How do we rightly understand the sovereignty of God alongside the responsibility of man? How do we deal with the theological tension between the freely decretive will of God and the freely depraved will of man? Yes, great have been the conversations of our deceased Calvinistic and Arminian fathers. Great remain the arguments between the “frozen chosen” and the “free willy’s” in Christ’s church today.
However, there are times when we ought to jointly rest in the mystery of God and not seek to resolve the tension. Jesus did not find it odd to declare human responsibility, divine sovereignty, and inclusive evangelism side-by-side. Consider Matthew 11:20-30:
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In this text, we see the doctrine of human responsibility. Jesus denounces those who have seen his miracles, heard his message, but have not repented. They are like Sodom and Gomorrah. They are condemned for reading the signs and not responding properly. They are damned for doing what their depraved free wills naturally desire. They are held responsible. Then, a moment later, Jesus encourages his listeners to choose differently. They are to have a change of heart, mind, and pursuit. They have a choice to make. They are to utilize their wills and make a free and unconstrained decision. They have a responsibility to repent and come, and how good it is for those who heed the invitation and find their rest in the Son.
Additionally, we see the doctrine of divine sovereignty. Following the “fire and damnation” portion of Jesus’ address, he transitions to a prayer of adoration and thanksgiving. Jesus gives glory to his Father for his limitless sovereignty in hiding the truth from some and revealing it to others, by means of his ministry, all in accordance with his good pleasure. There is no confusion over what Jesus is saying. Some people get it. Some people miss it. All people are responding in accordance to the sovereign, omnipotent, immutable, and intentional God.
Then we see the doctrine of inclusive evangelism. Jesus longs to see his banquet table filled and consistently expresses his Good News. He invites anyone and everyone – regardless of their depraved will or secret election credentials – to come to him. His neighbors are so worn out by disbelief, self-worship, and the consequences of sin. There he is – the gentle teacher granting soul-rest and easy-guidance. His righteousness, atonement, and intimate reconciliation are available. His Gospel is unfathomably fantastic, and he freely offers it to all.
So, back to our main point – the reconciliation of divine sovereignty, human responsibility, and inclusive evangelism. As we all seek to rightly handle the Word of Truth and sharpen our theological pencils, perhaps we can all agree on this:
Throughout God’s scriptures, we are clearly taught the doctrine of divine sovereignty.
In God’s Word we are clearly taught the doctrine of human responsibility.
We must humbly walk in this mystery as we are unable to totally put the pieces together. We are never to add to God’s Word, and never are we to take away from what he has revealed to us. Instead – as we do with other doctrines such as the Trinity, the Fall, the Hypostatic Union, the Inspiration of the Word, or the Effective Nature of Prayer – we must walk in the mystery of divine sovereignty alongside human responsibility.
And then we get to enjoy the delightful duty of inclusive evangelism. It is our privilege to help men and women see their sin, hear the Gospel, and run to their gentle and lowly Savior and King. Yes, without worrying about the finer points of theology, Calvinists and Arminians get to call all men, women, boys, and girls to the fantastic truth of Christ’s righteousness given freely to fallen man. Some are going to say, “Yes.” Others are going to say, “No.” All are going to do what their wills desire. God is going to have his will accomplished. But all are to hear, and all who proclaim are to rest in the sovereignty of God (some better than others) while we labor towards bringing in the harvest of souls.