Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment in a series of articles exploring the Baptist Faith and Message with the aim of showing the relevance of each doctrine for global missions. See part one here. (Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures cited below are from the English Standard Version.)
The doctrine of salvation is profoundly missional for the very reason that every person needs salvation from sin. The opening statement of the Baptist Faith and Message makes this point by stating, “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” Scripture is crystal clear that only through conscious faith in Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection can anyone be brought into a personal relationship with God (1 Pet. 3:18; John 14:6).
Salvation Is Needed by Every Person
Every single person on this planet needs Christ. And yet, without the intentional, cross-cultural communication of the gospel, the majority of the world’s peoples will never have an opportunity to hear of him. And if they never hear the gospel, their greatest need—salvation from sin that transforms the whole person—will never be met (Rom. 10:13–14).
In the world today, an ever-growing number of competing claims exist to challenge Jesus’s uniqueness. In the end, though, all these claims are false. Jesus alone is worthy of the faith, hope, and love of every person, and all must hear about him. Jesus is the only one who can save—whether it is your neighbor or the billions of people who are born, live, and may die without hearing his name. They all must hear.
Salvation in Christ Transforms the Whole Person
As the BF&M makes it clear that salvation encompasses the entire person. It begins with a transformed heart when someone responds in repentance and faith. That process continues as the Holy Spirit transforms the mind, will, affections, purpose, and relationships and eventually, at the last day, the body of that person.
For this reason, the missionary task includes discipleship. It simply isn’t enough for missionaries to proclaim the gospel, get a response, and then move on. New believers need discipleship so they can grow in their relationship with Christ. As the apostle Paul wrote, the goal of ministry is to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
Regeneration Is the Work of God
Regeneration—often referred to as “the new birth”—happens when God grants spiritual life to a sinner who is “dead in trespasses,” making him or her “alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). It is a work of God’s grace wrought by the Holy Spirit in which believers become new creatures as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Turning from sin and trusting Christ (that is, repentance and faith) are inseparable parts of this process.
So, since regeneration is the work of God, missionaries must depend on the Holy Spirit as they engage people. They must be prayerful, for only God can change the hearts of those they are trying to reach.
“While many may reject the gospel we proclaim, there will yet be some from every people and language who will stand in the great congregation of the righteous someday. They will be there solely because of God’s gracious work of salvation.”
At the same time, we recognize that God chooses to bring about this work through his people as they proclaim the gospel. So, it is likewise imperative that the church sends out missionaries who are intentional in crossing cultures for the sake of gospel proclamation. As Paul asked, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14).
Justification Brings People into Right Relationship with God
Justification is the biblical idea of sinners being declared righteous before a holy God. Romans 5:1 makes it clear that those who are justified have peace with God. And ultimately, this is what the world is longing for—to know and be in right relationship with their Creator. And every person, regardless of location or ethnicity, can only know that peace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Sanctification Happens within Community
Sanctification is the process through which believers grow to maturity in Christ. This process happens within the context of a local church. For that reason, missionaries must plant healthy churches where new believers have the opportunity to grow in the knowledge of God. Churches also provide opportunities for believers to serve others and glorify God by spreading the gospel to those around them. To that end, missionaries train leaders to disciple church members and others who come to Christ after the missionary leaves.
Perseverance Leads to Glorification
The final point of the BF&M statement on salvation deals with glorification. Scripture speaks of glorification as a “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). This doctrine reminds us of the believer’s future-oriented hope, that at Christ’s return faithful believers will be raised from the dead and enter into their eternal reward. Those who truly believe in Jesus not only cannot be lost, they will persevere to the end. Saving faith is enduring faith.
The doctrine of salvation reminds us that as missionaries go to the ends of the earth with the gospel, their church planting efforts need to be done in a way that promotes perseverance. Missionaries must prepare new believers to suffer, and they must equip and encourage them to stay faithful to Christ until the end.
Salvation’s Ultimate Goal
This understanding of salvation which includes justification, sanctification, and glorification reminds us that conversion is not the ultimate goal of missions. Instead, as Revelation 7:9–10 shows, the goal is to call out worshipers who will day by day grow in their understanding of God and eventually stand before him in worship. This amazing vision in Revelation 7 of God’s redeemed ones praising him for all eternity sets the agenda for missionaries and also reminds us that worship is the ultimate goal of missions.
The Revelation vision, furthermore, instills confidence in knowing that while many may reject the gospel we proclaim, there will yet be some from every people and language who will stand in the great congregation of the righteous someday. They will be there solely because of God’s gracious work of salvation.