What Does the New Testament Mean by ‘Lost’?

Among many fundamentalists and evangelicals, the word ‘lost‘ has acquired a very specific technical meaning. Used as a noun, ‘the lost’ are those on their way to hell. The state of being lost is sometimes expanded to illustrate the seriousness of their situation:

    • Lost and undone without God
    • Lost without God in this world
    • Lost and bound for eternal hell
Image Credit: Morguefile 6761313582657

Image Credit: Morgue file 6761313582657

What Does ‘Lost’ Mean?

The term ‘lost’ is used as the opposite of  ‘saved‘, which means someone who has accepted Christ as savior and is now on the way to heaven instead of hell. The dichotomy between the two states is sharp and it is part of a larger understanding on sin, salvation, and hell that we will not address in this post.

A popular song expresses the urgency of lostness:

Souls are dying; men are crying; won’t you lead them to the cross?

Go and find them; help to win them; win the lost at any cost.

What Does the New Testament Say about Being Lost?

Does the New Testament use the concept of lostness?

It does, but never in the way described above. Recently we discussed Jesus’ parables dealing with lostness in Luke chapter 15. In order to help the Pharisees understand how the Father feels about lost people, Jesus told stories about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In every case the lost item was restored, much to the happiness of the one who experienced the loss—the shepherd, the woman, and the father.

These are only parables, but there is nothing in them to suggest that the lost items were the objects of wrath or punishment, as assumed in the lost-saved dichotomy. Quite the contrary; the lost sheep and coin were eagerly sought after, and the father desired the presence of the lost son to the point that he celebrated the son’s return.

I contend that when we feel alienated from the Father for any reason, we do not face rejection or punishment but rather the desire of the Father for a restored relationship. This is the nature of our lostness—our relationship with the Father is strained or broken and we feel alienation. However, the feeling is entirely on our side; the Father is not alienated from us, and he desires to restore the relationship and remove the alienation.

Luke chapter 19 reports Jesus as saying that this is his purpose: ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.‘ We can sing,

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.

When we feel alienated from the Father we may feel like a wretch, but he does not see us so. He seeks us out to restore the relationship. Perhaps he is reaching out to you right now. As believers and followers of Jesus, we are not called to win the lost but to find the lost and help with reconciliation.

There is another interesting New Testament passage that speaks of being lost. In First Corinthians chapter 15 Paul argues for the hope of the resurrection and includes this comment:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Paul is certainly not saying that believers who have died are lost and on their way to hell. He is simply saying that without the resurrection they are dead and gone, never to be seen again.

It is difficult to see how we have developed the word ‘lost’ to indicate someone who is going to hell. Instead, lostness speaks to a lost relationship and our feeling alienated from the Father.

Do You Feel Alienated from the Father?

Do you feel:

    • Lost and undone without God?
    • Lost without God in this world?
    • Lost and bound for eternal hell?

No, you are not. We are never without God. If we are lost, we know that the Father is seeking us to restore our relationship with him and to eliminate our feelings of alienation.

If you feel lost and alienated from the Father, you can know that he is without malice and desires a restored relationship. You can find that relationship by following Jesus. If you unsure how to do that, click How to Follow Jesus and enjoy your restored relationship.

Your observations and comments are welcome below.
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15 Responses to What Does the New Testament Mean by ‘Lost’?

  1. Eric says:

    This is a well crafted commentary Tim, I like how you can stil find hope and redemption in a post-evangelical state. Although I don’t view The Father in such theistic terms, it brings up an interesting question…. Which is, If being lost on Earth = separation from God (by our own doing of rebellion and isolation). And being found / saved, etc… = having a relationship with God (again by our own choosing). What might happen after we die? If the soul does go on, and if it continues to have an imprint of our personality while here on earth (and again, assuming there is a “God” and afterlife) might the person who separated themself from God here on earth continue to separate themself from God post-death? And would that be “hell” (i.e., separation from God?) From a theological standpoint it’s an interesting question, although clearly just speculation 🙂


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Eric!

      I believe that we are separated from the Father not so much by rebellion, but due to our misunderstanding. I suspect that at some point all of us will be able to align with the Father with clear and healed minds, and this could be after death.

      If there are those who ultimately do not want eternal life with the Father, their choice will be granted. How it is done, I can only speculate, but I suspect it might be cessation of existence. See https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/conditional-immortality-and-natural-death/


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      By the way Eric, what are your thoughts on the Father in ‘less theistic terms’?


      • Hey Tim, sorry for the delay in responding, I was just going through cleaning up my inbox and noticed this one slipped through.

        You ask a very difficult question, and the deepest answer I can give is “I don’t know” and that is the answer I give to anyone who asks.

        That said, I know what I want God to be, what I hope God is, and what I might guess God could be…but as soon as I think I can put it into any words they flee. Even God = Love is likely so insufficient because we could only understand love in such flawed and distorted human terms. Any anthropomorphism or personification would lack too for that same reason. And I don’t think the Bible (or any holy book) comes anywhere close to understanding God. I think Jesus does one of the best jobs of describing a godly nature in as human terms as possible, but even that’s just like describing quantum physics to a 1 year old. If I had to make one guess it would be that I suspect the existence of a meta-physical realm (or Spirit) is more likely then a completely material accident behind all existence, and I personally choose to lean in that direction.


        • Thanks for the elaboration Eric. I suspected that by ‘less-theistic’ (though I no longer see that phrase in your comment–perhaps I misread it), you meant something like atheistic or deistic.

          I agree with you that any attempt to grasp the nature of the Father is speculative and grossly inadequate. Thanks for the comment and no problems with the delay. It was worth the wait!


  2. Keep on preaching the gospel of love and grace because it is so good to hear.


  3. “In every case the lost item was restored, much to the happiness of the one who experienced the loss—the shepherd, the woman, and the father.” What an amazing and beautiful truth you just shared. I will likely want to read this post again and again as I let the blessings of a loving seeking God wash over my heart. This I believe is what He wanted us to know and Jesus was and IS telling us. He will not rest until we are with Him. Thank you once again for lightening my “baggage” so I’m able to travel easier back into His arms of Love. Amen.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Blonde, I am always delighted when I see your name; I enjoy your comments and I like reading your blog. I believe we think in a lot of the same directions. I am glad you found this post useful! (By the way, do you prefer that I address you as ‘Blonde’ or by your first name?)


  4. I agree with you that we are the ones who are lost and that God certainly knows where we are. I also agree that God eagerly seeks us out to restore us. This is at the heart of the message of God. However, I do not agree that “It is difficult to see how we have developed the word ‘lost’ to indicate someone who is going to hell.” The issue is for those who remain lost; for the coin not found, for those who die but not in faith. You state, “Paul is certainly not saying that believers who have died are lost and on their way to hell.” But the issue is of those who die in unbelief rather than in faith. I believe that at the end of the age, not all things will be “found.” That the parables of Jesus do not teach that all will be found but rather they seek to teach the joy of finding what was lost. Paul speaks of those of this world who are “by nature children of wrath.” Not that God does not love them, but speaking of their final judgement to come. I know this is an area where we dissagree but if all will be found, then why share the gospel and why blog, since in the end it makes no difference at all, seeing this life is but a drop in the bucket of eternity? David


  5. David, as always you have excellent observations. I know we have disagreements on important that stem from our foundational understandings of the gospel. If we were to arrange a vote among believers, I would lose because you certainly speak for the majority. However, I must say that you speak much better than many of your fellow believers.

    Though I was also an evangelical (indeed, a fundamentalist!), I understand things quite differently than I used to. I do not think though that everyone will be ‘found’ in the sense of having a restored relationship to the Father. There will likely be some who do not wish to live eternally in such a relationship, so other arrangements will probably be made for them–not eternal punishment, but most likely cessation of existence.

    This being said, I think there is sufficient hope that MOST will be found and restored, even if this occurs after our natural death. The reason for sharing the good news and for blogging NOW is to let people know the love of the Father and his gift of eternal life so that they can avail themselves of it in this life and begin to enjoy the restored relationship with him. I think this is worth sharing with them.


  6. Keith Harwell says:

    Then why does Jesus mention hell frequently during his teachings?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Keith, the word ‘hell’ is not a biblical word in the originals. Jesus does not talk about our concept of hell as eternal conscious torment but to a couple other words that are translated in some Bible as ‘hell’–Gehenna and simple unconscious death.

      Here are a few article about this misunderstanding of hell. Read ‘Jesus and Hades’ and ‘Jesus and Old Testament Imagery.’ I hope they are helpful. Feel free to continue this conversation.


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