A question that is often asked of Christianity is this:
“What about all those who never hear about Jesus; is God just to sentence them to hell?”
The question is usually asked because someone wonders as to the ethic of such an exclusive claim of salvation.
So let’s begin with an example of an exclusive claim to salvation, Acts 4:12, “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.”
The objection then often arises, but what about someone in a secular community or a remote island nation who has never heard of Jesus, doesn’t have missionaries or a church or a Bible to instruct them in the way of salvation, is that person eternally damned to hell?
Yes, they are “without excuse.” Why?
To understand this one must realize what the Bible says about humans, we’re fallen, sinful beings, cut off from God and incapable of any spiritual good that might please Him and therefore earn our salvation (read more here). This is why God graciously sent Jesus, to be the rescuer of all those who’d hear the Gospel message and put their trust in Him. This is the basis for an exclusive salvation. We’re sinners, God appointed a means for salvation, we must believe in Jesus in order to be saved.
But is that fair? (Another option would have been for God not to have saved anyone, we see His grace in that He choose to save some; something to think about). Yes, because people are “without excuse.” Why are people without excuse?
If I were born on a stranded desert island with no knowledge of Jesus I would be without excuse for not believing in Him for three simple reasons from Romans 1:
For these sorts of reasons Paul says that unbelievers, everywhere, are “without excuse” (Ro 1:20b); even if they’ve never heard of Jesus. Knowing of Jesus and rejecting Him only increases our culpability; not knowing of Jesus doesn’t diminish it.
One of the largest stumbling blocks to the Christian faith, or rather seeing ones need of Christ, is the belief that one is too good for the Gospel. Why would I need Christianity when I live a decent life already? Maybe Christianity is okay for really bad people but it has nothing to offer me. I’m a firefighter, not an arsonist. I’m a nurse, not a chemical weapons specialist. I’m a farmer, not a cattle rustler. With the exception of maybe a few rough edges I’m basically a good person, too good to need Christ, too good for the Gospel to be good news to me.
How do we answer those who raise this point when we seek to share the Gospel with them? How can we help them see their need of Christ (I say help because conviction of sin is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit, Jn 16:8).
We might start by freely acknowledging our own sinfulness before them, that the Gospel is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. But still, they might protest that neither of us are beggars, we’re both basically good people, and I have enough bread thank you.
Okay, Mr. Good, let’s turn to Ro 3:23, a very famous and helpful verse on this subject:
Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
But I’m not a sinner they may still exclaim. I’m not an Adolph Hitler or a Genghis Khan, nor a mafia boss nor an online fraudster. HERE is the problem. Here is the key to unlocking this stumbling block and excuse. Their standard for measuring goodness is either themselves or someone else. When we, rather subjectively, set the bar it is no wonder we measure up, we set it far too low!
But that is the complete opposite of what Ro 3:23 is saying. Why have we all, without exception, sinned? Because we fall short of the glory of God. God’s glory is His character, His reality, His person. He is holy, radiant, pure and good and He calls us to be “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48). He is and sets the standard and not us or others. He makes this standard known through His Divine Laws, all that He has said in His Word as to that which is right and wrong. Take the 10 Commandments (Ex 20:1–17) or even the Great Commandment (Mk 12:28–31) as but an example. Find me someone who has kept those simple lists perfectly and I’ll make pigs fly!
WOW! That changes the weights and measurements doesn’t it? That revolutionizes our perspective on goodness. No longer is my goodness adequate, no longer do I measure up, now there is a great gulf between what goodness I may have and the goodness that God requires of me—perfection. Truly, now all of my “righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isa 64:6). Even any good we may have do is unacceptable because it wasn’t done in faith to love, honour and glorify God (Heb 11:6).
Once Mr. Good has grasped this by the Spirit, Mr. Bad is ready for Good News, the Gospel, for he sees his need of it. Ro 3 continues in vv. 24–25:
And are justified [declared right] by His grace [unmerited favour] as a gift [we cannot earn it for our deeds are imperfect], through the redemption [rescue] that is in Christ Jesus [what? Read on…], whom God put forward as a propitiation [a sacrifice that turns God’s wrath toward sin into favour] by his blood [dying on the cross], to be received by faith. [that believing this and asking, in trust, for God to forgive your sins according to the merits of Christ’s blood. That is how we can be saved from our sins and gain eternal life; that is how a relationship with our Maker can be restored].
God willing, your stumbling block removed, would you see your need for Christ and call on Him, asking Him to be Saviour and Lord of your life?
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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