I had a chat a little while ago with somebody about whether God needs us to do evangelism. I said he didn’t; they said he did. They argued, doesn’t Paul say, ‘how shall they hear without a preacher’? Which, of course, he does say that. I argued that God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants. Nobody preached the gospel to Abraham or Moses, or indeed lots of the Old Testament judges. They were simply called by God. He didn’t, and he doesn’t, need anyone.
One of the problems with reasoning that God needs us is we end up with an even bigger theological problem. If God relies on us for anything – be that evangelism or anything else – then we are effectively doing God a favour. That would mean God then owes us something. And if he owes us something, the entire gospel of salvation by faith alone begins to die a painful death. Which is something of a problem because the Bible clearly teaches it.
So, I begin to reason from the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants without any reference to us. If he wants to save people like Abraham and Moses entirely apart from people preaching to them, he can do that. He absolutely does not need us.
Where folks who tend toward the hyper-Calvinistic go a bit awry is in arguing that because God doesn’t need us, evangelism is unnecessary. He will simply save whom he wills, so we don’t need to bother. If he doesn’t need us, we needn’t do anything at all.
This is where Paul’s comments I quote at the top matter. Because although God doesn’t need us to save anyone, Paul explains that in the ordinary run of things that isn’t how God works! He chooses to use us despite not needing us.
The hyper-Calvinists are right that because God is sovereign, he doesn’t need us to save anyone. But they ignore the even more basic reality that the Lord nevertheless commands his people to share the gospel. They are right that he can save entirely without us, but they miss the fact that he has chosen to typically work through us.
When we recognise this, it becomes clearer that the question ‘can God save anyone without us?’ isn’t really the pertinent one (even though the answer is clearly ‘yes’). The more significant question is, given that God can save without us, why does he then command us to share the gospel? When we reckon with the fact that he doesn’t need us to do it – in fact he could do it quicker, more conveniently and without any of our mess without us – he must be asking us to be involved, not for his benefit, but for ours!
We make a serious mistake when we begin to think that God needs us and our efforts to achieve anything. If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is surely that the Lord really doesn’t need our programmes. His church is still standing and people are still being saved even though we have largely been unable to do anything. And there plenty of examples of the Lord saving people entirely apart from human means in scripture. I daresay there are extra-biblical examples too. God simply doesn’t need us.
But we make an equal mistake to ignore that he has chosen largely not to work that way. He nonetheless commands his people to go, share the gospel and make disciples. He does that not because he needs us, but because our going does us good. When we choose not to share the gospel, it isn’t to the detriment of anybody the Lord would save. He will save whomever he wills with or without us. But it is to our own detriment. We miss out on the blessing God would give us through that work. We miss out on the growth the Lord would effect in us through that work. We miss out on all sorts of potential things that the Lord would give us through that service.
God is sovereign over all things and he needs nothing from human hands. That is precisely what Acts 17:25 teaches: ‘Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.’ God doesn’t need anything from us and he is no man’s debtor. But in his goodness to his people, he chooses to include us for our benefit.
It’s kind of like when my dad used to let me ‘help’ him as a child fix the car. He didn’t need my help. In fact, my help probably slowed everything down and made things a bit messier. But the things I did were definitely some sort of help. I was definitely involved in the work. And the reason my dad included me was to help me grow and so that I could spend some time with him. He didn’t need it – he could have done that job entirely apart from me – but my being there meant I was involved, I spent time with my dad and I learnt (a little). It was for my good. And what did my dad get out of it? The joy of spending some time with his son (I assume, but for the purposes of the analogy, let’s run with it!)
God does exactly the same with us. He doesn’t need our help, but he includes us so that we will grow and learn to depend upon him. He, in turn, gets to delight in his son or daughter. He doesn’t need us, it is for our benefit that we’re involved at all, but when we are God delights in us nonetheless.