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This is one of those issues that as Christians we can find our answers being more emotionally based as opposed to Scripturally. Scripture is actually very clear with regards to Salvation. First off, all of us are born with an inherited sinful nature, destined from the moment of conception to hell (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23). Every living person needs to be forgiven of their sins so that they are made acceptable before God. Scripture is also clear that there is only ONE way for a person's sins to be forgiven. And that ONE way is through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8) People have mentioned that Acts 17:30 is some kind of loophole to the teachings of Scripture that it is through Jesus alone that are sins are forgiven. The problem is that Paul is specifically referring to the time before the Gospel. Paul is saying that now that Christ has come, all men must find their forgiveness through Christ. It's ironic that people see this verse as a loophole to Salvation through Christ alone when Paul is actually doing the opposite - he is affirming that everyone needs Christ to be forgiven!! Here's the problem - for any of us to suggest that a person can be forgiven of their sins by any means other than Christ is to necessarily teach that Christ's death on the cross was not actually necessary. If anyone can be saved who doesn't know of Christ simply by honestly following their own religion - then there was never any need for Christ to die on the cross. Christ came down, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, and paid a terrible price for our sins. His atoning work on the cross is the ONLY way that our sins can be forgiven. For ONLY God can forgive sins, and that is why Christ had to be the sacrifice. Following any religious system is worthless and totally ineffective in its ability to forgive our sins. Hebrews 9:27 is clear that we all live life ONCE, and then when we die, comes judgment. The only chance we have for Salvation comes during this lifetime. Not after we die. It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that our sins can be forgiven. Paul clearly teaches that ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for not believing in Christ. Only Christ can forgive us our sins, there is no other way for our sins to be forgiven. God sees us as righteous after we become Christians, not because of anything we do, but because Christ IS our righteousness. Galatians 2:20 teaches that we are in some mysterious way crucified with Christ, and it is no longer we who live, but Christ in us. As Christians, we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). What we need to do is be willing to accept the hard truths of Scripture as they are taught. With regards to Salvation, Scripture is incredibly clear that it is ONLY through Jesus Christ that we can find forgiveness of sins. There is nothing that we can do on our own to be forgiven. We simply do not have the capacity to forgive our own sins before God. No work, belief system, or ritual can serve to forgive us our sins - only Christ can.
Act17:30 says, and the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent. This means that if you didn’t know about Christianity you will be judged based on what you did know. If all you knew was Islam or Hinduism, how did you live that life? Having said that, I believe everybody will have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Matt 24:14 says And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. God is a fair God and will not judge someone on something they did not know about. Therefore, the entire world will have the opportunity to be a witness of God’s gift of salvation and repent.
The question addresses "Non-christian cultures" implying that there is some christian culture. To make something clear, the Bible does not speak about any christian culture. But the truth of the New testament was established among people practicing different cultures. Be it a hindu background or an islamic background, if it happens for a person to hear the truth of the salvation and if he denies it, he would be judged upon what he knows (2 Thesslonians 1:7, Romans 10:14). If, in his entire lifetime, he did never heard about the truth of the salvation, then Acts 17:30 applies. He might be judged according to his conscience. God always judges us based upon what we know.
1 Timothy 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I (Paul) am chief. Whether it's of different religions, those born and murdered in small villages, in the thick forests of Africa, South America, or in China: Jesus Christ is their God and Savior as well. Acts 4:12 - "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” - God has willed that- 1 Timothy 2:4 - "...all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." Whether there is any religion anyone assumes their under, WE KNOW... - 1 Corinthians 8:6 - "there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we by Him. But the knowledge is not in all". Of course not it is. Yet, our God is the Only one. Nebuchadnezzar and His Son, two heathens, idol Worshippers, did not know God - were a pattern and example for ALL who will be forced to acknowledge God. Daniel 4:34-35 And at the end of the days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up my eyes to the heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High. And I praised and honored Him who lives forever, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His rule from generation to generation. And all those living in the earth are counted as nothing. And He does according to His will among the army of Heaven, and among those living in the earth. And no one is able to strike His hand or say to Him, What are You doing? Daniel 5:23 But you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of Heaven. And they have brought the vessels of His house before you. And you, and your nobles, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine with them. And you have praised the gods of silver, and gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see, nor hear, and do not know. And you have not glorified the God IN WHOSE HAND your life, breath, and all your ways is. It need not that anyone acknowledges our God and Savior (now); They will - after the first resurrection of Gods Elect and after their judgment in the Lake of Fire which is the Second death. But because Jesus died for MANKIND, and he is the savior of all men, they will be saved Philippians 2:9-11 Because of this also God highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus "EVERY knee should bow," of heavenly ones, and earthly ones, and ones under the earth, and "every tongue should confess" that Jesus Christ is "LORD," to the glory of God the Father. Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and EVERY eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him:and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. And when they see our Great God and Savior, they will have the same response as Nebuchadnezzar, they will know. "for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness." (Isaiah 26:9)
God is sovereign over all his creation (Isaiah 40: 1-31). He alone has the right to judge the life of every human being according to the standards he has set.(John 5:19-30) 1) God judged Adam and Eve based on the standard he set for them. They rebelled so they became infected with sin and death, they were banished from his paradise and they struggled to survive under God's curse upon the earth (Gen 3: 1-24) 2) God judged the evil and wickedness of the entire human race. He wiped out every human being with a worldwide flood and started over with one righteous man, Noah, and his family (Gen 6:1-22) 3) God judged the evil and wickedness of the nation of Israel and drove them out of his promised land into captivity in Assyria (Israel) and Babylon (Judah). Only the tribe of Judah returned to the land of Israel after 70 years of captivity in Babylon (2 Kings 17: 1-41 - the exile for Israel; 2 Kings 24: 1 to 2 Kings 25; 21 - the exile for Judah) 4) God judged the nation of Israel for rejecting Jesus Christ, his Messiah, by driving them out of the promised land at the hands of the Roman army who scattered them throughout the Roman empire (Matt 24:1-25; 1 Pet 1:1-2) 5) Jesus will judge the living and the dead at his second coming (Matt 25:31-46) Jesus says that he will put all his sheep on his right. Everyone who knows Jesus personally, who hears his voice and follows his lead during their human life is one of his sheep. See Jesus illustration of the shepherd and sheep in John 10:1-30. Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). God is calling everyone to repentance (John 3:16). He is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet 3:9). Every human being will be judged by Jesus. The severity of their punishment is based on the specific evil and wickedness they are guilty of. Those who received a greater revelation from God will also be judged more severely. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 11: 21-24 that people who saw his miracles and still rejected him will be judged most severely. In our day and time, I believe the same principle holds true. People who have heard the gospel message and rejected Jesus will be judged more severely than people who have never heard the gospel. But God makes it clear that no one has an excuse for not seeking him. See Romans 1: 1-16 for Paul's explanation of God's final judgement. Everyone who has not received Jesus as their personal saviour will still perish (2 Pet 3:1-18). God's righteous judgement is perfect. Our only defence is to throw ourselves upon his mercy and grace and receive his gift of righteousness by faith in what Jesus has done for us.
Christians do not die. We leave the world of the flesh and enter the world of the spirit where we stand in front of God sinless and pure of heart like Adam and Eve before the fall. This can only be done through the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. Those that do not believe in Jesus Christ will die. On the last day, Jesus will return and judge non Christians that believe in God based on the criteria set forth in Matthew 25. If they are judged sheep, they will forever dwell in the heaven that Jesus will create out of the foundation of the earth.
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