“He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” -Jim Elliot. This now-famous quote was written on October 28, 1949, in a journal. During a time of deep intimacy with God, these words flowed from a then 21-year-old whose greatest passion was to see lost men and women receive Christ. The great commission was Jim Elliot’s greatest concern. Is it ours?
What is the great commission?
Before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, He commissioned (formally chose) His followers to make disciples of all nations throughout the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18). Before this, Jesus states that upon his resurrection all authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9-11). Therefore, His charge to His disciples then, and by extension His disciples now, isn’t a suggestion but a command. Jesus lived, died and rose for sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and now He commands us to go into all the world and tell everyone about it. So then why does data suggest that evangelistic efforts in the West are decreasing?
Am I concerned?
There have been plenty of conversations both on- and offline that have discussed the current and previous evangelistic efforts and their relative successes or failures. Some have suggested that we should move away from street evangelism and more towards ‘living out the gospel’. Whilst I understand the sentiment, I think this type of thinking has created a false dichotomy between preaching and living out the gospel. Also, data suggests that we aren’t preaching or living the Gospel enough with the number of people unreached (see Joshua Project & State of Theology).
Romans 10 gives us a fascinating insight into concern for others, preaching, and living the Gospel. Paul begins the chapter by expressing his heart’s desire was to see his kinsmen saved (Romans 10:1), is this yours? He goes on to state that it’s possible to be zealous about God and yet not know Him (Romans 10:2-3), do you know people like this? Paul declares that true righteousness is through faith in Jesus, the culmination of the law (Romans 10:4-8), and this authentic faith confesses true things about Jesus, namely his death and resurrection, with the mouth and heart that believes in it(Romans 10:9-13); have you done this? Finally, this confession of faith and belief in the heart comes from hearing the word of God. How can people hear unless someone speaks? But how can these people speak if they haven’t been sent? So, who has done the sending? Jesus. (Romans 10:14-17; cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-18). The question that remains then is why aren’t we going if we have been sent?
So how can we make the great commission the great concern of our souls? I think we can find the answer in Romans 10:17 and Colossians 3:16. We need ears to hear the truth, we need mouths to speak the truth, and we need faith to believe the truth. When all these elements combine what will develop is a deeper affection for Jesus and the people He created in His image. There will be no deep desire to do the great commission if our affection for Jesus is low. Jesus makes it clear if we love Him, we will obey Him (John 14:15). What we don’t need to do is to create undiscipled Pharisees that treat evangelism as some sort of numbers game. Neither should we create apathetic Christians who use the sovereignty of God as an excuse to be inactive. What we do need is a high view of Jesus and the Gospel He proclaimed so that more people can be grafted into the Beloved by the power of God.
What is at Stake?
The Gospel is the good news that God, through Jesus, has come to reconcile the cosmos unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Why did God need to do this? Because since sin entered the world there is now hostility between God and His creation (Romans 8:18-22; Ephesians 2:3). As a result of sin, humans are under the wrath of God (Ezekiel 7:8; Romans 1:18, 5:1) and this world is passing away (Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:10). But God is redemptive. He has a people that He is redeeming for Himself and He calls those people to go into all the world (cosmos) and make disciples. There is a world out there that needs to hear the Gospel that doesn’t just save them from the wrath of God but more than that makes them children of God. Being silent about the Gospel has less to do with preference about the methodology of evangelism and more about our heart posture towards Jesus and sinners. If we really believe what the Gospel promises, then how can we be silent?
The Same Faith as Jim Elliot
For those of us who bear the name of Christ, the great commission must be our great concern. If we want the same faith as Jim Elliot, a man who was so consumed by sinners hearing and receiving the gospel, that it governed how he lived, then we must be consumed by God’s word as he was. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17) and when this faith fills your heart, hope and love will follow (Romans 5:4). This is what we need for the great commission to be our great concern.