We are ALL morally accountable beings:
Sometimes believers (often of the left), will say some rather unhelpful things – especially when it comes to the Christian in society, the culture wars, and so on. For example, how often do you hear some Christians basically making excuses for the behaviour and actions of non-Christians by saying something like this?
-‘Well, he is not saved, so what do you expect?’”
-‘He is just doing what pagans do.’
-‘He does not have the Holy Spirit so we cannot expect him to do any good.’
I hear this quite often unfortunately. It is as if the non-believer can just get off Scot-free from the consequences of his actions. Now, there is SOME truth in all this. Theologically speaking, the law of God was given, among other things, to show us our sinfulness and show us how we cannot save ourselves.
So yes, in terms of salvation, the pagan is hopeless in trying to please God or get right with him. We are all guilty under the law, and we can only cast ourselves upon the grace and mercy of God. But here I am speaking about something different.
We can be too willing to excuse the sins of pagans. They might cheat on their taxes or cheat on their partner. Or worse, abuse their children or kill their spouse. But the truth is, God still holds them all accountable for their actions. And we should too.
Consider how this plays out in the real world. Suppose Joe Pagan is caught running red lights – over and over again. The cops pull him over, and issue him a ticket or two. If the driver was a pagan and the cops Christian, would it make any difference if the law-breaking driver simply said, ‘Well, what do you expect? I am not a Christian you know?’ Would the Christian cops say, ‘Oh right, sorry – off you go’?
Um, no. Of course they would proceed with writing tickets, or even arresting the repeat offender. And it would be the same in a court of law. If a bank robber told the judge, ‘Hey, I am not a Christian and do not have the Holy Spirit, so what do you expect?,’ would the judge nod his head in agreement and let him walk out of the court?
Um, no. again. We expect everyone to obey the laws of the land – whether they are Christian or not, whether they have the Spirit or not. And this for various reasons. We know that everyone is made in God’s image, and we know that we are all morally responsible for our actions. And one day God will judge every single one of us.
The big difference is whether the sinner turns to Christ for the forgiveness of sins, or rejects what Christ had done on their behalf. But we are all still responsible for what we do. Certainly in this life any worthwhile cop or judge will not let criminals and lawbreakers off the hook, based on whether or not they are born-again Christians.
Case in point: Lucy Letby
Most of us read recently about neonatal nurse Lucy Letby in the UK who was found guilty of killing 7 newborns. And now there are reports saying there might be many other just-born babies that she harmed or tried to kill. Says one report:
Police believe Lucy Letby, the nurse convicted of murdering seven babies, may have harmed dozens more infants at two hospitals in the north-west of England, the Guardian has been told. A source with knowledge of the police investigation said detectives had identified about 30 babies who suffered “suspicious” incidents at the Countess of Chester hospital where she worked. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/aug/20/lucy-letby-dozens-more-babies-police-believe-chester-liverpool
She is truly evil, and human courts of law held her accountable for what she did, just as will the heavenly court. We all have a moral nature and we all know deep down there is such a thing as right and wrong. That is the clear message that Paul gives us in Romans 1 and 2. We all have a conscience, and we are all God’s image-bearers, and even though sin has greatly tarnished our conscience, it is still there.
Of interest, one presumably non-Christian columnist, based on what he learned about the UK killer, penned an opinion piece with this title: “I’m against the death penalty, but Lucy Letby has shaken my stance.” In the article he said this:
“No confession, no remorse. Letby did not even front the courtroom for her sentencing. The judge made an order for the victim impact statements to be delivered to her cell, but there is no guarantee she will ever read them. So, remind me again, why should such an evil monster be allowed to live out the rest of her life, even in prison?” https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/i-m-against-the-death-penalty-but-lucy-letby-has-shaken-my-stance-20230824-p5dz8x.html
Sure, we might make all sorts of excuses for her (perhaps she had a really rough upbringing, perhaps she was abused as a child, etc). But what she did was still wrong, and she must pay for her crimes. And on a related note, as I have written before, we are all capable of horrendous evil, given the right circumstances, and under certain conditions: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/04/falling-down-and-mass-murder/
Nations are guilty as well
And guess what? This is true not only of individuals but of nations as well. Even a superficial reading of the Old Testament for example will bear this out. God holds pagan nations just as guilty of sin and evil as he did ancient Israel. The prophets of God spoke not just to God’s people, but repeatedly spoke to the surrounding nations as well.
Here are the main prophetic words given to the nations: Isaiah 13-21; 23,24; 34; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32; 35; 38,39; Joel 3; Amos 1,2; Zephaniah 2; and Zechariah 9. Sometimes entire books deal with a pagan nation, such as Jonah (which deals with Ninevah), Obadiah (which deals with Edom), and Nahum (which deals with Assyria).
And when you read what the prophets said, you will find that the same sort of language, the same sort of rebukes, the same sort of sins, and the same sorts of punishments are used of the nations as they are of Israel. Sin is sin, regardless of who commits it, and God holds everyone responsible for what they do.
Since I am now reading in Jeremiah again, we see so much of this found there. Consider all the nations dealt with by the prophet:
Jer. 46 Judgment on Egypt
Jer. 47 Judgment on the Philistines
Jer. 48 Judgment on Moab
Jer. 49 Judgment on Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, and Elam
Jer. 50-51 Judgment on Babylon
If not being in relationship with God excuses a nation from being held accountable, then why all these words of judgment on these pagan nations? And consider how basically the same sins that God judged Israel for were what the pagan nations were judged for as well: pride, idolatry, injustice, bloodthirstiness, oppression, violence, and so on.
Moreover it was not just the prophets who made this clear. Way back in the book of Genesis we find God holding pagan leaders accountable for what they did. He held them to the same high standards. Consider the case of the pagan ruler Abimelech as found in Gen. 20 – he too was under the law of God. The first 7 verses say this:
From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
Yes, Abraham was at fault here as well – he did not fully lie however, since Sarah was his half-sister (see verse 12)! But the point is clear: even this pagan king was under the judgment of God, and he too knew that some things were wrong and should be punished.
And going back to the prophets, consider what Daniel said to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. In Dan 4:27 we find this: “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
So some of the squeamish (and often woke) believers of today who say we should never call out pagans, or pagan rulers, or pagan nations, for their many wrongs, immorality and evil, because they are not Christian, are greatly mistaken. Yes we should uphold God’s standards to one and all.
A good cop or judge will not allow a person’s religious status to determine whether or not he or she gets justice. Neither should we.