If you hold a robust belief in the sovereignty of God, you're bound to hear the objection that human decisions don't matter. Why evangelize, for example, if God is sovereign over things like who will be saved? But a biblical understanding of divine sovereignty is actually fuel for a right understanding of human responsibility. Consider the example of Paul in Acts 27:
Acts 27:27-32— When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. (28) So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. (29) And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. (30) And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship's boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, (31) Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (32) Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it go.
We have to read between the lines a little bit here. Why does Paul insist that the sailors must remain in the ship if they’re going to be saved? Apparently, the Holy Spirit revealed this to Paul at some point. But hold on a second. Didn’t God already tell Paul that they would all be saved (Acts 27:23-24)? Is that promise true or not? Why does Paul feel the need to say anything? Why not just allow God to supernaturally intervene if the outcome has been determined?
Or think about other promises God has given us in His Word. For example, people from every nation, tribe and tongue will worship Jesus (Revelation 5:9, 7:9). What’s the right response to that promise? To say, “Alright God, do your thing!” Is it genuine faith to kick back, relax, and say “God will save whoever God wants to save!”? Absolutely not! If you believe this promise you’ll go. If you believe this promise you’ll send.
Or consider another promise: Everyone whom God has elected will believe (Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:4-6). What’s the right response to that promise? If you believe that God ordains the ends and uses means, you’ll tell people the Good News! In fact, I believe that a robust belief in the sovereignty of God should make us more evangelistic, not less.
Imagine you were taken to the locker room of a massive high school. There in that locker room are hundreds of lockers. Someone then gives you a key and a promise. “This key will unlock a limited number of these lockers. Most of these lockers will not be opened by this key, but each locker that is unlocked contains a pile of cash that is yours to keep. A fortune is waiting for you if you will just use this key.”
What would you do? Would you try a few lockers and then give up? If you truly believed the person who made this promise, you wouldn’t stop until you had tried to unlock every locker with this key. [i]
We too have been given a promise. Jesus promised us this in John 10:14-16—“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
The Gospel key will not unlock every heart, but we have a promise that some will believe. So what should we do? Throw up our hands in frustration because we don’t know who will repent and who will reject the Gospel? Or do we try with God’s help to spread Gospel seed as far and wide as we possibly can because we’re confident that the incalculable treasure in heaven awaits us?
[i] This illustration adapted from Orlando Saer, Big God: How To Approach Suffering, Spread the Gospel, Make Decisions and Pray in the Light of a God Who Really Is in the Driving Seat of the World (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2014).