I was recently asked a question that is a common thought in our day. 

“What do you think happens to non-believers?  I mean I don’t think God doesn’t love them for this. I think he would treat them the same way as believers…I think that He would consider them weak and forgive them for their mistakes.  Right?!”

Yet what this person fails to understand is that God is a God of judgment as well as a God of love.  What the Bible does teach is that a resurrection life has been bought for all of us through Christ.  Many of the Bible passages used to support universal reconciliation are talking about universal resurrection.  All men have had a new life paid for by Christ.  This is so that no one will die (eternally) because Adam sinned.  However, men will die for their own sins.

One truth that has been greatly lost in Christendom today is the truth that God is a righteous judge.  The common beliefs as regards God’s judgment seem to follow two lines of thinking.  One is that, at the moment of death, a person is destined automatically for whatever fate that person has earned in life.  Many Christians believe that at the moment of death people are either sent automatically to Hell, or else they are sent automatically to Heaven.  This has already been determined based upon whether that person was a Christian or not, whatever your definition of “Christian” might be.  Others believe that all people go to Heaven automatically, whether they have been Christians or not.  Still others believe that all “good” people will go to heaven and all “bad” people will go to hell no matter what religion they were a part of.

The second line of reasoning is that most people (if not all) will eventually end up in heaven, but that many of them must pay for it first.  In the minds of people who think this way, it makes no sense that anyone could simply be forgiven for sin without having to pay for it.  A person will have to go to purgatory or some similar place to pay for the wrong things that they have done.  Once they have suffered long enough to atone for their evil deeds, they will then be welcomed in to heaven since they have now “served their time” and can be now be considered good citizens of heaven.

I don’t know if I’ve ever talked to a person who believed this last view about the subject, but I would assume that a person who believed this would have to conclude that God judges how much time a person should be punished based on how many bad things that person did in life.  Whether this actually takes place at a “trial” or whether God decides it without having the person actually stand before Him I don’t know.

Now as to what I believe on the matter.  I do not really believe in either of the above beliefs.  I do not think everyone’s fate is decided immediately upon the moment of that person’s death.  Some people’s fates are clear at that time, but others have not had ample opportunity to prove whether or not they are qualified for eternal life, and these must be subject to further testing.  Nor do I believe that anyone will be punished by God in a purgatory until their sins have been properly atoned for.  No amount of suffering can make up for sin.  It doesn’t matter how much pain and agony you go through, the fact is it does nothing to purify your heart.  There is only one just punishment for sin.  It is the punishment God warned Adam and Eve about.  “The day that you eat thereof, you will surely die.”  Death is the only just punishment for sin.  If we must pay for our sins, the end of our own lives is the only way we can do it.  Thus, eternal life for us based upon our own merit is impossible!  If the penalty of sin is to be paid by us then there is no hope.

But the fact is that the penalty for our sin is not to be paid by us.  Years ago, a man named Adam sinned against God by eating a poisonous fruit (nowhere is it said it was an apple, by the way!)  The effect of that poisonous fruit was that Adam aged and eventually died.  The effects of that fruit have moreover passed on to all Adam’s descendants, so that all die.  Now it was not in God’s will that all men should die because Adam sinned.  This hardly seems fair, does it?  But God decided to take the responsibility for Adam’s sin upon Himself.  This was hardly a necessary thing for Him to do.  Adam had chosen his own course, dug his own hole, and dragged himself and all his descendants down with him.  God could not accept this fate for all mankind, however, as God is love itself, and loved us so much that He was willing to take full responsibility for all the sins in the world.  Imagine this!  God taking responsibility for all sin…even the great sins of wicked men such as Hitler and Stalin…totally upon Himself!  He Who is righteous claiming the responsibility for our wickedness!  This is the extent of His amazing love for us.

Now if God wished to take the responsibility for our sin away from us, there was only one way He could do that, and that was to take the punishment for our sin upon Himself.  If He paid the just penalty for our sin, He could then take away our responsibility for our sin.  As I pointed out above, the punishment for sin is death.  But everyone knows that God cannot die.  So how then could God take the responsibility for our sin?  God is not a man, that He should die!  But God solved this problem, as He is able to solve any problem.  And the solution to it was to become a man Himself!  This He did in the womb of a young virgin living in ancient Israel.  He was born in a manger, and lived and walked upon the earth.  And in the end He did what He came to do, and died…died the most terrible incarnation of capital punishment ever invented, the cross.  And so He took the just penalty for our sins upon Himself.  Just as all men died through Adam’s sin, now all men will live again through the death of Jesus Christ.  Because He took the punishment for our sins, we will someday live again in resurrection, just as He Himself rose from the dead!

But this is not the end of the story.  God has removed the necessity for all men to die because of what Adam did.  He has not yet worked to remove the effects of that poison fruit so that men on earth will live continually and not have need for resurrection, but He will do that someday.  However, now we have to come back to one simple fact that we cannot forget.  As well as being a God of unimaginable love, God is also the ultimate judge of the world.  The Bible asks, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”  The answer is, yes, He shall!  God’s love could not counter His judgment so that we could live forever without ever having to pay for the penalty of our sins.  That was why God had to pay the ultimate price Himself!  And now God will not cease being the judge of all the earth just because He has paid the price for all our sins.  Though no one need die (forever) now for Adam’s sin, we still must answer to God for our own sins.  Therefore, we must ask ourselves, what is it that God demands of sinful men so that He might judge us worthy of the gift of eternal life that He has bought for us?

The answer is, unfortunately, that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves pleasing in God’s sight.  No matter how hard we try, we all end up doing things that are outright repulsive to Him.  We are sinful creatures to the core, and I am most certainly included in that just censure!  So it would seem that, in spite of Christ’s death to pay for Adam’s sin, my own sins must still keep me out of God’s reach.

But God has yet again found a way to overcome the obstacles set between Himself and us to keep us from His loving arms.  God has found a way whereby He might credit righteousness to us who are sinful so that His justice might be satisfied.  In other words, in spite of the fact that we are unrighteous and totally unable to please God and satisfy His righteous standards, God has offered us a substitution for righteousness that He will consider equal to righteousness and which will cover over our sins and make us righteous in His sight.  That substitution for righteousness is called faith.  The Bible states, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.”  (Galatians 3:6)  And the same substitution is offered to each of us for righteousness…that is, if we will believe God, He will accept our belief in the place of righteousness, to which we can never achieve.  Therefore, the righteousness of Christ is credited to us through His death on the cross.  When we are identified with his death through faith, our sins are identified with His death and His righteousness is identified to us!

Now what is it that a person must believe in order to have God credit that belief as righteousness?  The answer is that a person must believe what is at hand for that person to believe.  If all I know about God is that He is righteous and doesn’t want me to steal or kill, then if I refrain from stealing and killing, I have acted in faith.  If I have seen in nature that there must be a powerful God Who made and Who controls all the universe, and that that God deserves my devotion and respect, if I then offer my devotion and respect to God then I have acted in faith and believed what is at hand.  If, however, I have heard the full story of God’s love and favor toward me, if I have heard about how God Himself came and died for me so that I might live again, if I have heard this then I am expected to believe it and to accept it as the only true atonement for my sins.  You see, the more God has revealed to me, the more I am expected to believe.  If I have never heard the name of Christ or had any idea that He died for me, then I cannot be held accountable for not having believed that.  If I have heard of Christ, though, and have refused to believe in Him, then I cannot reject Him and merely go back to reverencing God and trying to obey Him as best as I am able.  The greater my revelation of God, the more will be expected of me as far as faith is concerned.  And none of us who have heard of Christ and have rejected Him can ever hope to be considered righteous in God’s sight.  It doesn’t matter that God loves me and forgives all my sin.  His judgment demands a punishment for that sin.  He has lovingly offered me a way to cover over that sin by having total righteousness credited to my account.  If I have rejected it, though, then I must pay for my sins myself.  And the wages of sin is death!

Therefore, the question that every person must ask of his or her own heart is “have I believed what God has revealed to me?  Will my faith be credited to my account for righteousness, so that the blood of Christ might cover all my sins and I might live forever?  Or have I rejected the message of Christ, and are my sins still out in the open for God to see and judge?”  You see, for us it does not matter what someone living in the backwards jungles or in a country where no Christians live might have known of God, or whether or not he believed it and therefore had it credited for righteousness.  God knows everyone who ever lived!  He is the One Who will judge all men.  For everyone who ever lived God can not only look at what that person did, whether or not that person believed, but He can also look at what that person might have done under different circumstances.  Christ spoke of some of the cities of His day that if He had done the miracles in Sodom that He had done in those cities, they would have repented long ago of their sins!  (Matthew 11:23)  And yet these cities stubbornly disobeyed Him.  Yet God knows all such “could have been”s, and is able to judge righteously everyone who lived.  But the simple fact is this: no person will ever be justified in God’s sight unless that person somewhere along the line demonstrated faith in God.  That faith need not have extended beyond what little that person knew of God, but it still had to be there.  And for you and me, the only faith that we can have which will please God is faith in Jesus Christ, His Son, God in human form.  No other faith will ever please Him if we have failed to have faith in this regard!  But once we have had this faith, then we are righteous forever in His sight.  No amount of sin could ever remove us from His love once He has accepted us as righteous through faith in His Son!  This is what God is talking about in John 3:16, when He says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Let me emphasize again, however, that it was Christ’s blood that covered our sins in truth, not our faith.  God’s judgment demanded, however, that we must demonstrate our faith in Him before He could impute that righteousness to us.  Christ’s sacrifice automatically covers Adam’s sin, so all who have ever lived will live again.  However only our faith can cause God to cover our own sins with Christ’s blood.  The moment we first sinned as almost an infant our second life was forfeited to us from then on because of our own sin.  In order for us to have God remove our sins unto the shoulders of Christ we must have faith in Him.  Hebrews 11:5 says “But without faith it is impossible to please Him (God), for He Who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

Once we have had faith in Christ, however, we have had the ultimate faith, and nothing can ever remove us from God’s forgiveness.  One who has not had faith in Christ but only faith in whatever lesser knowledge he has had, could lose the righteousness his faith would have bought him if he hears of Christ but refuses to believe in Him.  Also those who have not believed in Christ will have to go through further testing in the afterlife, and they will again have an opportunity to sin if they so desire.  Only those who have had faith in Christ have guaranteed eternal life.  So faith in Christ is not without its benefits!

But I do not believe for an instant that all those who are in countries where other religions, such as Buddhism or Islam or any other religion, is so in sway that they have never heard of Christ, I say I cannot believe for an instant that God immediately writes such people off because of this.  Do not their children soak up the stories of their false gods just as our children soak up the stories of the true God that we teach them in Sunday School and so forth?  But these people will not ultimately be judged upon what they did not know of God, but on what they did know!  Faith in a false god will never save anyone, but a proper response to what one does know of the true God will never be overlooked by Him.

I will never forget a passage which C.S. Lewis, the famous author and Christian thinker, wrote in the final book of his fictional Narnia series for children.  In this series, a lion named Aslan represents Christ in this fictional world of talking animals.  In this final book, a false prophet ape tries to convince the people of Narnia that Aslan and Tash, a false god of a neighboring country, are one and the same.  A soldier from this neighboring country hears of this claim and comes to the false prophet who is proclaiming this about Tash and Aslan.  He has faithfully served Tash all his life and now desires to meet him if it is possible.  The false prophet allows him to go into the “sacred stable” where “Tashlan” supposedly resides.  Upon entering, however, the man finds himself not in a stable but in a fictional version of heaven.  Let me quote what Lewis writes happened to him then, in his own words.

“So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo!  in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion.  The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant’s; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes, like gold that is liquid in the furnace.  He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world, even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.  Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him.  Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.  But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome.  But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash.  He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.  Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?  The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false.  Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.  Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn,  though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.  And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.  Dost thou understand, Child?  I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.  But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yes I have been seeking Tash all my days.  Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly.  For all find what they truly seek.”

I am not sure that I agree precisely with all that Lewis says here, but for the most part I do.  I have thought about this passage and come to the conclusion that Lewis was probably very close to right, far more close than most Christians would like to admit.  But as I said, faith is the only true service to God that can please Him.  If faith in what is known of the true God is held by men in the name of a false god, though, can God not look upon this faith as rendered to Him even though it is thought by the one having it to be in the false god?  This is something to consider carefully.

The bottom line, though, is that you have heard of Christ.  Have you then believed in Him?  Is His righteousness now credited to your account?  Has His blood covered your sins?  Because if you have rejected and continue rejecting Him, there is nothing in the universe that can save you from God’s righteous judgment of death!

But what if a person cannot believe in Christ?  This is what a man asked me when I assured Him that it is faith in Christ that saves us from our sins and not suffering for them in purgatory.  This gentleman told me, “I can easily believe in God, but I don’t know that I can believe in this Christ Who was a man and yet was supposed to be God.  What if someone cannot believe in Christ?”  My response to him was that God has written a book for the purpose of showing men that Christ was God so that they might believe in Him.  This book is the book of John in the Bible (not to be confused with I, II, or III John!  This is John with no numbers in front of it.)  It says in John 20:31,  “But these are written that ye (that is a plural “you,” or “all you who are reading this”) may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing ye may have life in His name.”  Therefore to any who are considering believing in Jesus Christ but just don’t know if they can believe that a man Who lived 2000 years ago could be God, I would suggest reading the book of John.  These are the words of life that can bring you to salvation!

As for whether or not God forgives all men, consider these two verses that I’ve put back-to-back.  I John 2:17, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”  John 6:29, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He sent.”