Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Illustration: Stan D. Myers
©1988 RBC Ministries-- Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA
Don't they walk their own road to God? Isn't it arrogant to suggest that they will be denied heaven, simply because they don't believe as we do? Besides, don't all religions believe they are right? Why then should we imply that the majority of the world's population will end up in hell for not accepting a message that they never had a chance to hear? These are tough questions. They need answers from God Himself. To that end, Kurt De Haan leads us in the following pages to an understanding of what the Bible says about those who have never heard.
Martin R. De Haan II, president of RBC Ministries.
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If you lived on the far side of the moon, you'd never see planet Earth. That's because as the moon orbits our planet once every month, it always keeps the same side facing toward us and the other half directed away from us. If you somehow managed to exist all your life in isolation on the far side of the moon, you'd never realize that your barren home was revolving around a planet teeming with life.
According to some estimates, as much as one-half of the 5 billion people living on planet Earth are living on "the far side," without ready access to the gospel. That's not merely hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people--it's billions of humans. They haven't heard about the man from Galilee, the man who claimed to be the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the One who died for the sins of all men. These people haven't read the Bible, visited a church, read a salvation tract, been witnessed to by a believer, listened to a Christian radio station, or watched a Christian TV program. They are born, they live, and they die without ever hearing about Jesus.
Many questions may pop into your head when you realize that billions of people have never heard of Christ. What happens to those people when they face God? Is Christianity the only true faith, the only way to heaven? Is it arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way to God? Is it cold and heartless to conclude that the people on "the far side" of the earth are going to hell? Is God being fair? On what basis will people who have never heard about Jesus be judged? Can a person who never heard about Jesus be forgiven of sin and welcomed into heaven? If the gospel is supposed to be good news, then why is it such a secret to so many? Is the gospel supposed to be the private possession of a privileged few? What is the good news that everyone needs to hear? And what is the responsibility of those who have heard to those who haven't heard?
Those are just a few of the many questions that this booklet will attempt to answer. The issues may seem overwhelming. In fact, some of these questions have driven individuals to doubt the claims of Christianity.
The issues are serious. The answers are not always easy to think through or to live out. So with your Bible at hand, let's begin our study. We will start with a look at why the Christian message is unique and why the world needs to hear it. Then we will discuss how the other half of the world, which hasn't heard the news about Christ, can be held responsible before God. We'll also study God's justice, His love, and what He is doing to let people know the truth. And then we'll take a look at the responsibility of Christians to spread the good news not only among those who have heard but also to those who have never heard.
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Are Christians being narrow-minded religious bigots to claim that eternal life and forgiveness of sins can come only through faith in Jesus Christ? Would you call a nutritionist narrow-minded if he said that a human can't survive very long without food or water? Is an aerospace engineer pigheaded to propose that the only way to fly to the moon is by spacecraft, not by hang glider? Is it scientific bigotry to say that gasoline can burn but water cannot? Is it mathematical prejudice to claim that two plus two equals four, not three, five, or twenty-two?
The issue is a matter of truth, not a matter of bigotry or prejudice. If Jesus is all He claimed to be, then all religious beliefs that do not bow before Him as Lord and Savior are simply wrong. The issue, then, is to show that Christianity is true and not simply one of many equally valid religious theories--that it doesn't offer just one of many possible roads to God.
Is Christ the only way to God? Yes, according to verses like John 3:18; 10:1-10; 14:6; and Acts 4:12. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gave us good reason to believe that Christ is, as He claims to be, our only hope of heaven. He began by identifying the facts on which the claims of Christianity are built. He said:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, through whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name (Rom. 1:1-5).
In those opening words, Paul identified some key elements of the Christian message. The gospel he proclaimed was not a totally new and unexpected teaching. Paul alluded to the specific prophecies that pointed to a Savior who would die a substitutionary death for humanity's sins (v.2).
Verses 3 and 4 refer to Christ's unique qualifications to be our only hope of heaven. He possessed both a human nature and a divine nature. He was God incarnate, the God-man.
A key element of the gospel is Jesus' resurrection from the grave (v.4). If He had died on the cross and His body remained in the grave, the gospel message would be a farce (see 1 Cor. 15:12-19). The resurrection confirmed that He is indeed Lord (v.4). And a true recognition of Him as Savior and Lord leads to a life of obedience to Him (v.5).
In Romans 1:16 and 17, Paul highlighted the exclusiveness of the Christian message as the channel of God's saving power.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."The truth about Jesus Christ is the answer that everyone needs. Like Paul, we need not be ashamed to proclaim its life-giving message.
Is Christianity really that different from other religions? Some people have wondered why we can't take the best that all religions have to offer. Others are convinced that each religion is merely a different road to the same God. But as we've just seen, Jesus alone has the qualifications to be our Savior. Even though the many different religions of the world have many elements in common, they differ dramatically on the crucial issue of how we are to prepare for eternity. Christ alone offers forgiveness of sin and eternal life as a free gift (see Rom. 6:23), not as the result of human efforts to gain God's favor by being good enough.
Could people be worshiping God but calling Him by a different name? It might be possible that in their language they may have a different label for Him, but the crucial issue is whether or not they really are talking to the same God. They are not worshiping the same God if their beliefs are inconsistent with the biblical description of Him. And besides, the Bible is clear that it is only through the specific knowledge of Jesus Christ and trust in Him as our substitute for sin that we find forgiveness. Acts 4:12 states, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
Don Richardson, author of Peace Child and Lords of the Earth, has told of situations in which a missionary has gone into an isolated culture and found a group of people who quickly recognized the God of the Bible as the God they had been trying to find. These people have traditions of a lost holy book and speak of a Creator from whom they have been separated. When the gospel was presented in such groups, there was a quick acceptance of Christ. These observations support the conclusion that although people may have some light concerning the One true God, they need to have the knowledge of God that comes through a specific knowledge of God's Son, Jesus Christ. Without biblical information, they continue to grope for an answer to their spiritual needs.
Why won't God rescue everyone? It may sound appealing to wish that He would simply declare a pardon for all people. It might sound fantastic for the Lord to wave a hand over the entire population and pronounce all forgiven. But that wouldn't be right. God can't contradict His own character. And the Bible clearly tells us that God is perfectly just (Ps. 9:8; Is. 30:18; Rom. 2:2).
A just God cannot let the guilty go unpunished. He cannot be ignored, rebelled against, or insulted without responding in judgment upon that sin.
You wouldn't think it fair if a murderer were allowed to go free. You wouldn't think it right if a thief were caught but then allowed to keep all that he had stolen. You probably cringe at the thought of a medical student cheating his way through school, even somehow cheating on his exams to become a doctor. It just wouldn't be just! How could God be any less concerned about justice? He's the Lawmaker and the Judge. His sense of justice will not allow any offense to go unpunished. That is why Jesus Christ has such a crucial role in God's execution of judgment. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of justice by dying for us, taking our punishment for sin upon Himself on the cross (Heb. 9:22-28).
Isn't it enough to be sincere? No, it's not. Sincerity is important, but it's not an adequate substitute for knowing the truth.
Sincerity doesn't pass a college entrance exam. Sincerity doesn't win an automobile race. Sincerity doesn't repair a broken washing machine. Sincerity won't bake the perfect cake. And sincerity won't pay your rent or mortgage. Sincerity will not fill the gap when there is a lack of skill or knowledge, nor will all the sincerity in the world transform error into truth. A sincere worshiper of a false god is just as wrong as the person who knows the truth but is hypocritical about his faith.
Jesus said that true worshipers must worship the Father "in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). He directed those words at a woman and her fellow countrymen whose worship was a combination of biblical and pagan customs. Jesus condemned it as false (v.22). Sincerity was not enough then, and it is not enough today.
What's at stake? Our happiness now and forever depends on how we respond to our knowledge of God and Jesus Christ (John 3:16-21; 10:10; Rom. 2:6-11). If putting our trust for forgiveness in Jesus Christ alone is our only hope of being reconciled to God and securing entrance into heaven, then let's face the sobering truth that the vast majority of people in our world are heading toward a dark eternity. And if we have a compassionate heart, we will wonder how the world has gotten into this tragic situation. We'll be addressing that issue in the following pages.
Thinking It Over. Are you convinced that Christianity is true? If so, are you prepared to give nonbelievers good reasons why you believe Jesus is the only way to eternal life? (1 Pet. 3:15,16). Where did you first hear the news of forgiveness through faith in Christ? Why did you believe the message?
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A few years ago two men tried an unusual way to trim a row of bushes. Since they didn't have a hedge trimmer, they tried using something else--a lawn mower. As you might have expected, one man was seriously injured when the mower slipped his grasp. Believe it or not, the injured man tried to sue the manufacturer for failing to label the machine with a warning against using it as a hedge trimmer. He was trying to blame someone else for his own failure to think before he trimmed.
Do people who have not heard about Jesus Christ today have a legitimate complaint against God? Has God done or is God doing anything to warn people about where their lives are headed? Is God being fair? Do those who know the truth have a responsibility to tell those who don't know? We'll look for answers to these questions in the book of Romans.
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IS IT THEIR OWN FAULT? You may wonder how it would be possible for God to condemn people to hell who had never heard about Jesus Christ. Would it be their own fault? Do they really deserve hell? In Romans 1:18-25, Paul emphasized mankind's accountability for what God has revealed.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things.
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
How did the world get into this mess? The Bible says that men and women have "suppressed the truth" about God (v.18), "professing to be wise, they became fools" (v.22), "exchanged the truth of God for the lie" (v.25), and "did not like to retain God in their knowledge" (v.28).
Ever since Adam and Eve listened to Satan, the lies have grown and have effectively buried the truth. And when the truth surfaces, people push it back down because they don't want God's light shining on their dark errors. John 3:19 says, "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
Are we any better? Don't get too proud of yourself if you think you've got a handle on the truth. Don't go thinking that you somehow discovered the truth because you were so brilliant or holy. Paul clearly told us in Romans that every one of us is guilty of rebellion against God, and it is only by His great grace that anyone recognizes and accepts the truth. After the stinging condemnation of debased pagans in chapter one, Paul went on in chapters 2 and 3 to warn his readers against feelings of self-righteousness. No one is "off the hook" and exempt from the guilt of sin. We all have contributed to the mess the world is in today.
Paul emphasized, "What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is none righteous, no, not one' " (Rom. 3:9,10). He also said, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15).
How can those who haven't heard about Christ be guilty of rejecting Him? It is important to make clear at this point that no one is sent to hell simply because he has never heard about Christ. People are judged guilty because of their rebellion against what they do know about God. In Paul's letter to the Romans he clearly taught that people are condemned on the basis of what they know, not on the basis of what they don't know.
Even though a person may not consciously say, "I reject Christ," he is denying Him when he rejects what he knows of God. As we shall see, God has given mankind adequate knowledge so that every man is without excuse (Rom. 1:20).
What knowledge do even isolated people have? The apostle Paul pointed out that "what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse" (1:19,20).
Sometimes called "natural" or "general" revelation, this knowledge that is available to all people comes through observing the world around us. The question arises, though, is this information enough to lead a person to salvation? The answer is no. Nowhere does Romans or any other book of the Bible support the idea that a person can gain enough knowledge through observing nature to serve as an adequate basis for saving faith.
Paul's argument in Romans 1 is that the knowledge of God available through observing nature is enough for people to realize that the Creator God does indeed exist. Such knowledge includes a realization of the power of such a Creator as well as some basic information about His character (1:18-20). But people have rebelled against even the small truths they know about God.
In another situation, as Paul addressed the intellectuals in the city of Athens (Acts 17:16-34), he said that God has given mankind enough knowledge in the universe to serve as a basis for seeking to know more about Him. Paul said that God did this "so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (v.27).
What does God tell a person through the conscience? In Romans 2:14 and 15, Paul wrote, "For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts."
In his Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry C. Thiessen wrote, "Just as the mirror and the smooth surface of the lake reflect the sun and reveal not only its existence but also to some extent its nature, so conscience in man reveals both the existence of God and, to some extent, the nature of God. That is, it reveals to us not only that He is, but also that He sharply distinguishes between the right and the wrong (Rom. 2:14-16); that He always does what is right; and that He also holds the rational creature responsible for always doing the right and abstaining from the wrong. It also implies that every transgression will be punished" (p. 35).
How will the heathen be judged? As we've already stated, people will not be judged because they did not hear about Christ, but because they have rebelled against the knowledge they did have about God. No one will be able to stand before God and claim that he doesn't deserve His judgment. No one is right with God (Rom. 3:23). No one deserves heaven. It is only because of the gracious work of Christ and the life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit that anyone will escape God's wrath (John 3:3-21).
Nonbelievers will be judged not only on the basis of a conscious rejection of Christ but also on the basis of their works. In Romans 2, Paul said that God "will render to each one according to his deeds" (v.6), and "to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness-- indigation and wrath" (v.8).
Will God condemn a sincere but hopelessly ignorant seeker of truth? If a person lives in an area of the world where there is no humanly possible way of hearing about Christ, what happens to him if he really wants to know the truth about God? In view of what we discussed earlier about the universal rebellion against God, no one could ever say that he did not deserve God's judgment. Those in spiritual darkness are not crying out for God; rather they are living in rebellion against Him.
But if, theoretically, there were a person who responded favorably to what God says about Himself through the wonders of the universe, we cannot limit God and say that He cannot or would not reveal additional knowledge to that person--knowledge that would provide an adequate basis for the saving faith that accesses God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ. This is a theoretical or hypothetical case, and as such, if it ever occurred in reality, it would be a rare exception in light of what Paul said in Romans 1-3 about the natural heart attitude of all people.
Some have said that if a person sincerely wants to know God He will in some way reveal Himself to that person. There are some documented examples of such cases. Missionaries have told of people who responded quickly to the gospel when they heard it. These new believers said that they had been seeking God for some time but didn't know who He was. These groups spoke of a lost holy book and a broken relationship with the Creator. They were thrilled to hear the truth and be restored to the true God from whom their people had been separated for so long.
Thinking It Over. Imagine yourself growing up in a different culture where Christ is not known. What types of influences would determine your beliefs? Why is a personal sense of guilt before God necessary to experience rescue from sin? Why doesn't anyone have a legitimate reason to boast about being more deserving of hearing the gospel than a heathen who has never heard?
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It may seem cold and harsh to think that God chooses a few people out of the billions of human beings to hear the gospel, and that only a small percentage of those will respond positively and go to heaven. But God's decisions are not cold and arbitrary. He has carefully planned out the course of history and is working everything together for the completion of His just and fair plan. The apostle Paul stated his answer to this issue in Romans 9:14-24 when he wrote:
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "Even for this same purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name might be declared in all the earth." Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared before-hand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
According to those God-inspired words, the Lord is being perfectly fair in the way He treats us. As Paul said, we are like clay in the hand of a potter (9:19-21); we have neither the right nor the wisdom to question what God is doing.
If God chooses those to whom He will reveal the truth about Himself, how can He hold people responsible for not trusting in Him? This question is part of the whole debate about God's sovereignty and man's freedom of choice. How sovereign is God and how free is man to make responsible choices? Paul made it very clear that God is in complete control. But he also emphasized that man has freedom to choose and a responsibility to know and obey the truth. It may sound contradictory, but we can't pretend that we have an easy way to explain it all. The Bible tells us that men and women from the very beginning have had freedom of choice to obey or disobey God (Gen. 2:16,17; 3:6,7; Rom. 1:18-25). It is also true that God is controlling all of human history (Dan. 4:25). We should not focus so much on His control that we forget that His Word says we are held responsible for our decisions (John 3:16-21).
If God is loving, how can He condemn anyone to hell? Somehow it doesn't seem right. But we can't forget that God's justice does not contradict His love; it coexists with His love. His love must be just and His justice must be loving.
It is not loving to allow murderers to run loose on the streets, nor is it just to arrest an innocent person. But it is both loving and just to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. It is loving and just to uphold the law while executing that law fairly.
God is loving (2 Cor. 13:11; 1 John 4:8-16) and just (Ps. 89:14; Rev. 16:7). Therefore we should expect to see both characteristics in how He treats us.
Why doesn't God shout the truth to every corner of the earth? We may wish that He would. But He is allowing humanity to reap the results of its own rebellion against Him. And He has chosen to use people to reach people with the good news about forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
Thinking It Over. What reasons do we have to believe that God knows what He's doing with the fate of those who have never heard? How does our human intellect compare to God's wisdom? Who deserves God's pardon from the guilt of sin?
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Since the world needs to hear and the Lord is in control, how responsible are we to spread the news about Christ? How can we make a difference? How can we be effective? Listen to the apostle Paul in Romans 10:13-15, as he explains the great need for people who will pass on to others what they know about Jesus Christ:
For "whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!"
How much can we do? First of all, we have to realize that there are some things that only the Lord can do. We cannot change the nonbeliever's heart attitude toward God, we can't be omnipresent (everywhere at the same time), and we're not omnipotent (all- powerful), so we don't have the time or personal resources to be able to reach all people.
But we can reach some. We can make an impact if we use the resources that God has given to each of us. The apostle Paul told us where we as believers fit into God's plan. He said in Romans 10:14 that in order for a person to become a believer he must first hear the truth about God. Then, in order to hear the gospel, there must be a messenger.
You and I can use our feet, our voices, our lives, our influence, our writing, to make an impact for the worldwide spread of the gospel. It begins right where you are--catching a vision to reach those who are spiritually lost in your own family, neighborhood, community, and workplace. Then expand your vision to include the groups in your city that are unreached and ignored by the witness of the gospel. Become informed about thousands of people groups around the world who have never heard of Christ and the many who do not have the Bible in their own language.
Should we feel responsible? Well, if we mean responsible for the rebellion of mankind and for people ending up in hell, no we're not to blame. But if we mean, should we feel an obligation to tell those who haven't heard, the answer is yes. If we care about obeying Christ's command to proclaim the good news (Matt. 28:19,20; Acts 1:8), we should feel a duty to tell others about the freedom from sin and the hope of heaven that they can have.
The apostle Paul, in fact, not only felt a responsibility, he was driven by a great love for those who hadn't heard the good news. In talking about his own Jewish people, he said, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (10:1). This was not just an occasional longing nor a superficial statement. Paul revealed his heart for his people when he said that he would even be willing to go to hell if it would mean that his fellow Jews could find salvation in Jesus Christ (9:1-4). The question for us is: Do we have a similar obsession to see people come to know Christ.
Have God's spiritual children been part of the problem by not spreading the news? This is a guilt-producing topic. As uncomfortable as it is to admit it, we have often been guilty of gross negligence in this matter. We've become too comfortable in our churches and it costs us too much time and effort to reach those who don't walk through the church doors on Sunday morning. That is a sharp contrast to the kind of vibrant, outgoing faith displayed by the church at Thessalonica. Paul said to them, "For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place" (1 Thess. 1:8).
Maybe the reason so many of us have not taken our role as a witness seriously is that we have lost sight of the need the world has for the message of the gospel. Or perhaps we've lost our vision of what God can do to reach the masses of people who don't know Christ. Paralysis and despair can set in if we become overwhelmed by a huge workload. Trying to tell everyone in the world about Christ may seem like trying to count and label all the grains of sand on a beach.
But let's think again about what the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans. He helps us to put this all in the right perspective. He recognized that everyone needed to hear the gospel (1:16,17). In fact, he knew that he was specially sent by Christ to play a key role in establishing the early church (1:1). Paul was obsessed with a desire to tell others about Christ (9:1-5). He saw himself and other believers as indispensable links in the chain of communication between God and unbelievers (10:14,15). Paul saw himself as filling a priestly role in offering to men and women the news about Christ's sacrifice for sin and the forgiveness available to all who would believe (15:15,16). The apostle's personal goal was to proclaim the gospel to people who had never before heard the message (15:17-21).
What should motivate us to spread the gospel? Paul mentioned a key motivation in 2 Corinthians 5:14,15 when he said, "For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again."
The number one motivation, then, should be a recognition of Christ's love for us, the love that led Him to die on the cross. His sacrifice points to His great concern for the souls of men and women.
Paul went on to say that God "has given us the ministry of reconciliation" (5:18,19). We can be instrumental in bringing people to a right relationship with God.
Our role is also described by the use of the word ambassador. Paul said, "Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (v. 20). We are citizens of heaven and we speak for God on this earth.
How can we get the message out to all people? The task can seem overwhelming, but God has given us the equipment we need to reach out to the people in our world. He has given us His Word, which contains the truth about who Jesus is and how we can be forgiven (Rom. 10:14-17). He has given His Holy Spirit to those who by faith have put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:9-16), thus ensuring that we will have the power of God working in us as we faithfully present the truth (Acts 1:8).
Some people are especially gifted by God for the task of evangelism (Eph. 4:11). God has made us all with different personalities and abilities. He didn't intend for all of us to be fulltime missionaries or mass evangelists. But we are to be witnesses for Christ according to our place in life and our abilities.
As we consider our role in the evangelization of the world, it is important to realize that although we are called to tell others about Christ, we cannot make anyone believe; only God can do that. So whether or not people accept the message does not determine our success as witnesses of Jesus Christ. God has called each of us to be faithful, not necessarily to be a super-evangelist. There are some people who are more instrumental in planting the seed of truth, while others are used of God to "harvest" new believers. No matter what our part in the process, whether proclaiming the message, guiding people to Christ, or instructing new believers, it is God who gives life and causes spiritual growth (see 1 Cor. 3:5-10). Your particular method of witness might be:
Are we spreading greater condemnation? We have to realize that we are not responsible for a nonbeliever's acceptance or rejection of the gospel. Our duty is to proclaim Christ faithfully to a lost and needy world.
Matthew 11:20-24 gives us an example of how Jesus handled this issue. He had visited and performed miracles in the towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida, yet the people rejected Him. Jesus said it would be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for those who had seen and heard Him. He also condemned Capernaum for failing to accept Him. He said that Sodom would find the day of judgment more tolerable than the people of Capernaum.
Even though Jesus knew that people with more revealed truth are judged more severely, that did not diminish His efforts to visit many towns and villages with His lifegiving message. He had a mission from the Father. The truth must be proclaimed.
We too have a God-given mission. We are called to proclaim the gospel to every creature in every part of the world. We have to be faithful to our calling. If we don't tell anyone, we won't be instrumental in being used by God to save anyone.
Thinking It Over. What can you do to get the message to those who have never heard? What can you do to clarify the message of salvation to those who have never heard it clearly explained? How would an attitude of love for others keep us from being argumentative and harsh as we witness? Ask God to give you opportunities to speak out for Him.
How does all this fit together? We've covered a lot of ground in the preceding pages. But the basic issue is whether or not we are convinced that the Bible is true and Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross to take the penalty for sin that we deserved. If we recognize that the Bible is a book we can trust and that Christ proved who He said He was through His perfect life, miracles, teaching, and resurrection from the dead, then we will realize that this is a message we cannot keep to ourselves.
Romans clearly explains why conditions in our world are so bad. And
it tells us what God has graciously done to rescue people who don't
deserve rescue. We must see ourselves among the undeserving and
realize that God has chosen to use us to get the message of hope out
to a world which needs that message. Our part in God's program is
not optional--it's a must.
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He lived in a world much like ours. Only a small number of people worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And like believers today, Jonah was commissioned to proclaim a message from God to those who hadn't heard.
But Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh. After all, the people there were part of the barbaric and evil Assyrian empire. They were a threat to the national security of Israel, God's covenant people. They were idolaters and morally repugnant to Jews who cared about obeying God. The Ninevites weren't the kind of people Jonah, or any other God-fearing person, would want for friends.
Even if he hadn't hated the Ninevites so much, the job itself must have seemed overwhelming. God sent him to a city of perhaps 600,000 people. Jonah was only one man, a foreigner at that, with an unwelcome message. Besides, Jonah didn't want to give the Ninevites an opportunity to believe (4:1-3).
When he finally did arrive in Nineveh (after taking a Mediterranean cruise inside a big fish), Jonah preached a message of judgment. He didn't want God to show mercy. Jonah reacted with shock, and he was saddened instead of thrilled, when they believed his message and escaped God's judgment. He moped and sulked because he had done something he really didn't want to do, and he got results he really didn't want to get.
Jonah is not so different from believers today. In fact, the similarities are alarming. That may be one of the key reasons God preserved Jonah's story-- so that we all could learn from Jonah's mistakes.
We have our own "enemies" that we aren't interested in telling about Jesus. Fear of rejection, skepticism, or mocking can cripple us. We are often more concerned about our own comfort and "our own kind" of people than we are in taking a risk and proclaiming Jesus to a needy world. And we can become so wrapped up in God's hatred of sin that we forget His great love for the sinner.
Do we dare to tell others? Do we see the world as God does? If we seek out those who haven't clearly heard the gospel, we also may see surprising results.
|JONAH||YOU AND ME|
Tell the Ninevites
Tell all nations
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The following questions are listed here for you to use in teaching or discipling others. We suggest that these questions be discussed prior to studying a specific section--as preview questions.
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It's tragic that so many people--even billions--are dying without discovering spiritual life through Jesus Christ. It would be even more tragic for you personally, however, if you did not accept God's offer of forgiveness. Maybe you have read this book and you've come to a realization that either you have never heard the biblical truth before or else you have never taken the step of putting your only hope of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ alone. If that's the case, recognize this as a special time in which God has graciously given you an opportunity to know Him, to find release from the guilt and penalty of sin, and to live the rest of your days in obedience to Him.
Perhaps you've put your trust in Christ some time ago and now you're wondering what difference you can make in this world for God. You are only one among billions, that's true, but you are one who can faithfully tell others, which will multiply your own impact. You and I can make a difference--in our home, our neighborhood, our city, our nation, and in the far corners of the earth. The person next door may have never heard the gospel clearly presented--you can tell him. You may sense that God wants you to go to an area of the world where no one knows about Christ. The opportunities are almost endless. Our time is limited. Let's determine together to be those who are committed to telling the billions about their only hope of heaven.