Berean Blog

Random thoughts from a Doulos Theos (servant of God)

Location: Rocky Point, North Carolina, United States

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Judgment of those who never heard

In Romans this semester, one of our paper options posed the issue, "The Problem of the Person Who Has Never Heard the Gospel and the Justice of G-d". What follows is one explanation that can be offered:

The Standard - Holiness

The problem of those facing the wrath of a holy G-d begins with that holiness itself. Indeed, of all of Yahweh’s many attributes that could be acknowledged at the throne of the universe, His holiness is that which is proclaimed (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8).

Holiness springs from a sense of being completely clean (hence the primary Hebrew word qadash) or sacred (hence the primary Greek word hagios). Scripture gives a clear sense that Hashem possesses this quality to the extreme without equal, while mankind invariably falls short without exception. It is little wonder then, that when the Bible records encounters between humans and G-d, that they are commanded to remove their shoes (Ex. 3:5, Josh. 5:15, Acts 7:33) as the best attempt that they can make toward acknowledging the very holiness of His presence!

As the supreme possessor of the quality of holiness, Yahweh has every right to expect His creation to meet His standards (Lev. 20:17, Matt. 5:48, Eph. 1:4, I Pet. 1:15-16). Since He personifies the measure and created all that exists, it is not an unreasonable expectation. It is unreasonable, therefore, for His creatures to expect His condescension to our level.

As the supreme proprietor of the standard of holiness, Yahweh can not simply overlook disobedience of His Law or disdain for His sovereignty. Surely, a justice that ignores infraction is faulty, and in Him lies no fault.

The Situation - Depravity

Thus enters the second part of the problem of those facing the wrath of G-d, that being the fact that we are unable to meet His standards! Because of the failure of, and subsequent curse upon, our ancestors, we are genetically predisposed to failure (Rom. 5:12). Because each of us is related to Adam and Eve, each of us is lacking.

The depth of our depravity is not so shallow as to mean we need assistance to reach holiness, but rather so deep that we are beyond hope of attaining that status. The primary Greek word for sin, hamartano, carries the imagery of missing a mark (like an archer). In Romans 3:23, Paul emphasizes this point by doubling its image with that hustereo, meaning to fall short. “For all have sinned (hamartano - missed the mark) and come short (hustereo – fall short) of the glory (doxa, the standard of His dignity) of G-d.”

It is no wonder that Paul lamented that nothing good dwelt in himself (Rom. 7:18)! This sorrow was in spite of the fact that he could have been counted most favored among Jews by Yah (Phil. 3:4-6), yet even he recognized his own failure to measure up (Phil. 3:7-9). It is not hypocritical then, that in the first three chapters of Romans he demonstrates the inability of any human to overcome depravity, whether pagan (1:18-32), moral (2:1-16) or religious (2:17-3:8).

The Salvation - Christ

Looking back to the standard of total holiness, mankind would appear to be without hope. A shining beacon of hope emerges in the person of Christ; as our supplement states concerning the contents of the first chapter of Romans, “G-d’s righteousness is revealed in two ways – in salvation (1:16-17) and in judgment (1:18).” Judgment is certain for all, but Christ is available for salvation (Rom. 10:9-13) to “whosoever will” (Rev. 22:17).

As stated previously, it is unreasonable for fallen creatures to expect a faultless Sovereign to condescend to our level. Regardless, that is precisely what He has done, sending Christ to attain the mark for us that we were forever incompetent to reach (Rom. 5:8). This was not because of any redeeming quality in and of ourselves (Titus 3:5-6), but to show His unmatched love for all of eternity (Eph. 2:4-10).

While this is cause for joy and celebration for those who have forsaken the unworthiness of their own attainment (Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:10) for the unmatched righteousness of Christ (Rom. 3:20-22, 10:4, Phil. 3:9), what of those who have never heard of Him?

The Supplication - Ignorance

The third part of the problem for those facing the wrath of G-d is that countless multitudes are unaware of the only solution that He has provided. Compounding their dilemma is the fact that Paul makes it very clear that they will still be held accountable.

Romans 1:19-20 plainly states that the nature of G-d as a supreme power of order and logic can be readily observed throughout His creation. Psalm 97:6-9 powerfully expresses how nature bears witness to its Creator, and Psalm 19:1-6 manifests that its witness prevailingly transcends human language.

Since mankind’s depravity is universal and Yahweh’s justice is unimpeachable, punishment must be meted (Rom. 1:18), regardless of the level of ignorance claimed by the transgressor (Rom. 1:19-20). Judged by their actions in light of limited revelation (Rom. 1:21-32), they are doomed (Rom. 2:1-6).

For those who rightly see this as a tragedy, it should hone our zeal to fulfill our calling as “ambassadors” (II Cor. 5:20) to share Christ with those who have not yet heard the Gospel.

The Solution - Evangelism

To illustrate the process from common experience, we can consider a driver with no money in his possession that is exceeding the speed limit in an area that is unfamiliar to him. As a result, he is pulled over by a police officer and given a ticket that must be paid on the spot. The standard is the maximum allowable legal speed limit, while the driver’s situation is that he is breaking that law. His salvation could be found in either maintaining the speed limit or paying the fine, both of which are beyond his ability. His supplication by pleading ignorance of the speed limit falls upon deaf ears. He could have observed the fact that paved roads and signs of civilization clearly bespoke legal sovereignty to which he would be held accountable. His only solution would be others who could inform him of the speed limit to avoid judgment and pay his fine to avoid penalty. While admittedly a crude illustration, it can serve as a token for mankind’s responsibilities as stated thus far.

We see then, that the problem of the person who has never heard the Gospel in the conventional understanding of open Scriptures and proclamation of the good news, is not only a problem for the lost but for the saved! Since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word (Rom. 10:17), we are under enormous responsibility to fulfill our mandate (Matt. 28:19-20). We must redeem the time (Eph. 5:15-16) to share the good news of the Gospel with those who have not heard, but are still accountable (Rom. 1:20). Let us take up the creed of Paul as stated to the Corinthians (I Cor. 2:2, II Cor. 5:9-11) to focus only upon Christ.

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the L-rd, we persuade others.” (II Cor. 5:11, ESV)

Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, King James Version, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1984, 1991
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 2007
Romans: Everyman’s Bible Commentary, Alan F. Johnson, Moody Press, 1974,1976,1984,2000
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., 1890
Illustrated Bible Dictionary, M.G. Easton, M.A., D.D., 1897
Romans Curriculum; Lesson 1: Background and Introductory Material, Moody Bible Institute, 2008
Romans Curriculum; Lesson 2: The Power of the Gospel and the Need of the Pagan World (Rom. 1), Moody Bible Institute, 2008
Romans Curriculum; Lesson 3: The Predicament of All Humanity (Rom. 2:1-3:20), Moody Bible Institute, 2008


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