At the same time Scripture exalts the sovereignty of God in salvation and regularly speaks of our need for God to grant us spiritual life (see John 1:12-13; 6:44; Acts 11:18; Eph 2:1-5; Col 2:12-13; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25-26), it calls us to believe in Christ and holds us responsible to do so.
Hyper-Calvinists typically argue that in order for a person to truly respond to the biblical exhortations to repent and believe, that person must have some confidence that they are elect in order to know that they have a warrant to believe in Christ. Specifically, a person should make sure they can discern the work of the Holy Spirit in their life before they put their faith in Christ.
Although this may sound like theological hair-splitting, to affirm that someone must have confidence they are elect before they put faith in Christ is actually a deadly teaching and must be rejected. Nowhere does the New Testament tell us that we must meet a condition—like knowing that we are elect—before we can believe in Christ. Scripture makes it clear that it is man’s duty to believe. Consider these calls to salvation:
John 3:16-18: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”
Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Mark 1:15: “The time is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel!”
Romans 4:5: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
1 John 3:23: “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
Texts like those quoted above could be multiplied many times over (see Matt 3:2; 4:17; John 6:29; 8:24; 14:1; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20). The point here is to say that the Scripture does not encourage people to look inside themselves to see whether or not they are elect; rather, the Bible calls people to turn outside themselves and believe in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
In his excellent book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Walter Marshall warns us that we cannot have certainty of our election until we have exercised faith. To make a knowledge of election a pre-requisite to faith, therefore, is to reverse the entire order of salvation.
We cannot have a certain knowledge of our election to eternal life before we do believe; it is a thing hidden in the unsearchable counsel of God, until it be manifest by our effectual calling and believing on Christ. The apostle knew the election of the Thessalonians, by finding the evidence of their faith, that the gospel came to them not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; and that they had received the word in much affliction, with joy in the Holy Ghost (1 Thess 1:4, 5, 6). . . . Therefore, we must believe on Christ before we know our election, or else we shall never know it, and never believe. And it is no presumption for us to trust confidently in Christ, for everlasting life, before we have any good evidence of our election; because God, who cannot lie, hath made a general promise, That whosoever believe on him shall not be ashamed, without making the least difference among them that perform this duty (Rom 10:11-12) (140).
What is particularly helpful in Marshall’s quote is that he draws us away from thinking about our election until we have exercised faith. If we believe we must have knowledge of our election before we believe, we will, as he says, never believe. Hyper-calvinism, therefore, is a damnable doctrinal mistake, for it can actually keep people from believing in Christ for salvation.
We must be careful, therefore, to not allow hyper-Calvinistic tendencies to creep into our preaching and evangelism. When it does, our evangelistic impulse will be muted, and we will turn into stuffy, selfish theologians with big heads but no heart for the lost. John Frame wisely comments:
I have, again, heard Calvinists say that our goal in preaching should be only to spread the Word, not to bring conversion, since that is God’s work. The result is often a kind of preaching that covers biblical content, but unbiblically fails to plead with sinners to repent and believe. Let us be clear on this point: the goal of evangelistic preaching is conversion. And the goal of all preaching is a heart response of repentance and faith (Frame, Systematic Theology, 812n6)
Because we trust in the sovereignty of God, we do not need to resort to psychological manipulation or to arguing people into conversion. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul is our model, and he labored to bring about conversions. Consider Paul’s language:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9:19-22; emphasis added)
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20; emphasis added)
Yes, man is dead in sins and trespasses. Yes, God is entirely sovereign over salvation. But don’t let these truths keep you from freely and passionately calling all people to come to Jesus Christ for salvation and warning them what will happen if they don’t. To neglect the latter because of your commitment to the former is to depart from the Scripture and the example of the apostles.