In Acts 13, we see a beautiful scene. Paul preaches the gospel with clarity. People become curious. Some rebel against the word of God. But some believe and are saved.
In the middle of that scene, we have the biblical explanation of what happened, and the wording of the text is significant.
Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
There are many questions that must be answered from that verse which will help us to consider the sovereignty of God in our salvation, human responsibility, and evangelism.
Who believed? The answer is that as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. Who appointed them? There is nothing that indicates that these people appointed themselves to eternal life; that would make no sense. The ones who were saved are the ones God appointed to eternal life. There is a clear claim of the sovereign election of the Lord here. The chosen were saved.
How were they saved? People were saved when they believed. That is still true and still significant. The command of God is for people to believe in Christ for salvation. The word of God tells us that all who believe will be saved. All who do not believe do so by their free choice. All who do believe also believe freely, but they have been granted that ability by the Lord who appointed them to eternal life.
So, is God sovereign here, or is man responsible? The answer is both. God sovereignly elects, appointing people to eternal life. But the people are fully responsible for their choices. God did not prevent anyone from believing in this passage. It was the sinfulness of the individual that prevented many from believing. But those who did believe did so by the grace of God. God is sovereign. Man is responsible.
Does this doctrine prevent evangelism? Did it prevent evangelism for Paul? Of course not. The apostles boldly declare the gospel. The gospel is the call of God that tells us all that everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved. The gospel includes the command to all people to turn to Jesus in faith and repentance for salvation. That call is genuine and important. And, any person who loves the Lord and loves the word of God will obey God’s call to share this gospel with others. The idea of election has never been a genuine reason to avoid being evangelistic. If you love God, you share. If you love people, you share. If you obey the word of God, you share. You do not have any insight as to whom God has elected, so you share. You know, however, that God has the ability to grant faith to people, even people you would never expect to believe, so you share with all the people you can.
Isn’t this an unimportant doctrine that just causes conflicts? I do not think so. I think the question of who gets the glory for salvation is extremely significant. And I think the question of glory in salvation is the question we answered earlier: Who appointed people to eternal life? Ultimately, you either have to say that people appointed themselves to eternal life by their own choice to believe or you must say that God appointed people to eternal life by his sovereign election. You must either give the final bit of credit for salvation to the one who believes or to the Lord who elects. I think it is clear that giving the final glory to God magnifies him more. Thus, I think this doctrine is important, as I do not desire to take to myself any glory that rightly belongs to the Lord.
What if we disagree? I hope that, if we disagree on this doctrine, we can do so graciously. There are many mysteries here. There are many parts of election that are not easy to explain. At the end of the day, God still calls us to love him, follow his word, share the gospel, and make disciples. So, if this doctrine is not something you love, I would happily talk with you about it if we could do so in a kind way—that means in person, not on Facebook. And if you do not embrace this doctrine, I will not be nasty to you or put you down. I would ask the same of you as we all seek to honor the Lord according to his word.