My notes from Andy Davis’ topical session at TGC13’s World Missions’ pre-conference, “God’s Love Compels Us.” (All notes are paraphrased.)
At the center of the passion that drove Hudson Taylor [in his mission] is the one that stands before us today: Are those without Christ really lost? And are those who die without hearing of Christ without hope?
We have almost 17,000 unreached people groups, with perhaps 2.78 billion people living within those people groups… how are we to understand the character of God in all this? How are we to understand and embrace our role in all of this?
I come to you from the position of exclusivism—that which says that only those who possess conscious faith in the Jesus of the Bible. This stands in contrast to universalism, pluralism, inclusivism, accessiblism… We are accused of arrogance by the universalists and pluralists. Others argue that there are “secret” or unknowing converts—Hindus or Muslims who may die and find out they really find out they were Christians after all. Others bring up Melchizedek and OT examples… others ask questions about those who die as infants… Some suggest there’s an idea of a “second hearing” after death… There are some who are theological allies of ours who would suggest we hold to an agnosticism on this.
I think Scripture is sufficient to answer all these questions and if you get nothing else from this message, it’s this:
Those who are without Christ are lost, and we need to tell them.
1. Those without Christ are lost.
Scripture gives clear testimony to the fact that those who are without Christ are lost (Rom. 1:18-25). Everywhere God has given clear evidence of his existence, and so all are without excuse. All have sinned by not acknowledging Him… All are condemned, both Jew and Gentile says Paul (Rom. 3:10-14). As soon as men and women become aware of God, they turn away from Him and they need a Savior.
2. There is no way for sinners to be saved apart from the shed blood of Christ.
In the cultural air we breathe… people come from all over the world and see the generosity and selflessness and hospitality of people from other religions and some Christians want to back away from the exclusivity of Christ. But Scripture is a two-edged sword and it cuts clearly through this issue—there is no way for sinners to be saved apart from the shed blood of Christ.
For some of us, we may have an academic interest in this, or an apologetic one or a missiological one… there is no one else who asked this question with greater intensity than Jesus in the garden on the eve of the crucifixion. He prays, and I can scarcely imagine the anguish, when he asks, “Is there any other way? May this cup pass from me if it be your will?”
The strongest exclusivist verse in the Bible is Acts 4:10-12: … by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Paul says that if righteousness could be had by the law, Christ died for nothing. But there is no other name given by which we must be saved.
3. There is no salvation apart from conscious salvation in Christ
Just as the blood of the lamb had to be applied to the door posts in the passover, so the work of Christ must be applied by the Holy Spirit. God presented Jesus as a propitiation, a sacrifice turning away the wrath of God, applied by faith in Christ. Gal. 2, when Paul rebukes Peter, Paul says, “a man is not justified by the law, but by faith in Christ…we seek to be justified in Christ.” Four times in Gal 2 he tells us we must justified by faith in Jesus Christ. The idea of an unwitting convert is unbiblical.
How what of the OT saints? All we can say is that whatever that era entailed, that era is over. With Christ having entered redemptive history, that old era is over.
4. The gospel must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth
Here we come to the logic of Romans 10:13-15. Paul’s rhetorical questions all assume the answer of no. His assumption here is that it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith in Christ. And he assumes that no one can come to faith without believing. And no one can believe without hearing. And it is impossible for anyone to hear the message of Christ without someone being sent. And so sunrises and sunsets and newborn babies, however marvelously they testify of our creator God, they do not proclaim the crucified and risen Lord Christ.
5. We believers are responsible for that proclamation of the gospel.
It has been committed to us. At the end of each gospel there is a version of the great commission. Matt 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20… Acts 1:8 promises it again saying God will give us power to do the task.
How should we respond to this responsibility? We should respond with passion for the lost. We should respond with prayer—we should pray that people would hear and believe. We should respond with planning. We should use means to reach the unconverted. And then comes the hard part, we need to be willing to lay down our lives and sacrifice ourselves in suffering to see this happen. It’s easy to talk about this in a hotel in Orlando, but it’s true. It’s going to take suffering to make it happen.
Are you passionate about this? Are you praying for the lost, for unreached people groups? Are you making plans, involved in strategizing to reach them? Are you in the process of laying down your life, sacrificially living of your time, of your body, of your money, to see the lost reached? Are you willing to suffer and make sacrifices?
We cannot count on angels to do it—they’d do a bang up job, wouldn’t they? They wouldn’t need to look like angels… they announced the birth of Christ and the resurrection of Christ, but I’m given pause to wonder whether or not angels are permitted to preach the gospel. In Acts, we see an angel tell Phillip to preach to the Ethiopian, and we see an angel appear to Cornelius, telling him he needed to hear the gospel from Peter… we cannot count on angels to tell the good news. It is our responsibility.
6. God is sovereign over the entire missionary enterprise, guaranteeing its success.
The appeal surrounding those vast numbers who die every day, I want to put that appeal on a solid foundation. Remember Romans 8, those who predestined, he also called. Every single predestined person receives the call, Paul says.
So the missionary enterprise is really a hunt for the elect. The promise is we don’t know who they are. They don’t walk around with an E on their forehead. The only way we can know who the elect are is by their response to the gospel.
God is sovereign over the response to the gospel—He doesn’t owe the gospel to anyone—and he is also sovereign over getting the gospel to the nations. God is able to get the gospel anywhere anytime he wants. He doesn’t need angels. He has human messengers and he is able to keep the elect alive until they get there.
And God is also sovereign over the raising up of laborers to go and do the work, compelled to preach the gospel. There’s a constraining force on the heart of those who desire to reach the lost—it accuses and convicts. And God also tells where to go. Paul and Silas are blocked from Asia, and were sent instead to Macedonia. God is working on both sides of the equation (Cornelius and Peter). God is preparing people to hear you right now, and God will keep them alive until you get there. God is sovereign over the gospel reaching every single elect person to keep them alive until they hear it.
Not a single elect person will be lost.
So how about it? How about having the kind of confidence we see in Scripture? We’re on the winning side—we know we’re going to win! If you go out as a missionary and even if you are martyred, you will give God all the glory. This gospel will be preached to all the nations and then the end will come.
So what about those who haven’t heard the gospel now? They are lost right now. And the plight of the lost should move the church to prayer and planning and sacrificial service to bring the gospel to them.