Our Only Hope of Success in Evangelism

J.I. Packer, in his excellent treatise Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, states:

“The sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism.”

Packer explains (emphasis mine):

“Some fear that belief in the sovereign grace of God leads to the conclusion that evangelism is pointless, since God will save His elect anyway, whether they hear the gospel or not. This . . . is a false conclusion based on a false assumption. . . . So far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility–indeed, the certainty–that evangelism will be fruitful. Apart from it, there is not even a possibility of evangelism being fruitful. Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel.”

The effects of such confidence in the sovereign grace of God should, according to Packer, produce three things:

1. It should make us bold.

“You are not on a fool’s errand. You are not wasting either your time or theirs. You have no reason to be ashamed of your message, or half-hearted and apologetic in delivering it. You have every reason to be bold, and free, and natural, and hopeful of success. For God can give His truth and effectiveness that you and I cannot give it. God can make His truth triumphant to the conversion of the most seemingly hardened unbeliever. You and I will never write off anyone as hopeless and beyond the reach of God if we believe in the sovereignty of His grace.”

2. It should make us patient.

“It should keep us from being daunted when we find that our evangelistic endeavors meet with no immediate response. God saves in His own time, and we ought not to suppose that He is in such a hurry as we are. . . . We are tempted to be in a great hurry with those whom we would win to Christ, and then, when we see no immediate response in them, to become impatient and downcast, and then to lose interest in them, and feel that it is useless to spend more time on them; and so we abandon our efforts forthwith, and let them drop out of our ken. But this is utterly wrong. It is a failure both of love for man and faith in God.”

3. It should make us prayerful.

“Prayer . . . is a confessing of impotence and need, and acknowledging of helplessness and dependence, and an invoking of the mighty power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In evangelism, we are impotent; we depend wholly upon God to make our witness effective; only because He is able to give men new hearts can we hope that through our preaching of the gospel sinners will be born again. These facts ought to drive us to prayer. The knowledge, then, that God is sovereign in grace, and that we are impotent to win souls, should make us pray, and keep us praying. What should be the burden of our prayers? We should pray for those whom we seek to win, that the Holy Spirit will open their hearts; and we should pray for ourselves in our own witness, and for all who preach the gospel, that the power and authority of the Holy Spirit may rest upon them.”

May the God of all grace bless and prosper our labors in the hearts and lives of those who do not know Jesus Christ! May we be bold, patient, and prayerful, knowing that God’s grace is greater still.

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14 Comments on “Our Only Hope of Success in Evangelism”

  1. D.L. Kane Says:

    Timmy – Such encouraging posts. I have been dialoguing with an atheist that I met on a Christian Blog. My heart was drawn to him because of the way in which his very good questions were being poorly addressed. I invited him to contact me and he did. Once I explained to him the doctrines of grace, his response was, “Hummm, I have no argument to present against that. I have never heard anyone explain “salvation” quite that way. That’s a lot different than the twisted logic that most use in their attempts to convert me. Oh knows…maybe you are right.”

    Please pray for this guy. His name is Lance. He’s a 34 year old school teacher.

    As always, blessings to you and your family,
    D.L.


  2. D.L.,

    What an encouraging account of God’s providence! May the God of all grace arrest the heart and mind of Lance with the glory of Christ!

  3. Erik Says:

    Thanks for this post. I work at FedEx with an agnostic and we talk quite often about religion and there are times that I do like Packer says, I get “impatient and downcast” wondering when God is going to intervence (as if God works on my timetable). This post provides me with hope in my conversations my friend the agnostic. Nothing and nobody is impossible with God.


  4. Erik,

    I forgive you now for working at FedEx. I bet you didn’t get the memo that Christians are only allowed to work at UPS. 🙂 Just kidding.

    But what you said is absolutely right! If God can take a persecutor and murderer like Saul on the Damascus road and transform his life, yea, if God can take a sinner like myself and change me solely by His free grace, then there is no one who God cannot save. Therefore, there is no one who we should write off as being “unreachable” or too fargone in their sin that God could reach down and transform. The sad fact is, however, that we have the tendency of writing off certain sinners because we have graded their sins far worse than our own, as though our sins are any less damning than theirs. I am encouraged to know that the foot of the cross is level–for theives as well as princes, for prostitutes as well as queens, for lepers as well as pretty boys.


  5. Timmy,

    This was a great post. I’ve always loved Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Thankfully, we are kept patient in the conversion of God’s elect by the power of the Spirit when we are open air preaching here in Greensboro, NC.

    BTW, I would like to reproduce this blog article on our church blog for the purposes of encouraging our congregation at our next open-air meeting outside of a new age/goddess event that will be on 6-22-08. Do you mind if I do so, giving you full credit of course?


  6. Dustin,

    It’s great to hear from you brother. I trust all is well there in NC. No, I don’t mind it at all if you choose to reproduce this little post for the benefit of your people. I would be honored to know it could be used to encourage others in this way.

    Thanks for commenting, and I pray you have a blessed weekend.

  7. Chris Walker Says:

    Thanks for posting these quotes. I constantly have to remind people that God is sovereign over the process of evangelism, and that evangelism is a series of kairos moments in a person’s life.

    None can happen except through prayer, obedience, and a willingness to participate in God’s activity.

    Pastor Chris
    EvangelismCoach.org


  8. Chris,

    It’s great to hear from you. Indeed, there is such great joy to be able to participate and be used in sharing the gospel with others! I am reminded of what Jesus said in John 15, namely that his joy would be in us and that our joy would be in full. Such joy is transferred into the lives of unbelievers when they taste and see that the Lord is good! My hope is that our sovereign God will sweep us into his eternal joy and be glorified in sharing that very joy with others.


  9. Timmy,

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to sneak in a comment about your post on Rick Warren. I just want to thank you for being so kind to him. I find your gracious outlook on your posts very refreshing.

    Bradley


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