July 29 – The Fear of Hell or the Glory of God?

July 29 – The Fear of Hell or the Glory of God?

Matthew 28:19

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19)

“The…core motivations for missions are changing. Once people preached and responded to the gospel out of fear of hell or because of the lostness of humanity. These motivations have waned in recent context. Motivation for missions is frequently defined recently by Christians as “giving glory to God” or “an overflowing of thankfulness.”[59]

This quotation from The Changing Face of World Missions should not be construed as incipient universalism, for the author would repudiate such. Rather, he advocates going along with the contemporary change in motivation from “the fear of hell” to the “glory of God.” My contention is that neither hell nor God’s glory are, properly speaking, motivations. They are outcomes of the basic motivations of love for God and love for people. To make our appeal for involvement in missions to our love for God expressed in glorifying him is all to the good. But the deliberate down-play of the motive of other-love will prove fatal, I fear. Other-love in terms of “holistic” concern for health, education, and justice is ok, we’re told by advocates, but other-love in terms of a rescue mission from a bad ending – well, that’s so offensive to some, we mustn’t even mention it, let alone emphasize it.

The way I read Scripture, however, is that God so loved people he gave his one and only Son to – do what? Save them from perishing (hell), we read. I believe the increasing shift among evangelicals to de-emphasize hell could prove the demise of Pauline-style mission. And thus the death of multitudes who would, as a consequence, never hear the good news of redemption.

If that should happen, of course, it would be deja vu, for that is precisely what took place in the early part of the last century. As we have seen, the mainline denominations moved away from saving people from hell to saving them in the here and now. With every move in that direction, the missions enterprise shriveled. And no wonder–why make such great sacrifice to reach the unreached if there is no eternal-destiny danger?

We may love others in many ways: seeking their health, promoting justice, advancing education. And we should. Furthermore, the missions movement always has. But above all, we should love them into eternal life, away from eternal death. May our churches never fail to love as God loves, to extend his provision of eternal salvation to the non-Christian half of the world. God was motivated by people-love, so that must be our motivation as well, if we are to be God-like.

But we also are motivated by the first command, to love God. And one way to do that is to keep the spotlight on him, to glorify him. The move, however, to make “the glory of God” the primary “motive” so far has not increased missions passion in the churches. God’s people seem to find other ways of glorifying God. At least if we gauge passion by the numbers of pioneer missionary evangelistic church starters we send, the talk of glorifying God has not increased the level of passion.

Love for God can be expressed in many ways–glorify him by singing his praises, testifying of his accomplishments, living a godly life. But the proof of love, said Jesus, is that we obey his commandments. And the great commandment that he returned to over and over following his resurrection? Go and proclaim the good news of redemption (Mark 16:15), go and preach repentance and remission of sin (Luke 24:47), go and disciple the nations (Matthew 28:19). Those who heard it, got it. And that’s how they glorified God–proved their love, that is – as seen in the book of Acts.

Thus there are two issues surrounding “the glory of God”– (1) why does the church not glorify God by obeying his last command? And (2) dare we neglect God’s own motive of people-love in terms of a rescue mission from hell?

I believe this third contemporary paradigm shift in approach to missions has the potential of far more damage to the Cause than the other major paradigm shifts, problematical though they may be. Increasing numbers of those who consider themselves evangelical have come to believe people who have never heard the gospel may be acceptable to God through some other way. Not only the historic view of the way of salvation is increasingly questioned, but alternatives to the historic church view of hell are offered by more and more theologians. This paradigm shift has the potential of cutting the artery of missionary passion. Indeed, for many it has already done so.[60]

We gave more attention to the evangelistic purpose because it seems to be the focal point of the New Testament church as viewed through the eyes of Luke and Paul in the book of Acts. And among the facets of evangelism those near and those far we have given attention to those “far” and the plan God has for reaching “the far.” But to do that requires more than finding, recruiting, sending, going. The home base for those sent is of critical importance to their success. The home base has two major elements in that support system: prayer and giving.

Why not take an inventory on your missions commitment? What is your motive? Can that motivation endure? What do you really think about hell? Do people really go to hell? Are you concerned for those around the world? Perhaps prayer and giving mark your missions motivation. The task of reaching every tribe and nation cannot be accomplished without your involvement. What change will you make today?

[59] The Changing Face of World Missions, Pocock, Van Rheenen, McConnell, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005, p. 161.

[60] This most important topic and the defense of the biblical positions on the way of salvation and the reality of hell lie outside the scope of these readings. I have made a brief defense of the biblical doctrine elsewhere (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Ralph D. Winter and Steven C Hawthorne, Pasadena: William Carey Library, revised 1999, chapter 26), but a thorough examination may be found in The Supremacy of Christ, Ajith Fernando, Wheaton: Crossway, 1995.

Scroll to top