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Four Fearsome Factors
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Is God a righteous God? Is God a just God? Is God fair to let a person die and go to Hell who has never even once heard the name of Jesus? You’ll have to admit that’s a good question, isn’t it?
God is righteous, and God is just. And there is no other way to Heaven apart from Jesus Christ. Don’t get the sentimental idea that all the world religions are somehow connected. Oh, no. Jesus Christ said, in John chapter 14, verse 6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”—now listen to this—and “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Now, if somebody can come some other way, then what does that make Jesus? That makes Jesus a liar. And, if Jesus Christ is a liar, not only is He not their Savior, He’s not my Savior, because a liar is nobody’s Savior. And, what did the apostles say in Acts chapter 4, verse 12, when they said this: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved?” (Acts 4:12).
This puts us on the horns of a major dilemma. Can a righteous, a good, a loving, a holy God let a man die and go to Hell who never once heard the name of Jesus? How are we going to answer that question? Well, the Apostle Paul is going to answer it for us in Romans chapter 1. So, I pray that you will listen and listen carefully, because we don’t have to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Notice how Paul begins in verse 16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16). And, look up here, and let me give you a good look at a man who also is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. I’ve been preaching it now for 20 years. The more I preach it, the more I marvel at it, the more I thank God for it, the more I stand by it, the more I believe in it. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it”—the gospel—“is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth;"
Read vv. 17–20
Now, what about those who’ve never heard the gospel, those who are lost, who’ve never heard the gospel? Is God just? Is God righteous? Is God good?
Is God loving if He could let such an one go to hell? I want to write four things upon your heart, this morning. I want to give you four factors that will help you to understand this, and put it all together.
I. The Revelation Factor
Factor number one is the revelation factor. All men have some light.
I want you to imagine that the end of time has come, that time we know as the final judgment, and I want you to see out there what we would call the heathen—those who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. The accusation is made, the indictment is given: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness … of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). The heathen, the pagans, they say, “Your Honor, not guilty, not guilty! We never heard the gospel, we never knew how to be saved; we are innocent by reason of ignorance. We never heard, we never knew.” And, the Apostle Paul becomes the prosecuting attorney. And, the Apostle Paul says to the Father, “Your Honor, I will prove that they are guilty; I will prove that they are not innocent because of ignorance. I will show that they cannot say they’ve never had a fair and an equal chance. And, I call two witnesses to testify against these who say they never knew, they never heard.
Witness number one: Will you take the stand? Witness number one: Give the court your name.” He says, “My name is Creation.” “Oh, Creation, you’re the witness that God exists?” “Yes, I am the witness that God exists.”
Creation testifies to the fact of God. Psalm 19, verse 1 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Now, if you have a creation, you have to have a Creator, and the Bible says that the Creator is clearly seen by the things that are made. When I see a piano, here, and it’s finely tuned, I know that somebody crafted it. When I see a watch that runs with precision, I say that somebody crafted that watch. When I see a building put together in symmetry and balance and purpose, I say that there is an architect. And, when I see this mighty universe put together, when I see creation, I say Creator. When I see order and system, I say intelligence. When I see design, I know there's a Designer!
That’s the reason the Bible says: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Because, witness number one is creation.
But then, Creation steps down from the witness stand, and the Apostle Paul says, “Now I call my second witness. Would you take the stand? Will you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” “I will.” “Will you give your name?” Witness number two says, “My name is Conscience.” So, there are two witnesses. Number one is Creation; that is, the outward, objective witness. The second is Conscience; that is, the inward, subjective witness.
Unto them is Creation, in them is Conscience.
2:14-15 “For when the Gentiles”—now, another word for Gentiles is pagan, or those who’ve never heard the gospel—“For when the Gentiles, who have not the law”—the law here means the Old Testament law—“For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another” (Romans 2:14–15).
So, there are two witnesses that all pagans, all heathen, and all the people on all the face of the Earth have. One is the outward objective witness called Creation. The other is the inward subjective witness called Conscience. There is a built-in knowledge of God. It's a God shaped void inside of us put in us by our Creator.
ill.--Augustine said the soul of man is restless until it finds its rest in God. God made man to serve him, to know him, and until he does, he’s like a round peg in a square hole, or he is out of fellowship.
Now, what is an atheist? There’s no real intellectual atheist. Atheists are not atheists because of intellectual problems; they’re atheists because of moral problems. “Ah,” you say, “but I know some brilliant people who are atheists.” Well, so what? I know some brilliant people who are not. You say, “Well, I know some foolish people who believe in God.” Well, I know everybody who doesn’t believe is foolish. You see, it’s not a matter of intelligence. The Bible says in v. 22 “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22). Why? Because, you see, all of us have a God-consciousness. It is not a matter of intellectualism; it is a matter of morality. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).
An atheist is somebody who has the idea of God that makes him uncomfortable, so he says, “If I can get rid of this idea of God, I can get rid of this uncomfortable feeling.” But, he really doesn’t get rid of it, not down deep. He’s like the man who bought a new boomerang and killed himself trying to throw the old one away. The idea of God is still there; and, the more he tries to get rid of it subconsciously, the more he knows that God exists, because down in his heart is that conscience.
"Me thinks thou dost protest too much" wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet. Have you noticed how adamantly so called atheists make their point. They harp on it so continuously because they are forever trying to convince themselves...and they are so threatened by the truth that they cannot just drop it and step away. They are very defensive about it. Too much...they give away how deeply plagued they are with it all. It's like those who blast Sarah Palin day in and day out. If she's really the 'nothing' that they claim, they should be able to walk away from it after they say their peace. But they are deeply threatened by what she represents, and they have to fight that battle everyday because it won't go away in their conscience!
So, what is the first factor? It is the revelation factor. All men have some light.
You can’t get around that. “[Christ is] the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). Two witnesses, Creation and Conscience, testify that the heathen, the pagans, no matter who they are or where they are, have some light. I didn’t say all light, just some.
II. The Refusal Factor
Now, here’s the second proposition. The first factor is the revelation factor. The second factor is the refusal factor. And, what is this factor? Light refused increases darkness.
“Because, when they knew God”—that is, they know by creation and conscience that God exists—“they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). Darkened. All men have some light. But light refused increases darkness. Now, you see, you cannot just simply take light or truth and put it on ice. You cannot put truth in your pocket and say, “That’s very interesting, I’ll spend it some day if I need it.” No, when God gives you light, when creation and conscience speak to the heart of any pagan or any individual anywhere on the face of this earth, when God gives him some light, if he does not glorify God, if he does not believe in God, if he does not trust God, he does not remain stationary; he begins to regress and he loses even the light that he has. His foolish heart will be darkened.
In the Bible, the opposite of truth is not error; it is sin. Now, the error is the baggage that comes with the sin. I’m not saying that a man does not have error if he refuses truth. But, why does he refuse truth? He refuses truth because of the sin that is in his heart.
v. 18 'hold the truth in unrighteousness.'
Now, look at the word 'hold.' You know what that word hold means? It literally means “who resist the truth, who smother the truth, who hold back the truth.” And, how do they hold back the truth? Not in error, but in unrighteousness. Why does a man not believe in God? Because, to believe in God means that he has to adjust his lifestyle. His lifestyle is his unrighteousness...let's picture it on his left. Creation and Conscience...here on his right...tell him there’s a God. His lifestyle says, “If I admit that, I’m going to have to change this.” So, he’s in a quandary between the two. If he turns this way, he turns from that; but if he turns this way, he turns from that. So, when he says, “I will resist the truth in unrighteousness,” then, when he turns this way, he gets further from that. And, he goes away into the darkness, and his foolish heart is darkened.
The unbelief is the baggage that comes with his sin. Now, I don’t think it’s more graphically illustrated than in the book of 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.
I want you to listen to it. I think it is some of the most terrifying Scripture in all of the Bible. It speaks of the Antichrist who’s coming, and it says: “Even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved”—now, listen to verses 11 and 12—“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion” (2 Thessalonians 2:9–11). “Hold it, Pastor, hold it! God doesn’t send anybody delusion.” Well, you’d better go back and read it. It says that God will send them strong delusion. Well, why on Earth would God send them strong delusion? Well, just continue to read: “That they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11). It gets worse, doesn’t it? God sends delusion. And, why does God send delusion? “That they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Well, why would God send a lie? Well, let’s continue to read: “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all might be damned” (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12). Seems to get worse, doesn’t it? God sends delusion; they believe a lie, that they all might be damned. Why? Why would God do that? Well, continue to read: “That they all might be damned who believed not the truth”—they had the truth, they believed not the truth—“but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). They heard the truth; they knew the truth; they turned from the truth; and they had pleasure in their filthy, dirty, rotten sin! And, God says, “All right, that’s what you want. You want your sin, and with that sin, the baggage is delusion, a lie, and damnation.” You understand it?
Maybe I can illustrate it this way: Here’s a man who comes to Grace on Easter, and we’re taking a love offering for Jesus. He goes away and he says, “Ha! Those Baptists! All they ever talk about is money.” And, he goes away all steamed, hot under the collar. “It’s the last time I’m ever going to go down to that church. All they ever talk about is money, money, money.” That’s a lie. We talk about Jesus here, and we talk about giving to Jesus, and we’re glad to do it. But, you see, this man’s problem is not the truth. He doesn’t stop to ask, “Are we preaching the truth?” That’s not his problem at all. He knows, if he’ll open the Bible and listen to the Spirit of God, that the truth is there. But, the problem is his rotten greed—his greed! That’s why he got so upset to begin with. So, he leaves, and he says, “I am never going back to that church again.” Now, his problem, there, is not between truth and error, but between truth and greed. And so, he chooses his greed. Now, what happens? He’s home on a Sunday morning, several months from now. Somebody knocks at the door. He’s sitting there watching television, reading the sports page, got a six-pack of embalming fluid there, by his side, and he’s unshaven—just sitting there, on Sunday morning—wife and kids are off at church. He’s by himself. There’s a knock at the door. He opens the door and it’s two of Jehovah’s False Witnesses. And, he says, “What do you want?” And, to cut to the chase, “we’re here to tell you there is no Hell.” He says, “Come in, come in.” And, he listens to them. They tell him a lie. He believes a lie. He’s damned, and lost, and on the road to the very Hell he says he doesn’t believe in. Why? “[He] received not the love of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). “[He] had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). “For this cause God shall send [him] strong delusion, that [he] should believe the lie, that [he] might be damned” (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12).
Now, folks, you listen to me. All people have some light. That’s the revelation factor. The refusal factor is: Light refused increases darkness.
By the way, these people who are in darkness, really think that they are in the light—if you would look in verse 22: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22). They’re the ones who think we’re the fools. Now, they may have a PhD, but in spiritual things it stands for phenomenal dud. They worship science as a god, rather than worshipping the God of science. They never asked, “How did all of this get here?” Or they worship themselves, because they don't want to humble themselves and worship God.
III. The Reception Factor
All men have some light. That’s the revelation factor. The refusal factor is: light refused increases darkness, “their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).
The reception factor is this: Light obeyed increases light. But some may say, “Now Pastor, there’s a flaw in what you’ve been saying thus far. You’ve been saying that no man can go to Heaven apart from Jesus, and neither creation nor conscience tells you about Jesus. And so, when you say that all men have some light, that’s still not enough to save them, according to what you’ve said.” And, you’re absolutely right. Creation and conscience only bring us to the fact of God. But, if a man is not interested in the fact of God, he’s certainly not going to be interested in the way to God. And, God is under no obligation to show any man the way to God who’s not even interested in the fact of God.
So, what is the reception factor? The reception factor is that light obeyed increases light. Light refused increases darkness. Light obeyed increases light.
How is the righteousness of God revealed? “From faith to faith”. That’s the revelation factor. God gives you truth. You believe that truth, and God gives you more truth. You see, “unto every one who hath shall be given” (Matthew 25:29). The more you obey the light, the more light you get.
Here’s a man—God speaks to him, thru the witnesses of Creation and Conscience. He says, “God, I want to know You, I need to know You, I believe that You exist.” That’s faith, and he goes from faith to faith. God gives him more light. He says, “I believe that,” and he goes from faith to faith, and he goes stepping in the light until he comes to the Lord Jesus Christ. When a man is ready to receive the gospel, God will get the gospel to that man if he has to wreck an airplane and parachute a missionary in. I believe with all of my heart there’s never been a man who ever lived on the face of this Earth, or a woman who died, without some opportunity to have received Christ, had they lived up to the light that God gave them. While all men don’t have enough light to save them, all men have enough light to damn them. Had they lived up to the light that they had, they would’ve received more light.
You can find illustrations
of this in the Bible. What about that Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter 8?
He’d been to
There was another man in
Acts chapter 10; his name was Cornelius. The Bible says he was a Gentile, he
was not of the household of
When you obey the light that you have, God will give you more light. Now, I want to say this to all of those of you who are saved: The reason that some of us don’t understand the Bible any more than we do is that we have not been living up to the light that God is already giving us. Why should God show you more in the Word of God until you obey what you already know? Isn’t that a good question? Some have never submitted to believer’s baptism. They know what the Bible teaches. But they say, “Well, I’ve got a forty dollar hairdo I don’t want to mess up.” And then later, they’re reading a passage of Scripture, and they’re saying, “I wonder why I don’t understand this. God show me what this means.” God says, “Why should I show you what that means? You haven’t obeyed what I’ve already showed you?” “Unto every one who hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him” (Matthew 25:29). What I’m trying to say is: Light obeyed increases light. And, if you want to understand the part of the Bible you don’t understand, begin to obey the part you do understand, and you’ll understand what you didn’t understand.
Again, the problem is not in the head; the problem is in the heart. One of the greatest promises in all of the Bible is in John chapter 7, verse 17. They were wondering about Jesus Christ: “Who is Jesus Christ?” The Pharisees were testing Him, taunting Him, picking at Him, and Jesus, said: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me”—and then, Jesus gave this challenge. He said—“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:16–17). Do you will to do the will of God? Then, you’ll know.
Listen to this story I heard Dr. Adrian Rogers share:
"When I was in the Space
Center, down at Merritt Island, I was in my office, one day, and a man came
up in a big Cadillac, parked his car, came in, and said, “Mr. Rogers, I need
to talk with you.” He was one of the big shots out at the
Where was that man’s problem? He thought his problem was intellectual. His problem was his will. When a man surrenders his will, God will speak to him. Light obeyed increases light. Live up to the light that you have and God will give you more light.
IV. The Reckoning Factor
When God comes to judge us, what is God going to judge us by? Do you think that God is going to judge us by the sin that we’ve committed? No! God is going to judge us by the light that we’ve rejected.
He’s just simply saying
that God knows how much light you have. Many of us have far more light than
other people. Not because you necessarily sought it; you just happen to live
It would be bad enough for
the pagan in darkest
Listen to me: The burning question is not, “What is God going to do with the heathen who never heard?” The burning question is, “What is God going to do with you who heard the gospel of Jesus?” You’ve heard the message that Jesus died in agony and blood upon the cross, and you said “no” to the Lord Jesus. Do you know what our Lord said? Our Lord said to a soul winner, “When you go out soul winning, you knock on a door and the people won’t hear you”—He said—“shake the dust off your shoes. Shake the dust off your shoes” (Matthew 10:14). Well, why would He do that? God says, “Because, there’s coming a judgment, and in that day, in that judgment, you may stand before God and say, ‘O God, O God, have mercy. I didn’t have a chance.’” And God can say, “Officer, would you bring the evidence into the court?” “What is that evidence?” “Would you look at that, sir?” “What is that?” “That’s the dust off Jerry’s shoes. Those are the shoes he was wearing when he preached the gospel to you.”
And, Jesus said to
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