One objection to Christianity that is posed by secular society today is that our faith is too exclusive. It is too exclusive in its truth claims and too exclusive as to the means of salvation. Of course anyone who objects to a truth claims because it is exclusive clearly doesn’t understand the nature of truth claims, so we can safely disregard that point. But how about the other one?
Modern people balk at the idea that the only way to be right with God is to confess and trust in Jesus as lord. Modern Christians are often a bit nervous about it too. We can see exactly where the objector is coming from when he asks “But what about people that never even heard about Christianity?” It is historically true that many people have lived and died without ever hearing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. What kind of religion would condemn people for something that they had absolutely no choice in?
When you reach this point in a conversation, hopefully, you will not have said anything along the lines of “People go to hell for not believing in Jesus.” Because if you have said that, you have presented a faith that treats people unfairly. Condemnation rightly falls upon a person either for doing some evil thing or for failing to do some good thing that he ought to have done. A person is only responsible for what he knows and has in his power to do or not do. So then God can not judge someone who has never heard about Jesus as if they had rejected him.
What we ought to say instead is “People go to hell for being sinners.” Maybe that’s less comfortable somehow, bringing up sin, as it does. But if we’re going to talk about God, Jesus, and eternal life we might as well get our story straight. The alternative leaves the Christian God looking nonsensical. We can’t really be suggesting that God would condemn non-sinners, can we?
I understand how we get to this point. We know that some people who have sinned will live in eternal glory with Jesus Christ. So then we think, “It’s not really sin that makes the difference.” But sin does indeed make the difference between life and death. It’s just that God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice makes a bigger difference. So while it’s true that Jesus is the dividing line between those who will be saved and those who will be condemned forever, it’s only because everyone on both sides of the line is already worthy of death.
No one is going to hell unless they deserve it. But by God’s grace, some of us who do deserve it, are not going. In that great day of judgment, Jesus will save us from our sins.
Being clear on the sinfulness of all mankind gives us a reason to present the gospel. There’s no justification for proclaiming the gospel unless men and women are condemned. The work of Jesus to redeem and save us from sin is not relevant unless one is a sinner. This is why the apostle Paul begins his presentation of the gospel by proving the entire world is guilty of sin.
How does Christianity come to be fuzzy on this point?
You may answer that for yourself, or ignore it if you like. My answer would be that non-christians have had tremendous influence on the Church both from within and without, and that true Christians have not held firmly to the preaching of scriptural doctrines. There is an inherent offensiveness to the gospel and it is found precisely in this point: except you be Christ’s, you are already guilty of sin.
You and I know very well what it is in man’s heart that reacts so strongly against such statements. Speaking of the benefits of Christian faith does not overcome this objection. The objection stands no matter how beneficial faith in Christ might be. In fact, the more benefits there are in Christ, the greater the objection! This is because all our happy benefits are the sort that rightly belong to righteous people. If the world is righteous, God must be unjust to keep such things from them.
No wonder then that God, in his wisdom, deals directly with the objection itself.
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
The soul whose self-justifying mouth is not stopped can not hear the gospel, and there’s no reason he should. The ears can not hear because the tongue just keeps wagging.
So. Note how the objection is dealt with. It is overcome by the righteous requirements of God’s moral law being plainly stated. The clear requirements of righteousness have the ring of truth to them. They are the light that exposes sin as truly wicked.
I’ve written elsewhere that it is gracious to expose the sin to the sinner himself. Jesus did exactly that in the sermon on the mount when he identified unjust anger as deserving God’s judgment. He did this not to condemn them, but because they were condemned already, and a sober recognition of that just condemnation might bring them to repentance.
The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ deals with the world as it truly is, without turning away, or shielding the eyes. This is why it offers the hope of salvation for everyone, in any situation. The question is, will the Church do the same? I believe we shall be willing to deal with the world as it is, if we can see Christ as he truly is.
Is it a false hope that I hold to, or are steely-eyed truth and broken-hearted compassion united in him? If the hope for sinners is real, might we dare to say the sin is real as well?