Russell and Duenes

Let the Apostles Answer

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Fridays are “Open Mind Fridays” in my 11th grade New Testament Epistles class. The students write down questions throughout the week (or the day of) and I attempt to answer them, or at least generate some discussion. A question that came up today, and comes up virtually every year in my classes, is, “What if a person lived their whole life in some non-Christian country somewhere and never hears about Jesus and thus, never believes? Does he go to hell?” Today I made the question even harder by saying, “Let’s say it’s someone who is born in Africa to parents who have AIDS. So this person is born with AIDS, his parents die when he’s young, he spends his short life running from tribal warlords and other assorted bad guys, and then dies at age twenty never having heard about Jesus.” You could have heard a pin drop in class, and my immediate, gut-level emotional reaction was to recoil. And I said, out loud, “You can see why so many people want to say, “No, people in that situation are not going to hell.” I didn’t want to give a flip, easy, pat answer. I didn’t really want to contemplate the answer at all (for it is not an easy answer). So I asked them what they thought.

One girl spoke up and said, “Doesn’t the Bible say something about people knowing from the creation that God exists?” Indeed it does. Romans 1 clearly says, “For what can be known about God is evident to them.” Then I asked them, “How do the apostles answer this question? Do they say, ‘Well, I hope they hear’ or ‘I hope that they’ll be saved?'” Let’s see.

Paul writes, “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor.5:14), and  “[God]has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor.5:19-20). Paul’s attitude about the lostness of his fellow Jews is thus: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race…my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they might be saved” (Rom.9:2-3; 10:1). Paul says that he has “become all things to all people, so that by all means he might save some” (1 Cor.9:19-23). Paul’s gives his life vision to the Ephesian elders: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Peter enjoins God’s people to suffer for the sake of the gospel, and James and John warn us against attachment to and love for “the world.”

It is impossible to believe that Jesus’ first followers thought that salvation could be gained by any means other than faith in Christ, by God’s grace. Their love for Christ, their knowledge of his resurrection and exaltation, their belief in his holiness and their longing to see lost people enter into the life of God’s kingdom urged them onward. But even more centrally, the New Testament writers understood what Jesus’ death for sins meant. It meant that mankind was truly rebellious, and thus truly under God’s righteous judgment. And it meant that God had given his most treasured and desirable possession, His Son, in order to redeem us from His judgment. To try and “go around” the cross of Christ and save people by another means would be unthinkable, both to God and to the apostles who preached him.

The apostles are the ones we should be seeking to imitate, both in heart and in action. May the love of Christ “compel” us as well, so that we would give our time, treasures and talents to the reaching of the hidden peoples of the earth. May God expand our hearts so that our love for others extends to a true desire to see them know the riches of life in Christ Jesus. Let us believe God when his servant proclaims: “All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name” (Psalm 86:9).


Written by Michael Duenes

April 23, 2010 at 3:34 pm

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