Otsego Festival Question Series: Can Some People Receive the Love of God Without Being Aware?

The question is only partially provided on the post title.  Here’s the entire question: “Can God forgive someone who hasn’t ‘accepted him into his/her heart’ (not really a Biblical phrase, correct?)?  Can some people receive the love of God without being aware?”

I’d like to answer this question in two parts.  The first part will deal with the secondary question, is ‘accepting God/Jesus into your heart’ Biblical terminology.  The second part will deal with the primary question which is, can someone receive the benefits of salvation unknowingly? 

First, is ‘accepting God/Jesus into your heart’ Biblical terminology?  I will deal briefly with this because it’s a secondary matter to the question at hand but something worth briefly addressing.  The ‘accepting God/Jesus into your heart’ terminology is not Biblical.  You will not find the phrase employed in the New Testament to describe the new birth.  We are converted when we “repent and believe” not “accept Jesus into our hearts.”  The phrase captures the ethos of revivalism—Jesus meekly waiting, knocking, just hoping we will come to Him.  This sentiment is reflected in song written by Will Thompson, “Softly and Tenderly,”

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Refrain:
Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies,
mercies for you and for me?
(Refrain)

Such phrases communicate (or wrongly communicate, as the case may be) the nature of conversion.  “Accepting Jesus into your heart” is theologically vapid and should be avoided.  We should use Biblical terminology such as “repent and believe.”

and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ (Mark 1:15)

testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21)

As I said, I wanted to deal briefly with this.  If you’re interested, you can read some additional thoughts from Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.   In short, you are correct in saying that “accepting Jesus into your heart” is not a Biblical phrase. 

Okay, onto the second part which deals with your primary question, which I believe can be summarized by, “Can someone receive the benefits of salvation unknowingly?” You phrased your question this way, “Can some people receive the love of God without being aware?”  The answer to this is that in a sense everyone is a recipient of the love of God whether they know it or not according to John 3:16,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .

When God gave His Son for us (cf. Romans 8:31-32), in a sense, every person (in “the world”) received the love of God.  But this is one piece of the puzzle.  That Jesus died on the cross for the world (1 John 2:2) does not mean that the entire world is a recipient of the saving benefits of the cross.  In this way, the love of God is similar to the grace of God.  Theologians have made a distinction between common grace and special grace.  God’s sustaining care is grace common to all according to Hebrews 1:3,

. . . he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Every person benefits from God’s natural provision of sun and ran as stated in Matthew 5:45,

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

While God’s common grace is bestowed upon all, special grace is not.  Special grace is the grace by which God saves His people. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
(Ephesians 2:8).

No one becomes a child of God without knowing it.  God grants the believer spiritual life and the gift of faith (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9).  The notion of a universal “Divine Spark” is impersonal while Christianity is about an active and volition personal relationship with God through Jesus.  John 1:12 affirms, 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

In conclusion, the phrase ‘accepting God/Jesus into your heart’ is not Biblical terminology.  It is better to employ the language of the Bible which is “repent and believe.”  Concerning the question, “can someone receive the benefits of salvation unknowingly?”  The Bible says no.  Conversion entails a work of God in supplying us spiritual life and the gift of faith so we actively believe in Jesus.

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