From Holiness by J.C. Ryle
1. “A man is without Christ when he has no head knowledge of Him. Millions, no doubt, are in this condition. They neither know who Christ is, nor what He has done, nor what He taught, nor why He was crucified, nor where He is now, nor what He is to mankind. In short, they are entirely ignorant of Him. The heathen, of course, who never yet heard the gospel, come first under this description. But unhappily they do not stand alone. There are thousands of people living in England at this very day, who have hardly any clearer ideas about Christ than the very heathen. Ask them what they know about Jesus Christ, and you will be astounded at the gross darkness which covers their minds. Visit them on their deathbeds, and you will find that they can tell you no more about Christ than about Mahomet (Mohammed). Thousands are in this state in country parishes, and thousands in towns. And about all such persons but one account can be given. They are without Christ.
I am aware that some modern divines do not take the view which I have just stated. They tell us that all mankind have a part and interest in Christ, whether they know Him or not. They say that all men and women, however ignorant while they live, shall be taken by Christ’s mercy to heaven when they die! Such views, I firmly believe, cannot be reconciled with God’s Word. It is written, ‘This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent’ (John 17:3). It is one of the marks of the wicked, on whom God shall take vengeance at the last day, that they ‘know not God’ (2 Thess. 1:8). An unknown Christ is no Savior. What shall be the state of the heathen after death; how the savage who never heard the gospel shall be judged; in what manner God will deal with the helplessly ignorant and uneducated – all these are questions which we may safely let alone. We may rest assured that ‘the Judge of all the earth will do right’ (Gen. 18:25). But we must not fly in the face of Scripture. If Bible words mean anything, to be ignorant of Christ is to be without Christ.
2. But this is not all. A man is without Christ when he has no heart faith in Him as his Savior. It is quite possible to know all about Christ, and yet not to put our trust in Him. There are multitudes who know every article of the belief, and can tell you glibly that Christ was ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.’ They learned it at school. They have it sticking fast in their memories. But they make no practical use of their knowledge. They put their trust in something which is not Christ. They hope to go to heaven because they are moral and well-conducted, because they say their prayers and go to church, because they have been baptized and go to the Lord’s table. But as to a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ – a real, intelligent confidence in Christ’s blood and righteousness and intercession – they are things of which they know nothing at all. And of such persons I can see but one true account. They are without Christ.
I am aware that many do not admit the truth of what I have just said. Some tell us that all baptized people are members of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Others tell us that where there is a head knowledge we have no right to question a person’s interest in Christ. To these I have only one plain answer. The Bible forbids us to say that any man is joined to Christ until he believes. Baptism is no proof that we are joined to Christ. Simon Magnus was baptized, and yet was distinctly told that he had ‘no part or lot in this matter’ (Acts 8:21). Head knowledge is no proof that we are joined to Christ. The devils know Christ well enough, but have no portion in Him. God knows, no doubt, who are His from eternity. But man knows nothing of any one’s justification until he believes. The grand question is: ‘Do we believe?’ It is written: ‘He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.’ ‘He that believeth not shall be damned’ (John 3:36; Mark 16:16). If Bible words mean anything, to be without faith is to be without Christ.
3. But I have yet one thing more to say. A man is without Christ when the Holy Spirit’s work cannot be seen in his life. Who can avoid seeing, if he uses his eyes, that myriads of profession Christians know nothing of inward conversion of heart. They will tell you that they believe the Christian religion they go to their places of worship with tolerable regularity; they think it a proper to be married and buried with all the ceremonies of the church; they would be much offended if their Christianity were doubted. But where is the Holy Ghost to be seen in their lives? What are their hearts and affections set upon? Whose is they image and superscription that stands out in their tastes and habits and ways? Alas, there can only be one reply! They know nothing experimentally of the renewing, sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost. They are yet dead to God. And of all such only one account can be given. They are without Christ.
I am well aware, again, that few will admit this. The vast majority will tell you that it is extreme and wild and extravagant to require so much in Christians, and to press on everyone conversion. They will say that it is impossible to keep up the high standard which I have just referred to, without going out of the word, and that we may surely go to heaven without being such very great saints. To all this, I can only reply, ‘What saith the Scripture? What saith the Lord?’ It is written: ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ‘Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘He that saith he abideth in Christ, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.’ ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His’ (John 3:3; Matt. 18:3; 1 John 2:6; Rom. 8:9). The Scripture cannot be broken. If Bible words mean anything, to be without the Spirit is to be without Christ.
I commend the three propositions I have just laid down to your serious and prayerful consideration. Mark well what they come to. Examine them carefully on every side. In order to have a saving interest in Christ, knowledge, faith, and the grace of the Holy Ghost are absolutely needful. He that is without them is without Christ.