You’re probably wondering, if the point of the Rapture was to take the church before the Tribulation, why there are so many Christians left behind, including major figures like the Pope and various Archbishops or figures like Rick Warren. Perhaps you consider yourself to be a Christian, and yet you’re still here, and you’re confused. This is not an easy topic, and I will try to answer as gently as I can, but I believe that Jesus warned us about this, too.
Just because a person goes to church, has been christened/baptised, confirmed or has had their first communion, it doesn’t make them automatically a Christian. Christianity, unlike any other religion or faith in the world, is not a cultural concept or something that you are just ‘born into’. Christianity generally, worldwide, ranks first place in net gains through conversion from other religions, and according to The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion, in mid-2005, approximately 15.5 million converted to Christianity annually from another religion, whilst approximately 11.7 million left Christianity annually, and most of them becoming irreligious, resulting in a net gain of 3.8 million.
These figures, whilst impressive-sounding, can never be truly representative of the numbers of believers, because large proportions of stats like this come from countries where people are openly allowed to belong to whichever religion they like without having to make any serious sacrifices for that choice – in other words its culturally acceptable to belong to a religion or go to church without having to really believe anything inside. In other parts of the world however, that’s a very different matter. To become a Christian in North Korea, China, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Pakistan, or any other country where lethal persecution of Christians is a daily occurrence, is to quite literally risk your life for your beliefs, and the fastest growing churches are the underground churches, the secret believers about whom we may never fully know this side of eternity. Some have to live a double-life, appearing to remain within Islam or Hinduism or Communism etc, whilst holding clandestine meetings and sharing their faith one-on-one for fear of being discovered. That is why you may have known or have heard of people who appeared to be another religion; especially Muslims or Orthodox Jews, but have disappeared along with open believers – and on the flip side, why many, many cultural Christians are still here, stunned and confused.
You see, it all comes down to personal faith. You can be the loveliest person, faithfully in church every week of your life, doing good in the community, knowing the liturgy inside out, singing the liturgy every week, or even becoming ordained, and yet have never truly understood or taken the necessary step to be saved. If your faith was in your own goodness or merit by doing these things, or in the goodness of the church or your priest or your Pope, it was in the wrong place. The sixteenth century reformers had the right idea when they coined the motto “Sola fide” – by faith alone – and when they fought and died for the right to have the Bible in our native languages so that the plow boy could know the scriptures better than the priest, as William Tyndale famously said. Christians in nations where they are daily killed for their faith know all too well what they believe, and they chosen to believe that even though it would be culturally safer and more logical to remain Muslim or whatever else they once were. They have committed their life to a God they know personally, through His word and His Spirit, losing all fear of death because they know that their souls are secure in the Saviour.
The true God is a personal God, and He wants a personal connection, a relationship, with each and every person. Even as far back as Abraham, being God’s chosen father of the Jewish people didn’t automatically mean he was saved; he was still a sinner in need of redemption. Neither did his physical circumcision count for anything other than an external symbol of what had already gone on inwardly in his heart. Rabbi Sha’ul, known to the New Testament Gentile church as the Apostle Paul, wrote passionately about the need for personal faith for salvation. He was as Jewish as they come; of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eight day, trained by Gamaliel, a Pharisee, and a teacher of the Law, but none of that counted for salvation because he had entirely missed the point until he realised who the Messiah was according to his own Scriptures and accepted Him by faith. He wrote of Abraham:
‘For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”…How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.’Romans 4:3, 10-12 – emphasis mine
The point I am making is that religious observance doesn’t count for anything before God. We have all got to accept that by the standard of the law, we are sinners in need of a Saviour, and that our goodness can never outweigh our sinfulness inside. Our pride doesn’t like that, and it’s a humbling realisation to make, but the Bible is full, from beginning to end, of the same message; we need a Redeemer, and without Him we are headed for an eternity separated from God in the place He only intended for the devil and his demons; hell. This is because sin ruins everything it touches, inside and out, and God is holy – He cannot permit sin in His presence. But He loves us with an everlasting love, and doesn’t want anyone to have to go through that. So Jesus came, willingly, to live the perfect life that we could never live, according to the Law of Moses, and then to die on the cross, bearing the sin and shame of all humanity for all time, and taking the wrath of God for all that sin has done to His creation. He was separated from God for a short time so that we would never have to go to an eternity without Him, and then He rose again, breaking the curse of sin and death, because He Himself was innocent – death could not hold Him. He was your substitute, and He will freely give you forgiveness and eternal life because He has paid the price for it, if you will repent, ask Him for that forgiveness and invite Him to be your Lord and Saviour.
This is the only way to God, and if you have never prayed a prayer of repentance like that, you have never truly been a Christian. If you continue to rely on your own imperfect goodness rather than Jesus’ sinless perfection, you can never be freed from the sentence that is over each person who breaks God’s Laws. Please hear me right; I’m not saying that being a good person isn’t important; of course it is! But ultimately, it cannot save you, and there are a lot of people who have been left behind because God knew that they hadn’t understood or submitted to Him in their hearts, and He is giving those people – the good, lovely, decent, upright, truth-seeking religious or non-religious people of the world, one final chance to come to Jesus and make that life-or-death decision. What will you choose? Please, choose life!
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!”Ezekiel 18:30-32
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.”Isaiah 1:18
‘Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’Isaiah 53: 4-6
‘Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,Isaiah 55:6-9
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” ‘
‘And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” ‘John 8:11
‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.’Romans 8:1 – emphasis mine
‘Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’2 Corinthians 5:21 – emphasis mine
‘The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [to come again to judge evil], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.’2 Peter 3:9
‘After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number [saved out of the Tribulation, the time you are in now!], of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” ‘Revelation 7:9-10