LOST PEOPLE MATTER TO GOD
Jesus’ primary mission was, in His own words, “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). It is clear from His parting words to the disciples that His intent is for us to be just as concerned with this activity as He was. The writers of the Gospels have captured Jesus’ urgency in different words, but it is evident that He expects believers to continue seeking the lost and bringing them into the Kingdom.
Since seeking (and finding!) the lost is what Christians are called to do, it is rather painful to realize that the Church has often either forgotten or simply chosen to ignore its primary mandate. In some periods of history, evangelism and mission have been prominent, but at other times the Church has paid little or no attention to the command of Christ. As we approach the second decade of the twenty-first century, it seems to me that the concern of most American Christians for reaching the lost is once again waning. Contributions to missions are dropping both in terms of real dollars and percentage of total church income, and some churches give little or nothing to world missions or local evangelism. Even where the vision for evangelism and missions is prominent, personal involvement is too often limited to the giving of expendable income. The spirit of sacrifice that so marked the early days of the C&MA is, for the most part, now conspicuous by its absence.
Christians seem to have adopted the spirit of the directive posted in many shopping malls and public spaces: “No Proselytizing!” Perhaps it is time for us to be reminded of what it means to say that men, women and children without Christ are “lost.”
First, we must understand that people without Christ are already lost. More than once I have postponed sharing the good news with friends and neighbors by accepting the lie that “It’s not the right time. I can do it later. They will be OK for now.” That kind of reasoning, though quite common, flies in the face of everything the Bible teaches. John 3:18 tells us that everyone outside of Christ stands under the condemnation of God, and Paul in a most graphic description says that these people are “without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph. 2:12).
The French philosopher Albert Camus once said: “This is what frightens me the most. Mankind has come to live without meaning and man cannot live without meaning.” A few weeks ago, one of the 100 wealthiest men in the world chose to kill himself by stepping in front of a train. I might have rationalized: “He is OK for now,” but he was lost. One of the world’s richest men, but he was without hope and without God.
Next, we must remember that those without Christ, whether they are primitive tribesmen or urbane Westerners, are equally enslaved to the power of sin. Paul, writing to the Roman Christians, reminds them that before they came to Christ they were “slaves to sin” (6:17) without the ability or will to act in any way contrary to their sin nature. One of mankind’s greatest desires is for freedom, but ironically, apart from Christ, we are only free to act in accordance with a nature that is bound to sin. Jesus said: “. . . the truth shall set you free.” Is it not our responsibility to do everything in our power to give to men and women the only message that can truly set them free?
Finally, being lost means spending all of eternity without Christ in a place of constant torment—a place the Bible calls “hell.” Though many today, including some well-known evangelical theologians, seek to disavow the traditional concept of hell, the fact remains that we believe in such a place because the Bible says it exists, and Jesus Himself spoke more frequently about hell and its horrible reality than He did about heaven! I would certainly prefer a world-view that did not include a place of judgment and eternal torment, but I am not at liberty to create my own universe. Jesus spoke of a final judgment and taught that those who did not follow Him would be doomed to an “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46).
Evangelism and mission are our priorities because men and women without Christ are lost, and God wants them to be found!