If you were going to make a list of sinners to exclude from the blessings of God, a group of men and women who were not deserving of an eternal home in heaven in your eyes, who would you start with? Most of us would start with the criminally and civilly culpable, the kinds of persons who we're tempted to stand next to in the Temple and thank the Lord, out loud, that we aren't like them. We would probably start with the murderers and the liars.
But what if I told you that when God lists sinners at greatest risk of missing out on His eternal glory, murderers and liars and all the other so-called riff-raff we can come up with...aren't in the top two? Murderers and liars are third and fourth, a distant third and fourth behind two groups that we don't often think of. Or maybe that we aren't often willing to think of.
It's probably not too difficult to come up with the group that's named second - the "faithless." That makes sense. Those who spend their life living like God isn't real and don't bother to believe in what He has for them clearly run a high risk of missing out on His eternal glory. This is something that the church in the 1900s, at least, was extremely concerned about. We put a high premium on making sure everyone was included in the fold, everyone brought into the faith. We spent a lot of our time making sure that there were no faithless among us, none left walking the earth. We preached fire and brimstone and invited everyone to repent and join the table because we took seriously the idea that God's eternal reward is for those who believe and live like they love Jesus.
We don't take this idea as seriously any more. As our emphasis has shifted from the judgment of God to the love of Christ, and as our culture has pressured us into an image of Jesus that isn't quite accurate - an image of "tolerance" and blanket affirmation rather than real, messy love - it's hard for us to preach about the faithless. It's hard for us to talk about what faith means. It's hard for us to tell others that Jesus actually requires something of them. To be honest with you, a lot of Christians don't even believe this themselves any more. A lot of Christians cannot fathom a God who would not redeem everyone, who would not welcome everyone in Heaven. A lot of Christians today no longer believe God has standards. He just...loves everybody, right? Just the way that they are.
The word of God on this matter hasn't changed. It's the same as it's always been, right there in Scripture. The "faithless" are the second group most likely to miss out on the eternal glory of God. And that means we need to be serious about spreading the faith. As Jesus told the eleven, Go, and make disciples.
That's still His word to us. That's still His commission to us. That's still what He desires of us, what He wants us to be doing with our lives. We are disciples who go and make disciples. We are the faithful who teach others about the faith. We are the followers who bring others alongside us to follow, too. We are the ones who tell stories about miracles on the hillsides, about sermons on the mount, about storms on the seas, about a Cross outside Jerusalem and an empty grave. We are the faithful who are called to the faithless, that not one should miss out on the eternal glory of God. We ought to be taking that seriously.
Now, wait a second. If murderers and liars - sinners, as we call them - are third and fourth, and if the faithless are second, who's first to miss out on the eternal glory of God? If you haven't cheated and gone digging in Revelation for the answer yet, you may be searching your brain, trying to figure out who's "worse" than all of these. Who is more wretched than a murderer? Who is more lost than the faithless?
The answer may be more of us than you think. But you'll have to wait until tomorrow to talk about it.