If you have wrestled with the issue of God’s sovereignty in salvation, election, reformed theology, or whatever else you may want to call it, you have surely run across different objections to the concept. Some struggle with the issue of why God might do things this way. Some struggle with the way that some verses in the Bible seem very clear on the topic while other verses do not. Some struggle with the fact that teachers they love or the denominations to which they belong oppose this teaching. And some wrestle with the question of how a belief in election will impact one’s view of evangelism.
That last objection crossed my mind as I read through Acts 16. Watch, and see if you can see with me how God’s word points to his sovereignty in salvation on the one hand while still making a global call to faith in Christ on the other.
Acts 16:14-15 – – 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
This account is the salvation story of Lydia. She had been a worshipper of God in the Old Covenant context. But any reader should see that she needed the gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved. Lydia heard, believed, and responded to her new faith with believer’s baptism. Lydia here is saved.
But notice the detail of the sovereignty of God. Why did Lydia believe? The word tells us, “The Lord opened her heart.” This is why Lydia believed, God did a work first in her heart to enable her to do so. God opened her heart so that she would pay attention to Paul, so that she would believe, so that she would be saved. Thus, the ultimate credit for her salvation is the Lord’s.
Now, the big question comes. Does such a view then make Scripture put the brakes on evangelism? Well, first we see that it does not, because Paul was openly proclaiming the gospel. Though Luke, with Paul at this point, saw that the salvation of Lydia was due to God opening her heart, that did not stop Paul from sharing with all he could.
And then notice what happens later, once Paul is in jail for preaching.
Acts 16:30-31 – 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Assuming we accept that verse 14 speaks to us of the sovereign hand of God at work in Lydia’s salvation, it is then instructive to see how Paul speaks to the Jailer. When the man asked how to be saved, Paul’s answer was very direct and very simple. Believe in the Lord Jesus. That is how we are saved. Paul does not make any extra qualifications that the Lord chose to record for us. Paul does not tell the man that this belief requires the hidden hand of God to cause. I think Paul knew that God must do a work in the heart of anyone who is saved. But Paul, when speaking to the man, simply told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
There is one gospel. The good news is that if we believe, we will be saved. Genuine faith in Christ, faith that changes us and leads us to repentance, is saving faith. Yes, we believe that God causes such faith. But we also honestly and boldly tell the world, everyone we can, that God commands the world, all people, to repent and believe. And we tell everyone that all people who repent and believe will be saved.
I believe that these 2 passages show us that there simply is no way that there is a biblical case that the sovereignty of God prevents evangelism. Verse 14 shows us that God’s sovereign hand opens hearts. Verse 31 shows us that all who believe are saved. The actions of Paul and his companions show us that the call of God is to take the message of Christ to all people, indiscriminately, to call them to faith.