Choices are a part of life. Whether they deal with what to do for a living, who to marry, etc., choices must be made. Most of the time these choices are not restricted to one option but offer several different avenues to a conclusion. However, there are some situations in life where the conclusions are inescapable. God has always had the best interest of His people in mind when giving instruction. That is why Solomon wrote, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). But this Old Testament Commandment is also applicable to those of us blessed to live in New Testament times. Of course, all of God’s Directives to man must be “accurately handled” so they can be properly understood and followed.
The apostle Paul wrote much the same thing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15. But here, He also told how we are to “know” what God wants us to do as we strive to be pleasing and acceptable to Him. One cannot know if they will not study! If Timothy needed this admonition, it certainly applies to us as well.
“Why is keeping the Commandments of God” the whole duty of man?”
When Jesus came to earth, He did not come to judge man (John 12:47). His purpose was to bring Salvation (the means for Salvation) to man. But we must also understand the Hebrew writer says judgment will come. He says, “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Paul also writes “For we must all 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” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The judgment is an inescapable conclusion if one reads and studies the Bible. We do not know when this will occur, except to the degree the Bible tells us. We know the “end” is coming. 1 Corinthians 15:24-26 tells us this. So, we see that Christ will “rule” or “reign” until the end. The end of what? Peter answers that for us. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
From these Bible facts, we can also conclude that while we are alive and have full access of our faculties is the time to make the needed changes in our lives. One way to make the changes needed within us is to prioritize. Jesus knew this and told those hearing Him preach the Sermon on the Mount that the “kingdom” (the church) which would soon come, and the righteousness of God would have to be first in their lives (Matthew 6:33). The “things” of which the Lord spoke were the other necessities of life such as food, raiment, and shelter.
How do we prioritize the many things within our lives to ensure that we seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first? Well, it must be through that which will judge us after life for all humanity is over. It is a choice all must make. We can receive His Word, or we can reject it. In John 12:48, Jesus said: “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” It is an inescapable conclusion that only the Word of God, properly understood and lived leads to the eternal life we desire. If we walk the wrong path or walk the path of this life without the light of the gospel, we will reach a destination we do not wish to reach.
Hope is defined as, “To trust in, wait for, look for, or desire something or someone; or to expect something beneficial in the future” (Bakers Evangelical Dictionary). In the 11th chapter of the letter to the Hebrews the writer list for us several of the “heroes of faith” who had this hope.
But perhaps there is one not mentioned in this list. I am sure we have all read the story of Job. While not being listed specifically in the Hebrew letter, Job stands out in the Bible as one who hoped in the Lord. He says, “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron stylus and lead They were engraved in the rock forever! As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, …” (Job 19:23-26).
As we start looking at the thought expressed by Job, it is necessary weunderstand Job was a man who respected God (Job 1:1). And a man who was secularly successful at the same time (Job 1:3). But, as we continue our reading, we find that Job catastrophically lost everything, including his health. Yet, the one thing he did not lose was his trust in God. Job earnestly desired that the consolation with which he was comforted based on this hope would be realized by many others as well.
Job’s hope and confidence was three-fold: (1) Job was confident that the Redeemer lives; (2) he also fully expected the Messiah would someday appear to rescue his and other souls; and (3) Job was hopeful and confident regarding the general resurrection in which he would participate.
These are ideas and convictions that encouraged Job in the face of adversity and served as the basis of his hope. In the same way children of God today who find themselves greatly afflicted or facing death can find consolation through the same hope. Certainly, for the rest of us who are relatively free from great trials, can, through this same hope find sufficient strength to satisfactorily cope with daily affairs.
The Redeemer of whom Job spoke is the Christ (Savior, Messiah) whose function and certain ministry on earth was first intimated in Genesis 3:15. The fact that our Redeemer lives is the foundation of our hope; if our God were dead, as some declare, we could have no hope. Job had sure hope based on the resurrection long before Christ walked the earth or was crucified and resurrected. Because we can look backward, we see so much more clearly than Job and yet he harbored great hope–the same hope.
Unlike idolaters whose worship pertains to dead gods fashioned from stone, wood, metal and the imaginations of men, Christians have a living Savior. Our Great Prophet is alive, whereas Moslems revere a dead (buried) prophet. Jews reject the Christ and have no Savior (Redeemer). Only Christians have a living Savior–who resides in heaven at the right hand of God (Acts 1:9-10; 7:55-56).
The 2nd coming of Jesus Christ is the hope of God’s saints both in the Old and New Testament. Our eternity depends on it. As important as the 1st coming of the Christ is it would be meaningless were Jesus not to come again; the 2nd coming. The 2nd coming of the Lord is the fundamental hope of Christians (1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and the dreadful fear of the ungodly (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
The time when all shall be resurrected is yet to be realized (John 5:28-29). Our hope for eternity rests on our resurrection from the grave; we know we shall be resurrected because the resurrection of Christ guarantees our resurrection. Without such all would be hopeless (1 Corinthians 15:19).
We have a common hope with Job and God’s people of all dispensations: (1) our Redeemer lives; (2) our Redeemer is coming for us; and (3) our Redeemer will resurrect us.
Job desired that his hopes might be recorded in a book or engraved in stone so that others might develop the same kind of hope and become beneficiaries of the same consolations. His words, though, are immortalized in the eternal volume, the Bible, for all to see.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch
like me.” “Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to
God through Him, Because He always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) The
greatest news in the world is that Jesus came to save sinners (Luke 19:10)-sinners
like you and me.
The thieves who were crucified with Jesus were probably
violent, ruthless bandits or insurrectionists (λῃστής). One
recognized his guilt (Luke 23:39-43),
confessed his sins to Jesus and asked for mercy when he begged, “Remember me in
Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). Although Jesus was
struggling with His suffering, writhing in His pain, shedding His blood and
dealing with His death He promised the thief, “Today you will be with Me in
paradise.” (Luke 23:43).
Grace, how sweet and incredible it is! Imagine
how it must have felt to have that assurance of salvation while hanging on the
cross knowing that once physical life ended eternal life would begin in
paradise with the Son of God. Sweet mercy and amazing grace as this thief
felt a sense of confidence, security, and peace he had never felt
You can have the same confidence, the same peace, and the
same security as the thief as if Jesus had personally said to you, “Today you
will be with me in paradise.” John said that these things have been
written: “so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) “And
the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in
His Son.” (1 John 5:11) Today
you can be just as saved-to the same degree-as the thief on the
cross. But, how can this be accomplished?
You must obey the words of Christ. “My sheep hear
my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal
life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My
hand.” (John 10:27-28) We must follow Jesus to
receive eternal life. We can feel secure of our salvation by keeping
His commands. “By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says
he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He
walked.” (1 John 2:5-6) God’s
grace saves us, and we come to know His saving grace through faithful obedience
to His word; “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not
obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)
Nowhere does God say you must be perfect, nor does He expect
it; He asks that you give Him your best. The point is that you
cannot purposely sin and have any hope of salvation. That’s exactly
what Paul argued in Romans 6:1-2;
“What shall we say then? Shall we keep on sinning so that God can
keep on showing us more and more grace and forgiveness? May it never
be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” God
wants us to give Him our best by giving Him our hearts. (Mark 12:30)
But, what about the thief on the cross? Some ask,
“Why can’t I be saved like the thief on the cross?” The simple
answer is, “Because you can’t. You can’t be saved like the thief
just like you can’t be saved like Moses, Elijah and Moses-they all lived under
a different law than we do today.
While Jesus was alive He saved and forgave sins because He
has all authority (Mark 2:10). However, when Jesus
died and ascended into heaven, His last will and testament became the way He
offers salvation to mankind (Hebrews 9:13-17). And
how Jesus today has decided to forgive sins is through obedience, beginning
with repentance and baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).
You can’t be saved like the thief on the cross because he
lived under a different law. Jesus’ law was not yet in effect (Col. 2:14). If
you want to be saved like the thief on the cross, you will be rebelling against
Jesus’ last will and testament, and you will end up damned like the other thief.
“What will happen to those who have never heard the gospel nor had an opportunity to obey it?” Is ignorance an excuse? Usually the one posing theses questions is asking about those ignorant of the gospel and will reference someone in the jungles of South America or the Dark Continent (Africa). They seem to think there are some tribesman who will never be able to hear the gospel proclamation because of politics or being so far back into the jungle.
It is pointed out these have no modern conveniences with which to hear
the gospel (Romans 10:15). They seemingly forget the statement of Paul
in Colossians 1:23, “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly
established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the
gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven…” But let us leave that thought for the moment.
What the one asking the question is really trying to ascertain is whether or not ignorance is an excuse. Keep in mind that ignorance, as defined by Webster is not necessarily the lack of ability to know but the lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.
Actually there are three classes of people who are ignorant. Some people are ignorant of various ideas and concepts having never been taught. Others are ignorant because they have never taken the time to learn or are unwilling to take the time to learn. Neither of these first two categories of people are ignorant because of inabilities. The third class of people are those who are ignorant because of inabilities. These fit into the same realm as innocent children—safe in the arms of Jesus. Those who we are concerned with in this article are those who fit into one of the first two categories, but the bottom line is “Is ignorance an excuse?”
Those Who Know Not God
Because the Bible provides “to us everything pertaining to life and godliness…” (2 Peter 1:3), we can expect to find a Bible answer to this question. One passage that bears on this thought is 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 where Paul wrote, “it is only right…to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
Surely, all realize those who are ignorant of the gospel message do not know God. Therefore, those who are ignorant of the gospel message are those who Christ will take vengeance against. Remember Colossians 1:23? At one time everyone has the opportunity to hear. Because someone rejected that opportunity in the past does not excuse someone today.
When Paul entered into the city of Athens, he passed by an altar with
the inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23). In his address to the
Athenians on Mars’ Hill, he said that “having overlooked the times of
ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should
repent” (Acts 17:30). Because Paul said “all people,” this admonition
excludes no one and because he said “everywhere,” it matters not where
they might live.
As Paul begins the book of Romans, he deals with the sins of Jews and Gentiles. Concerning the Gentiles he wrote, “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, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In this passage Paul notes God manifested Himself in the things that He created. This same line of reasoning can and should be applied to all men. No man is without excuse because we can look inwardly and know that God exists. And we can look at the universe and know that God exists. Since we can know that God exists, we have a responsibility to Him to do His will.
One Way of Salvation
The Bible clearly teaches that there is only one way of salvation and that is through Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Undeniably, Jesus is the only way to the Father. Since He is the only way, there can be no other way. He is not just the provider of the way, but is Himself the way. Nor is He just the proclaimer of the way for, again, He is the way—the one and only way. If ignorance is an excuse, then there would be two ways of salvation—ignorance and Jesus. Therefore, because Jesus is the only way, ignorance cannot be a way.
Further, Luke records in Acts 4:12, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Again the emphasis is placed on Jesus as being the one and only way of salvation. Heaven’s door is open because of His atonement, because of His blood, and because of His sacrifice. Thus, “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED” (Romans 10:13). If we for any reason do not call upon the name of the Lord, there is no salvation. Only in Him is redemption found. It cannot be found in ignorance for in Him only is there salvation.
In Christ, we are blessed with “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Certainly, salvation is a spiritual blessing and it, too, is found in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:10). In some cases, ignorance may be bliss, but it is without doubt no spiritual blessing nor is ignorance of spiritual things found in Christ. In Christ, we have redemption, justification, sanctification, and salvation while in ignorance, there is only damnation and condemnation.
Sin Condemns, Not the Gospel
What causes a person to be lost is sin. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Death is separation. Physical death is the separation of body and spirit (James 2:26), while spiritual death is separation from God. Notice what Isaiah wrote to Israel of old: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). It is sin which separates man from God (not God’s sins but man’s sins). What causes a person to be separated from God is NOT his or her knowledge of the gospel. It is sin.
If a person has the ability to be saved because of ignorance, the gospel is not a gospel of salvation, it is a gospel of condemnation. If someone who is isolated from the rest of the world and never had the opportunity to hear the gospel can be saved because of his ignorance, then when the gospel is preached to him, it would bring condemnation rather than salvation if he did not respond to it favorably. It would not be “the glorious gospel” (1 Timothy 1:11), it would be the horrible gospel. Nor would not be “the gospel of peace” (Romans 10:15), it would be the gospel of conflict. Also, it would not be “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), it would be the gospel of the brutality of God. There would be no “hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23), only despair.
This justification through ignorance would make the gospel of no power rather than “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). It would make the “Great Commission” of Jesus useless, unproductive, and vain. However, even the sacrifice of Jesus would be of no value if man could be saved through ignorance. It would be better for the world not to know than to know and to be condemned. If man could be saved in ignorance, we are doing no favors to anyone by teaching the gospel. We ought not name the name of Christ among the nations for it would be better to leave every person untaught.
To some, these things are hard. However, the hardness is not that they are unloving. Jesus Christ paid the price for every person and that price was His own precious blood. For “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Because God “will have all men to be saved,” Christ Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:4,6). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). These are the most loving words to ever pierce the hearing of man. These things are hard because of the weight of responsibility placed upon every person.
To those who are ignorant of spiritual matters, it is your responsibility to know God and to obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8). God would not have you to be ignorant but “to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) and to purify your souls by obeying the truth (1 Peter 1:22).
To obey the truth, you must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 8:24) and turn from your sins by repenting (Luke 13:3). You then must be “buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). When you are buried with Him by baptism, the Lord adds you to His church (Acts 2:47). If you are faithful in this new life even unto death, Jesus promises that He will give unto you “a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Those who are the children of God are to publish and to herald His word to the four corners of the earth. If we really care about that isolated, ignorant and unenlightened tribesman, we would do everything in our power to send the gospel light to the far reaches of the world. We would not hold back the gospel, but proclaim it at every dawning of the morning and every dusk of the evening. And like the apostle Paul, we feel indebted to every man and compelled to preach the gospel (Romans 1:14-15). Because ignorance is no excuse, woe is unto us, if we preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16).