“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things.”– Romans 10:15
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”– I Corinthians 15:3-4
The Great Commission is first and foremost about communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ to others and building up those who believe through continued instruction in the gospel and the full counsel of God. The apostle Paul declared that the gospel is not only the power of God for the salvation of the lost,1 but it is also the great mystery which leads to true godliness in the life of the saint.2 For this reason, it is proper to say that there is no Great Commission apart from the gospel. In fact, there is no Christianity!
A Brief Summary of the Gospel
The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word euangélion, which is properly translated “good news.” In one sense, the gospel is found on every page of the Scriptures, but in another sense, the gospel refers to a very specific message—the salvation accomplished for a fallen people through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In accordance with the Father’s good pleasure,3 the eternal Son, who is equal to the Father and the exact representation of His nature,4 willingly left the glory of heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, and was born the God-Man — Jesus of Nazareth.5 As a man, He walked on this earth in perfect obedience to the Law of God.6 In the fullness of time, He was rejected by men and crucified. On the cross, He bore man’s sin, suffered God’s wrath, and died in man’s place.7 On the third day, He was raised from the dead. The resurrection is the divine declaration that the Father has accepted His Son’s death as a sacrifice for sin — the penalty for man’s disobedience has been paid, the demands of God’s justice satisfied, and His wrath appeased.8 God may pardon the sinner without infringing or violating His justice. In the words of Paul, He may be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.9 Forty days after the resurrection, the Son of God ascended into the heavens, sat down at the right hand of the Father, and was given glory, honor, and dominion overall.10 There, in the presence of God, He represents His people and makes requests to God on their behalf.11 All who acknowledge their sinful and helpless estate, repent of their rebellion, and throw themselves upon Christ by faith will be fully pardoned, declared righteous, and reconciled to God.12
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest of all treasures given to the church and the individual Christian. It is not “a” message among many, but “the” message above them all. It is the power of God for salvation13 and the greatest revelation of the manifold wisdom of God to men and angels.14 It is for this reason that the apostle Paul gave the gospel the “first place” in his preaching,15 endeavored with all his might to proclaim it clearly,16 and even went so far as to pronounce a curse upon all those who would pervert its truth.17
An Exhortation to Missionaries
In light of the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the central message of God’s redemptive work and “the” theme of the Great Commission, we must ask ourselves the following questions: How much of our Christian lives have we devoted to comprehending the great truths of the gospel? How rigorously have we trained ourselves so that we might communicate these truths to others? In all our doing, what have we done? Have we neglected “the” message of missions for minor things?
Missionaries do not save men! Mission strategies do not save men! The gospel alone saves!18 Therefore, we must not even entertain the idea of going to the mission field until we have poured ourselves out in the study of this indispensable message of our faith? The Scriptures tell us that, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”19 If Ezra the scribe should demonstrate such devotion to the Law, which “has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things,”20 how much more should we devote our lives to comprehending and clearly communicating the gospel? David declared, “My heart overflows with a good theme; …My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”21 How much more should the missionary be able to say that the gospel is the theme of his heart and his tongue is like the stylus of an experienced scribe in the things of the gospel.”22
The above exhortation may seem overstated or excessive, but this is only because we live in an age that often treats the gospel as little more than a few “spiritual laws” that unlock the door to heaven. Although the importance of the gospel is often declared, it is rarely treated in practice as the greatest and most profound message of the Christian faith or as worthy of a lifetime of the most serious and reverent study. In truth, many today seem to view the gospel as “Christianity 101”—the milk of the Word that can be quickly digested23 so that one might then go on to greater and deeper truths. However, such a view betrays our ignorance of the Scriptures. It is true that the gospel’s essential elements can be understood by a child so as to give him the “wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”24 However, the gospel is also so profound that the greatest minds among angels and men will never sound its depths and so high that the greatest scholars will utterly exhaust themselves before they even reach its foothills.
The missionary is primarily a gospel “bearer.” It is therefore a requirement of the highest order that he, above all others, give his life to the study and proclamation of the gospel. Only those who see the priority of the gospel and have devoted their lives to comprehending and proclaiming its truths have the right to bear the title of “missionary.” What could be more absurd and dangerous than sending forth an army of well-meaning missionaries with a superficial understanding of the gospel, a restricted appreciation of its worth, and a shallow proclamation of its truths? Missionaries carry with them the seed that will grow into the root that will spread out as branches and bear fruit among the people to whom they have been sent. It is frightening to think that the seed we carry may not be pure, resulting in the fruit of death rather than the fruit of life!
Each generation of Christians is a steward of the gospel message and is called upon to guard through the Holy Spirit this treasure that has been entrusted to them.25 If we are to be faithful stewards, we must be absorbed in the study of the gospel, take great pains to understand its truths,26 and pledge ourselves to guard its contents. In doing so, we will ensure salvation both for ourselves and for those who hear us.27 The church’s global missionary endeavors would be utterly transformed with power if its missionaries gave themselves, in theory and in practice, to a lifetime of the study and proclamation of the gospel.
One of the greatest crimes of this generation of Christians is its neglect of the gospel, and it is from this neglect that all our other maladies spring forth. The lost world is not so much “gospel hardened” as it is “gospel ignorant” because many of those who proclaim the gospel, are also ignorant of its most basic truths. Absent from too many pulpits at home and on the mission field are the essential themes which make up the very core of the gospel: the justice of God; the radical depravity of man; the imputation of our sin to Christ; the pouring out of God’s wrath upon Christ; the necessity of Christ’s resurrection; the present work of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King; the regenerating work of the Spirit; the nature of genuine repentance and saving faith; the doctrine of justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the one who believes; the evidences of true conversion; and the biblical basis for the assurance of the believer’s salvation. In many cases, these great doctrines have been neglected and the gospel message has been reduced to a few creedal statements, conversion has become a mere human decision, and assurance of salvation is pronounced over anyone who prays the sinner’s prayer. This is a great crime.
A missionary’s stewardship of the gospel is of utmost importance. Therefore, before we launch out in zeal, we must be sure that we are grounded in the truth. Do we really know the gospel, or have we simply learned some method of evangelism? At the risk of sounding too severe, I must conclude this article in a rather pointed manner: A person unschooled in the gospel of Jesus Christ has no business on the mission field. The missionary with a superficial view of the gospel is the great bane28 of the Great Commission. However, the missionary who holds to the supremacy of the gospel message, studies it diligently, and proclaims it clearly is the most valuable of all laborers. Like the Apostle Paul, though his “personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible,”29 he will be a most useful and exalted servant in the hands of God; a man capable of transforming nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues with the singular message he proclaims.
- Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
- I Timothy 3:16 – “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness…”
- Acts 2:23
- Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 1:3
- Philippians 2:7; Luke 1:35
- Hebrews 4:15
- I Peter 2:24; I Peter 3:18; Isaiah 53:10
- Luke 24:6; Romans 1:4; Romans 4:25
- Romans 3:26
- Hebrews 1:3; Matthew 28:18; Daniel 7:13-14
- Luke 24:51; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 7:25
- Mark 1:15; Romans 10:9; Philippians 3:3
- Romans 1:16
- Ephesians 3:10
- I Corinthians 15:3
- Colossians 4:4
- Galatians 1:8-9
- Romans 1:16; Acts 4:12
- Ezra 7:10
- Hebrews 10:1
- Psalms 45:1
- Taken from the NET Bible: “My heart is stirred by a beautiful song. I say, ‘I have composed this special song for the king; my tongue is as skilled as the stylus of an experienced scribe.’”
- Hebrews 5:12-13; I Peter 2:2
- II Timothy 3:15
- II Timothy 1:14
- I Timothy 4:15
- I Timothy 4:16
- The term “bane” comes from the Old English word bana, which refers to that which causes death or a poison. It refers to any cause of great distress or annoyance.
- I Corinthians 2:1-5; 4:9-13; II Corinthians 10:10
Paul serves as the HeartCry Coordinator in Western Europe. He is currently overseeing our missionaries in Italy, Spain, and France. He is also the founder and director of the HeartCry Missionary Society. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer