NCW 10, June 1994
Q. There are some non-believers (I have such friends) who are living God's commandments, without being aware of it and still they are good people, one can rely on them. What (do you) say about such people? How do they differentiate between right and wrong, when they do not actually have faith?
Every living soul has a portion of the Light of Christ within them (John 1:9). We are born with a moral conscience. Those who live close to it without knowing any of the revealed commandments as recorded in Scripture are living by faith in the principles that lead to a pure conscience. They have faith in the Law even if they do not know the Law-giver.
If a person is loving by nature, that person has "a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5). Those who have a desire to live honorably will have a clear conscience (Hebrews 13:18). God will not abandon the pure in heart even though they do not acknowledge His Name, but will gently lead them onwards to a realisation as to Who the source of their well-being is. This is a principle of the New Covenant -- we are not specifically out to teach people about the "New Covenant Church" but about righteous principles. If we can bring souls to God through Christ and thence to holy principles, then that is the ideal. But sometimes we must begin with the principles because people's minds have been poisoned as to religion by antagonists or simply the hypocrisy of religionists. Therefore we consider it a part of our mission to teach noble principles if by this means one day we will lead souls to Christ.
In my life there have been several people who thought I was a "demon" or even an "antichrist" (I have been called such!). Yet they have accepted the principles I have taught, apparently not understanding that a person is what he is in his heart. And I like to think that I teach from my heart. I know of one man who is vigorously opposed to my ministry and who contacted a parent of one of our members to "warn" her against me. A theological discussion followed in which this parent attacked the doctrines of the Church. But he was obliged to come to our defence, because these were his beliefs too. And although my name was slandered and many evil things about me were said, I knew deep within my heart that is was done out of sheer ignorance and I was content to know that the man was witnessing of the truth.
I believe it is the same with God. He is misunderstood because He is represented by false teachings and the hypocritical behaviour of those claiming to be "Christians". I do not blame people for being anti-God, or even neutral about God, if their minds have been deliberately poisoned by others. Given time, such souls can be led to see that the true God is the God of their moral conscience and not the projections of evil, scheming and hypocritical men.
I personally was brought up in a negative environment about religion and therefore developed the habit of intense scepticism toward religion. But I followed my heart and love beautiful principles -- I had may dreams, and many of them were, I know, directly inspired by the Light of Christ. Though I despised the "Christ" of outer religion, the inner Christ was talking to me. And God, in His own time, led me to faith in His person and I could unite the God of pure and virtuous moral feelings with the God of Scripture.
There are billions of nominal Christians who have never come to personal faith. They do not actually know God personally. They believe in a tradition out of habit. I remember watching an interview on TV a few months ago. Zhirinovsky went into a Russian Orthodox Church, lit candles, made the sign of the cross, etc. under the tuition of a little old lady. But it wasn't his brazen hypocrisy that caught my eye but the little old lady in the background who was helping him go through the motions. She too was going through the motions of outer religion, no doubt having copied what her mother had taught her to do, and so on back many generations. And here she was, courting a known political figure who has a reputation for immorality, helping induct him through supposedly holy sacraments and rituals. I am not at all surprised why the prophets of communism saw religion as the "opium of the people" for that is exactly what that kind of religion is (a bit like communism itself). And it is for this reason that actually I see communism as providential in unseating narcotic religious traditions -- communism really did free those who were under its hypnotic spell (though it equally persecuted those who had true faith).
Our conscience can either be strong or weak (1 Corinthians 8:7). To live by it is a commandment. Another is to be prepared to elevate conscience to a higher level by coming to know the will of God. Whilst we must be true to conscience we must also be true to God. "My conscience is clear, BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE ME INNOCENT. It is the Lord who judges..." (1 Corinthians 4:4). God is merciful to those who act in ignorance but when the higher Light comes and a conscience is a disturbed -- as it will be (either to rejoicing or to hatred) -- then man is without further excuse (Acts 3:17; 17:30). Whilst some ignorance may be innocent, and therefore pardonable, much is because of deliberate hardening of the heart, and is therefore not innocent and must expect to confront the wrath of God (Ephesians 4:18). Paul was ignorant of the terrible things he did because he really believed he was acting according to God's will; but when the truth came, he repented and changed direction (1 Timothy 1:13). There is unconditional forgiveness for sins of ignorance (Hebrews 9:7) even if our desires were evil (1 Peter 1:14).
As to the people you mention in your question, each much be judged individually on his or her merit. If a person is pure in heart and has not openly rebelled, then Paul says this to them: "When gentiles who do not have the Law, do by nature things required of the Law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them" (Romans 2:14-15, NIV).
We all have faith, to greater or lesser extent. Even violent criminals usually act in a loving was to their own offspring -- there is a spark of light in them, a spark bright enough to be kindled by the Holy Spirit to make them into new men of Christ. So I would say that your friends or acquaintances do have faith of sorts -- incomplete and imperfect, maybe, but faith nevertheless. God desires them to know Him, and His Son Jesus Christ, and a time must come when they must choose the Law-giver as well as the Law...or reject Him.
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