There’s another slogan that’s making the rounds again. I see it in blog posts, on Twitter, and as signatures at the end of emails. “Preach the gospel, die, be forgotten.” I think there is a way to appreciate the sentiment behind the words, but I also want to us to think about it carefully.
These are words attributed to Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760) a bishop of the Moravian Church. He said words like this to his missionaries, encouraging them to follow God’s call and enter the mission field with no thought of obtaining honor for themselves. They must be satisfied with preaching Christ, dying, and being forgotten. Obviously, this is sound counsel. It reminds me of John the Baptist who said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 ESV)
What happens to those who die while denying the truth of God in their lives? What will their rejection of the truth mean for them? Most people today do not want to think about the final judgment. For those who are young, death and eternity seem so far away. Yet if we would think seriously about eternity—heaven and hell—it would change the way we live today, and for many, it will change where they will spend eternity. Theologian and author R.C. Sproul noted, “Modern man is betting his eternal destiny that there is no final judgment.” This is a tragically fatal bet. The holiness and righteousness of God demand that He execute perfect justice on the final day. At the end of human history, God will judge the world, and His eternal purpose for redemptive history will, at last, be fulfilled.
A great many Christians can bear testimony to the earthshaking effects of realizing the sovereignty of God. These same kinds of testimonies are found in the Bible, perhaps none more profound than the prophet Isaiah’s account of his life-changing encounter with the sovereign Lord. If the apostle Paul is the New Testament figure most associated with the teaching of God’s sovereignty, his Old Testament counterpart is surely Isaiah. How did Isaiah gain his understanding of God’s sovereignty, and what influence did this have on his life? In other words, how would Isaiah answer the question, “What’s so great about the sovereignty of God?
What difference does God’s sovereignty make? For Isaiah, it meant everything. In his response to the vision of God’s sovereign lordship, we can observe four hallmarks that will also play out in our experience as our faith is centered on a biblical vision of the sovereign grace of God.