WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Jerry Rankin said believers must share the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who have not heard it so that the Good News does not become bad news to those who die without hearing the saving message.
Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, spoke during an IMB commissioning service at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., April 21.
The service, which ended in prayer for those preparing for mission assignments, is an annual event at the seminary focusing on the need for more students to commit to serving wherever God calls them.
Southeastern’s overseas deployment this year includes 14 couples and two single missionaries. The group, which is being sent out as part of the seminary’s master of divinity with international church planting program (2+2), is going mainly to Central Asia, with some going to South Asia, North Africa and East Asia.
Passion for the Great Commission should lead more people to live it out, taking the message of the Gospel into the world, Rankin said. While there has been more of an advance of God’s Kingdom in the 21st century than many have seen before, the job is unfinished, he reminded students.
“[God] is using wars and troubles to bring people to Jesus Christ,” Rankin said. “However, there are still pockets in the world who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus.”
Those pockets of people will one day “find that access to heaven is not through suicide bombings or accumulated karma but through one mediator — Jesus Christ,” he said.
The term used in Scripture to describe people who have never heard is “walking in darkness,” Rankin noted.
“If darkness is the absence of light, and Jesus is the light of the world, then this is an apt description. For these people walking in darkness, the Gospel is bad news,” he said.
Whenever he is confronted with the argument that people who have not heard the Gospel will not be held accountable for it, Rankin said he tells them that God does not condemn them.
“Their sin condemns them,” Rankin said. “It’s an illusion that there are those who are sinless because they’ve never encountered the Gospel.
“So let’s pretend that in their sincerity of heart, even if they have never heard the Gospel, that God in His mercy would save them. If that was the case, our most effective strategy would be, ‘Shhh. Let’s never speak the Word of God,'” Rankin said. “That’s not what Scripture teaches. There will come a day when all will be judged on one criterion: their relationship to Christ. Jesus Christ is the only way, so it is bad news for those who have never heard.”
Too often, Rankin said Christians use the Apostle Paul’s proclamation in Philippians 2 that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” as an excuse that they do not need to share the Gospel message.
But the majority of people will not confess Christ until it is too late and they stand before the throne of God, Rankin said.
“For most of those people [who confess Christ as Lord], it will be too late. It will be undeniable who is Lord of Lords and King of Kings and they will see their mistake,” he said.
“How tragic it will be for people who have never heard the Gospel message to come face to face with the One who gives access and hear Him say, ‘Depart from Me. I never knew you.’ Oh, how that should compel us to tell the name of Jesus.”
Lauren Crane writes for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.