Fishing For Fish That Have Already Been Caught – How the doctrines of grace freed me to “go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Here is a typical conversation between a monergist and a synergist.

(If you have no idea what monergism and synergism means watch this video and then come back and read the article.)

“I believe in reformed theology.”

“So what does that mean?”

“Well, essentially it means that God is sovereign over every thing, including our salvation.”

“So God chooses who is saved?”

“Yes, God has chosen a specific group of people to save called the elect, not because of anything they have done to earn His favor, but simply by His good pleasure and in His glorious grace.

And what is the number one objection at this point?

“If that is true then why evangelize?”

I’d like to answer that question by sharing how the doctrines of grace have freed me to “go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

A Summary of Reformed Theology

But before I can really explain to you how the doctrines of grace gave me a passion for evangelism I need to set the foundation of my theological perspective. If you don’t know what the doctrines of grace or reformed theology is then you might be encouraged that I’ve grown in my zeal for the lost but won’t really know what my theology has to do with it.

The doctrines of grace have often been referred to as Calvinism, named after John Calvin, the famous reformer who wrote the classic work Institutes of the Christian Religion. But I tend to stay away from that term because I believe it’s polarizing. First of all it leads people to believe that those who hold to the doctrines of grace do so only because Calvin taught them and not because they are first and foremost put forth by God’s Word. And second it leads people to believe that John Calvin was the first one to come up with these teachings on predestination and election, which is also historically inaccurate. So I tend to categorize them as either the doctrines of grace or reformed theology.

The doctrines of grace have been most commonly summarized within the acronym TULIP, also known as the five points of Calvinism (created first at the Synod of Dort which gathered in the Netherlands in 1618-1619).

Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability, Original Sin and Radical Corruption)
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Redemption)
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

Reformed theology believes that because of the fall of mankind in Adam we, as fallen human beings, are unable to respond to God in a salvific way (total depravity). Therefore in order for anyone to be saved God must do the saving entirely. So before the foundation of the world God the Father sovereignly chose to save a specific people called the elect. He did this not because He looked down the corridors of time and saw that they chose Him (unconditional election). God the Son then went to die on the cross to purchase the salvation of His elect, His sheep, His Bride, His chosen people (limited atonement). Then God by the Holy Spirit irresistibly draws and regenerates His elect (irresistible grace) and then keeps them,preserves them and causes them to grow in holiness and godliness until the day of the Lord (perseverance of the saints).

I came to embrace these teachings because I found them taught clearly in the scriptures and believe they lead to the most consistent interpretation of God’s Word. I surrendered to the grace of God in my salvation and have since been blessed with a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty and overwhelmed with a supernatural sense of peace.

But one of the most shocking outcomes of having embraced reformed theology was how it ignited my zeal for evangelism. I found this very intriguing because when I opposed the teachings of Calvinism this was always one of my objections. I’d like to tell you how fishing for fish that have already been caught has ignited my desire to reach the lost.

Fishing For Fish That Have Already Been Caught

“If God has already chosen who will be saved and there is no way to stop God from saving them, then why evangelize?”

This is a very common and typical rejection of Calvinistic soteriology. There is a fear that if someone embraces the doctrines of grace they will become the “frozen chosen.” They will somehow lose their zeal to reach the lost and sit around waiting for God to do all the work. This is actually a distortion of true biblical Calvinism called hyper-calvinism and is to be rejected. Hyper-calvinists deny the free offer of the gospel believing it is wrong to preach to someone who may not be elect. Typically hyper-calvinists state that if God wants to save someone He will do it and we shouldn’t get involved in the process. But proper teaching of the doctrines of grace and of it’s scriptural basis doesn’t allow for that kind of thinking.

So I’d like to show you how reformed theology actually empowers one to evangelize and share the gospel biblically. I’d like to show you how fishing for fish that have already been caught is one of the most amazing privileges given to us by God.

The Method Matters

The logical conclusion of Arminian theology is that God desires everyone to be saved and that every person has the ability to come to Christ and receive salvation because of prevenient grace (grace that comes before). So God has already done all that He can do to work salvation out in all of mankind and He can do no more. The responsibility then to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ is placed on the Christian who has been commanded to share the gospel. The final determining factor that some are saved and others are not then is not God’s doing but the free will choice of man.

On the flip side Calvinists argue the Bible teaches that due to the Fall our wills are enslaved to sin, which makes us unable to come to Christ and receive salvation because we are unwilling to come to Christ and receive salvation. We love our sin and are by nature enemies of God. Therefore the reason some are saved and others are not is God’s doing and ultimately comes down to His free sovereign choice.

With that in mind let me tell you one thing embracing reformed theology has done for me in the area of evangelism.

One of the first benefits of adopting reformed theology I discovered was the boldness it brought to my method of communicating the gospel message. Before I was always scared of offending someone (if I shared at all) so I would be very careful not to mention hell or judgment (sliding in the occasional “for the wages of sin is death”), or anything else that could possibly come across as offensive. I was always afraid of how people might respond so I would often befriend first in hopes that I would get the chance to share the gospel some other time in the future. I was trying to make Christ more appealing and attractive to the sinner.

This kind of method makes sense if the person you are trying to reach has an innate ability to accept or reject Christ. This kind of method makes sense if God had already done all He can do to save the person you are sharing the gospel with. This is why we have churches that try to appeal to unbelievers, bumper stickers that say “Try Jesus,” and gospel presentations that speak only of God’s love for sinners and how He has a wonderful plan for their lives. Because from a synergistic worldview the determining factor of a sinners conversion doesn’t depend on a supernatural work of God, it comes down to the evangelist’s ability to make Christ appealing (performance) and communicate the lost’s need for Him, and ultimately is determined by the persons free will choice.

But when you realize that all men are spiritually dead and must be regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit before they will ever come to Christ, the burden and responsibility to convert someone falls off your shoulders. The responsibility we have as ambassadors of Christ is to proclaim the good news of the gospel as clearly and as biblically as possible. This means we are to include the warning of judgement, we are to include a clear and direct focus and explanation of the sinfulness of man, we are to talk about eternal condemnation and hell, and we are to call people to repentance and faith.

In so many of our evangelistic methods we capitulate to the rebel sinner, we make them the judge of their Creator and let them decide whether Christ is good enough or not. But when you open up the pages of scripture and read the way Christ and the Apostles preached, you find that there was often no softness or appeal to how much better the listeners life could be. It was a bold proclamation of truth followed by a call to repentance and faith. This approach to evangelism is hardly followed if you don’t believe the person in front of you truly is a wretched sinner who has the wrath of God abiding on them who rightly deserves condemnation and damnation for their rebellion against their Creator. Simply put evangelism from a reformed perspective presupposes the Lordship and authority of Jesus Christ and preaches the gospel accordingly.

The gospel is not a suggestion to well-meaning people who want to add a little bit of church to their lives, it is a command that God uses to effectually call His elect and heap judgement upon the unbeliever.

But if it is our belief that man’s free will choice is the defining factor between his salvation or damnation, we will continue to see many churches and evangelism methods water down the message to make it more appealing and easier to digest. Reformed theology freed me from this bondage and emboldened me to speak the whole counsel of God knowing that ultimately it is God who gives spiritual life not the efforts of man. So yes the method matters, but the method must always include the entirety of the message.

I would argue that not only does reformed theology encourage evangelism, but it also promotes biblical methods of evangelism.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” -1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Your Labor Is Not In Vain

I have personally found great contentment in my evangelism efforts because my focus is not on success calculated by numbers but on my faithfulness to the Lord. So none of my time preaching on the street, passing out gospel tracts or sitting down for coffee and conversation is wasted. God redeems all of it and uses it all for His glory.

If I go door to door and no one gives their life to Christ, my labor was not in vain. If I pass out gospel tracts at a local event and many are thrown away or torn up right in front of me, my labor was not in vain. If I preach an evangelistic sermon and nobody comes to Christ, my labor was not in vain. If I go preach on the street and face extreme hostility, my labor was not in vain.

Yet the natural implications of Arminian theology would lead me to believe in those situations that not only did I fail, but so did God.

If God has the same desire to save everyone, has already done all He can to save everyone, is doing all He can to save everyone, Christ has already died for their sins, but they reject the gospel, the weight and burden falls on me as the evangelist.

“Maybe I didn’t communicate it well enough, maybe my approach was a little too forward, maybe I shouldn’t talk about their sin as much, maybe I should’ve approached it differently, maybe I should make Jesus sound more loving and talk about how He makes our lives so much better.”

“Sorry I let you down God, I’ll do better next time.”

But when you know that God has ordained the ends (the salvation of the elect) as well as the means (the effectual calling of the elect through the preaching of the gospel) you are free to boldly proclaim and share the good news in love, knowing that whatever results you get they are the intended results and God gets all the glory. That is a gospel of power, not a suggestion but a command.

We can have confidence when we go out into the mission field or on to the streets to evangelize because God has promised that He will redeem a people from every tribe, tongue and nation. We can have confidence in our evangelism because Christ has promised that He will build His Church. God is the one who saves yet He gives us the privilege of participating in His redemptive plan. And when God is the one who saves we can be sure that our labor is not in vain.

You’re fishing for fish that have already been caught, so when you catch them you give glory to God knowing the only reason you have any in the net is because Christ told you to throw it to the other side of the boat.

“The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” -1 Corinthians 15:56-58

Calvinists Evangelize Too!

 We know that a common objection to the doctrines of grace are that they take away our responsibility and our passion to evangelize the lost. But historically Calvinism has initiated some of the great missions and evangelistic movements of the Church. Many notable missionaries have been passionate about evangelism because they believed in the sovereignty of God in salvation. Names like George Whitefield, William Carey and John Eliot come to mind.
Therefore the wonderful truths of the doctrines of grace can be argued have been a catalyst and not a barrier to reaching the lost.
It’s the only theological system that guarantees success in evangelistic efforts and it’s the only theological system that puts God on our side when we hit the streets to share the gospel message.
The reason many synergists make the objection that Calvinism eradicates our responsibility to evangelize is because they neglect to truly understand what the Calvinist actually believes and they come to quick conclusions based on assumptions and falsehoods. Their objections could be remedied simply by clearing up the misconceptions the Arminian has about Calvinism on the issue of evangelism.
  1. God not only ordains the ends but also the means. Therefore God doesn’t simply regenerate people apart from any act on behalf of man, but He uses the means of His people preaching and sharing the gospel to effectually call the elect. So the purpose of preaching and sharing the gospel is essential to the Lord’s redemptive plan. He uses us and He gives us the privilege of participating in His sovereign work, and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing someone come to Christ.
  2. God has commanded us to evangelize. What more can be said? If we are going to have a high view of scripture and the God who inspired it, if we are going to be doers of the Word and not just hearers, then when the Bible tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” then we do that because Christ is not only our Savior but our Lord and we are to obey His commandments. 

Closing

I pray this article has benefited you in understanding how to reconcile evangelism with the doctrines of grace (Calvinism). If anything I hope this begins a time of searching and study, maybe even some conversations about the nature of man and how salvation works. I’d like to leave you with some words from the Apostle Paul who was the 1st Century churches greatest and most passionate missionary. This is what drove Paul through all of his many trials.

“Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” -2 Timothy 2:8-10

Amen.

So get out there and start fishing for fish that have already been caught.

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