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.”
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 sovereignty 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.