My aim in these messages that I’m going to give, Lord willing, is to lodge in your mind and in your heart a biblical conviction that I hope will not go away while you live concerning missions, frontier missions — missions the way Paul did missions in the New Testament. My conviction that I want you to share is that, if you think being missional is a good thing for you to be or for your church to be, then you should care about, strategize about, invest in, and plan for missions — frontier missions, pioneer missions, Pauline missions. Or the short version of the conviction would be to say that you are not biblically missional unless you pursue missions. That would be one way of describing the thesis.
For just a minute, let me try to undo the defensiveness in you that might rise up. It did rise up in me, so I thought it might in you as well. I would like to free you from that so you could dream with me, hopefully and positively, instead of sitting thinking of all the reasons why what I’m saying shouldn’t keep you from doing what you’re doing.
I rejoice in every Bible-shaped, Christ-exalting, gospel-driven effort to save sinners and shape the world in your city. I don’t want you to stop doing anything of that nature. My aim is not for you to do less for your city, and have less contextualization where you are. I want you to do more for the unreached peoples of the world. Some of them have come to you in your city, and you know that, like the Somalis who have come to Minneapolis. In fact, I hope that you will believe with me that adding to your missional investment in your city a passion for the unreached peoples of the world will be one of the healthiest things that you can do for your church at home.
Along the way, I hope that you will be convinced with me that you and I are in wartime and not peacetime, and that the stakes are very high. They are eternal. And that our enemy is a liar, a murderer, and a blinder, and he will use everything within his power to keep you and your people blind to the fact that without hearing and believing the gospel of Christ, crucified and risen, people are perishing all over the world in places where they have no church that is being missionally invested in their salvation.
I pray, along the way that you will have a spirit of prayer ignited in you, and that you will pray day and night for the vindication of God’s people and the ingathering of his elect from all the peoples of the world, and for the hallowing of his name, and for the coming of the Bridegroom with lightning, power, and great glory. I hope that you will find ignited in yourself a spirit of day and night intercession for the nations. I pray that along the way you will be set free from and kept free from the suicidal snare of riches — one of those idols we’ve heard so much about, represented in ease, comfort, games, and entertainment — and embrace the suffering, the sacrifice, and the sorrows that the finishing of the great commission is going to cost us.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24).
The calvary road is a hard road.
The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).
Yet it’s the happiest road on the planet.
The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day (Proverbs 4:18).
How Can We Keep from Singing?
And I pray, along the way, that underneath all of this, a new song would be awakened in your heart and in your mouth, because how will we bid the nations to sing with us if we’re not singing over our Savior?
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth! (Psalm 96:1).
How are you going to say that missions is bidding the nations, “Sing with us,” if you’re not signing? I’m praying that in all of our time together here there would be awakened in our hearts a new song, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:3).
I’m praying that underneath that song, God will awaken in your heart the greatest sense of significance you could ever have for the great thing that you were made to be involved in. Every one of you who confesses Jesus as Lord of the universe signs up for significance beyond anything you ever dreamed. I mean that for businessmen and women here, homemakers, and students, to belong to Jesus is to embrace the nations with him that he will one day rule entirely. Your heart was made for this. Your heart was made to embrace the global dimension of missional living.
If you don’t have a global heart, if you’re not getting your arms around the nations, the unreached nations and peoples of the world, there will be a mild or serious sickness in your soul, because your soul is made to do this. It’s like a leg was made to walk, and if it doesn’t walk, it will get sick. Something will go wrong with it.
Many people don’t know what’s wrong with their souls. What’s wrong with their souls is that their souls have shrunk to the level of their concerns. They’re not concerned about the nations. We were made to get our arms around the nations with God. When you pray, “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come,” that’s meant to take your heart and make it as big as history and as large as the globe. That’s a healthy heart. It’s a strong, large, healthy heart. The heart that’s going down and just terminates on your city is a heart getting sick.
Made for More
You were made for this, layman, pastor, elder — it doesn’t matter. Listen to Jay Campbell White. I go back to this quote again and again from the early 1900s. He was the leader of the Layman’s Missionary Christian Movement, which was created to support what God was doing among students in the early part of the 20th century. He wrote this:
Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ’s purpose toward the world that he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure, and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ’s global undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.
There are a lot of things that are important that are not this. But you were made for this. This is the largest concern on the heart of God. Every follower of the Lord Jesus is a follower of the King of kings, and they are their healthiest, their strongest, their noblest, and their most authentic when they are embracing his global purpose, and not just his local purpose.
The Shape of World Christianity
Now, those are my goals in these couple of talks. Underneath them, of course, we are not unaware of how much the world has changed in the last 100 years. The disposition and dispersion of Christianity in the last 100 years has undergone more change than in any century since the first three centuries, as people are increasingly documenting. All these statistics I’m going to give you here are from Mark Noll’s book The New Shape of World Christianity. It just came out in May 2009.
- Active Christian adherence has become stronger in Africa than in Europe.
- The number of practicing Christians in China is approaching the number in the United States.
- Live bodies in church are far more numerous in Kenya than in Canada.
- More believers worship together in church, Sunday by Sunday, in Nagaland than in Norway.
- More Christian workers from Brazil are active in cross-cultural ministry outside their homeland than from Britain and Canada combined.
- This past Sunday, more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain, Canada, and all Episcopalians in the United States combined.
- Last Sunday, more Christian believers attended church in China than in all the so-called Christian Europe.
- More Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland last Sunday.
- This past week, in Great Britain, at least 15,000 Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals — most of those missionaries were from Africa and Asia.
“In a word,” Noll says, “the Christian church has experienced a larger geographical redistribution in the last 50 years than in any comparable period in history, with the exception of the very earliest church history.”
A Tragic Response
One of the tragedies of American responses to this new situation is the conclusion that we don’t need to send missionaries anymore. The thought is, “The day of Western missions is over. Just send your money. Let another shed his blood. You send your money and watch movies.”
Another tragedy is the embrace of the uninformed notion that a third-world evangelist, let’s say in India, 100 miles away from an unreached people group, is obviously cheaper and more culturally suited to reach that group than you are having to raise $100,000 to take your family over there, learn a language, cross a culture, and enter into a 30-year effort to plant a church among that unreached people group. That’s not obvious. The distance, culturally, over that 100 miles maybe be far greater than the distance over 15,000 miles. There may be centuries-old feuds. The thought here as well, and it’s said all the time, is that the locals are much more suited to do the evangelism since they’re already there. They already have the language. They already are culturally suited.
They’re not. There aren’t any Christians in the group. That’s what unreached means. There isn’t any church. There aren’t any evangelists. There is no missional activity going on. If you get familiar with, and I hope you do, joshuaproject.net, you will learn, as of yesterday anyway, that there were 6,552 unreached people groups among the 16,309 people groups on the planet. Of those 6,652, there are 1,540 that are unengaged. This notion that the third world now has these culturally appropriate evangelists in all the unreached peoples is nonsense. It’s self-contradictory. They don’t exist. There is work for all of us to do. And, oh, how we should praise God that there are thousands and thousands, yes, tens of thousands of missionaries going out from the lands that were once mission fields. Oh yes, that is a glorious day.
But the thought that we rich, fat, hungry, lazy, security-loving Americans should just send our money is tragic. So, I’m here to persuade you that, if you care about being missional biblically, you should care about being involved in global, frontier, pioneer, people-penetrating missions. That’s my goal to do in these several two talks that I have with you.
Here’s my outline. Number one: What is the biblical task of missions? Number two: Is missions necessary? That breaks down into three pieces: 1) Are people perishing forever? 2) Is Christ’s work necessary to save them? 3) Must they hear of that work in order to be saved? That’s all under point number two, which is asking, “Is missions necessary?” Number three: What is our motive in pursuing this task of missions? What does it have to do with the ultimate aim of history that God be worshiped with white-hot affection from all peoples? Number four: Finally, how are we to pursue missions? I’ll give comments on preaching, praying, and suffering. That’s the outline of this and the one to follow.
What Is the Task?
First, what’s the missions task? What’s the biblical task of missions, with an S on the end? I’m going to restrict my argument here to the main aim of missions. The distinct aim of missions is not to maximize the number of individuals saved. As much as anybody with any heart of Christ wants to see a great movement of persons to Christ, only people get saved. Nations and peoples don’t get saved; people get saved. The task of missions is not defined uniquely as maximizing the number of people who get saved.
If that were true, you’d just find the most fruitful mission field, and you’d stay there forever until they ran out. And then, you’d go to the next one that was really fruitful. The thought would be, “All these hundreds that are so hard, places you can’t even break in without getting your head chopped off, we’ll just let them go to hell.” That’s not the way missions thinks. Missions thinks that you keep on crossing language barriers and you keep on crossing cultural divides until all the peoples have a strong church to witness to the glory of Christ and experience the fullness of local missional living. You could think of it this way: Missions crosses cultures and language barriers into places where there’s zero missional activity in order to plant missional living. That’s the way to think about missions as opposed to missional living here in your city. There are cities with zero possibility that there could be any missional living because there’s no church.
Missions thinks that, eats that, drinks that, and prays that. As long as there’s one people group on the planet that doesn’t have an abiding, missional, living witness to King Jesus, somebody’s going and dying to make it happen. That’s the way missions thinks.
Disciples of All Nations
My assumption, of course, is that nations are not the same as people-states, when we talk about making disciples of all the nations. I’ve been assuming this all the way along. I don’t know where you are on this. When I use peoples with an S on the end, I’m translating ethne or laoi (peoples, ethnic groups). Matthew 28:19–20 says:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (panta ta ethne).
Panta ta ethne is not a political regime, and it’s not a location with a boundary. It’s a group of people defined by ethnolinguistic dimensions that God is very concerned to be represented at his throne.
Here’s one of the ways to see that. In Romans 15:8–9, Paul says:
Christ became a servant to the circumcised (he became a Jew) to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles (the nations, the ethne) might glorify God for his mercy.
Now, if you wondered, “What does he mean by that? Does he mean individual non-Jews?” Paul launches, in Romans 15:9–12, into a sustained litany of quotes from Isaiah, Psalms, and Deuteronomy — all of them to make clear what he means by ethne. I’ll read them to you:
As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles (ethne),
and sing to your name.”
And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles (ethne), with his people.”
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles (ethne),
and let all the peoples (laoi) extol him.”
Now, that’s the most important one (Romans 15:11) because of the parallel. It says, “Praise the Lord, all you ethne (nations),” and then, “let all the peoples (laoi) extol him,” with an s on the end. Those are parallel. Ethnos is a laos with an ethnic dimension labeled on it.
When Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), he didn’t mean, “Make sure you penetrate all 221 political regimes,” or however many there are. He didn’t mean, “Go inside every geographic field.” He meant, “Find the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Edomites, the Moabites, the Arkites, the Cinites, the Arvadites, the Horites, the Cherokee, the Ojibwe, the Somali, the Philani, the Baloch, the Sea Tribes, the Guarani, and 16,000 others. Find them and die to take the gospel in there, just like I did by coming. As the Father has sent me, so send I you (John 20:21). I learned your language. I took your culture. I died your death. I’m sending you because there’s 16,000 of them out there, and I mean to have a people there.” That’s missions.
From Every Tribe, Language, People, and Nation
Revelation 5:9 has become as important as Matthew 28:19–20 for us at Bethlehem. It says:
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
Some from every people, tribe, tongue, and nation — that’s what God is going to have at the throne. Missions cares about those, not just the people inside. If one of these has an unbelievably fruitful people movement, missions doesn’t say, “We’ll camp out here for a century.” It goes. It moves, and moves, and moves, until all the people groups are penetrated. That’s what missions does. Missions is the task of moving across more and more language and culture lines to see that all the peoples have a witness, have a church.
All the Families of the Earth
Now, put this in the larger biblical framework. This is the extension and completion of the Abrahamic Covenant, right? To Abraham God says:
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
God is saying to him, “In you, Abraham, all the families of the earth will be blessed. These family-clan units. I’m after all of them. If there’s one that doesn’t have a blessing in it, go put it in it.”
Or Genesis 17:4 says:
Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
Amazing. He said to Abraham, “You will be the father of a multitude of nations.” Well, if you take all of his kids, even the ones that aren’t included in the 12, it’s not a multitude. In other words, “There are peoples, multitudes of peoples, that you, Abraham, you will be the father of.” Now, how did Paul work that out?
You know how he worked that out. In Romans 4 and in Galatians 3, he worked it out by saying, “Those who are of faith, are the children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). The seed is the Christ, and all who believe on the seed are united to the seed and are in the Abrahamic line, so that all of our missionary labors, as we lift up the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, and call people to him, are extending the Abrahamic Covenant to all the peoples of the world so that he will be the father of a multitude of nations.
Promises, Prayers, and Predictions
The Old Testament is so full of hope about this. There are promises, prayers, and predictions. Listen to these:
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy! (Psalm 47:1).
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! (Psalm 96:7).
When does that happen? It didn’t happen in the Old Testament.
I will make the nations your inheritance (Psalm 2:8).
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name (Psalm 86:9).
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him! (Psalm 72:11).
May people be blessed in him,
all nations call him blessed! (Psalm 72:17).
Missions is the language-learning, culture-crossing, unreached-people-pursuing extension of the Abrahamic Covenant to all the peoples and people of the world. That’s what missions is. My point so far is that if you believe in being missional biblically, in your local church you must so preach, and so pray, and so lead, and so strategize, and so converse, and so mobilize, that you unleash that core of people in your church — it won’t be everybody — who burn for this if you would put a match to their kindling.
Every church has a group of people like this. If it’s a small church, it may be three. If it’s a big church, it may be 300 people who burn for this, if the pastor would set them free; if the pastor would believe in them; if the pastor would say, “We’re not all going. We’re either going to be senders or goers, but I’m here to blow the trumpet for those of you who eat, sleep, and drink unreached peoples. I’m for you.” And then they go to work. That has to be there, I’m saying, as part of all of the other things you do. I’m arguing it will be really healthy for your church. You might think, “Ah, can I add another thing?” Yes, you can. Add the world on your back. The God who gives you strength will say, “Now I’m ready to be his shoulder.”
Fulfilling the Gospel
Here’s one more pointer to this that moved me profoundly years ago, when I saw it for the first time, probably with the help of Ralph Winter, who just went to be with the Lord. Paul’s way of thinking about his own mission is really quite remarkable. Let me point it out. You may have seen it. I’m sure you have. But I’m going to read it anyway. This is Romans 15:19–23. Listen to the way Paul thinks about his calling. My argument is, that not everybody is called to be this way, but some are. In every church, somebody should carry this torch big time. Paul said:
From Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel (literally, fulfilled the gospel) of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”
This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions …
What regions? He is saying that from Jerusalem to Albania there’s no room. What? I mean, when you read that, you have to come to terms with the difference between local ministry and frontier missions; otherwise, there is no way to make sense of this. He continues:
But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain (there’s room in Spain), and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.
The Difference Between Pastors and Missionaries
Now, two things are astonishing in that text. First, he says, “I have fulfilled the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum.” Second, he says, “There’s no room for me to do any work here.” Now, why not? Answer: He’s a missionary, not a pastor.
Listen, we’ve read the Pastoral Epistles. We’ve read Colossians. We’ve read Ephesians. We know there are tens of thousands of unbelievers in this region. What do you mean there’s no room for you to work here? There are thousands and thousands of people in Minneapolis who don’t know Jesus, and in Raleigh-Durham, Seattle, Dallas, and wherever all these other folks come from like Philadelphia! There’s thousands of unbelievers there and no room for missionaries. They’re going to Spain. Well, no, they’re not going to Spain. They’re going to Afghanistan. They’re going to northern India. They’re going to the outer regions of China. They’re going to Indonesia and out into the coasts. They’re going to places which today nobody wants them to come.
Believe me, to finish the Great Commission is to mainly go among Hindus and Muslims today. Almost all the unreached groups that are left are Hindu and Muslim, and they don’t want you to come. That’s why Paul got stoned, whipped five times, beaten with rods three times, imprisoned times without number, and was in danger on the street, in the cities, and in the country. Nobody wanted him to come. The first place he went was the place that wanted him least, the synagogue. Missions is not about being invited. If there’s somebody to invite you, it’s not a mission field.
Missions says, “We will learn about these people. We will learn about missions movements. We will study, preach, pray, and advocate until there rises up a growing band in our church of radical, global, Paul-type, frontier, pioneer, culture-crossing, language-learning, lifetime missionaries. The Roman church, the church in Rome, was not a mission field for Paul. Why? There was a good church there. He was going to Spain. There was nothing in Spain.
My answer to my first question, “What is the task of missions?” is that the task is continually crossing cultures, learning languages, and penetrating into people groups that have no missional presence, no church, and no witness strong enough to do the kind of evangelizing that we say must be done here.
Is Missions Necessary?
Here’s the second question: Is missions necessary? The first question was, “What’s the task of missions?” The second question’s, “Is missions necessary?” And that breaks down into three questions. 1) Are people perishing? 2) Is Christ’s work necessary to save them? By necessary I mean there isn’t any other way. 3) Do you have to hear about that in order to benefit from it forever, or could it save you without you hearing about it? Let’s deal with those three.
Are People Perishing?
Number one: Are people perishing? This is the question of hell, an eternal conscious state of torment that God casts people into as part of his just judgment. Is there such a thing? My answer is, yes. Where this is denied, the urgency of missions, sooner or later — and usually sooner — dies. No matter what they say, it dies. Urgency. You may stay committed to some form of goodwill, crossing of culture, and do some social work for a century or two. But as far as missions goes, that urgency will die.
Mark 9:43–48 says:
And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
I think the point of saying that the fire of hell is not quenched and the worm of hell does not die is that the horror of hell does not end. That’s the point of talking that way. Fire that is unquenchable and the worm that does not die — the point is the horror goes on, and on, and on.
Matthew 18:8 says:
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.
Why would it be called eternal fire if the eternality of it was irrelevant, and as soon as you hit it, you were incinerated and became nothing? It might as well go out.
Matthew 25:46 says:
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
What’s significant about Matthew 25:46 is the paralleling of eternal punishment and eternal life. Both are eternal. One is called life, and we know that’s forever because that’s what we hope for. The other is called punishment, and being parallel with life it also must then go on forever. And it’s called punishment, not consequence. This is a judicial act by God Almighty that he will give to some.
The Smoke of Their Torment
Jesus said of Judas, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). Really? If he were destined for glory eventually, say the way George McDonald, C.S. Lewis’s old hero, thought about hell, then why would Jesus say this? McDonald thought hell will burn the hell out of everybody and they would all be saved. It’s a long purgatory. It’ll just take as long as it needs, and eventually, everybody will be saved. Well, really, would Jesus say of Judas, if he was destined for glory, “It would’ve been better for you not to have been born”? I don’t think so — not if you’re going to spend eternity with God eventually.
Or if Judas were to be annihilated and there would just be no more Judas at all, how could nonexistence at one end be worse than nonexistence at the other end? It would be better if he had not been born because he’s not going to exist on this side of life? Nonexistence can’t be worse than nonexistence. Nonexistence is just nonexistence. There are not degrees of nonexistence, which means that, when Jesus said that, he said something horrific. “It would’ve been better if he’d not been born” means that nonexistence is better than hell, though nonexistence is inconceivable.
Revelation 14:11 speaks about this. It gets more specific as we go along:
And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.
It says, “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” That is the strongest Greek expression for eternity imaginable. You can’t imagine, given Greek grammatical constructions, a stronger statement of eternality than the one used here. This scene is described again in Revelation 20:10 like this:
The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
As horrific, breathtakingly horrible, as it is to contemplate, the answer is, yes, people perish. There is such a thing as hell. It will last forever. It will be torment, and it will be conscious. You will be confronted over the next decades with increasingly strong, so-called evangelical opposition to this doctrine. Major players that you admire will abandon this. I hope that you stand. I hope that you read your Bible. I hope that the fear of man and the love of praise by key people will not hinder you from embracing the truth and weeping over it.
Is Christ’s Work Necessary?
The second question under this heading is, “Is Christ’s work, on the cross and in the resurrection, necessary to save people who would otherwise go to hell? Is it necessary?”
Here, I’m asking the question, “Are there other ways?” Is it just that Christ’s way is one way, the Christian way, but there’s a Jewish way too. There’s a double covenant. Here’s a way to heaven, and here’s a way to heaven. Then, there’s a Muslim covenant. Then, there’s a Hindu covenant. And then there’s a good-conscience covenant and a noble-pagan covenant. Are these ways are all going? The thought would be, “Fine for you Christians, just glory in the cross. Glory in the cross. That’s the way God did it for you. But don’t carry that all over the world as though everybody has to believe that in order to be saved, as though there’s no other way that God Almighty could save sinners.” That’s the question.
My answer is, yes it is necessary, and that the only way anybody will be saved is if Christ does the work for them that needs to be done. This is a separate question from where they need to hear about it. I’m getting there in a minute. Right now, we’re just dealing with the necessity that the work is done as an essential part of everybody’s salvation who is saved, that the only way to be saved is that the death and resurrection of Jesus count for you. Is that the case? And I’m saying it is the case. It’s essential to atone for sin, provide righteousness, remove the wrath of God, conquer death, defeat the evil one, and open the door of eternal life. Without him, none of those things, anywhere in the world, for anybody, would happen. Christ is the way.
First Timothy 2:5 says:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus …
There aren’t other mediators — a Muslim mediator, a Hindu mediator, a Jewish mediator. It’s just Christ Jesus. Paul, explains why that is the case in Romans 5, because he unpacks for us the way God sees the world. Adam, the first man, fell, and everybody by attachment and union with Adam, is fallen. Everybody who is a child of Adam — and that’s everybody — is fallen in Adam. And then, he sets up salvation as a second Adam has come. That second Adam starts a new humanity, so that anyone united to the second Adam is now part of life and righteousness, just like the first Adam was the one who brought death, sin, and destruction.
A New Humanity in Christ
Let me read the key verses. This is Romans 5:17:
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man …
Where did death reign? Afghanistan, India, China, Indonesia, South American, and North America. Death reigns everywhere. This is amazing to me. You talk about relevance. In any tribe or people group on the planet, you can preach Romans 5:12–21. There was a first man. The first man sinned. All of his children share in his corruption and fall, and they die and sin because of it. A second man has come into the world. Anybody who goes to the second man, who did not sin, but died in the place of sinners and lived out the obedience required of them, may have his death as their death, and his righteousness as their righteousness. That preaches everywhere because it is so global. It is so deeply rooted in humanity. It’s not a little cultural thing, like messiah. Romans 5:17–19 says:
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men (Do you see how global this is? Do you see how absolutely relevant and universal this is?), so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
The reason there is one mediator between God and man is that, just as one man undid humanity, God has a remedy for humanity in the second man, Jesus Christ, who establishes a new covenant with us. By union with him, we get, not sin, but righteousness, and not death but life, everywhere.
Luke, therefore, in his form of the Great Commission lets Jesus say:
Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46–47).
That’s my answer to the second question. Is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the incarnation of the Son of God as the second Adam, his life of perfect obedience, his death in the place of sinners, his resurrection triumphant over Satan, sin, death, and hell necessary for all salvation that happens? The answer is yes. There is no other way. So that when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6), he meant it absolutely. There is no other way. There’s no other Muslim way, Hindu way, or Jewish way, besides the second Adam remedying the fall of the first Adam, which brought all of us into condemnation. There is only way out of condemnation, and that is justification through believing in Christ.
Must They Hear and Believe?
Here’s the last question under this heading: Must they hear and believe in order to be saved? This is the question of, “Is it possible that Christ could die for sins, and that his death for sins counts for sinners who don’t know about him but who get connected another way so that he really is the ground and basis of their salvation, though they don’t know he is?” In other words, must a person hear the gospel and believe it in order to be saved? My answer to that question is, yes.
I wrote in the book Let The Nations Be Glad 30 pages to answer that question. It’s a very detailed argument from all over the New Testament. I have just a few minutes to point in that direction. Let me make a few clarifying statements before I tackle a few exegesis issues.
Judgment in Proportion to Light
I do not mean that people will be judged on the last day for not believing the gospel if they haven’t heard the gospel. Is this clear? I’m going to say that sentence again. I do not mean that people will be judged and condemned at the last judgment for not believing the gospel if they have never heard the gospel. It seems to me fairly clear, especially in Paul, that we are accountable to live according to the revelation that we know.
I’ll read you the key text on that, and I’m sure you know what it is. It’s Romans 1:19–20. Listen to the logic of this passage:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
That therefore is all-important. What is based on? It’s based on the statement, “What can be known about God is plain to them. God has shown it to them.” Then he says, “Therefore, they are without excuse.” Then, he grounds that excuseless-ness of all people with this word in Romans 1:21:
For although they knew God …
Imagine that. Just stop there and let that sink in. Every human being knows God. The radical atheist that you talk to at work knows God. Every tribal person you ever meet in Papua New Guinea or the mountains of Mexico knows God. It continues:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him …
Therefore, they are without excuse. Here’s the clarification. When I say, a person must hear the gospel in order to be saved at all, I do not mean that if he doesn’t hear the gospel he will be condemned for not hearing the gospel. He will be condemned that he has not owned the revelation that he has, but has suppressed it. And they all have suppressed it.
If you think that there’s an exception, like maybe Cornelius. Well, there are. God always does a Peter thing for them. We have zero reason to believe that if there’s a Cornelius anywhere in the world, God would not give a vision to Peter to get him there. If you say, “Yeah, but if he doesn’t get there, Cornelius would still be saved.” I say, “Dream on.” If you build a theology around that, you will gut missions, and you will stand in the air. The only warrant we have for getting excited about Cornelius is that God let a sheet down in front of Peter’s face to get him moving toward Cornelius. Maybe tonight, in your sleep, he will get you going for the Cornelius in Bhutan, and don’t you resist him if he does.
The Times of Ignorance
Romans 3:23 says:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And Romans 2:12 says:
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law …
They’ll perish. There are people who perish who have the law, and there are people who don’t have the law and perish.
Christ has come into the world. Here’s what I’m arguing. I’m arguing that when Christ came into the world, something in God’s plan for the ages dramatically and fundamentally altered in the way God acts toward the world. Until Christ came, what were those times called? They were called “times of ignorance” in Acts 17:30. Then Paul finishes the message on Mars Hill, the Areopagus, and just before they mock him he says:
But now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
When God sent his Son, brought him to the cross to bear sins, raised him from the dead, and seated him at his right hand, God related to the world differently. “Now go,” he says. Why didn’t he say “Go” to Isaiah? Why did he say “Go” to Abraham? Why did he pass over the nations for 2,000 plus years and focus on Israel? My answer to that question is that Christ hadn’t come. Because, when he comes, now he’ll be lifted up, crucified, risen, manifestly covering sins, manifestly being the second Adam, manifestly bearing sins, and manifestly providing righteousness, so that all over the world the message will be, “Look, look, look.” And Christ will get the glory for all the nations gathered. Until his coming, you can’t have the Great Commission. But once he comes, you cannot not have the Great Commission. Something changed dramatically when Christ entered the world.
Faith in the Old Covenant
Here is another clarifying parenthesis. Don’t hear me saying, “Oh, so if you have to hear and believe the gospel in order to be saved, then the saints in the Old Testament couldn’t be saved.” Well, they could. They obviously were. They were saved by believing in the promises of God that in some way, somehow, with progressive and increasing clarity, their sins would be dealt with appropriately, because the blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sin, and they knew it. The saints knew it. They knew, “Something has to be done here. Something like Isaiah 53 has to be done. We’re not sure how, when, and where, and we’re searching in and wondering all about that, but we believe it will be done.” On that faith, they were saved.
But now, there can be no more incognito Christians because he’s here. The message is, “Go show him to the world. Tell him to the world. Everything changes when it comes to the incarnation and the work of Jesus.” Let me read you that passage that I stumbled to quote. Acts 17:30–31 says:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now (that’s such an important now) he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The Mystery of Christ
Let me draw out another biblical theme that makes this clear. You know the theme of “the mystery of Christ.” That’s a Pauline phrase. What is it? What’s the mystery of Christ? What text would you go to? Well, you would go to Ephesians 3, wouldn’t you? Let’s read Ephesians 3:6. It says:
This mystery is that the Gentiles (the nations) are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
That’s the key phrase. What’s the mystery? The mystery is that for long ages something wasn’t revealed, namely that all those nations out there — the Perizzites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, and all those pagan, uncircumcised, catfish-eating, unclean nations — are coming in. They’re coming in. When and how? They’re coming in through the gospel. And so, the command of a global Great Commission did not happen until the Messiah was there to be lifted up among the nations.
We don’t go with a vague message about getting right with God. We go with news, saying, “He’s come. He’s died. He’s risen. He’s triumphant. All who believe will not perish but have eternal life.” This is news. We should take it to our cities, being missional. We should take it to the unreached peoples, doing missions. It’s news. The reason that news now must be heard and believed is that Christ has come. God has oriented all saving faith on him, so that, as Acts 4:12 says:
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Now, very often, we quote that verse and we don’t highlight a word in it that helps overcome the objection that says, “Oh, sure. I don’t have a problem with saying that Christ is the only means by which people are saved. They just don’t have to know about it.” I could name names of people that are alive and teaching, who believe that and have the label “evangelical.”
I’ll highlight the word that I’m talking about. It says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name…” Why did he say, “There is no other name given among men by which we must be saved”? It isn’t merely the work of Christ that saves people. It’s hearing and knowing a name. Whoever believes and calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Everyone Who Calls Upon the Name of the Lord
Paul defines his apostleship to the nations this way in Romans 1:5. He is an apostle:
To bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations …
You feel the passion here. You feel what God is up to here. He didn’t send his Son into the world to do incognito salvation, as if someone could say, “I got saved, but I don’t know who the basis of it was.” He did not send him to save people incognito. He sent him so that his name would be lifted up, that he’d be given a name which is above every other name, so that as we walk to the nations, we wave a huge flag that says, “Jesus, Jesus, Lord of all, King of kings. Believe. He died. He rose. This is news.”
That’s why he sent him, that’s why the Great Commission awaited his coming, and that’s why Peter, in Acts 4:12 says, “There’s no other name.” That’s why Paul says, “My whole apostleship is to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of the name” (Romans 1:5). And then, you get to this amazing passage, and we’re almost done. We have another few minutes. This is Romans 10:13–15:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet (the bloody feet, the mountain climbing feet, the blistered feet, the diseased feet) of those who preach the good news!”
For the glory of Christ, God has ordained that all saving faith have him as its conscious object. I’ll say that again. For the glory of Christ, God has ordained that since the incarnation all saving faith will have Christ, crucified and risen, as its conscious object.
Through the Living and Abiding Word of God
How are people born again? According to 1 Peter 1:23, you are born again:
Not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God …
And 1 Peter 1:25 goes on to say that word is “the gospel that was preached to you.”
How are men born again? It is through the living and abiding word of God, the gospel, which we preached. There is zero warrant in the Bible for believing anyone is born again who has not heard and believed the gospel. The gospel is the Holy Spirit’s spear for penetrating a dead heart and bringing the life of the Spirit. Where that gospel is missing, there is no biblical warrant for believing there’s life. The new birth comes through the word.
I didn’t mention in my initial list of goals one that’s always there — namely, in a room with this many folks in it, I am unashamedly praying at this moment that there be several hundred who will lay your life down on the mission field. I know there are a lot of pastors here. Some of you are going to be restless. The reason you’re going to get restless is that the sheet is coming down. The animals are there. They speak all kinds of weird languages. And you say, “I can’t learn a language.” And the Lord says, “Don’t you say that. I’m your God. All things are possible with me.” And so, I’m praying that you will as I read these verses. I hope God will touch you right now.
I’ve just said that nobody can be born again apart from the Word of God. The Holy Spirit who is sovereign in awakening the dead and giving life to the soul does that through the agency of the gospel. Nevertheless, Jesus said to Paul, on the Damascus road:
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 (Acts 26:17–18).
Now, that is awesome. Paul can’t open anybody’s eyes. They’re dead. They’re blind. The god of this world has blinded them (2 Corinthians 4:4). Their own hardness has blinded them. Only the Holy Spirit can open the eyes of the blind and raise the dead, and he says to Paul, “I’m sending you to Spain. I don’t care what their religion is, I’m going with you. When we land there, their eyes will open when you speak the gospel of my death and resurrection. I’m sending you to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and have a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” What a calling.
I Am With You Always
Those who go — and I haven’t gone, so don’t feel in any way indicted if you’re a local pastor — have a remarkable assurance: “Behold, I am with you always. This is what I do. Through frail, imperfect Paul-type people I do miracles. I open eyes. I raise the dead so that they can have forgiveness.”
All true biblical, missional people are passionate about missions. Period. If you’re not, what would Mark Driscoll say at this point? “You’re an idolater. I’m walking out of here.” Well, I’m not going to do that. Don’t you love diversity? I would say you’re just not authentically missional if you don’t love, labor for, and awaken that group of people in your church to be radically devoted to the unreached peoples of the world.
Let’s just close with a summary. What’s the task of missions? Continually crossing cultures and learning languages in order to plant the church with its full missional life in people groups where there is no church. Is it necessary? Or otherwise put, are people perishing? Yes, there is a real eternal conscious hell of torment. Yes, Christ died in order to rescue people from it for the glory of God and eternal joy. There is no other way. And yes, you must hear about it and believe it in order to be saved, because Jesus said this, and I close with this text. It cannot be said too often:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:13–15).