You may have seen the recent story about Bernie Sanders grilling Russell Vought asking about his faith and whether Christians believe non-Christians are condemned. It was a scary moment and possible glimpse into the future as the Senator seems to come to the conclusion that people holding that belief aren’t fit for public service. But it does beg the question, “Do Christians believe that non-Christians are condemned?”
Before we jump too far into these waters, let me make a couple of points. First, space here is too short to make a complete argument based on what Scriptures have to say. But I’ll do my best given what I have to work with.
Second, and far more importantly, true Christians believe at their core that Jesus is the promised Messiah, that He died on the cross, was resurrected from the dead, and that – as both fully God and fully man – took on our punishment for sin in His death and imputes to us His righteousness earned through His perfect life.
Levels of Faith
There are many types of religious people out there. There are those that believe religions offer multiple options of moral teachings and you can choose to follow whichever one(s) sounds good to you at whatever level of devotion seems right to you. You can choose to follow no religion at all. In those cases, it’s either a matter of “we all get to heaven and choose different paths” or “there is no heaven or hell and this life is all there is.”
But for the true believer in any religion, its teachings are more than a moral code, they represent absolute truth. That’s very clear in the teachings of three of the world’s major religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – all of which trace their roots to the same events in the Old Testament. The point is that Christians believe in a very real God and a very real Jesus who are not just moral examples but actually exist. Christians believe that God as Creator of the universe is the only One who has the right to define right and wrong and the culmination of His word to us is found in the Holy Scriptures of the Bible.
Do Christians Believe that Non-Christians Are Condemned?
What the Bible Says: What do Christians Believe About Salvation?
Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about how you are saved and what happens to those who aren’t.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.'”
This verse is one of the clearest teachings in the Bible that the only way to restore a relationship with God is through Jesus Christ.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
And here, the Apostle Paul reminds the Ephesians that we receive salvation by grace (definition: something is given that we don’t deserve) given to us by God through faith in Jesus Christ. No amount of good deeds we can do can balance the scales in our favor. It is in the finished work of Christ alone that we must place our faith and rest. Nothing else can save us or elevate us to a higher place in Heaven.
What the Bible Says: Do Christians Believe that Non-Christians are Condemned?
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
As it states in Romans 3:23, all of mankind stands condemned – not one of us can claim to live a perfect life in God’s eyes. There’s absolutely no question throughout the Bible that those who do not believe and place their faith in Jesus Christ as the only Son of God who sacrificed Himself for us stand condemned before the One True God.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
But of course, faith in Jesus Christ leads to the encouragement found in John 3:16 that serves as the anthem for the Christian Church – that we are now no longer condemned to perish, but can look forward to eternal life in a restored relationship with God.
Do Christians Believe that Non-Christians are Condemned? Yes, But There’s More
The crux of what Senator Sanders was trying to pull from Mr. Vought and then imply about Christians is that we believe that non-Christians are condemned and that we also stand in the judgment seat, treating others as condemned beings worthy of our hatred. That’s so far from the truth, it makes me wonder if Senator Sanders understands how the Bible teaches us to live.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
First of all, we are all image bearers of God Himself. That’s an inherent trait not given to any other created thing. All creation speaks to the existence of a Creator, but none other than us bear his image. That’s not just given to Christians – that’s every one of us.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34 – 35
Before ascending back to Heaven, Jesus left us with this very clear teaching – that his disciples (followers) are to love one another. It’s by this love that he says others can testify that we are Christians. In Luke 10, Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandments include to love the Lord your God will all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. He then tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer the question, “who is my neighbor?” to include anyone we come in contact with. Later, in I Corinthians 13, the Bible defines what love is.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
I Corinthians 13: 4 – 8
When you look at the way Christians interact in this world, reading this can rightly lead you to the conclusion that we’re all hypocrites. And you’re right. Not a single one of us gets it right every time. But we’re a work in progress and the fruits of the Spirit will develop as we mature as Christians. It’s true, there are a lot of false teachers and people loosely following Christianity as their chosen religion without true belief. The perfection of what our faith teaches isn’t found in the followers of Christ but in God’s word.
The Bottom Line: Do Christians Believe that Non-Christians are Condemned?
Yes, but we do not stand in judgment of who is or is not condemned. God is the only one that sees the heart. As Christians, we are called to love God, our neighbors, and one another, whether Christian or not.
But part of that definition of love is rejoicing in the truth. We are not called to tolerate sin and pretend it does not exist. We cannot tell someone living a life of sin that it will be okay whether they choose to turn from it or not. Part of loving someone means helping them see the error of their ways in the same way a loving parent or teacher corrects a child. Sometimes that correction is very gentle. But if I’m about to fall off a cliff, I sure hope someone grabs my arm and yanks me back. Both are loving acts.
So yes, Christians should love all people – but that does not mean that we joyfully walk with others through a life that leads to their condemnation without speaking of the truth of sin and the saving grace offered through Jesus Christ.