The Law and Gospel and Missions
(This devotional is an excerpt of a longer article that will appear in the Sverdrup Journal 2014 that will be published in June 2015.)
By Craig Johnson
Pictures of needy, starving children from other parts of the world can be an effective tool to create guilt and compel people to give toward missions. Some people have become missionaries because they have felt convicted about opportunities they have received that others have only dreamed about. Verses like Luke 12:48 have been hammered over people’s heads: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” The law has been used to produce guilt-driven missionaries.
Georg Sverdrup, the founder of the Lutheran Free Church, movement had a great passion for missions. He encouraged people to take the good news of Christ and “Bear it out in thousands and thousands of languages, until it shines in all dark lands, in all dark houses and huts, yes, in all dark hearts! Bear it out, further and further out. … It is God’s light which is to be carried forth for the salvation of the people.”
Missions was a topic Sverdrup wrote about frequently. His zeal for missions was motivated not so much by the law as by the gospel.
“Therefore, concerning those who believe in the Crucified Savior, the love of Christ compels them to seek out and win the lost, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; ‘… so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf’ (2 Corinthians 5:15). … No one can possess the Spirit of Truth and not burn with zeal to witness to that Truth. No one can have joy in Christ and not wish to share that joy with others. No one can possess God’s Love poured out in his heart and not be compelled to work for the salvation and holiness of all mankind!”
When God’s love is poured out into a heart, a concern for missions is going to result.
God’s desire is for mission work that is motivated by the merciful, compassionate and kind heart of Jesus. Missions motivated by the law will lead to discouragement and disappointment. The law makes clear that people will continually fall short. The law says the people are not responding as they ought, and the missionary isn’t doing everything right either. The law-motivated missionary will either be deceived by pride in his own accomplishments or consider himself a failure.
Gospel-motivated missions does not look to the response of the people or the efforts of the missionaries to find encouragement. It relies on the good news of what Christ has done and the promises of God to find strength. “Therefore, the mission to the heathen rests on a solid foundation when it rests upon the heartfelt mercy of Jesus. Its promises are certain of fulfillment, for the heart of Jesus is the power that sets a blessing on its works and success.”
For mission work to have success by God’s definition of success it must be founded on the gospel and go forth depending totally on the gospel.
“For Jesus’ death and resurrection is not only the firm foundation upon which the Kingdom of God rests, but it is also the mighty power that builds and extends the Kingdom. … Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation and power of missions because it is the decisive victory in Christ’s fight against the devil and the world.”
It is not keeping the law and working hard that will bring victories and success in mission work. Our hope for missions is found by faith in Christ and His work.
The law has driven many into missions, and it has driven them down a path full of frustration. How much better to have a zeal for missions like Sverdrup had: a zeal that came from the gospel.
“The love of Christ compels us – the love of the cross and the power of the cross. Or has there ever been a believing, saved soul who has not felt it as a burning need within to have more, more, ever more come to share in this salvation, this joy, this blessedness? … This is the zeal in missions. This is also the power in missions.”
It is the Gospel alone that can give life-transforming power to missions.