Romans 10:14-17, “14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[a] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Questions are raised nearly every time the biblical, Augustinian doctrine of election is presented, many having to do with divine justice, human free will, and other matters. To conclude our brief study of the biblical doctrine of predestination, we will consider one last question that people often ask when they hear that God, out of the good pleasure of His will alone, has chosen only some for salvation. This is the question of the necessity of evangelism. If the Lord has chosen those who will be saved, and if they are certain to be saved, what is the point of evangelism? Does not this teaching on predestination mean that we do not have to preach the gospel because God is going to save His elect anyway?
The simplest response is that we do have to preach the gospel, and we have to do so because the Lord has commanded us to preach the gospel. After all, in Matthew 28:18–20, Jesus commands His people to go into all the world and preach the gospel, making disciples of every nation. No one can hold to the Augustinian, or Calvinistic, doctrine of election without also believing in the sovereignty of God. He is the King of creation, with full authority to command our obedience. What He orders us to do, we must do, regardless of whether we fully understand it.
We evangelize because our Creator commands us to evangelize, but that is not the only reason we engage in evangelism and world missions. The doctrine of predestination means that the Lord does not ordain the end (salvation) without also ordaining the means to that end (the way in which people will receive salvation). God’s plan is comprehensive. He works out all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), and the counsel of His will has determined that He will use His people to reach the lost and call them into His kingdom. He has decided that in the ordinary course of events, people will be saved through the explanation of the gospel on the part of Christians.
The necessity of preaching is found in many places in Scripture, including today’s passage, in which the Apostle Paul notes that the salvation that comes through faith in Christ alone will not be extended without the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:14–15). God sends His gospel to the world through the church and its preachers, teachers, and evangelists. This is a great privilege—to be used of the Lord in redeeming people for all eternity.
Being used by God to reach the world and call the elect to faith is a great privilege. Of course, the Lord will save all those whom He has chosen, which is good news because it means our outreach failures cannot derail God’s plan to save all His elect. But this should not make us complacent. When we preach the gospel, we are participating in the greatest rescue mission in all of history, namely, the salvation of sinners. What could be more motivating than that?
Saving faith is a gift from our Creator Himself, given only to His elect, who are certain to persevere until the end of life. Texts such as John 6:44 and Ephesians 2:1–10 reveal this precious truth, which is why the Westminster Confession of Faith stresses the work of the Spirit in bringing us to faith (14.1). Yet this is not all that the Westminster Confession says about the supernatural character of faith. God most often works through ordinary means, and so He does not usually give His elect faith apart from certain means that He has established. As Westminster Confession 14.1 says, faith “is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.”
Note the emphasis on Scripture as the means by which faith is wrought. The confession acknowledges that the teaching and preaching of Scripture are the ways that the Holy Spirit works faith in us. God’s work of regeneration is required if we are to believe (John 3:3–8; Eph. 1:3–10; 2:1–10), yet He calls us to faith through the preaching of the gospel. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Our Lord saves us through what Paul refers to as a foolish message (1 Cor. 1:21), namely, “Christ crucified,” a truth foreshadowed in the Old Testament and made plain in the New Testament (vv. 22–24). When the Word of God is proclaimed faithfully, God’s Spirit accompanies it to change the hearts of His chosen and make them receptive to the message (Ps. 119:18; 2 Peter 1:21). He illumines the meaning of His Word, penetrates our souls with the knowledge of our sin and our only hope of salvation in Christ, and elicits our faith in the Savior.
If we would have strong faith, then, the most important thing we can do is hear the preaching and teaching of God’s Word as often as we can. As the Word is preached in corporate worship, the Spirit generates faith in those who do not yet believe and strengthens the faith of those who are already saved. But God also calls people to faith and builds them up when God’s Word is taught in other settings: at home, in the classroom, in Bible studies, in ordinary conversation, and elsewhere. Jesus strengthened the faith of His disciples by teaching them the living and active Word of God (Luke 17:5–6; Heb. 4:12–13). Today, He uses the same Word to make us mature in the faith.
Without the proper diet, our bodies will be weak and sickly. The same is true of our faith. If we do not nourish it regularly, we will be tossed about by every wind of doubt, and we will fall into sin more readily. We feed our faith by hearing the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. This is the proper diet that the Lord has ordained for our souls. Let us take as many opportunities as we can to hear the Word of God so that we will grow strong in our faith.
How God Creates and Sustains Our FaithDefining Evangelism, Copyright (2021), Ligonier Ministries.