This topic can be controversial and can bring much debate within church circles, to be sure. And, may I add, it is good for healthy, vigorous, level headed, respectful debate on such issues as these which are core Christian beliefs. The aim should be to dig deeper into God’s Word and find out the answers and to love one another in the process.
The controversy is not “we are sinners”. We know, that since Genesis 3, all of mankind has been plunged into sin. Once Adam and Eve sinned, it affected the whole human race. We are their descendants, therefore we inherited their sinful nature. Romans 5:12 makes this abundantly clear. Adam sinned, therefore all have sinned, in Adam, and we all inherited the sentence of death, as well. But what about those who have never heard? What about those who are so far away from hearing about God, the Bible, Jesus, the Gospel, etc.? Shouldn’t they be exempt from the Wrath of God that is coming upon the world? What about babies and young children, etc.? This is where the controversy exists. How do we address these things?
Regarding babies and young children, Paul the apostle addresses this in Romans 7, in his own personal story of his life growing up as a devout law-keeping Jew. He states that there was a time in his life when the Law of God did not affect him, while he was young. But there was a day or time in his life in which the Law of God became effective and engaged into his life and because of sin, it killed him (see Romans 7:9 – read the context of Romans 7:7-12). Thus, there is a time of innocence, clearly, in which God’s judgment is NOT engaged. Yet, there is a time in all of our lives that the LAW engages, and we are judged. This illustrates that pre-born, infants, and young children are exempt from God’s Holy Wrath and Judgment. Unless a child only live that long, we all tend to grow up into adulthood. That is the focus of the rest of the passage. When sin takes hold. Our sinful nature is inherited from Adam, and we did not choose this, we inherited it.
The fact that the whole Human Race is under God’s Wrath is clearly stated in a couple of passages – 1. John 3:36 – on those outside of Christ, “the wrath of God abides on [them]” … 2. Ephesians 2:1-3 – Christians used to be, and the lost are –> sons of disobedience and children of [God’s] wrath. So, combined with Romans 5:12 and the above verses, the human race is under the sentence of God’s Wrath and Judgment because of sin (Adam’s and their own, each individual’s sin). One more verse seals the deal, so to speak, John 3:18 – those who are NOT believers in Christ are “condemned already”. So, when did that condemning occur? Did it occur when they heard the Gospel of Christ and rejected it? The passage does not say that. If a person is in the state of non-belief in Christ, they are condemned already. That is what it says, that is the best rendering of that passage. In verse 17, Christ states that He did not come to condemn, but to save. Then He reveals the condition of humans in John chapter 3, verses 18-21: 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:18-20 – NKJV)
So, here is the test. If you go to some far away country and talk to someone who has never heard about Jesus Christ, His Life, His Ministry, His Crucifixion, Death, Burial, and Resurrection … and point blank ask that person if he or she believes in Jesus Christ, we know what the answer will be: NO. That person does NOT believe in Jesus Christ. So, even before the message of the Gospel is even presented, we can predict that the person you are talking to is an “unbeliever” … thus that person is “condemned already” … –> test completed.
We know, clearly from Jesus Christ and the rest of the New Testament documents that God, now, ONLY Saves the Lost through the preaching, teaching, sharing of the Gospel of Christ (see Acts 17:30-31). That is the Only way He saves lost sinners, now, during the Gospel Age / the Church Age.
1 Corinthians 1:17 – 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. (NKJV)
1 Corinthians 1:21 – 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message [i.e. the Gospel] preached to SAVE those who believe. (NKJV ; emphasis added)
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 – Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures
Therefore, it is abundantly clear, from all the scriptures we seen above that lost sinners are already condemned. They are not choosing to go to hell or to their final destination, the Lake of Fire of Eternal Judgment and Wrath of God. They are not choosing to go there. If they do nothing, choose nothing, choose a new pair of socks … they are still going there. We all inherited this fate of eternal judgment the second that Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The whole human race was “condemned already” at that point.
It is also abundantly clear that God ONLY Saves Lost Sinners through the Gospel. The only “CHOICE” that RESCUES them from this fate is choosing to Repent and Trust in Christ’s Finished Work of Redemption (i.e.: His Crucifixion, Death, Burial and Resurrection – per 1 Cor. 15:1-4) When a person chooses Christ they are Rescued and Condemned No Longer (2 Cor. 5:17; Romans 8:1) . They are no longer under God’s Just, Right, Correct, and Holy Wrath and Judgment but are place in Christ in which dwells God’s Love, Righteousness, Mercy, Grace, Forever Forgiveness of sins, and Relationship with God, forever. Repent and Trust in Christ and His Finished Work of Redemption and a lost sinner is saved, born again, receives Eternal Life, etc. RESCUED!!!
God Demonstrates His own Love toward us, in that while we were still SINNERS, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) This verse echoes the Truth that we are all CONDEMNED SINNERS under the Wrath of a Holy God, YET God provided a WAY OUT – through the One Who is the Only Way, the Only Truth, and the Only LIFE – Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
This is Truth, bedrock, Sound and Pure Doctrine regarding the sinful depravity of mankind. There are some schools of thought and doctrinal camps that will take these solid Biblical Truths further in various directions. I did not want to go into those camps, but stay in the Simply Biblical middle ground of Doctrinal Sanity.
This Truth should URGE us onward with tremendous URGENCY to Spread the Gospel at break-neck speed, since the time is short, and shorter every second. Once the Rapture occurs, the church’s job of sowing seeds of the Gospel, Plowing, Cultivating, and Bringing in a Harvest of Souls for Christ will be complete. Until then, we need to be vigilant and diligent – seeking the Lord of the Harvest for more laborers and for us, personally to be the best laborer we can be, in Christ, for His Glory … so that the lost are saved … before the Wrath of God comes in full force. We must warn them of the coming judgement before it is too late.