In this three-part series, we have been exploring the controversial question concerning the destiny of those who have never heard of Jesus Christ. In part one we looked at the holiness of God and sinfulness of humanity. In part two we examined the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the only sufficient payment for God’s demands for justice against sin and rebellion.
In this concluding post, we will consider our responsibility as believers in the light of these truths. We begin by emphasizing this: if Christ really is the only way to have a right relationship with God, then we have to realize how important our task is! As representatives and ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we have the only message (and know the only person) that can save anyone at all. All the philosophies, all the religions and good behavior, all the money and fame, all the trends and fads, will never deliver what they promise, because they simply cannot save us from our most basic problem—sin. Only Jesus can and will deliver!
Romans 10:13-15 says, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” We must take the message out to the world because without it, people cannot call on the name of the Lord and be saved. And this acts as something of an indictment against Christians who have kept their faith to themselves and failed to follow Jesus’ clear command to take the gospel to the ends of earth (Matthew 28:18-20).
But now that we have seen the fact that apart from Jesus no one can be saved, what can we tell someone whom we are sharing the gospel with who asks about those who have never heard of Jesus?
Here are some things to keep in mind: First, the question is often a smoke screen by the individual to avoid the real issue they are currently being confronted with. You need to realize that they may be doing one of two things: They may be pointing away from their own personal accountability before God. If so, it is a good idea to say to them: “What about you now that you have this information? How will you personally respond?”
But in all fairness, the person who raises this question may have a genuine concern for the lost. If so, then they need to better understand the basic truths of the gospel message. All people need Jesus because all have sinned; God requires perfection, and only Jesus was adequate to die for sin’s penalty because He alone was and is perfect. And this death of Christ expresses God’s great love since He very easily could have left us all to die in our state of alienation from Him. The fact that there is just one person in heaven with a holy God is reason enough to say that God is an incredibly gracious and loving God!
We must also keep in mind that God is fair and will judge and punish people according to what they know and do, as Romans 2:6-11 seems to suggest. But again, we must also remember that Paul goes on to suggest in the same book that as believers, we have a solemn and sacred responsibility to boldly and continuously share the gospel with anyone and everyone who will listen.
You can also ask this of the one you are sharing with: “On the basis of what has been talked about, can you really say that you have done everything right? What does that make you? What does God require? Why do you need Jesus then?” Don’t forget to remind them that there are Christians and missionaries in virtually every country on this earth, and the reason they are there is because they truly believe that without Jesus, people are condemned.
Also, remind them that you did not make the exclusive claim. Jesus Christ did (John 14:6)! But again, why did He make this claim? How did He back up such an outrageous claim? He did so by His death and resurrection! Tell them that if a person truly seeks God, He will send someone—even an angel or Jesus Himself—to tell them about Jesus. He is a big enough God to do that! But are there any examples of this? YES! Here is just one among a myriad:
In 1989, in Maltos of the Northern Bihar mountains, a vision of a grieving man appeared walking on the mountains after a missionary and his son died of a strange disease. A few days later, the Jesus Film (a film about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection) was shown there. Amazingly, the whole village recognized that the man in the vision was the Jesus in the film! Hundreds came to Christ as a result. For many more examples of this, I direct you to Don Richardson’s book, Eternity in Their Hearts. But keep in mind that in every instance we know about, God brought someone into the people group to tell them about Jesus. God first prepared them and then the missionary came and reaped the rewards of being obedient.
What about those who never heard? It is likely they never had the humility to genuinely seek after God as He really is and on His own terms. And you can say to those you are sharing Christ with that you really believe that this message of Christ is the only way. That’s why you’re telling them about it! Tell them that you want them to know the God of the universe through Jesus Christ the way you know Him—as a perfect God, but also as a loving God who demonstrated His love by sending Jesus into the world to die for sinners like you and me (John 3:16).
In 1940, a man named Warrasa Wange, a member of the Gedeo people in Ethiopia, prayed to Magano, the benevolent creator of all things, to reveal Himself to the Gedeo people. He immediately had a vision of two white-skinned strangers setting up flimsy structures under a large Sycamore tree in his village of Dilla. Eight years later, in December 1948, two Canadians, Albert Brant and Glen Cain came to the Gedeo people to begin a missionary work among the people. Guess where they chose to pitch their tents? Under a large Sycamore in the village of Dilla! The response to the gospel, including Warrasa Wange, was phenomenal! God had sent this honest seeker the truth found only in Jesus.
Perhaps by going or giving or praying or sending, you will be an important part of bringing such an exciting message to one of the thousands of ethnic groups still unreached with the gospel. These are people who have not heard about Jesus, but desperately need to. Perhaps you will be one of those who is a part of creating and telling exciting stories yet to be told about how God advances the message of salvation in His son Jesus Christ into all the kingdoms and peoples of the earth!
What have you noticed about Asian’s response to the gospel that is different from the West? That would be a very interesting set of posts!
In my years with Muslims I found that they did not respond to a legal framework of the gospel such as what we usually present in the West. They responded more to the gospel as healing from what is killing us, or the gospel as release from shame, or the gospel as victory over oppression and slavery. That’s the beauty of the Jesus film as a gospel presentation. The story itself works without the somewhat awkward attempt to stick on a legal framework at the end that you find in some versions of the film. Missionaries sometimes think that the story isn’t enough that they have to theologize it before the people can benefit from the story. I’m not saying that the legal ramifications of the gospel are not real, I just think they don’t necessarily belong at the center of the gospel.
Tim, this is a great question and one I have been working on in the quiet of my mind for quite some time now. I even had a conversation about this very thing with an EAST student this morning and I when I mentioned the honor and shame aspects of the gospel which are often passed over by western legal presentations of it–like the one I gave in these posts, by the way–her eyes shone with interest because that is so integral to Asian thought and culture. The gospel is comprehensive enough to encompass honor and shame, guilt and innocence, as well as fear and power. After almost eleven years in Asia, I find that when I read the scriptures, I see elements of honor and shame popping out all over and make me want to explore other ways in which the gospel has been shared in church history and in other cultures. The fancy word for it, as you know, is contextualization–communicating the fullness of the gospel in culturally understandable ways without compromise. It’s actually a very hard thing to do and one I’m sure you wrestled with in the twenty years you worked in another context. This kind of contextual communication does not exclude the legal aspects in terms of guilt and innocence–thus this current series–but these are themes that are often neglected or even ignored in western evangelicalism because we’ve only heard the guilt and innocence paradigm in our preaching and teaching. I’ve got some working ideas and hope to put them into a more presentable form at some point, but God knows when that will be. Meanwhile, I appreciate the way in which irons sharpens irons, brother and how God continues to challenge and encourage me through your excellent feedback.
I was inspired and blessed to have read your encouraging words. Thank you Lewis. Thank you Lord Jesus.
Thank you, Duan! You are very kind and I appreciate your encouragement.