Big thunderstorm last night!
How is all this stuff settling with everyone? Remember, we’re trying to answer the question, “What about those who have never heard of Jesus?” We’re finding the answer isn’t as straight-forward as one would think. If we leave any room for salvation based upon our own decision-making process, we leave open the possibility that Jesus is not the only path to God. That would invalidate the exclusivity of Christianity thereby leaving it no better and possibly worse than the countless varieties of religion out there.
Why must I go so far as to jump to that conclusion? To start, we will have had to ignore the message that is clearly identified in the bible – that faith in Jesus is the only means to the Father, and that faith itself is a gift from God. We intuitively know this. Let me ask a question. How do you pray for lost loved ones? Certainly, you would include this one: Father, please turn their heart. We know that the human heart is hard and that it takes God to soften it. Otherwise, why do we pray? If your son, daughter, spouse, parent, relative, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance is fully capable of understanding the gospel, why do we need to ask God for help? At best, we should ask God to improve our own teaching skills so that we can better explain it all to them.
Honestly, if you believe that salvation is a matter of choice and that you and I are the primary means of turning that light bulb on, I pity you. Why? Because if I have a glimpse of the magnitude of eternal damnation, I would be morally obligated to make it my life mission to tell every single soul about it. Not only that, but I would need to make SURE they understood. The thought of losing one would be unbearable. At the same time, how can someone spend any more than a few moments with one person when there are billions who need to know? It would be much easier if we came up with a way to ensure salvation yet sidestep the time needed to convince those who refuse to believe. Do we see anything like this in Christianity? What about infant baptism?
Ok, I can feel the rocks some of you want to throw. I’m sure some have already tuned out and other will now do the same. But if we think about it, not only does the bible say salvation exclusively a gift (unmerited in nature) from God, we see this empirically in the world. Does infant baptism turn the light bulb on for anyone? No, it doesn’t. Can you reason someone into saving grace? Indeed, it is a rare thing to witness someone’s salvation through conversation. All of us have gotten into big debates, often very heated, only to be frustrated at the stubbornness and stupidity of the others. In time, we don’t feel like arguing any longer so we stop sharing the good news that once was so very, very special to us (think life-transforming special). Why won’t they listen to me?!
How could any of us live with the thought that we failed to convince someone and they died to spend eternity in hell? I’ll tell you how we live with that. We change the rules. We start to think that the bible doesn’t say what it does or that we have interpreted it incorrectly. After all, how could a good God condemn multitudes to eternal punishment? And why? Because they don’t believe in Jesus? Even those who have never heard of him? You have got to be kidding me! I thought he died for the forgiveness of all so that he may draw all to himself!
At that point, our faith is in agreement with every single other worldview – that Jesus was, at best, likely no more than a good, well-intentioned teacher and that all we know about him was conjured up centuries later by Jewish men who were most likely trying to retain their failing grip on power. Say, did you happen to see who Oprah interviewed yesterday?
If we pray that God changes somebody’s heart, we are doing so because we know that the other person can’t and that we, therefore, are incapable of convincing them. Think this through. Either our prayer is based on truth or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then why pray like that? How then shall we pray? I don’t have an answer to that.
Still, we are commanded to share the gospel. Why? First, God uses us to share his story. Conversion is his job; ours is to bring the message. Don’t ask me why, but I imagine it has something to do with us loving our neighbors as ourselves. Second, God uses us to harden hearts for those who will never believe. God gives the unbeliever plenty of opportunity to say yes or no. The problem for you and I, as believers, is that we do not know who we are sharing the gospel with – the saved who don’t yet know it or the damned who never will. God doesn’t give us that insight. Our job is to love every single person as if s/he was our eternal sister/brother in Christ yet be courageous enough to warn them of the damnation to come if they refuse to believe.
This begs the question – Why? If it is God’s prerogative to save a few among all those who will never believe, why go through this exercise? Now, my friends, we are back close to where we started. This answer to this question lies in Romans 9, the least preached chapter of the bible. We’ve looked at this chapter before. Stay tuned.
Father, sometimes this stuff makes sense, then it slips away from me. Keep feeding me so that I may be confident to share the reason for my hope for all who ask. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Scott Powers