Imagine that life is like a huge conference at a convention center. When you are born, it is like walking into the convention center and registering for the conference. As often happens at these large conferences, everyone who comes into the conference is given a backpack containing a bunch of items and advertisements, but included in the backpack at this conference is a raffle ticket. Unbeknownst to the attendees, all raffle winners are going to win an all-expenses paid vacation to Hawaii. Also in the backpack is a legal notification from the conference planners that all who attend this conference will owe a 10 trillion dollar debt to be paid before they leave the conference. The fine print on the back of the notification says that if any conference attendee attempts to leave without paying this debt, they’ll be immediately detained until the debt is paid off, but since those detainees will have no ability from prison to contact anyone, it is practically impossible that once imprisoned the debt will ever be repaid. However, at the bottom of the fine print, there is an exception clause printed, which states that any person found holding a winning raffle ticket will not only win the all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii, but the conference planners will also forgive their debt, freeing them from the prospect of life in prison and allowing them to go on the free vacation.
According to your view of salvation (assuming the trip to Hawaii represents salvation and the penalty for not paying the 10 trillion dollar debt represents eternity in hell), the raffle could work in one of several ways:
- [Option 1] Prior to the conference, raffle numbers have been selected at random, and, then during the conference the winners are located by those sent out to find them and notified they’ve won. The conference planners have so arranged the actions and steps of those sent out to notify the winners (the attendees who were randomly chosen to win prior to the event) so that they will be guaranteed to cross paths. Additionally the conference planners have removed the hatred that the eventual winners naturally have toward not only the idea of going to Hawaii, but also toward the conference planners themselves, so that when presented with the possibility of going to Hawaii, they now jump at the chance. The conference planners have decided that 25% of the people will be winners. Their names are recorded on the winners list before they’re even notified and it does not matter whether they subsequently lose the winning ticket or even leave the conference early – they still get the prize vacation.
- [Option 2] During the conference, an authorized representative of the conference planners is sent out into the crowd – and made to look like a regular attendee in every way – carrying his backpack just like everyone else. The reason the conference planners have sent him out into the crowd is so that he can tell as many people as he can about the available prize and that they need to turn in their raffle ticket at the front – they’re guaranteed to be a winner of the vacation! There is no drawing – everyone is a winner! They’re informed that there’s no limit to the number of winners and although this appears to be too good to be true, it’s not a hoax! While telling them about the free prize, he also mentions the legal notification contained in the backpack that warns them about the debt they owe. Each person who takes him seriously and goes to the front desk to check without exception finds out that they’ve won the prize and the debt has been cancelled. After a few winners have claimed their prize, the authorized representative leaves the convention floor and goes back to the office where the conference planners are staying. There they have a whole bank of security cameras (including an audio feed) and they can watch the whole conference from all angles. As each person goes to the front desk to claim their prize, they are encouraged to tell others that the prize is available to everyone if they just bring their ticket up to the front – no general announcement is being made, people will only find out either through previous winners telling them or by browsing the brochures located at various places in the convention center. Sadly, as the winners go out onto the convention floor and tell the other attendees about the free prize and the cancellation of the debt, not many people believe them! Some people just leave the raffle ticket in their backpack and never check it, others say they’re going to check the ticket but get too distracted doing the other activities at the conference and never get around to checking it, but still others are so against the idea that they locate the raffle ticket and legal notification in their backpack and rip them up and throw them away! Those that do win the prize go back onto the conference floor and find some of the other winners and celebrate their good fortune, but the others who don’t believe there even is a prize or that they even owe a debt just mock the “winners” and tell them how gullible they are.
- [Option 3] The planners of the conference after doing a personality evaluation of each attendee, have determined that there are 25% of attendees who would even be interested in a trip to Hawaii. They’ve arranged it so that when the people in the 25% arrive, they are given the ‘winning tickets’, whereas the rest of the attendees are given losing tickets. The winning tickets are announced over the loud speaker, but only those who are interested in going to Hawaii actually check their raffle ticket to see if they’ve won.
I’m sure there are many other scenarios or facets that could be added here. I’ve certainly not fully elaborated on every point in each scenario. Furthermore, I realize that this example does not fully communicate the nature of the debt owed by each person (sin and rebellion against God). I must confess and it is probably apparent that my view is the second view (and somewhat considering the third view – based on Romans 8:29a), which of course means that I’m not a person who believes in unconditional election and irresistible grace (first view), though I am certainly in fellowship with others who are and respect their position. Hopefully, I’ve not mis-characterized the first view or provided a straw-man – please correct me if I’m wrong!
My question is, if unconditional election and irresistible grace is true, why are evangelism and apologetics needed? I’m fully aware that God commands us to do both (Mat 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16, 1 Peter 3:15, Jude 3, 2 Cor 10:3-5, 2 Tim 2:24-26), but other than God commanding us to do it which is a great reason, is there any reason why one would think it is necessary? I’ve heard Greg Koukl say on his radio program that God not only ordains the ends, but also the means. I do think that is a great answer.
I continue to struggle with this idea of pre-destination, unconditional election, irresistible grace, salvation and how all of that interacts with evangelism and apologetics. I’m aware of the many passages that support pre-destination (such as from Ephesians 1 & 2) and the fact that Jesus supported these ideas heavily in John chapter 6 (John 6:37, 44, 65), John 8:47, 10:27-28 and in Matt 11:27. But, I’m also aware that the Lord does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and that “God our Savior”…”desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4) and that He commands all men to repent (Acts 17:30). If God wants men to repent and to be saved and not perish, and yet all men do not repent and all men are not saved and some do perish, then how is it that grace is “irresistible”? Jesus likewise seemed to indicate that men can choose when He said “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17). He also seems to communicate that the offer of salvation is available to everyone in John 3:16, Mark 16:15-16, Matt 7:7-8, 13-14 and the apostle John says this about Him: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13). Notice that in this passage, belief precedes regeneration. Though the offer is available to everyone, Jesus also seems to indicate, that it is possible to resist it (Luke 13:34, John 5:39-40, and Paul too in Rom 1:18-19). Again, considering this, how is it that grace is “irresistible”?
I don’t have the answers now and most likely won’t in this life. I just praise God that I’m saved and have won the raffle and my un-payable debt has been canceled!