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Intro: Who will be saved? The answer to that question can only be found with God. We have no position from which to offer an answer on our own. God decides. But is God just? That is not an illegitimate question. The answer is always yes, but God does not denounce the questioner.
In Genesis 18 God announced to Abraham that He was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as punishment for the intense wickedness of the cities. (18:20-21) Abraham does not attempt to justify the sinners, but he does raise a question about God’s judgment:
- Gen 18:23-25 –And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
From time to time, I have had to deal with the question, “What about someone who has lived in some remote part of the world and has never heard of Jesus Christ? Is he lost because he has never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? That does not seem fair.” And admittedly, it is a tragedy when someone lives and dies without ever hearing the gospel. That is a situation which ought to be remedied as quickly as possible. But all too often, those who ask such questions are not very interested in doing anything about the situation. They are merely attempting to justify their own lack of properly responding to God’s word.
- But sometimes the questions may be asked in a genuine concern for those who have never heard the gospel. Or it may be a sincere question about God’s character that a person is trying to work out. Abraham finds himself in a teachable moment with God. Does God always do what is right? Is God merciful? Is He just? Is He right in punishing those who have not obeyed the gospel?
- Take a moment and investigate the biblical perspective on salvation. This ties into our recent study of the flood, and the message of salvation that was promised by the OT prophets.
Consider some important facts that help us with the answer (from the Bible).
I. The Gospel is for Everyone: Luke 2:10,11 – Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” Although Jesus was surely the long awaited Jewish Messiah, He also came to be the Savior of all nations. This was the mystery of the good news that was not revealed earlier. Jesus came to save everyone. Paul wrote later to the Romans – Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
A. The universal invitation of the gospel is clearly voiced in probably the most well known verse in the entire Bible. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
1. This was the inescapable conclusion of the apostle Peter when he witnessed the appearance of the Holy Spirit at the house of Cornelius. Acts 10:44-48 – While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord…. 11:17-18 – If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” 18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
II. Jesus Died for Everyone: the universal invitation of the gospel of Jesus is based on the universal efficacy of His sacrificial death. Isaiah typified Jesus’ atonement this way – Isa 53:6 – All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
A. The full payment for every sin: The weight of every sin was bore by Jesus on the cross. What does that mean? The prophet is expressing the absolute sufficiency of Jesus blood as a payment for sin. There was no weakness in the sacrifice, as in the sacrifices that were offered under the law of Moses:
• Heb 10:1-4 – For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins… Heb 10:12-14 – But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
• 1 John 2:1-2 – My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
B. Anyone can be saved because Jesus’ death was sufficient to cover every sin. No matter how dark the sin, the offer still stands based on the full grace of God. Rom 5:18-21 – 8 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
• These verses do not teach the every person is made a sinner through Adam’s disobedience apart from their choice to commit sin;
• And it also does not teach that every person is made righteous through Jesus’ obedience apart from their choice to obey Him.
• But Jesus’ obedient death provided for every person’s redemption – the payment was free. Therefore the offer could be, and was, universal – the free gift came to all men.
• Hebrews 2:9 – 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. Lenski’s comments: “To taste death” = to undergo all its dread bitterness; it is not a softening but rather a strengthening of the simple verb “to die.” Jesus tasted death, not by merely sipping, but by fully draining the cup. He states that the emphasis is on the phrase … “for the benefit of everyone.”
• The blood He shed is sufficient to ransom every sinner. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 – For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,
• After His resurrection from the dead Jesus told His apostles, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46, 47).
III. Salvation is Only in Jesus: The universal offer of salvation is also an exclusive offer. There is no other way provided except through the work of Christ. John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me”.
A. Jesus is the only way unto God for everybody if He is the way for anybody at all. If He is wrong when He says that no one comes to the Father but through Him, then He cannot be a way unto God for anybody and is not to be trusted at all.
1. Peter put it this way: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). As Paul said earlier in 1 Tim. 2, Jesus is the only mediator between God and men. Before Jesus, there was no way unto God. Now, by God’s grace, there is one way.
2. If man can be saved apart from the gospel, then Jesus’ coming and death was a tragic mistake. It was a foolish and unnecessary action if we have other means of salvation. But we do not.
IV. Not Everyone will be Saved: There is no clearer fact in the scriptures than this one. The all sufficient sacrifice of Christ and the universal offer of salvation contained in the gospel does not mean that all men are saved. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that, not only will some be lost, but most people will be lost. Matthew 7:13-14 – 13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Why is this so? Not because God desires anyone to be lost, but because there are conditions that apply.
A. Grace does not exclude the necessity of obedience because salvation is conditional.
• Matthew 7:21 21″Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
B. Notice how conditional grace is expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10 – 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The phrase through faith expresses my responsibility toward my own salvation. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6). But we cannot be misled. This faith is not simply a point of belief. Saving faith always includes obedience. James 2:17 – “faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.”
• Jesus Himself expressed the conditions of salvation in Luke 13:3 – 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Mark 16:16 – “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved”. Paul later said that God would take His vengeance (judgment) on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 1:8)
V. Why the Lost Are Lost? This is an important question. The proper answer provides a perspective from which to answer those who want to know about the person who has never heard the gospel. Romans 3:23 – 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… Romans 6:23 – 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A. People are not lost because Jesus came. Whoever is lost would be lost even if Jesus had never come. Every responsible adult is guilty of sin, and applicable to the wages of sin which is spiritual death, or separation from God. They are lost – because they are sinners. The world was lost before Jesus came. How many people were lost before the gospel and Jesus? Everyone!
B. Nor is there anyone lost because God doesn’t care or worse, that He is cruel. He loves so much that He was willing to pay for our sins Himself. There never has been a greater act of love than Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
C. No one is lost because they have never heard the gospel. We enter the world in a safe state. Babies are not lost, they are innocent. Nobody has reached a state of alienation from God because he or she has not heard the gospel.
D. The cause of a person’s lost condition is sin! Sin is an action which is contrary to God’s law. “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (I John 3:4).
1. Sin is poison. We willingly drank it. The gospel is the antidote. Now what would happen if Jesus had not come? There would be no antidote!
2. But He did come and an antidote is available. What happens if someone does not get the antidote even though it exists? He dies. What kills him? Not the antidote which he did not receive, but the poison which he did.
Conclusion: What are the implications of this Biblical perspective on our salvation?
- We should shudder at the horror of the poison and what it is doing to people.
- We should never use an improper perspective on salvation as an excuse to keep us from coming to God in faith and responding to the gospel.
- We should praise God for the antidote and do our best to get it out to everyone.
- We should accept the antidote through faith and obedience. Jesus did not come to condemn anyone, but to save. His coming has absolutely nothing at all to do with how men are lost. Man was already lost when Jesus came. “For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:17, 18).