Monday, March 24, 2008

Never Heard of Jesus?

In the previous blog post thread, Arlen asks an excellent question. I worked on answering his question for several hours this morning and thought that I would bring it up here so that more comments and/or questions could be raised and answered.

Here is his comment:

First, I like your blog and admire your beliefs. I have been a believer since 1963.

Secondly, your blog seems polished and sophisticated and your writings seem like they originate from a very educated perspective.

That said, I would like to ask you a question because though you seem well established in your beliefs, you also seem open-minded.

The question: what do you personally believe about individuals who never hear the story of Jesus and salvation or what do you believe regarding people who never hear and are raised in an environment steeped in Eastern or other religions?

My reason for posing this question to you is because I get asked this all of the time and have not come up with a satisfactory response. I know what Jesus advocates in John 14:6, but is this just for the people that have heard? If not, how can people who have never heard be held responsible? And how can the mentally retarded or those too young to understand be held responsible?

Thank you for indulging me. Blessings to you.


My response to Arlen's first question follows. Questions in his final paragraph still need to be addressed. I ask my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to please join in the conversation!

In Christ,
Christine

*******


Hi Arlen,

Welcome and thanks for you warm compliments! I really appreciated that!

You asked,
"The question: what do you personally believe about individuals who never hear the story of Jesus and salvation or what do you believe regarding people who never hear and are raised in an environment steeped in Eastern or other religions?"

First, I must admit that there are probably thousands of Christians who could answer your question better than my attempt here. If you do not find what I will share satisfactory, then I would recommend going to Steve Camp's blog and asking him that question. I'm sure that he will give you a great summary of explanation.

Second, all that I will share here will not, of course, be an exhaustive commentary on the subject. Other Christians are welcome to add and/or correct anything that they deem is needed for better accuracy in the discussion of Arlen's question.

There are several schools of Christian thought about this issue. Some, unfortunately are heretical. However, the true scholars all lead to the same, if not similar conclusion.

I recognize that you have specifically asked me to share with you what I have found through study of the Bible and the writings of Christian scholars. I will try to briefly sum them up here.

In the Old Testament times (OT) people were saved while looking forward to the arrival of the Messiah. For example, the Bible tells us that Moses' "faith was accounted to righteousness." So, it was their faith in the God of Israel, obedience to His Word and guidance in their lives, and the sacrificial system (unblemished animals) that provided forgiveness for sin. Those who lived at that time were saved according to the OT covenant.

The covenant between Abraham and God was a two-way deal. It was a contract that showed the roles and responsibilities of both parties: a person and God. The Almighty took an oath. He swore upon His own life that whatever He promised, He would fulfill. God's covenant with Abraham included:

1. The gift of land
2. The father of a great nation.
3. All the nations of the earth would be blessed.

Taking into account that The Fall of man had already occurred, we realize that the battle in the conversation between Eve and the serpent is found on almost every page of Scripture from that point forward. Once sin entered into the world, so did evil and death.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the question then became who will rule? God or man? Will mankind seek autonomy or will he submit to the authority of God? Will man serve God or will he pursue personal power, selfish purposes, and sensual desires? Whose word will prevail?

Like Eve, we are challenged to live out our lives under God's Law or face death for a false freedom - which is the only kind of "freedom" that Satan can offer. Eve and Adam failed the test and instead of continuing to "walk in fellowship with God," they were made to run away and hide from Him. We have been running away ever since.

Thank God that He continues to pursue us. It is precisely because He first loved us that we have the capacity to love Him. Because our sin separates us from Holy and Righteous God, His plan to send the Savior was God fulfilling His covenant with man all along.

When Jesus lived, died, and rose again, the New Covenant was formulated. Since you are a longtime Christian, I probably don't need to describe it.

From what I have read, studied and learned, it is not what we don't know that sends us to hell, it is what we DO know and REJECT. These days, it is very difficult for people NOT TO HAVE HEARD of Jesus Christ. The various missions and the added convenience of the worldwide internet has made access to knowing Jesus almost inescapable. But people still do hear and outrightly reject Him. It is that rejection, when held within an individual's heart until the death of the person, that sends them into eternity separated from God forever.

God does not want anyone to perish. He doesn't take any gratification in the death of the wicked!

Eze 33:11 Say unto them, [As] I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

People will be judged according to what they DO KNOW. Spiritually speaking, it is written upon the hearts of all men that God exists. Therefore, refusal to admit or acknowledge this fact has no excuse.

Rom 1:20 (KJV) For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

That verse speaks of the general revelation of God to man.

Read all of Romans 1 (NKJV) to get a better idea of what I am trying to say. That chapter reveals the ways that man "suppresses the truth in unrighteousness."

In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus (and us):

Jhn 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. [See John 3]

Personally, I didn't learn that in the church I grew up in. I needed to seek out God's Word on my own to learn that. As I look back before my conversion, the Lord had sent many people into my path in life who were witnessing the gospel of Jesus Christ to me over the years. It is unmistakable that the Lord God was pursuing me - even when I wasn't necessarily looking to Him or for Him!

Once born again, the Holy Spirit indwells the heart and 2 Cor. 3 describes how the Holy Spirit works in the life of the born again believer. The first step, however, is repentance for sin, belief in Christ, his death for our sin and resurrection to life, and then the power of the Holy Spirit brings the Scriptures to life and provides guidance for the believer.

Note this verse: 2Cr 3:2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:

Yesterday, during the Easter Sunday celebration, our pastor gave a wonderful sermon on Jesus and how the number 3 is utilized throughout Scripture and prophecy. When the sermon is posted for viewing I will link to it. He also mentioned that all other religious leaders who died - stayed dead!

Note these words from Jesus:

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. (John 12:32)

Jesus draws us to Him! Those who refuse His obvious invitation to come to Him will die with their own sins upon their souls. Those who accept the gospel will live. His presence and His message leave no room for doubt. His love invites us to come to Him. Of course, His holiness overwhelms us, but His mercy welcomes us.

John wrote:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

God's plan is simple enough for even the most uncivilized person in the world to understand. The truth of Christ's atonement for our sin was primitively dramatized in the OT (animal sacrificial system) in order to point towards the "once for all" perfect atonement sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the NT. Christ's shed blood at the cross was for our sakes; his beaten body was the propitiation for the sins of mankind. We are forgiven through acceptance to the truth of Christ bearing our sins for our sakes.

This shows the ugliness of our sin and how severely Holy God views sin.

The first words uttered by Jesus when he began His 3 year earthly ministry was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

Mat 3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Mat 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Salvation requires repentance.

The Bible tells us that we are condemned (because of our sin) already. The only way to be written into the Lamb's Book of Life is through the cross of Christ.

Even an indecision counts as rejection!

Jhn 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Rev 21:27 And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither [whatsoever] worketh abomination, or [maketh] a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life. [See Revelation 21]

Jesus emphatically said:

Jhn 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (bold mine)

There is no other way to be saved.

Act 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

19 comments:

4simpsons said...

Good Q&A, Christine. That seems to come up over and over.

Here's my short version: We don't go to Hell for not believing in Jesus, we go because of our sins. What I mean by that is that Jesus is our pardon, so to speak, and if we reject him and don't avail ourselves of his sacrifice for us then we'll go to Hell. But the reason we go to Hell is for punishment of our sins, such as they are. If it weren't for those sins we wouldn't go to Hell.

I like to make that distinction because some think Jesus paid for all of everyone's sins such that they now and forever have an otherwise clean slate, but that some go to Hell for the lone "sin" of not believing in Jesus.

I like this passage, as it helps explain how God is there for us all:

Acts 17:26-27 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

godtoman said...

Our Lord Jesus Christ loves you.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is always with you.

Susan said...

As believers, we are to share the Gospel with others. The method is simple: 1) By our lives and love for fellow believers, and 2) By our words. More people are hearing the Gospel today around the world or have access to it than at any other time in history.

From personal experience, I find people who ask this question are not so much concerned with those who never heard. The spotlight of truth is uncomfortable, and they try to deflect it by throwing out such red herrings. A good friend had what I thought was an excellent answer to this very question: The salvation of others is between them and God. Right now, you are hearing the Gospel. What are you going to do with Jesus?

We don't have to give all the answers. Some we'll never know until we get to Heaven.

Blessings,
Susan

Arlen said...

Christine,

Thank you for your comprehensive answer. I found it very interesting in your answer that you believe that people find themselves in danger of Hell because of what they do know and their subsequent rejection of Christ. And I appreciate the way in which you used the Scriptures to bolster your position.

Your statement that it is very hard not to have heard about Jesus, while true, still leaves the door open that it's possible some people have not heard (like primitive civilizations who know nothing of computers, much less the Internet).

Embedded in this train of thought is where my question lies. I'll use my own life as an illustration. I was raised by loving parents in a conservative, Southern Baptist environment. I attended church regularly and accepted Christ as my Saviour at the age of 8. As far as spiritual thought goes, Jesus was all I heard or knew. Thus, when I was old enough to comprehend His love for me, I reciprocated and became a believer. I was extremely fortunate to have been reared in a Christian home.

But a hypothetical, parallel situation goes like this: Han-Li was born and raised in China. His parents were righteous people (Romans 3:10 notwithstanding) in the Buddhist faith. Spiritually speaking, God does write His existence on man's heart. But Han-Li sees that existence as Buddha because of his environment. Perhaps when Han-Li matures, he learns the real truth. But perhaps he never lives to learn the real truth. As I see all too frequently, no one is guaranteed tomorrow.

Or children torn by the conflict in Iraq or those children of Iranian descent who never hear the truth and unfortunately are fed spiritual propoganda.

I believe that you are never too old to learn spiritual truths and I deeply appreciate the time that you given for my instruction.

Blessings to you.

mike rucker said...

well said, arlen. well said.

mike rucker
fairburn, georgia, usa
mikerucker.wordpress.com

Christinewjc said...

Great points Neil! I especially appreciated that you correctly pointed out that people go to hell for all of their sins. The only unforgiveable sin, of course, is disbelief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is that sin that seals the deal of them being lost for all eternity.

The Acts passage is very descriptive of our roles and God's role in the redemptive process. How true and very comforting it is to realize:

... he is not far from each one of us.

Amen!!

Christinewjc said...

Hi godtoman,

Welcome! What you wrote is so very true! Jesus loves us so much that he gave his life as a ransom for many! There is no greater love!

Knowing that He is with me (us) always is a great comfort. Thanks for the reminder!

Christinewjc said...

Hi Susan,

Very good points! I really appreciated the fact that such questions are often just "red herrings" being thrown out there for whatever reason the non-believer may have to deflect his/her own decision regarding salvation. Truth is uncomfortable for the non-believer, though, they may never admit it.

Christinewjc said...

Hi Arlen,

You are most welcome. The commenters here have added much to the conversation as well.

You wrote: "But a hypothetical, parallel situation goes like this: Han-Li was born and raised in China. His parents were righteous people (Romans 3:10 notwithstanding) in the Buddhist faith."

According to Romans 3:10 - his parents are not righteous, Arlen. That is the point. None are righteous without Christ's imputation of righteousness upon us.

Remember the verse where the people called Jesus "good"? How did he reply?

Luk 18:19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none [is] good, save one, [that is], God.

Notice what they asked in the previous verse:

Luk 18:18 ¶ And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus doesn't ask people questions because he doesn't know what they are thinking. In other portions of Scripture, he shows that he knows exactly what they are thinking.

Here, Jesus asks the question in order to see if they really knew to Whom they were speaking!

Jesus is God in the flesh. If they grasped that he is the promised Messiah of the OT, then they would understand the rest of Luke 18 which goes into the fact that keeping the commandments perfectly is impossible for them.

As Susan pointed out, Arlen, Christians do not have all of the answers. However, we can, and do know enough to make the decision whether or not to follow God. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Him.

God knows each and every one of us. Even your (hypothetical) example of "Han-Li" that could also describe a real person. He knows what each and every person's answer will be to Jesus' question:

"Who do you say that I am?"

I really like the verse that Neil shared:

Acts 17:26-27 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

mike rucker said...

...such questions are often just "red herrings" being thrown out there for whatever reason the non-believer may have to deflect his/her own decision regarding salvation. Truth is uncomfortable for the non-believer, though, they may never admit it.

God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.

mike rucker
fairburn, georgia, usa
mikerucker.wordpress.com

Christinewjc said...

Hey Mike...if the shoe fits...

You know the rest of it.

Besides, Jesus Himself called Himself, "the way, the truth and the life - no one comes to the Father except by Me."

Whether you or I believe this to be true doesn't really matter if what Jesus stated is the absolute truth (which it is). Then, such truth would most likely be uncomfortable for the non-believer, would it not?

Such truth would not have anything to do with that last sentence you wrote in your comment, either.

Arlen said...

Christine,

I acknowledge your point on righteousness and am indebted to you for keeping me accountable. Indeed “there is none righteous, no not one.” (That’s what I get for taking a short cut instead of elaborating.) In my illustration, I meant righteous from their perspective or non-evil doers like Hitler, Stalin or Mao.

Our discourse has been beneficial in accommodating my reasoning with the Scripture that you and Neil cited in Acts. Truthfully, the Lord has provided a more than adequate answer to my original question through Luke the physician. I’m at a loss as to why I did not see it previously as Acts is my favorite book in the Bible. Thank you for facilitating my learning.

Still, I would like to know if you or your readers can assist me with the elusive “age of accountability” for salvation within children. Are there any Scriptures that you can cite or from which an inference can be calculated?

Finally, I did not take offense to Susan’s “red herring” reference. I understand that there are individuals who are not comfortable with questioning in general. And Susan is correct when she states that non-believers often ask questions simply for the purpose of misdirection or to frustrate the believer. But quite frankly, if we knew everything, we wouldn’t need faith. Thus, my questions. I’m keenly aware that many questions will have “faith” as an answer, but I believe that it is wise to seek counsel and from the exploration and depth of your blog, you seemed like a good place to start.

Blessings to you.

Christinewjc said...

Hi Arlen,

Of course, I wasn't referring to you re: the "red herring" comment. It's just that there are several skeptics/atheists/agnostics who visit this blog and often throw such questions at Christians who post here. Some, obviously, are not doing this because they are genuinely searching for answers about God and Jesus Christ. Others are genuine seekers.

Good point about "if we knew everything, we wouldn't need faith." That is very true! However, we know enough through the person of Jesus Christ, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and God's Word to make the most important decision in life.

In the previous thread, I provided a link to John MacArthur's answer regarding the "age of accountability."

That is certainly a difficult question. I have read many good (and bad) answers to it. It is probably one of those questions that the Lord has answered vaguely within Scripture for a purpose that we cannot know right now. Again, it's the faith issue.

I don't mind people asking the hard questions. So, feel free to ask away! If I know, or can find a sufficient answer, then I am glad to oblige. Other commenters here are very knowledgeable and often "come to the rescue" on the hard questions.

If I do not know the answer and/or cannot find one that is biblical, then I can admit that too.

I once read an article which explained how, in the A.D. era, the "heathen who has never heard of Jesus" would be judged by the general revelation of God. But some scholars disagree with that premise. When I locate the article, perhaps I can post it here.

God bless your day!

Christine

Christinewjc said...

Just re-read MacArthur's article on the "age of accountability" and thought I would copy and paste it here:

The "Age of Accountability"

By John MacArthur




The following article is adapted from John MacArthur's response during a Q&A session at Grace Church. Much of what John says here has been expanded in his book, Safe in the Arms of God .

What is the Scriptural basis for an "age of accountability" regarding a child's salvation?

I think the best way to answer that is to say this: There is no "age of accountability" identified in Scripture, as such. There is nothing in the Bible that says, "Here is the age and from here on you are responsible!" I think the reason for that is because children mature at different paces. That would be true from culture to culture, and from age to age in history.

So the Lord in His wisdom didn't identify a specific moment. God knows when each soul is accountable. God knows when real rejection has taken place; when the love of sin exists in the heart. When enmity with God is conscious and willful. God alone knows when that occurs.

The Jews had identified about the age of twelve, and that was when Jesus was taken by His parents to Jerusalem for the Passover and the Feast, and there He was in the temple questioning the doctors. You have a good illustration there, and Jesus was asking profound questions at that point. This then seems to be the age when those kinds of questions begin to be personal in the heart of a child.

So I have always felt that somewhere around age twelve, the transition from childhood to adulthood takes place. It's probably not totally disassociated from puberty, where there is a consciousness of one's own impulses, feelings, drives, desires, and therefore sinful attitudes and passions, and whatever else starts to emerge.

With this in mind, I believe that it is absolutely essential, all along the way with children, that every time they desire to make a commitment to Jesus Christ, at whatever age, you (as someone giving spiritual oversight to them) encourage them to do that. Because you don't know, we can't know, when their desire is indicative of genuine saving faith. When a young child says, "I want to invite Christ into my life," then you need to encourage them to do that. Every one of those, I see as a step towards God. At what point that becomes saving faith -- only God knows for certain.

But, I also believe, that up until that point of real saving faith, God in His mercy, would save that child, should that child die. I have been doing some study on that very issue, because when I was at a conference recently, and that question was asked of a panel of very astute theologians -- no one gave an adequate answer. And I thought, "How can we have theologians who don't know the answer to that question? What about the children before the age of accountability, when they die, do they go to heaven?" I think the answer is "yes," and I think it is a strong "YES," based upon the confidence of David who said, when his little baby died: "He cannot come to me, but I shall go to him." And David knew where he was going; David knew he was going to heaven -- he knew that. There wasn't any question in his mind about that.

So when he said, "I shall go to him," in those words was the anticipation and the joyful hope of reunion. Now, some people have said, "Well, all he meant was, 'I am going to be buried next to him.'" There wouldn't be any reason to say, "He can't come to me, but, oh I'm so glad I am going to be buried next to him!" There would be no joy in that; that wouldn't satisfy anything. So I think at that point, he was expressing the confidence that he was going to heaven; he knew that was where he would find his son, who had died before the age of accountability.

Another interesting thing that occurs numerous times in the Old Testament, is that children (including those who die) are referred to as "innocent." The Hebrew word that is used for "innocent" is used numerous times in the Old Testament to refer to "not being guilty" -- literally, "being taken to court and found 'not guilty.'" In fact, the OT refers to the babies that were passed through the fire to Moloch [false god] as the "innocents," so I believe that God, prior to the "age of accountability" treats them as "innocent." It doesn't mean that they are not fallen; it doesn't mean that they are not sinful -- it does mean that God mercifully treats them as "innocent" in spite of that, and He has to exercise grace to do that, just as He exercises grace to save those who believe.

In summary, the "age of accountability" is not clearly identified in Scripture. I think it's up to parents; every time a child wants to respond and open the heart to Christ -- you need to encourage that, all the way along, until they come to that point where it is genuine, and the Lord knows that even if you don't.


"This article originally appeared in Pulpit Magazine , an online magazine of the Shepherds' Fellowship , Grace Community Church ."

Good resource link: Grace To You Resources

Christinewjc said...

Arlen,

I found two resources over at the Grace To You website that may help answer your question re: "what about those who have never heard of Jesus":

The Exclusiveness of the Gospel, Part 1

The Exclusiveness of the Gospel, Part 2

Long, but quite thorough!

mike rucker said...

thanks for these links to johnny mac, christine. i read the first one - enjoyed the depth. will read the second this afternoon.

and i think i'm going to post a response to them on my blog.

i'll certainly have to eat my wheaties first. do a few jumping jacks. run in place. shadow box.

"and in this corner - the challenger... in the black trunks... weighing in at - well, let's just say, more than he wishes he did..."

mike rucker
fairburn, georgia, usa
mikerucker.wordpress.com

Christinewjc said...

K...Mike...if you say so.

My advice? You might want to read the second part before you put on those "trunks of darkness" errr.... I mean black trunks.

About this part of your comment:

"weighing in at - well, let's just say, more than he wishes he did..."

Don't get fooled into ordering the Nutri-System meals...most of them taste like cardboard! Yecch!

Their meals are a poor imitation of the real thing...meaning..real & tasty food! Welp...I guess that's what happens when man takes a good thing and ruins it!

Which brings me back to the first point. IMHO, MacArthur does a magnificient job utilizing Scripture to point out that many religions are a poor imitation (idol) of the real God...Jesus Christ.

mike rucker said...

the second part was quite good.

but he really didn't address the heathen-hasn't-heard question.

but he did put some wind in my sails to get the word out.

sorry, Word.

mike rucker
fairburn, georgia, usa
mikerucker.wordpress.com

Arlen said...

Christine,

Thank you for your additional resources. They have been exemplary in my quest for answers. May God pour His richest blessings upon you.

Arlen

PS. I enjoy reading what seems like playful banter on a very serious subject in the comments section of your blog. You have some intelligent company.