Glorifying God by Reaching the Lost

Campus Outreach Staff Conference

Orlando, Florida

Campus Outreach exists to glorify God by building laborers on the campus for the lost world. The word “lost” is in your mission statement. What does it mean?

We use the word “lost” in different ways. It can mean you have misplaced something, and it may be in perfect working order if you can just find it. Or we say he lost his life savings in the stock market crash. That doesn’t mean he misplaced it, and it is in good working order, and he will find it someday. No he won’t. It’s gone. Forever.

Or we hear the dread words from the surgeon who is desperately trying to save the life of your sister after an automobile accident, and he comes into the waiting room and says quietly, “We lost her.” Or you go read a list of names in an old whaling town in Massachusetts under the title “lost at sea.” That doesn’t mean they are misplaced, and you will find them. It means they are at the bottom of the ocean.

Lost in the New Testament

That same breadth of meaning is true for the Greek word apollumi which is behind 12 of the 15 uses of the word “lost” in the ESV. (The other three refer to salt losing its flavor and that’s a different word.) So how is the word used in the New Testament to shed light on the meaning in your mission statement? Here are three uses that fill up the meaning of your statement: “Glorifying God by reaching the lost.”

In Luke 15:24, the father in the parable of the prodigal son says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” The parallel of lost is dead. And Jesus knew what he was saying with the word dead, because he had said earlier, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). There are living dead just like Paul says in Ephesians 2:5 — “even while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God made us alive.” The lost are dead. Spiritually dead. Unresponsive to God.

In Luke 19:10, Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The lost don’t just need finding; they need saving. This is why Jesus came into the world — not only to find people, but to save people. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The lost are dead in their sins and need saving in a way that only Jesus can do.

In John 17:12, Jesus says, “I have guarded them (the twelve), and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Judas is lost. Not that they couldn’t find him, but that he was ruined and on his way to destruction.

So the lost are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:5). Therefore, “the natural man,” Paul says, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them” (1 Corinthians 2:14). This deadness and lostness is true of every human being apart from God’s saving grace (Romans 3:23). And our lostness and deadness is a condition of the will — the faculty that inclines us to something or not with greater or less strength. Men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19). It is not being forced on us against our will. We love our sin and our pride and our autonomy. And therefore, all human beings are on their way to “eternal destruction.” Without Christ, Paul says, we will all “pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). This is a horrific portrayal of your campus and of the unreached peoples of the world — and of all of us before Christ.

To the Glory of God

That is what “lost” means in your mission statement. What a calling! What a mission! God calls you to do what only he can do, and what he has chosen not to do without you — open the eyes of the blind and raise the dead and awaken faith and give eternal life. Getting into the kingdom of God, Jesus said, is like a camel going through the eye of a needle. And when the disciples blurted out, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

So you are called to join God in doing the impossible. This is why God is going to be glorified when you reach the lost. You yourselves are walking miracles of life and grace to the glory of God, and you are going to be used by God to do the humanly impossible. You are going to open the eyes of the blind. And give life to the dead. And because you can’t do that, when you do it, God will get the glory.

Life to the Dead, Sight to the Blind

Let’s look at one key passage of Scripture for each of these claims — that in reaching the lost, you are going to give life to the dead and sight to the blind.

First, let’s look at 1 Peter 1:22–25, a text about your role in giving life to the dead.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Notice that in verse 22 the “obedience to the truth” leads to brotherly love. This means that the obedience is not the obedience of love; it leads to love. Rather the truth is the message of the gospel, and obedience to it is what the gospel requires, namely, faith. This faith is our connection with Christ who purifies our heart through faith (Acts 15:9). So the point of verse 22 is to say that they have believed the gospel, their hearts have been cleansed of sin, and they are now in a position to love other people from a pure heart.

What the Lost Desperately Need

Now how did that come about, since these people were dead and blind to the reality of the gospel — since they were lost? Verse 23 gives the answer. It came about “since you have been born again.” Literally, “having been born again.” The new birth was causally prior to what happened in verse 22. Dead people cannot obey the gospel and be purified and love each other until they have been born again. 1 John 5:1 says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” The new birth is not brought about by faith. The new birth brings faith about.

This is what the lost, dead, blind students on your campus desperately need. It’s what you needed until God caused you to be born again. Now the question is: What is your role in this for the students you care about?

What Is Our Role?

Verse 23 is probably the most important verse in the Bible about the relationship between the new birth and your role in how it comes about in other people. The key statement is: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” No one is born again apart from hearing “the living and abiding word of God.” What does that refer to?

Peter is very specific what he means in verse 23 by “the word of God.” First, he says it is living and abiding. “You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God.” The word is living because it carries divine power to give new life. And the word of God is abiding because once it creates life it sustains it forever.

Then Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6–8 in verses 24–25 to explain and support this claim about the word of God: “For ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” The word of God is not like grass and flowers. They flourish for a moment and give joy that lasts for a moment. Then they are gone, and the life they sustained is gone. But the word of God is not like that. The life it creates lasts forever because the life-creating and life-sustaining word lasts forever.

Then Peter tells us exactly what he is referring to with this phrase “the word of God.” He says in the last part of verse 25, “And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” The good news preached to you; that’s the living and abiding word of God through which you were born again. So the way God brings about the new birth in lost, dead, blind, unbelieving hearts is by the gospel, the good news of Christ who bore our sins when he died (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18).

Only Through the Gospel

So here’s the point — and it is immensely important if you aim to reach the lost on your campus with spiritual life. If anyone is going to be born again, it will happen by hearing the word of God, centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will be “born again through the living and abiding word of God . . . the gospel.” God causes the new birth through the living and abiding word of God spoken by you as the best news in all the world about Jesus Christ crucified for sinners.

So when you speak the word of God to the students and God gives them life through the new birth, you will stand in awe of his power, and you will give him glory. You will say with Paul, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart” (Romans 6:17). Not glory to me for my boldness or glory to them for their spiritual sensitivity, but glory to God who gave them life and repentance and faith.

Called to the Impossible

So that’s the text about your part in the impossibility of giving life to the dead. Now here’s the text about your part in the impossibility of giving sight to the blind. Remember Jesus’s words, “With man it is impossible” (Matthew 19:26). And yet you are called to do it.

Yes, you are. We are going to 2 Corinthians 4:3–6, but listen first to the words of Jesus to Paul on the Damascus road as Paul told them to king Agrippa in Acts 26:17–18. Jesus says,

I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

Of course, Paul can’t give spiritual sight to the lost and blind Gentile world. But that is exactly what Jesus sent him to do. And you. “I am sending you back to your campus to open their eyes. I know you can’t do it. But you are going to do it by my power, and, therefore, when it happens I will get the glory.”

Utterly Helpless in Ourselves

So consider 2 Corinthians 4:3–6.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Verse 4 describes their lostness as spiritual blindness. Verse 6 describes the way their blindness is overcome. God says sovereignly to their hearts, “Let there be light.” And verse 5 describes Paul’s and your role in the miracle. “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.”

Verse 4: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This is the main problem of the students you want to reach: the portrait of Christ in the gospel is not compellingly beautiful. It is boring, or mythical, or irrelevant, or threatening. But it is not the brightness of the glory of the very image of God. They are blind. You know what this is like. And it is a frightening thing when you are talking to it. You feel utterly helpless in yourself. And you are.

Agents of This New Creation

But now look at verse 6: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is the miracle of new birth in other language. New creation language. Light coming into being language. How will the lost on your campus be reached with divine life and light? God will speak just as he did when he created light out of nothing at the beginning. And a miracle will happen. And what a glorious thing it is! God shines in the heart of the blind, lost, dead, disinterested student, and behold, he sees! What does he see: the glory of God in the face of Christ.

He may not be able to name it, or explain it, but he knows, his valuing of Christ is different now. His blindness has been taken away, and now he will spend the rest of his life learning to name the glories that he will continue to see in Christ.

And you? Where do you come into this blindness-removing miracle? Verse 5: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.” The point of this verse is identical to the point of 1 Peter 1:25 — the living and abiding word of God through which we are born again is the gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord. No student on your campus, and no unreached people in India, ever gets from the blindness of verse 4 to the sight of verse 6 without the human proclamation of verse 5.

His Glory, Our Joy

God is loving you, Campus Outreach. God is making much of you. Only God can raise the dead. Only God gives spiritual sight to the blind. But wonder of wonders, he will not do it without a gospel-telling human being. He is making much of you by making your words indispensible in the miracle of salvation. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:15, 17). In the mouth of the fallible, sometimes failing human beings.

You don’t create the faith. God does, when he raises the dead and opens their eyes to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. And when this happens in your ministry you will say with Paul, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). But only God . . . what? By comparison in this work of reaching the lost with life and sight, I’m nothing and you’re nothing, but God is . . . everything!

And God, in great love to us, makes our nothing, in his hand, beautiful and indispensable, in such a way that he gets the glory and we get the joy.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org