Have you ever asked yourself the question that stands as the title of this article? Or perhaps you’ve asked it this way: “If God is sovereign in salvation, then why do the lost need to worry about believing the gospel?” There is some semblance of logic to these questions. It appears that if God has chosen from before the beginning of time whom He will save, and whom He will not save, then if I’m lost it doesn’t really matter if I believe the gospel or not, since if I’m not elect then what good does it do me? And if I’m a Christian it doesn’t really matter if I share the gospel with the lost, since if they are elect they’ll come to Jesus whether I share the gospel with them or not. This line of thinking is one reason why many reject the doctrines of grace (a.k.a. the “five points of Calvinism”), because they are absolutely committed to man’s responsibility to believe and the Christian’s responsibility to share the gospel.
But what if I told you that you don’t have to choose between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, because the Bible teaches that both of these are true. God is sovereign, and man is responsible – responsible to believe in Jesus, and responsible to share Jesus with those who do not know Him. I believe that both these statements are true, even if I can’t understand completely how they fit together – because Jesus believes that both these statements are true, and I know that He understands completely how they fit together.
How do I know Jesus believed both these truths? Because of what He says in Matthew 11:25-30, one of the most familiar texts in the gospels: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father;
nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
In these words, which are both a prayer and an invitation/command, Jesus affirms that God is sovereign in salvation and that man is responsible to believe in Him. By example He shows us that He believes that Christians are responsible to evangelize. Let’s think about each of these in turn.
Jesus believes that God is sovereign in salvation. He believes that the Lord of heaven and earth, His heavenly Father, has chosen to hide certain things from some, and to reveal those things to others, and that this way of doing things is well-pleasing in the sight of His Father. What are “these things” that He has hidden and revealed? In the context, Jesus has just finished denouncing the cities in which He did most of His miracles (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum), because they had not repented in light of His work. Thus “these things” must refer to the understanding of who Jesus was and the significance of His miracles, and the ability to repent and believe in Jesus. This is confirmed by Jesus’ words in verse 27 about knowing the Son and the Father. Not only does the Father hide and reveal, but Jesus exercises His will as well – the only ones who know the Father are those to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Since it is clear that not everyone knows the Father, and since no one knows the Father apart from His revealing work, it is implied that He does not reveal the Father to everyone. We learn in this passage that God’s ways are different from the ways of man. If we were in charge, it is likely that we would choose the best and the brightest – but God chooses to reveal Jesus not to “wise and intelligent” but to “infants.” Paul teaches the same thing in I Corinthians 1:26-31. Ultimately, salvation is of the Lord; understanding and knowledge and faith and repentance are gifts He gives according to His good pleasure and sovereign will – not to everyone, and not to the people we would expect.
Jesus also believes, however, that man is responsible for his/her choices: in particular, how he chooses to respond to Jesus’ word and works. We see this from Matthew 11:20 – if man were not responsible, it would make no sense for Jesus to “denounce” those cities who had not repented upon seeing His miracles and hearing His teaching. Likewise, if man were not responsible, then the idea of Matthew 11:22 and 24, that people who failed to respond properly to Jesus’ word and works will endure a greater punishment on the day of judgment than those who did not have access to Jesus’ word and works, is nonsensical. We also learn that Jesus believes man is responsible from His calling weary sinners to come to Him. He extends this invitation (which is also a command), not only because it is best to come to Jesus (no more weariness! no more burdens!), but because it is necessary to come to Jesus, to learn from Him, and to come under His pleasant yoke. If we refuse to come to Jesus upon hearing His call, we are guilty of rejecting the voice of the Son of God, and will suffer on the day of judgment. We may not plead the excuse, “But God, you didn’t reveal Him to me!” Jesus tells us in John 6:44 that no one is able to come to Him unless the Father who sent Him draws that person to Him – but our inability does not make us any less guilty if we refuse to come. For our inability is itself worthy of blame, and we are held responsible for our inability. It is precisely because we are unable that we are in need of God to enable us to come and respond properly to the invitation and command of Jesus.
Finally, Jesus believes that Christians are responsible to share the gospel with the lost. We learn this in this text from Jesus’ example. If Jesus called people to come to Himself, though He knew they were not able to come unless the Father who sent Him drew them, and that they could not understand unless the Father revealed the truth to Him, or know the Father unless Jesus revealed Him to them, then we too should be able to hold firm to these truths and at the same time hold forth the invitation and command of the gospel to come to Jesus for soul-rest, forgiveness, and eternal life.
Though we may not understand how these truths fit together, yet we know that Jesus does. Since He invites sinners to come to Him, we ought to invite sinners to come to Him. Since He commands faith and repentance, we ought to command faith and repentance. The Scriptures tell us that it is precisely through the preaching of the gospel that the Father and the Son reveal themselves to sinners, and grant the gifts of faith and repentance. God has ordained not only the end (the salvation of His elect), but the means to that end (evangelism, as well as prayer).
May the Lord continue to give His people a knowledge of His truth, an ability to hold together truths that ought never to be separated, and a zeal and commitment to share Christ with the lost, resting in the sovereignty of God rather than our own eloquence to change hearts.