with not only strangers, but co-workers, friends, and family. “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
Some might be asking, if God has already “chosen” then why this silliness of preaching? Why not just save or damn everyone and get it over with? The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:21 NKJV, “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” It pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. Why? Because it gives God great pleasure and glorifies Him when He sees His creation preaching and teaching His Gospel message. For God’s good pleasure and for His glory is why there have been martyrs for the Gospel throughout history. It’s why prophets like Jeremiah were thrown in a pit and others like John the Baptist were beheaded. It’s why, as we learned in Justin’s post Ashamed of the Gospel, that of the apostles only John was not martyred, yet he was boiled alive and exiled to the island of Patmos. It was for the preaching of the Gospel that the Apostle Paul himself, who as we’ve read embraced and taught the sovereignty of God in salvation, faced “imprisonments…countless beatings…often near death…five times [he] received…forty lashes less one…three times beaten with rods…once stoned…three times shipwrecked.” Facing dangers from “rivers, robbers, [his] own people, Gentiles” danger in the “city, wilderness, sea, from false brothers, in toil and hardship, through many sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 Why did he go through all of this? In his own words, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” 2 Timothy 2:10 Paul realized it was God’s plan. He neither knew who the elect were nor cared, but preached the Gospel indiscriminately to all and we should do the same.
Do you think any of these men doubted God’s sovereignty? Do you think that any of them thought, ‘hey this is your plan God, why don’t you just save them all?’ No dear friends, they willingly suffered and died (and many still do today!) for the Gospel so that their Lord might be pleased and glorified to see His creation take His plan to the ends of the earth. The folly of preaching you say? For the glory of God I answer.
When faithful men stand up and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is known as the general Gospel call. We can see the delineation between this Gospel call and the chosen of God at the conclusion of the Wedding Feast parable in Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Through God’s common grace and love for His creation, that Gospel call has gone out to the entire world. Similarly, in Matthew 13:47-50 we read of this same call in Jesus’ Parable of the Net.
“47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The net here is the Gospel. It’s cast out into the sea which is the world. So we have the Gospel, by way of the preacher (some would argue its implied in this passage), being spread like a net into the whole world. In verse 48 Jesus says, “when it was full” meaning at the close of this age (vs. 49) at a time when the Gospel is no longer going out, it’s net is drawn back in and all that’s been caught in the net will be sorted, the good from bad, the righteous from the evil. Dear friends, this is the Gospel. It goes out, yet not everyone who has been exposed to it, who is caught in its net, is saved. Those who aren’t saved are thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The call goes out to all, but few are saved. How is it that one person hears and believes and the person next to them hears and doesn’t believe? Is it because one is better or smarter or more theologically adept than the other?
In Romans 10:17 we read, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” So we can conclude from our earlier passages and here that faith is necessary for the sinner to believe in Christ and faith is something that comes through hearing the Word of God preached, also known as the ‘external call’ or ‘general gospel call’. If, as we concluded, faith comes by hearing the Word preached, then obviously it comes from an external source and is somehow applied internally to the heart. Yet two people hear the same message, the net is cast to both, still one believes and one doesn’t. There must be some additional action taking place that resolves this issue.
Our focus so far has been on man’s responsibility to proclaim the Gospel and we’ll continue to focus on man’s response in this series, but we must pause to look at how God’s sovereign plan is connected to man, via the Gospel. In John 1:12-13, we get a look at both the responsibility of man and the sovereignty of God. “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Again, faith, or believing, is required, which as we just read comes from hearing the Word. But notice in verse 13 that those who believe are not those born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but are born of God. Remember in John 3, a passage familiar to us from the post The Sinner’s Prayer, Jesus is speaking to Nicodemas in the context of being born again by the Holy Spirit. He likens this rebirth of the Spirit to the wind, it “blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” John 3:8 Faith is necessary and being born of the Spirit is necessary, but which comes first? Does faith trigger rebirth or does being born again instill faith? This is where we will pick this series up next, if the Lord so wills, with The Sinner’s Conversion: Regeneration.