"…the greatest is love."

This is part three of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

Theology and head knowledge are super-duper, but love is supreme. Intellectual debates don’t change lives; love does. Love is supreme; it disarms, it opens hearts, it saves souls. Love is why Christ died for us on the cross. People will only receive the Gospel from Christians who love them as they are with no strings attached.

One of the biggest perceptions non-Christians have towards Christians is that they do not care about them. The Christians simply want them to “get saved” so they can move on to their next “project.” This idea is explored further in unChristian from the Barna Institute. I would highly recommend that book for any Christian serious about reaching out to the modern world around them.

We live in a culture that has largely migrated away from Christianity. This has happened for numerous reasons, many of which are explain in Deliver Us From Evil by Ravi Zacharias. A good question though, is how the Church allowed this to happen. I think one of the biggest problems is the general lack of love in the modern Church. Many Christians seem more focused on being right that doing right. Read “Grace and Truth” for more on this idea.
 
There were several ways that I learned this, but the way that impacted me the deepest was in the relationships that I formed while I was deployed. I grew to love many of my non-Christian friends and genuinely cared for them. I wasn’t interested in beating them in philosophical or theological arguments, but in simply loving them as they were.
 
The Gospel is best shared in the context of a loving relationship, not with a complete stranger but with a friend who you know well. It may take years before the door opens between you and a friend, but until them you simply love them. In 1 Thes 2:8 Paul says that they shared their lives with the Thessalonians. That is how we are to love our neighbors.

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Romans 1:20 and the tribes in Africa

“What about the tribe in Africa that’s never heard of Jesus?” I’ve had a handful of people ask me questions like this and I know a lot of people who have been asked similar questions. “Does a tribe in an isolated part of the world that’s never heard of Jesus go to hell for not accepting Him as their savior? That hardly sounds like a loving God!”

In short, people are only held accountable for what they know. The Bible says in Romans 1:19-20 that creation alone proclaims that it has a Maker. This is called God’s “general revelation.” Indeed, it is hard to look at the stars or a mountain landscape and not feel a sense of grandeur and realize that you are a very, very small speck. Psalm 19:1-6 says that the stars declare and proclaim God’s work; there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. In other words, to some degree all creation reveals that there is a God and it has done so in all places, languages, and times in history.

Paul goes on in Romans 2:14-15 to say that when people who do not have God’s Law meet the requirements of that Law, they are showing that in their heart they know that things are supposed to be a certain way and they are trying to meet those requirements. C.S. Lewis calls this “oughtness” in Mere Christianity. This act alone demonstrates a conviction to do “the right thing” even though people fall short.

Although these African tribes may not know the specific requirements of God through head knowledge and even though they may have never heard the name Jesus, the “Law,” or a feeling of how they ought to behave, is written on their hearts. They know the difference between right and wrong. Thus when these hypothetical tribesmen violate their own understanding of what is right, they condemn themselves. Conversely, when they do what they know to be right, their own conscienes defend them. Their clean conscienses save them or their guilty consciences condemn them.

Some people ask this question out of genuine concern, and some ask this question as an excuse to reject God. Again, from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thig you can do is to remain outside yourself.” His statement makes a lot of sense to me. If I were worried about people getting exposed to acid rain, would it make any sense for me to stay outside in the acid rain because others were unable to go inside? Of course not!

To the non-Christian I would just ask one thing. If, as we stated to start this discussion, you’re only held accountable for what you know, then the only question that remains is this: What will you do with the knowledge you have; will you accept or squander the gift that’s been freely offered to you?

To the Christian I say: What’s keeping you from making sure that everyone knows about the freedom that’s been offered to them?