The notion that all who reject Christ stand condemned before God is a basic Christian doctrine held by millions of people around the world. However, as demonstrated by Senator Bernie Sanders’ anger, this doctrine is viewed with increasing hostility in today’s pluralistic society.
Why do Christians believe this doctrine?
Because the New Testament appears to teach it. The Gospel of John is particularly explicit. John states, “He who believes in [Jesus] is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (3:18). Later, John reports that Jesus himself said, “You will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he” (8:24).
Is this doctrine hateful?
No. Consider the matter this way. Is it hateful to believe that those who refuse water will ultimately die of thirst? Is it hateful to believe that those who refuse food will ultimately die of starvation? Of course not. We do not hold these beliefs because we want others to suffer and die. We affirm these “doctrines” because we are convinced that they are true. In other words, we believe these statements accurately describe the reality of the human predicament.
In the same way, Christians do not believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation because they want people of other faiths to “die in [their] sins.” Christians believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation because they are persuaded that the testimony about Jesus in the New Testament is true. John claims that Jesus alone provides the “water of life” and the “bread of life.” Thus Christians are forced to conclude that all who continue to reject Jesus will necessarily remain thirsty and hungry.
Now of course Christians might be mistaken about all of this. It might not in fact be the case that Jesus is the only way of salvation. But to be angry at Christians for affirming this doctrine is rather like being angry at your doctor for diagnosing you with cancer. Of course your doctor might be wrong. His diagnosis might be mistaken. But to conclude that your doctor hates you and wants you to have cancer is simply irrational.