What Is the Basis of Risk?
Risk is “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.” (“Risk Is Right” in Don’t Waste Your Life, 79). “Possibility” is a key word. If you know what you will suffer, it’s called sacrifice, not risk. God requires both from us. God demands a life of intentional sacrifice (Philippians 2:4-8), and he demands risk for the gospel — in smaller ways of dying daily (1 Corinthians 15:31), and possibly in the bigger way of martyrdom (Luke 14:26).
The basis of that demand for sacrifice and risk is the absolute, God-given assurance that in the end there is no ultimate risk. We risk life now that we may gain it forever. Risk persecution for Christ’s sake “for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). Risk the loss your goods, “for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). Risk being treated unjustly, for “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Risk being counted as sheep for the slaughter for nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:36, 39).
The promises of God that all things will work together for our ultimate, Christ-exalting good is the basis of our risk (Romans 8:28). And corporately the basis of global missions, with all its risks, is the total assurance that “the kingdom of the world [will become] the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). The mission cannot fail.
Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost write in The Faith of Leap:
It seems correct to say that God took something of a risk in handing over his mission to the all-too-sinful human beings who were his original disciples—and all the sinful disciples beyond them. We wonder what Jesus must have been thinking on the cross, when all but a few powerless women had completely abandoned him. Did he wonder if love alone was enough to draw them back to discipleship? The noncoercive love of the cross necessitated a genuinely human response of willing obedience from his disciples. Given our predispositions to rebellion and idolatry, it is entirely conceivable that history could have gone in a completely different, indeed totally disastrous, direction if the original disciples hadn’t plucked up the internal courage to follow Jesus no matter where. (36–37, Locations 464)
The view of God embodied in this quote from Hirsch and Frost is
- false to the Scriptures;
- built on a false philosophical presupposition;
- damaging to the mission of Christ in the world;
- and belittling to the glory of God.
1) False to the Scriptures
Their view of God and Jesus is that they are so little in charge of the success of the Great Commission that “it is entirely conceivable that history could have gone in a completely different, indeed totally disastrous, direction if the original disciples hadn’t plucked up the internal courage to follow Jesus no matter where.”
This is false. God is fully in control of his mission on earth: a) Jesus did not wonder if it would succeed; b) God can be utterly counted on to finish it, and c) every person ordained to eternal life will be drawn into the mission.
a) Jesus did not wonder if the mission would succeed.
He promised: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
He has all authority and will be with us to the end (Matthew 28:18, 20). And he said, with this absolute authority, “I will build my church, and the gates of the hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). He is not uncertain of the success of his mission. He will do it.
b) God accomplishes all his purposes in the mission.
“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isaiah 46:9–10).
When a disciple “plucks up the internal courage to follow Jesus,” it is God who put it there. “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
When missionaries accomplish great things for Christ they say, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed” (Romans 15:18).
No saint will say in heaven: The mission succeeded because my will was decisive in taking risks and making sacrifices. Rather, the saints will say, “God equipped us with everything good that we might do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 13:21).
c) There was not the slightest chance that the mission of God could have gone in a “disastrous direction,” that is, could have failed.
When all gospel influences have come into a person’s life, the decisive word over their lives is the word of Luke after Paul’s preaching in Acts 13:48: “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
2) Built on a false philosophical presupposition
Their false presupposition is that for God’s love to be genuine (“noncoercive”) and for humans to be humans, man’s will must be ultimately decisive in bringing about obedience to the mission. If God’s will were ultimately decisive, then his love would not be genuine but coercive, and humans would not be humans but (presumably) robots.
They say, “There were no guarantees that [the disciples] would make the right choices. If this were not the case, then we are not human precisely at the point where we must be most completely human” (37).
The reason I call this a philosophical presupposition is that it does not come from the Bible, but from the human mind. Nowhere does the Bible say or imply that ultimate human self-determination is the prerequisite for human responsibility or divine love. That presupposition is an alien idea.
What the Bible does show over and over is that God’s will is decisive in all affairs (Daniel 4:35), and humans are truly responsible and God is truly loving and just. The Bible lets this paradox stand. So should we.
3) Damaging to the mission of Christ in the world
When they imply that the success of the mission depends decisively on disciples “plucking up internal courage to follow Jesus,” they rob the mission of its most precious and empowering promises.
Jesus empowers us for risk and sacrifice by purchasing on the cross the promises of the new covenant. “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40).
How do I know that, if I follow him to the riskiest place, I will be able to persevere in faith? Hirsch and Frost lay the burden of perseverance decisively on us. God lays it on the blood-bought “everlasting covenant.”
The mission is damaged where the promises of God’s decisively enabling grace are denied.
4) Belittling to the glory of God
When the success of God’s mission is made to depend decisively on humans, humans get the decisive glory. But where all is made to depend divisively on God, God gets the glory.
Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:11).
[God works] in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:21).
[I pray that you will be] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:11).
It is hard to exaggerate how important it is for the mission of the church, in reaching the unreached peoples of the world, to have a fully biblical vision of the greatness and the sovereignty and the glory of God. Knowing him as he really is, as revealed in the Bible, is the foundation of mission-finishing risk and sacrifice.