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We come now to the third in our series of six, ‘Reasons for Rejection.’ Reason number one was, ‘The bible is just a myth.’ Reason number two was, ‘All religions are essentially the same.’ In both, we investigated and analyzed the claim against Christianity, and then we presented a particular point of Christian doctrine that supports the Christian faith.
So, in the first reason for rejection, the answer to ‘The bible is just a myth,’ is the doctrine of the ‘inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures.’ In the second, the answer to ‘all religions are essentially the same’ is the doctrine of ‘grace’ which sets the Christian religion apart from all other religions.
Now, as we address this third ‘reason for rejection,’ we want to take the same approach. We’ll investigate and analyze the claim against Christianity and then clarify the Christian doctrine that addresses this charge, which in this case is the doctrine of ‘conversion.’
I. Reason for Rejection: ‘What About The Person Who Has Never Heard The Gospel’?
A. ‘Why do you want to know’?
But this morning we want to begin just a bit differently than we have. Rather than plowing right into the claim itself, let’s begin by asking this question, which should be the question that just sits on the tip of our tongue ready to be asked whenever someone challenges the faith or whenever we find ourselves asking these kinds of questions. The question is this, ‘why do you want to know’? ‘What’s your motive for asking a question like this one, ‘what about the person who has never heard the gospel”?
Sincere love and concern for the lost.
The motive behind the question determines how we respond. Some people ask this question out of sincere love and concern for those who have never heard the gospel. They know that Jesus Christ is the only savior of mankind and that it is only through faith in Him and all that He has done that man is saved. And it pains them to think that some will perish eternally because they haven’t gotten the Word.
It used to be that this question was framed by some far away, remote place like Africa. ‘What happens to the poor, innocent native in Africa who has never heard the gospel’? But today, you don’t need to go that far. There are many, many people right here in the U.S., right here in Maine who have never been to church, never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’ve heard people ask this question out of sincere love and concern for those who have never heard the gospel. And frankly, I really wish that more of us would feel this pain and have this same concern.
Accusation of God’s Unfairness
There is however another motive that is often lurking behind this question. Sometimes you can detect it simply by the tone of voice. The question can be motivated by a deep-seated suspicion of the God of the Holy Scriptures. It’s a suspicion that God is not fair in the way that He judges men and women.
The case against God goes something like this. If a person is only saved through faith in Jesus Christ, we can understand that God would condemn a person for rejecting the gospel. But to reject it, you have to have at least heard it, understood it and made a conscience decision against it. No blames God for judge against a person who rejects the Gospel.
But what about the person who has never heard the gospel? In the judgment of man, it would be unfair for God to judge against that person also. If God is fair and just, He must declare that person who has never heard the gospel to be innocent. And how could a just and fair God condemn an innocent man?
B. Two ways to be saved.
I don’t know if you can see where this is headed or not, but what we are insisting upon here is that if God is fair, there must be TWO WAYS for man to be saved. One, man is saved by hearing the gospel and believing it. And two, man is saved by never hearing the gospel at all.
So according to our judgment, Jesus was being terribly cruel when Jesus gave His disciples this final command before His ascension, ‘Go therefore to ALL NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you.’
We think that what Jesus should have said was, ‘Go therefore to CERTAIN NATIONS with the gospel, but stay away from nations like Africa, Thailand, Cambodia and Maine. I don’t want them to even have the chance of rejecting Me and so I don’t want them to ever to even hear of Me or what I have done. Blessed are the ignorant for they shall be declared innocent. Only go to the CERTAIN NATIONS where I want to separate unbelievers and believers like a farmer separates weeds from the wheat. Woe to those who hear the gospel, for only they have the chance of being condemned.’
In the judgment of man against God, we have made the hearing of the gospel a bad thing and accused God of being unfair for allowing the name and work of Jesus Christ to be of heard at all.
C. Analysis of the Question
So one way to answer this question is simply to follow it to its logical conclusion, which is complete absurdity. But that still leaves the question unanswered. So, let’s think about this question like this.
Let’s say a person had a disease that leads to death, let’s say, ‘diabetes.’ And let’s say that this person lives in a part of the world that modern science hasn’t yet reached and so they don’t know that they have ‘diabetes’ and therefore don’t know that they are in danger. And second, they don’t know that there is a treatment for diabetes that will keep it under control so that they can live a normal and full life.
So, when that person in some remote village dies an early death because of diabetes, who would ever condemn that person because he had never heard of the treatment that was available? No one would. And yet even though no one would condemn that man for not knowing about the treatment for his disease, the man is still dead from his disease.
It’s the same with man before God. God does not condemn a person for not knowing that there is a remedy for his spiritual disease of sin that he had never heard of. That would be grossly unfair of God. Rest assured that no one is ever judged by God because they have never heard the gospel. No one is condemn by God because they never knew that they should be baptized.
But that person who has never heard the gospel is still dead in their sins. Sin is a disease that infects the whole human race, no matter what nation we happen to live in. As strange as this may sound, we are all born ‘dead in sin.’
But there is a remedy for our sin. God has provided the ‘medicine of immortality’ that takes away the sin of the ‘the world.’ And to be sure, ‘the world’ includes every nation under heaven. And that medicine is Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. The blood of Jesus Christ is the remedy for universal disease of sin.
And just so we would believe that Jesus Christ is the remedy for the deadly disease of sin, God demonstrated the effectiveness of the cure by piling all of the sin of the world onto Jesus Christ and then raised Him from the dead on the 3rd day.
Jesus testifies, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live and those who live and believe in me shall never die.’
So, how does a person come to know that he is dead in sin? And how does a person come to know that the remedy for his sin lies in the blood of Jesus Christ? In short, how does a person go from being dead to sin to alive in Christ?
St. Paul actually addresses this very question in his letter to the Romans. Paul writes, ‘But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-15,17)
In those two verses, Paul has summarized what the whole bible says about how conversion happens. It happens by hearing the good news, the gospel. So, let’s be sure we understand what Paul is saying and what he is not saying about how the conversion of a person who is dead in sin to a person who is alive in Christ takes place.
Paul says that it happens through the hearing of the Word of God. The hearing of the Word of God happens in several different ways. You can depend upon it happening right here, at a set time and place every week during worship. Sometimes, it happens more spontaneously like when one person talks to another person about what the Bible has to say about God’s remedy for the deadly disease of sin. Sometimes, it happens when someone reads the bible and discovers not only that he has got a deadly disease, but also that God has provided the cure for his disease in Jesus Christ.
So, for the Word of God to be effective in converting a sinner, we must hear it in two ways. First, we must hear it tell us that we do indeed have a disease and that the cause of the disease is in us and that there is nothing that we can do to get rid of the disease and that it will surely kill us. That’s the part of God’s Word that we call, ‘the Law’ and you can hear the Law in both the Old and New Testaments. Paul illustrates this to the Romans when he writes, ‘If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7)
To tell a person all about the remedy for diabetes when that person doesn’t believe that he has diabetes or doesn’t think it will kill him is not very productive. He’ll just say, ‘so what’? The Law of God opens our eyes to our desperate condition and moves us to cry out, ‘what then shall we do’?
Now, we are ready to hear the ‘gospel,’ the wonderful good news that tells us of God’s love in sending the divine medicine for our sin in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the proclamation that God has provided the antidote for the serpent’s poisonous bite. The anti-venom is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit administers the cure through the ears, through the eyes, through the washing of water in Baptism, through the eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper.
And the Scriptures tell of NO OTHER WAY for a person to be converted than this. We desperately wish that there were other ways to administer this cure. Why didn’t God just put the cure into the drinking water like we do fluoride? Or why doesn’t He package it in a pill to swallow or leak it into the air that we breathe?
We hope that people might be converted by seeing what good works we do or what holy lives we live. We wish it were as simple as using Jesus’ name in our conversation or ending every other sentence with ‘praise the Lord.’ Anything would be easier than the laborious and dangerous work of preaching and teaching the Word of God. People have been persecuted for preaching the Word. Reaching the world with the good news is expensive and time consuming.
So, we see once again that God’s ways are not our ways. But one day, we will see the wisdom of God clearly and when we do, I’m afraid that we will be ashamed of ourselves for being so stingy with the precious gift that we have been entrusted to share. I am afraid that one day, we will look back on our life and utterly regret all those who died in sin because we did not let them know that there is a free cure that saves sinners. And in that moment, we will never be more thankful and relieved that Jesus Christ has taken away all of our sins.
In the meantime, we continue to diligently support the work of those who preach and teach the Word in far away places where we cannot go in languages we don’t know. We faithfully support the work of our own congregation where we can come and bring people to hear the preaching and teaching of the Word. And we pray that God would create in us a greater love and concern for those who have not heard the gospel.