By Jason Hiles, Associate Dean of Caskey School of Divinity
As spring gives way to summer, folks in many of Louisiana’s churches will embark on short term mission trips in the United States and overseas. In carrying the gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus as Savior, they will participate in a work commissioned by Christ and carried out initially by his apostles.
For generations now believers have responded to this Great Commission with concern for the glory of Jesus’ name and diligence for the sake of those who live apart from Christ and under the wrath of a holy God.
Unfortunately the enemy resists at virtually every point where the Kingdom of God advances.
Satan is a formidable opponent with an arsenal of weapons that has proven effective at times, though we are not unaware of his schemes. Sometimes he fosters apathy or incites greed and self-centeredness.
Other times the enemy attempts to divide Christians over fine points of doctrine or tempts us to be so self-absorbed and focused on personal ambitions that we become inattentive to those who desperately need the life-giving message of salvation in Christ alone.
In recent years the enemy has gained a foothold by suggesting that some are saved apart from hearing the gospel, which of course undermines the need for global missions. This has proven a dangerous suggestion in contemporary culture where it is popular to believe that many paths lead to God.
Therefore as the season for summer missions nears, perhaps it is worthwhile to reconsider exactly what God’s Word says about the need to make Christ known to all.
The Bible teaches that God graciously reveals His nature and will in two basic ways, often referred to in terms of general and special revelation.
General revelation is that which God has made known about himself universally to all people in all places at all times.
For instance, according to Psalm 19, The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).
General revelation is a testimony that goes out through all the earth without speech and is uninhibited by linguistic and political barriers. Additionally the conscience of human creatures bears witness to God’s moral standards by accusing or excusing them even when they have no access to God’s Word (Rom. 2:14-15).
Essentially, the witness of nature grants all humans a general understanding of God’s existence and character, moral responsibilities, and awareness of ethical shortcomings.
In some ways the witness of creation bears similarity to the Law of Moses, which also reveals God’s righteous requirements while demonstrating fallen mankind’s inability to fulfill those requirements (Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:21-22).
The apostle Paul explains that God’s universal revelation was perverted universally through the idolatry of fallen mankind. He warns that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against wicked people who have persistently suppressed knowledge of his nature and power available through all that he made (Romans 1:18-20).
With desperately wicked hearts, men and women dishonor God and withhold gratitude from him. In a sin-induced state of ignorance that masquerades as wisdom, they exchange the Creator’s glory for created things and worship them. The condemnation of sinful mankind is deserved.
A second basic way that God reveals Himself, known as special revelation, entails all that God has made known about Himself, His will, and His plan of salvation to specific individuals or groups at specific times and specific places.
God reveals himself in this manner through the prophets and apostles of the Old and New Testaments and preeminently in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrew. 1:1-4) to whom the prophets and apostles bear witness (Luke 24:27, 44; Ephesians. 2:11-22).
The need for special revelation in addition to general revelation stems from humanity’s misguided response to all God reveals in nature and from a need to know particular truths regarding salvation.
A number of particular truths specially revealed in God’s Word are significant to the biblical conception of salvation. God’s covenant name, for example, would not be known to His people if He had not disclosed it to them.
Perhaps God could have rescued the children of Israel from Egypt without disclosing His name, but withholding it would have detracted significantly from the relational character of the covenant He made with them and would have cast doubt on the reliability of His promises.
Had God withheld the name of the Savior who atoned for human sin, it would have been impossible to receive forgiveness through faith in that name. Furthermore, in the cultural context in which the Bible was written, disclosing one’s name also meant revealing one’s nature.
Hence, when God informed Moses that he was to be known as “I am what I am,” using a form of the Hebrew verb “to be,” God was making a profound statement about His essential nature (Exodus 3).
God’s name, typically expressed as Yahweh, suggests that He is self-existent and independent, the creator and sustainer of all, and eternally existent. This covenant name distinguished the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from a multitude of false competitors.
While the Old Testament was recorded primarily in Hebrew, the Greek language rose to prominence in the period just before the writing of the New Testament.
An important translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek from that time, the Septuagint, employs the Greek term “Lord” (kurios) to render the covenant God’s name, Yahweh. This understanding of the term “Lord” underlies much of its usage with reference to Jesus in the New Testament.
Thus, when Paul teaches that God’s exaltation of Christ Jesus and bestowal of the “name that is above all names” will result in the confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:9-11), he is connecting and equating the person, Jesus of Nazareth, with the name and character of Yahweh.
It follows, then, that knowledge of Jesus’ name must be taken seriously in considering the nature of salvation in the New Testament era.
The authors of the Bible do not direct sinful humans to a vague conception of God accessible through various means along multiple paths. Christ was careful to distinguish himself from all other potential saviors. At birth he was named “Jesus” meaning “Yahweh saves.”
After Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation, the Father bestowed on Him the name above all names and offers only His name – Jesus – as the means by which one may be saved (Acts 4:12).
This is no generic offer of salvation and it is not an offer that one finds in nature or through careful human reasoning.
It is an offer for all who will believe that must be delivered by faithful Christians sent to proclaim that Jesus is Savior and Lord, for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
How beautiful, then, are the feet of those who take the good news to the nations and how blessed are those who have ears to hear the glorious gospel of a Savior who reconciles to the Father all who believe in his name!
Jason Hiles, PhD, is the Associate Dean for Biblical and Theological Studies at the Caskey School of Divinity and is an assistant professor of Christian Studies at Louisiana College.