Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Narrow Road

"You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it." -Jesus, speaking in Matthew 7:13-14
Who will be in heaven? Does God have the same requirements for the entire world? What about someone who has never heard the gospel or been introduced to Western Christianity? Does it seem fair or reasonable that God would condemn a person to hell who was born and raised in a non-Christian culture and is altogether unaware of the Bible, the message of the gospel, and their need for a savior? Wouldn't God just judge people by their intentions and their desire to seek "god" in their own way, even if it isn't the Christian way, especially if they have never heard of the Christian way? Does a person have to actually know and claim the literal name of Jesus, or is it possible for a person who has never heard that name to still seek God in an acceptable way? Was the Bible really meant for the entire world, or is it just one way in which God chose to speak to humanity? You might quickly dismiss some of these questions, but they are very delicate and very real concerns that many god-seeking people sincerely have.

I recently discussed these questions, and others, with a family member over the holidays who claims Christianity and the Bible as his own belief, yet finds it unacceptable that the Bible and the things written in it could possibly be the only way to God. I, of course, defended the validity of the Bible, and pointed out the fact that the Bible does not allow for the possibility of an "alternate" route (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12; Exodus 20:3). Clearly, anyone who chooses to follow any god or religion other than that of Jesus Christ, the God of the Bible, will not find themselves in heaven at the end of their lives. And yet, some of these questions can be so very difficult to answer. If you ever share your belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven with anyone around you, you will almost certainly encounter one of these concerns at some point. We can know a great many things with certainty; however, there will always be some things that we can never fully answer or understand. If we knew everything, we would be God. Know that it is never wrong to simply say, "I don't know." For those other difficult moments, here are some truths that you can know and share:

  • What about babies, children, and mentally handicapped adults? It is TRUE that we are all born in sin. We are not sinners because we sin, we are sinners because we are born that way. Babies and children are far from innocent. (Psalm 51:5Gen. 8:21) It is TRUE that in order to enter heaven, we must accept the gift of salvation, repent from our sinful nature, and be transformed by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 3:23) HOWEVER, God makes it clear in his Word that an individual must be aware of and capable of understanding these truths before He will hold them accountable to them. (John 15:22) The Bible does not specifically mention an "age of accountability", but it does seem to indicate that such a thing exists. In 2 Samuel 12:23, after his son has died, David states matter-of-factly that he (David) will go to his son one day (presumably meaning that he will join him in heaven.) That age is undoubtedly different for each child, but I absolutely believe that there comes a certain point in each child's life when they become cognitively aware of concepts such as sin, repentance, redemption, and salvation. Once a child is capable of truly saying yes or no to the convicting of the Holy Spirit, I believe that child will then be held accountable for his or her decision to either follow or reject Jesus. I DON'T KNOW, but I feel very strongly, that mentally handicapped individuals fall under this same category. If their mind never becomes capable of consciously deciding to follow or reject God, I do not believe that God will hold them accountable. In each of these situations, it is important to remember that these individuals are not saved because of their innocence or an exemption from the laws of sin and death; they are just as sinful, just as guilty, and just as much in need of a savior as any other person on this earth. They are saved only by the grace and mercy of a just and righteous God. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • What about the unreached peoples of this earth? It is TRUE that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:13-17). And while there are many people throughout the world over the course of history who were never reached with the gospel by other human beings, we must remember that, quite frankly, God does not need us to accomplish his will. He graciously uses us and will reward us for our obedience in being available to him, but we cannot think that just because we failed at reaching a group of people, God also "failed" at it. It is TRUE that he is fully capable of revealing himself to individuals through the glory of his creation (Romans 1:19-20), as well as much more overtly, if he should so choose. There was a story not too long ago about a group of unreached people who were finally contacted by a group of missionaries. When the missionaries arrived, they discovered that these people had been preparing for their arrival for decades because God had spoken to them, won their hearts, and told them to be ready. They were so excited that the missionaries had finally arrived. It is also TRUE that despite God's ever present voice, many will still reject him (Romans 1:21-25).
  • Isn't it unfair for God to condemn people to hell if they haven't had the same opportunities as someone else? This is such a humanist concept. It is so ingrained in us that we all deserve a fair chance and an equal opportunity; we all just want "what we've got coming to us." But it is not unfair for anyone to go to hell. The only fair and just thing is for everyone to go to hell. It is only by the grace and mercy of a loving God that any of us are deemed fit for heaven. God may be fully capable of revealing himself to each individual, whether subtly or overtly, but I have absolutely no idea whether he actually has, or to what extent he has. I DON'T KNOW if we all have the same opportunity, or if some have more of an advantage than others. I DON'T KNOW why God ordained that I be born into an American, Christian home, and why others were not afforded that same privilege. But I do know that God is sovereign, that He is perfect and holy and good and just. I choose to trust that He knew exactly what he was doing and that he placed each individual where he meant them to be (Acts 17:26-31). And I trust that the eternal fate of every individual will be perfectly just and fitting, however that conclusion is reached. Heaven is real. Hell is real. Both places will be filled with the souls of men and women. It should not offend our senses to see sinners condemned to hell; rather, the offense should be that any would dare be admitted to heaven. We ought to be stunned speechless at the impossibility that any creature, the likes of us, could ever be made fit to stand in the presence of the Almighty God who created the world. Our hearts, just as the Father's, may break over souls that are lost; but we ought never be angry at God for such a fate, nor, especially, twist his words into a more "comfortable" meaning in order to make ourselves feel better about the fact that indeed...
"The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it..."


  1. Tarrah I love this. It blessed me to read it. I've asked many of the same questions before and have been asked by others. It's so difficult to understand how and why some are saved and some are not. I think skeptics like to ask these questions as well to hang Christians up on the details and as proof that we don't serve a fair and just God. Fortunately, we do and while there are some things I can't understand and possibly never will, I praise God that He is sovereign and good.

  2. Thanks, Leah. I'm glad you were blessed. These are definitely some tough questions, but it is so sweet to rest in the knowledge that our God is perfect and just and nothing happens that he does not will.