This is the third 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. 28, 11:32 p.m. — ConneXion Subang (university student ministry center), Subang Jaya
The question was inevitable. After two and a half hours of teaching on the uniqueness of Christ and addressing a series of challenging issues with university students who have gathered here for Bible study and prayer, a coed raised her hand and asked sincerely, “But what about those who have never heard of Jesus?” She and her fellow Christian students from countries in Africa and Asia are serious about effectively sharing their faith with their Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and atheist classmates, and for them this question is key.
But it’s not a question given to soundbite responses — or easily dismissed as an unbeliever’s barb. True believers wrestle with this question as well, and I doubt that any of us can fully plumb the depths of God’s mind on this issue — at least on this side of heaven. However, here are some important biblical truths to ponder:
- Christ is the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
- God loves all people and desires their salvation (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
- God is truly 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).
- All people are aware of the existence of God (Rom. 1:18-23). They have failed to act responsibly on what God has already revealed to them, whether through the light of creation (Rom. 1), the light of conscience (Rom. 2), or the light of Christ (Rom. 3).
- 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 they never willfully did wrong.
- 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).
- It appears that if people respond to the light they do have, God will send them the light of the gospel (the Ethiopian eunuch, for example, in Acts 8:26ff, and Cornelius in Acts 10:25ff). Because no one has been kept in the dark about God’s existence, we’re all accountable directly to Him (Luke 12:47-48).
- Evidently, God will judge people based on their response to the light He has given them as expressed in their deeds (Rom. 2:6), words (Matt. 12:36-37) and thoughts (Heb. 4:12). This does not mean people are saved by good works; rather it means their response to God in faith, or lack thereof, is evident in their thoughts, words and actions.
- 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 (Matt. 23).
- Christian evangelism is essential for three primary 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 should share in the blessings of eternal life, not only in eternity, but now (John 10:10).
Some other considerations:
- People in Old Testament times were saved even though they didn’t know the name of Jesus (Heb. 11). Consider, for example, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Rahab and others, who are considered “heroes of the faith.”
- Christ’s substitutionary and sacrificial death on the cross works forward and backward in time to pay the sin debt for those who respond to the revelation God has given them. His death once and for all paid humanity’s sin debt.
Jesus of Nazareth is among the most famous, admired and influential persons in history. Amazon.com offers more than 175,000 titles about Him. Google lists more than 165 million references to Him. For the most part, every major world religion holds Jesus in high esteem, but they can’t agree on who He is or what He accomplished.
- Islam teaches that Jesus was a great prophet who lived a sinless life, but denies that He is the Son of God or Savior of the world.
- Hinduism, for some, says Jesus was an Avatar or incarnation of God, a great spiritual teacher, a guru, but not particularly unique among Hinduism’s 330 million gods.
- Buddhism generally regards Jesus as a teacher who may have possessed Buddha hood or enlightenment, but was not mankind’s Savior.
- Judaism considers Him a humble and insignificant prophet, a reformer who performed good deeds, but not the Messiah and not divine.
- Christianity declares that Jesus is the Son of God, Messiah, and Savior, whose death and resurrection paid mankind’s sin debt and provided forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The debate over Jesus is not new, however. Jesus Himself addressed the issue with His disciples in Matthew 16:13-17, confirming Peter’s answer, given by God the Father, that He is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of the living God. Further, Jesus provided evidence for His claims through the fulfillment of prophecy, His teaching, miracles, sinless life, sacrificial death, and physical resurrection. The New Testament writers recorded Jesus’ words and bore eyewitness testimony of His life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension – and many of them died for their faith.
But what about you? Will you honestly examine the best available evidence and decide for yourself? Everyone can find the real Jesus by examining the best available evidence – the Scriptures – and asking three important questions: 1) Who does Jesus say He is? 2) Who do the eyewitnesses say He is? And 3) Who do you say He is?
Download this free study guide and examine the Scriptures for yourself.