Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Are People Without Christ Really Lost?

It used to be that skeptics toward Christianity would ask this question, but increasingly I hear Christians asking this same question. The motivations of the two groups are different. Honestly, every person asking the question does so for his own reasons, but the typical reason a skeptic would ask it was combative--he wants to justify his unbelief; he doesn't want to believe in a God who didn't create the world the way he would fashion it. That really is the root of the issue, that each person has rebelled against his Creator and wants to be the god of his world. However, this isn't directly about that issue.

It appears that now members of the household of faith are asking this same question. In one sense it confuses me because the Bible make the way of salvation so clear. Any Christian ought to be ready and able to answer the question of the Philippian Jailer [Acts 16:30], "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas answer this in the next verse [Acts 16:31], "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." So the means of salvation is crystal clear, and that's why this question confuses me as it comes from a Christian.

On the other hand, I think I understand where it's coming from. There are billions of people in this world who are born, live out their whole lives and then die without ever even hearing the name of Jesus. There is a sense of empathy in the question, "Are people without Christ really lost?" The questioner looks for a glimmer of hope within the reality observed on this planet. I believe it also relates to the way Christians apply the character of God today. They know that God is merciful [Psalm 103:8]; after all, God has shown them great mercy. And so the real question is, "How can God show love, mercy, grace and peace to a people who can never hear of Jesus if Jesus is the only way of salvation?"

Ephesians 2 helps with the biblical perspective on this issue. However, instead of toning down the nature of God's judgment (is that not the answer the question seeks?), it really sharpens the contrast between God and man, and between those who are lost and those who are found. After the fall, all humanity was alienated from God. Then he called a people to himself through Abraham. At that point in history, Gentiles [non-Jews] had very little hope. Paul admits this in Eph 2:12. But by God's grace, the blood of Jesus draws Jews and Gentiles into the family of God [Eph 2:13, Eph 2:4-8]. In other words, humanity has always been in this predicament. The way of the world today still rhymes with history. The problem in mankind hasn't gone away. The person who never hears of Jesus is still hostile toward God. Because each person has forsaken God, without his intervening action, none of us has hope. And yet, there is real hope in the blood of Christ, offered for the whole world [John 3:16, Eph 2:19].

In the end I think the question posed, "are they really lost?" is still the wrong question. God has indeed provided a means for all of the people of the world to hear of Jesus. He has given the world the Church--you , if you are Christ's, and me--sent with the command to go and make disciples [Matt 28:18ff]. We must be goers and senders. It's the way of showing Christ's love to this world.

There is a deeper problem yet. I believe there is still a self-justification angle coming from the Christian who asks this question (perhaps we're not unlike the unbelieving skeptic). The problem is that we know the Great Commission, yet stay in our comfortable middle-class Christian lifestyles while wringing our hands about those who might not hear about Jesus. Let's be honest together (I confess I struggle here too)--isn't the truest question a combination of the following:

  • Do I really have to obey Jesus when he calls us to make disciples of all nations?
  • Must I forsake my comfortable lifestyle to reach the lost?
  • Can't God use something or someone else to bring people the gospel?
The fundamental reason that person has not heard the gospel is because we're unwilling to take up our cross and bring them good news. And then we want to blame God for being unfair. We want God to save them without inconveniencing ourselves. But he has made us the vehicle to spread his gospel. Eternity is at stake; we must be obedient.

It would be worth the investment of your time to watch the following videos or listen to the audio.

If you do, let's talk and see how God might be working in our lives to shine the light of God's glory and grace to the world.

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