Those Who Haven’t Heard

Christians have always believed that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  That has always raised the troublesome question “What about those who haven’t heard of Jesus”.   I have no trouble with the doctrine that says “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Rom 6:23.  Yes, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus merited life for all of us.  Only God himself in the form of a sinless man could atone for the sins of men.  But how do we “get in on” this blessing?  The bible says its through faith, but again, what of those who haven’t heard?

One day, while reading the gospel of Luke, I came across the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)  “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’.  But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home JUSTIFIED (my capitols) before God.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

This story showed me: its asking forgiveness for our sins that gives us forgiveness.  Its humility before God, realizing our sinfulness and asking for His grace  which gets that grace.  The tax collector in the story had never heard of Jesus, and Jesus had not yet died for the sins of mankind, yet he was justified before God when he confessed his sin and asked for mercy.  The Pharisee, on the other hand, who had every opportunity to know about God, didn’t, in his pride, recognize his own sin, therefore didn’t repent and ask forgiveness.  Jesus himself said the tax collector was justified before God.

As R.C. Sproul has written, its the failure to repent, the failure to acknowledge God the Father and one’s debt to Him, the failure to acknowledge one’s sinfulness and one’s need of God’s mercy which condemns.  The Pharisee in Jesus parable wouldn’t have recognized his need for Jesus because of his prideful frame of mind.

This is both good news and bad news.  The good news is one can respond to God’s grace even in a country where the name of Jesus can’t be spoken.  The bad news is there is a little of the Pharisees pride in all of us, and that is truly the dangerous thing.

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