The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church, the 17th day of November 2019, during the morning service:
This question has in mind the eternal destination of an individual who never gets a chance to hear about Jesus Christ or the gospel. Hypothetically, you might think of a person completely alone on an island. In reality, you might think of persons in an indigenous tribe where the message of the gospel has not yet arrived. The question assumes that God may treat such an individual differently because they never had a chance to believe in the gospel because they never heard it. How could God hold a person accountable for what he doesn’t know? Wouldn’t it be unfair for God to send such a person to hell?
Well, there are several logical and theological problems with the assumption that any person would be treated differently than any other sinner. The question itself is flawed from its false assumption. But remarkably, even though this question is flawed, the Bible gives a very clear answer. The Bible’s answer is this: all sinners everywhere are justly condemned by God for willfully rejecting His rule and His laws. A sinner is not exempt from condemnation just because he doesn’t hear the gospel, and a sinner does not become liable to judgment once he does hear the gospel. For the individual who never hears the gospel, he is liable to the judgment just like a person who does hear the gospel. We can arrive at such an answer because of several things that the Scripture clearly teaches.
First, the Bible clearly teaches that God has revealed Himself generally through the beauty and order of creation. That is, every person on the planet has some level of knowledge about God – even the person who’s never heard of Jesus. The apostle Paul states this in Romans 1:18-20, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (emphasis mine). Paul states in that passage that God has given general revelation to all of mankind. That is, God can be generally known through creation. That being said, knowledge of God from creation is limited. You cannot know things about God from creation like the fact that He is Triune, loving, or omnipresent. But God’s existence, His power, and some perception of His divine nature can be known through creation alone. Paul says that God has revealed Himself through the creation of the world and because of this, all men are “without excuse.” Because of the evidence of God in creation, mankind should know that God exists – he has no excuse and he cannot claim that God didn’t give him sufficient evidence for His existence. Paul also states that sinners have suppressed this knowledge. Because mankind is unrighteous, he suppresses the truth that God exists. So then, because God has made Himself known in creation, all of mankind have knowledge that God exists, whether they be in North America or some undiscovered tribe. The problem is not that they have no knowledge of God at all, the problem is that they have suppressed the knowledge of God that they already have.
Second, the Bible teaches that all of mankind have a sense of what God requires. All mankind have some sense of morality, an understanding of right and wrong. Even the person who never hears of Jesus or the gospel understands right and wrong. He will therefore be held accountable to God for doing what is wrong and failing to do what is right, since he knows what he should and shouldn’t do. Now, as with general revelation, this does not mean that mankind has an exhaustive knowledge of right and wrong, but that he has a general one. Again we turn to Romans to find this truth revealed where Paul says, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16). Paul is dealing with the nature of man in this passage. Even though a man may not have “the law,” that is, the law of Moses, they are a “law to themselves.” Paul says that all man has knowledge of moral law written on his heart, and it is enough moral knowledge for him to have conflict in his conscience. So again, man has general knowledge of God and general knowledge of morality – the person who never hears of Jesus is therefore not innocent or exempt from being accountable to God. Although he doesn’t know the Bible or all the specifics, he doesn’t seek the God he knows exists and he doesn’t obey the moral law written on his heart. People are responsible to God for what God has already revealed to them.
Third, the Bible clearly teaches that you must hear the gospel in order to believe it and thereby be saved. A person who never hears of Jesus cannot believe in Him. How can you believe in something you’ve never heard of? Scripture teaches that a prerequisite for salvation is hearing the message of the gospel. In Ephesians 1:13, Paul describes something of the process of conversion, and notice what he says comes before belief: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine). Hearing the “word of truth,” the gospel, comes before belief. Furthermore, Paul states this truth even clearer in Romans 10, where he explains how a person arrives at believing in Christ for salvation. Notice the progression and simple logic in the passage: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (vv. 14-17, emphasis mine). Paul states that belief in Christ is necessary for calling on Him, and hearing about Christ is necessary for believing in Him. He even summarizes that truth in the last verse of the passage, saying that faith (for believing unto salvation) comes from hearing the word of Christ, the gospel.
The question assumes the possibility that a person is not liable to judgment until he hears the gospel. But hearing the gospel doesn’t make you liable to judgment, being a sinner makes you liable to the judgment. Hearing the gospel is only the prerequisite for coming to Christ in repentance and faith. If hearing the gospel was what made a person liable to judgment, then you should avoid evangelism at all costs! Why would you take the gospel to the nations if they were innocent before hearing the gospel and condemned after hearing it? The apostle Peter says something to this effect: “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21). If people who never hear the gospel are already saved, then we should make sure no one ever hears the gospel. The worst thing we could do would be to share the gospel with a person and have him or her reject it. If that were to happen, he or she would be condemned. Why run the risk of people possibly rejecting the gospel and condemning themselves when they were previously saved because they had never heard the gospel?
Fourth, the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is only by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Just because a person never hears of Jesus doesn’t mean he can take a different way of salvation. If he doesn’t receive salvation by grace through faith, “the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36) and he goes to hell. If this were not the case, then you would have to explain how salvation comes to a person differently than what is clearly prescribed in the Bible – and there is no other way. And what would it say about the justice of God and the work of Christ if a person could be saved apart from faith in Christ? The Bible is clear that a person must come to Father through Jesus (John 14:6), and that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12).
Fifth and finally, we are not in a position to judge whether or not God’s actions are fair or just. We are not ultimately in a position to judge God’s actions as fair or unfair. Some think it is unfair for Him to express judgment on sinners who have never heard of Jesus. What’s more, some people would consider it unfair that they were “force-fed” Christianity their whole lives. If you consider it unfair for God to condemn those who have never heard, your opinion doesn’t matter. God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), He does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6), and He always does what is good and glorifying to Himself.
So what does the Bible say about the eternal destination of a person who never hears of Jesus? Without saving faith in Jesus Christ, he will go to hell. Just because he didn’t have a chance to hear the gospel doesn’t mean he was innocent. He has knowledge about God and some sense of what God requires, and because he doesn’t seek God or do what God requires, he is condemned like the rest of mankind. If he doesn’t hear the gospel, he cannot believe it, and the only way to be saved is through hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. And instead of judging the fairness of such, we should be more fervent to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) so that they can come to Jesus Christ.
What Does the Bible Say? is a question and answer series which seeks biblical answers to pressing questions.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with free Christian resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their dog, Susie.
The following message was delivered May 4, 2014 at New Hope Baptist Church in Ballard County, KY:
Our Position as Believers: Reconciled
Our position as believers is truly remarkable. There are many terms that describe our position as believers in relation to God and in relation to man as well. The Bible says that we are justified (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 3:24; Titus 3:7), forgiven (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; 1 John 1:9), adopted (Gal. 4:5-7; Eph. 1:5), and redeemed (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7). While there are many other descriptions, one of the greatest of those terms to describe who we are in Christ is reconciliation. That’s what Paul’s theme is in our text. The way Paul uses the term in Colossians pictures a thorough, full, and complete reconciliation. Let’s read it together.
The Text: Colossians 1:20-23, ESV
“20 And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
God’s Plan of Reconciliation
Let’s look first at v. 20: “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” You may have noticed that our starting place in today’s text is a bit awkward. The reason for starting in v. 20 is because of the language-change. You see that Paul has changed his language from v. 19 in speaking about Christ’s preeminence to v. 20 talking about reconciliation and the first thing he tells his readers about is God’s plan of reconciliation.
Paul writes that “through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself [God] all things.” That’s a very heavy statement. All things? Paul says here quite clearly that through Jesus Christ, God’s plan is to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven. But why would “all things” need to be reconciled to God? If God’s plan is to reconcile all things to Himself, then there must be some type of separation involved, creating the need for reconciliation. For separation is the opposite of reconciliation. What created that need? Well, you remember the creation story in Genesis, don’t you? Do you remember what God said concerning His creation? “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). About light, day, the moon, sun, stars, plants and animals, you read that God said that it was good. But when God looked and saw everything altogether that He had made, including man, He saw that it was very good.
But what happens two chapters later? The Fall. This is where sin enters the world. When evil and sin entered the world, God’s good creation was marred. It was defiled. Sin destroyed perfect harmony between creatures, and sin affected the entire creation. Paul describes this vividly in Romans 8: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (v. 20), creation, Paul says, is in “bondage to corruption” (v. 21), and, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (v. 22). We live on a cursed earth in a cursed universe all because of sin.
Now what is to be said of the beauty that we still see in creation? What about the rocks, trees, fish and lakes? This beauty is owing to God’s common grace. That is, God has still continued to allow creation to display forth beauty and greatness even though it is subjected to futility and corruption. There’s a reason animals kill each other. There’s a reason plants and animals die. There’s a reason that creation is not in exact harmony: sin.
But as you know, the Bible gives us the wonderful promises that God will again restore creation. He will recreate and “God will make friends with creation again” (1). Tremendous, dramatic, glorious changes will take place in that time. Paul says again in Romans 8 that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). God and the creation will be reconciled—the curse of Genesis 3 will be removed. Finally, “after all is said and done,” there will be a new heaven and a new earth:
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:2).
God will make everything new and will reconcile all things to Himself. That’s the aim Paul is taking here when he says, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (1:20a).
A Word About Universalism
Now some have seen this as a path into the heresy known as universalism. This teaching holds that it doesn’t matter what happens in this life, one day everyone who has ever lived will be saved—God has no real wrath against sinners and one day everyone will be reunited with Him forever and there is no such thing as hell or the lake of fire. That’s a lie straight from the pits of hell and you’d be surprised, utterly surprised, at the number of professing Christians who hold to this view of God and eternity. But those who hold to this view say that this text indicates that even fallen angels and unbelieving sinners will be reconciled to God. Paul cannot mean here that there will be ultimate salvation of everyone. Not everyone is going to be saved—we know that. That’s one thing Jesus taught: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). And Christ will one day say to unbelievers, “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), and then in v. 46 of that chapter, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
There are no second chances for those who go out into eternity without Christ. It’s against the Scriptures and everything that the Christian faith stands for if you identify with something like universalism. So where do unbelievers and fallen angels fall into this category of reconciliation? They will be reconciled to God in the sense of getting their final judgment. Only in the sense of submitting to Him for final sentencing:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
This all happens through Jesus Christ—this is the extent of the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ; this is God’s plan of reconciliation—“to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:20).
The Opposite of Reconciliation
It is God’s grand, glorious plan to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus, but now Paul focuses on his readers in a special way. Before Paul talks about God’s central purpose in reconciliation—reconciling men and women to God, he reminds them of their state of being before reconciliation. He describes the opposite of reconciliation: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (v. 21).
Paul focuses on his readers here. “And you who once were. . .” Paul is talking about something that these readers were, not something that they are now. And he describes the Colossians’ pre-Christian state in a three-fold way:
1. Position: “you . . . once were alienated” (1:21b).
The Bible actually talks about aliens more than you think. When you think of aliens, however, you probably picture the little green guys trying to abduct humans for research. Or possibly more relevant, illegal aliens, are those who come over to our country illegally. But why do we call the fictional green characters aliens, and why do we call illegal immigrants aliens? Because they are strangers. Aliens would be strangers because they’re not from our planet. Immigrants because they are not from our country. And when it comes to Paul’s readers, this is their position apart from God: strangers. To be alienated is to be cut off from God, a stranger to God, a non-participant in the things of God.
Speaking of those who do not know Christ, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). Sin is what separates us from God. Sin is what alienates us from God and creates that need for reconciliation back to our Creator. God is holy and we are not—and that is a problem for us. The Scriptures attest about Him, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV), “The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:16), “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Psalm 5:4, ESV). God is holy and our depraved position apart from Him is alienation/separation. And if nothing’s done about it, it will lead to eternal separation one of these days in the lake of fire where, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). The reason that it is an eternal hell is because sin is an offense against an eternal God. Our position depraved and apart from the saving grace of God is one of damnation: we were once alienated.
2. Intellect/Thinking: “you . . . once were . . . hostile in mind” (1:21c).
Not only alienated, but the Colossians had also been hostile in mind. This literally means that they had a hateful attitude towards God. According to Paul here in this verse, even our intellect is infected by sin. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). The Scripture teaches that the unbeliever’s mind is even corrupt and affected by sin. It doesn’t mean he cannot think, it doesn’t mean that he cannot be philosophical, it doesn’t mean that he has no logic—but it does mean that his mind is corrupted by sin and will not willingly submit to God or the things of God. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Our mode of thinking was entirely against God.
There’s an interesting passage in the New Testament about this truth. It’s in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Paul says here that their minds are blinded. Wait a minute. I thought being blind meant that you couldn’t see? That’s the point here. Satan so darkens the minds of unbelievers that they cannot see the light of the gospel—they are blinded; even by their own minds. So don’t be under the impression that you can win people over with philosophy, or even theological discussion. You cannot save a single soul. Only God can regenerate a sinner who is that depraved. Only God can transform a man.
3. Actions/Deeds: “you . . . once were . . . doing evil deeds” (1:21d).
Not only were they alienated from God, and their minds hostile to Him, but they were doing evil deeds. If they are already so depraved that they are separated from God and hostile in their thinking, then it would follow that their actions would result in “doing evil deeds.” Jesus confirms this fact: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). Everything man does in His rebellion against God is sin: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
Indeed, we are in an extremely depraved condition apart from Christ. Your predicament, if you are an unbeliever, is very heavy. We are not as sinful as we could be—God by His common grace restrains some evil in the world. But the Scripture teaches that everything about us, our minds, hearts, and wills are all inclined and bent towards evil and that every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. The New Testament is replete with passages about who we are before Christ:
“Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents” (Rom. 1:30, KJV)
“Dead in trespasses and sins,” “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3).
“We were enemies” (Rom. 5:10).
“as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12).
That’s the magnificent thing about salvation. God doesn’t just leave us in our depraved condition. He’d be just and right in doing so. God is not obligated to give grace to anyone—that’s why it’s called grace. It’s undeserved. God reserves the right to give grace to whoever He pleases—He doesn’t have to give grace to any sinner. But thank God He gives grace! God did a great thing on our behalf.
Why is this important to know? Why does the Bible place so much emphasis on our condition before Christ? Well, you will not appreciate your present salvation without remembering your past condition—you will not fully be grateful for your present relationship with God without remembering your past separation from God. If someone has a cold and they take some Mucinex to take care of it, do they normally rejoice, and hop up and down because they no longer have a cold? Not normally, unless they are just a happy person (and probably had too much Mucinex!). But if someone has had a terrible, life-threatening cancer and they receive treatment and beat the cancer. . . Oh there is rejoicing alright. They are very, very thankful. It works the same way in the Christian life. If you do not realize the depth of your sinful condition before Christ, then you will not even begin to realize how great a miracle your salvation actually was!
Too many believers treat their position before Christ like a fake threat. Like they were not in any real danger. It’s like the lady in the circus who spins on the wheel while the knife thrower pretends to throw knives around her. If you ask her at the end, “Don’t you feel glad that’s over? Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?” And she says, “It’s just a trick. The knives pop out of the wheel. What’s to get excited about? It’s just a fake threat” (2).
They say, “Nobody is perfect.” While that’s true, that’s not even scratching the surface of what you were before Christ. Read what the Scripture says about who you were before Christ, because when you recognize who you really were before God transformed you, then you will so much more appreciate your salvation now. Paul even says in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that at one time you were without Christ . . . having no hope, and without God in the world.”
How often do you ponder what your life was like before Christ? How often are you brought to tears of joy before the presence of Almighty God for saving you from such a depraved position? How often do you allow these things to grip you?
The Means of Reconciliation
Paul never tells us who we were before Christ, without also telling us who we are now in Christ (or what God has done for us to transform us). He never tells us to remember what we are now without remembering what we once were. So Paul has talked about the Colossians’ depraved sinful state and the complete opposite of reconciliation. Now he talks about the means of reconciliation: “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (v. 22a).
If we have a need for reconciliation to God then how is that accomplished? Paul says, “He has now [this is present tense] reconciled in His body of flesh by His death.” This is talking about Jesus. Jesus Christ is the one who has brought us to God. All the members of the Trinity work actively in your salvation. The Father initiates your salvation, He plans it. The Son accomplishes your salvation on the cross. The Spirit applies your salvation through regeneration. Now, Christ did a lot of things while He was here on this earth, but the main reason He came was to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are reconciled to God through His death. Your reconciliation to God is owing completely to the death of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t because you were good enough, it wasn’t because you did or said the right things, it was because Jesus died for you! “You contribute nothing to your salvation, except the sin that made it necessary”—Jonathan Edwards.
Are you reconciled today? Are you reconciled to God through Christ?
The Aim of Reconciliation
Paul has talked about God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation and now he talks about the aim of reconciliation: “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (v. 22b).
In contrast with their three-fold depravity, Paul describes the three-fold aim of Christ’s reconciliation work on behalf of the Colossian believers:
1. “in order to present you holy” (1:22b)
2. “in order to present you . . . blameless” (1:22c)
3. “in order to present you . . . above reproach” (1:22d).
The Evidence of Reconciliation
Paul has described God’s plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation, the aim of that reconciliation, and now he concludes this section by speaking on the evidence of that reconciliation. “If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23a).
Paul says here that “continuing in the faith” is evidence that you have been reconciled: “Christ reconciled you in order to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before Him . . . if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast.”
Paul is not saying here that “continuing in the faith” is necessary to your salvation because you are lacking something that Christ didn’t do. It’s necessary in order to prove your salvation, but not necessary because Christ isn’t enough. Christ is mighty to save, He saves to the uttermost, He is able to reconcile fully, completely, and thoroughly—salvation was not just made “possible” for you at the cross—but it was made actual for you at the cross. Christ actually accomplished, bought, and secured your salvation.
So, “continuing in the faith” is the necessary response and the “out-working” of a life that’s been reconciled to God. And the Scripture teaches that if your life does not show evidence of being reconciled to God, then you are not reconciled to God and you are still “alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds,” and you are not saved.
One of the most sobering truths of the Bible is that not all who profess to be Christians are in fact saved. Christ warned us about it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). And John writes in his epistle, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
No, you can never “lose” your salvation, but there will be a great falling away of those who were never truly saved. Look at Hebrews 6:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of god and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6).
Paul says here in Colossians that if we continue in the faith, we continue to be faithful to Him, continue to serve Him and love Him, if we remain steadfast and stable that it shows forth evidence of our present reconciliation with God.
Are you continuing in the faith? Does your life show evidence that you have been reconciled to God? Can you think of some ways in which God has shown His grace in your life? If not, then heed the words of 2 Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”
The Ministry of Reconciliation
In addition to Paul talking about the evidence of reconciliation, he speaks briefly in this section about the ministry of reconciliation. He writes, “[this gospel] which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (v. 23b).
Paul was made a minister of the gospel. We are all ministers of reconciliation. We are to tell others about Jesus Christ like Paul did. There’s a great passage of Scripture about that:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:17-20).
We owe people the gospel’s message this side of hell. The proper response to such a great gospel is joyfully sharing it with others. So who are you ministering to? Who has God placed in your life that you need to minister to? “You may be the only Bible people are reading.”—Billy Graham
We’ve seen today: God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation (1:20). Our state before Christ, the opposite of reconciliation (1:21). Christ’s present, real reconciliation work on the cross (1:22). The aim of Christ’s reconciling work (1:22). The evidence of Christ’s reconciling work (1:23). And how we are all made ministers of that gospel (1:23). Where is God stirring in your heart today? In the commands we found in the Scriptures, which are you not obeying? The gospel gives you the power to carry out those commands in obedience, so what are you waiting for? I pray we will be obedient to God and heed the truths gleaned from Colossians concerning this great position we have as believers: reconciled.
1. John MacArthur, Colossians/Philemon (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1992), 58.
2. Adapted from John Piper, Remember That You Were Hopeless (Desiring God, 1981).
You’ve Got Questions: What Happens to Someone Who Never Hears of Jesus?
The Bible teaches that people can only experience God’s salvation through Jesus Christ: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The Bible also teaches that everlasting judgment awaits those who reject Christ: “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). But what about the people who have never heard the gospel? Are they without hope? Will God judge them anyway? Some people suggest that those who never hear the gospel might still receive salvation if they respond to God’s ‘spiritual light’ in nature. That since God has revealed Himself through creation (Rom. 1:19-20), people who never hear the gospel can still be saved because there is evidence of God in creation. While it is true that God has revealed Himself generally through creation, the Bible gives no indication whatsoever that creation is of salvific value to sinners. The Bible gives no indication of any other way of salvation but through Jesus Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But if we are going to answer this question, we need to keep three points in mind:
Salvation by works is impossible. If we can earn our salvation, then Christ did not need to die (Gal. 2:21; 3:21).
God has indeed revealed His power and being through the beauty and order of creation. However, people suppress that truth and choose sin instead (Rom. 1:18-23). All of mankind, whether they be in North America or some undiscovered tribe, have a sense of what God requires and a knowledge of God (Rom. 2:14-15). So the problem is that they have rejected the knowledge of God that they already have, not that they have no knowledge of God at all.
The Scriptures assert that Christ is the only way to God and salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and that rejection of God is to subject yourself under God’s divine curse and wrath (John 3:36; 1 Cor. 16:22).
Our concern for the lost should drive us to reach the unreached with the message of the gospel. Rather than dwelling on “what ifs,” let’s get busy!
Finally, we are not ultimately in a position to judge God’s actions as fair or unfair. Some think it is unfair to express judgment on sinners who have never heard of Jesus. What’s more, some people would consider it unfair that they were “force-fed” Christianity their whole lives, while others could say it was “unfair” to hear the gospel from Christians who tainted the message by being abusive or hypocritical. In other words, even those who hear about Jesus may hypothetically complain that they didn’t have a fair chance! In the end, however, we know that God is just and that no sinner will be able to honestly protest to God that he wanted to know Him but was not allowed.
You’ve Got Questions: How Many People Are Going to Heaven?
While the Bible does not give a specific numerical answer (Ex. 3,400,832), there is a passage of Scripture that gives us an answer we can work with. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Christ is calling His listeners to enter by the narrow gate and He gives a warning concerning the wide gate. What are these two gates? They are the entrance to two different “ways.” The wide gate leads to the broad way, or road. The small narrow gate leads to the way that is narrow. The narrow way is the way of the godly, and the broad way is the way of the ungodly.
The broad way is the easy way. It is attractive and self-indulgent. It is permissive. It’s the inclusive way of the world, with few rules, few restrictions, and fewer requirements. Tolerance of sin is the norm where God’s Word is not studied and His standards not followed. This way requires no spiritual maturity, no moral character, no commitment, and no sacrifice. It is the easy way of following “the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). It is that broad way that “seems right to a man, but end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
The gateway to eternal life, called “narrow” does not mean that it is difficult to become a Christian. But it does mean that there is only one way to live eternally with God and that only a few decide to walk that road. Believing in Jesus is the only way to heaven, because He alone died for our sins and makes us right before God. Living His way is not popular, but it is true and right. The narrow way is the hard way, the demanding way. It is the way of recognizing that you cannot save yourself and must depend on Jesus Christ alone to save you. It’s the way of self-denial and the cross. The fact that few find God’s way implies that it is to be sought diligently. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). The point is this that no one will stumble into the kingdom or wander through the narrow gate by accident. Someone asked Jesus: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” He replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24).
Jesus knows that many will choose the wide gate and the broad way which leads to destruction and hell. Correspondingly, He said that only a few will choose the narrow gate. So how many people are going to heaven? According to Matthew 7:13-14, there is no doubt that more will go to hell than to heaven.
In addition, many are confused by thinking that the reference to the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4 is a reference to how many people are going to heaven. However, that is a claim from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They claim that 144,000 is a limit to the number of people who will reign with Christ in heaven and spend eternity with God. The 144,000 have what the Jehovah’s Witnesses call the “heavenly hope.” Those who are not among the 144,000 will enjoy what they call the earthly hope—a paradise on earth ruled by Christ and the 144,000. First, this claim should be rejected because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. In fact, they believe that the church has corrupted the Bible over the centuries. If they do not believe that every word is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore without error, then how can we even begin to lean in their direction of interpretation? Additionally, the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) is the only body in the cult that claims authority to interpret Scripture. In other words, what the governing body says concerning any scriptural passage is viewed as the last word, and independent thinking is strongly discouraged. By stark contrast, the Bible teaches that we should all study the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).
Finally, while there are varying views among evangelical Christians as to how to interpret Revelation, we Christians can all agree that the Bible places no numerical group on the children of God.
Further Resources: Who Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?
It is a sad fact that some Christians have committed suicide. Adding to the tragedy is the false teaching that committing suicide automatically consigns one to hell. Many believe that a Christian who commits suicide will not be saved. This teaching is not supported in the Bible. Scripture teaches that, from the moment we truly believe in Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life. According to the Bible, Christians can know beyond any doubt that they possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Nothing can separate a Christian from God’s love (Romans 8:38–39). No “created thing” can separate a Christian from God’s love, and even a Christian who commits suicide is a “created thing”; therefore, not even suicide can separate a Christian from God’s love. Jesus died for all of our sins, and if a true Christian, in a time of spiritual attack and weakness, dies by suicide, his sin is still covered by the blood of Christ.
Suicide is not what determines whether a person goes to heaven or not. Only by trusting in Christ for salvation are you guaranteed entrance into heaven. You must be justified by faith in Christ. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Of course, if the unsaved person commits suicide, all he has done is expedite his journey straight into hell. There is no way to sugar coat that truth. But will that unsaved person go to hell because he committed suicide? No. The reason for his going to hell isn’t because he committed the act, but because he is an unsaved sinner. Sin is what separates us from God. We are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), “children of wrath,” and enemies of God; hostile to God.
Suicide is not the “unforgivable sin” as many say, but those who take the sacred name of Christ upon their lips dare not contemplate it. Our lives belong to God and He alone has the prerogative to bring them to an end. In the very words of God, “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39 NIV, emphasis mine). The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. God is the only one who is to decide when and how a person should die. We should say with the psalmist, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). God is the giver of life. He gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is ungodly because it rejects God’s gift of life. No man or woman should presume to take God’s authority upon themselves to end his or her own life.
Characters in the Bible
In addition, the Bible mentions six specific people who died by suicide: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4–6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (Matthew 27:5). Five of these men were noted for their wickedness (the exception is Saul’s armor-bearer—nothing is said of his character). Some consider Samson’s death an instance of suicide, because he knew his actions would lead to his death (Judges 16:26–31), but Samson’s goal was to kill Philistines, not himself.
Furthermore, many people in Scripture felt deep despair in life. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, none of these men committed suicide. Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission. Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God. Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
In conclusion, suicide is a sin. It is not the “greatest” sin—it is no worse than other evils, in terms of how God sees it, and it does not determine whether or not a person goes to hell. However, suicide definitely has a deep and lasting impact on those left behind. The painful scars left by a suicide do not heal easily. May God grant His grace to each one who is facing trials today (Psalm 67:1). May God grant the psalmist’s perspective to each one who is facing trials today: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).