I wrote this post originally for my congregation in order to clear up some questions and a little push back after I preached this sermon: Why the Task is Urgent, Romans 10:14-17
Some of it came from well-meaning and very Scripturally-savvy friends whom I respect very much. The questions basically went like this:
“How can we say, assuredly, that there’s no way to be saved apart from conscious faith in Jesus? Haven’t Christians disagreed on that over the years? And why can’t we just leave the verdict out and just ‘let God judge them’? The Gospel is offensive enough without adding this element into it! And if it’s true that all adults are responsible to God (since they have a law written on their hearts), but children do not, wouldn’t that make us excited about abortion, since that is the only way you can guarantee going to heaven?”
The answer is yes, I am familiar with the varying opinions on this question. But varying opinions doesn’t alway mean that something is not clear in Scripture… It may just mean that the results are so offensive that it’s hard to reconcile ourselves to them. I also know that my opinions are NOT infallible. I am open to being persuaded I am wrong. I have been wrong about many things in the past and might be so about many things now. I am open to anyone approaching me with an open Bible and open mind.
I have read just about all of the major dissenting views to the one I shared on Sunday. I just found them unconvincing, and their ideas more based on human reasoning (i.e. “this is what I think God should be like…” “this idea about God offends me,” etc) than deductive conclusions from Scriptural affirmations. I wanted (oh, how I wanted!) to believe in the escape-hatches and plan-B’s, but just could not find allowance for it in Scripture. What I preached this morning was my conscience, and the most faithful interpretation, in my judgment, of Paul’s thought in Romans. I think he builds up to a very weighty conclusion… namely, that they simply cannot believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear without a preacher, and we (the church) are the only preachers who can be sent. Ultimately, this is what the whole argument is about. Can they believe apart from our being sent? I think Paul’s answer is unequivocally “no.”
When I am urged to just “let God judge them,” that is surely what I am trying to do. Paul has concluded that, in response to general revelation, no one has responded to the general revelation correctly. He even clarified, lest we doubt: “no, not even one!” Thus, all are without excuse; all have sinned; all are under the righteous wrath of God. Had God saved none of us (like he did with the angels) none could have faulted him with injustice.
The force of Paul’s logic is, quite simply, the lost nations cannot call on one whom they have not heard, and they cannot hear unless someone is sent to preach. Where there is no preached word, there can be no faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God. There is not even a hint of a hole in Paul’s logic, and his conclusion is inescapable. There is no record of anyone in Scripture, ever, coming to faith in Christ apart from the instrumentality of the church.
And… if there was such a one as who worshipped Christ by worshipping God sincerely in his religion, and so found the ‘exception clause’ from needing to hear about Jesus, SURELY Cornelius was he! Yet, as I pointed out, the clear language of Peter is that Cornelius needed to be justified, not told that he was already justified.
Now, I left, intentionally, one “hole” in this whole thing… namely “could God do things he didn’t tell us about?” and I said “sure.” But, even so, it is clear that he never let on to us in the only revelation he gave to us that he was doing that. Throughout the Bible, which is ALL we have to go on (Deut 29:29), no one comes to faith apart from preaching by a human being. Can you find me even one example from any place in the Bible that even approximates such a case, where where faith and salvation was achieved apart from the preaching of a human instrument? Even one?
So, in humility, I must speak clearly what Scripture says, even when it offends me greatly. And it certainly does so on this point. But let God’s word stand and our opinions be damned.
As to the rationalisms… such as “if what I’m saying is true, then abortion is the greatest missionary endeavour ever,” that would be to take a path clearly forbidden to the people of God (Deut 29:29). “Let us do evil that good may abound” is something we can always come up with, and even if its true, we are forbidden from it. This is not the only case where we can reason how a sin would bring about greater good… For example, if you believe that you can lose your salvation, as Wesley did, then as soon as you are convinced they are saved, kill them immediately so they won’t fall away. Makes rational sense, but clearly forbidden. The revelation is what we have to go on. It says that where there is no law there is no sin (thus no babies are condemned), and that all adults have a law which they have rejected.
Reasoning from moral axioms is never as reliable as revelation, even when it makes sense to us or more clearly accords with our sense of justice, rightness, or compassion.
Frankly, I find other aspects of God’s revelation to be even more offensive than what I shared today. For example, I think the idea of eternal punishment is abhorrent. I can’t yet make it make sense. But I am not the judge. And I cannot and will not judge God’s revelation.
It overwhelms me, hushes my mouth in silence, and drives me into God to seek, desparately to be used by God in His salvation plan.
Again, I am always open to being persuaded to be wrong. But I can’t see any conclusion but this one. So, may God empower us to get this message to our neighbors and the nations.