“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1
How great a truth is this! The God of the universe makes Himself known through all He has created. The vast expanse of sky above speaks of His infinite power and His eternal supremacy over everything below. Although there is no audible sound to be heard, no articulation of speech to be observed, the voice of His Creation goes out to the ends of the earth (Psalm 19:2-4) and is clearly understood. All the world’s inhabitants have received the message of God’s splendor and majesty. All have not only experienced the sun’s light and the felt the heat of its rays and considered the source of such goodness, but man is completely dependent upon its daily provision for life (Psalm 19:5-6). God’s existence is undeniable, proven through that which He has made. And for this reason, He is worthy of all honor and praise and worship.
This is what theologians refer to as the doctrine of natural (or general) revelation (as opposed to God’s particular or special revelation which is given through the Holy Spirit’s illumination of His Word). God has disclosed enough about Himself through the created universe and man’s own consciousness that all must acknowledge that there is a Supreme Being. No one can claim ignorance. So much has been revealed that Paul writes the following. “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:20).” However, this creates a problem for us.
Although general revelation is perceivable to all, it is not without its soteriological limitations. That is to say, alone it has no power to save. Without the gospel (God’s special revelation through Christ), there is no hope of salvation (see Romans 10:14-18). So if you are tracking with me, here is what can be understood. Because of God’s general revelation, all are aware of Him and are without excuse. Yet, short of receiving the good news of Jesus, each man and woman will surely perish.
So while this Scripture serves as a sweet reminder of our marvelous Lord and Savior and His graciousness toward us, it should also stand before us as a very humbling reality. There are men and women, entire people groups, born into this world, a world that has been crafted by God, in which they will experience God through His natural revelation, yet live their few years under the sun and die, having never been engaged with the truth that can save them from their sins. They will know enough about God to be found guilty and condemned, yet will have never heard the precious name of Jesus; they know nothing of His cross.
So what do we do about? Well, we can try to philosophize about how God surely wouldn’t send these unreached peoples to hell. Of course, this stance is impossible to defend biblically, for “none is righteous, no not one (Romans 3:9-18).” We can pretend that it isn’t our problem, but then again, Scripture seems to place this burden upon the church. Jesus’ famous last words involve making disciples of all nations, by taking His gospel to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). To return to my previous reference of Paul in Romans 10, the apostle was making a case for the urgency of global missions, long before the enormity of the globe was even known. Again, what is meant by Paul in Romans 15:20? “And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” His point is clear; the apostle was adamant about taking the gospel where it had not yet been preached!
Are we similarly concerned today? Does the thought of the nearly 6500+ unreached people groups passing away to face an eternity separated from their Creator burden you at all? To what extent have you been grieved? Is it evident in your life – your personal evangelism, your giving and involvement in the discipleship process at your local church? Perhaps the most sobering question, how about in your personal prayer life? Have you labored and anguished, petitioning the Lord to send messengers to herald the good news? Sure, not all of us are called to carry the gospel to the heathen nations. But is that really the concern? Are we afraid that everyone will suddenly leave, vacating our American pews? You and I both know that’s hardly the case.
Obedience for some of us may indeed require staying put. But if so, we must ask: Are we involved in the sending and supporting of our missionaries? Those who will forsake the comforts and safety of their home to go, and by God’s grace, save some, are we praying for them corporately? Are we as families? Individually, are we doing this? Are we involved in sharing God’s heart for the nations as revealed in Scripture (Genesis 12:1-3, Psalm 67, Isaiah 61, Psalm 117, Psalm 96, Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 24:14, Revelation 5, etc.)? Are we calling people to see the realities of the world and the biblical mandate for global missions? Please know that by asking these things today, I’m in no way trying to portray myself as one that is perfect in these areas. In fact, even as I type this blog, I’m convicted of my own, far-too-occasional indifference.
I’ve seen myself as a gospel guy for many years now. I understand the gospel as being as important to the seasoned Christian today as it was when he first believed. I know that it is what I must cling to each hour of every day. I have also stated my belief that the good news of Jesus propels His disciples outward to serve and make His name known. Yet in all of my gospel-centered teaching and writing, my concern for reaching the ends of the earth has been lacking. I could try to convince myself that it hasn’t; I could attempt to justify my good intentions. Or I could simply repent of not giving a rip. I can believe the gospel and move forward in faith that I’ve been forgiven, and I can seek to make the most of the time that is left. And the same is true for you. Will you own your indifference? May we repent together, and in the strength God provides, carry this burden together?
Lord, allow us to consider the global implications of this doctrine we’ve discussed. Help us to see our role in fulfilling Your Great Commission. Oh that Your grace might captivate us, motivate, inspire, and enlarge our hearts to spend our lives in making the hope of Your gospel known, both here and abroad, for our greatest joy and Your utmost glory. Amen
Associate Pastor of Missions & Students