Recently, I spoke on Luke 8:4-18 – what is known as “The Parable of the Sower.” The passage deals with the complex issue of why some people are “saved” and others are not, and as I expected there were a lot of questions about the nature of salvation.
Particularly, someone asked about the meaning of “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart” in verse 15. The actual question was:
What will be the results of those who have never heard The Word or care to abide by it but are “decent” people. Will they be “saved”? And we all know that no one, outside of the Trinity, is perfect and can put The Word into “perfect practice”. I know I need to work a lot harder to be a better listener and see-er. I really have no idea if some people will never be saved.
This is a great question, and it is also a very common one that believers struggle with. If I might rephrase the question, it is something like this:
Is there any hope of salvation for those who do not receive “the Word”?
To answer the question, we need to make sure that we carefully define the term The Word. According to the Gospel writer John, The Word is Jesus himself, revealed as a part of the divine godhead – the Creator and Redeemer of all things (John 1). The Scriptures themselves reveal to us the Living Word, and I would go as far as to say that if Jesus is not the Living Word then the Written Word is empty and meaningless. As Paul points out:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)
The Scriptures, Christianity – they have no meaning without Christ, and therein lies the answer to the question. At its core, the Christian faith is grounded in the idea that Jesus is the living Word. He is the written Word’s fulfillment (Matthew 5:17) and the satisfaction of all earthly requirements of salvation (Galatians 2:22-29. He is, as the author of Hebrews put it, “the author and finisher of our faith.” Without him, there is no salvation. (Acts 4:12)
The Christian faith is inherently exclusive. This offends some people, but there is no way around it. Christianity not only excludes those who have no exposure to the Scriptures but also those who look to the Scriptures but deny Christ.
Jesus’ parable of the sower was addressed directly to those who claimed to the know the Scriptures but denied Him as the Word of God. It is a universal statement, pertaining to those who appeared to be His disciples as much as to those who would never be exposed to His Word. While one of the soils he mentions in the parable never receives the Word, two of them do receive it but then let it die within them – burnt up and dry because of the rock or choked out by the weeds.
Now, having made such exclusive statements, let me offer some hope. Throughout his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul makes it plain that those who would receive Jesus as the Word will be given opportunity. Revelation will reach them, and those who will follow Him will be given the opportunity. This is why the Church has a mandate to “make disciples of all nations”. We are called to work to share Jesus Christ with as many as will hear, knowing that not all will receive.
The more we allow God to expand our vision, the greater the opportunity the Church has to be a part of the harvest he has prepared. (John 4:34-38, Acts 10:34-43) One of the great sins of the Church is that we narrow God’s vision and restrict the scope of what He can do through us. We dismiss classes of people because they do not fit our idea of “good soil.”
To bring these thoughts full circle to the original question, are there some people who will “never be saved”? I believe that from our human perspective, we do not have the right to say “never.” God’s vision transcends our ability to perceive, and those we might dismiss as “unreachable” may turn out to be “good soil”.
Jesus’ parable of the sower was not absolute. In other words, it was not predeterminative. Jesus was not saying that all people are always in one of the four categories, but rather that every time we are exposed to the Word (and remember, he meant himself) we can be one of the four. Just as Simon Peter and James could not be able to grasp that all nations could receive the gospel and needed Paul to preach the gospel to them afresh (Galatians 1), we sometimes lose sight of Jesus and our growth dries up or is choked out.
People are not in irreversible spiritual state until death. As long as their is breath in their lungs (a breath that comes from God, by the way – Genesis 2), there is hope. As long as they can be exposed to the Word, there is potential for them to be “good soil.” We must never give up the hope that God can do the miraculous thing.