Tag Archives: Jesus

What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Part Three

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!

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What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Part Two

We learned in part one of this series that the God of the Bible is a God who is perfect and holy, who demands that kind of perfection from all who would be in His presence.

God’s holiness explains why Jesus is so centrally important to the way of salvation.  Jesus fulfills the perfect standard of God.  And moreover, He was (and is) the only one who did or ever will!  Some biblical passages showing this might help at this point.  Consider the following examples:

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through me.”  In Acts 4:12 Peter states that there is salvation from sin in “no other name,” than Jesus’, for there is no other name (not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Confucius, not my own) given among humanity by which we can be saved.  In 1 Timothy 2:5-6 we read that, “There is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom” for sin’s penalty of eternal separation from God.  And as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made Jesus Christ, who was perfect and “knew no sin,” to become a sin offering in our place so “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  In short, God took Jesus’ perfect holiness and righteousness and credited it to our account, simply because He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us (John 3:16).

Having said this, what can we do with all this information then?  Although some of the following will not be easy to hear, several conclusions can and must be drawn.  First, all people do have some information about God, but unfortunately, Romans 1:20 tells us they suppress, corrupt, and/or ignore it.

Second, we can affirm that God is always fair.  According to Romans 2:1-3, He judges people according to what they know and do not know, what they do and do not do, as well as by their own standards of right and wrong.

Third, we must admit that in view of Romans 3:23, no one—ourselves, most of all—is or can become perfect on our own.  Because God is holy and requires perfection (Matthew 5:20; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:21), all men deserve the just punishment of hell.  Thus, some people get what they deserve—namely justice—while others get what they don’t deserve—namely mercy.  However, no one gets injustice.

You must ask yourself honestly, “Do I really deserve to go to heaven?”  Who, then, does?  Can you point to someone who actually deserves to go to heaven, who earned enough “points” to please a perfectly and eternally holy and righteous God?  Chances are if you can, then your standard of holiness and righteousness is far different than God’s.  This is also called idolatry, creating God in our own image, rather than recognizing and worshiping God for who He truly is.

The fact is, Jesus Christ is God’s extreme and ultimately final expression of mercy to a lost and dying world.  Only Christ is both fully God and fully man, so only He could pay the eternal penalty for humanity’s profoundly radical sin problem.

One thing that could be brought up at this point is this fair question: Why are there so many other world religions and so many other people who adhere to high moral standards, some that appear to surpass the ethical lifestyles of Christians?  Two things can be said in response.  First, we must understand human nature made in the image of God, and second, we must understand the reality of an adversary called the devil who is doing everything he can to lure people away from the God who loves and wants to know them.

The multitude of world religions suggests a couple of things about humanity.  First, it suggests that we have an incurably religious nature that is constantly seeking to reach out to the transcendent unknown, to the immaterial realm of the spirit.  And I think that this is due to the image of God in man.  This image reaches beyond itself and looks for the divine.  Paul points this out in Acts 17, verse 27.  The result of this search, this extending beyond oneself, has been a myriad of religious perspectives.  But that only tells half of this sad story.

The fact is, human beings, because of the reality of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin (chronicled in Genesis 3), are no longer able to have an unblemished and unadulterated picture of who God really is and how a person can know and relate to Him.  Thus, God provided a special communication to us concerning Himself through what we call the Bible, and supremely through the person of Jesus Christ.  But while many know and embrace this special communication, not everyone believes in or has access to it.  Some are ignorant, some choose to ignore it, some choose to refute and destroy it, and some choose to twist and rewrite it.

All of this highlights the fact that Satan is a real threat to humanity’s ability to understand and know God.  The adversary delights in deceiving and drawing people away from God and His truth (see 2 Corinthians 11:3 and John 8:44, for example).  Thus, we would expect to find—and in fact do find—a multitude of counterfeits in the religious communities of the world.

The things I have just shared are potentially hard truths to face.  In part three, we will conclude with some encouragements and recommendations concerning the Christian’s responsibility given the fact that people can be saved through Jesus Christ alone.

Sometimes I see what the word of God says and struggle with it emotionally.  But as a Christian, I think it’s important to ask, am I willing to face this?  Am I willing to do something unpopular and stand up and say to the world that there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ?

What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Part One

In the present-day perspective of religious pluralism and the widespread acceptance of ideological inclusivism, is it really desirable—or even possible—to talk about those who have never heard about Jesus?  For a variety of reasons, I believe that it is not only desirable and possible, but also vitally necessary to understanding the meaning and importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But how?  How can the question concerning those who have never heard about Jesus be answered?  In many ways, the answer to this issue ultimately comes down to just a few basic things.  If we understand:

  • The nature of God,
  • The nature of ourselves and our sin, and
  • The nature of Christ’s identity and mission,

then an adequate answer can be given to the question.  But by using the word “adequate” here, does not necessarily mean “emotionally satisfying.”  While the answer shared will existentially satisfy some, it may well disturb and anger others.  And that, unfortunately, is sometimes unavoidable.  In a society which disdains certain central aspects of the Christian faith, some level of offense is an inevitable by-product of discussing the truth of its message.

Christ’s gospel sometimes does insult and offend some of our basic assumptions about life, truth, and religion.  When the apostle Paul noted that the gospel was, “a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to the Greeks,” he was well aware that some people would hate and misunderstand the message for what it was, no matter how reasonably, gently, or compellingly it was presented.

In this first part, we are going to approach an answer by looking at what the Bible says about this, and then later in parts two and three, we are going to discuss how we can answer individuals who are asking us the question when we are sharing Christ with them.

Romans chapter 1, beginning in verse 18 says that God gave all human beings a witness of Himself through what theologians have come to call “general revelation.”

The argument runs as follows: Even people who have never heard of Christ are without excuse before God for their rejection of Him because they have enough information to know there is a God, but they do not acknowledge Him as truly being God.  In fact, in the verses that follow, Paul continues to explain the ungodly results of this rejection, concluding in verse 32 that the things these people do are “worthy of death.”

It seems clear that at least for people practicing idolatry, sexual immorality, etc., the verdict is not promising.  But what about the average people of the world, those who have never done anything that bad or that evil?  Does God also condemn them?  If we continue reading in Romans 2, we see that for those people who have never heard of Jesus, God will judge them by their own standards.  Whenever they make a moral judgment, God considers that a moral standard that they must also keep themselves.

But herein lies the problem: who lives up to their own standards?  Who can honestly say, “I am not a hypocrite?”  And according to Romans 2:17ff, even the Jews who had the Old Testament Law and the Ten Commandments couldn’t and didn’t fulfill the righteous and holy demands of a perfect God.

Paul concludes his reflections on the state of humanity in Romans 3:10, when he states categorically that, “there is none righteous, not even one.”  Why?  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (verse 23).  What does this mean?  It means just this: God is holy and He demands holiness (perfection) from those who would be in His presence (1 Peter 1:16).  He simply doesn’t grade on a curve.  You either get a perfect score of 100% or you fail completely (cf., James 2:10).

And when you really think about it, who wants a God who “fudges” and lets basically anyone into heaven?  That kind of God isn’t worthy of worship.  That’s a God who is just like us!  And it would make heaven a place just like earth, which is not the kind of heaven I—or anyone else—would want to spend all eternity in.

All of this begins to answer the first question raised above.  When we get a clearer picture of who God really is, who we are, and what He requires of us, we begin to see a very different picture than the one we may have painted of God and ourselves before.  The God of the Bible is a God who is perfect and holy, who demands that kind of perfection from all who would be in His presence.

Consequently, we will see in part two why it is so centrally important for everyone on earth to have an opportunity to hear and respond to the person of Jesus Christ.

Hell: That Hideous Hostel

hell_forever_and_ever

The Unbearable Doctrine of Hell
On page 282 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli state, “Of all the doctrines in Christianity, hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe and the first to be abandoned. The critic’s case against it seems very strong, and the believer’s duty to believe it seems unbearable.”

How can a good God allow people to suffer torment for all eternity? There are two basic ways to approach the unbearable doctrine of hell. We can argue for it based on the Bible’s authority and we can also argue for its rationality in light of some additional truths concerning God and humanity. I will seek to briefly do both.

The Bible on Hell
Biblically, the doctrine of hell’s reality is as clearly established as any central tenet of Christianity. Passages like Daniel 12:2, Matthew 25:46, and 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 (look them up!) seem to clearly teach the reality of hell and eternal punishment for those who die without Christ. Perhaps, however, the more traditional and straightforward interpretations of the relevant scriptures are wrong. Perhaps the majority of theologians throughout the centuries somehow misunderstood what the scriptures were really trying to say about hell and eternal punishment. The passages, as one arguments goes, might be better understood to speak of temporally limited punishment, or perhaps the wholesale destruction—that is, annihilation—of the wicked after a finite period of time. A more recent view is that “love wins” and all—even the most hardened and vicious haters of God—will be saved in the end.

Without addressing all of the details of such claims, most, if not all, attempts at reinterpreting the relevant passages in question appear to be consummate failures. The force of the scriptural passages themselves, alongside the broad consensus of church history, seem to necessitate either a dangerous retreat into an accusation of biblical error, or a journey toward a better understanding of the reasons for such a (presumably) hideous doctrine as eternal punishment for all who reject Jesus.

Rejecting Hell on Other Grounds
Because of the biblical clarity on the issue of hell, nearly all who reject the doctrine do so not upon purely biblical grounds, but upon other considerations instead. What are these grounds?

First, personal experience initially suggests that the majority of people on planet earth are fairly moral people, at least as we see them from the outside. Thankfully, truly evil people appear to be exceptions to the rule rather than the norm. Thus, punishing the (seemingly) moral person for an eternity simply because he or she rejected Christ seems unjust in light of those who live morally disgraceful lives and then, like the criminal on the cross, receive Christ’s perfect forgiveness (and eternal life in heaven) just prior to death.

In addition, God’s love and mercy seem incompatible with notions like giving eternal punishments for finite sins and the inflicting of horrendous unending pain for no compelling reason.

What Are Human Beings and God Really Like?
To answer such concerns, let’s reflect first on the nature of humanity. For all our strengths and glories, we humans are not as good as we think we are. Our standards of goodness without reference to God’s biblical norms are almost always measured by our own corrupt and limited understandings of right and wrong. Our sinfulness and finitude skew and distort our ability to clearly judge moral matters as God does.

Unfortunately, most people—Christians included—see their sin and the sin others as far less serious and offensive than God does. And herein lies a great deal of the problem: We see God as far less holy than He really is, and we see ourselves and others as far more holy than we really are.

God, then, the holy, righteous, and just God, takes sin very seriously; so seriously that He sent Jesus Christ into the world to die in our place and take the penalty for sin. His word makes it clear that He will tolerate no imperfections (James 2:10; 1 Peter 1:14-19). A perfect justice requires that sin must be punished, but since we are all imperfect and have all fallen short of God’s righteous standard (Romans 3:23), we all deserve to be punished with death (Romans 6:23a).

This impossibly high standard of perfection levels the playing field when considering who deserves to go to heaven. In fact, no one does! That God saves anyone at all is an act of undeserved kindness on His part. Our offense to the idea that God would allow people to go to hell is better expressed as amazement that He would allow anyone to be with Him in heaven.

Why Is Jesus So Important?
And that is the critical reason why Jesus Christ is so centrally important in the discussion. He is the only one who was perfect and never did anything wrong (Hebrews 4:15). Thus, He is the only one who can take away sin and impart to us the perfection—His perfection—that God requires in order to get into heaven (2 Corinthians 5:21). We miss the point if we think that going to heaven has anything at all to do with what kind of moral life we lived upon this earth. It has nothing to do with that and everything to do with our relationship with Jesus Christ. God’s grace is expressed not in His being impressed with our moral lives. It is expressed in His being impressed by the righteousness of Jesus freely and undeservedly imparted to us, sinners saved only by God’s mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9).

God Has Made Us Free
Some other things can be said about hell at this point. Part of the image of God in human beings includes the freedom to love or reject Him. If this is the case, then there will be people who willingly choose to love and serve God. However, there will also be others who choose to love and serve something or someone other than God, which is, at its core, the sin of idolatry.

Some may ask, why not force everyone go to heaven? Then the dignity of an individual’s freedom is transgressed, and God’s call to live well would be a mockery, for there could be no losers or winners. All would end up in the same place, and all would have to love and serve God whether they chose to or not. And love that is not chosen is not love in any meaningful sense of the word.

As well, why should we assume that people who reject God would really want to be in heaven? If heaven is a place of eternal, praise, worship and service to the almighty God, why do we automatically think that everyone actually wants to go there? It would not be entirely unlike making me sit through Italian opera for all of eternity, or (similarly) making my wife sit through interminable football and basketball games. Even biblically, we see in Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:11 that out of their hatred for God, some people will refuse to repent no matter what He does to get their attention.

What Is the Nature of the Crime?
It could be argued that a sin committed in finite time should not be punished for an infinite time. But if sin is an offense to an eternally holy God, then that offense is an eternal one! The nature of a crime is not measured in terms of minutes but in terms of who was offended and the degree and nature of the offense. Murder may take less time than a robbery, but it is by its nature a more heinous crime. And killing a rat is less of an offense than killing a human being because the type of being matters in moral evaluations. If God is the ultimate being, then an offense against Him is an ultimate offense. How great is our need for Jesus!

We Should Be Moved to Action!
I think the inescapable fact remains that hell is a real threat and danger to all who do not know Christ. As Christians, we should not be embarrassed by or afraid of this reality. Rather, it should motivate us to sensitively but boldly tell all who will listen about Jesus’ unique and loving ability to forgive and rescue us from an eternity in hell and give us eternal life instead.