On a Monday night around 25 years ago, I was traveling on a county road that took a drastic turn and suddenly brought me into the city limits. As I had missed seeing a speed limit sign, I had no idea what the limit was in that area. I could see by the increase in houses that I needed to slow down. And did. But not soon enough.
When the officer asked me if I knew I was speeding, guess what I told him?
Yep. You guessed it. I told him…“I didn’t know.”
And of course, that made all the difference. He couldn’t give me a ticket, since I didn’t know, right?
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I was guilty, whether I did it intentionally or not.
Ignorance may be bliss (sometimes), but it is never innocence.
Sin through ignorance is still sin.
Just as we saw in our reading in Leviticus this past week.
These first few chapters of Leviticus detail the several offerings God had commanded of His people Israel at Mt. Sinai. The purpose of these sacrifices was not to allow the person bringing the sacrifice to “purchase” his own salvation.
Rather, the sacrifices were to allow for those who had already been saved by believing in God’s promise to send the Messiah, to have their sin taken care of in much the same way that we today pray for daily forgiveness of sins, thereby maintaining close and open fellowship with God. We who belong to God still sin. And though completely forgiven upon our salvation, we still daily need to make things right with God by repenting and asking forgiveness. Not forgiveness for salvation, but forgiveness to restore fellowship.
Telling God, “I’m sorry.” and asking for forgiveness keeps things right between us. And that was the purpose for the sacrifices.
In chapter 4 God made provision for those who would transgress His law in ignorance. Even though the person had not intentionally gone out to break God’s commandment, a law was broken, nevertheless. And according to God, this was sin…a sin that must be atoned for, once the sin came to their knowledge, in order for that person to be right with God again.
And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty;
Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned.
And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and slay the sin offering in the place of the burnt offering. Leviticus 4:27-29
Notice, God considered them guilty, even before they realized their error.
Just as ignorance of the laws of any land is no excuse and does not wipe away guilt, ignorance of God’s law is no excuse and does not wipe away guilt. Anyone who breaks God’s laws is guilty before Him.
What About Ignorance of the Gospel?
What about those who never hear about Jesus? Are they still held accountable? Don’t they get to go to Heaven? After all, they didn’t know!
The short answer?
Saying, “I didn’t know” will not get anyone into Heaven.
Because sin separates us from God.
Like we’ve already seen in Leviticus 4, whether we break God’s commands in willfulness or ignorance, we are guilty. A law has been broken. Period.
Every human on the planet has broken God’s commandments and sinned. And is therefore separated from God.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Romans 3:23
Sin defiles us and prevents our entering into the presence of the Holy God in Heaven.
And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:27
This truth is not dependent on geography, or where a person was born and lived, either.
All of us are guilty sinners, whether we live in America, or in the deepest, darkest jungles of South America where the people have no contact with the outside world, and therefore, never hear of Jesus. All men are guilty of sin and must be cleared of that guilt, or they cannot enter Heaven.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30
The ignorance God “winked at”, or allowed to go on without immediate punishment, was the idolatry of the nations. But notice the last part of this verse. Repentance is required of “all men every where.” No matter where a person lives, and how much access they have to the truth of Jesus, they are commanded and required to repent.
ALL includes everyone…those who hear the gospel of Jesus many times over…or those who never hear about Jesus.
God tells us in Romans 1:18-20 that we are without excuse. All of creation testifies to a divine design.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Here we see that there is no excuse for rejecting the fact that there is a God. His power and Godhead are obvious when we behold creation. This complex world did not just happen by itself. There is a God. And we are all guilty before Him.
Years ago I read this fascinating book about Samuel Morris, a nineteenth century missionary to America from Africa! His salvation testimony is incredible, and sheds light on how God’s grace reaches out to those who reject spiritism and other false beliefs.
But again, sin separates us from God.
And Jesus is the only remedy for bridging that gap.
Joh 14:6 tells us,
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
There is no other way to heaven, into God’s very presence, than through Jesus. There is no other name than the name of Jesus whereby a person can be forgiven and washed clean of their sin so that they can enter Heaven when they die.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12
Since Jesus is the only way to heaven, then for anyone to go to Heaven, they must accept Him and His sacrifice for the payment of their sins. If they do not, then hell is where they will go when they die.
There is no other way to heaven but Jesus.
God makes this even clearer when He tells us that…
Those who never hear about Jesus are already condemned.
Because those who haven’t believed are already condemned.Jesus clearly tells us that anyone who has not yet believed on Him, is condemned already! And will remain condemned until they do believe!
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:18
Unless a person accepts Jesus’ sacrifice for them, they cannot be cleansed and made ready for Heaven. Until such time as they repent and believe on Jesus, they will remain headed to hell.
So, of course, any person who hasn’t yet even heard of Jesus, and consequently not believed on Him, is condemned already.
Why? Because he hasn’t believed on Jesus. Who is the only way to heaven.
Any person who gets saved had to come to the understanding that they are condemned and headed to hell, unless they repent and believe on Jesus and what He did for them in dying on the cross.
Otherwise, what do they need saving from? Right?
No one gets a free pass to heaven simply because they never heard that Jesus died on the cross as their sacrifice for their sins.
If a person could never hear about Jesus, but go to heaven anyway, wouldn’t it be beyond cruel to go out and tell people the gospel? Because if they consciously reject the gospel, then they will certainly go to hell. When, had I not told them, and given them that chance to reject, they’d still be headed to heaven.
Wouldn’t it be better if they never hear about Jesus?
And yet God commands that we go and tell people.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15
Is God being cruel then?
Heaven forbid! God knows that “all men every where” are already guilty before Him and condemned to hell. (John 3:18) But He so loved the world that He made the way for every man to be forgiven, cleansed, and granted entrance to Heaven through His Son. (John 3:16)**
And has commanded that you and I go and tell everyone every where that good news. Therefore, if someone dies without hearing about Jesus and consequently, spends eternity in hell, it is NOT God’s fault, but mine! And yours.
This idea, this lie, that those who never hear of Jesus will get a free pass to Heaven comes straight from Satan. It is an attempt to lull us, God’s children, into complacency.
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And it has been far too effective!
But millions of souls are at stake!
We have the good news of the gospel! May God stir us up to share it faithfully…from this day forward!
Drawing nigh to Him,
**This post does not address the one exception I believe God has graciously provided for babies, young children, and the mentally disabled who do not have the ability to understand right and wrong. And therefore, could not either accept or reject the gospel message. See 2 Samuel 12:23 for the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba and the child they lost. David was a saved man of God who here states that he will be joining his son in Heaven one day! There are other scriptures and principals that support belief in this exception, but this will have to be a post for another day.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
Have you ever wondered about where those who never hear about Jesus will spend eternity? Who told you about Jesus? Have you told anyone about Jesus lately? How does your church seek to reach the lost with the gospel message? Are you involved with any of those efforts?
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