For Whom the Bell…

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  John 3:36.

Psalms 103 has David claiming God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, is slow to anger and ready to forgive.  Ezekiel 18, 33, 36 all say God takes no pleasure in the death of the anyone.  Following up on John 3:17 here we find John B declaring another truth it seems altogether:  Those who believe in Jesus find life, those who reject Him don’t.

My first question immediately is:  What about those who have never had the chance to hear?

God sent His Son on a mission to save everybody, right?  So it stands to reason every single person in the history of the world must be given an opportunity to believe or reject—the ultimate choice—Him or the trial’s unfair.  The lines, however, are drawn quite succinctly, precisely and unquestionably clear above, wouldn’t you say?

Yes and no.

Though the rules of the game are pretty clear, the methods of Christ show the future to be a bit murky.  Christ’s death and resurrection began the work of salvation but there’s much more to accomplish.  Paul proclaims in Romans 11:25 all Israel will be saved once the full number of Gentiles has been reached.  What does this mean except God will inform the world in a way which will be clearly understood?

As far as it stands now, the body of Christ has failed to spread the gospel to the whole world, and even when we do branch out from our comfort zones, we program into them all sorts of bugs and spiritual viruses that impede not only their growth but make the name of Jesus an byword among the watchers.  Not that this problem is universal because I’ve seen solid lovers of God out there, but many do what the Pharisees did:  traverse the world to make one convert then make him or her more worthy of hell than we ourselves are.

I really don’t believe the work of the Great Commission will be finished by us at all.  I’m not inventing reasons for us to stop trying rather just pointing out the limitations of the human will.  I don’t think human beings have it in them to follow anything with their whole heart much less the gospel.  O, we get obsessed by stuff, for sure, but rarely do we commit ourselves to the task at hand without some caveats and addendum attached.  I have a friend from high school who used to ask my brother and I,  “God doesn’t expect us to give up our whole lives does He?”  Strange as it may sound these were his very words.

Salvation is an act of God not of the human will.  Though we are commanded to go out and make disciples for Christ, I am coming to suspect God doesn’t really expect most of us to do so.  Let me clearify that statement:  The command carries with it an expectation of obedience, however, God’s realistic and knows we are but dust.  He also knows how badly damaged we are by our separation from Him, so He recognizes our limitations better than we do.  Through the command He expects us to obey and spread the Word; through His insight into our souls, He knows we will fail and He will have to pick up the slack.  No condemnation here rather a realization on my part that this work will be accomplished by God from first to last.

Many of us, however, proclaim our solid dedication while struggling with what it means and how to do it.  I, for one, wonder where my loyalty lies at times when I work long hours to earn a living but hesitate to stay at the gathering of God’s people or His work even a minute longer than necessary.  When my hesitation-interruptous gets the better of me, the words of Jesus to Martha ring like a bell in my head,  “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.”  But we realists know that sitting still at Jesus’ feet only works so far before we have to get up to eat or go outside to the bathroom (for those with outdoor plumbing) or list off a million and one things more important.

I don’t think this is what Jesus meant, though, rather I believe He referred to an attitude of Mary’s heart.  She always had time for the Lord no matter what needed to be done.  I want this for my life as well.

Salvation is easy; living the life of a disciple takes discipline and determination, which hard.  Those who believe in Jesus and act on that belief will enter eternity.  Those who reject Him, for whatever reason, will not.  At the time of this writing, I have just a glimmer of a clue what this means to billions of people throughout history who have never heard the name of Jesus or had the chance to hear.

Yet one thing I do know:  I serve the most reasonable, merciful and gracious God known to mankind.  How do I know this for certain?  Jesus, God in the flesh, came to earth to grow up as one of us and then endured rejection and shame all for the sake of saving anyone who would listen.  If God is willing to go to this length to save, I cannot doubt He’s more than willing to move heaven and earth for the sake of even one person long dead.

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