Many have longed for a good loving God that they can love in return. And this is a message on that good loving God. We live in an age of confusion. The impressions of many are of a hateful cruel Old Testament YHWH God. Plus a lot of anger is directed towards Christians & their beliefs. One pt. of anger (actually needless if all the details were known) is that Christians believe the multitudes of people who never heard of Jesus are confined in hell to be eternally tormented. Of course this seems very unfair. It is a stumbling block to many. Who is the God of the Bible, what does the Word of God teach us about God, and what do Christians actually believe? Allow me to speak a few words on these deep important issues. Please allow me to write directly with brief simplicity, without turning all these issues into a long documented book that would put you to sleep. May the God of Mercy & hope fill you encouragement.
BIBLE BELIEVING MEN & WOMEN OF FAITH belief that without faith it is impossible to please God. We have faith in God’s goodness. The Biblical view is that man cannot reach the Creator of the Universe on his own; God must reveal Himself and draw us to Him. The Biblical view is that all who are eternally saved are redeemed only because of the mercy of God and the atonement (payment for sin) that Christ did;… and that this atonement is applied to any person’s sin-debt by any person who exercises trust in Christ’s atonement, regardless of how much they do or don’t understand theologically, regardless of their genetics, & regardless of who their descendants were. Salvation is offered to all mankind. It is not a knowledge issue; it is an issue of obediently having trust in the work & person of Christ. Unfortunately, from this it is an easy jump to believe that all Christians consign everyone else to the pit of eternal hell. Even some Christians think this is the official teaching. I think the verse where God says that He will have mercy on who He wants and compassion on who He wants says it best. The actual decision on who gets approved by God is strictly His business, and the Scriptures in their entirety will certainly surprise some narrow minded people, who think they alone speak for God. Foremost, God speaks for God. Historically, the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Anabaptist churches, while agreeing that Jesus is the only Savior, have all allowed their members to have a variety of ideas on what happens to those who don’t have the opportunity to hear the gospel—and there have been a great deal of ideas & beliefs, although 5 different views, each based on scriptures, stand out as prominent. More on this in a minute. Allow me to explain some things first…break it down so to speak.
THE GOD OF MERCY. The message of the Bible about God is that He gives us choice & freedom, incl. the liberty to make mistakes. It is His enemies that love to enslave. In the ancient world, it was Israel with its Hebrew people which had the God of mercy. You will look in vain to find a merciful god within the multitude of pagan Gods. In pagan mythology, you will at times find a god doing an act of mercy, or delaying a judgment…but you don’t find a specific God of Mercy. The God of the Bible was known as the God of Mercy, and the phrase “His mercy endures forever” (A) was a phrase constantly repeated by the priests of Israel. Another phrase associated with Him was “mercy & truth”.(B) The word in the Hebrew scriptures that we translate “mercy” is “hesed” (also spelled “chesed”), and it occurs 250 times. Articles & books have been written trying to define “hesed”…it is a deep word like “love” that has many nuances of meaning, but when all is said & done, and people get done arguing & studying it…”mercy” is a decent translation. On Mt. Sinai, when God introduces Himself to Moses, He uses the word hesed, & says, “The LORD, YHWH, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness & truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity & transgressions & sin, by no means clearing the guilty…” (C) For many, He is the kind, generous, compassionate, sensitive, creator of the Universe. For those who are guilty, He is a zealous avenger.
SALVATION=ACT OF MERCY. A variety of verses teach us that our salvation is an act of mercy by God. Christ praised the example of the man who cried out, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” God is sovereign over His Creation…but what that means is debated & even misunderstood. Basically God is God, and He knows who has a receptive heart that will accept His invitation. God does what God wants to do, not what man wants. And this is where some think that those who have not heard the gospel may be determined by a sovereign God to have hearts that love Him in faith, even if their knowledge of Christ is defective. Perhaps He sends them dreams (or angels), but somehow determines that if they had had the chance for more knowledge, then they would have followed through on what He offers man through Christ.
I am not making any claims for God, just the opposite, because I am making the pt. He can do what He wants,… and there are many scriptures that sincere people study that make it hard to pinpoint exactly what He will do. Sincere Christian leaders from the early days of Christianity have had different ideas on what happens to those who never have had a chance to hear the gospel. The word is clear there is only one way to salvation…through Christ…those who lived before Him looked forward and we look backward at His saving act of mercy. And that being the case, the Old Testament saints who we know were saved, had imperfect knowledge of the Messiah. Paul goes into a deep discussion of saving faith in Romans chapter 4. The example of those who were saved with an imperfect knowledge of Christ, illustrate that God in His wisdom, may not be as narrow as some people claim Him to be. God can save whom He desires, He is not dependent on human preaching, and whether some mission board sends the right person. There are many reasons to bring people into a lifetime of fellowship with Christ, besides just to spare them from hell. Therefore, the Great Commission to disciple the world is not merely for getting them to make a decision for salvation, but to offer them the fullness of Christ.
OPEN YOUR HEART TO LOVE. The desire of this short message is to emphasize what Paul wrote about how we see through a glass darkly…sincere men of faith have discussed some of these issues & come to different conclusions…but one thing they have been in agreement, God has been merciful & patient and “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”(D) I hope that if you have rejected the God of the Bible as hateful & cruel, then take another look, and let Him speak to your heart and display His love and mercy for you.
(A) Examples incl. 1 CHRON 16:34, 41; 2 CHRON 5:13, 7:3,6; 20:21, EZRA 3:11 (B) an example is 2 SAM 15:20 (C) EX 34:6-7a (D) EPH 2:8-9