back to Questions Readers Asked
A reader had a number of questions related to my pieces that say the possibility of life with God is open even to those that havenít heard the gospel.
Didn't Jesus say that "unless" one "believes" in Him they would die in their sins, John 8:24?
He did indeed. But he was addressing hearers to whom the word of the Lord came. See Acts 3:22-26. It makes no sense to demand faith in someone that doesn't hearóPaul said it isn't possible (Romans 14:13-14). All texts such as John 8:24 relate to those to whom the word of the Lord has come. "My words will judge you in the last day" (John 12:48) is true, of course, but the Christ isn't saying he'd hold the Incas responsible for his speech to the Jews. In John 15:22,24 Christ said that if he had not come his rejectors would not have sinned. What can he mean? Obviously he was saying that they were sinning in rejecting him since he had come and brought to them, in life and word and deed, the word of the Lord. In rejecting him they were sinning in a way peculiar to the occasion. Had he not come and offered himself to them as he did they could not have sinned in the matter of rejecting him.
Iím not suggesting they werenít already sinnersóthey were! (John 12:22b) Iím making the point that people live in varying degrees of "light" and to lump them all together into one homogenous mass is silly. Itís true that, nevertheless, all are sinners and sin will damn. Of course this is true if sin isnít dealt with. But if the generous and holy grace of God is extended toward his entire human family then itís extended also to those that donít get to hear the gospel. And if it is extended to them there must be a way in which that holy grace gets to them that makes life possible for them.
Christ will be the judge of the world, certainly (Acts 17:30-31, John 5:27), but Romans 2:6-16 gives us an insight into some of the elements of that judgement. See too 1 Peter 1:17. We tend to think if God judges us according to our works that that must mean damnation. Well, it would, if the grace of God is not offered to the entire human family.
The question is not: "If they hear the gospel can they reject it and still be saved people?" The answer to that is a definitive no! No one to whom the word of the Lord comes has a right to say no! There is a clear word about those that obey not the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
Isn't it impossible to please God without "faith" Hebrews 11:4-6.
This is true, of course. But no one in Hebrews 11 had faith in the crucified and resurrected Lord. Faith can only exist via the word of the Lord (Romans 10:17). The faith of those ancients isn't our faith for the differences in content are fundamental. Those ancients aren't responsible for our content for perfectly good reasons. If there are people living AD who are BC informationally it makes no sense to think that God is demanding AD faith of them. While Peter is preaching in Acts 2 I take it there'd be thousands of righteous Diaspora Jews who havenít heard Acts 2:36, can't ask Acts 2:37 or obey Acts 2:38. To think they automatically become damned when Peter speaks 2:38 makes no sense. But it would be what we would be required to say if we applied a passage like John 8:24 or Mark 16:16 without critical reflection.
And didn't Jesus say that His blood was the blood of the New Covenant, Matthew 26:28? If one can be saved without the NC how do they get to the blood?
How did Abraham get to the blood without believing as you and I do? (I have a piece planned that says a little about the New Covenant.) 1 Timothy 4:7 is an intriguing text. No one is saved apart from the blood (that is, the sacrifice of Christ and all that that means) of Christ but one need not know about it in order to benefit. Hebrews 9:15 says his blood was shed for the sins done under the first covenant (I'm not pretending to explain that here). They knew nothing of all that and yet...
Do you think the "they" of Hebrews 11:40 and the "spirits of just saints" refer only to the OT saints?
Yes, I tend to that view. Contextually that appears to be where we should go.
Does the principle apply to post-Cross people? It seems you think so, could you explain?
I would certainly believe it would embrace Melchizedek in pre-cross time and therefore would hold it true of post-cross time. The "timing" isn't the critical issue, though. It doesn't matter really "when" or "where" a person is born. The holy grace and generosity of God embraces all. And that generous grace is focussed in Jesus Christ. To think that it is confined only to those who are lucky enough to be born pre-Christ or post-Christ and who are lucky enough to get to hear of God's holy graceóto confine the cross of Christ to those makes the possibility of life a lottery. Many Calvinists have no trouble with such an issue because they simply (and rightly) deny the "luck" issue. One isnít "lucky" when he or she hears the gospelóit is grace and privilege. But some Calvinists say God has no intention of saving anyone that doesnít hear the gospel. They say if he wanted them saved theyíd be saved, but in fact he was pleased from eternity to create them to eternally torture them because it pleases him and in some way glorifies him to do so. Click here.
Many Arminian types have done what so many of OT Israel did. Because they were the elect they narrowed God's commitment to the entire creation to themselves and forgot why they were elect.