John 3:18 (ESV) -- Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
A question I have received from people over the years goes something like this, “What about those who never hear of Jesus?” It is a good question. It indicates that the individual is taking the Scriptures seriously in its condemnation of the unbeliever. There is eternal judgment awaiting those who reject Christ as their Savior. But what about folks in remote jungles or places where the gospel message has not gone? What about those people groups without any gospel witness? If they haven’t heard of Jesus, will they still be condemned?
This is a question that forces us to do some theological work. Our text today helps us with that work. We read in John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Notice that whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned. So it is clear that faith in the finished work of Jesus forgives our sins, and rescues us from the condemnation we deserve.
But notice how He continues. He says that whoever does not believe in the Son is condemned already. This is interesting. They are not condemned because they reject Jesus and do not believe in Him. They are condemned because they were already condemned as sinners living in rebellion against God. In other words, they are not punished for failing to believe in Jesus. They are condemned because they are rebels. Faith in Jesus is the only thing that can rescue them, but lack of it is not the root that condemns them.
Many people miss this when discussing the nature of man and our condition before God. We are not neutral people. We are sinners, rebels. Our lives of lawlessness and disobedience condemn us before a holy God. The gospel is about what Jesus has done to rescue sinners. Hearing and responding to that message is how we are saved from the wrath of God. The person who never hears the gospel isn’t condemned for what they haven’t heard, they are condemned for what they have done. Their condemnation is based on their sin, not their access to the gospel message.
This is why we go. Sinners are only rescued as they respond to the message of free grace. This is also why we should live thankful if we are in Christ. Somebody brought the message to us, and saved us from the condemnation we once walked in.
Reflection & Journal:
- What does it mean that we are condemned already before the gospel?
- How would you answer the question now if someone asked you about those who never hear?
- What does this passage teach you about our sin nature before Christ?
Sign up to receive our daily devotions in your inbox here!