WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–David Platt said he often is asked, “What happens to the innocent man in Africa who has never heard the Gospel?” The challenge, he said, is not to answer that question but to alleviate the question altogether.
Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., spoke during Global Missions Week at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the spring semester. In addition to Platt and other chapel speakers who emphasized the Great Commission, the week included time for students to interact with missionaries.
Platt said he once visited a church that thanked him for spreading the Gospel to the nations “so we don’t have to.”
He said, “There was a range of emotions — sadness … anger. Then I thought, Maybe that pastor said what most Christians in our context would say, but they lack the boldness. Have we created an entire system of checks so that we don’t ever have to go?” Platt said.
Rather than boldly going and making disciples, as all are commanded to do, Platt said he fears the modern church has made it entirely possible for people to send money without ever really ensuring that they are fulfilling the Great Commission.
Going through several chapters in the Book of Romans, Platt challenged the audience to determine what it is they really believe about people who never hear the Gospel — whether Christians think the Lord will “annihilate them and send them to hell,” as one man phrased it to Platt, or whether they believe people will go to heaven regardless of whether they hear the Gospel.
“If [we believe] they go to heaven, then it makes sense for us to spend all of our money and resources on ourselves,” Platt said. “If [we believe] they’re perishing and will go to an eternal hell without ever hearing the Gospel, then we must send all our resources and expend ourselves to take the Gospel to the nations.”
The Bible and the Book of Romans specifically answer the often-heard question, Platt said, noting several scriptural points that call Christians to go to the nations, or billions will die and spend eternity in hell.
First, Platt used Romans 1:20 to articulate that all people are created with a knowledge of the one, true God.
“All people know God the Father and have knowledge of God the Father,” he said. “Whether it is in an African village or an Eskimo on the frozen tundra, all people have knowledge.” Furthermore, Platt said, all people reject that knowledge of God. “This is the human condition for all of us.”
In response to the question, “What happens to the innocent man in Africa?” Platt said no one is innocent. “If they were innocent,” he said, “they would have no need for the Gospel.”
All people, then, have a need for the Gospel, for all people are condemned for rejecting God.
“There’s this idea that if people have never heard the Gospel, they’ll not be accountable and they’ll go to heaven,” Platt said. “We bias this question toward ourselves and away from the holiness of God, but the reality is we are all guilty.”
In Romans, the Apostle Paul explains that “no one is righteous in God’s sight by observing the law. Our best efforts even condemn us more,” Platt said. But God has made a way for the lost to be redeemed and not condemned, he said, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “Feel the weight and the wonder of the words of Romans 3:25: ‘Made a propitiation for our sins by his blood.’
“We’re not saved because He was falsely tried and beaten. Was He scared of what the Roman soldiers would do to Him? Absolutely not,” Platt said. “He went there taking the full infinitely holy wrath of God. God turned away because He could not stand to see my sin and your sin on His Son.”
No one has access to the sacrifice of the Son except through faith in Christ, Platt said, and God commands the church to preach this to all nations. Looking at Romans 10, Platt said believers can see the chain of events that leads to people hearing the Gospel: Christ sending His people, His people preaching the Gospel and people believing the Gospel message.
“Obviously, not everyone who hears believes. One day, though, there will be people representing every tribe, nation and tongue [in eternity].”
As part of the chapel service, Platt commissioned families and individuals being deployed around the world through Southeastern’s International Church Planting program.
“For those families going out, that’s confidence. Somebody will believe. Not everybody, but somebody will,” Platt said.
“This is the humble reality: In God’s infinite wisdom and grace, He has made you and I Plan A for getting the Gospel to His people. There is no Plan B. He has chosen to use you and me to make His glory known to the ends of the earth.”
RANKIN EMPHASIZES GREAT COMMISSION — In his last sermon at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as president of the International Mission Board, Jerry Rankin said the problem with fulfilling the Great Commission is a lack of motivation on the part of Jesus’ followers.
During a chapel message, Rankin asked how much Southeastern students love the Lord and other people, and he questioned how much they would offer so a world hurtling toward hell would be saved.
Rankin has served as IMB president for 17 years and will retire July 31. At Southeastern’s Global Missions Week, Rankin challenged students to consider how God’s call on their lives relates to the Great Commission.
“It’s not a problem of understanding the task or the urgency of it,” Rankin said. “We have a problem with motivation. The Great Commission was not an afterthought. It was the plan from the beginning of time. It wasn’t just to save you and I. It was to give us a message of hope and redemption for the nations,” Rankin said.
As president of the IMB, Rankin said he is familiar with the number of people who are taking seriously the call to make disciples of all the nations. In looking at the numbers, Rankin noted that though there are more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries currently serving around the world, they represent only .03 percent of all Southern Baptists.
“To who do you think the Great Commission was given? An elite few?” Rankin asked. “We have failed to realize it’s a mandate to all of God’s people. No one is exempt. We will all be held accountable.”
In light of this mandate to make disciples of all nations, Rankin said believers must understand what the motivation is. Before Jesus gave the command to make disciples, Rankin said He commanded His followers to look.
“Lift up your eyes and see the fields, white unto harvest,” Rankin said, quoting Christ’s words in John 4:35. “He commanded them to look at the world and see it as God sees it. We will never do anything until we open our eyes and see the lostness of people.”
Rankin said the fields truly are white unto harvest, more so now in the 21st century than ever before. More than 100 unreached people groups have been reached each year with the Gospel message.
“Never have we seen such an unprecedented opportunity for harvest, and we will never see it unless we open our eyes and look,” he said.
Once God’s people become aware of the opportunities around them, Rankin said, they should remember Christ’s command to love God first and then love their neighbors as themselves.
“Neighbors are not your own kind of people, but other races, other cultures and people who are antagonistic toward us,” Rankin said. “Why? Because love is others-centered. It is not about us. This is the greatest commandment. Love enables our life to become a channel for God’s love to others.”
Rankin referenced the question, “How much do you have to hate someone to not tell them about the Good News of the Gospel?” To a lost world, a lack of Gospel proclamation — while believers claim it is the most important thing — looks like hate toward those who don’t believe, he said. But it may not be hate that prevents someone from sharing the Gospel, Rankin said. It may simply be indifference or pride.
“We know what the Lord has told us to do, but that doesn’t send us to the lost,” Rankin said. “It is only when we come into a relationship with Him and we realize we’re sinners saved by His grace and mercy that we become a channel of His love.”
Looking and seeing the fields that are white for harvest and loving the Lord and neighbors will motivate believers to share the Gospel and make disciples, he said.
“It’s an expectation. When you obey the commands to look and love, it’s an expectation that we’ll do anything to go and share the Gospel,” Rankin said. “Once we’re aware of those who have never heard, is there not something in our hearts, because of our love for God and others, that will compel us to go? Why have you never considered that God may want to use you to take the Gospel to unreached people groups?”
Before inviting people to surrender their hearts and wills to the Lord, Rankin said, “All those questions are answered by the stated question: ‘How do you say the love of God is in you and yet close your eyes to a world in need?'”
PATRICK SPEAKS ON IDOLATRY, PREACHING — Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis, spoke on idolatry and Gospel-anchored preaching in a series of sermons at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary during the spring semester.
Patrick, who planted Journey Church in 2002, noted that idolatry is the most warned-about sin in the Bible.
Because idolatry is the core issue of sin, it is the focus of the first two of the Ten Commandments, Patrick said, noting, “If we break commandments 3-10, it is because we have firstly broken the first two commandments.”
Everyone is “a worshiper of something,” Patrick said. “You were created to worship and simply must worship. We simply must trust something beyond ourselves, and whatever we look to begins to rule our lives.” Every person is either a worshiper of God or an idolator, worshiping a God substitute, Patrick said.
Idolatry occurs when anything other than the Lord begins to take primacy in a person’s heart, he said. Even good things can become idols when they become “too good. If it becomes the main way you feel alive, it becomes an idol.” Patrick said people will look to idols to give them peace, meaning and purpose in life. “We want them to give us what only God can give us. That’s why they always disappoint.”
Some things that become idols are things that Patrick said “are good things, but that become too good. Ministry is good, but it is not God. Even being a pastor is good, but it is not the best thing.”
A trap many pastors fall into is chasing after the idol of approval by preaching sermons that are more “feel-good” than Gospel-centered, Patrick said.
In a message on preaching, Patrick counseled young preachers on setting forth the Gospel in such a way that believers are edified and non-believers are converted.
“How do you preach in such a way that the believers in your church bring unbelieving friends? Do you talk about sin in such a way that post-moderns don’t blow you off?” Patrick asked. “The way is by preaching the Gospel. You have all the resources because the Bible screams the Gospel.”
The problem, Patrick said, is that pastors “aren’t great at tying our sermons back to the person and work of Jesus Christ as the grounds for our obedience.”
The same Gospel that leads people to become followers of Christ is also prescriptive for how to live in obedience to Christ, Patrick said. “Does the Apostle Paul say he only preaches salvation? He talked to them about all things by talking about the person and work of Jesus Christ on their behalf.”
When preachers today teach on all things, they must start with Jesus rather than making biblical principles the primary focus, Patrick said. This will lead to sermons being Gospel-centered instead of concerned with legalism or pleasing the congregations with “seeker-sensitive” messages.
Pastors often feel pressure “because the people beg, ‘Pastor, fix me.’ They want you to address ‘felt needs.'”
Addressing three of the most common “felt needs” he sees in the church today, Patrick discussed how the Gospel directly applies to money, marriage and sex by pointing to Jesus and His example. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, for example, Paul is trying to motivate the people to give generously by pointing to Jesus, Patrick said. “He doesn’t do shame or guilt. He does directness. Jesus gave everything. Look on Him.”
Likewise, Patrick said those who want answers or advice about their marriage or sex life must look to the Gospel as the source of guidance.
“Is it about you and what you must do, or is the about God and what He has done? The Gospel is this: That God Himself has come to rescue sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ,” Patrick said.
“You have to have your heart imploded by the generosity and love of the Lord,” Patrick said. “That will make you pure, loving and generous long-term. If you preach like this, you’ll begin to produce Spirit-transformed people, not merely morally restrained people.”
Lauren Crane writes for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.