Summary: A sermon on what happens to the heathen, those who have never heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ? (Material adapted from Dr. Jack Cottrell's book, "Set Free")
For a while people have believed that our problems exist because we are too civilized. If we would just get back to nature, and throw away all of the modern conveniences, and the ideas found in the Christian religion, then we would be like the noble savages of old. A good example of this is the Native Americans, the Indians. If we were to go back in time and observe the life of the Indians before the appearance of the Europeans, before the influence of Christianity, I don’t think we would find them to be noble savages. In regard to the Aztecs, we would find a warlike people, who sacrificed their fellow savages to their gods. This doesn’t sound very noble to me.
Charles Dickens said of this idea: My position is, that if we have anything to learn from the Noble Savage, it is what to avoid. His virtues are a fable; his happiness is a delusion; his nobility, nonsense. We have no justification for being cruel to him; but he passes away before an immeasurably better and higher power [i.e., that of Christianity] than ever ran wild in any earthly woods, and the world will be all the better when this place knows him no more.
Next week Lord willing we will talk more about the two systems of salvation, or the two ways of relating to God. Talk about the Law System.
It is surprising that Paul begins his gospel presentation after his summary statements in Romans 1:16-17 with vs. 18. Starts very negatively. Talk more about this next week.
Tonight, since this group contains the Bible scholars, I want to think about possible exceptions to the two ways of salvation, Law or grace. The one that is brought up are the heathen. They are an exception, but are they really? When I say the heathen I am talking about those who know God through general revelation only, who have not been exposed to specially given revelation of any kind, whether it be law or gospel. This group of people have no access to Scriptures, no knowledge of Jesus Christ. They live in remote areas and have no contact with Christianity or with any Christians. When I say the heathen this is what I mean.
Read Romans 1:18-32
Thesis: What is God going to do with the heathen?
Some theories on what happens to the heathen.
1. All of the heathen will be saved.
Many who adopted this theory also say that ultimately everyone will be saved.
As one writer put it, “Grace is in everyone and in everything.”
Along with this is a deemphasis upon missions. After all, if everyone is going to be saved, why suffer among the heathen if they also are going to be saved without the message of Christ. “Missionaries do not take Christ into the world, because Christ is already in the hearts of all people and in all the realities of the world. The missionaries task is to discern and recognize where Christ is already at work.”
2. Some heathen are under grace because God gives enough knowledge of grace through general revelation to lead the heathen to make a saving response to it.
Talk about general revelation vs. special revelation.
The Bible, special revelation, is the only way that anyone can know about the God of grace. From creation we see only his power, creativity, and bigness, Romans 1- His eternal power and divine nature. If we look at nature, we see some goodness but most of the time we see cruelty and brutality. The law of the jungle.
It is true that the heathen “know God” in a general sense, but simply knowing about God does not mean they have found the God of the Bible. Cannot apart from special revelation.
3. The good heathen will be saved, the wicked heathen will be condemned.
Over the next several weeks we are going to be talking about the two ways of salvation: law or grace. There are no other ways.
This idea that if we are good enough, then we will go to heaven, is not biblical.
This theory says that if the heathen have some obedience, some goodness in them, then God will surely save that person even if they have never heard of the Bible or Jesus.
This could be called the “Darth Vader” approach to salvation. In the 3 original “Star Wars” episodes, Vader was a wicked arch villain up to the very end, until one act of generosity and self sacrifice made up for his lifetime of villainy and qualified him for Jedi heaven.
4. The heathen will be saved because of their ignorance of Jesus Christ and grace. (Most popular)
Surely God will not condemn someone for not believing in Christ if never heard of Christ.