by David Hankins
Executive Director, Louisiana Baptist Convention
Father of Eric Hankins, David has served in various denominational roles, including vice president for Cooperative Program for the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Every person is savable.
This is the central claim of the first article in the Traditional Statement entitled “The Gospel.” I have been a gospel preacher for forty-five years. From my youth, shortly after my commitment to follow Christ, I have pursued the calling to proclaim to all people that God has made a way for them to find forgiveness by sending His only Son, Jesus of Nazareth, to die for their sins. This wonderful, astounding message is the gospel which literally means “good news.” There was never any lack of clarity in those who taught me or any doubt in my mind that the message was intended for everyone. This meant more than that it should be preached to everyone. It also meant that everyone—any morally responsible person who heard it—could respond to and receive the saving provision the gospel announces.
I assert that this traditional understanding of Southern Baptists about the salvation of sinners includes this proposition: God meant for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be good news for everyone; God meant for it to be bad news for no one.
The Gospel is Good News
I write these words a few days into the New Year, having just completed an extensive and enjoyable celebration of the Christmas holidays. Although many allow the message of the first advent to get lost in secular celebration, I am always blessed by the seasonal emphasis with its pageants and carols and preaching on the birth of Jesus. The message of Christmas is cause for celebration for the likes of us, sinners one and all. We ought to be as thrilled as the shepherds who first heard the amazing announcement from the angel: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11 NIV; emphasis mine). The gospel is the story of God’s plan for his creature, man. It is a story of everlasting love. It is a story of eternal planning. It is a story of waiting and watching, and sacrificial giving. It is a story of redemption. It is good news. It is the good news.
The gospel story began in eternity past, when God according to His own counsels decided to have a race of creatures with whom He could express covenant love. He placed them in an environment completely suitable for them where they might create with Him, reign with Him, and fellowship with Him. He knew they would be tempted to sin and would succumb. He knew this rebellion would corrupt them and his creation. He knew it would seem to Satan and sinners that evil had ruined it all. But before the foundation of the world, He had a plan that would overturn the blight of sin, defeat Satan and evil, and make His beloved creatures fit for life in an unsullied, incorruptible kingdom.
The gospel story centers in Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son. His coming had been prophesied for centuries. By the time the angel announced His birth, the people had been languishing a long time. Now, in the fullness of time, the one whose name means “God saves” had come to save His people from their sins. The price of salvation was His own horrific death. But through that death, God’s justice was satisfied, and Jesus was raised to life. The good news that was announced to the shepherds was now to be announced to the whole earth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16 (NKJV).
Euangelion is the New Testament word generally translated “gospel.” It literally means good news. It is the message sinners everywhere need to hear. In the words of the “gospel” hymn:
Sinners Jesus will receive: Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave, All who linger, all who fall.
Come, and He will give you rest; Trust Him, for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest; Christ receiveth sinful men!
We must begin our conversation about soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, with the declaration that this subject is good news for Adam’s race. This good news of salvation in Christ is objective, sufficient, exclusive, and available to all.
The Gospel is Good News for Everyone
The additional and pivotal claim we are making is that this gospel, this good news, is for everyone. It is in the heart of God to desire the salvation of every person He created. I expect no objections from the Christian community to Article 1 for its centering the gospel in the person and work of Jesus. But the further point of this affirmation and denial is that the salvation proclaimed by this gospel, though not finally received by all, is in fact available to all. When God made provision in Christ, He had a universal scope in mind. All persons were potential recipients of this magnanimous, magnificent salvation. Are we justified in making such a claim? Can we really know the mind of God on this matter? Is it more than a gesture toward equity or a sentimental view of God?
I submit that this view is the plain teaching of Scripture and is foundational to the plan of God for redemption.
The gospel is not the gospel if it is not for everyone.
Erdmann Neumeister, “Christ Receiveth Sinful Men,” trans. Emma Bevan, in The Baptist Hymnal, ed. Wesley L. Forbis (Nashville: Convention Press, 1991), hymn 563.
*SBCToday reprinted with permission this excerpt from the NOBTS Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry.
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