We Proclaim Jesus.
GOD BLESS YOU.
How God Views Unbelievers!
By Joseph Ametepe
• The Bible clearly reveals the true character of God. All we need to know about the true and living God is carefully preserved for us in the Scriptures. From the Word of God we learn who God is and what He has done in peoples' lives in the past and what He promises to do in the future. The Bible is written to help us know God’s heart and mind. There is no doubt that knowing God’s heart, God’s character, and God’s mind is fundamental to the study of the Holy Scriptures. But that is not all. God also intends for us to learn about the nature and character of the people He created from the Bible. God made known His character in the Bible. But He also revealed so much about our character in it.
• The most reliable source of learning about who we really are is the Bible. God is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent. He is the God of truth. What He has said of Himself in the Bible is true and trustworthy. So also is what He has spoken of us in His Holy Word. His viewpoint on us is always correct. His perspective of us is always clear and consistent. He never takes a word back. What He says of us is always reliable and right.
• Most often, even those of us who are believers hate the truth God shows us of ourselves. We struggle with it and in pride try to reject it. But we must not let pride stand in the way of learning the truth about ourselves. We would do well to learn how He thinks of us. In fact, learning about how God thinks of us is one of the most important lessons in life. What people think of us is not always consistent. Truthfully, most times what they think of us is clearly in the wrong. This is because they do not see things always from God’s perspective.
• In our attempt of seeking to present the Good News of Jesus Christ to unbelievers, we need to refresh our minds or relearn how God thinks of them.
• To become effective in our witness, we must have God’s viewpoint of the unsaved. How does God think of them? What has He revealed in the Bible about the lost? What has He said of unbelievers whom we work with, live with, eat with, play with, shop with, go to school with, travel with, attend ballgames with, and even joke with? Sweet? Nice? Cute?
• The purpose of this article is to help us gain afresh God’s perspective on unbelievers and as a result think of them as God thinks of them and so become more effective in our witness to them. It is my prayer that God will use this study to draw us closer to Him and make us more fruitful in sharing the Good News in our day.
The Definition of the Good News
• What then is the Good News? In its simplest form, the Good News or the Gospel is the saving message of life and redemption in Jesus Christ. It is the glad news which tells about Jesus Christ. It is therefore always centered on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He has done for the salvation of sinners in every nation. The Good News is the joyous proclamation of God's redemptive activity in Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners enslaved by sin.
• In other words, the Gospel is the presentation of the life of the Person of Jesus to show His saving significance for all people and to call them to faith in Him.
• It is the saving work of God in His Son, Jesus Christ, and a call to faith in Him. Faith is more than intellectual agreement to a theoretical truth. Faith is trust placed in a living person, Jesus Christ.
The Definition of Salvation
• The term salvation is familiar to most of us. Yet its true meaning is not familiar to us. It is therefore necessary to give a clear definition of salvation at this point.
• In its simplest form, salvation is deliverance from the punishment, penalty, power, pollution and finally from the presence of sin.
• It is an eternal gift bestowed on those who personally place their complete trust in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ and in His sacrificial death on the cross for their sins. This wholehearted personal trust results in entering into a saving relationship with God and complete forgiveness of one’s sins against a holy, loving and righteous God who is from everlasting to everlasting.
• To state it in another way, salvation is simply an application of Christ’s victorious work over sin to the life of the individual. It pertains to the most crucial need of the human person – the need to be freed from sin, which separates us from a loving, gracious, holy and just God.
• In the Old Testament, the term “salvation” sometimes refers to deliverance from danger (see Jeremiah 15:20), deliverance of the weak from an oppressor (see Psalm 35:9-10), the healing of sickness (see Isaiah 38:20), and deliverance from blood guiltiness and its consequences (see Psalm 51:14). It may also refer to national deliverance from military threat (see Exodus 13:14) or release from captivity (see Psalm 14:7). But salvation finds its deepest meaning in the spiritual realm of life. It is this deepest meaning of salvation that I have defined above and about which I am concerned in this article. The absolute necessity of salvation, deliverance from the penalty and power of sin is indeed one of the clearest teachings of the Bible. The need for salvation is a universal need. Everyone desperately needs it, but unfortunately, not everyone desires it or seeks it.
The Definition of Sin
It is necessary for us to define sin at this point. Sin is simply lawlessness (1 John 3:4) or transgression of God’s will, either by omitting to do what God’s law requires or by doing what it forbids. Sin or transgression can occur in thought (1 John 3:15), word (Matthew 5:22), or deed (Romans 1:32). To state it in another way, sin is any form of wrongdoing, whether consciously committed or not, and thoughts, words, or deeds which fall short of God’s standard of perfection. Defining it bluntly, sin is doing evil in the sight of a Holy God.
God created mankind without sin. Morally, he was upright and inclined to do good (Ecclesiastes 7:29). But sin entered into human experience when Adam and Eve violated the direct command of God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3:1-6). Since Adam was the representative head of the whole human race, his sin affected all future generations (see Romans 5:12-21). So we are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s perfection. But in our fallen and sinful state, God reached out to us in the Person of the Lord Jesus to save sinners like us from our sins.
Having defined the Good News, salvation and sin, let us now focus our attention on the subject before us, that is, what God says or thinks about those who are still in their sins.
God’s Perspective of Unbelievers
They are Definitely created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-2; 9:6; James 3:9-10).
In presenting the truths about how God views the unsaved, it is not only necessary, but also very important to begin where God Himself began. We must start from where He Himself started in establishing His viewpoint of unbelievers in His Holy Scriptures. Doing so will prevent us from misrepresenting God or missing an important truth about His view of lost humanity.
God started unfolding His perspective of the unsaved with what He Himself first said of man in the very beginning. The first and second occurrences of the word "man" (Hebrew - Adam) in the Bible are found in Genesis 1:26, 27. There we read these words, "Then God [Hebrew - Elohim] said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness… God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Elohim is the plural form of El, but it is usually translated in the singular. Elohim conveys the idea that the One Supreme Being, who is the only true God, is in some sense plural.
Now would you please notice that the context in which the word "man" occurs is God’s creation of man in His own image. God’s view of man, that is humanity in general is that man is a creature of God, made in the image of God. This implies that God intends for us to understand man as having originated not through a chance process of evolution, but through a creative, careful, conscious, purposeful act of God. Every human being is God’s creature made in God’s own image. Elohim did not create Adam and Eve, our first parents alone, in His likeness. All of us who come from the seed of Adam are also created in God’s image. All humans are created in God’s image, no matter what the color of their skin is or what country they are from. In other words, believers as well as unbelievers all over the world, bear the image of the living and true God.
The clear teaching of Scripture is that the image of God has not been lost as a result of sin or specifically the fall. This is an obvious inference from God’s prohibition against murder and cursing stated in Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9-10 respectively. There is no doubt that God’s prohibitions against murder and cursing apply to the treatment of sinners as well as godly believers.
Hundreds of years after the fall, God specifically prohibited murder. The reason He gave for this prohibition was that man was made in the image of God (see Genesis 9:6). God gave this prohibition to Noah after the flood in which he destroyed all flesh except Noah’s family. He did this because the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and every intent of the thought of man’s heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Noah and his family were part of that generation. However, Noah found favor with God and walked with God. So from the context of Genesis 6-9, God is making it clear that man, even as a sinner possessed the image of God. For if he had not, God would not have mentioned the image as the basis of his prohibition of murder.
Thousands of years after the fall and flood, God prohibited cursing of anyone (see James 3:9-10). Again the reason He gave for this prohibition is that men[Greek - anthropous] have been created in His likeness. Anthropous is the plural form of anthropos, which speaks of humanity as a class. So again God is here affirming that all people are created in His likeness, unbelievers as well as believers. Therefore, as we think of unbelievers, the lost, or the unsaved, let’s learn and endeavor to think of them as God who created them and us thinks of them. They are definitely created in the image of God. This is what God has revealed in His Word as the starting point of His view of unbelievers.
Both Genesis 1:27 and 5:1-2 make it clear that the image of God was borne by both male and female. This implies that believing women and unbelieving women both bear the image of God. Similarly, believing men and unbelieving men also bear God’s image. The point is clear. The unsaved bear the image of God. His image in them has not been lost. Somehow God in His miraculous way has preserved it in them and us despite the fall and our unbelief.
While it is true that the image of God has not been lost, sin has marred the image of God in all of us. To find the true image of God we must look to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the complete revelation of what the image of God is. If we desire to know the outworking of the image of God, we can see it in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the One Person whose humanity was never spoiled by sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus, the Eternal Son of God is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). Christ is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Therefore the image of God in its purest sense is the forming of the likeness of Jesus Christ in us (Romans 8:29). This can be a reality in the life of the unbeliever if he or she turns from his or her sins to the Savior Jesus Christ. God will then begin the work of forming Christ in him or her.
Having this viewpoint of God about those who are without Christ is not only healthy but also helpful. It would help us approach them with respect as the Lord Jesus Himself did in His ministry of sharing the Good News with the lost. He approached sinners not with a mindset of trampling them down and trashing them. Rather, He approached them with a mindset of lifting them up to where the God who created them in His image wants them to be – that is, in a loving relationship with Him as they turn away from their sins and embrace Him and His truth.
Because unbelievers are created in the image of God, God is able to work in them through His Spirit and His Scripture to desire Him, to respond to Him, to want to have a personal relationship with Him. Also, God is able to work in their hearts to know, love, worship and obey His Maker, and understand what God desires of him. These are the benefits of being created in the image of God.
It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will keep this truth foremost in our hearts as we carry the message of the Good News to the lost. Let’s tell them they are created in the image of God. And because of that God is able to work in their lives to help them give up their sinful ways. And He is also able to create a desire in them to seek and know Him, their Maker and Creator.
2. They are spiritually Dead (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13).
The God, who revealed in His word that unbelievers are definitely created in His image, also says of them that they are dead in their transgressions and sins. Describing who the Ephesians were before becoming Christians, Paul says in the Spirit, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins" (Ephesians 2:1 NIV).
In other words, prior to regeneration or new birth, the Ephesians were spiritually dead. The Holy Spirit was reminding them that before their conversion they were spiritually dead. They were physically alive but spiritually they were completely dead. If you please, they were spiritual corpses in Death Valley.
So from this passage we learn that God’s view of every unbeliever is that he or she is spiritually dead though physically alive.
Being dead in trespasses and sins is called the depravity of man. Before anyone of us ever became a believer, God’s thought of us is that we were dead and depraved. It doesn’t matter where we come from, whether Jew or Gentile, whether black or white, rich or poor, before we were born-again, the God who created us all says of us, "you were dead in your trespasses and sins." Bluntly put, we were depraved.
God says of the past condition of the Ephesian believers that they were spiritually dead as a result of our trespasses and sins. What this actually means is that as unbelievers we were lifeless toward God. In our unbelieving state we had no vibrant and vital connection or contact with the God who created us for Himself. We were lifeless not only toward God but lifeless toward the things of God. God’s view has not changed. Unbelievers are spiritually lifeless toward God. This is His view of every single unbeliever today.
But God did not mean for unbelievers to remain in this spiritual lifeless state. In His love for them, God sent His Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Believing in the Person of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of one’s sins leads to spiritual and eternal life.
3. They are under the Devil’s power and control (Ephesians 2:2a).
From Paul’s Letter to the believers at Ephesus, God continues to disclose to us His view of people who are without Christ in their lives. Again speaking in the context of who the Ephesians were before being regenerated, the Holy Spirit says of them, "in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2a).
Literally this verse reads, "in which then you walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air." The Holy Spirit is here reminding the Ephesians of not only who they were before coming into a saving relationship with God, but also where they were before experiencing new birth and new life in Christ. Simply put, they were under the devil’s power and control.
Notice the picture the Bible paints here. The unsaved who are spiritually dead, walk according to the age of this world and according to the ruler of this world. This is therefore the dead person’s walk. What a vivid picture we have here of God’s view of the unconverted!
The identity of the prince of the power of the air or the ruler of the authority of the air is none other than the devil. Speaking of the devil before going to the cross, our Lord Himself referred to the devil as the "prince of this world." After the Father spoke from heaven to assure our Lord of having glorified Him and will glorify Him, Jesus said, "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince (or ruler) of this world will be driven out" (John 12:31).
Let me say it bluntly, unbelievers are in the hands of Satan, the devil, the deceiver of the nations. What God said long ago of where the Ephesians were before they came into relationship with Him is true of all unbelievers today. God is saying here of unbelievers that their belief and behavior are patterned after this world and the devil. They conform to the mold of the world and the spirit of this age. Unbelievers follow the example of the devil. Their behavior then is diabolical.
God is saying of the lost, the chief of evil spirits, the devil, whose realm is the atmosphere, leads them around. Whether they like it or not, in their unbelieving or unregenerate state, God says of them, they are willingly obedient to the god of this age. This is what it means to be walking according to the course of this world, and according to the prince of the power of the air.
Most unbelievers brag about how smart they are or how clever they are. Some of them boast about their power and control over others. But the real truth revealed by God about them is that in their state of unbelief, they are pawns in the hands of the prince of the power of the air, that is, the devil. But this does not mean they are not responsible for their actions. They cannot say, "the devil made me do it" and be acquitted before God. They will be held responsible.
The truth that the unsaved are in the hands of the devil is not received today. This is because the modern man has come of age. He has made great strides in science and technology. He has accomplished great feats. He has become sophisticated. Modern man has advanced and improved the standard of living to unparalleled heights. With all these achievements and advance, how dare you say that modern smart man is under the devil’s power and control?
Our answer to this question does not come from our puny mind, but from the pure, perfect, and precious Word of God. Despite all these accomplishments and achievements of the modern man, God’s view of the smart scientist, engineer, physician, professor, philosopher, politician, and economist who is in an unsaved state, is that he or she is under the devil’s power and control. God says it and that settles it. Period!
But God’s desire is not for the people He created in His image to remain under the devil’s power. He longs to set them free from the power and control of Satan. This is why Jesus came. The Bible emphatically tells us in 1 John 3:8b, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work." Jesus specifically came to destroy the devil’s work of controlling people who are under his power. God’s goal for people is to be freed from the oppression and tyranny of Satan. He has a perfect solution for setting free those who are under the power of the devil. This perfect solution is found in no other person but in Jesus Christ, who declared, "So if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).
The Bible tells again in Hebrews 2:14-15, "Therefore, since the children share in the flesh and blood, He Himself [that is Jesus] likewise also partook of the same that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives."
The death of Jesus is God’s perfect solution for breaking the power of the devil. How thankful we must be for Jesus’ sacrificial and voluntary death on the cross! Satan was disarmed at the cross of Christ. Colossians 2:15 tells us that Jesus "had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him, [that is, through His cross]."
Please listen! The God who had permitted the devil to control unbelievers has also provided a way for freeing them completely from the devil’s control. Thanks be to God!
This is the victorious news God has given us to share. Let us then resolve to share it in the power of the Holy Spirit. We have a message for those who are living in the fear of the devil. We have a message for those who are held in slavery by their fear of death. Jesus, the Lord has conquered both death and the devil.
4. They are Disobedient sons (Ephesians 2:2b; Ephesians 5:6).
God’s view of the lost continues to unfold in the Holy Scriptures. We have learned first of all that they are definitely created in the image of God. Second, that they are dead in their sins, that is, they are spiritually lifeless toward God. Also, God’s view of them is that they are under the devil’s power and control.
Now God says of them that they are disobedient sons. The second part of Ephesians 2:2 literally reads, "of the spirit now operating in the sons of disobedience." The Holy Spirit was still reminding the believers of Ephesus of who they were before experiencing new life in Jesus. The emphatic description of them as "the sons of disobedience" is a sobering one. God created us for Himself. He created us to love and obey Him. But the Holy Spirit says in Isaiah 53:6a, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way." This is the basic problem of humanity.
In Psalm 53:2-3, the Spirit further explains to us this basic human problem of turning to our own way. There we read, "God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one."
Adam and Eve turned to their own way in the Garden of Eden. Ever since then their descendants, the sons of men, have continued on that path of turning to their own way, that is, walking on the path of disobedience. Therefore we have become sons of disobedience in our turning to our own path in life.
The Greek word for "disobedience" is apeitheia. It speaks always of disobedience toward God or His ordinances. The expression, "the sons of disobedience" [tois hiois tes apeitheias] is a description of those who oppose God. Therefore, God’s view of unbelievers is that they are living in opposition to His Person and purpose for their lives.
All unsaved people are sons of disobedience in the sense that they are characterized by disobedience to God. They are energized by the devil, the ruler of the power of the air and are therefore disposed to defy, dishonor, despise, disregard, disdain, disrespect, and disobey the Lord.
Before I, through God’s grace, became a believer, I was a son of disobedience opposed to God in my belief and behavior.
I don’t care how nice people say you are or how cute, sweet, and good they say you are, if you are not in a saving, living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, God says of you, "you are a son of disobedience." God created all of us in His image. So in a sense we are all His created sons. But it is only those who are born again that become His true sons, sons of righteousness, not sons of disobedience.
In the latter part of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Holy Spirit led Paul to again describe unbelievers as "sons of disobedience" as he warned them of the coming wrath of God. "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 5:6). The expression "these things" refers to the sins described in verses 3-5 of Ephesians 5, namely immorality, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting.
It is wonderful to know that God does not want the label "the sons of disobedience" to remain upon unbelievers. He wants them to become His true sons of righteousness. No father will want his child to be a vagabond, rebel, or rascal all his life. The father will be moved to do whatever it takes to give the child an opportunity to change for the better. God, being the greatest and best Father, made a move to give an opportunity to those who oppose Him to enter into a right relationship with Him, a relationship that is characterized by obedience not obstinacy.
In John 1:11-13, God says, "He [speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ] came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
Please listen! The God who describes those who are opposed to Him as "the sons of disobedience" also delights to give them the right to become His children, His true sons, if and only if they receive Jesus Christ and believe in His name which is above all other names both in this life and in the life soon to come. God did not create the unsaved to remain under the description, "the sons of disobedience." By placing their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, they can become "the sons of His delight."
"A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother,"says Proverbs 10:1. Which son are you? A wise one who brings gladness to God’s heart or a foolish one who brings grief to God’s heart. Choose today which son you will be!
5. They only satisfy the Desires of their sinful nature (Ephesians 2:3a; Romans 8:5-8).
Having described unbelievers in Ephesians 2:2b as the sons of disobedience, those who are opposed to the Person and purpose of God, the Spirit reveals to us another way God sees them. God sees them as people who only live to serve one purpose, that is, to satisfy the desires of their sinful nature. And so we read, "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind," (Ephesians 2:3a). Literally, this verse reads,"among whom also we all conducted ourselves then in the lusts of the flesh of us, doing the wishes of the flesh and of the understandings."
Notice the change of pronoun from "you" to "we." Paul now includes himself and others (Jewish believers) in this description of gratifying the desires of their sinful nature. The flesh [tes sarkos] simply speaks of the sinful nature of man. Before Paul and the other Jewish brothers as well as the Ephesian Gentiles ever became new creation in Christ, they were completely given to satisfying the desires of their sinful nature. What the Spirit says here is a true description of everyone before new birth and new life in Jesus Christ. God says, before any one of us was ever converted, we were completely carnal. To put it bluntly, we were slaves to physical passion. Our whole life, in our unsaved condition, is lived to satisfy the desires of their sinful nature. That’s what it means to live in the passions or lusts of the flesh.
This was exactly the manner of our lives before we came into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. We did things which we are now ashamed of as believers. But when we were unbelievers we enjoyed them and reveled in them without shame. Those of us who have been saved by God's grace can testify to the fact that our life of living solely to satisfy our sinful desires was not only shameful, but also ugly and vile. There was nothing beautiful about such life. It was a life of filth. It was a life of wallowing in the deep and dirty mire of sin. The picture of a pig in a stinky, dirty, miry pig-pen best describes how driven we were to fulfill the sinful desires of our flesh in our unsaved condition.
In our previous point, we noted that God’s view of those who are in an unsaved state is that they are the sons of disobedience, that is, they live in opposition to God and His purposes. So what we are learning here is that their chief way of living in opposition to God is living only to satisfy their own sinful and selfish desires.
In other words, prior to our new birth, we were concerned only with the satisfaction of our fleshly desires and appetites. We lived a self-centered life of fulfilling only the desires of our sinful nature.
Today, we live in an age of self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction and pleasure.
How wonderful it is to know that God’s word spoke of this way of life, conduct and behavior long ago. Just turn on the TV. Before long, pictures and scenes promoting self-indulgence, self-fulfillment, self-gratification, self-satisfaction will greet your eyes. God knew of this lifestyle of abandonment to our sinful desires and He accurately described it in His word for us. God says of unbelievers, "in their lost condition, they only live for themselves. They only satisfy the desires of their sinful nature. They are slaves to physical passion."
Notice in this description of the desires of the sinful nature, the Holy Spirit refers to sinful acts as well as sins of thought (indulging in the desires of the flesh – that is, sinful deeds and of the mind – literally thoughts). The mind as well as the body is wholly given to fulfilling our "desires" or "wishes" [thelemata] as unbelievers.
God further explains this truth for us. In Romans 8, God contrasts the life of following one’s sinful nature and the life of following His Spirit. "For those who walk according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:5-8).
God says, those who are controlled by the sinful nature cannot please Him. He describes such a lifestyle as hostility toward Him. Furthermore, God reveals that in an unbelieving state, one is completely unable, powerless to submit to His way. One cannot free himself from a lifestyle of living only for the corrupt and sinful desires of the flesh. In other words, in an unconverted state, we are truly helpless.
But the question remains, is there a way out of this life of living as slaves to sin? Has God made a way for people to be delivered from such a lifestyle? Yes, there is a way out. Yes, God has made a way for us to be delivered from such a lifestyle.
Please listen! It is not God’s intention to abandon the unbeliever in such a deplorable and pitiful state. Through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, God has provided a perfect solution to free people from living only to fulfill the desires of their sinful nature.
In Romans 6, the Holy Spirit explains to the believers at Rome (who were once unbelievers and lived satisfying the desires of their sinful nature) how they became dead to sin and alive to God. In the death of the Lord Jesus, the old self, old nature or the old man [anthropos] was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is freed from sin (Romans 6:6-7).
The death of Jesus Christ is critical. Without it our old sinful nature, which desires sins and drinks sin like water, cannot be done away with. By crucifying our old sinful nature with Him, Christ frees us from being slaves to sin. But that is not all. By His resurrection, we are lifted to higher ground, that is, to newness of life. This is what Romans 6:8-13 beautifully describes. "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God."
Yes, there is a way out of living only to satisfy the desires of the sinful nature. That way is in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. His death breaks the power of sin over our sinful nature. His resurrection life breathes new life in us to live victoriously over sin. Thanks be to God!
6. They are in a Desperate condition (Ephesians 2:3b).
God declares it. The unsaved are definitely created by Him and in His image. But they are spiritually dead and are under the devil’s power. Moreover, according to God, they are the sons of disobedience, that is, people who live in opposition to His Person and purpose. The chief way they express their opposition to God is living only to satisfy the desires of their sinful nature. Now notice how the Holy Spirit concludes His description of the former condition of everyone before conversion. His description is not to be taken lightly or read without a contrite and broken heart. His words are, "and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Ephesians 2:3b).
What the Scripture is saying here is that all who live in opposition to God are under the wrath of Almighty God. In other words, they are in a desperate condition. To live in opposition to the Person of God and His purposes and plans for one’s life is to invite the mighty wrath of the Mighty God upon oneself. No one who understands that God is not only a God of love but also a God of wrath, indeed, great wrath, fierce wrath (see Psalm 102:10; 1 Samuel 28:18) would ever disregard these words.
The word "wrath" occurs 197 times in the Bible. Most of these references are connected with God. This makes it all the more important.
Throughout Scripture God exercised His fierce and great wrath against those who take Him for granted and treated Him unholy (see Numbers 16:46; Joshua 22:20; 1 Chronicles 27:24). The Bible says He is a God who expresses His wrath every day (Psalm 7:11). In Psalm 78:21 and 88:38, God was described as being full of wrath. On certain occasions, God was also described as One who was filled with wrath (Psalm 78:59, 62). The Scripture also speaks of God’s wrath alongside His indignation and hostility (Psalm 78:49). It says he who is under the LORD’s wrath will fall (Proverbs 22:14). God’s wrath breaks out and burns like fire (Jeremiah 4:4). God is a God who gives full vent to His wrath (Lamentation 4:11). He spends His wrath (Ezekiel 13:15). He pours out His wrath on the disobedient (Ezekiel 20:8, 13, 21; 22:22, 31).
His wrath is not only fierce but it is fiery (Ezekiel 22:21). His wrath remains on the one who does not obey His Son (John 3:36). His wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). He has a day of His wrath (Romans 2:5). Because of sins such as sexual immorality, impurity, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry, committed by men against God, His wrath is bound to come (Colossians 3:5-6). In the future, He will judge those who rebel against Him until His wrath is completed (Revelation 15:1).
All this is to show how desperate the condition of the unsaved is. They are under the wrath of the Lord God Almighty. God’s wrath is an expression of His righteous anger against sin. Hebrews 10:31 says, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." This actually sums up the description of the desperate condition of the unsaved.
But the question is, is there any possibility of being saved from the wrath of God? Has God made a way for people who are under His wrath to escape it? Thanks be to God! He has made a way for people to escape His wrath and enter His wonderful rest and love. God spent His wrath on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ at the cross. The cross not only reveals the love of God, but it also displays the wrath of a holy and righteous God. God’s fierce and fiery wrath against our sins was poured out on Jesus, the Holy and Only Son of God, in all its force and fullness.
The anguish Christ suffered at the cross was all because of God’s wrath against our sins. Because Jesus Christ suffered the full force of God’s fierce wrath against our sins He and He alone is able to save us from His coming wrath. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, the Bible makes it clear to us that Jesus, is the One who rescues us from the wrath to come. In Romans 5:8-9, the Holy Spirit says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him."
From these passages, it is crystal clear that there is only one sure way to be saved from the coming fierce and great wrath of God. By believing wholeheartedly in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins, but whom God raised from the dead, one is fully and forever saved from the fierce and fiery wrath of the Almighty God.
7. They are Distressed and Dispirited (Matthew 9:36).
If there was ever anyone who walked on this earth and always saw things clearly from God’s perspective; it was the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was fully human. But He was fully God. He saw things as God sees them for He is God. What Jesus says is what God says. He and the Father are one (John 10:30). His viewpoint on things is the same as God’s. His perspective on people is the same as God’s. His insight into people is the same as God’s. He is God. What He said of Israel’s future is true. What He said of heaven is true. What He said of hell is true. What He said of His kingdom is true. What He said of His second personal return is true. And what He said of the lost is true and trustworthy.
Even the Pharisees, His bitter enemies testified of His truthfulness, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any" (Matthew 22:16). This Teacher, Christ the Lord, who teaches the way of God in truth, taught that the lost are distressed and dispirited. The Bible says in Matthew 9:36, "Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." Literally this verse reads, "And seeing the crowds He was filled with tenderness concerning them, because they were distressed and prostrate as sheep not having a shepherd."
The compassionate heart of God is revealed in this passage. We have a God whose heart is deeply tender, even for those who are lost. His tenderness or compassion was for the multitudes who were in a distressed and dispirited state.
The Lord Jesus was able to see through all their façade and saw what was truly going on in their hearts because of their lostness. As God, the Lord Jesus does not see as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance. But Christ looks at the heart. When we look at the outward appearance of the unsaved, they appear happy, positive, full of smiles and satisfied. They appear to be in control. But if we should see them as God sees them, we would also be filled with the tenderness of Christ concerning them. For beneath the façade, they are empty, unhappy, full of fear and without hope. If we should view them as God views them, we would see that they are not in control but that they are actually confused and loaded with the cares of this world.
The word translated "distressed" [eskylmenoi] in the NASB also means harassed. The word translated "dispirited" in the NASB [errimmenoi] also means thrown down, prostrate or helpless. The New International Version rightly translates "distressed and dispirited" as "harassed and helpless."
The choice of these words gives us a powerful picture of the restlessness within the souls of lost humanity. It also shows how they run after all kinds of things in life without a true sense of direction and purpose from one who really cares for them. The Pharisees were not their true shepherds. They were the blind guides of the blind. Jesus saw all this and His great heart of compassion went out to crowds.
But what about us who are the witnesses of Jesus? Do we know of that yearning for the spiritual welfare of the lost? Do we look on the lost with compassion as our Savior, the Good Shepherd did? Do we view with pity the wandering sheep as Jesus did?
Lost humanity is restless within their souls and yet they are running in all kinds of directions in life. They are a distressed and dispirited group. They are harassed and helpless.
But the question is, is it God’s intention to leave lost humanity in their harassed and helpless condition? Is it His desire to abandon them in their restlessness of soul?
Certainly, the faithful answer to these questions is No. How do I know that? The Lord Jesus who spoke of the harassed and helpless condition of the lost, commanded His disciples to beseech or ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38). Later, He summoned them and sent them out after delegating His authority to them (Matthew 10:1-23).
But perhaps the greatest assurance I have of the fact that God does not intend to leave unbelievers in their distressed and dispirited state is from Jesus’ own loving invitation to them. In Matthew 11:28-30. Our Lord says, "Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Please notice the certainty of finding rest for one’s soul. Our Lord says, "I will [not may] give you rest… You will [not may] find rest for your souls."
The answer to the restlessness of soul in the unbelievers’ hearts is found in coming to the Person of the Lord Jesus. He is the Savior. He is also the Good Shepherd who leads us beside waters of rest, and restores our restless souls, and guides us in the path of righteousness for His name’s sake.
So I ask you! Have you worked yourself to exhaustion and yet not found rest for your restless soul? Then, I invite you to come to Jesus Christ. He has the cure for your restlessness. The greatest cause for your restlessness is your sins. Tell Him your sins are weighing you down. He knows that already about you. How do I know that? The Bible says He died for our sins (Romans 5:8). Turn to Jesus. Trust in Jesus today for the forgiveness of your sins. Thank Him for not abandoning you in your distressed and dispirited state.
8. They have a Darkened understanding of spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:9-14; Ephesians 4:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
God always tells the truth as it is. He is the embodiment of truth and always and consistently speaks the truth. We may not like what He says, but that doesn’t change the truth. We have learned from God that unbelievers are definitely created in the image of God. But God also says of them, they are spiritually dead and under the devil’s power and control. Moreover, God describes them as the sons of disobedience who live in opposition to Him. Their main lifestyle of opposition to God is expressed in their craving to satisfy the desires of their sinful nature. This therefore puts them in a desperate condition of coming under the wrath of a holy God.
Speaking as God in human flesh, the Lord Jesus described them as distressed and dispirited. Now, God says of unbelievers that they are darkened in their understanding of spiritual things. We learn this truth from 1 Corinthians 2:9-14. There, God once again tells the truth as it is. He is forthright in telling the truth.
In this passage, the works of the Spirit of God are highly exalted. The first work of the Spirit that is magnified is His work of revelation, that is the reception of divine truths. We learn earthly things by three faculties, eye and ear and heart or mind. But these are not sufficient; in fact, they are totally inadequate to find the truth of God. And so we read in Corinthians 2:10-12, "For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God."
God is simply saying here that without the revelatory work of His Spirit no one can ever know or receive divine truth. We could never have arrived at supernatural truths through scientific investigations no matter how costly such investigations. The human mind, left to itself, could never discover the truths of God. To put it bluntly, human reason is completely inadequate to find the truth of God, let alone know it as He wants it to be known. The revelation of the truth of God is the work of the Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit’s work of inspiration is also exalted. It was He who moved the apostles and the prophets of old not only to receive the truth of God but also to pass them on to us. And so we read in 1 Corinthians 2:13, "Which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." Here we learn that in conveying the truths of God to us, the apostles did not use words of their own choosing or words crafted by human wisdom. Rather, they used the very words which the Person of the Holy Spirit Himself instructed them to use.
Because of this declaration, each and every believer must be confident that the actual words of Scripture, as found in the original autographs, were the very words of God. We have a true and trustworthy record of God’s words to us because they are words inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The third work of the Holy Spirit, which is elevated in this passage, is His work of illuminating or enlightening us. It is in the context of elevating the Spirit’s work of illumination that God also reveals that the unsaved are darkened in their understanding of spiritual truths. For we read in 1 Corinthians 2:14, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."Simply, natural man, the unsaved man, the unconverted man, the unbeliever, cannot understand the truths of God as He wants them understood. Not only can he not understand, the things of the Spirit of God, but also they are foolishness to him.
Unless one is born of the Holy Spirit and taught by Him, the truths of God are utterly foreign and foolish to him. Holding a Ph. D. in Nuclear Physics, Astronomy, Human Biology, Biochemistry, Engineering, or Geophysics does not help. The unsaved, the unspiritual man, devoid of the Spirit of God, has a darkened understanding of the things of God. This is not to say that the unsaved are not intellectual. They are, in regard to the things of this world. But human intellect, human wisdom cannot comprehend the truths of God as He intends them to be understood.
King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live on the face of this planet testified to the fact that human wisdom is extremely limited when it comes to discovering and discerning the things of God. He wrote: "And I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, 'I know,' he cannot discover" (Ecclesiastes 8:17). He pressed this point home by adding these words: "Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not the activity of God who makes all things" (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
According to the wisest man, human wisdom is not able to understand the activities and ways of God no matter how hard man works at finding them out. How humbling this is! But how true it is that human wisdom cannot understand the things of God! It is darkened. Period.
Some of the arguments given by the most intellectual skeptics for not believing in God can cause a little child who believes in God to scream at the dumbness of the arguments.
Perhaps the clearest declaration of the darkened understanding of everyone before conversion is stated in Ephesians 4:17-18. With the authority of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit directed Paul to instruct the believers at Ephesus about the Christian walk. As far as Paul was concerned, becoming a Christian meant being changed, not remaining the same old person. For a person to claim salvation and yet remain the same is never approved in the Bible. So the Holy Spirit says to the Ephesians through Paul, "So I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of the mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart."
The Spirit is speaking here of a universal truth which applies to all and transcends time. Before becoming believers, the Ephesians lived like the unbelieving nations. Their former conduct, or manner of life, or way of life was the same as the unbelieving Gentiles, which they were. They walked in the futility or vanity of their minds. But making it worse, they were darkened in their understanding or intellect. As a result they were alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that was in them. God is spelling out the truth about the darkened understanding of everyone before conversion. And it doesn’t get better. Listen to what the Holy Spirit again says of unbelievers on this subject. "In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
God speaks of walking in the futility of their minds. He speaks of the unsaved as being darkened in their understanding. God also speaks of the ignorance that is in them. He speaks of their blinded minds. He does so because this is the truth about us before conversion. Also, He does so in order to exalt the works of the Person of the Holy Spirit. Without Him no one can understand God’s truths. It is the Spirit who searches all things, even the depths of God. He brings understanding to our darkened hearts and minds.
I lived in that condition for years. Religion didn’t help me, let alone human reasoning. God wants people to know Him and understand His ways. And how is that possible? It is not through human reasoning or wisdom. It is only through the word of the cross. "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe… we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:17-23).
The way to true understanding of the things of God is believing in thefoolishness of the message preached about the Person of the Lord Jesus. He is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Without the work of the Holy Spirit this understanding cannot be received. Without the work of the Spirit of God no one can believe in the Son of God.
9. They are living in the Domain of Darkness (Colossians 1:13; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Peter 2:9).
God says unbelievers have darkened understanding of spiritual things. They cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God. This is because they are darkened in their understanding. God continues to use the imagery of darkness to describe the unbelieving condition of unbelievers. He says of them, they are living in the domain of darkness.
Writing from his prison cell in Rome in A.D. 62, Paul gave thanks to the Father, who has qualified believers, including himself, to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12). After giving thanks, Paul through Holy Spirit states two things the Father did for believers. First, the Father rescued or delivered us from the domain or dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13a). This was where we all were before conversion. We were living in the realm of darkness and loved it. The Lord Jesus Himself testified to this. "This is the judgment, that Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed"(John 3:19-20). It is no surprise that the unbelieving love darkness. They are living in the dominion of darkness.
The second thing the Father did is transferring us or bringing us into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13b). It is one thing to take a homeless man from the street. It is another thing to bring him to the very house we live in, to live with us and enjoy all the privileges of our comfortable environment. This illustration pales in comparison with what God did for us. He took us from the dominion of darkness ruled by the principalities and powers and spiritual forces of wickedness, headed by the devil, and lovingly brought us into the kingdom of His Beloved and Blessed Son Jesus. This is grace at its best.
As sinners, God says of us, we were in bondage to Satan, but through His Beloved Son Jesus Christ we have been delivered, rescued, freed from the clutches of Satan. But God didn’t leave us in the middle of nowhere to be pounced on again by the devil; He brought us into Christ’s kingdom. We are Christ’s subjects, no longer the devil’s slaves.
Testifying before King Agrippa and Governor Festus at Caesarea, Paul states the charge he received from the Risen Christ for his ministry. He declared that Jesus sent him "to open their eyes [that is, Jews and Gentiles] so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:18).
So here again God clearly spells out His truth. Before conversion we lived in the dominion of darkness ruled by Satan. We were not in the Light. Satan’s dominion is one of darkness, which implies an absence of light, warmth and joy; while the kingdom of Jesus Christ is one of love. There is light, there is warmth and there is truth in His kingdom.
The Holy Spirit continues to make it clearer to us in the Bible that before our conversion we were living in darkness. This truth is convincingly stated in Ephesians 5:8. Having warned the believers of the coming wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience, the Spirit reminded the believers of what their past condition was and what their present status is before God. He said, "You wereformerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light." The message is clear and loud. A person in an unsaved condition is not only in darkness but is darkness. God's truth stands whether we like it or not. But please notice the new description God gives to those who believe. "Now you areLight in the Lord." How wonderful that is! Not only does God give a new description to those who believe, but He also gives them a new direction. "Walk as children of the Light." What a privilege!
What is stated in Ephesians 5:8 is echoed in 1 Peter 2:9. Speaking to the believers who were scattered throughout what is now modern Turkey, we read these precious and heart refreshing words; "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Again, this verse reinforces the teaching that before conversion, the realm of darkness was our home. But please also notice that God does not have any desire of forsaking people in darkness. God graciously calls sinners out of darkness. How marvelous!
It is clear from Colossians 1:13, Acts 26:18, Ephesians 5:8 and 1 Peter 2:9 that it is not God’s intention to abandon unbelievers in the domain of darkness. His desire is to call all who will respond to His voice out of the dominion of darkness into His marvelous light. God has made a way for anyone who believes to be transferred from the domain of darkness into His Light. This way is through none other than the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Light of the world. He is the One whose light shines and the darkness cannot overcome it. Jesus is the true Light who enlightens every person who believes in Him.
10. They are living in Deception (John 8:44-45; Revelation 20:3-4, 7-8, 10; Revelation 13:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:11-12; Titus 3:3).
Lost humanity is in the dominion of darkness. The devil is the ruler of this domain. The Lord Jesus, who sees things as God sees them, not only saw the distressed and dispirited condition of the unsaved, He also saw and spoke of the devil’s true nature. Speaking to the Jews who were claiming belief in Him but actually not believing in Him, our Lord said, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me" (NIV).
The Lord Jesus revealed so much to us about the devil. He makes it clear here that the devil is a liar and the father of lies. There is no truth in him. His nature is therefore deceptive. So the devil’s domain is not only one of darkness but also one of deception. Those who live in his dominion are living in deception. In other words, they are building their entire lives on lies. This is the sorry and sad condition in which we all were before conversion.
The Lord Jesus also made it clear in the above passage that those who belong to the devil also want to do the devil desires, chief of which is deception. Unbelievers are living in deception. They are in the realm of the father of lies, the devil. Moreover, they themselves want to carry out the devil’s desire.
Desiring to carry out the devil’s desire speaks of man’s depraved, debased, and deplorable condition without God’s intervening grace. Do you want to know why people who dress in suit and tie, looking nice and innocent lure little children into pornography or exploit them for their sexual gratification? Do you want to know why man commits evil of the worse kind, such as spraying his fellowmen with gunfire and then hanging their corpses over a bridge or dragging their corpses behind a speeding vehicle? What is it that drives teenagers to strap themselves with explosives, which they detonate in order to destroy themselves and others into pieces? The answer to these troubling questions is found in our Lord’s words, "you want to carry out your father’s desire." The devil’s desire is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10a). The devil carries out his desire through deceptive means.
The Lord Jesus sees what really is in man’s heart. "The heart is deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can I understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind…" (Jeremiah 17:9). Desiring to do the devil’s desire reveals the deceitful and desperately sick condition of the human heart. It also reveals how much we need God and His intervening grace in our lives.
The Bible does not only describe the devil as the father of lies; it specifically speaks of him as one who deceives. Three times in Revelation 20 the devil’s work of deception is clearly set before us. First, the Bible says, "And he [speaking of an angel coming down from heaven] laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time" (Revelation 20:2-3).
Notice the purpose for which Satan was bound and shut up for a thousand years. It was to prevent him from deceiving the nations, that is, the unbelieving. In the Garden of Eden, the devil successfully deceived Eve (Genesis 3:1-6). He was described there as the serpent, one who was crafty. Since the Garden of Eden, the devil has been at the work of deceiving people, people who are living in his domain, even until now. It is only by God’s sovereign act that the nations will have a break from the devil's deceptive work.
The second reference to the devil’s deceptive work in Revelation 20 is after the one thousand years. And so we read, "When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore"Revelation 20:7-8).
The Bible is making it clear here that after the release of the devil, the one thing he would concentrate on doing would be to deceive the nations. The expression "the nations" represents people who have chosen at the close of the age to align themselves with the devil to carry out the desire of their father, the devil.
The third reference to the devil and his deceptive work in Revelation 20 brings great relief to all who love righteousness and truth. We read, "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10). There is an end to the deceptive work of Satan. Thanks be to God!
Satan is not alone in this business of deception. He has others who do this dirty work of deceiving the unbelieving. One of them is described as the beast coming up out of the earth, having two horns like a lamb and spoke as a dragon (Revelation 13:11).
The Bible speaks of the deceptive work of this beast in this way, "And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life" (Revelation 13:14).
Another of Satan’s teammates in the work of deception is described for us in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10. The Holy Spirit clearly spells out to us how this partner in deception, who is called the man of sin or lawlessness, the Antichrist, carries the work of deceiving unbelievers. "The one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
What is being said here is that the career of the lawless one resembles that of the devil because he is energized by the devil. He will display all kinds of miracles and use every form of wickedness to deceive those who perish. These heard the Good News over and over again but have no love for its life changing truths. If they had believed, they would have been saved, transferred from the domain of darkness and deception. But now they have allowed themselves to be deceived by the Antichrist, the man of sin, the lawless one.
The life of the unbelievers is one of deceiving and being deceived. Since they continue to choose to walk in deception, they are deceived, duped, even deluded. While godly living is characterized by persecution, ungodly living is characterized by deceiving and being deceived (2 Timothy 3:11-12). It is not surprising that godly people suffer for standing for the cause of the truth, but the ungodly simply continue on the path of deception and as such are deceived.
Perhaps the clearest teaching that the Bible presents to us on the subject of living in deception before conversion is made known to us in Titus 3:3. There we read, "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another."
The Holy Spirit led Paul to describe our former condition before becoming believers. Paul included himself in this description. He said foolishness, disobedience, deception, and enslavement to all kinds of passions and pleasures, spending our life in malice, being hated and hating, characterized our former life.
This verse is almost a summary description of the major points I have stated so far on God’s view of unbelievers. Before we became believers, we were driven to satisfy the desires of our sinful nature. We were disobedient. We were darkened in our understanding of spiritual things. We were deceived.
God is confirming His teaching to us. Unbelievers are living in deception. No matter how intellectual they are, God says of them they are living in deception. The truth is not in them. Neither is it found in the devil, the father of lies whose subjects they are.
The truth is found in Jesus Christ. He says, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). This therefore means to escape the bondage of deception one must turn to Jesus Christ.
11. God’s Desire for them is that none of them perish (John 3:16-18; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; Ezekiel 33:11; Jonah 2-4).
Having described at length how God thinks of unbelievers and what He says of their condition, I find it necessary to direct our attention to His chief desire for them in this age of grace. The Scriptures clearly and convincingly convey God’s desire to us. His desire is that none of them perish.
We are living in the age of grace. In this period of grace, the desire of the God of all grace is to save the lost. God has chosen to withhold His full and final judgment against sinners. In this time of grace, God says to all who would hear that His chief desire for the lost is that none of them perish, that is, be separated from His personal presence, from His love, joy, peace, grace and eternal blessings.
Oh how wonderful is the grace of God which is so readily and abundantly available to save wretches like us! "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." This should be our praise and response to God's desire to save sinners in this age of grace.
The Lord Jesus not only demonstrated the compassionate heart of God to us, but also categorically spelled out God’s desire for the unbelievers in this age of grace.
Speaking as God come in the flesh, the Lord Jesus said those wonderful words that many have come to love and cherish. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:16-18).
These words need no further explanation. But let me say that they teach us of God’s desire for the unsaved. He desires them to be saved. He has also carefully explained how this desire of His can be realized in the life of the unbelieving. It is to believe, to trust, to place one’s confidence in the Person and work of His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ.
Writing about the coming day of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit led Apostle Peter to again show us God’s desire for the unsaved. Some were mocking the promise of our Lord’s coming. To them "all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3:4).
Through the Holy Spirit, Peter reminded the mockers that "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day." (2 Peter 3:8). Then comes the greatest truth about God’s desire or wish for the unbelieving."The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
God’s desire for the unsaved is stated without any ambiguity. His desires is that none of the unsaved perish but for all to come to repentance. No one who truly repents will perish. Repentance is simply a one hundred and eighty-degree turn from one’s sins and sinful ways to the Savior Jesus Christ. God desires that none should perish. But the question is, are the unsaved willing to repent of their sins?
Because God wanted us to know His desire for the lost, He spoke of it in different ways. Another Scripture which speaks so clearly on God’s desire for the unbelieving not to remain in their unbelieving state is 1 Timothy 2:3-6. There we read, "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time." God’s desire for the unconverted is that they be saved and come to know Him personally and intimately. To come to know God, one must come through Jesus Christ. What more shall I say on this?
God’s desire that none should perish is not only revealed in the New Testament, it is also disclosed in the Old Testament.
Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, the Holy Spirit says on three occasions that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. First in a question form, "Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23). Then secondly, in a definitive statement, God says, "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, declares the Lord GOD. Therefore, repent and live" (Ezekiel 18:32). Thirdly, God strongly asserts the truth that He does not take pleasure in death of the unbelieving and made a stronger appeal to them to turn. So He said,"Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather than the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?"(Ezekiel 33:11).
The truth is firmly established. God’s desire for the unconverted is that they do not perish. He does not take pleasure in their perdition. Rather, He wants each of them to personally turn from their sinful way and live! This is God’s desire for the unsaved. But again the question is, are they willing to give up their sinful ways? That’s the real issue!
God chose Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. Through Israel, God intended to show His love and grace to other nations. This is because He wants other people outside of Israel to hear the message of His saving grace and respond to it. Because of that God sent His prophets to other nations to proclaim His love to them and call them to repentance. Jonah was one of those prophets God selected to send. He was sent to Nineveh, the greatest city of the Assyrian Empire. At this point in Israel’s history, Assyria had already begun to take tribute from Israel. Jonah was therefore called upon to go to the dominant city of an Empire that was Israel’s chief enemy.
God loved and wanted to save the wicked people of Nineveh. Why? His desire is that none should perish but come to the true knowledge of Him. But Jonah, God’s messenger, God’s chosen prophet, did not want God to have compassion on Israel’s great enemy. Why did Jonah not delight in telling Nineveh of its possible destruction? The answer to that question reveals God’s desire that none of the wicked perishes. How do I know that? From Jonah’s own confession to God about His character. In Jonah 4:2, "He prayed to the LORD and said, Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity."
Jonah knew that if the people on Nineveh repented, God being a compassionate God would forgive them. That literally galled him. Jonah knew God not as One who delights in the death of the wicked, but as One who desires good for them. God still desires good for the unsaved, if they humbly repent of their sinful ways.
The God who showed compassion on a city of 120,000 people and did not destroy them when they turned from their wicked ways, is willing to extend the same compassion to the unbelievers who will humble themselves and turn from their wicked ways. We are living in the age of grace. God's desire in this age of grace is to save sinners. His longing is to forgive sinners who humble themselves and turn to Him.
If your thinking is that God delights in the death of the unbeliever, may I say to you on the authority of God’s word that your thinking is dead wrong. Think right! Think as God thinks. God's desire in this period of grace is to save sinners who repent. This is the Good News and how wonderful it is to the broken and contrite heart!
And if you are an unbeliever who uses this thinking as an excuse for blaming God for being a vindictive God, let me say to you that your excuse has no basis. The devil is deceiving you. He is vindictive, not God. God does not play favorites. In this age of grace, the God of all grace extends His grace to all who ask for it. Have you asked for God’s grace? That’s the real issue at stake. Remember, just as God’s grace extends to all who ask for it, so also His judgment fall on all who disobey Him – and that includes you if you choose to continue to disobey Him.
12. Their Destiny is eternal destruction (Matthew 25:41, 46; 13:41-43; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
God's desire concerning the unsaved in their unsaved state has been clearly revealed in His Word . His desire for them is that none of them should perish in this age of grace. In making known this desire, God has also clearly defined a way for the unconverted to take, in order to experience His grace, love and compassion. This way is simple. They are to turn from their sins and sinful ways to the Savior Jesus Christ, who is willing and ready to save them on the basis of their trust in Him.
But what happens when the unregenerate stubbornly continue in their path of disbelief and disobedience? What then becomes their destiny? Thinking as God thinks, we will have to say that their destiny is eternal destruction.
Speaking of His second personal return, the Lord Jesus made this known to His disciples on the Mount of Olive. The Lord Jesus was speaking as the Judge and King of the nations. He had earlier declared that the Father has given all judgment into the hand of His Son (John 5:22). Later, through Apostles Peter and Paul, the Holy Spirit exalted the Person of the Lord Jesus as the Supreme Judge of all humanity (Acts 10:42; 17:31).
This Supreme Judge declares in Matthew 25:41, 46, "Then He will also say to those on His left, depart from Me, accursed ones into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels… These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life."
At His second personal return, the Lord Jesus will separate all humanity into two camps, namely the sheep and the goats. The sheep will be on His right. They are blessed of His Father. The goats will be on His left. They are the accursed ones. They are those who rejected Him. They are those who disobeyed Him all through the age of grace. They are those who all their lives despite hearing of His offer of salvation chose to have nothing to do with Him. These are the ones whose destiny is eternal destruction or eternal punishment in a place which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.
Since they have rejected Jesus and chosen to align themselves with the devil, they will get their wish. They will get what they want. That is, to live in the company of the devil and his wicked angels. While those who reject Jesus will be sent to a place of eternal destruction, those who receive Jesus will be sent to a place of eternal delight, the very presence of God.
Since Jesus Christ knows all things, He also perfectly described for us what life is like in that place of eternal destruction. His description is vivid and graphic."The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth"(Matthew 13:41-42; cf. 13:49-50).
Hell, or the place of eternal destruction is a place of untold suffering. No suffering on earth can compare with the suffering in this place of eternal destruction. Often times people joke about hell. They say, "After all James Bond will be there. Our friends will be there. We will be having one unending big party there. We will be having such a good time that we will not feel any suffering." I am sorry to say that there will be no party in hell, but pain beyond description.
Writing to the believers at Thessalonica who were enduring persecutions and afflictions, the Holy Spirit assured them that God would repay those who afflicted them and give them relief when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.
These believers thought they were left behind and were suffering the judgment and wrath of God. In their pain and suffering they were asking questions such as "Is it really worth being godly when it brings so much pain? What is God doing about the evil people who are persecuting them? Have the dreaded days of the antichrist already arrived?" The Holy Spirit answered their questions through Paul with words which have brought much comfort to so many of God’s suffering people throughout the ages.
"This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed-for our testimony to you was believed" (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).
These words, not only comfort believers, but they also show that the destiny of all who reject the Good News is eternal destruction.
This clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures is rejected by some today who are but false teachers. These false teachers tell us that God will not send anyone to such a place of torment. They are deceived and are being deceived. The Holy Spirit said long ago through Apostle John, "Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were really not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19-20).
These false teachers are not the true planting of the Lord. That is why they teach that which is not consistent with God’s truth. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us beware of them. We have an anointing from the Holy One who teaches us the truth. Let us rely on Him to lead us into all the truth.
This is where we end our discussion of what God thinks or says of unbelievers. We end here because this is where God Himself ended.
God’s view of unbelievers is clearly presented in Scripture. In seeking to learn about His perspective on unbelievers, we began where God Himself began and end where He Himself ended.
God stated clearly and convincingly that they are definitely created in the image of God. But they are spiritually dead and are under the devil’s power and control. As disobedient sons, they live in opposition to God. Expressing their opposition, they live only for the satisfaction of the desires of their sinful nature. Their condition is desperate since they are under the wrath of the Almighty God in their unregenerate state. While they may outwardly appear happy and hopeful, inwardly they are harassed and helpless. In other words, they are distressed and dispirited. Moreover, they have a darkened understanding of spiritual things. They cannot understand the truths of God by relying on human wisdom. They spend their lives in the dominion of darkness and love it. Since the domain of darkness is governed by the devil, the father of lies, they live in deception. Their lives are built on lies.
But God’s desire for them in this age of His grace is not to abandon them to a life of deception, darkness and darkened understanding of the truths that set free indeed. His intention is not for them to be left in a distressed and dispirited state. Nor is it His desire to leave them in the desperate condition of facing His full, fierce, fiery and final wrath against sin. Neither is it His life passion to observe their disobedient walk as spiritually dead corpses.
His desire for them is that none of them perish but that they turn from their sins to the Savior Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, although God has clearly set the path of life before them, some continue to walk on the path of death. These are those who spurn the grace of God in this age of grace. As a result, they enter into a destiny of eternal destruction, separated from the loving presence of a loving God.
The way to life in Jesus Christ has been clearly spelled out all throughout this article. It is to repent. It is to turn from your sins to the Savior Jesus. It is to trustin Jesus alone for the complete forgiveness of your sins. It is to thank Jesus for sacrificing Himself for you, a sinner, that you may be saved from your sins.
"Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth" (Psalm 115:1). Amen.