The Gospel is Sent

The core of the Gospel message that we are commanded to take to all nations can all be encapsulated in the notion of sending. The need to send helps explain the nature of God, the relationship of God to His creation, judgment, salvation and can even be shown to permeate the Trinity. Sending also shows which agents were working for God at which stages in history and what their responsibilities were. Finally sending emphasizes the gulf that exists between a Holy God and the world at large. These are all subjects that can also be analyzed in other ways. However the object of this essay is to briefly illuminate these subjects through then lens of sending language within scripture.

The language of sending binds together the seeming dichotomy of a God that is totally interwoven with His creation and yet entirely separate from it. Properly understood the same language helps us avoid some errors in our understanding of our creator God. At one extreme we have the 'clockwork orange' view of creation. God created the world, 'wound it up', and then steps back and allows the world to operate entirely governed by the 'laws' of physics. At the other extreme are those that believe that God is primarily a name given for the collective conscious of His church. Even between believers much closer to the center of the line there is often debate as to whether a given happenstance is the result of nature or God.

The biblical statement that God acts in providence to send both blessings and curses should at least move us from the two ends of the line. You do not need to send to something you are part of or to someone you are cohabiting with. Thus God is separate from creation. Conversely God does send items such as rainfall, food and laws that do affect the earth. Of course the fact that sending happens does not necessarily help us discern if a given effect was supernaturally or naturally executed; but it at least keeps us aware of the two possibilities.

There are two aspects of God as sender that warrant particular mention: judgment and salvation. Often when we see evil befall someone that has exhibited particular sin we state that they have: received what they deserved. The Bible is very clear that insofar as a given happening is penal[1] then it is sent by God. Nature or the laws of physics do not themselves act against sin. Naturalistic explanations of why 'sin is bad for you' are therefore in error. God can and will send judgment to the earth. It should particularly be noted that at the end of time there will be a sending of judgment to the earth en-masse; this does not however preclude immediate smaller scale intervention from time to time.

Of course one of the greatest Biblical acts of sending is when God sent His son to redeem humanity. I am almost reluctant to expand this paragraph further as the point is stark and plain. However I would note that the act of sending shows the Christ pre-existed the sending event. Also that Christ was separate from the father whilst sent. Note too that this sending at least suggests that God's only interaction with His creation is through sending - as the most important interaction certainly was. Today God interacts directly with believers through the sending of the Holy Spirit.

For me one of the most startling features of New Testament theology is that God has now chosen to interact with the unbelieving portion of humanity through the sending of His church. This needs to be considered closely. God acts through sending. God has sent us to the World. Thus the World's comprehension of God is going to rest upon the action and efficacy of the church. I am sure that some will immediately argue that God is sovereign and that He has sent His spirit to convict people of their sin. This is true. However sovereignty gives the right to chose, not the compulsion to do everything yourself. God has chosen to act through those He has sent: us. He has chosen not to act other than via that mechanism (Rom 10:14-15). We must take our responsibilities seriously.

Finally the language of sending focuses us upon the nature of that which is sent to. Ezekiel was told he was being sent to a stiff-necked people that would not listen to the message. Christ told his disciples that they were being sent to a people that would hate them[2]. The fact of sending tells us that there is separation between the one sending and the ones sent to. God is sending us to the world. This alone should warn us that universalism is wrong. All roads do not lead to God. There is a chasm between the unbeliever and God. Christ was sent to build a bridge across the chasm and we have been sent to point people towards the bridge. Those that attempt a different route will simply hit the chasm.

As stated at the outset this paper was intended to cover familiar topics from an unfamiliar angle. I hope it has achieved that goal. I think the language of sending may even be sufficiently simple to comprehend that perhaps we should use it more in our own teaching. Sending implies distance between two parties. It also implies a third party to carry the message and a purpose for the transmission. If we ensured that we understood all four pieces whenever we encountered the language in scripture it would almost certainly deepen our understanding.


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