How do we view nonbelievers?

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Here’s an important question for us to ponder: How do we view nonbelievers?

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and the Breakpoint radio program, once answered that question using an analogy: If a blind man stepped on your foot or spilled hot coffee on your shirt, would you be angry with him? Chuck’s answer was that you wouldn’t. Why? Because a blind person is unable to see what is right in front of them.

Holy Spirit as Dove by Bernini (public domain)
Holy Spirit by Bernini
(public domain)

Now consider that people who have not awakened to the faith of Christ are unable to see the truth that is right in front of them. By virtue of the fall they are spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But at just the right time, the Spirit moves to open their spiritual eyes so they might see (Ephesians 1:18). The church fathers called this the miracle of illumination, and when it occurs, the opportunity is presented to receive in faith (to believe) what they have now been given eyes to see.

While it is true that some who have had their eyes opened choose not to believe, it is my conviction that at some point most will respond positively to the strong call of God in their life. I pray they do so sooner rather than later so they can experience, even now, the peace and joy of knowing God and making him known.

As we know, nonbelievers hold wrong beliefs about God. Some of those beliefs are the result of poor examples from Christians. Others come from years of being taught illogical and purely speculative ideas about God. These wrong beliefs work to reinforce spiritual blindness. But what is our reaction to their unbelief? Unfortunately, many Christians set up walls of self-protection and even hatred. In erecting these walls, they overlook the reality that nonbelievers are just as important to God as believers. They forget that the Son of God did not come to earth for believers alone.

When Jesus began his ministry, there were no Christians—most everyone was a nonbeliever, including the Jews of that day. But, thankfully, Jesus was a friend of sinners—an advocate for nonbelievers. He knew that, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12). Jesus was committed to seeking lost sinners in order that they might receive him and the salvation he has for them. So he spent great amounts of time with people others viewed as unworthy and unlovable. As a result, the religious separatists labeled Jesus “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

The truth of the gospel is that the Son of God became incarnate, lived, died and ascended to heaven for all people. As Scripture tells us, God loves “the world” (John 3:16), and it would seem that most of these people are nonbelievers. The same God calls us as believers to join Jesus in loving all people. To do that we must view them as who they are in Christ—those who belong to him, those for whom Jesus died and was raised. But many Christians struggle with that. There seems to be no lack of Christians who are willing to condemn others despite the Son having told us that he came not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). Sadly, some Christians are so busy condemning nonbelievers they fail to see them as God the Father does—his beloved for whom he sent his Son to die, even though they do not (yet) know or love him. We might see them as nonbelievers or unbelievers, but God sees them as not-yet believers.

Drink and Never Thirst by Liz Lemon Swindle (used with permission)
Drink and Never Thirst by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with permission)

Before the Holy Spirit opens a nonbeliever’s eyes, they are trapped by the blindness of unbelief—caught up in theological deceits concerning God’s identity and love. It is in this condition that we must love them, not shun or reject them. Part of doing so is praying for the time when, by the Spirit, they will be enabled to see (understand) the good news of God’s forgiving grace and receive (believe) that truth, taking up the new life that is theirs under God’s rule and reign, enabling them to experience the freedom that is theirs as children of God.

As we consider nonbelievers, let’s remember Jesus’ command: “love each other,” he said, “as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And how does Jesus love? By including us in his love and life. He does not set up walls that divide believers and nonbelievers. The Gospels tell us that Jesus loved and included tax-collectors, women caught in adultery, the demon-possessed and lepers. He loved and included women of ill repute, soldiers who mocked and beat him, and criminals crucified at his side. With all these people in mind, Jesus, hanging on the cross, prayed: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus loves and includes all so that all might receive his forgiveness as their Savior and Lord, and by his Spirit live in fellowship and communion with their heavenly Father.

As we share in Jesus’ love for nonbelievers, we will view them as people belonging to God by virtue of creation and redemption despite the fact that they do not (yet) know the One who loves them. When we hold this perspective, our attitude and behavior toward nonbelievers will change. With open arms of compassion, we will embrace them as orphaned or estranged children who need to know their true Father; as lost brothers and sisters who aren’t aware they are related to us through Christ. We will seek to share God’s love with nonbelievers so they too might welcome God’s grace into their lives.

Sharing the Triune God’s love for not-yet believers,
Joseph Tkach

PS: For a related article by Gary Deddo titled Jesus’ Acceptance, click here.

7 thoughts on “How do we view nonbelievers?”

  1. Religion would make us believe that the way to God is through works of one sort or another. Walls of separation, prejudices and elitism are built that ought not exist. The Bible is not a manual, it is about Emmanuel. The Scriptures point to the ONE who IS salvation. All of humanity past, present and future has been included in God’s love. Sadly, many are blind to this reality suffering from an “identity crisis”, not knowing who they already are in Christ and placing stumbling blocks before those who most desperately need to experience the revelation of Jesus. We look forward to the time when the veil of blindness will be lifted and the darkness removed.

  2. Very refreshing teaching by Dr. Tkach and comments by Santiago Lange. Isn’t it freeing and refreshing to be able to view non-believers and “pre-believers”—to pray and wait in patience for the day when their eyes will be opened and they enter into the joy of the Lord (already prepared for them)?

  3. Thank you. This is very true and encouraging. Jesus Christ is the only lamb that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). If all Christians understood this reality, the gospel of God’s Kingdom would go a long way.

    May the Lord continue to bless you in revealing His unfailing purpose for humanity. I am encouraged.

  4. What a relief not “judging or condemning”anyone brings!! God even loves me too.I didn’t believe or understand this years ago but man ,do I ever believe it now! Mr.Joe T,keep those shortees on “speaking of life”coming.I never thought a man could say so much in 2 or 3 ya.Regards,Ernie.

  5. This is decidedly a minority view among North American evangelicals. Evangelical theology has as its centerpiece the idea that “It is appointed to all men once to die and then the judgement.” If a person is not committed to Christ in this lifetime and within the boundaries of the right denominational theology, the future for that person is eternal destruction. Some of the more merciful evangelicals admit that there might be annihilation instead of eternal life in the fires of hell. The belief in immediate consignment of a person to heaven or hell after death drives their missionary spirit where they cast themselves in the role of brokers and instruments of salvation. No wonder they believe in the “fewness” principle, that only a few will ever be saved.

  6. Some of the comments on Dr. Tkach’s letter posted elsewhere object to his distinction between believers and non-believers. It’s important to note that he is not distinguishing between good and bad, or loved by God and hated by God. What he’s doing is describing the reality (portrayed in Scripture) of how the Holy Spirit evangelizes people loved by God and included already in God’s love and life, in Christ and by the Spirit.

    Having united himself to all humanity through the Incarnation, Jesus, by the Spirit, is already sharing his life and love with all people (non-believers included). But it’s important to note that the Spirit works individually with people to enlighten them to this stunning reality, leading them to personal repentance and faith, by which they personally (subjectively) receive Jesus, which includes receiving the Spirit into their lives. Peter speaks to this act of receiving in Acts 2:38 where he addresses people who the Spirit has enlightened to the truth of Jesus, calling on them to “repent and be baptized.” He promises that, in doing so, they will “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We don’t take this promise to be a statement that the Spirit will come into their lives for the first time (after all the Spirit has clearly been working in their hearts and minds before Peter gave this invitation). Rather, we take it to mean that through their personal repentance and faith (trust) they will “grab hold” of the Spirit who has already “grabbed hold” of them. They would, in that sense, be “receiving” the Spirit and that would create an opening for the Spirit to do his deeper, converting/transforming work in their lives, turning them from non-believers (unaware of who they are in Christ) to believers (who know and trust in this reality). Their “belief” is a key factor in this distinction, justifying use of the terms “believer” and “non-believer”—these are not pejorative terms; instead they reflect an important reality in people’s lives.

  7. As Christians, we are leading in the “parade” however, we are not the “parade” ! Interesting enough, I was having this conversation recently, with other church members and this very topic came up. Christians do not have the market on God’s love only.

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