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What About Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

• Jim Beilby

In this sermon, Jim Beilby addresses the question about the destiny of the un-evangelized, proposing that people are given the opportunity to receive Christ’s true revelation of himself after death. 

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Jim Beilby, a professor at Bethel University, seeks to help us process the eternal destiny of those who do not have the opportunity to hear the gospel. He poses this question by reciting a part of a letter he wrote when he was a senior in high school. During this time, he had walked away from the Christian faith and he penned, ”If Christ is the only way and if there are millions who never hear of him, then any being worthy of the title ‘God’ must have known this fact when he chose to create. And if he did know that millions would never even have an opportunity to be saved, it is impossible to think of God as perfectly loving. As such, even though I am lucky to be among those who hears the gospel, I cannot believe in a God who makes the opportunity to be saved a matter of temporal and geographical luck.” In his journey back to God, he had to replace pictures of God that were angry and judgmental with pictures that centered around the the life of Jesus Christ. This led him to rethink the destiny of the un-evangelized in a way that is rooted in the centrality of Jesus.

To understand the answer that Jim proposes, it is first helpful to understand the nature of the question. Who are the un-evangelized? Jim imagines three groups. First there is the “un-evangelized” person he calls George, the man from upper Mongolia from the ninth century B.C., who would not have had any opportunity to hear of Jesus or anything about the faith of the Israelites. The second is “pseudo-evangelized” which is illustrated by Kunta Kinte, the character from Alex Haley’s, Roots. He is taken as a slave in the 18th century from Gambia and brought to America. He hears about Jesus from slave owners who tell him that God has ordained the way that the slaves are treated. Kunta Kinte rejects this God, as the good news that he heard was not actually good news at all. The third group is called the “deeply wounded,” illustrated by a youth who has been physically abused to the point that they cannot trust anyone, and thus they cannot trust God.

In response to the question of the un-evangelized, there are three typical answers that are inadequate. The first response is found in conservative circles. It basically discounts the question altogether. They say something like, “Who are you to ask God this question?” The second inadequate response states, “There are no un-evangelized people,” a claim based on Romans 1 which states that people are without excuse because of the glory of creation. However, this is not pointing to the revelation of Jesus, but to the general fact that there is some kind of divine existence. The third inadequate response argues that we do not need Jesus, that we can simply say that God saves all without the knowledge of Jesus because God is love. Yet if Jesus is the perfect revelation of God, then leaving Jesus out is problematic.

Jim proposes a solution that he calls post-mortem opportunity. This means, “If God truly desires all to saved, and some do not have an opportunity to hear the gospel in this life, then he will provide a post-mortem opportunity to respond to the gospel.”

While the Bible does not directly speak to the details of what will occur after death, it is possible to argue that a post-mortem opportunity is quite possible. First, we need to see that God loves the lost. The Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15 demonstrates this most clearly. Secondly, in 1 Peter 3:19-20, we read that Jesus made proclamation to the spirits who were dead during the three days in the tomb. This is the harrowing of hades where Jesus defeats death. Also in 1 Peter 4:6, we are told that Jesus preached to those who are dead.

  1. In response to this proposal, there are typically four questions:
    Who receives this? Who needs to have an opportunity to have a post-mortem opportunity? In response to this, only God knows who needs to see the true picture of God that would give them an opportunity to make a choice.
  2. What would this look like? There will be a day of judgment and during this judgment there will be some form of purgatorial clarifying, a refining fire. This will be a process where the untruth is burned away and what is left is pure.
  3. Who could say no to Jesus? After all, would’t everyone choose Jesus if they realized that rejecting him would mean going to hell? But this is not really the question at all. Instead, the question that we will face is: Do you want to reign in hell or serve in heaven? Those who don’t want to bow a knee to anyone else will reject Jesus’ true revelation.
  4. Does this not take away the need to spread the gospel now? This question assumes that evangelizing is only about getting people to punch their ticket to heaven. The point of our relationship with God is not a future thing: It is a now thing.

Whatever the exact nature of the future and how the final destiny of the un-evangelized plays out, we need to understand that God is on a mission to reconcile himself to all of creation. His aim is to overcome sin and make possible a relationship with him. We get to participate in this with him. He does not just care about the end, he cares about the process. We can join him in his mission of doing this.

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Topics: Evangelism, Judgment

Sermon Series: Sermon on the Mount, Cross Examination


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2 thoughts on “What About Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

  1. Julie says:

    YES! YES! YES………….

    1. Jerry says:

      Absolutely Julie good stuff!!

      Andy Stanley tells this story:

      When his children were young, he bought a used Infiniti. It was mint and he intended to keep it that way.

      One day to his utter dismay he discovered someone had scratched the letter A into the paint on his hood and beside the A were attempts at several other letters.

      After interrogating his three children he elected the youngest, Allie a whopping three and a half, as the culprit and asked her “Allie, did you do that?

      She sheepishly looked up at him and said, “Yes sir, Daddy I was practicing my letters.”

      What was he to do?

      There was no way in the world for him to explain the significance of what she had done and what it would cost in dollars, time and hassle to get fixed.

      There was no point in telling her that he was going to have to take the car to the shop, rent a car and pay for the car rental as well as the repair.

      Allie had no context for understanding any of that.

      It would have been equally absurd to demand that Allie pay for the damage. Fair, maybe, but unrealistic.

      What do five or six hundred dollars mean to a three-year-old?

      The numbers wouldn’t even register and where would she get the money?

      So what do you do; sever the relationship, demand payment, or rant and rave?

      Andy does the only thing he could do for someone he loved so dearly. He knelt down and said, “Allie, please don’t do that anymore.”

      She said, “Yes, sir, Daddy” then hugged him and ran off to play.

      From Hugh Ross Ph.D., book ‘The Creator and the Cosmos:

      Technologically, the space energy density demonstrates that for physical life to be possible at any time or place in the history of the universe the value of the mass density of the universe must be fine-tuned to within one part in 10*(60), and the value of the cosmological constant must be fine-tuned to within one part in 10*(120).

      To put this in perspective, the best example of human engineering design that I am aware of is a gravity wave telescope capable of making measurements within one part in 10*(23).

      This implies that the Creator at a minimum is ten trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion times more intelligent, knowledgeable, creative, and powerful than we humans.

      There is a greater void in context for understanding between Einstein and God than between Allie and Andy.

      Is God any less loving and forgiving than Andy?

      God sees our sin as a debt we can’t pay. There’s no point in asking us to do so.

      To think that being good will somehow make you square with God would be like Allie promising to clean up her room after being confronted with the damage to the car.

      Cleaning up her room doesn’t pay back. It’s a nice gesture but doesn’t fix the car.

      Good people don’t go to heaven because there aren’t any good people; there are only sinners.

      Granted, some aren’t quite as bad as others.

      But from God’s perspective, everybody has carved a few letters into the hood of God’s vehicles and can’t pay for the damage.

      We can all promise to do better, and some of us may even scurry upstairs to clean our rooms. But none of us can pay God back.

      We are just His little kids who He loves dearly.

      Good people don’t go to heaven only forgiven people.

      Everybody is welcome. Everybody gets a free pass. Everybody gets eternal life.

      However, there is a small catch.

      As I have loved you (while you were yet a sinner – the free pass) – [there is a second part] – you must love another.

      If you fail to do that, at times, while you’re still on the road you don’t get a free pass for that. You will get a time-out until you address those times at some point in the future.

      “During the [eschatological] reign of Christ sinners will be cast into the fire of the age to come that these may revive, and those may correct themselves.” -St. Athanasius

      The punishment meted out by God is always intended for the eventual rehabilitation of the sinner; therapeutic punishment is the only judgment consistent with divine love. Eternal punishment that serves no purpose other than vengeance is an absurd cruelty; in fact, it does not exist. Brian Zahnd

      Some thoughts on God’s perfect peace and the reason for the season.

      Jesus came to be with us to demonstrate to us what God is like.

      Before Paul met Jesus he was sure he was right about God and he was sure he was right with God. Phil 3:6 as for righteousness based on the law, faultless!

      Then he met Jesus: 1 Timothy 1:15 Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I was the worst!

      Concerning the old covenant, Paul said. Col 2:17 these are a shadow [accommodations] of the things that were to come; the reality however is found in Christ.

      John 14:1-11 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; also believe in me. My father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place I am going.”

      Thomas said, “Lord we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?”

      Jesus answered “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me then you will know my Father as well.

      We know what the father is like because we know what Jesus is like! Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father. Jesus does not speak by his own authority but instead, it is the Father living in Jesus doing the work. Jesus came as one of us to live among us.

      If you are at any place other than Jesus in an attempt to understand God you’re looking in the wrong place and there will be NO peace, just more confusion, as you try to factor your circumstances into your itty-bitty, religious concept-based, understanding of God.

      The reason for this season is to remove some mystery, add some personality, bring clarity, and reduce the distance so if you want to know who God likes, what God likes, and how God would respond look at Jesus.

      Do not draw conclusions about God’s compassion, mercy, wisdom, and unconditional love based on your circumstances. Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all thy heart [mind-soul connection]; and lean not unto thy own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy [narrow] paths.

      Don’t lean so hard on your traditions, [which are like signs that point to something – that cast a shadow – a hint], so that you miss the thing that cast the shadow because the reality is not concepts or a theology but is a person who entered this world just like us as a baby.

      Don’t look within because you have a wounded experienced shaped soul that does not always tell the truth because it is easily misled.

      Jeremiah 17:9 the heart [mind-soul connection] is deceitful beyond imagination and only you yoking with Jesus Matt 11:28-30 can tame it in a Romans 12:2 ongoing moment-by-moment cosmic dance pattern by cooperating with God for change starting in your imagination and best accomplished while you are still on the road Matthew 5:25 or dealt with later Luke 16:19-31; 1 Corinthians 3: 12-15; Revelation 22: 17 for there is no other way. John 14:6

      If we don’t deal with our own planks Matthew 7:3-5 we will take them into our future where they’ll go into the cellars of our soul and they will lift weights playing havoc with our imagination. Ephesians 4:26-27

      Other’s planks, their pieces, become our ongoing baggage so why not work on closing the gym now? Ephesians 4:31-32

      If you want to know what God is like and how much he loves you look to Jesus because God is like Jesus.

      The reason Jesus came was to illustrate, communicate and demonstrate what God is like.

      You’re the reason for the season.

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