Jeremy writes in to ask, “In light of the doctrine of predestination, how are we to go about day-to-day evangelism? I used to tell people that they are dearly loved by God — “Jesus loves you!” — but if they are not one of the elect, then is it honest or right to tell them this?” So Pastor John, how do you handle the language of God’s love for sinners generally, in light of reformed soteriology?
It is honest to say to the world, “God loves you,” because I think that is what John 3:16 says and means: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So the love of John 3:16 is an indiscriminate love that consists in a bona fide offer of his Son to every person for their receiving.
God’s Electing Love
And Matthew 5:44–45 says, “Love your enemies . . . so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good.” So there are numerous places where God’s universal love is spoken of, so it is not wrong to say to people, “God loves you.”
But here is what has to be clarified as far as biblical soteriology goes. He doesn’t love everyone in the very same way. He has set his electing love on some freely without any of us deserving it, and these will believe. Read Acts 13:48: “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” So the love of God in their case is a specific and particular love of drawing them to himself. He doesn’t have that love for everybody, or everybody would be saved.
Preach to Everyone
So in view of those distinctions, my answer to the question, “How do we evangelize?” is this: We love people by telling them the best news in all the world. And what is that? You are meeting with somebody, and you want to tell them the good news. You want to evangelize them.
You say, “The God against whom you have committed treason freely offers complete amnesty. He will commute your death sentence. He will forgive your treasonous intentions and actions and feelings. He will put away his just and holy anger against you. And not only that, he will adopt you into his royal family and make you an heir with his Son. And lest you doubt that this is possible for him to do this — to simply justify the wicked — he put forward his Son to bear the death sentence and duty that you have failed to perform if you would have this. He raised him from the dead in order to show that the death of his Son was sufficient. Now, he offers you all of this through his Son. It is all free. You can’t earn it. You can’t deserve it. The condition is to lay down the arms of treason, the arms of rebellion, and bow in humble, helpless dependence on free mercy from the King and receive his full pardon and amnesty and acceptance.”
“The love of John 3:16 is an indiscriminate love that consists in a bona fide offer of his Son to every person for their receiving.”
So we preach indiscriminately to everybody. We say that to everybody. We don’t try to figure out who the elect are and preach to them. That is the error of hyper-Calvinism historically. We offer Christ. We offer Christ and all that Christ is. We say, “If you will have Christ — I am offering you Christ and all of his benefits.” And then we pray for the people that their hearts would be open and the heart of stone be taken out and the heart of believing flesh would be put in (see Ezekiel 36:26), and we plead with them, “Be reconciled to God.”
And then God does the calling. God gives the faith. God overcomes the resistance. God takes out the heart of stone. It is our job to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ and to offer them freely to everybody.