The Sovereignty of God and World Missions

by John W. Hendryx

"How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "" HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!'' ... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." - Romans 10:14,15, 17

My aim in this article is to show from Scripture that the historic faith as taught by Jesus (John ch. 6), Paul (Rom ch. 9), Augustine, and the Reformers that God sovereignty predetermines His chosen from among the nations (Revelation 5:9; Rev. 7:9-10), should be the greatest motivation to world missions. “A people for His Name” will be established from among every people. A corresponding aim is to show the harmful error of both synergistic theology and hypercalvinism since they each disrupt the delicate balance of understanding God's sovereign will in the salvation of His elect. I cannot underscore the importance of understanding this enough as it should give us all great hope that we will be instruments in efficaciously bringing forth the harvest of those Christ purchased with his blood.

I have heard it said that there are three things which are sure in this life: death, taxes and that God will infallibly bring His elect to salvation (John 6:37-39). Should this truth motivate us to world missions or rob us of our motivation? I would argue that, this aspect of God's revelation should be the single most motivating factor in getting us to mobilize overseas to proclaim God's living word ... Why? Because God's word will not return unto Him void but accomplish that for which He purposed it (that more people would give Him glory). And here I stress that God's word is living because His word, the gospel, accompanied by the sovereign dispensing of grace by the Holy Spirit, is the "power of God" unto the salvation of His elect. People are not saved in a vacuum. God has ordained that He gather His flock worldwide through the preaching and proclamation of His word. That word alone has power unto salvation. The doctrine of election is God's blueprint and has no saving value in itself. Divine election accomplishes its purposes through the historic, redemptive work of Christ applied to His people by the Spirit as the church uses means (prayer, preaching) to accomplish God's redemptive purpose.

Jesus Christ accomplished this victory for us: and his life of suffering and crucifixion was the extent to which his love went to retrieve us from our ruin. Christ was born "under the law" as a human being that he might federally represent us, so Christ's victory was for us, not for himself, and its glorious purpose begins to be realized only when we enter into its fruits. As we heed God's call to indiscriminately proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, and when we utilize God's Word in accordance with his will (not ours), we then have all the power of Almighty God behind us. We therefore take the sword of God's word to bind the strong man in order to free the souls of men and women who are held in Satan's chains. As we rely on God in prayer, people are released from the grip of the devil and begin to respond to God's Word. Those whose lives were in bondage to Satan (2 Tim 2:26; 1 John 5:19), now have that power broken, and are free to hear God's Word and believe it. Do not be deceived. Men are not free agents who can be persuaded by our arguments alone. God first must free them through His word when we prevail in prayer to God for them. God is sovereign and so the battle for people's souls is not won merely through outward witness (though this is necessary) but it is won in private prayer. As we plead for our friends, God opens men's hearts to receive the Gospel. His grace also gives us utterance to witnesses to the truth as the Holy Spirit works grace in their hearts and ears to the message of the gospel. A prayer which relies on God's sovereign work, is therefore, a vital a part of missions work and no true missions can exist without it (Eph. 6:19 20).

At the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans in chapter 1:17 it reads

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ''BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.''

So why is Paul not ashamed of the gospel? Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The gospel is also the message God chooses to bring to the world by human instruments. Although God is clearly sovereign in the salvation of men, He chooses to bring glory to Himself by utilizing weak human instruments to carry His word in order to accomplish His eternal, sovereign and preordained purposes (the gathering of His elect from the ends of the earth). This seemingly foolish message taken through a human medium is the power of God unto salvation. This clearly demonstrates that God saves His elect working through the power of the gospel message supernaturally, and not by other means. And although other means are indeed possible for God, He has not chosen them, except for rare cases where God supernaturally intervened in history, as in the instance of the conversion of Paul.

The Bible does not teach that gospel will unconditionally and efficaciously bring all men who hear unto salvation, but only those who believe. This demonstrates that God does not accomplish salvation irrespective of our faith. Faith in Christ is required, commanded and the ONLY means through which we are justified. Do not let the fact that God has preordained his elect unto salvation prejudice this central truth or keep any person from preaching the gospel. On the contrary, it should give us certain hope when we proclaim it that His chosen ones will come.

The Bible clearly and unambiguously teaches that effectual calling and regeneration precede our faith (1 John 5:1, Rom 8:30, John 1:13). There is no such thing as a regenerate person who does not have salvation. Being united to Christ by the Spirit, the listener must hear, with faith, in order to be declared righteous in Christ; receiving God's justification. This, being true, should make us, all the more, desire to go out into the unreached corners of the earth to proclaim the gospel of salvation because we know God will infallibly bring His purpose about through us. All those the Father has given the Son, those who are written in the book of life, will believe (John 6:65). We go not in vain to teach the unreached because God will bring about His purposed will in gathering His elect unto salvation through the proclamation of the gospel, "wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe." (WCF 7.3) This should reveal the need to make ourselves available for world missions where the gospel has not been formerly preached. It is the Spirit who gives the new birth through the preaching of the word . It is because the Spirit of God accompanies God's word that it carries in it the germ of life. The life is in God, yet it is communicated to us through the word, as evidenced in the following passages of scripture:

“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...That word is the good news preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23,25)

James likewise says,

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth“ (James 1:18).

Although the Father ultimately determines who will come to the Son (John 6:44, Eph 1:4,5), He does so in conjunction (concurrently) with the church as we proclaim His gospel. Hypothetically, if there were no elect and, as missionaries, we had to merely blindly hope that people would come to the faith of their own volition through our reasoning, then I believe that all hope would be lost and no one would be saved, because, left to his own will, natural man never willingly comes to Christ or accepts the humbling terms of the gospel. There is no inclination to holiness by man when left in his rebellious nature. He will always choose against God in the flesh (1 Cor 2:14, Rom 3:11, Romans 8:7).

This is not merely a theoretical position for a few Presbyterians who are sitting around contemplating their navels. As a missionary myself for over ten years I have seen up close the hardened hearts of men. Without believing that God had an eternal purpose to raise up His own from spiritual death I would have lost all hope in preaching the word. The Bible emphatically declares that no one will come to God on their own, apart from the Holy Spirit. By nature men are hostile to God, love the darkness, will not listen, are unable and unwilling to believe, since those in the flesh cannot understand the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:7, 1 Cor 2:14). You can reason with people all you want but they are dead in sin and have uncircumcized hearts and ears so will always resist the outward workings of the Spirit. That is, until God circumcised their heart. God must graciously make them alive with Christ which He does through the prayers of His saints and through the preaching of the Gospel which the Spirit utilizes to change the disposition of men's hearts, the power of God unto salvation. This is the greatest comfort to a missionary since he knows that God's purpose in election will be carried out through his work. The farmer who sows his seed in the ground he has plowed up must rely on the weather to cooperate. He can have all the right conditions but unless the heavens open and rain fall, all of his work will have been in vain. Likewise we rely on God to shower his blessings of converting power to the word we preach. "We plant and water, but God causes the growth." Otherwise all going would be in vain since the flesh profits nothing.

Synergists will often bring out "proof texts" like John 3:16 which say "whosoever believes .. has eternal life" or Peter when he says "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation..." (emphasis Arminians) as if these were evidence against God's sovereignty in salvation. Yes, of course, we agree that EVERYONE who believes in God's Son has eternal life but this by no means suggests that God is not sovereign in the process of bringing them to that belief. God commanding what the natural man "ought" to do does not necessarily mean that he or she "can". Reformed biblical theologians and evangelists still tell men that God commands them to repent and believe the gospel. This is because they must believe the gospel in order to be saved. How is this? Because if they do believe we know that it happened as a result of the work of God. Remember the Scripture says "no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). It is God who works in us the very desire and will to believe. It is God who irresistibly draws us (John 6:37 & 65). This should hardly stop anyone from proclaiming salvation by grace through faith alone. The gospel call and responsibility of all Christians is to proclaim faith in God to every (human) creature under heaven but God still unconditionally determines where His message will be effectual, and we leave that to God. "The wind blows where it wills. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." The Apostle Paul, in 1 Thess 1:4, 5 explains that God chose those who believe not simply with preaching itself but preaching which was empowered by the Holy Spirit:. "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." Apart from the Spirit the hearers would have remained hostile and spiritually impotent to come to Christ.

It is important as missionaries that we preach the gospel biblically, but how do we do that? Ironically, on the mission field and in the Bible true saving faith occurs when the hearer comes to the point where they feel they have despaired of all hope in themselves for salvation; that God's law and the requirement of faith itself is too difficult for them. Well, in what seems contrary to reason, this is evidence that a true work of grace is beginning to take place. For here, stripped of all hope, save for Christ's mercy alone, is right where God wants us. C.H. Spurgeon explained this phenomena like this:

"What the Arminian wants to do is to arouse man's activity: what we want to do is to kill it once for all---to show him that he is lost and ruined, and that his activities are not now at all equal to the work of conversion; that he must look upward. They seek to make the man stand up: we seek to bring him down, and make him feel that there he lies in the hand of God, and that his business is to submit himself to God, and cry aloud, 'Lord, save, or we perish.' We hold that man is never so near grace as when he begins to feel he can do nothing at all. When he says, 'I can pray, I can believe, I can do this, and I can do the other,' marks of self-sufficiency and arrogance are on his brow." - C. H. Spurgeon

To use a personal example, when the Lord opened my eyes to the beauty of Christ in the truth of the gospel, He did so in like manner to what Spurgeon is describing above. It was during my sophomore year in college when I was deeply into the occult and was hardened against the exclusive claims of Christianity. But while reading the word of God something unusual took place. The Lord led me to read Deuteronomy 18 and Romans 9:15, 16. It was the text in the NIV version which said "it does not depend on man's desire or effort but on God's mercy" (Rom 9:16) where at once I was stripped bare of any and all hope in myself, and yet, in my utter helplessness, the Spirit opened my heart to the beauty and excellency of Christ which was the most profound sense of comfort. This is what good preaching should do: it should bring people to understand the holiness, majesty, beauty and glory of God, in which they will see their own rebellion, sinfulness and nothingness. But in so doing, the Spirit has them in the place He wants the for true conversion.

Keeping in mind the above truths about the work of the Spirit, the desperate condition of mankind and our need to come to an end of ourselves, we then understand how it is that "the gospel is the power of God that is operative unto salvation". 1 Cor 1:21 says "... in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. The gospel message, in other words, is the power of God unto salvation to those who are called. So wherever we see faith, we know God's power was effective unto salvation. AND saving faith will only occur in a context where the gospel is being proclaimed. Those who never hear will have to face God and He will judge them according to their works while in the body (Rom 2:12). That is certainly not a happy prospect since God will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. Each man owes God a tremendous debt and the works they bring God will render them lost and without God for eternity. The church in countries like America will also be held responsible for its lack of action. In other words, lets get out there and proclaim God's message of reconciliation if any are to embrace the Savior. It appears, however, that since few believe in hell anymore that it doesn't really matter if we go out or not. This, my friends, is called unbelief. If hell is not true we might as well put our Bibles on the shelves and consider them an interesting look at primitive human beliefs but essentially useless and even harmful.

The point is that God is holy and will not tolerate sin. If you don't believe this then you have no right to classify yourself as a follower of Christ. Mankind's sin will be judged by the harshest measure of God's wrath. I understand that the modern evangelical church is often guilty of overemphasizing God's love while simultaneously de-emphasizing, if not abandoning, God's wrath. But folks, hell is more real than where you now sit since it will last eternally and God will carry out His wrath with perfect justice. And the ONLY reason Christians will not also suffer under God's wrath is that it has already been poured out on Jesus Christ, our substitute. We deserve God's wrath like the rest. We are no better in any way, but God, for His own sovereign good pleasure, chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. (Eph 1:3-5) This is why we must get the gospel out to the parts of the world that have never heard. They are doomed if they do not hear...but thankfully, in Christ, He does not treat us as our sins deserve. But "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom 10:15) God, for reasons known only to Himself, has chosen to work only through the church and the foolishness of preaching - they work in perfect tandem, but not apart from one another. Those who never hear are lost my friends ...there are no innocents our there.

Romans 10:17 says "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." Christ, by His Holy Spirit is speaking through our gospel proclamation. God utilizes these weak and feeble vessels to bring about profound transformation in those He gave His Son from eternity. We bring God's infinite treasures into the world to redeem mankind which restores them to a rightful relationship with their Maker. AMAZING!

I hope by application we do not just sit back in our resting chairs and say, "God will take care of His elect with or without me." That is what is called hypercalvinism, a fatal and heretical error. Likewise, an equally devastating error is to conclude that since "God is love" we don't really need to go reach those who haven't heard since God will give everyone a chance with or without us. Nor should we conclude, like the Arminian, that our prayers to God for men's salvation are worthless since God is forbidden from interfering with man's will. All these unbalanced views are unbiblical and damaging to the furthering of the gospel.