Is There Any Excuse For Unbelief?

Title: Is There Any Excuse For Unbelief?

Text: Romans 10:14-21

Time: November 14th, 2006

Today, we face a similar question that Paul faced long ago, “With so many people refusing to believe in the gospel, could it be that they have some good excuse to give for their unbelief?” In Paul’s day, it was the problem of the Jew’s unbelief; today it is the problem of both Jews’ and Gentile’s unbelief. Might there be some good reason why people simply do not believe, some good excuse they can give? For the Apostle Paul, the Jews of his day had no good reason or excuse for not believing, and even though their hardness of heart was in the plan and purpose of God in order to open the gates of salvation to the Gentiles, there is no justification for their rejection of the gospel. Today, we might ask the same question of men and women in our own country, the United States: is there any possible excuse that people can give to justify their stubborn rejection of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ? But wait. Someone may object to the question because after all from the surface it would seem that people in the United States are not rejecting Christianity, but in fact believing in the gospel. From the look of things, the gospel isn’t being rejected but instead is being accepted by Americans today. Yes, from the surface it might appear that the gospel is receiving a widespread popularity among our people today, but that would only be true on a superficial level. In reality, the true gospel of Jesus, the saving gospel, is in fact being rejected by a majority of people today because much of what is being called Christianity today isn’t true Christianity. Not everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian is in fact a Christian. The saving gospel of repentance and faith in Christ alone is different from what is called the gospel by many professed Christians. Today, whatever is called Christianity is pretty much accepted as such, but we know this cannot be because of the lack of true Christian spiritual fruit that it bears. If every person calling himself a Christian in this country was in fact a true Christian, then the kingdom of God would have already arrived and society would be a lot different. Obviously something is wrong with this picture. What is wrong is that true Christianity is diminishing in this country, along with Christian beliefs and moral values. People’s hearts are turning hard to the things of God no matter what label they put upon themselves, Christian or otherwise. Just as the Jews in Paul’s day, people today are more likely to reject the gospel of Jesus rather than accept it. But what can explain this hardness of heart? Maybe they have some good excuse? Maybe they are not hearing the gospel? Maybe they are not understanding it even if they hear it because of a problem of communication? Paul’s answers to these questions concerning the Jews apply to our understanding of why people are rejecting the gospel today. Let’s listen to what the Apostle has to say in Roman 10:14-21 (read).

First, maybe people haven’t heard the gospel; maybe that’s their excuse. Romans 10:14-15, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.’” The fact is evangelism is a process involving many parts all playing a role in the end product of salvation. In explaining how the Jews could reject the gospel or even how people today can reject the gospel, it could be explained that maybe they just haven’t heard it, or heard enough of it to make a decision. Paul considers this in this section. For example, he lists just some of the basic parts of the process of evangelism: in order to believe one must hear the message, but in order to hear the message someone must have taught it, and in order for someone to have taught it, someone must have been sent out to teach it. Now if at any point the process of evangelism breaks down, then people will not hear it and therefore can’t believe. If the Christian church doesn’t send people out to spread the gospel, or nobody goes out spreading the gospel, then it doesn’t get preached. And if it doesn’t get preached, nobody hears it. And if nobody hears it, nobody believes it. Could it be the case that the Jews in the day of Paul simply hadn’t heard the gospel because not enough Christians were teaching it? What about today? Could it be that people are not so much rejecting the gospel but rather failing to actually hear it because Christians aren’t teaching it? Can that excuse for unbelief be made? For Paul it can’t for the Jews case; and for us today, that excuse can’t justify a rejection of the gospel today in America either. To begin with, the gospel started being preached in Jerusalem immediately soon after the resurrection of Christ by the Jewish Christian disciples. At one point the Jewish authorities charged the disciples with filling all Jerusalem with the gospel teaching. Yes, there is a process to evangelism, but that process was being fulfilled in the early days of the church and the Jews of that time heard the gospel, but the vast majority of them rejected it. What about in our day among people who would be called Gentiles in our country the United States? Maybe the majority of people who reject the gospel haven’t really heard it? Well it certainly could be the case that a person might not hear the true gospel even in a so-called Christian nation such as America. A lot of confusion exists about exactly what is the gospel, how it should actually be taught. But with all of the media outlets teaching the gospel on radio, television, and in print, it’s hard to imagine someone who really wanted to hear the gospel could miss it. No, not hearing the gospel can’t be used as an excuse for rejecting it. Not believing in the gospel because of not hearing it can’t be used as a good excuse, not in Paul’s day, not in our day.

Second, maybe people haven’t understood the gospel; maybe that’s their excuse. Romans 10:16-17, “But not all Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” So if there can be no excuse among the ancient Jews of not hearing the gospel, nor among modern contemporaries today, might the excuse be made that while they heard the gospel, they didn’t understand it? In all honesty, this is a real possibility, then and now. The Jews of Paul’s day probably did hear the gospel as preached by the apostles and the Christians of that time, but that they really understood it is questionable. The problem is in the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance. Today there is no question that more people have heard the gospel than understand the gospel. In fact, that’s one of the problems of today — people hear the gospel so much, hear bits and pieces of it, that they think they know it and understand it, but often times they don’t. Sadly, people reject what they think they know, when in fact, they are rejecting something they really don’t understand. Of course it is also true that many people do reject the gospel even as they totally know and understand it. For Paul in the first century, the problem of the Jews was not that they hadn’t heard the gospel, nor that they didn’t understand the gospel, but it was that they rejected the gospel. Romans 10:16, “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.” He might have also said that most Israelites did not accept the good news, because the vast majority rejected it; only a small percentage of Jews accepted it. But it wasn’t because they hadn’t heard it or understood it. It wasn’t a problem of evangelism; it was a spiritual problem of the heart. And that is probably the same reason why most people reject the gospel today – it’s a spiritual problem of the heart. That shouldn’t stop us from evangelizing today. We must continue to teach and preach the gospel because they are some, even many who have not even heard it. It doesn’t mean that we should stop instructing people in order to help them understand the gospel, because many, many people need to understand what the gospel is saying in order to believe. But it means that we must face the fact that we can present the gospel to people, explain it so that they understand it, but most people will still probably reject it because of the hardness of their heart. That’s the sad truth. In our country today there really is no excuse for not hearing and understanding the gospel by anyone. There are radio and television programs beaming Bible teachings 24/7 into our homes, and not just one but many programs. There are bookstores nearby that carry hundreds of books explaining the Christian gospel. There are so many churches available for people to attend that it’s almost impossible not to hear the gospel at some point in some way. No. Not understanding the gospel as an excuse for not believing it can’t be made, at least not in our country today. People are responsible for what they believe or don’t believe about the gospel. This is Paul’s last point.

Third, it isn’t that people can’t believe, it’s that they won’t believe. Romans 10:18-21, “But I ask: did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’ Again, I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, ‘I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.’ And Isaiah boldly says, ‘I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But concerning Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient people.’” Now there are some people in Paul’s day and in our day today who couldn’t and can’t believe because they’ve never heard the gospel or never understood it, but those people are exceptions to the rule. In new mission fields where the gospel is being introduced for the first time before the message is preached and explained, this could be the case, but once Christianity is introduced into a society it’s not the case that people can’t believe, it’s that they won’t believe. The Jews around Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Israel, were not ignorant of the gospel nor did they not understand it, but they simply rejected it. This is Paul’s point in Romans 10:21, “All day long I held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” The Jews were stubborn and hard-hearted in their unbelief, not due to any lack of evangelism on his or any other Christian’s part. Today, we are seeing more and more of that stubborn, hard-hearted attitude among pagan Gentiles in our own culture. Now in Paul’s day, the non-Jewish Gentiles were more open to the gospel than the closed-hearted Jews, and today they are still more open to it, but it’s becoming less and less. Today, the Gentiles are becoming more like the Jews of old and closing their hearts more and more to the gospel. This makes perfect sense in respect to what Paul explains in the next chapter, 11, in the Book of Romans. As more and more of the complete Gentile world is reached in our day with the message of the gospel, the mission to the Gentiles in God’s master plan draws to a close and a new beginning for the Jews will begin. But for now, we are called to witness to everyone, Jew or Gentile, with the gospel, knowing that it will be difficult to see a Jew believe and it will become increasingly harder for even Gentiles to believe. Nevertheless we must continue on with the Great Commission of Jesus by presenting and explaining the gospel to anyone and everyone who will listen, trusting God to open hearts. It is not our responsibility to save people, it is our responsibility to tell people the gospel. Do you look for opportunities to share the gospel to family and friends? Do you pray for people to believe and be saved? Let’s take advantage of every opportunity God gives us to tell the gospel of salvation.

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