Last Sunday I gave a lesson at our church on how God will judge everyone in the world fairly. The premise of the message, and I think the foundation for God’s righteous judgment is this: God will judge each person according to the light they had and yet failed to love and walk in. God will not judge people for what they did not know. God will send no one to hell for never having heard about Jesus Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. Though hearing and rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ greatly increases one’s guilt before God.
The focus of the lesson was not what God will do with those who’ve never heard about Jesus. My focus was on the incredible guilt of people raised in a land of gosple light, who have heard the truths of the Scriptures all their lives, but who in the end refuse to love Christ and surrender to His will. This point was very clear to all. However, there has been some concern expressed that I may be a proponent of people being saved from God’s wrath without ever having believed in Christ. This is not my position and so I want to make a few short statements here of clarification.
1. The bible clearly teaches that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory. Sin is rooted in rebellion and unbelief toward God. For someone to sin they must rebel against something they know to be true of God or required by God. The Bible makes it clear that all people are not only born with an inner disposition of rebellion against God, but that as soon as they are old enough to make rational decisions they actually act out their rebellion through sinful choices and actions. This is a universal predicament. All have sinned and thus have incurred guilt before God and deserve to face His wrath for the same. God would be just if he condemned every man, woman, and child to hell for eternity. If He gives us what we deserve that’s what awaits us all. All have sinned and have thus stored up God’s wrath against themselves.
2. I do believe that there are those who God considers “innocent” because they do not have enough maturity or moral knowledge to understand questions of sin and morality. Specifically, I do not believe that babies and very young children who die go to hell. Nonetheless, I do believe they are born with a sin nature and that they do not have God’s Spirit living in them. But they are not yet morally capable of grasping the concept of sin, guilt, and salvation. Some have used the term, “age of accountability”. There is a place in everyone’s development when they are clearly mature enough to be accountable for their decisions and actions. I do not believe this is the same age for every person. Some people may reach this point in the first few years of life, others may arrive at this point a bit further along in their development. Jonah wanted Ninevah destroyed but God said, “Should I not have compassion on Ninevah, the great city in which htere are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and lfet hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:11). Many scholars believe this is a reference to God’s mercy on those in Ninevah who were too young or uninstructed to bear the guilt of their sin. A few years ago I made friends with a young man who grew up in an athiestic home and culture. He knew absolutely nothing of the Bible. As we got to know one another I began sharing with him my story of coming to trust Christ as my Savior. He was very interested but completely baffled by it all. The next few months involved many question and answer sessions where he would ask me simple questions about sin: “Dane, does the God consider it a sin if you take something that does not belong to you? Is it a sin to misrepresent the facts to someone else?” This man was a PhD in Microbiology. Sometimes he would ask me these moral type of questions in a crowded elevator with other University Professors! I remember thinking that this man was in many ways like a little child when it came to moral understanding. He evidently had never been exposed to the concept of sin. But now his sense of debt to God was growing. And I was praying! (I am not saying he was still “innocent” in God’s eyes. I think he was well past that stage, even before I met him. But I am intending to show that if there is an “age of accountability” that God recognizes, it may vary widely according to the level of light one has been previously exposed to.
3. I believe that mankind is so desparetly rebellious and in bondage to sin that no one would choose to truly seek God for forgiveness and deliverance from sin and guilt were God not powerfully at work in drawing that person to Himself. Or stated another way, if God were to leave us alone, we’d never come to Him. This is what moral depravity is largely about. Left to ourselves, no one will choose God. We run from Him. This does not mean everybody is by nature an athiest. To the contrary, people may embrace all sorts of beliefs and superstitions, but they will not truly and deeply own their sin and rebellion and return humbly to the real God. This being said, I believe that the Holy Spirit is the agent of true conviction of sin in the earth. There are a lot of good reasons for being sorry for one’s sins. But only a few of these reasons are God’s reasons! In other words, just because someone feels some sorrow for sins committed does not mean that their hearts have been in any way changed by God yet. I may be sorry that I stole from you because I got caught and now have to spend the next five years of my life in prison. And yet I may feel no real remorse for the utter selfishness and idolatry in my heart that controls my life and that drove me to rob what belongs to you. But if you find a person who is experiencing a true Godly sorrow for their sins, that is, they feel sorry for God’s reasons, then you’ve found someone upon whom the Spirit of God is at work. I believe such a person is one of “the elect” of God. God has chosen them out of darkness and has taken initiative to bring them to salvation.
4. The basic deception of sin in our world is a delusion of “self-righteousness”. People either look to themselves for righteousness, or look away from themselves to God for righteousness. People either view themselves as better than most other people and therefore in good standing with God, or they view themselves as guilty before God and deserving of His punishment. All false religion, in spite of its talk about “faith”, is built upon the vain hope of people reforming their own behavior and earning back God’s acceptance. This is self-righteousness. Of the world’s major religions, only Christianity is different in this regard. Those who respond to the light of God’s truth fall down and confess their sins and realize their only hope of salvation lies with God Himself. At this point the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes the most beautiful note they’ve ever heard! For suddenly they realize that though they’ve sinned against an infinitely holy and glorious God, yet they can be forgiven and restored to Him as a free gift in Christ Jesus. In my estimation the real barrier to reconciliation with God is not a rejection of Jesus so much as it is a rejection of the truth that motivated Christ to die. I reject the truth that my life is centered in an unrighteous, self-righteous, self-serving delusion. That I have willingly been opposed to God’s truth and laws and Lordship right up until now. This is true whether you’ve ever heard of Jesus or not. But those who by God’s grace
have been brought to a sober and truthful understanding of their true moral estate, are now candidates for real faith in Christ.
And it is my conviction that every person in the history of the world who has come to such a conviction will find mercy with God. Because they show the providential work of the Spirit of God on their behalf, shutting them up into a full recognition of their sinfulness, and now He can begin the process of gloriously revealing His mercy to them in Christ Jesus.
Acts 19:1-7 Were these “disciples” lost? They were walking in all the light they had, revealing perhaps that they had received a love for the truth.
John 9:32-41 The man born blind was healed by Jesus and didn’t fully realize Christ’s identity. He knew He was a man sent from God, but not that He was the Lord. Later, Jesus returned to the healed man and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. The man said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And jesus said, “It’s me, the one you’re looking at.” And the bible says that they man said, “Lord I believe” and began to worship Him. At what point do we recognize God’s election of this man? Can we say that he lost until the very last moment?
John 6:45 “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” Does this mean that hearing from the Father and believing on Jesus are one and the same? No, I think not. But they are part of the same process of progressive revelation. Those who truly respond to the Father and the truth He brings, will end up at the feet of Jesus. That’s where truth seeking and truth loving will ultimately bring anyone so involved.