8.05.2012

no plan B

I'm doing a lot of thinking about this chapter from the book "Radical," by David Platt. So, I'm just going to fill this post with the parts that most stand out to me so that I can think about it more as I type it, and so that you can ponder it as well. Please read this with a Biblical mindset, which may be different than our natural mindset. And let me know what you think. (So, everything from here forward is David Platt, not me!)

"Let's not forget what's at stake. I invite you to take a brief journey with me through the book of Romans to discover seven truth that help us understand what Scripture teaches about people who have never heard of Jesus.

Truth 1: All People Have Knowledge of God
Romans 1:18-20 -  "18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. "


In other words, every person on the face of the earth and every person throughout history - without exception - has knowledge of God the Father. The man in the African jungle, the woman in the Asian village, the nomad in the remotest desert, and the Inuit in the forgotten tundra, regardless of where or how they live, have this in common. Of course, not all people in the world say they believe in God. That leads to the second affirmation. 


Truth 2: All People Reject God
Paul said, "Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to Him." All people, including you, me, and the man in the African bush, have rejected true knowledge of God. Though this is a fundamental truth of the gospel, it is often overlooked in discussions of what happens to people who never hear about Jesus. Sun gods, moon goddesses, gods of prosperity - none of them deserves worship. Only God deserves worship. So when we worship "gods" instead of him, we don't get credit for trying out best. Out idolatry is just not good enough. So there's another truth to consider. 


Truth 3: All People are Guilty Before God 
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
The cast has been made,  and it's decisive. All people, regardless of religious, cultural, or ethnic background, stand guilty before God. 

Suppose you ask me, "What happens to that innocent guy in the middle of Africa who dies without ever hearing the gospel?" My confident answer to you, based on the authority of God's Word, would be, "I believe he will undoubtedly go to heaven. There is no question in my mind." 

Now, before you label me a heretic (and others label me a hero), read back over that last paragraph. Look especially at the hypothetical question: "What happens to the innocent guy in the middle of Africa who dies without ever hearing the gospel?" (This is how most people words this question.)

The reality is, the innocent guy doesn't exist... in Africa or anywhere else. Instead there are people all over the world standing guilty before a holy God, and that is the very reason they need the gospel.  This leads us to our next truth. 


Truth 4: All People are Condemned for Rejecting God

Not only is every person guilty before God, but there is also nothing we can do to change this. Even our attempts to obey God only further uncover our inability to do so. 


We want people to be okay when they haven't had the opportunity to hear the gospel. But think with me about the logic of this conclusion. Imagine encountering an international student newly arrived on a college campus in the United states. You ask her if she has ever heard of Jesus and with a puzzled look on her face, she responds, "No." Now, if this girl is headed to heaven precisely because she has never heard of Jesus, then the best thing you could say to her for the sake of eternity is, "If anyone tries to tell you about Jesus, just put your hands on your ears, start yelling very loudly, and run away." Obviously, this particular methodology is not prescribed in Scripture. But when you follow the logic of the conclusion above, this is the practical result. 


Still though, some will maintain, "Well, is God just in condemning people for not believing in Jesus when they never had a chance to hear about Jesus?" I believe the answer is no. God would not be just in condemning people for not believing in a Savior they never heard of. But don't forget, people are not ultimately condemned for not believing in Jesus. They are ultimately condemned for rejecting God. 


I can imagine tears in Paul's eyes when he comes to Romans 3:20. He has painted a terrifying portrait of humanity's sinfulness. But I can also see Paul wiping away those tears as he pens his next words. 


Truth 5: God Has Made a Way of Salvation for the Lost

Romans 3:21-22
21 "But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."

Finally, the good news! Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave, and through him we can be righteous before God and assured of eternal life. God has made a way of salvation for the lost. Not a way, but the way. And this is the good news - the gospel. But the question still remains. What about people who never got to hear?

Truth 6: People Cannot Come to God Apart from Faith in Christ 


We long for there to be a way for those who have not heard to be saved. We are sure that God in his love would not allow them to go to hell when they haven't even heard of Jesus. Again, we need to consider the ramification of such a conclusion. If we conclude that people can get to heaven apart from faith in Christ, then this would mean there is something else they can do to get to heaven. Such a conclusion would not only undercut the previous truth we saw in Romans; it would also be tantamount to saying to Jesus, "Thank you for what you did on the cross, be we could have gotten to God another way." 


If people cannot come to God apart from faith in Christ, and is more than a billion people have never heard of Christ, then a serious and eternal problem exists. This problem leads us to the final assertion in the book of Romans. 


Truth 7: Christ Commands the Church to Make the Gospel Known to All Peoples

Romans 10:13-15
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

In these three short verses, we see God's design for taking the gospel to all the people of the world, including the billion who have never heard the name of Jesus. In order for us to see it, let's take the verbs from this passage in reverse order. Starting with the last verse, you see that God's plan involves sending His servant. So that's step one in the plan of God - God sends servants. 

Then, continuing to move backward in the passage, we see what those servants do. They preach. This is God's plan. He sends His servants, and His servants preach. 


Moving one step further back, when His servants preach, people hear. Unless we are preaching to a wall, people wall hear us when we preach. So the plan is progressing: God sends His servants, His servants preach, and people hear. 


When they hear, the previous sentence says, they will believe. This passage is teaching that when we preach and people hear, some of them will believe. We have seen that one day every nation, people, tribe, and language will be represented around the throne of Christ. This means that every people group is going to hear the gospel preached, and someone from every people group is going to trust Christ for salvation. God sends his servants, His servants preach, people hear, and hearers believe. 


The last two steps in God's plan are obvious. When hearers believe, they call on the name of the Lord. And when they call on His name, they will be saved. So there you have it - the simple divine plan for taking the gospel to all people of the world. 


God sends His servants. > His servants preach. > People hear. > Hearers believe. > Believers call. > Everyone who calls is saved. 


Now look back at this progression and ask one question: Is there any place where this plan can break down? 


There is only one potential breakdown in this progression - when servants of God do not preach the gospel to all peoples. 


We are the plan of God, and there is no plan B. 

If this is true, then the implications for our lives are huge. If more than a billion people today are headed to a Christless eternity and have not ever heard the gospel, then we don't have time to waste our lives on the American dream. Not if we have all been commanded to take the gospel to them. The tendency in our culture is to sit around debating this question, but in the end our goal is not to try to find an answer to it; our goal is to alleviate the question altogether. 

This is a cause worth living for. It is a cause worth dying for. It is a cause worthy of moving urgently on. We have the gospel of Christ in us, and we do not have time to waste. Some wonder if it is unfair for God to allow so many to have no knowledge of the gospel. But there is no injustice in God. The injustice lies in Christians who possess the gospel and refuse to give their lives to making it known among those who haven't heard. That is unfair. 


I find it interesting that one of the most common questions asked today among Christians is "What is God's will for my life?" or "How do I find God's will for my life?" Many Christians have almost assumed the attitude that they would obey God is he would just show them what He wanted them to do. In the middle of a Christian culture asking "How do I find God's will for my life?" I bring good news. His will is not lost. The answer is clear. The will of God is for you and me to give our lives urgently and recklessly to making the gospel and the glory of God known among all people, particularly those who have never even heard of Jesus. 


The question, therefore, is not "Can we find God's will," The question is "Will we obey God's will?" Will we refuse to sit back and wait for sine tingly feeling to go down our spines before we rise up and do what we have already been commanded to do? Will we risk everything - our comfort, our possessions, our safety, our security, our very lives - to make the gospel known among unreached people? 

Such rising up and such risking are the unavoidable, urgent results of a life that is radically abandoned to Jesus." 






3 comments:

  1. Part I:

    Wow, there is a lot going on here Shelby. Thanks for including us in this discussion! Sorry if my response is too long.
    The first thing I want to say is this; anytime we talk about Hell, we must have tears in our eyes.

    The second thing that jumps out at me, is that we need to take care of home. I am all for going out to the nations, but I believe that if it doesn’t work at home, don’t export it. I’ve been to India on a mission trip, and I have good friends who moved to central Mexico to be “full-time missionaries,” and God bless them, and may they continue to follow God’s call. But I also believe that all of us are to be full-time missionaries, wherever we are, whether that be on a “mission trip” to some unreached people group, or at school to an unreached fellow student, or being a parent and training our children in the way they should go. We are always ambassadors, not just when we get a stamp in our passport. With that said, Saint Patrick is one of my heroes, and he spent his life preaching to unreached people groups. However, I do not think all of us are called to do so.

    Now, maybe this is wrong of me, but I tend to get a mite bit discombobulated and flustered when people start pontificating against the American Dream. Here’s why - hardly anyone stops to define what they mean by the “American Dream.” We always need to define our terms, and this lack of defining the American Dream has been most distressing and bothersome to me. Does it mean we all want to make as much money as possible and buy bigger homes and faster cars? Or is the dream being able to follow your own dream, whatever it may be? Is it the hope of being able to worship freely and raise a family as we see fit? I need a formal definition before I can judge the statement. Usually when pastors talk against the “American Dream,” or are preaching on giving, I get the impression that they are talking against money . . . while driving nice cars and working with a large church budget.
    I will state my very biased opinion as succinctly as possible.
    There is nothing wrong with making money – nonetheless, the prosperity gospel is just as misguided as the poverty gospel – it puts money (either the lack thereof or the opulence thereof) at the top.
    The only reason many of us are home schooled is that our dads were able (by God’s grace, the only provider) to get a good enough job so mom could stay home and teach us. This requires no small amount of money. Was that wrong? I don’t believe so.
    A lot of pastors spent a lot of time, and money, getting lots of degrees at seminary . . . was that wrong?
    I do believe restraint it key – never to get an appetite so large that coveting becomes your modus operandi and your wealth is gained at the expense of others while trying to slake our ever-growing egos. Proper proportions, if you will, is very important in most every endeavor. Generally speaking, I dislike superlatives.

    And I know that God likes our hard work, our wise work, and our righteous work. Some Biblical examples . . .
    Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls. (Proverbs 27:23-27)
    All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. (Proverbs 14:23)
    But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
    That is my very brief and inadequate explanation of my position on work, money, provision, etc..

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  2. Part II:

    Back to the topic of Hell.
    Again, anytime we talk about Hell, we must have tears in our eyes.

    First, I like to keep the following verses in mind when talking about the eternal abode of our souls.

    Ezekiel 18:23 - “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

    Ezekiel 18:32 "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live."

    Ezekiel 33:11 - “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’”

    1 Timothy 2:4 – [God our Savior] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    Romans 2:12-16 - All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

    Now, I must underline my thoughts here – when it comes to gray areas, I need to make sure I stay humble and do not substitute my thoughts for God’s and call it Biblical. His ways are way higher than mine, His thoughts, ways, and reasons – He is God and can do what He wants. I am His servant and am still working on taking the log out of my own eye. And if I judge, by that measure will I be judged, so I really have to be careful! I am not sure exactly what the Romans’ passage is saying, but it seems to me to be full of mystery . . . and I am just fine living with mystery. It’s God’s mystery. 1 Peter 3:18-19 is another mysterious passage that we don’t know the full detail of also. But it just shows that we don’t know everything, but that we should keep on telling others of what we do know:

    A) God is good
    B) He wants as many to come to repentance as possible
    C) Heaven’s motto: “The more the merrier”
    D) He is generous (Matthew 20:1-16)

    However He wants to do it, is fine by me. He was doing just fine before I got here, He’ll be doing just fine long after I’m gone. But while I’m here, I’ll do my best to walk in His ways.

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  3. Thanks again Shelby for opening up such an important topic for discussion!

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thoughts so far