How can they believe?

Missions: The heart of God

"How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" -- Romans 10:14.

Romans 10:14 could be re-stated in outline form in this way:

  1. To believe in the Lord Jesus, people have to hear about Him.
  2. To hear about the Lord Jesus, unreached people need someone to tell them.

As a missionary sent to Gentile areas by the Antioch church, the Apostle Paul spent years telling unreached people about Jesus and gathering the resulting converts into churches. What Paul did is still needed today.

There are people on earth -- lots of them -- who have yet to hear the name of Jesus. They have no inkling of what God did in Christ Jesus to reconcile the world to Himself. Indeed, nearly three billion of earth's inhabitants are unreached by the gospel (Source: Joshua Project). These include large ethnic and cultural groups in Asia and North Africa as well as small tribal groups in remote areas. Seen in the light of Romans 10:14, that statistical picture cries out for believers to be invested in the cause of world evangelism.

I know people who think Romans 10:14 mainly calls us to share the Good News with our next-door neighbors, some of whom have only hazy ideas of the Gospel. While God does want all His lost children found, the verses before and after Romans 10:14 put the focus of that passage squarely on those who had zero access to the Gospel. Romans 10:12 specifically mentions Gentiles, very few of whom at that point had heard about Jesus. Then, the phrase "beautiful feet" in verse 15 comes from Isaiah 52, a chapter that includes the affirmation: "All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God."

A 1989 film about a baseball field built in a farmer's cornfield started people saying, "If we build it, they will come." Isn't that what some believers think is how we can fulfill Jesus' Great Commission? Their idea is that focusing all our efforts and resources on local outreach is enough to fulfill our part of the mission "to make Christlike disciples in the nations."

The scenario painted by Romans 10 differs from the home-base focused idea of "if we build it, they will come," The message from Romans 10:14 is that God's people must intentionally seek all over the world for those who have yet to hear. That verse clearly refers to spiritually lost people worldwide.

God yearns that His Story be proclaimed to every ethnic and cultural group. Thus, two questions in Romans 10 -- "How can they believe?" and "How can they hear?" -- must be allowed to reverberate loud and long through the Church's soul. Those questions must be heard and heard again until every single believer feels compelled to do his or her part in getting the Good News to every unreached people group on earth.

Discussion questions

  1. What significance does Romans 10:14 have in regard to world evangelism?
  2. What is the difference between local near-neighbor outreach and global ends-of-the-earth evangelism? What implications does this have for believers?
  3. Why can it be said that every believer has a part to play in reaching unreached people groups with the Gospel?
  4. What challenges do missionaries and evangelists face in sharing the Gospel with people who have never before heard of Jesus?
  5. In what ways can churches and individual believers support the cause of world evangelism? How can they ensure that the efforts they support are fruitful and sustainable?


Romans 10:14 is a compelling call to action for believers. The verse highlights the crucial link between hearing the Gospel and believing in Jesus, emphasizing the necessity of proclaiming the Good News to those who have not yet heard it. This passage goes beyond the idea of localized outreach and challenges believers to be involved in seeking out unreached people groups worldwide. The significance of Romans 10:14 lies in its reminder that there are millions of people on earth who have yet to know the name of Jesus. This calls for a collective effort in which every believer gets involved in some way (praying, sending, supporting, or going).

    -- Howard Culbertson,

"Unless they are sent" -- another meditation on Romans 10

This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is over three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.

More on Romans 10:14

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