Lesson 3: But why doesn’t everyone have the same opportunity to learn the gospel?

Growing up in the Bible belt has its advantages and disadvantages. There is a basic sense of morality that most agree with, even if many do not practice it. Many people are religious and love God, although they worship in a variety of churches all of which practice and teach different things. But, the Lord’s people can be found throughout the Bible belt and it would seem that anyone who wanted to know the truth of the gospel could easily have that opportunity. But what about people living in other parts of the country where churches are few and far apart? What about other parts of the world, a significant part of which is actively opposed to Christianity? Why doesn’t everyone have the same opportunity to learn the gospel?

Distinguishing between God’s desire and the reality of the situation.

We believe in a God who is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2Peter 3.9). His desire is that all learn the gospel, repent and be saved. But the Bible is also clear that the reality of the situation is that most will not be saved (Matthew 7.13-14). Consider these truths found in the introduction of John’s gospel:

9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.   (John 1:9–13, NASB95) 

  1. God desires the salvation of all (vs. 9; John 3.16)
  2. Most reject salvation because they reject Jesus (vss. 10-11)
  3. But there are some who accept Jesus, thus become children of God (vss. 12-13)

While we should hope and pray for the salvation of all, we must also confront the reality that most won’t be saved. But the question is do they have the opportunity to be saved? I believe they do, but there are some factors that certainly limit opportunity.

Factor 1: Satan is a powerful foe.

We shouldn’t be surprised that it seems like many in the world lack opportunity to hear and learn the gospel. Satan is described as the ruler of this world (John 12.31; cf. Eph. 2.2) and while Christ has defeated him, our adversary continues to oppose God in every way (see Revelation 12.7-17). Recall that in the parable of the sower, the explanation for the seed which fell beside the road was “when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13.19). If Satan is actively trying to snatch away seed that has been sown, he most certainly is also doing all he can to decrease opportunities for people to hear the gospel.

Human history records the rise and fall of religions, nations and political movements. While we might trace the human record of each, there is an unseen spiritual force at work; our enemy has been busy and active. Islam has effectively shielded much of the world from the truth of the gospel. Communism has cast Christianity as harmful to the State. Atheism & secularism have convinced many that there is no need for God. We face a powerful foe!

Factor 2: Our actions have future ramifications.

You will recall that Israel was charged with teaching future generations the will and commandments of God (Deut. 6.6-9). Yet, it was not long before “there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2.10). Somewhere along the way, Israel failed at imparting the knowledge of God to their children. That mistake would not only affect the next generation, but would plague Israel throughout their history.

Consider also the Pharisees. Our introduction to them in the New Testament presents a group with a shallow view of righteousness; a group ready to oppose Jesus once they observed He was not exactly like them. However, there is much to admire in their history as they were formed in the midst of great persecution and they desired to encourage righteousness in the people. But in their quest to define righteousness, they had lost the real concept of righteousness (cf. Matthew 5.20). Thus, Jesus would describe them as “blind guides” who lead others into the pit (Matthew 15.14; cf. 23.15). The Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus came with severe consequences: their rejection of Jesus led many others to do the same (Matthew 23.13).

Actions have future ramifications. Who could have known that Muhammed’s new religion, and the political rhetoric of Lenin and Mao would make it so difficult for the gospel to reach much of the world? Who could have known that Darwin’s theory would reshape the trajectory of education and thought in the western world? Actions have future ramifications. My own actions have future ramifications, because what I believe and practice can either positively or negatively influence the lives of those around me and the thinking of future generations.

But God still holds men responsible.

Given the reality of the above factors, one might assume that God would not hold all men responsible for hearing and believing the gospel. Yet, the Scriptures proclaim that He does! Remember, the world of the first century was not ready to accept Jesus as the Son of God. False religion (paganism), entrenched attitudes (Judaism) and political opposition (Rome) meant that most of the world would turn a deaf ear to the good news of Jesus. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” (John 1.10) Yet, God declared that all “must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2Corinthians 5.10).

God still holds men responsible because He continues to give each person opportunity to know Him. Recall Paul’s message to the philosophers of Athens, “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” (Acts 17.26-28). Furthermore, Paul reminds us that mankind is without excuse because “for since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine Nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1.20).

Man’s only hope is the gospel (Romans 1.16); man’s only access to God is through Jesus (John 14.6). And God remains “not far” from us. He continues to hope that we will seek Him so that we may find Him. 

Good news: God is still greater!

Fact is, the opposition of Satan and the actions of men have hindered the spread of the gospel. But I firmly believe that our God is greater than our adversary and ourselves. I believe that He still provides opportunity for any and all who would wish to learn about Him and follow Him. The book of Acts is filled with examples of God providing opportunity for men and women to hear the gospel:

  • It’s no coincidence that the gospel was first preached in Jerusalem at a time when “devout men from every nation under heaven” were present to hear it (Acts 2.5). These men would take the good news of Jesus with them when they returned home.
  • Persecution led to the spreading of the gospel, giving the Samaritans opportunity to learn about Jesus (Acts 8.4ff).
  • Philip was brought to a eunuch from Ethiopia so he could teach him the gospel (Acts 8.26ff).
  • God would not allow Paul to go to Asia or Bithynia, but directed him to go to Macedonia so that people could hear the gospel (Acts 16.6-10).
  • By chance, Paul met Lydia by the river (Acts 16.13).
  • Being cast into prison gave Paul and Silas opportunity to share the gospel with the jailer (Acts 16.25ff).
  • Paul’s presence in Ephesus for a period of 2 years gave opportunity for everyone in Asia to hear the gospel (Acts 19.10).

In my life, I’ve encountered brethren from China, Russia, Ukraine, even Iran who seemed to hear the gospel “by chance”. Of course, I don’t believe it was chance at all, rather a powerful God who by His providence provided the gospel to those who would be willing to hear.

God’s providence is no excuse for us to be lazy about sharing the gospel. Like Paul, we should view ourselves as having been entrusted with the gospel (1Timothy 1.11), and if that’s the case we should share it with whomever we can. We do so believing that God can and will use us to share His good news with people who recognize their need for Him. We believe that our God still gives the increase (1Corinthians 3.6).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: