Recently the news was awash with stories that one of our senators used a religious test against a potential government employee, a clear violation of the constitution. The senator took issue with the fact that the potential government employee believes that those who are not Christians are spiritually lost. That whole affair led to many interesting conversations with friends from all stripes of the political and religious landscape. Others have already written extensively on whether the senator should or should not have used a religious test. So I won't delve in that all over again.
I want to focus more on the concept of lostness. What does it mean when a Christian says someone is spiritually lost? Is telling someone they are spiritually lost intolerant? Is it hate speech? Should Christians be marginalized in the public square because of their views on the exclusivity of salvation through Christ?
To answer to this question one must understand what Christians mean when they say someone is "lost." There is a difference between something that is “lost” and something that is “trash.” Trash has no value and needs to be disposed of in some appropriate way. To refer to someone as trash would indeed be intolerant and unbecoming of Christians. In contrast, something that is "lost" has value to us. In fact, it has so much value that we will go to great lengths to find it. We may clean the house to look for it. We might offer a reward to the general public to find it. We might change our lifestyle and make significant decisions to recover something that is lost but which we consider very valuable. Jesus tells several stories about the importance of finding lost things in Luke 15. It is clear from the context that Jesus thought each of those lost things had great value. They were not trash.
What does this have to do with Christians believing that those without Christ are lost? Everything! Christians believe that every person is created in the image of God and has great value. Though Christians think many people are lost, they do not believe that any of them are trash. Christians believe those lost people have value and we must point them to Jesus so they can be found. As they discover Christ, they find peace, joy, happiness, and community, both in this life and in eternity. That is not intolerant, that is love. The idea that people from all ethnicities, social backgrounds, educational levels and even those from other faith backgrounds, who find new life in Christ will all be in eternity together is a powerful picture of God's tolerance for all who come to Him through grace.
I was once lost, but now I am found. And "found" people like me want to help lost people be found too. So take my efforts to share my faith with you as a demonstration of just how much I value you, because that is what it is.
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at: