(Adapted from Consider Christianity: Evidence for the Christian Faith by Elgin L. Hushbeck, Jr.; Chapter 14, pg 235-238)
The choice rests with the individual, and the choice is a simple one. The problem that separates people from God is sin. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God " (Romans 3:23). The message of Jesus is very clear. No one is good enough to save themselves. Jesus, God the Son, Creator of the universe, and second person of the Trinity, became a man (Philippians 2:5-8), died for our sins, and rose again on the third day in victory over death. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so that we would not have to.
Our part of the bargain is that we accept and trust Jesus as our Savior. The choice is clear: we can either accept Jesus as our personal Savior and spend eternity with Him, or we can reject Him and be eternally separated from God. The eternal separation from God is more commonly referred to as Hell, or the Lake of Fire.(1)
At this point, someone will probably complain that I am trying to use hell to scare people into accepting Jesus. The argument is not with me, however, but with Jesus. In His teachings, Jesus talked more about avoiding Hell than He did about going to Heaven. The real question is what is meant by trying to scare.
Let us say that you live in a nice house in a beautiful valley. I have just found out that upstream the dam has broken and a huge wall of water is rushing down the valley, directly towards your home. If I come and tell you of the disaster that is about to take place, would I be guilty of trying to scare you? Most people would say no. This would not be an attempt to scare, but an attempt to warn. Jesus, in His descriptions of hell, is not trying to scare us into a decision, rather He is trying to warn us of the consequences of our decisions.
Another common complaint is that it is somehow unfair that we need to make a choice at all. This complaint takes many forms. Usually, it is presented along the lines that surely God would not send someone to hell simply because they did not believe everything that Christians were teaching. This argument misses the point entirely. God does not send anyone to hell simply because they do not accept what Christians say. Those who go to hell will go for one reason only: they separated themselves from God and refused His offer of salvation. After all, it must be remembered that God sent His only Son to die on the cross in order to provide us the means of salvation.
The problem is not one of belief or non-belief, it is one of rebellion against God. Belief is not the problem. Belief in Jesus Christ as Savior is the only solution. Therefore, Jesus will not send anyone to hell simply because they did not believe all the correct theological doctrines, but because they wished to remain in rebellion against Him, rather than accept His offer of salvation.
Another complaint is that it is unfair for God to allow such a choice at all. After all, why doesn’t God just make a grand appearance, perform a few miracles, and settle the issue of His existence once and for all? Surely it is within the power of an all-powerful God to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that He does exist. While this is true to a certain degree, it neglects one of the fundamental principals taught in the Bible. While it is true that God does have the power to meet any logical test that could be asked of Him to prove His existence, it is also true that He does not. The skeptic concludes that God does not, because He does not exist.
What the skeptic neglects to take into account is the fact that God has given people a free will and a chance to trust in Him. But just as we have been given a free will to accept Him, we have also been given a free will to reject Him. God does not force us to accept Him.
The question is not one of evidence, for as we have seen in this book, there is plenty of evidence to support the Christian position. The question is one of absolute proof. The skeptic demands absolute proof, but this would not be compatible with a free choice. Do you really have the free choice to choose whether or not 1 + 1 = 2? Possibly, in some esoteric mathematical sense you might, but in any real and practical sense, no. A demand for absolute proof is, in essence, a way of avoiding the need to make a decision. If someone provides you with absolute proof for a position, there is no longer any need for you to make a decision. The choice has been made for you. God does not want to make the choice for you. He wants you to accept and trust Him on your own.
To continue to demand absolute proof for the existence of God is simply a way of justifying rebellion. It is saying that you will not accept God until He meets your standards of empirical evidence. This attitude completely ignores that sin is the root of the problem. It is not God who has rebelled against us. He does not need to meet our conditions for reconciliation. God is not the sinner who must seek our approval and meet our standards.
Some might claim that they are not in rebellion; that they have not rejected God. While the agnostic might claim that they simply have not made a decision, there is no such thing as a non-decision, for there is no middle ground.
Let us return to our story of the valley and the impending flood. Once warned of the flood, you can either believe the warning and act, or reject the warning and do nothing, but there is no middle ground. This is because only positive action (in this case leaving the area) will save you. No decision is the same as a rejection. Both will leave you in the path of the flood. The same is true for trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior. Because we are already in a state of rebellion against God, no decision is the same as a flat out rejection of Jesus. Both will leave you in a state of rebellion.
One of the most common objections concerns those who have never heard about Jesus. How can they accept Jesus as Savior if they have never heard about Him? This is really not as great a problem as it might seem, for Paul tells us that God reveals Himself through nature.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
Someone who has never heard of Jesus Christ could still look at the world around them and realize that there must be a God who created it. The Holy Spirit convicts them of their sin, just as He convicts us of ours (John 16:7). God is a just God. He does not hold us responsible for things we could not possibly have known.
The situation of those who have never heard of Jesus is, I believe, very similar to those who lived before the time of Jesus. Those who lived before the time of Jesus obviously did not know His name, or that He would die on the cross for their sins. But those who lived before Jesus and trusted in God for their salvation were saved. Their salvation still comes through the blood of Christ, for that is the only means of salvation that God has provided.
This raises the question of people in other religions. If someone is sincerely following the teachings of a religion other than Christianity are they saved? This question has two parts. The first part concerns those in other religions who have never heard the Gospel. This situation is, I believe, the same as mentioned above. God’s mercy and justice will decide each case.
As for those who have heard the Gospel, this can most easily be answered with another question: Is it possible to accept Jesus as Savior and reject Jesus as Savior at the same time? It must be remembered that Christianity is unique among the world’s religions. Virtually all other religions are based on working hard so that you can be good enough to obtain whatever the goal of the religion is. Christianity, on the other hand, is not based on what you do. From God’s point of view, "There is no one who does good, not even one" (Romans 3:12). Christianity is based on what Christ did for us. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish" (John 10:27). If someone in another religion has truly turned from their rebellion against God, then when they do hear the Gospel, they will accept it.
1 Technically, Hell is the place the
unsaved currently go to upon death. After the final judgment, the unsaved will
be cast along with Hell into the Lake of Fire. (Revelation 20:14)