The Foundation of Missions

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

- John 3:16–17

What is the first thing you think of when you hear words such as evangelism or missions? Perhaps images of missionaries working in an out-of-the-way village pop into your head. Or, maybe you think of a famous preacher who declares the gospel to a large audience and invites them to respond in repentance and faith. Perhaps you imagine yourself or someone else sharing the gospel one-on-one with another person.

These examples hold one thing in common—they are all focused on human beings’ doing the work of evangelism and discipleship. That is not wholly inappropriate, for God works through men and women who proclaim the gospel and teach His truth in order to send the good news to the ends of the earth. But we miss something important if we focus only on the human element in evangelism and missions. Note that God works through people to take His gospel to the nations. Ultimately, the work of missions and evangelism is God’s work. In fact, He is the original missionary and evangelist.

Fewer texts are clearer about this than John 3:16–17. It tells us quite plainly that the Holy Trinity originated world missions. We see that the Father, out of His great love for creation, sent His Son into the world to save sinners (v. 16). God wanted to see people saved. His first goal in sending His Son was not to condemn the world (v. 17). With respect to the missions work of the Father’s sending of the Son, condemnation is more of a byproduct or secondary result. Whoever does not believe is condemned (v. 18). Furthermore, in the original missions activity of God, the Son was sent as the paradigmatic evangelist and missionary. As we look at the scope of redemptive history, the Father’s sending of emissaries and messengers for the sake of salvation predated the incarnation. Before Jesus was born, God had sent many preachers to proclaim His salvation. He commissioned Moses to go to Pharaoh so that the children of Israel would be saved from slavery (Ex. 3:1–10). Over the centuries in which kings ruled in Israel, God sent prophets to exhort the people to repent and avoid destruction (2 Kings 17:13).

With the advent of Christ, however, we get the missionary and evangelist par excellence. The Holy Spirit anointed Him in a special way to preach the good news to those who understood their spiritual poverty (Luke 4:16–21). This same Spirit indwells His people today to make their work for the kingdom effective (Rom. 8:9a).

Coram Deo

Ephesians 5:1 tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” This is our Lord’s command, and since He is the original missionary and evangelist, one of the ways we must imitate God is in the work of missions and evangelism. If we are not engaging in this task insofar as we are able, we are disobeying our Creator. Taking the gospel to all nations and building up people in God’s truth is a matter of obedience.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 6:8
Jeremiah 1:4–19
Matthew 28:18–20
Acts 13:1–3

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.