John Calvin was wrong about Romans 9.
Calvin, the Protestant reformer of Geneva, Switzerland, was a great theologian. He became famous for his emphasis on the sovereignty of God and God’s predestination of our salvation. But in his commentary on the ninth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, John Calvin took predestination beyond anything the apostle Paul intended to say.
Qualifications of what I’m saying
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe that salvation is completely by the grace of God and cannot be earned by our good deeds. I believe that God is merciful and just, and I believe in the sovereignty of God. I also believe that when we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, the Bible says that we are chosen, or predestined.
My disagreement is with a specific brand of Calvinism and with a specific statement made by John Calvin in his own commentary on Romans. Many will argue that Calvin himself took a different position in some of his other writings, and that may be true, but it does not change the fact that Calvin was wrong in his commentary on Romans 9.
The key verses and Calvin’s comments
The debate centers around the key verses, Romans 9:18, 22 (HCSB): “So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden… And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction?”
Calvin says in his commentary on Romans 9, “Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will… that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end—that they may perish.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Romans.)
John Calvin’s interpretation of Romans 9:18 and 22 has been called double-edged predestination. This interpretation teaches that the saved are predestined to be saved, but also that the lost are predestined to be damned. At first glance, one can see how Calvin would interpret this passage the way he did. But a study of these verses in light of the entire chapter reveals a completely different picture of what Paul was saying.
God is not unjust
Calvin’s interpretation makes God arbitrary and implies that God is unjust. Yet Paul reminds us in Romans 9:14, “Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not!” Let’s go through the chapter and see how God is both merciful and just.
Hardened clay and melted butter
When Romans 9:18 says that God shows mercy on whom He desires and hardens whom He desires, this does not mean that God is arbitrary or unfair. Let’s look at the context of this statement. In the previous verse, verse 17, Paul spoke about Pharaoh, who hardened his heart and would not let the people of Israel go from slavery. But if one reads the story in Exodus, one finds that half of the time it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and half of the time it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. What Exodus described was the process by which God brought out the hardness that was already in Pharaoh’s heart. As Dale Moody says, “The sun that hardens the clay melts the butter.” (The Broadman Bible Commmentary, vol. 10: Acts- I Corinthians, “Romans,” by Dale Moody, p. 230.) Thus God was not making Pharaoh do something that Pharaoh didn’t already want to do. Likewise, God does not take away our free will to obey or disobey.
The clay pot and the potter
Next, we note that Paul uses the example of a clay pot to illustrate predestination. He says in verses 20-21, that we have no right as mere humans to talk back to God about His will. It is interesting that Jeremiah 18:5-10 also uses the clay pot illustration to show how God reacts differently when we respond differently. Jeremiah says that if a people whom God warns will repent of their evil, then God will relent of his disaster and not inflict on them the disaster God had planned. This shows how predestination works in the mind and heart of God. Of course, God in His foreknowledge already knows what we will do, so when we choose Christ, God speaks of having chosen us.
A choice by faith
Romans 9:30-33 shows how salvation comes by a free choice to believe the gospel, not by arbitrary predestination. It does this by drawing a contrast between Gentiles who obtained righteousness and the Jews who did not obtain righteousness. What was the difference? It was their faith! Verse 30 says the Gentiles obtained a “righteousness that comes from faith.” Verse 31 says Israel did not achieve this righteousness. “Why is that?” Paul asks in verse 32. His answer: “Because they did not pursue it by faith.”
Objects of wrath and objects of mercy—treated differently
With all of this in mind, let us return to the key verses that are central to this debate, Romans 9:22-23. These verses have been interpreted as teaching double-edged predestination, because they speak of the “objects of wrath ready for destruction” and “objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory.” However, what many people miss here, is that Paul describes the objects of wrath (the damned) and the objects of mercy (the saved) in different ways in this passage. The Greek grammar in verse 22 describes the “objects of wrath ready for destruction” with a perfect participle in the middle or passive voice. Thus it describes the objects of wrath, which refer to the lost, as “having been made ready for destruction,” which may mean they prepared themselves for destruction by their own unbelief. Notice also that God “endured with much patience the objects of wrath.” In other words, God patiently waited for their free choices, because, as 2 Peter 2:9 says, God is not willing that any be lost.
However, the Greek grammar is different when referring to the “objects of mercy” in verse 23. Paul describes the “objects of mercy” as those “that He prepared beforehand for glory.” This time, Paul uses the active voice to describe God’s action of salvation. In other words, Paul speaks of the saved as actively being predestined by God beforehand, but Paul speaks of the damned as passively being predestined, implying it is the result of their own choices, which God in His omniscience already knew they would make.
Why John Calvin was wrong
John Calvin said that the apostle Paul taught in Romans 9 that God created the wicked for the purpose of damning them to Hell. But when we read Paul’s words carefully and in context, we see that Calvin was wrong. Instead, Paul says that God is not unjust. He says that God hardens the heart, but those are hearts that have also freely chosen to harden themselves. He says that we are like clay pots that cannot question God who forms them, but those same clay pots do have a choice to respond to the potter’s hands. If anybody is an object of God’s wrath, it is because that person has failed to obtain salvation by faith. The choice is always ours, but God always knows what choice we will make.
Guest blog: OUT OF THIS WORLD! Part Three: Books and audiovisuals on near death experiences and the afterlife.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(For the past two days on this blog, my mother, Joyce Rogers, has shared her insights from scripture and other resources on the subject of what happens when we die. Today she lists the books, articles and audiovisuals she read on the subject, with a brief comment about each.)
Alcorn, Randy. Heaven. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Randy is considered a leading authority on Heaven. He answers some tough questions as he invites you to picture Heaven as the Scripture does. This is a very scholarly book. One needs more than an afternoon to read it!
Alexander, Eben, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. Dr. Alexander spent seven days in a coma and experienced a heavenly reality of love and beauty. His experiences changed his scientific mind to one of profound belief in God, spirituality and love. An excellent book.
Black, Dale. Flight to heaven; A Plane Crash: A Lone Survivor: A Journey to Heaven and Back. Published by Bethany House Publishers. Captain Black pursued his dream of flying planes, even after being severely injured in a plane crash. His trip to Heaven is beautifully detailed. The story is a fascinating read.
Burpo, Todd and Sonja Burpo. Heaven Changes Everything. Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. This is a sequel to the very popular book, Heaven is for Real, the story of little Colton Burpo’s unforgettable trip to Heaven. This family’s lives were changed. The Burpos show how believing in Heaven helps one survive hardships here on earth, including the death of a loved one, particularly the loss of a child. A sweet and down to earth book.
Burpo, Todd with Lynn Vincent. Heaven is for Real: A little boy’s astounding story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. Thomas Nelson Publishing. A four year old child, he sat on Jesus’ lap, said angels took him from his hospital bed and other wonderful things. Colton spoke with disarming innocence. A delightful and convincing book. Colton and his parents were interviewed on the “Today” show, showing the public interest in this story.
Garlow, James and Keith Wall. Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife: True Stories From People Who Have Glimpsed the World Beyond. People who have had near death experiences (NDEs) bring back word descriptions of the pathway to Heaven or the descent into the darkness of Hell. Those who go to Heaven lose their fear and report amazing feelings of love, warmth and acceptance. Those who go to Hell are horrified and so thankful they get to come back.
Graham, Billy. Death and the Life After. Word Publishing. Billy Graham talks about how the culture relates to death, the death of children, living wills, euthanasia, hospice care, the grief process, and preparation for death. He explores the practical side of death. Dr. Graham helps the reader find peace and comfort for those grieving or pre- paring a will or planning a funeral.
Graham, Billy. Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well. Thomas Nelson Publishing. At 93, Dr. Graham said that old age was a surprise. He advises one not to retire from life. Many older people have heard and obeyed God’s call. He says leave a legacy of faithfulness. We are meant for Heaven, our final home. Heaven is glorious because it is the dwelling place of God.
Graham, Billy. The Heaven Answer Book. Thomas Nelson Publishing. This short little question and answer book gives straight biblical answers about heaven in typical Billy Graham style. He answers such questions as “Does Heaven really exist?” and “What is a resurrected body?” Dr. Graham is evangelistic in his approach to these questions and answers.
Harris, Trudy. Glimpses of Heaven: True Stories. Published by Revell. A hospice nurse relates stories of those leaving the world in his/her own unique way.
Harrie, Trudy. More Glimpses of Heaven: Inspiring True Stories of Hope and Peace at The End of Life’s Journey. Published by Revell. More stories of the beauty and pain of life’s end as observed by hospice nurse, Trudy Harris.
Lotz, Anne Graham. Heaven, My Father’s House. W. Publishing Group. Billy Graham’s daughter writes about our heavenly home compared to our earthly home. She says, “The invitation to my Father’s house is extended to all, but you have to RSVP.” This is an inspiring little book.
Malz, Betty, My Glimpse of Eternity. Published by Chosen. Betty was “officially” Pronounced dead for 28 minutes before waking to report seeing and hearing angels and understanding several different languages at once. Catherine Marshall said, “Upon occasion God breaks into human life to give us a glimpse of what lies ahead.
Betty Malz’s remarkable experience is a resounding ‘Yes, there is life after death.’”
Neal, Mary C. MD. To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, angels, and Life Again. Waterbrook Press. Dr. Neal, a spine specialist, had a kayak accident and drowned. Her friends worked hard to revive her and finally did. In her “in-between “ state, she experienced a joyous welcome celebration in Heaven. Very readable and interesting.
Piper, Don with Cecil Murphy. 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life. Published by Revell. A popular book involving a car accident, being pronounced dead and waking up to sing with a minister praying and singing over him. After a long, grueling recovery, Don was persuaded to tell his story.
Prince, Dennis and Nolene. Nine Days in Heaven: A True Story. Charisma House Publishing. Nine Days in Heaven relates the vision of 25 year old Marietta Davis more than 150 years ago, in 1848. Her story is re-written in modern English. She was shown the heavenly nursery where infants are cared for and taught redemption’s story. Each section is supported by Scripture. Beautifully done. Especially helpful for those grieving for a lost child. Not to be confused with 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper.
Rogers, Joyce C. “After This, Then What?” Family Bible Study, Life Ventures Learner Guide. Summer, 2005, p.116-161. LifeWay Sunday School unit. Speaks of salva-tion here and now and throughout eternity, Jesus’ return, and the special place God has prepared for His own.
Sigmund, Richard. My Time in Heaven: A True Story of Dying…And Coming Back. Whitaker House Publishing. Following a traffic accident, Richard found himself in a thick, cloudy veil. He could hear sirens and the words, “He’s dead.” He could hear singing and laughter on the other side. Led along a path by angels, he saw a book containing his name. He claims to have seen mansions belonging to loved ones and many other wonders. The book has testimonies, select scriptures and an index.
Springer, Rebecca. Within Heaven’s Gates. Published by Whitaker House. After feeling alone in her illness far from home and family, Rebecca has a vision of life in Heaven. She describes with unspeakable joy life in Heaven where she has her own mansion and visits with loved ones. A vision, not an NDE.
Stone, Perry. Secrets from Beyond the Grave: The Amazing mysteries of Eternity, Paradise, and the Land of Lost Souls. Published by Charisma House. Detailed studies of questions related to death and the afterlife. The author asserts that Heaven and Hell are real places. Details he relates include: people in Heaven or Hell have all 5 senses; are not limited to time or space or travel hindrances; and have conversations not with words but with thoughts.
Wiese, Bill. 23 Minutes in Hell; One man’s story about what he saw, heard, and felt in That place of torment. Published by Charisma House. Bill Wiese said that he saw the searing flames of hell and was terrorized. He said, “My sincere hope is that this book is the closest you will ever come to experiencing hell for yourself.” A question he answers is “Can ‘Good’ people go to hell? There is an 18-page scripture index.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Of AUDIO VISUALS
Besteman, Marvin with Lorille Craker, read by Maurice England. “My Journey to Heaven.: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life.” Baker Publishing House, Christianaudio, 2012.. Marvin Besteman shares the true story of his experience of Heaven in detail. He speaks of angels accompanying him to the gate, his conversation with St. Peter, and his joy when he recognized friends and family members who had touched his life. Very interesting story. Running time 4.7 hours. CD.
Malarky, Kevin. “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,” Tyndale Entertainment Production in Association with Franklin Films. Based on book by Kevin Malarky. Six year old Alex Malarky suffered a terrible car accident which left him in a coma for 2 months. He awoke to share an incredible story of angels, Jesus and his trip to Heaven. He was left paralyzed, but we see how God is still using him today. This is an amazing and convincing story. Running time 50 minutes. DVD.
_______. “The Final Frontier.” Produced by Eternal Productions. Revived patients encounter some form of extension of consciousness beyond clinical death. They encounter some form of reality: Heaven or Hell. These are not hallucinations, but a highly structured and organized phenomenon. More and more scientific evidence tells us that life after death exists. Where we are going is a matter of choice. We must think about our own lives. This DVD makes one think. Running time 53 minutes.
_______. “The Lazarus Phenomenon: A Glimpse of Eternity.” Eternal Productions. Lan McCormack was stung by jelly fish off the coast of an island in the Pacific and was unable to get help. His experiences changed his life. On the other side of the world, a pastor died and 48 hours later revived. He was shown his death certificate. He also had experiences beyond the veil. Well worth watching. Running time 100 minutes..
Jeremiah, David Dr. “Revealing the Mysteries of Heaven.” Turning Point Television. Shadow Mountain Community Church, San Diego, California.. Sermons on Heaven. Dr. Jeremiah preaches a 3 month series of sermons on Heaven. Each sermon covers A different aspect of Heaven. Topics such as “Won’t Heaven be Boring?” and “What About the Children?” are covered. He says “Worship in Heaven is not about us – its about Him. Its not about here – its about there. Its not about now – its about then. Its not about one – its about many.” Wonderful resource. Each sermon about 30 to 40 minutes. DVD.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(For the next three days I will be publishing a guest blog on what happens upon our death, written by my mother, Joyce Clinton Rogers. Today’s post is on near death experiences. Tomorrow’s post will be on the afterlife. The third post will give an annotated bibliography of her sources, for your further reading.
Joyce C. Rogers is a graduate of William Carey University (B.S.) and the University of Southern Mississippi (M.Ed.). She has written Sunday School literature for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, including a unit on the afterlife. She and my father, Robert H. Rogers, live in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.)
What happens the moment you die? Where will you go? How will you get there? When you arrive, will you know people? Will angels escort you? What are Heaven and Hell really like? Are near death experiences (NDEs) real? Is death the end?
I experienced deeply moving and spiritual experiences at the deaths of each of my parents, which contributes to my interest in these matters. When my Dad passed away in 1975, I mentally “saw” his body floating at the ceiling of the hospital room. He said, “Don’t cry. I’m fine.” This was said to my mind or spirit – I don’t know how to describe it. It was very real to me. I haven’t forgotten it, after 38 years. Incidents like this don’t seem to be that unusual, as I will explain later in this article.
In 1992, my mother passed away following a long illness and suffering. I began to wonder about my own death. I did not and do not doubt my salvation, but I was troubled about the physical part of dying. I prayed about this continually until I felt directed to read Isaiah. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, NASB)
This answer was very real and satisfying. It was also very emotional. I could not share it without tears for several years, but this answer erased my fear and stopped my worrying. Of course, I am not trying to hurry that time, either.
In my quest to understand more about near death experiences (NDEs), death and the afterlife, I made an exhaustive study of the Bible, as well as 21 books and five audiovisuals. Here is a summary of what I learned. First, we will look at NDEs, and in the second part, we will look at the afterlife. Third, I will give an annotated bibliography to assist you further reading on the subject.
One of the first books I read on the subject of NDEs was the delightful little book, Heaven is for Real, a Little Boy’s Astounding Story of his Trip to Heaven and Back. This book captivated my interest and made me want to know more about these experiences.
Another book that has been an inspiration to me is 90 minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. When I saw and heard Don Piper speak at Hardy Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, MS, I was surprised to see that he seemed perfectly normal physically – no limps or obvious scars. He was in a horrific car accident and was pronounced dead for an hour and a half. After a minister prayed over him and sang hymns, he began to sing with the minister! Needless to say, everyone was astonished! He recovered, but it was a long and difficult recovery.
At first, Don did not want to share his NDE. He thought others would not believe him. (This is a common reaction.) He also considered the experience very intimate and holy. Later he was persuaded that others would benefit from his story of going to Heaven, of being welcomed by loved ones, and experiencing heavenly wonders. He then wrote his book and began to speak on many occasions.
One of the most touching stories told in Heaven is for Real is the experience of the little boy, Colton, when he met his sister in Heaven. Since he was not quite four years old, his parents had not told him that his mother had miscarried. But he met a little girl in Heaven who told him that she was his sister. His parents were astonished when they heard this. They had not known that the miscarried baby was a girl or that she was being cared for in Heaven. I shared this incident with a ladies’ group. One lady was in tears because she had miscarried a child. She found immense comfort to think her child was prospering in Heaven.
An extensive account of the sights and sounds of Heaven are given in My Time in Heaven by Richard Sigmund. He declared that “absolute joy and total love are the rule in Heaven.” He tells of being escorted to Heaven by angels and of seeing Jesus.
Earlier, I described the “out of body” experience I had when my father died. There are many stories of “out of body” experiences. One story about a girl hit by a car is in the book Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife by James L. Garlow and Keith Wall. She could see her body and people trying to help her. She felt perfectly at peace at the time. She said she had a conversation with God in which she asked to go back and finish her life. She told God she would witness for Him now that she knows God is real. God allowed her to come back.
There are also many, many accounts of NDEs. I think some people don’t share these accounts because they are afraid that others will not believe they are true. Testimonies of children are to me especially believable and endearing.
Stories of going to Hell are told much less often. However, they are told. In Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife, there is a story of a man whose heart stopped during heart bypass surgery. He became aware of darkness and demons. With horror, he began to pray for God to deliver him. He realized that he had not confessed sin and acknowledged God in his life. He recovered and immediately wanted to be baptized. He was not shy about sharing what happened to him. “I know God is real and that Jesus died so I don’t have to go back to Hell ever again,” he said.
There are stories written by a hospice nurse in Glimpses of Heaven: True stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey by Trudy Harris. Each experience related is unique. Most want their affairs settled, including relationships before they “let go.”
Catherine Marshall wrote the Foreword to Betty Malz’s book, My Glimpse of Eternity. Betty was pronounced dead and the hospital sheet pulled over her head. Twenty eight minutes later, she returned to her body after getting a glimpse of Heaven. Catherine Marshall said, “Upon occasion God breaks into human life to give a glimpse of what lies ahead. Betty Malz’s remarkable experience is a resounding ‘Yes, there is life after death.’” Betty sang with the angels and understood several different languages used in the music.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(Coming tomorrow: OUT OF THIS WORLD! Part Two: The Afterlife)
Millions of people gather around their television sets to watch sports championship games. Some will be very happy after the game, and others will be very disappointed. But in the end, it really doesn’t matter.
Philippians 2:10-11 says that in the end, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
In the end, it will not matter what team you follow, but it will matter whether or not you followed Jesus. In the end, it will not matter what nation you lived in, but it will matter whether you were you in the kingdom of God. In the end, it will not matter what terrorists you feared, but whether you feared God. In the end, it will not matter which church you attended, but whether you were part of the body of Christ.
In the end, it will not matter what your political affiliation was, but whether your affiliation was with Jesus. In the end, it will not matter where you worked, but whether you served Jesus. In the end, it will not matter what family or culture you were born in, but whether you were born again into the family of God. Because in the end, what will matter is not whether you got your name in the history books, but did you get your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life?
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Dr. Greg Boyd was a Christian Bible professor, but his father, Edward Boyd, was not a believer. As Greg shared his faith with his father, his father agreed to write down his doubts and questions about Christianity, and Greg would seek to answer. Their correspondence is published in a book, Letters from a Skeptic. One of Ed Boyd’s biggest objections was the question of what happens to those who never hear the gospel.
Boyd writes, “Doesn’t this mean that these unfortunate people—who constitute the majority of the world—are in fact going to be sent to hell by your all-loving God? But how can this be since they had nothing to do with when they were born, where they were born, what culture they were born into… How can one go to hell by the accident of where he happened to be born? (Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, p. 155).
The dilemma that Edward Boyd asked is a dilemma for many Christians, as well as skeptics.
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. David Platt explodes this idea. He says, “If people have a pass just because they have not heard the gospel, what is the worst thing you can do? If you tell them about Jesus, you just increased their chance of going to hell!” They were okay before you told them about Jesus, but now that they’ve heard about Jesus, if they don’t believe, they go to hell. With that line of thinking, you messed them up by sending a missionary! But we know that can’t be true, because we all know that the Bible commands us to share the gospel with every nation and language. Romans 10:14-15 says that they can’t believe unless they hear, and they can’t hear without a preacher, and they can’t preach unless they are sent. So what is the answer? We find some answers in Acts 17.
Acts 17 tells how Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma.u He notices that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he tells them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:
I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)
Edward Boyd thought it was unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a Baptist or Methodist or Pentecostal church at nearly every rural crossroads and every small town. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
The International Mission Board reports: God descended on a Muslim village in Algeria one night. On that evening in 1983, villagers later testified, the Holy Spirit moved from house to house, revealing himself through dreams, visions and angelic visitations. Some 450 Muslims in the village eventually became believers in Christ as their Savior. Christians had nothing to do with the incident — or so they thought. But when mission workers began asking how such a miracle could have occurred, they discovered this: More than six centuries ago, Spanish missionary Raymond Lull was stoned to death by Muslims for preaching where the village now stands. Lull wrote before his death that Islamic strongholds would be conquered not by force, but only “by love and prayers, and the pouring out of tears and blood.” (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “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.”
II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)
Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:1-3, 1984 NIV)
“Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Romans 4:20-24, 1984 NIV)
Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!
III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)
Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed last year by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— A young Muslim angrily took a Bible tract from a Christian worker, tore it up and threatened the worker’s life. The next day the same young man appeared at the worker’s door, not with a weapon but with a plea: “I must have another booklet.” The previous night, he recounted, he had felt two hands shake him awake and heard a voice say, “You have torn up the truth.” He read the tract and became a believer in Christ.
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
A few years ago, a group of nine people from my church visited in the home of a Christian who grew up in the Middle East. She lived in a city and nation where there are very few Christians, and she had never met a Christian or read the Bible or heard the gospel. But one night, she had a dream. In this dream, she stepped outside of her door and was in a desert, and there was a cross lying on a rock. She was told to put the cross in the rock, and when she did, a city appeared with people who looked like her but spoke a language foreign to her.
Three years later, she and her husband moved to Pakistan. There she met people who looked like her but spoke a foreign language, just as in her dream. Then her husband brought home a Bible in Arabic and said, “Why don’t you read this?” She said, “Aha! I have always heard that the prophet Jesus said to follow the prophet Muhammad who is coming after him.” So she read the Bible to find this, but was surprised to read instead that Jesus said false prophets would come after Him (Matthew 7:15; 24:24). When she read this, she exclaimed, “Muhammad is a false prophet! I must follow Jesus.” She has been a faithful Christian to this day, sharing her faith with Muslim women.
Remember Dr. Greg Boyd, and his correspondence with his father, Edward Boyd? After 3 years of writing back and forth 30 letters, and numerous phone calls, Edward Boyd finally came to faith in Christ. So can you, and so can the lost who live in faraway lands!
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”
TEN THINGS THAT WILL NOT BE IN HEAVEN:
1. No sea. (Revelation 21:1)
2. No tears. (Revelation 21:4)
3. No cemeteries. (Revelation 21:4 – no death)
4. No hospitals. (Revelation 21:4 – no pain)
5. No temple. (Revelation 21:22 -not needed because God is there on His throne).
6. No sun. (Revelation 21:23- God is the light.)
7. No night. (Revelation 21:25; 22:5 – and thus no evil or fear.)
8. No locks. (Revelation 21:25)
9. No sin. (Revelation 21:8; 22:15)
10. No unbelievers. (Revelation 21:27 – no admission unless their name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, written in the grace-soaked blood of Jesus.)