The world’s population stands at more than 7.1 billion people. According to Adherents.com, this number includes 1.5 billion Muslims, 1.1 billion nonreligious people, 900 million Hindus, nearly 400 million Buddhists, and millions of followers of other faiths.
The website also reports there are 2.1 billion “Christians,” a broad category that includes Catholics and Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so-called “nominal” Christians. If the exclusive claims of Jesus are true, and even if everyone who claims to be a Christian really is, then roughly 5 billion people still stand outside the kingdom of heaven.
By all appearances, these people are sincere. They want to know the truth and believe they have found it. So, how can 5 billion people be wrong? One way to approach the question is to understand the Biblical descriptions of the lost.
What, specifically, does the Bible teach about the state of those who don’t know Christ? Let’s look at eight ways the Word of God describes unbelievers, regardless of their religions views.
Natural. The apostle Paul writes that “the natural man does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Unlike the “spiritual person” who has “the mind of Christ” (v. 16), unbelievers see God’s revealed truth through the lens of their fallen natures and thus declare it foolishness.
Blind. Paul tells the Corinthians the gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing” because “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Satan often blinds the lost with half-truths. For example, many counterfeit forms of Christianity emphasize salvation through a combination of faith and works rather than by faith alone in Christ alone.
Bound. Timothy, a young pastor, is urged to instruct his opponents with gentleness, trusting God to grant them repentance to know the truth. “Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
Alienated. Unbelievers, who walk “in the futility of their thoughts” and are “darkened in their understanding,” are therefore “excluded from the life of God” (Eph. 4:17-18).
Paul goes on to say that unbelievers become callous as they give themselves over to ungodly practices, a state he calls “the old man … corrupted by deceitful desires” (v. 22).
An enemy. Christians should remember that we once were helpless “enemies” of God – a situation God remedied through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:6-11).
Though once “alienated and hostile in mind,” believers have been reconciled to God by Christ’s body through His death (Col. 1:21).
Condemned. God sent His Son so that the world might be saved through Him. “Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned,” says Jesus, “but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God” (John 3:18).
In darkness. Jesus sends Paul to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light” (Acts 26:18).
Believers were once “darkness, but now [they are] light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). Christ came to rescue us from “the domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13), and He calls us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Spiritually dead. Paul reminds the Ephesian believers they once were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). That is, while alive in body and soul, unbelievers are dead in their spirits – their innermost beings God created for His habitation via the indwelling Holy Spirit.
If these eight characteristics truly describe the lost, what hope exists for these 5 billion people?
First, remember that God has revealed Himself to all people in creation and conscience, meaning they have no defense on judgment day for rejecting Him (see Romans 1). What’s more, God has given us His written Word, the Bible – and the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
Along with the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit does the necessary work of convincing unbelievers of their need for Christ (see John 16:7-11).
If that’s the work of the triune God, what’s our part? As Peter and John tell the Sanhedrin, “We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).