Missing from this rudimentary understanding is the glorious vision of God’s eternal purpose to redeem His elect people by the atonement so perfectly achieved by Jesus Christ. Instead, many evangelicals assume that God is a spectator. He initiated the plan of salvation, raised Jesus from the dead, and now waits.
How will they come? Without irresistible grace, we must assume that the sinner will be drawn by the force of our argument, the persuasiveness of our speech, the eloquence of our preaching, or our persistence in witnessing.
This explains what so many Christians believe about evangelism. They understand the necessity of the external call. They witness to their neighbors, confront sinners with the gospel, and focus with intensity upon the will of the sinner.
Charles Finney’s “new measures” were designed specifically to target the will of the sinner. His techniques were intended to reach “the simple volition of the sinner’s mind.” The same is often true today. Preachers and evangelists assume that they possess the power to reach the sinner’s heart, so they direct all their energies toward breaking the will of the sinner and bringing him to Christ.
Manipulation and shallow evangelism almost inevitably result. Evangelism is very quickly reduced to salesmanship. Faith, regeneration, repentance, and belief in Christ are confused, but each is assumed to be the act of the sinner in seeking salvation and the responsibility of the evangelist in offering it.
R.B. Kuiper corrects this confusion:
Saving faith is not a gift of the evangelist to his unsaved hearer; ‘it is the gift of God’ (Eph. 2:8). No evangelist ever imparted faith in Christ to a single soul; it is wrought in human hearts by the Holy Spirit, for ‘no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost’ (1 Cor. 12:3). No sinner was ever converted by an evangelist; the author of conversion is God.
The faithful evangelist knows that we are charged to proclaim the gospel to sinners, and has confidence that God will bring sinners to Christ and that the signs of true conversion will follow. We are heralds assigned to preach a message, not salesmen charged to market a product.
Effectual calling and irresistible grace remind us of God’s sovereign saving purpose, even as we take up our task as witnesses. By His Word and Spirit, God is pleased to call sinners away from their sin and to Christ. Their hearts of stone are turned into hearts of flesh, and, drawn to Christ, they come willingly and freely. They now desire Christ, and will have no rest until they answer the call of the gospel. The grace that works within them, accomplishing this transformation, is not their own work but the gift of God.
This is our confidence. Even the one who appears most resistant may one day be drawn to the gospel. As John Calvin reminds us, “Since the conversion of a man is in the hand of God, who knows whether they who today appear unteachable shall be suddenly changed by the power of God, into other men?” Thus, Calvin explained, our task is “sowing and watering” while we wait for the increase from God.
The denial of irresistible grace leads to a human-centered understanding of the gospel, produces pride in the hearts of sinners, and encourages manipulation in evangelism. We are commissioned as witnesses to the gospel, preaching and teaching the Word of God—all the while confident that the Divine Evangelist is seeking and saving the lost.