Nothing is difference in the potential path into eternity before the unbeliever and the unbeliever, nor the absence of any foreknowledge by the believer when presenting the Gospel, alters the believer’s requirement to evangelize. The absolute certainty of eternal separation from God and righteous judgment that awaits the unsaved, combined with the inability to fail in their part of a process that is controlled by the Lord and not the presenter, should fuel the believer’s resolve.
We can not know who was marked by the Father before the beginning of time to be among the Lord’s people (Ephesians 1:4). We can only know that that result is already a given for the Lord and that he has charged us to preach his message as part of the process. Our mandate does not include second guessing that process. Our mandate as believers only includes simple obedience. Further, Scripture states that the Gospel must be heard by many throughout the world, elect and unelect alike, that the Glory and power of God are demonstrated in all nations (Mark 13:10). It is interesting to note that this does not included every person, but that is another issue. All believers are charged to proclaim the Gospel universally, regardless of the outcome they might observer in any individual recipient. The outcome in any recipient is in the Lord’s hands alone, already decided and awaiting only the action of the Spirit, not ours in any way. This brings great freedom in presenting the message.
â€œFor the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.â€ (italics added) 1 Peter 4:6. Many in both camps must hear the Good News in demonstration of Godâ€™s sovereignty. Again, the outcome is a completely separate issue from the preaching of the Gospel by the believer. Believers are charged to act universally, in blind faith and trust, leaving everything subsequent to that to the Lord.
On a one to one basis, what of the way the Gospel is presented? Does it really matter? I propose that it does.
Even though the Lord can and does use all presentations effectively, articulate or rough, accurate or inaccurate, within his preordained intent, from the believer’s viewpoint is it nonetheless important to present the Gospel completely and accurately. As forthright messengers that must mean a presentation that is without knowing misrepresentation. Specifically, and taking into consideration that one can only present something to the degree of one’s own understanding, presenting the Gospel in a way that implies that God will provide salvation to all or without cost or condition would not reflect the specifications of Scripture, and would not be honest. Even more, if the Message is presented in a manner that implies that the Lord’s plan for salvation definitely applies to a particular unbeliever, when we can not know if they are among the elect, is unacceptable because it willfully misrepresents the Scriptural specifications of the Message. Such a misrepresentation does not reflect upon the recipient (aside from possibly acting as a temporary stumbling block), since their path has already been preordained by the Lord and they are the passive agent in the exchange in this regard. But a Gospel presentation with a universal guarantee or applicability attached to it is not the truth, and reflects upon the presenter.
What the big deal? Let’s look at an example for clarity.
On the assumption that one can not know whether a believer is among the elect and therefor whether they will embrace the Gospel, one can not honestly say to any unbeliever that Christ died for their sins. The Atonement is particular, applying to an individual only if they are one who accepts the Lord. They are only able to do that if they are already marked as His and subsequently touched by the Spirit, neither of which has anything to do with, or can be know by, the evangelist. Specifically, if they do not accept the Lord, and remain among the unsaved, then the presentation would be a lie. Further, to give any encouragement that they might be somehow covered implicitly and saved while not accepting Christ does them a serious disservice and possible harm.
Consequently, stating that “Christ died for your sins” or similar, unequivocally, likely misrepresents the truth and the Gospel in many cases (unless you are a Universalist, but we won’t go there). It potentially misleads that person. This is clearly unacceptable for a believer. And beyond that, it is completely unnecessary.
One clergyman commented that this sticking point made the presentation of the Gospel inconvenient. He wanted to be able to say to everyone that Christ died for them, making the Gospel as welcoming as possible. Well, what can one answer to that? Inconvenient maybe, but reality. To paraphrase another Bible teacher “That’s what the Book says. Get over it!”. The Gospel must stand in presentation as itself, in truth. Willfully massaging the Gospel into misrepresentation for ease of presentation is not part of the mandate. Harsh? I don’t think so. Just a dose of reality. And silly when it is so trivial to present the message truthfully and accurately without alienating the recipient.
So what is one to do? The answer is actually very, very simple.
Christ died for sinners. That is absolute truth. He died for the specific sinners who accept and embrace Him as Lord. Again, simple and true. If the unbeliever will truly embrace Christ as Lord, repent of and seek forgiveness for their sins and surrender their life to Him, thereby accepting the Gospel message, then His Atonement was indeed for them. A presentation from that perspective is completely accurate, yet does not misrepresent the situation of the individual who will not accept. Specifically it does not in any way encourage them that they are among those for whom Christ sacrificed or that they might somehow slip through irregardless. This approach is no more difficult, no more obscure, not excluding in any overt way that puts one off, and it states the truth. What could be simpler?
But I hear a voice from the back saying that possibly the listener won’t find this presentation welcoming enough and might not accept it. The answer is simple. The reaction to the message in the recipient is the Lord’s domain. It has nothing to do with you.
Just semantics? Superficially it might seem so, as with all matters of language, but what is represented is not trivial. As such, it is significant.
How to accomplish this is the next question. There are many ways, but I would simply ask why one would not use the only indisputable, divinely inspired tool that the Lord left us, and in fact suggested for this purpose – Scripture. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17. With Scripture there is no possible misrepresentation, as long as we personally stay out of the way. It is the tool of choice according to Scripture itself It was clearly designed for the Spirits use is this regard and can not fail in the Spirit’s hands. If the Spirit does not move, then movement in the recipient is not appropriate at that time, irrespective of the presenter. That is the simple solution, but there are also other approaches that represent that Gospel accurately.
Though we have been discussion a small but important piece of the Gospel message, it should be mentioned that any presentation must be of the complete message, particularly the repentance and cost requirements. However, that has been assumed in discussing this narrower issue.
The key is honest and complete presentation of the Gospel, without unnecessary human implications that may make some presenters more comfortable but are not always accurate and may mislead, even possibly acting as a stumbling block for the recipient.
Soli Deo Gloria