How lost are the lost? That is a question often asked today. The Bible speaks of the world at large as lost and destined for God’s judgment. But modern minds are inclined to reconsider the dire circumstances described in Scripture. After all, most people, regardless of religious affiliation, seem to be generally decent, with some level of belief in a divine power. Whatever their shortcomings, they do not seem to be so evil as to merit eternal damnation. Perhaps the lost are not as lost as we used to imagine.
The problem with this sentiment is that it does not line up with what the Bible says about the spiritual condition of the world. Scripture speaks of a lost world in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
People are instinctively religious.
It is true that most people are religious to some extent. This is the way it has always been, as evidenced by the abundant archeological findings of religious drawings, writings, and artifacts. And despite the growing number of modern thinking people who identify themselves as atheist, agnostic, or non-religious, they are far outnumbered by the estimated number of followers of the various religions of the world.
The Bible bears witness to the religious impulse within humanity. Anyone is capable of looking at the beauty and complexity of creation and concluding that there must have been a Creator (Psalm 19:1-6). “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God made it plain” (Romans 1:19). People also feel within that there is someone greater than us, a moral force that gives us a sense of right and wrong, and makes our conscience feel guilty when we do wrong (2:14, 15). Likewise, it is a common experience to believe that there may be something more after death, perhaps a righting of wrongs done to us, or an accounting we must give for the wrongs we have done. We sense that there is something beyond this finite world we know, because “[God] has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
People easily stray from God’s truth.
Within most religions are some truths consistent with inspired Scripture. Yet with their glimmer of truth come many ideas and practices contrary to biblical teaching. Often there is a corrupted view of God. Most religions imagine a pantheon of deities rather than one God. Some extend the idea to an animism in which a divine spirit resides in every living thing. Only Christianity affirms the idea of a Triune God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise, their erroneous concept of God leads to a faulty view of Jesus Christ, a diminishing of his divine nature and a failure to truly appreciate his atoning death. This in turn fosters an inadequate view of sin and salvation, with no real grasp of God’s amazing grace. And this is only a taste of the many false teachings promoted by presumptive prophets with their extra-biblical “revelation.”
In the preaching of the Old Testament prophets, the problem with the religions of the world was epitomized by idolatry and vain rituals. As the apostle Paul later explained, they took the idea of a God who is above all creation and diminished his glory into the carved image of a created being. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:23-25, English Standard Version). Their good intentions were a grave offense against God.
People need the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The teaching of Scripture is clear. People outside of faith in Christ are lost. They are “separated from Christ . . . having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). They need to be turned “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26:18). They need to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ because “there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved” (4:12).
Regardless of how religious, how good, how well-intentioned people may be, the Bible portrays the world as lost. If we allow ourselves to believe that their path will somehow lead them to Heaven, we undercut the urgency of evangelism and missions. We need to keep before our eyes the lost condition of the world so that we will be inspired to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
For over three decades Johnny Pressley taught theology and New Testament at Mid-Atlantic Christian University and Cincinnati Christian University. He now serves First Church of Christ, Washington, North Carolina, as senior minister.