About a week ago, someone retweeted a quote by Kevin DeYoung, a Reformed pastor, author, and blogger at (sigh) The Gospel Coalition into my timeline. He said:
The sovereignty of God and the mystery of election is the great motivation for missions and evangelism
I just got back from spending a weekend with my Confirmation students on their annual retreat. The theme of this retreat is always evangelism. We talk about the Story of God and His people, Israel, the Story of Jesus, the students’ own personal stories, and we learn how we can effectively share this Story with others. In this entire weekend, focused on missions and evangelism, do you know how many times I mentioned the “sovereignty of God” and “the mystery of election”? Zero. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong. But I don’t think I am.
You see, if I was to truly hold to a Calvinist perspective on God’s sovereignty (that He decides and renders certain all that happens) and election (that God predetermines some individuals for salvation and other individuals for damnation) then I don’t think I would be motivated to evangelize at all. People are either The Elect or they are The Reprobate. Evangelism, in this framework, seems more like playing roulette than anything else (“Five hundred bucks on elect!”). I don’t know who is elect, you don’t know who is elect, so anytime you share God’s word with someone, you are rolling the dice that God has elected them to salvation. If someone is elect, God will save them no matter what I do. If they are not, then they will be damned no matter what I do. If God’s sovereignty and election are what was supposed to motivate me to evangelize, then I probably wouldn’t.
And why not? There is too much dissonance between motive/belief and behavior for my comfort. My actions in evangelism would to some extent betray what I believe about how salvation works.
So, while I didn’t talk much about sovereignty or election on my retreat, I did talk quite a bit about something else: love. Love is our motivation for missions. Love for God as revealed to us in His Son Jesus Christ. Love for our neighbor, who is missing out on the whole point of existence by not being in a relationship with the Creator. Love is our motivation, and if that’s not enough, then you are doing it wrong. It wouldn’t matter to me if someone was elect or not; if I loved them, I would do all that I could to help them know Jesus.
I believe love is our motivation for mission because it was God’s motivation for His mission in the world. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son…” Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The reason God’s sovereignty and the mystery of election are not proper motivations for missions and evangelism is because they aren’t even God’s motivation for reaching into this world and rescuing us.
If love is our motivation, then we will be more inclined to live a life of selfless devotion to God and our neighbor in seeking to be God’s messengers of love, hope, forgiveness, and salvation in this world. Here, there is no dissonance between motivation/belief and action.
We need to remember that God is love. If we are not about love, then we are not about what God is about. If we are not motivated to missions by his love for us and this world and our love for our neighbor, then we are not about what God is about.