Speaking to many about salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus, many ask what happens to those who do not believe the gospel and yet are good people. How can we respond to such a challenge? Why would good people need to believe in the Lord Jesus? What is the fate of good people who refuse to believe in the Lord Jesus?
Why should we believe in the Lord Jesus?
When I started writing this article, I intended to write about good people in the Bible who at one point did bad things. However, God put it in my heart to start over. People are different: some better, some worse. But the problem is that man cannot, in his natural, sinful state, in which he was born, inherit the Kingdom of God:
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” ( 1 Corinthians 15 NASB)
By faith we receive the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantor that we will inherit the Kingdom of God:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 NASB)
Through the Holy Spirit we become partakers of the divine nature:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4 NASB)
The Holy Spirit assures us that we are sons of God:
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:15-17 NASB).
So, if we want to inherit the Kingdom of God, we must believe in the Lord Jesus in order to receive the Holy Spirit and thus become partakers of the divine nature. Jesus calls this phenomenon the rebirth, which is a spiritual birth and occurs on a spiritual level:
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8 NASB)
Upon being born again we do not see a physical change in outward appearance, but it is a change in behavior conditioned by change on a spiritual level.
However, being born again is not limited to the change in this life, but has an effect on our eternity. At the coming of the Lord Jesus, those of us who are His by being born again will also be like Him physically speaking:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 NASB)
Good people are far from God’s standards
Another aspect I want to address in this article is: what do we mean by good man? We tend to compare ourselves to other people and then we can look quite “holy” or good compared to other people. But what if we compared ourselves to God? What would the most holy man on earth look like compared to God’s holiness?
Abraham was a special man. However, the apostle Paul writes about Abraham that if he had something to boast about, he had something to boast about before men, not before God:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:1-3 NASB)
So Abraham himself was considered righteous (innocent) not by his deeds, but by faith.
Thinking about this question, I remembered the fate of the good people of the Old Testament, who did not have the chance to be born again, because the Lord Jesus had not yet been glorified. The Lord directed me to think of David, whom He said was a man after His own heart:
But Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly! You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for the Lord would now have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14 NASB)
In this text God speaks of David.
David was a special man, but whoever reads about him in the Bible I think would hardly call him a good man in the way we understand what a good man is. God Himself did not allow David to build a house for Him because He shed much blood:
Then he called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel. David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon(Peace), and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign.
If we are talking about concrete facts and you know the Scriptures, you remember the case of David with Bathsheba and Uriah. When David was confronted by God through the prophet Nathan, David acknowledged his guilt and humbly accepted the consequences of his sin. (2 Samuel 11 and 12)
What I want to say is that man in his sinful nature cannot be good by the standards of God’s holiness, because in the body of such a man works the law of sin about which the apostle Paul writes in Romans 7:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.(Romans 7:14-23 NASB)
That is why God sent His Son into the world to save us from the law of sin and death that holds us in bondage to sin:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.(Romans 8:1-4 NASB)
Translated by Nicoleta Vicliuc