Does God Condemn Those Who Have Not Heard?

It’s a great joy to me when church members come to me and ask for some help in clarifying an idea or thought from the scriptures. I am not always able to answer with clarity, but I enjoy sharing about the Bible with my brothers and sisters.

Recently a Sunday School teacher asked me about a thought that was brought up in the lesson materials. I thought that the question raised might be something that a lot of us have questions about.

The question is, “Does God condemn people who have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus?” My response is made up of these 5 points:

  1. God will do what is right. I cannot know the nuances of how God might judge every human circumstance. I cannot know the soul of any person. However God judges people, God will make the right judgment. I am sure of that. As Abraham says in his conversation with the Lord before He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).
  2. Every person will be judged based on the light he or she has been given. The fact that a person has not heard the gospel does not mean that he or she will not be under God’s judgment. Each person will have to answer to God for the life they have lived. If they are condemned, it will be because of their own actions, not because they didn’t believe in something they never heard about.  Note what Paul says in Romans 2:14-15: “Indeed, when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves…They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness…”
  3. The gospel of Jesus is sufficient to save anyone who trusts in Christ as Savior and Lord. We may not be able to say how God will judge those who have not heard, but Jesus declares that His life and death are sufficient for anyone. “…whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
  4. God wants everyone to be saved and redeemed in eternity. John 3:17 says that God sent His Son into the world “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is “not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.”
  5. Finally, we are called as followers of Jesus to share the gospel as if everyone’s salvation depended on it. We must not let our mission activity or our evangelism become less urgent because people might not have to hear the gospel. Our calling is not to be the judge. That is God’s job. Our calling is to bear witness everywhere that we can.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church

Siler City, NC

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Honest Prayer

Recently, I was reading the story of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts. I love the part of the story where God has a conversation with Ananias. Paul has encountered Christ as Paul was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians. Paul is struck blind even as he is called to be Christ’s apostle. The scene then shifts to Ananias praying. God speaks to Ananias and tells him to go and lay his hands on Paul to confirm Paul’s calling.

Now I have often imagined that if God spoke audibly to me, I would immediately respond with an enthusiastic “yes, Sir!” I’m probably kidding myself about that, but I enjoy reading Ananias’ response. He basically starts an argument with God. “But Lord, don’t you know that this guy has papers to arrest us and throw us in prison! I’m not going anywhere near that guy!”

If I were standing next to Ananias when he said something like that, I would want to step away expecting the lightning to strike. But God patiently corrects Ananias, telling him that He has chosen Paul to be His special servant. And then, Ananias goes and does what God told him to do.

Sometimes in church we are taught to pray with a “religious” voice. In other words, we put on a false piety. We use words that don’t really mean anything to us. We fake it. But I believe that God wants a real relationship with us. God does not want to hear “well-written” prayers or great oratory. God wants us to share our hearts with Him.

You may be reluctant to tell God what you really think, but God already knows that anyway! You cannot hide it from Him. You may think that the only real prayers are those that are spoken with holy words and attitudes. But real holy attitudes and words and actions can only come from God. And God can only make holy happen in us if we come to Him without pretense.

Lay down the burden of being appropriately religious right now and get real with God. Like Paul, He will work in your life and make you what He  wants you to be.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church

Siler City, NC

Sickness and Christian Faith

Being sick is no fun, usually. I do remember having a mild case of chicken pox when I was in the 1st grade that just happened to coincide with a good friend also having them. He stayed at my house for several days, excused from school together, a little itchy, but still able to play. That was not a bad sickness. But still, being sick is usually not fun.

Sickness is a regular part of our lives. As young parents, we dealt with lots of sick days, cleaning up unmentionable messes from every home and human surface. We spent a lot of time juggling sick days and make up work and doctor visits. We suffered our share of the colds and viruses that make the rounds of each family member.

Vicky and I have seen our share of serious illness as well. Not in ourselves, but in my father’s heart issues and Vicky’s mother’s cancer. Like many families, we watched sickness take their lives much sooner than we were ready for. And we are painfully aware that many people have conditions that are much, much worse.

I am grateful that the Bible offers us the promise of an eternal existence where there is no more pain, sickness or death. I believe this is an important part of the gospel message. It is not merely wishful thinking. Jesus rose from the dead to let us know that death is not the victor in the game of life. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15, “Death has been swallowed up in victory… Thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is also another comfort Jesus gives us in sickness: each other. One of the intended consequences of our faith in Christ is that we will meet each others’ needs. Sickness will come. God does not promise to heal every sickness as long as we are on this earth. But He does command us as His people to take care of each other. As long as there are Christians, no one should be lonely in the local nursing home or unable to find help to take care of their children when they are sick.

This is an ideal that does not always work out in real life. And no one of us can do this alone. But as we work together, we can minister to the sick. We will be doing exactly what Jesus said He is looking for, as He describes it in Matthew 25. “I was sick and you looked after me.”

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church

Siler City, NC

Missing the Target

It’s been awhile since I have done much archery. I have enjoyed some target shooting at camps and visiting friends over the years. The challenge of eyeing a target from some distance away and letting the arrow fly can be quite frustrating and quite exciting, depending on how close you come to actually hitting what you are aiming at.

Of course, if you don’t aim, you won’t get near the target. And if you don’t shoot, you won’t hit anything.

You may know that the New Testament was written in Greek about 2000 years ago. Scholars tell us that one of the prominent words for “sin” in the Greek language is the word that literally means “to miss what you are aiming at.” To sin means to miss the target of right living that God sets up for us.

Now if you have not been aiming at God’s target, you may not think you have really missed anything. You may think that if you refuse to shoot in that contest, no one can say you have missed. In other words, you may think that you are living exactly the life that you intend to live, and you don’t need any correction to your aim.

If you are sure about that, congratulations. But the New Testament does say this: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

People think that Christian preachers are obsessed with condemning sin. Some of us are, but Jesus was not. Jesus Himself said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus wants us to acknowledge our sin so that He can forgive us and redeem us and help us overcome the sin in our lives.

God says each of us has missed the target. God offers each of us forgiveness and renewal.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church

Siler City, NC

To Be More Like Jesus

English: Stained glass panel in the nave of St...

English: Stained glass panel in the nave of St. John’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales (NSW). This window depicts Jesus Christ welcoming children and teaching “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). The inscription on this memorial window reads “To the Glory of God and in Commemoration of all the Baptisms in this Church † Erected John the Baptist Day 1932”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that the New Year has begun, I’m sure you have all of your resolutions in place. Several people I know have made it known that their resolution is to be more like Jesus this year. I think this is the best resolution anyone can make. As the Apostle Paul says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

But there is a problem with this resolution. Too often, we only see Jesus as we want to see Him. In fact, almost every religion and every philosophy claims that Jesus really taught exactly what they do. Everyone points to Jesus as the perfect example of their own ideas.

So if we want to truly follow Jesus and become like Him, the first step must be to empty ourselves of our own ideas of who He is and devote ourselves to the study of Jesus. We must become His disciples. We must let Him be our teacher.

God inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to write down what we need to know about how Jesus lived as a human being and what He taught His disciples on earth. We should study and memorize these words with total devotion. Often you will come across passages in these works that puzzle or trouble you. Meditate on these especially. Through them, Jesus is shaping your soul.

And remember that Jesus is not a dead teacher, but a living Lord. When Paul says that we all “contemplate the Lord’s glory” he is not talking about just reading the gospels. He is talking about the living experience of prayer. When your heart truly desires to be like Jesus, He will be working in you, through your study of His word and through prayer and through imitation of Him, to make you more like Him each day.

In our resolution to be like Jesus, the first step is to be willing to know Jesus as He truly is. This is a life-long pursuit. 2014 is a great time to start.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church