This month I spent a good amount of time thinking about and reflecting on missions. Missions was the theme of our youth winter retreat this year. The goal was to give the youth a passion for the Gospel so they would share it with everyone they know and have a greater vision of what God is doing all over the world in reaching people with the Gospel who have never heard it. This gave me a great opportunity to be crystal clear on the Gospel message, because if the Gospel is unclear in students’ minds, then they won’t have a passion for it and they won’t be able to obey the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). This emphasis has been a reminder for me to have an evangelistic focus in youth group, instilling a clear message and mission to live, share, and support those who proclaim this message all over the globe.
The Christian mission is to obey the call of Christ to proclaim the good news of salvation in His name to every person in every nation and people group. The Great Commission and God’s sovereign plan to use missionaries to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth must also be clearly understood (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). First, Jesus says He has all authority, which is the omnipotent power of God because He is God! The task to make disciples of all the nations appears hopeless and impossible, but the One who sends us has all power and authority! Missionaries therefore look to Christ to be given the strength and resources needed to accomplish this great task. The Great Commission then says “Go,” a continuous action, meaning as we are going, whenever and wherever we are going. We may be going to work, or school, or to the market or a store. We are on the move and we should be evangelizing and seizing opportunities to share the Gospel. We may be going locally or some may be led to go far away from home to share the Gospel.
Next, we often miss the point that our main mission is to make disciples. A disciple is someone who has believed the Gospel and repented, but it also means someone who has submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and is committed to following His teachings and example. Saving faith may happen at one time, but discipleship is lifelong involving faithfulness, growth, and sacrifice. Baptism is also mentioned, which is a public testimony symbolizing the reality of what has happened in Jesus Christ. Going down into the water pictures death and being cleansed of sins. The Christian was dead in sins, but now is made alive by the Holy Spirit with the blood of Jesus Christ washing away all iniquities. Rising out of the water symbolizes unity with Christ and having the hope of resurrection. Spiritual resurrection has already occurred, but full physical resurrection will happen at the return of Christ. Baptism also occurs in the name of our Triune God.
It is also underemphasized that what is required is teaching Christ’s commandments with the goal of obedience. Jesus’ teachings are God’s standards, the qualities of character and commands to be obeyed to live righteously and to grow in holiness. Faith and repentance mean salvation with the fruit of true faith being obedience, so all Christ followers are required to learn and obey. Lastly, we should be encouraged by Jesus’ presence with us! In the Old Testament God would encourage His servants (like Moses and Joshua) with His presence (Ex 3:12; Josh 1:5, 9). God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are with us, guiding us, providing for us, and empowering us to proclaim the Gospel and to make disciples!
I have also been greatly impacted by learning about God’s heart for the lost. It is extremely important that we understand why everyone should be passionate and motivated to proclaim the Gospel to everyone everywhere: because of the love of God for the souls of people lost and hopeless sinners. The reality is that people are enslaved to their sins and estranged from God. People are spiritually dead and helpless in this state and only look forward to condemnation for their sins and eternity away from God in hell. God and Christ have expressed their love at the cross (John 3:16; Rom 5:8). God planned it and Jesus the Son accomplished it. God’s sacrificial love and grace should motivate us to proclaim the Gospel. We should always remember we are talking about eternal destinies, either in heaven or hell. This life may be difficult, so there is nothing more important than knowing there is hope and eternal life in heaven with God (John 6:67-69; 17:3).
The Bible says that God does not take pleasure in the death or eternal condemnation of the wicked, but desires that all would repent and be saved (Ezek 33:11; John 3:17; 1 Tim 2:3-5). In the book of Jonah the heart of God for the lost is expressed clearly: “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2b). In examining this verse we see that God is gracious, freely giving favor and blessing to all people who cannot earn it and who do not deserve it, offering the gift of salvation for those who repent and believe (Eph 2:8-9). God is merciful, meaning He is just and must punish sin, but He is merciful in offering forgiveness when faith and repentance occur.
God is slow to anger, which is actually His just and righteous anger against rebellion and sin. God may often appear angry in the Old Testament, but this overlooks His graciousness and patience with sinners, sometimes for centuries as entire nations and the Israelites participate in ongoing sin and idolatry. God is not quick to anger and judgment; instead He gives time for repentance, but His patience in offering repentance does not last forever (2 Pet 3:9). God’s lovingkindness is His loyal and committed love. It is love that lasts and a kindness that has compassion upon those to whom it is shown. Lastly, God relents from doing harm, showing that the message of salvation is the same in the Old Testament as in the New Testament. God is not looking to destroy people, but to save them (John 3:17). From Genesis to Revelation, God is ready to forgive and save those who turn and repent.
I encouraged the youth in some practical ways to get involved in missions and evangelism. The reality is that everywhere is a mission field. Our neighbor, family member, or friend who does not know Christ is just as lost as a soul anywhere else. Therefore, whether we call it missions or evangelism, we have the responsibility to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Every Christian must know that missions and evangelism are based on God working through prayer, whether praying for our neighbors or coworkers, for countries opening up for the Gospel, or for specific missionaries (Matt 9:37-38). Missionaries are also constantly looking for support by specific prayer or financially to advance the mission. I encouraged the students to look at the board of missionaries we have here at the church and to think about writing them a letter of encouragement. I also want to do a “missionary spotlight” during youth group from time to time to remind our students of our missionaries all over the world. Lastly, I encouraged the students that some of us would sense the calling to share the Gospel with people groups who have no Gospel witness.
The Great Commission is not an option; it is a command. We are always going and we are always sending so the Gospel message spreads to the ends of the earth.
- Pastor Spencer Carpenter