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What Does the Bible Say About the Eternal Destination of a Person Who Never Hears of Jesus?

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.

26219980_2002699353334045_1898487006197556984_n.jpgBrandon 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.

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What Does the Bible Say About Sickness Being a Result of Sin?

You’ve been sick before – I guarantee it. You might be sick right now. I’m sure your loved ones have had their share of sickness as well. You probably have loved ones who have suffered or passed away from sicknesses and disease, or there might be someone you love who is currently sick. But what does the Bible say about sickness? More specifically, what does the Bible say about sickness being a result of sin? Let’s found out.

First, let us define sickness. For the purposes of this post, we will use the word sickness in a general and broad sense to describe any state or instance of being ill. Sickness can mean being in the state or condition of illness. That could be having a cold, the Flu, cancer, HIV/AIDS, or anything else that is abnormal for a healthy human being. But sickness can also mean instances of sudden ailments such as having a stroke, a heart attack, or anything other event that would not be normal for a healthy human being. Sickness is real and both Scripture and experience confirm this. I state that because there is a “Christian” group which has existed for many years who believe and teach that sickness is not real, but an illusion. The proponents and adherents of Christian Science believe such, and that belief is demonstrably false and destructive.¹

Second, in a sense, all sickness is a result of sin. The question concerns whether or not sickness can be a result of sin, and in a sense, all sickness is a result of sin. That is, all sickness is a result of sin’s effect. The reason for the existence of pain, sorrow, ailments, sickness and even death is because of the effect of sin on the universe. When sin entered the world in Genesis 3, the world became cursed and corrupted. Therefore, anytime you have sickness (of any kind), it is because we live in a fallen and corrupted world which is awaiting its renewal (Romans 8:19-21). One day the world will be made new and there won’t be any sickness at all (Rev. 21:4; 22:3), but as long as we live in a world cursed and corrupted by sin, there will be sickness. Most of the sickness we experience is merely a result of sin’s curse, because our bodies are fallen. Sickness occurs most often not because God is punishing or disciplining us, but because of the condition and world in which we live.

Third, some sickness is the direct result of sin. It is a possibility that sickness comes as a result of having committed sin. Unfortunately, there are some old fashioned fundamentalists who believe that every time you get sick is because you’ve sinned against the Lord, but the Scripture simply doesn’t teach this. It does teach that sometimes sickness can be a result of sin in our lives. Sickness can be the result of committed sin in three ways: 1) Sickness can be the following consequence of committed sin, 2) sickness can be the way God disciplines you when sin is committed, or 3) sickness can be what God uses as a means of judgment. Let’s talk about each of these individually.

  1. Sickness can be the consequence of having committed sin. By this I mean that some people get sick as a consequence of their actions. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Lord is punishing or disciplining them, it’s just reality taking place. Someone who gets blackout drunk cannot expect to be healthy and well the next morning! Or if you constantly eat junk food you’re not going to be healthy. If you don’t take care of your body, you will succumb to sickness more often. Sometimes sickness is merely eating the fruit of your deeds. Fruit is a result of what is sown, and what kind of fruit you eat depends on what deeds you have sown. When you commit certain sins which will inevitably affect your health, you are the reason why sickness was brought upon you.
  2. Sickness can be the discipline of the Lord. Sickness is one of the most severe forms of God’s discipline of His children. Sometimes it’s the only thing that will get our attention. We have an example of this in Paul’s instructions about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. The Corinthians were misunderstanding and abusing the Lord’s Supper, namely, observing it in an “unworthy manner” (v. 27). Because they wouldn’t stop doing so, Paul says, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (v. 30). God disciplined the believers there through weakness, illness, and even death. Another example of this is found in Psalm 6, where David prays a prayer of repentance. Apparently, he had committed sin. He doesn’t say specifically what it was, but it was obvious he was suffering from it. And one of the ways he was suffering was physically. He expresses in the psalm symptoms of an illness, which he appears to say is the Lord’s discipline. In v. 1 he acknowledges that God is disciplining him, and he notes that his “bones are greatly troubled” (v. 2), and that he is “weary” and “weak” (vv. 6-7). Although he doesn’t specifically say that he was physically ill, he certainly was not physically well. As a form of discipline, God allowed for him to experience great pain and it was probably some form of illness. Clearly, God can use sickness as a severe form of discipline upon His children. For determining whether or not your sickness is God’s discipline, look to see if you have unrepentant sin in your life or a pattern of serious sin. The reason I say that is because sickness is usually one of the most severe forms of God’s discipline. If He’s already tried to get your attention through other means and you still haven’t repented, He may resort to a more severe method of discipline – sickness.
  3. Sickness can be the means of the judgment of God. Finally, sometimes sickness can be the way God executes judgment upon an individual or individuals. Let me clarify at this point: the words judgment and discipline are not the same. Judgment refers to God’s punishment of sinners, discipline refers to God’s fatherly discipline of His children. And sometimes God will use sickness as manifestation of His judgment on the nonbeliever. There are several examples of this in the Bible. One example is in Exodus, where God caused a plague of “festering boils” to come upon the Egyptians in an effort to free His people from slavery (Exodus 9:9). Granted, boils aren’t an illness like a cold or the Flu, but they are in the category of physical ailments like illness. Another example is in Daniel, where God smote king Nebuchadnezzar with mental illness, changing his mind into “the mind of an animal” (Daniel 4:16). The king completely lost his mind and began acting like an animal (v. 33). When God deems it necessary, He will use sickness and other physical ailments as means of judgment.

Sickness is real and it exists because of sin’s effect on the world. It may or may not be the result of committed sin. Sometimes sickness is circumstantial because of the world we live in. Sometimes it is consequential – the direct result of your actions. Sometimes it is God’s discipline, meant for your repentance. And sometimes it is the means which God chooses to use to execute His judgment.

There are two more important matters I want to note in passing. The first is a pressing question often asked when talking about the subject of sickness: why are some people healed of sickness and others are not? The overarching answer is simply this: it either was or wasn’t the will of God. If God wills something, it will occur. If God doesn’t will something, it will not occur. And whatever God wills will always be for His glory. So, healing may or may not be God’s will for an individual who is sick. Why sometimes it is His will and other times not, we cannot know for sure. It is certainly not because an individual didn’t have enough faith. Some proponents of the health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel,” say that the reason why Christians don’t experience healing is because they didn’t have enough faith – their faith was the reason God didn’t heal them. Such a teaching is man-centered, non-biblical, and false. For believers who are sick, there is great hope even if they don’t receive healing. God uses physical ailments for His glory (see the story of the blind man in John 9), and believers can cling to the promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Those who do not believe cannot hope in that promise, for they are not those who “love God,” and they are not “called according to his purpose.” The second thing worth noting here is the obligation that Christians have to care for those who are sick. Scripture tells us that we should visit the sick (Matthew 25:36) and pray for them (James 5:14). It reveals much about our love for the Lord and for the brethren when we fulfill those responsibilities.

What Does the Bible Say? is a question and answer series which seeks biblical answers to pressing questions.

  1. George Shaw Cook, “The Remedy for Illusion,” Christian Science Sentinel. www.sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/50tfglv60w (accessed June 16, 2018).

26219980_2002699353334045_1898487006197556984_n.jpgBrandon 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.

QUESTION: How Can I Get the Most Use From My Bible?

A tool can be very valuable if we learn how to use it. The worker is never without his hammer, because of its many uses. If he believed that a hammer had only one use, say for driving nails, then he probably wouldn’t value it as much. But he can likely accomplish two-thirds of his daily tasks all by using a hammer – but he must know how to use it. In order to get the most use from it, he must know how to use it.

So it is with the word of God, the Bible. It is our theological toolkit for living the Christian life. We need it to grow in our faith and be the Christian that God has called us to be. No believer can be obedient to God without the Bible, so it is important that we use our Bibles effectively. The Scriptures are profitable to our Christian growth (2 Tim. 3:16), but we must know how to use them.  So how can we get the most use out of our Bibles? I believe there are five basic ways we can get the most use from our Bibles:

1. Read the Bible. This is the most basic way we can use the Bible. Do you read the Bible every day? Everyone reads and learns at a different pace, so it may take some time to adjust to reading the Bible regularly—but perhaps the best way to read it is by reading a few chapters a day, in the morning and the night. A good Bible reading plan is also very helpful—helps keep you accountable and track your progress. We must take time out of our busy schedules to read God’s word. If you’re too busy to read the Bible, you’re too busy. The good part about it is that the more we read it, the more we will want to read it, and the more we will be equipped with its teachings.

A while ago, I did a little math to calculate how long it would take someone to read through the entire Bible. The Old Testament, consisting of 929 chapters, would only take you 26.5 weeks to read all the way through if you read 5 chapters a day. That’s reading through the entire Old Testament in about 6 months. The New Testament, consisting of 260 chapters, would only take you 7.4 weeks to read all the way through if you read 5 chapters a day. That’s Matthew through Revelation in under 2 months. If you read 5 chapters of the Bible daily, you could read through the whole Bible once and read half of it over again. . . In a year. In a small 5 year period, you will have read through the entire Bible nearly 8 times.

2. Meditate on the Bible. This is not simply a suggestion, for the Bible implies that we should meditate on the Scriptures (Psalm 119:15, 48, 97). Do you remember the first Psalm about the godly man who was blessed in every way? How did he get blessed? How did he become so prosperous? It was because “his delight [was] in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Scripture meditation involves pondering and thinking deeply on what we’ve read. We think about what they mean for us, and ponder how to put them into action. Meditation involves allow the Scripture to dictate our thought lives—to let it swim and boil in our hearts and minds throughout our daily commute. Do you have some Scripture that you’ve been meditating on?

3. Pray the Bible. Many people do not realize the benefits of this or see that it’s even necessary, but praying the Bible helps us to align our prayers to God’s will. That’s the only kind of prayers God answers anyway—according to His will: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15). God’s will is revealed in the Bible, so if we want to pray according to God’s will, wouldn’t it make sense to pray the Scriptures? Sometimes we pray for the wrong things, but if we want to pray for the right things, we need to be praying the Scriptures. When you’ve read your Bible each day, let what you read compel you to prayer, and then pray about what you’ve read.

4. Memorize the Bible. This one, like the others, seems to be implied by the Bible itself as a command. We are familiar with Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist there says that his defense against sinning was that he had stored God’s word in his heart. Scripture memory involves not only getting into the Bible, but allowing the Bible to get into us. It is allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). Scripture memorization involves taking time to memorize the Bible, whether a few verses or a few chapters. It is very beneficial, for we can call to mind a Scripture that is especially helpful for us in a time of need or for someone else in a time of need. Because the Spirit of God can’t call to your memory a Scripture you’ve never read or memorized. Do you take time to memorize the Bible? You can write it out on paper until you have it memorized, or you can repeat it back to yourself time after time, or you can simply read it over and over again. I’ve put Bible verses on note cards and slipped them in my pocket as I go about my daily tasks. That way, when I get my keys or phone out, I can always look at that verse first.

5. Study the Bible. Studying the Bible is key. It involves the most effort, but yields the best results. Studying the Bible is observing it, interpreting it, and applying it to our daily lives. We might spend a while studying a verse of Scripture, a chapter, or a whole book of Scripture—but studying involves doing much work to excavate the deep truths of Scripture. A good study Bible helps with this, good commentaries, or other helpful books like Bible dictionaries and Bible handbooks. In studying the Bible, we focus on it—think through it intellectually and emotionally. We discover what the particular author is saying about his subject and what it means for us today. Do you study the Bible? How much time a week is spend studying the Bible?


For further study, see The Work of the Word.

QUESTION: How Often Should I Partake of the Lord’s Supper/Communion?

This is what we refer to as a “non-dogmatic” issue. Dogmatic, on the other hand, refers to something that is incontrovertibly true – something that cannot be negotiated, but must be accepted. So when we say that a teaching of the Bible is dogmatic, then it must be accepted and taught, no negotiations or beating around the bush, as they say. A few examples of something biblically dogmatic would be: the gospel, the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, and things like this that would radically change the message and validity of Christianity if they were altered even in the least.

But there are also plenty of non-dogmatic issues today. Some of these are: proper church attire, contemporary vs. traditional music in the church, and others like these. Issues that fall into this category can alter and change depending on your local congregation – and they are no more or less biblical than the church that handles those issues differently.  For example, it is just fine if a church allows blue jeans and t-shirts in the worship service. There is no biblical command that says you must wear a suit and tie to worship. But there may be a more traditional church that says you should wear your “Sunday best.” That is also fine. Falling under this category of non-dogmatic is how frequently and individual or church should partake of the Lord’s Supper (or Communion).

The Bible doesn’t specify how often you should partake of the Lord’s Supper, it only specifies that you should partake of it, in a proper manner, and that you understand and apply its meaning. It doesn’t matter if you partake of it once a year, once a month, or once a week. What matters most is that you do it in remembrance of Jesus, understand its significance, and partake of it in the correct manner.

The instructions we have about the Lord’s Supper are found in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul states: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (vv. 23-26, emphasis mine).

Paul quotes Jesus in this passage, and as far as how often we should partake of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus only requires “as often as you drink it.” That is the only time frame we have. This assumes that we are partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and it implies that it should be done time and time again. The tone used in this part of the passage doesn’t indicate that it should only be done once, but it the tone in this passage also doesn’t indicate that it should be done constantly. Only “as often” as you do it.

The important thing to remember is that the Lord’s Supper is a sacred time to remember the Lord Jesus and the significance of His substitutionary death on the cross, and that we have received it. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Lord’s Supper, referred by them as the Eucharist, actually becomes the body and blood of Christ. That might be a good example of when a non-dogmatic issue becomes a dogmatic issue. When something that is considered non-dogmatic is altered to the point where it conflicts with other Bible teachings, then it needs to be reexamined and reinterpreted in light of the other teachings of Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture does the Bible teach or even imply that the Lord’s Supper transfuses into the actual blood and body of Christ that we must receive for salvation. When something non-dogmatic conflicts with what is dogmatic, it is no longer a non-dogmatic issue.

The Lord’s Supper is a beautiful symbol, and a time of remembrance and thanksgiving. We eat the bread symbolizing that we have partaken of Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and we drink the juice (or wine) symbolizing that we have received His blood as atonement for our sins. Nothing in Scripture about the frequency of doing so, only “as often” as we do it.