The weekly series addresses nine reasons churches give for not sending workers to fields left unharvested. The first reason, which I wrote about last week, was the muddling that arises from the use of the word “Gentile” to define the mission world instead of “nation” or “ethnic people.” If we see the mission field only as Gentiles, we miss the 7,000 nations left in those fields.
One of the deterrents to sending workers there is the mistaken notion that all will be saved in the end. This posting explores the implications of that belief.
If God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on the cross for us, then reason, hope, and sheer compassion all lead to the same conclusion: with such a costly sacrifice of God, surely He will grant salvation to all people. All—Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, atheist, all—will be granted heaven by God in the final judgment.
After all, we are told that we are unable to gain saving grace on our own merit or effort. God alone brings salvation. And we are to think He would keep some out? Unimaginable! Despite our respectful hesitancy, we can only think that God would be hard-hearted if that were His intention.
Pardon me, but spare me any efforts of logic or verses or arcane theology to contradict this universal hope. To do so must ignore the unyielding and inevitable affirmation of divine love.
In this light foreign missions becomes, well, irrelevant at best and insulting at worst. The message is really not a message—who needs to know? This would be like declaring, “I want you to know that you have two kidneys.” Who needs to be told?
Since God is going to save everybody, so why go?
Believing that all will be saved is not foolproof nor above examination. As compelling and desirable as universal salvation is, we must not shirk at giving it a close look.
Our concern here is implications for foreign mission. I will bring up just one objection before turning to mission. Consider the God-given freedom of the will. Can God honor our freedom and also keep His promise of salvation for all?
This God-given capacity sets us apart from automatons. We have the ability to choose—whether it be the cheese we have with a glass of wine or the destiny we cling to. If I choose to freely love and worship God, that is the love God desires–His pearl of great price, we might say. It is offered as my freely given response, not extracted as a pre-ordained mindset without no possible alternative.
I can also exercise that freedom to give God a pass, to choose not to link my life to his, to commit to other gods and ultimately to refuse Jesus Christ. Many do just that: reject the cross of Jesus Christ and his forgiveness and not find in it the abundant life. They just don’t want what God offers, so they choose a life apart from him. If God overrules this person’s free rejection, does he not violate the sanction given to us all? You can’t have it both ways—our true freedom and God saving those who choose to refuse Him.
But this is not a theological refutation of universalism; this is about the choice denied those who have not even heard of Jesus Christ as God’s Son. The number is legion, over one quarter of the world’s population today. Those are the people where the workers are few and their fields barely plowed.
No, I have no inside knowledge of how God will treat those who die never having had the opportunity to choose faith in Jesus Christ. What we can affirm, however, is that all who do believe receive the assurance that, sinners though they are, they may be assured of God’s grace and God’s eternal salvation.
We return to the opening quotation and put back all the words it as spoken by Jesus. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” In those simple words we have the requirement for receiving the salvation of Jesus Christ—believing in him. That does not lead to esoteric parsing of Greek verbs and such. It simply means what it says: believing in Jesus as God’s Son whom He gave to die on the cross for our sin. Faith in that brings eternal life.
As for those who have never heard this Good News, those in unharvested fields, we must leave the conclusions to the God who sent His Son to die for the sins of the world, only hoping for mission motivation to overtake the church.
How then will they call on him in whom
they have not believed?
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 10:14, 15