Tagged: Evangelism

What about those who haven’t heard of Jesus?

This column appeared July 17 in The Pathway of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

The story is told of a Christian missionary who traveled deep into the heart of a distant land where the gospel message had never penetrated. The missionary labored for years learning the language and adapting to the culture.

At long last, he was able to clearly communicate the story of Jesus. Many of the once animistic people eagerly became Christians.

But not their chief. He listened intently and weighed the missionary’s every word. Finally, he asked, “Would I go to this place called hell if I never heard about Jesus?”

“Well, no,” the missionary replied.

“Then why,” said the chief, “did you come?”

The story illustrates an issue that has perplexed us for centuries. If faith comes by hearing, as the apostle Paul makes clear (Rom. 10:17), then what about those who have never heard of Jesus?

Are they going to hell? Getting a second chance in the afterlife? Will everyone be saved in the end, anyway? Or is this an unanswerable question – perhaps even a foolish one akin to asking whether God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift?

No doubt, some people ask the question in an effort to justify their unbelief. And for them, the simple response is: “Well, you’ve heard of Jesus. What will you do with Him?”

Still, the question is a haunting one. And the Scriptures seem to lack a single, clear proof text that satisfies those who like their answers in sound bites or 140-character tweets. Take heart, though. There are a number of biblical truths to ponder as we share our faith with others and trust the Holy Spirit to draw them to Christ.

Consider these 10 simple truths:

  1. Jesus Christ is the only Savior. Jesus declares this when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter affirms it in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.”
  2. God loves all people and desires their salvation (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
  3. God is just and will judge all people justly (Job. 34:10-12; Ps. 9:8; 98:9; Jer. 11:20; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:5-11).
  4. All people are aware of God’s existence (Rom. 1:18-23). They have failed to act responsibly on what God already has revealed to them, whether through the light of creation (Romans 1), the light of conscience (Romans 2), or the light of Christ (Romans 3).
  5. All people are sinners and know it. God has written His law in their hearts and all people are aware that they have violated the law of God (Rom. 2:1-16). No one will be able to stand before God in judgment and claim that he or she never willfully did wrong.
  6. Men and women are not sentenced to hell based upon whether they heard of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are justly and fittingly condemned based upon the fact that they are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23).
  7. It appears that if people respond to the light they do have, God will send them the brighter light of the gospel. Consider the Ethiopian eunuch, for example, in Acts 8:26ff, and Cornelius in Acts 10:25ff.
  8. Evidently, God will judge people based on their response to the light He has given them as expressed in their deeds (Rom. 2:6-11), words (Matt. 12:36-37) and thoughts (Heb. 4:12). This does not mean good works save people, or that salvation is found in other religions; rather it means that people’s response to God in faith, or lack thereof, is evident in their thoughts, words and actions.
  9. It appears there will be stricter judgment for those who have rejected the gospel than for those who have never heard (John 3:36; 12:48). Jesus also told the Jewish leaders – who had greater degrees of knowledge of the Scriptures – they would receive “greater damnation,” and He pronounced many “woes” on them (Matthew 23).
  10. Christian evangelism is essential for at least three reasons: 1) God commands us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20); 2) the preaching of the gospel is the means by which people hear and are saved (Rom. 10:13-17); and 3) all people may share in the blessings of eternal life, not only beyond the grave, but now (John 10:10). 

What about those who have never heard of Jesus?

What about those who have never heard of Jesus? Christians often are asked this question. In fact, a fellow believer put this very question to me the other day. It’s a very difficult question to address, and one that I struggle with answering. At the same time, God’s Word is not silent on the issue, and we should glean the Bible’s clear teachings to discern answers to it’s thornier doctrinal issues. There are, for example, some important biblical truths to ponder as we address this question.

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‘Obey God’ … and other hollow words

This is the second in a series of occasional posts from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where I have the privilege of serving with Michael O’Neal, a church planter/pastor/teacher from Tennessee, and missionary Scott Carter to teach Christian apologetics to fellow believers and assist local pastors in their discipleship and church-planting efforts.

Sept. 27, 5:45 a.m., guest house in Subang Jaya

I am learning that I don’t need an alarm clock here. Yesterday it was jet lag that awakened me at 4 a.m., followed by the neighbor’s cat, then a flock of screeching birds. Today I made it to 5:45 and the Muslim call to prayer blaring from nearby Masjid Darul Ehsen mosque.

I roll out of bed, slip on my running shoes and head for a jog through the waking streets of this sector of Kuala Lampur. The sun rises, traffic picks up and the merchants open their doors. I pass a park where a solitary woman engages in tai chi while a dozen others exercise to the music from “Mama Mia.” Street vendors prepare their kiosks for the breakfast crowd. The pungent smell of raw fish cuts through the pleasant aroma of rice, noodles, spices and cooking meat. Tempting, but I think I’ll stay with Starbucks this morning, or maybe the McDonald’s or 7-11, all within easy walking distance of the guest house.

The temperature is in the low 80s and quite pleasant but the humidity has me oozing sweat as I round the last curve and catch a glimpse of the mosque – a mustard-colored building with multiple minarets and a beautiful golden dome. I get to thinking about the people I have met the last two days while preaching and teaching in area churches.

Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, although there is freedom of religion and one does not need to look hard to find Christian churches or other places of worship for Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and others. There is an important caveat, though: Evangelizing Muslims is off limits. This creates a tremendous challenge to my Christian brothers and sisters who love their Muslim friends and want to tell them about Jesus.

Some are fairly new Christians who have discarded their idols, abandoned their empty rituals and discovered the simplicity of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But not without cost. One Chinese-Malay couple attends a Sunday evening Bible study in a neighbor’s home despite stern warnings from their parents, who culturally are to be respected and obeyed. Another couple has faced job loss and other hardships directly related to their faith in Christ. And the man who hosts the Bible study has forfeited a considerable family fortune since trusting in the Lord.

Over lunch yesterday with a local pastor and several of his congregants I am peppered with questions about politics, culture and faith in the United States. American music, film and television dominate Malaysian culture, and I find I know less about health-care reform and the Tea Party movement than my friends who live halfway around the world.

I have to admit that I don’t personally know a single American being persecuted for his faith. And the reason most Americans don’t share the gospel has more to do with apathy or fear of rejection than the threat of imprisonment. But my friends want to know: What are they to do when the Bible tells them to share Christ but the government forbids it or the culture discourages it? The apostle Peter was clear when faced with that question: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Simple. True. Powerful. But I don’t quote that verse for my new friends. The words would seem hollow coming from my lips because I have never had to live them, while these dear brothers and sisters in Christ must weigh carefully their words and actions each day.

Scott, our host and a career missionary here, responded wisely to a similar question at a workshop a few days ago. While God has granted us salvation and given us the Great Commission, He also has provided each of us with a measure of discernment to deal discreetly with our Muslim friends. Pray always for them, Scott says. Live a Christ-honoring life at all times. And when asked why your life is different, point to the One who makes it so.

How can 4.5 billion people be wrong?

According to Adherents.com, there are 6.6 billion people in the world today. Among these are 1.5 billion Muslims, 1.1 billion nonreligious people, 900 million Hindus, nearly 400 million Buddhists, 7 million Baha’is, and millions of adherents to countless other faiths. The Web site also says 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 4.5 billion people still stand outside the kingdom of heaven. By all appearances, these people are sincere. They want to know the truth, and many believe they have found it. How can 4.5 billion people be wrong? Every Christian can answer this question by understanding the Biblical descriptions of those who do not know Christ.

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How Can 4.5 Billion People be Wrong?

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Is this view narrow-minded, outdated, or even bigoted, as some suggest? Quite the contrary. The words Christ speaks are “spirit” and “life” (John 6:63). To disregard them is perilous. Yet many do. 

 

According to Adherents.com, there are 6.6 billion people in the world today. Among these are 1.5 billion Muslims, 1.1 billion nonreligious people, 900 million Hindus, nearly 400 million Buddhists, 7 million Baha’is, and millions of adherents to countless other faiths. The Web site also says 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 I believe they are – and even if everyone who claims to be a Christian really is, then 4.5 billion people still stand outside the kingdom of heaven. By all appearances, these people are sincere. They want to know the truth, and many believe they have found it. How can 4.5 billion people be wrong? Every Christian can answer this question by understanding the Biblical descriptions of those who do not know Christ. 

 

A Godly purpose 

Our purpose in this study is not to condemn anyone or to assume God’s role as sovereign judge of the universe; rather, it is to compare the teachings of some of the world’s major religions and cults with biblical, historical Christianity so that we might be more effective in praying for and witnessing to the lost, and wiser in our ability to discern false doctrines. Every person, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, is precious in the eyes of God and is someone for whom Christ died. Our attitude as we study these false religious systems should be one of humility, love, and grace. 

 

A look at 2 Cor. 11:1-4 

The words of the apostle Paul are clear: Those who are not grounded in the Word of God are subject to deceptive teachings about “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4 HCSB). Every world religion and every cult that we study professes belief in Jesus and has an exalted place for Him in its theology. But without exception, each of these belief systems fails to correctly answer the key question Jesus asked in Matt. 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” 

 

In his classic book The Kingdom of the Cults, the late Dr. Walter Martin tells about a training program held by the American Banking Association. Each year the ABA sends hundreds of bank tellers to Washington to teach them to detect counterfeit money. Writes Martin: 

It is most interesting that during the entire two-week training program, no teller touches counterfeit money. Only original passes through his hands. The reason for this is that the American Banking Association is convinced that if a man is thoroughly familiar with the original, he will not be deceived by the counterfeit bill, no matter how much like the original it appears. It is the contention of this writer that if the average Christian would become familiar once again with the great foundations of his faith, he would be able to detect those counterfeit elements so apparent in the cult systems, which set them apart from Biblical Christianity (pp. 16-17). 

 

This is a great lesson for us. Even though we will spend some time looking at the history and teachings of major world religions and cults, our focus should be on the truth of the Word of God. Then it won’t matter what the counterfeit religions are; we’ll be able to identify them and lovingly steer their proponents toward the truth. 

 

The state of the lost 

Back to our earlier question: If we believe Jesus is the only way of salvation, and if so many people reject that belief, how can so many people be wrong? The answer lies in what the Bible teaches about the state of those who don’t know Christ. Specifically, the Bible says the unbeliever is:

  • Natural (vs. spiritual) – a man or woman who regards the things relating to God’s Spirit as foolishness  (1 Cor. 2:14).
  • Blinded in his or her mind by Satan (2 Cor. 4:3-4).
  • Bound by Satan (2 Tim. 2:26).
  • Alienated from God (Eph. 4:18).
  • An enemy of God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21).
  • Condemned (John 3:18).
  • In spiritual darkness (Acts 26:18; Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9).
  • Spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-2).

What hope exists for these 4.5 billion people? As we speak to them about the things we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20), the Holy Spirit must do the necessary work of convincing them of their need for Christ (see John 16:7-11). As we learn to share our faith with unbelievers, we must remind ourselves that winning the lost requires patience, perseverance, a clear understanding of scripture, and above all the work of the Spirit.  

Rob Phillips 2008

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