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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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Denying God’s Love (Malachi 1:2-5)

The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky on the 20th day of May 2018, during the evening service. 

War of the Soul: Introduction

In the Beginning, There Was War

Our great country was born in war and, throughout its history, war has shaped this nation. Ever since our birth we have been fighting wars for various reasons, and it has framed our government and expanded our borders. It has united us as citizens but also divided us in dissent and grief. Through the course of our existence as a nation, we have faced an enemy that we felt obligated to fight. From battling the British tyranny in the American Revolution to our current war on terrorism, we have always faced a war with a great enemy.

It true of war that you face an enemy, and to conquer it, you must have the right economic and social resources. This is an ideal image to describe the daily war that takes place in the Christian life. For Christians, there is a war going on. It is real, it is deadly, and it is costly. According to the Bible, there are three enemies that we face: Satan, the world, and our sin nature. All of which are waging an ongoing, costly, deadly war against us.

1. Satan is our enemy. Since creation, Satan has been at war with the people of God. Peter tells us to be watchful, as soldiers, on guard against him: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Contrary to many images circulating on the internet, Satan is not in an equal war against God with his soldiers, with ourselves caught in the middle. Satan is in a war against us, and he prowls around like a hungry lion, seeking someone weak, who isn’t keeping watch. He wars against us by tempting us to sin, deceiving us, and sometimes inflicting us.

2. The world is our enemy. The worldviews, desires, and influence of the world is at war against us also. The world’s ideas, desires and influence are against God and against Christians. You can see this evident more today than ever before in the history of the world. Today, the basic tenets of the Christian worldview are considered as hate-crime or arrogance. James tells us that we are to keep ourselves from being influenced by the world and associating with its worldviews and desires: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Because we are different, because we are God’s people, we suffer persecution and rejection from the world because we are “not of this world” (John 17:16).

3. Our sin nature is our enemy. Satan is powerful and the world can exert a strong influence on us, but no enemy is as powerful as ourselves. The 90’s rock band Lit had it right they said, “It’s no surprise to me that I am my own worst enemy.” The Bible does warn us strongly about keeping guard against Satan and the world, as the Scriptures above testify. But no warning is as strong as the warning against our own sin nature: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). No other passage of Scripture is as stark in its warning. The passions of our flesh wage war against the most valuable thing we possess: our souls. 

We are all fighting a war of desire to do what God wants, and to do what we want and commit sin. In this series, we will see what we are fighting, why we are fighting, and how to battle what we are fighting. The outline of the series is as follows:

1. The Battle Within (1 Peter 2:11-12)

2. Sin’s Greatest Weapon (James 1:12-15)

3. Empowered to Fight (Gal. 5:16-18)

 

Justification: It’s for Teens Too

The following message was delivered at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in West Paducah, KY on April 28, 2013.

Approval in American and Islamic Culture (and Twilight)

We naturally crave acceptance and approval from others. I believe that to be true for a number of reasons, but there are many things that we may do to gain acceptance or approval from others. We may join a club to feel acceptance or gain it. We may change our style of clothing. We may change our language and the way we talk. We might join in on a dirty joke because it gains us some approval. We may get the latest Tablet, iPad, or iPhone. We may start playing a certain sport to gain acceptance. We might bully and slander and look down on others to look “cool.” We might even do drugs to gain acceptance. We may join Twitter to earn approval.

There are many things we may do to earn approval maybe because we want to fit in, maybe because “everybody is doing it,” or because it’s “swag?” Just look around you. A few people start using Instagram and now everyone is using it. Are they really interested in the social networking photograph program itself or the approval they get from using it? This isn’t the case in American culture alone. This type of thing is happening all over the world. In many countries where Islam is the national religion, if you don’t worship Allah and follow the teachings of Muhammad, you are disowned both by your family and society. Many join the Islam movement simply for acceptance.

This cultural reality hit me when I heard David Nasser, an international Christian speaker, preaching at a youth conference that I attended back in November 2011. He said he faced a great deal of opposition when he told his family about becoming a Christian. His parents were devout Muslims. He writes concerning his conversion, “I stepped down into the warm water of the baptistery, not realizing that a baptism by fire was waiting for me at home. When I got back to the house, Mom and Dad were sitting in the living room, waiting. ‘Give me your house key,’ he said. As I reached in my pocket, Iranian curse words came gushing out of him, as if all this emotion had been brewing while I was gone. My entry had broken the dam, and it was all pouring out now. His son had disobeyed a direct order. To him, this was if I had spit in his face. I had dishonored him, and what’s worse, I had done it in front of my mother.” (Jumping Through Fires, 2009 by David Nasser) David was pressured to give in to the culture of Islam for acceptance in the eyes of his parents. So this craving of acceptance happens everywhere.

Even in my own life. Okay, I know I’m going to lose man-cards for this, but I watched Twilight. Yes sir. I feel like a woman. I mean, I didn’t want to see the movie at all. In my judgment, Cast Away with Tom Hanks and “WWWWIIIIILLLLSSSOOONNN” was a far better love story. But I wanted to see that movie so I could satisfy my girlfriend, gain her approval and really to say that I watched it so I could be a critic like everyone else. Even in my Christian life, I make sure I’ve got the latest Christian books off the press, and stay updated with what’s going on in the lives of my favorite Christian artists like Lecrae, Chris Tomlin, or Jeremy Camp. Why do we do that? Why do we do so much to gain other’s approval? I think we naturally crave acceptance in the sight of others. And some of it can be good. For example, some of it can help build your identity. The real question is this: Who’s approval ultimately and supremely matters above all? Please ponder these thoughts as we examine this passage of Scripture.

The Text

“18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18-21 ESV)

Examining the Text; Two Teams

Let’s look at some facts about the book of Romans before we dig into the meaning of the text. When you desire to understand a text, it’s always important to ask questions like: “Who was the author? Who was the original audience? What was the purpose of writing?” That is important because before the Bible means something for us today, it meant something specific to a certain group of people. So the purpose of Romans was to introduce Paul to the Romans and to give a sample of his message before he arrives in Rome. The author of course is the apostle Paul. The original audience to whom Paul was writing to were the Christians in Rome. Though Paul does spend some time greeting people in Rome at the end of the letter, he wrote Romans as an organized and carefully presented statement of his faith. It doesn’t have the form of your average letter.

Digging into the text, in v. 18 he says, “Therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all men. . .” What is that “one trespass?” The sin of Adam. The “one trespass” of Adam, as the representative of the human race, brought condemnation and guilt to all people. So we are sinners by nature and by choice. All of us are naturally rebellious against God. Therefore, His wrath rests on us. “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.” (Romans 8:7 ESV) Therefore, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against us. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV) And according to Ephesians 2 we are “by nature children of wrath” (v. 3), “sons of disobedience” (v. 2), and “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1).

Now what does Paul mean by the second half of the verse? “. . . so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” In a similar way that Adam’s “one trespass” lead to guilt and condemnation for all, Christ’s “one act of righteousness” gives righteousness and life to all who belong to Him. Paul talks about two teams here. Not only in this verse, but in this chapter as well. Let’s take a look.

Because of Adam’s disobedience, all people were caused to be sinners. Paul just continues to say what he said in v. 18; that all are sinners and are born with a sinful nature. All of us are set in the mold of Adam’s sin. So we’ve got a problem. Our rebellion against God is total. In our total rebellion, everything we do is sin. “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23 ESV) Our inability to submit to God and do good is total. Our rebellion is totally deserving of God’s wrath. Paul also mentions here and everywhere he writes, that God did something about it: through the gospel.

The Gospel

The gospel is the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ. The gospel can be easily explained in four parts: God. Man. Christ. Response. First, God is holy and just (Isaiah 6:3; Acts 3:14) Second, man has sinned and therefore God in His holiness, must punish sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Third, Christ died in our place and rose from the grave the third day. He paid our penalty. He took the punishment for our sin. He justified us (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:8). Fourth, we must respond. We must receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord through repentance and faith (Acts 3:19; John 3:16; John 1:12)

My Focus: Justification

My focus of preaching this morning is the heart of the gospel. My focus is on how what happened on the cross deals with our greatest problem. And that is justification. Now we will shift back to what I said earlier about approval. While we may do things to earn or gain the approval of others, the most supremely important acceptance has nothing to do with earning. Nothing. And that’s God’s acceptance. That’s where justification comes in. Justification is the process by which sinful human beings are made acceptable to a holy God. You do not gain this approval by joining a church like you would join a club. You do not earn this approval by changing your style of clothes. You do not gain this acceptance by any good thing that you do. It’s all about the gospel and it’s something God did for you.

Let’s talk about it a little further. The word “justified” appears in multiple places throughout Romans 5. Verses 1, 9, 16, and 18. When God justifies, He charges our sin to Christ, and credits the righteousness of Christ to us. “Not only are our sins counted as His, but His righteousness has been counted as ours.” (God is the Gospel, John Piper 2005 by the Desiring God Foundation) Thus, you have Romans 5:18 “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (NLT) God’s holy standard of righteousness has been fulfilled! Here’s why justification deals with our greatest problem: We are not merely alienated from God but are under His wrath (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 5:9; Gal. 3:10). This means that what must change fundamentally is God’s anger toward us because of our God-dishonoring sin (Rom. 3:23). We are not capable of changing God. We cannot pay our own debt. So God, in His great mercy, put Christ forward to absorb God’s wrath and the curse we deserved.

There are two sides to justification: Removal of our sin because Christ bears the curse, and the giving of His righteousness. J. I. Packer writes, “The judge declares guilty sinners immune from punishment and righteous in his sight. The great exchange is no legal fiction, no arbitrary pretence, no mere word-game on God’s part, but a costly acheivement.” (Justification in Protestant Theology, J.I. Packer) John Calvin defines justification as “the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin 1960 by Westminister Press) Similarly, Luther (who called the doctrine of justification the belief that determines whether the church stands or falls) affirmed both these aspects of justification: “Christ took all our sins upon him, and for them died upon the cross,” and “they are righteous because they believe in Christ, whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them.” (Cited in Packer, Justification in Protestant Theology)

Justification is Good News Because. . .

Ask yourself, what makes justification good news? You may say, “Being forgiven is good news because I don’t want to go to hell.” That’s true. No one should want to go to hell. You may say, “Being forgiven is good news because a guilty conscience is a horrible thing.” Indeed, forgiveness relieves your conscience. You may say, “I want to go to heaven,” “The alternative is painful,” “My family is there, I want to see them,” “Because sin will be no more and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.” What’s wrong with these answers? They do not treat God as the final and highest good of the gospel. They do not express a supreme desire to be with God. God was not even mentioned. Only His gifts were mentioned. These gifts are precious. But they are not God. And they are not the gospel if God Himself is not cherished as the supreme gift of the gospel. That is, if God is not treasured as the ultimate gift of the gospel, none of His gifts will be gospel, good news. And if God is treasured as the supremely valuable gift of the gospel, then all the other lesser gifts will be enjoyed as well. Justification is good because it wins access to the presence and pleasure of God.

My Plea: Rest. Rejoice. Sacrifice and Sing.

What is my plea to you? Rest and rejoice. Oh that you would rest and rejoice knowing that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you have done that makes Him love you any less! Rest and rejoice in the hope that “does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5 ESV). Rest and rejoice knowing that you don’t earn God’s approval. Clear knowledge of God from the Bible is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. One of the most crucial kinds of knowledge you can have is what God is like in salvation. That’s where justification comes in. Let the truth of that sweet doctrine pierce your heart and penetrate the depths of your soul so that your joy in God is overflowing and spilling out in the schools, the workplace, the grocery store, the home, and the church! Respond. Sacrifice and sing. “Proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

Now think on this. This big awesome God who spoke the universe into existence, this big awesome God who created billions of galaxies and calls every star by name. Who never had a beginning and will never end. Whose ways are inscrutable and Whose judgments are unsearchable. Whose thoughts are as different from ours as the heavens are from the earth. When “the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15), this big awesome, amazing God who doesn’t need us, did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of Jesus, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself. That’s the beauty and majesty of the doctrine of justification.