Believe in Particular Redemption? Then Evangelize and Send Missionaries with Abandon
Everyone has heard it. “If you’re a Calvinist, then you don’t believe in evangelism and missions.” Even though the stereotype is easy to disprove from church history—names like George Whitfield, William Carey, and Lottie Moon immediately come to mind—the assumption remains widespread and popular. Somehow, if you believe that God is sovereign in salvation, you can’t take the Great Commission seriously, and if it happens that you do (as with Whitfield, Carey, Moon, and a host of others), your commitment to evangelism and mission must somehow be despite your Calvinism. It couldn’t possibly be because of it.
If this is true of Reformed theology in general, then it’s especially true of the doctrine of particular redemption. In the popular non-Reformed imagination, this represents the nadir of anti-evangelistic thinking. After all, if you can’t tell unconverted sinners that Jesus died for them, then how can you share the gospel at all?
Both missions history and historical theology demonstrate the fallacy of these assumptions. However, the purpose of this article isn’t to argue for particular redemption. John Owen made an exhaustive biblical case for the doctrine in his magisterial The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, summarized brilliantly and made accessible to the modern reader in J.I. Packer’s introductory essay in the Banner of Truth edition. Nor is it to prove that it’s possible to share the gospel within the framework of particular redemption. A simple survey of the evangelistic sermons in the New Testament reveals that not a single one tells the unconverted that Jesus died for them. If the apostles could proclaim the gospel in a manner consistent with particular redemption every time they engaged in evangelism, then it certainly is possible today.
PARTICULAR REDEMPTION ENCOURAGES & IMPELS
But the purpose of this article is more radical than that. After all, belief in particular redemption doesn’t just allowfor the possibility of evangelism and missions. Properly understood from Scripture, belief in this doctrine encourages and even impels the people of God to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Particular redemption is shorthand for the biblical teaching that Jesus actually procured the salvation of the sinners who would be saved. In other words, Jesus didn’t just die to make my salvation possible. His death actually, particularly, and infallibly saved me—and everyone else who would ever be saved. He was a substitute, and he died personally, specifically, and effectually for all of my sins.
Then, in keeping with the Father’s choice and the Son’s redemption, God the Holy Spirit effectually called me (along with the entire multitude of the redeemed), granting me new birth and the gift of faith in Jesus. Two elements in this glorious plan of salvation need to be stressed.
THE PLAN OF SALVATION
First, the sovereign God who decreed the salvation of his people also decreed the means by which this salvation would be accomplished. These means include an incredible host of providential circumstances, such as where I was born, whom I met as I walked through life, and what I read. He ordained all those things, and all of them were essential to my access to the gospel. However, the irreplaceable element in those means, for me and all the redeemed, was the proclamation of the gospel. The God who chose me and ransomed me also commanded his people to declare his good news to sinners indiscriminately, and he inseparably connected the inward call of the Holy Spirit with the outward call of the gospel message. You can’t separate particular redemption and effectual calling from evangelism.
The second element that needs to be stressed is the intentional scope of the people God redeemed through the substitutionary death of Jesus: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Two chapters on, this company of those who were particularly and definitively redeemed by the blood of Jesus are described as a multitude no one could count from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. In other words, the efficacious sacrifice of Jesus was vast and global in both its intention and its effect. That has been the plan of God from Genesis onward. There will be evangelistic fruit from every people and nation on earth because the Son particularly redeemed sinners from every people and nation on earth.
These two elements together are the best possible encouragement for missions and evangelism. We have a glorious gospel to take to the people around us and to the ends of the earth. As God himself in human flesh, Jesus lived and died as our particular substitute who effectively secured salvation for us in the company of a global multitude of redeemed sinners. He rose again from the dead, the eternal victor over sin, death, and hell. He commanded his people to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations. All who repent and believe will be saved.
NO HEART IS TOO HARD
You see, the fruit of our evangelistic efforts isn’t dependent on our cleverness or persuasiveness, but on the sovereign power of God, who doesn’t just offer salvation, but actually saves sinners. There is no place too hard and no people group too resistant. For many, many missionaries (like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Lottie Moon), missionary work among seemingly resistant people was only possible because the death of Jesus actually and definitely saved particular sinners among those people, and the sovereignty of God was one of their strongest motivations in undertaking such a task. That remains true for countless missionaries today.
Furthermore, because the global scope of Jesus’ redeeming work is an irremovable element in the atonement, trusting in the work of Christ connects a believer irreversibly to the global purposes of God. If you claim to believe in particular redemption, but you’re not somehow engaged in sending missionaries to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, then you haven’t really understood what particular redemption means.
From Genesis to Revelation, God makes it clear that he intends to take a people for himself from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. The death and resurrection of Jesus efficaciously made that certain. We are saved to the praise of his glory, and he has ordained that we declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. If you’re not engaged in evangelism and missions, then you don’t really believe in particular redemption.