The Divine Initiative

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5).

- Ephesians 2:1–10

The real difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is over the primary agent who brings us to faith. Both sides affirm that faith is necessary for salvation, but who effectually enables us to put our trust in the Lord: God or man?

A common illustration used by evangelists from an Arminian background is that human beings are desperately ill. As sinners, we are on our deathbeds and will die unless something is done. Thankfully, the Lord stands before us with the life-saving medicine of Jesus only inches from our lips. All we have to do is exert the little bit of effort to take the medicine, and we will be born again.

Ultimately, Arminianism leaves men alive, if only a little bit. It gives us an island of righteousness within ourselves that, along with prevenient grace, can recognize God’s truth and assent to it. Salvation is therefore up to us. Yet as today’s passage indicates, we are dead in sin, not sick. We have no inclination to follow Jesus unless God makes us alive (Eph. 2:5). He does not offer medicine, He resurrects our souls, and then we trust Christ. We must believe, but Calvinists remind us that faith is the evidence of the Lord’s preceding effectual work in us. Calvinism is truer to Scripture, for it credits redemption wholly to the Lord’s initiative and thereby brings more glory to God.

We will conclude our study of election by answering one final, common objection levied against Calvinists. If the Father has chosen only select persons for salvation, why should we preach the Gospel to lost people? Let us first give the most obvious answer: We evangelize non-Christians because Jesus orders us to do so (Matt. 28:18–20).

However, evangelism is a privilege as well as a duty. The Lord usually saves His people through our preaching of the Gospel (Rom. 10:5–15). He desires to use all of His people to accomplish His plan. God certainly does not need us; our failures will not thwart His plan. But that is not the most important point. He has given us the honor of being vessels through which He performs His greatest work. What could possibly be better than actively participating in His mission and fulfilling the purpose for which He made us?

Coram Deo

If we use the doctrine of election as an excuse to do no evangelizing in the world, we have perverted the Word of God. No one but Paul more clearly explained the Lord’s gracious election, and no one was ever more zealous to extend the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Therefore, Christians, let us learn how to present the message of salvation through Christ alone to friends and family. Let us give our resources abundantly for the proclamation of the Gospel.

Passages for Further Study

Isa. 45:22–23
Jer. 16:19–21
1 Cor. 9:16
1 Peter 2:9

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.