Answer: To be saved, they must first hear the gospel: “Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17).
Challenge: Why aren’t we going to them?
The discussion that evening deserves more than a mere outline, however. Happily, through the ministry and writing of Paul,
the Bible elaborates on the issues surrounding this important question.
They Must First Hear
After departing from Athens on his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul traveled to Corinth, where he met fellow
tentmakers Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Then, as was his custom, Paul entered the synagogue and “testified to the Jews
that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:5). Why was it important that Paul travel to Corinth to proclaim the gospel? He knew that
for the Jews and Gentiles in Corinth (or anywhere else for that matter) to be saved, they must first hear of the person and
work of Christ, and the cost of following Him.
Many Christians today, however, have fallen prey to the notion that unbelievers will be mysteriously saved through God’s
people “being the gospel.” That is, by godly living, Christians will win others to Christ. Obviously, we are to live godly lives,
but God has ordained preaching as the means of bringing sinners to repentance and faith. Paul wrote, “For since, in the
wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message
preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
How widespread is this idea of “being the gospel”? The White Horse Inn conducted a survey at the 2010 International
Christian Retail and Sales Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. Approximately seventy people were asked whether it was more
important to “be the gospel” to others or to preach to them, and 69 percent said, “Be the gospel!” In response, the WHI
had this to say:
Though we may do good works to win the respect of outsiders (Col. 4:5; 1 Thess. 4:12; 1 Tim. 3:7), these good
works are not ‘the gospel.’ The Christian gospel, because it is a completed act in history, is something that must
be proclaimed: Acts 5:42; 6:2; 8:12; 8:35; 13:48-49; 14:21; Rom 10:14-15; 1 Pet 1:12; 1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 2:8;
Col 1:23. 
The same survey revealed that 89 percent disagreed that preaching is the most important way to convert non-Christians.
With regard to most of those who attended that particular convention, and the host of others who might agree with them,
Paul has something to say:
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? (Romans 10:14)
And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? (v. 14)
And how shall they hear without a preacher? (v. 14)
And how shall they preach unless they are sent? (v. 15)
If we work our way back through Paul’s rhetorical questions, we will notice three things: (1) Christians are sent from their
front doors to the ends of the earth. (2) Christians must boldly and lovingly speak (preach) so that sinners hear about
Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. (3) Hearing the good news precedes believing and calling on the Lord.
The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “there is none who seeks after God”
(Romans 3:11). As important as it is to “do good works to win the respect of outsiders,” the testimony of Scripture is this:
The Corinthians, our families and friends, neighbors and coworkers, and, yes, the nations cannot believe until they first
hear the gospel.
Are We Clean?
Of course, not everyone who heard Paul’s message responded positively. In fact, the Jews in Corinth “opposed him and
blasphemed” (Acts 18:6). This was no surprise to Paul, who declared that the “message of the cross is foolishness to those
who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). In response to the Jews’ rejection of the gospel, Paul said, “Your blood be upon
your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6).
The end result of the Jews’ rejection of Christ was judgment and hell (“Your blood be upon your own heads”). Yet they
could not attribute any part of their rejection of Christ to Paul’s bold and faithful witness. They were fully responsible for
rejecting his message. Likewise, the end result for our families, friends, and communities who reject Christ is judgment
and hell. They cannot place any blame on us if we have boldly and faithfully evangelized them. But we must ask ourselves is
this: Are we clean? Have we, in fact, implored them to be “reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20)? If so, we are cleared of
our responsibility! On the other hand, if people we know personally die in their sins without hearing from us the saving
gospel, we will be held accountable. That is a sobering warning indeed!
Our Labor Is Not in Vain
Immediately following the Jews’ rejection of the saving message of the gospel, Paul did what he said he would do: He
entered the home of Justus (Titius Justus), a Gentile, who lived next door to the synagogue (Acts 18:7). In doing this, Paul
was fulfilling his calling as “a chosen vessel” of the Lord to bear His “name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel”
(Acts 9:15). Similarly, we are vessels chosen to do the same.
Often, however, faithfulness to our purpose and calling is not immediately rewarded. We can become discouraged as we
tirelessly labor without any visible evidence of others believing the gospel. Yet the promise of Scripture is clear: “Your labor
is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Praise God that in the midst of opposition Paul witnessed the fruit of his
Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians,
hearing, believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am surprised by the people the Lord saves-that wild classmate, the addict, the
homosexual, or even the long-standing member of a church! How about a “ruler of the synagogue” (Acts 18:8)? Crispus
abandoned legalistic Judaism for the beauty and glory of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Imagine the heated discussions in
the wake of his departure and that of “all his household.” This, of course, would not include infants, who are incapable of
confessing Christ (Matthew 10:32). Also, joining Crispus and his household were “many of the Corinthians,” including Justus,
who trusted in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. Oh, His amazing grace!
Paul had his challenges, and we will too. Nevertheless, the apostle’s words encourage us today, even as they did the
Corinthian church then: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the
Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Believer’s Baptism (Credobaptism)
After hearing and believing the gospel, the Corinthians obeyed the command of Jesus to be baptized (Matthew 28:19), thus
identifying publically with His death, burial, and resurrection. This brief but detailed description of baptism in the Abstract
of Principles is helpful:
Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, obligatory upon every believer, wherein he is immersed in water in the
name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of his fellowship with the death and resurrection
of Christ, of remission of sins, and of giving himself up to God, to live and walk in newness of life. It is prerequisite
to church fellowship, and to participation in the Lord’s Supper.
Although believer’s baptism by immersion (again, this does not include infants) is not essential for salvation, if someone
professes faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and doesn’t follow Him in baptism, that person must examine
whether or not he or she has understood and believed Jesus’ words. With few exceptions, believers celebrate the ordinance
An “Aha” Moment
As noted above, preaching the gospel brings opposition. In turn, opposition brings the temptation to retreat to silence. So
Jesus spoke to Paul in a vision saying, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one
will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). Did you catch that? Not only did Jesus
encourage Paul to keep speaking (“For I am with you”), but He also reminded him of the unconditional election of others in
Corinth (“for I have many people in this city”). The Father’s choice of them in Christ, “before the foundation of the world”
(Ephesians 1:4), was not based upon their foreseen faith or foreseen good works but was “according to the good pleasure of
His will” (Ephesians 1:5). Hence, God ordained Paul’s preaching as the means to bring “many people” in Corinth to
repentance and faith (man’s responsibility). Wow, what an “aha” moment! From this, we can affirm five life-changing
(1) We are not to fear what man may say or do to us because the Lord is with us.
(2) God uses the means of preaching, accompanied by the Holy Spirit, to bring the elect to faith.
(3) A right theology, which leads to a right methodology (the simplicity of preaching the gospel), will eliminate a guilty
conscience and at the same time destroy all pragmatic approaches to our outreach ministries.
(4) Ministry philosophies like “friendship evangelism,” “lifestyle evangelism,” and “small group evangelism” can be useful,
but nonetheless, they can undermine the sovereign grace and power of God to save His elect.
(5) God guarantees the success of our evangelistic efforts.
Because of Jesus’ assurance, Paul stayed in Corinth eighteen months, “teaching the word of God” (Acts 18:11). Our resolve
to speak boldly in the face of opposition will be greatly strengthened as we apply these life-changing truths to our daily lives
and ministries and trust in His unconditional election and providence.
Faith Comes by Hearing
So what about those people in remote, unreached areas who have never heard the gospel? Will they eventually be saved and
go to heaven? Well, I trust that by now you know the answer.
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)
Whether they are across the hall, across the street, or across the pond in that remote, unreached area, people must first
hear the “word of God” so they can believe. Thus, the apostle Paul provides for us not only our method of evangelism but
also the formula for establishing biblical churches: hearing, believing, baptizing.
Paul was not a pragmatist! In his ministry there were no surveys, no gimmicks, no entertainment. There was just good, old-
fashioned preaching. As a “wise master builder” (1 Corinthians 3:10), he laid the foundation, which is Jesus Christ. Thus,
Paul could write this:
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all
who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
Given the fact that faith comes by hearing, why aren’t we going to those who have not heard the gospel? Does it not grieve
us that the masses are headed for judgment and hell? Well, it grieved Paul (Romans 9:2). It grieved him so much that he
risked all for their spiritual and practical good. And how could he not? The “love of Christ” compelled him (2 Corinthians
Have we experienced the “love of Christ?” If so, then we are compelled to abandon ourselves (willingly surrendering time,
comfort and ease, money and possessions) so others might hear, believe, and be baptized. This is our purpose, our calling,
our mission! If this is not our attitude, we must examine ourselves as to whether we are actually “in Christ” (2 Corinthians
The challenge to the apostle Paul and that small group of believers years ago is the same challenge for us today. My hope
and prayer is that God will use this little article to once again remind us of His love and inspire us to live with reckless
abandon for others.
. "The Abstract of Principles is the oldest doctrinal confession approved by Southern Baptists. It was composed by Basil Manly, Jr., in 1858" (SBC