Tagged: what about those who never heard of Jesus

The stairway to hell

Romans 1 is a graphic depiction of human depravity, which is not a steep vertical fall, but a descending spiral of ungodliness that begins with rejection of God’s revelation and ends with a fateful last step into outer darkness.

It’s a story we should tell more often because it cuts to the chase. Paul doesn’t promise happiness, wealth, or comfort to the sinner who receives Jesus as Savior. Rather, he warns those who persist in rebellion against God of the peril they face when the divine hand of grace finally lets them go.

First, Paul makes it clear that no person stands before God with a valid defense for unbelief. God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways: creation and conscience.

In creation, He has shown the wicked His eternal power and divine nature, “being understood through what he has made” (v. 20). A simple gaze into the heavens on a starry night reveals the vastness, beauty, and intricacy of the universe, so that any reasonable person must conclude a divine Designer is behind it all.

Further, God has placed in every heart a knowledge of His holy standards. Regardless of geography, religion, culture, or historic era, everyone knows intuitively that certain deeds are always wrong for all people at all times, and certain deeds are always right (Rom. 2:14-16).

This universal moral compass points inextricably to a divine Law Giver.

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What about those who have never heard of Jesus?

What about those who have never heard of Jesus? Christians often are asked this question. In fact, a fellow believer put this very question to me the other day. It’s a very difficult question to address, and one that I struggle with answering. At the same time, God’s Word is not silent on the issue, and we should glean the Bible’s clear teachings to discern answers to it’s thornier doctrinal issues. There are, for example, some important biblical truths to ponder as we address this question.

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What about those who have never heard of Jesus?

This is the third in a series of occasional posts from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where I have the privilege of serving with Michael O’Neal, a church planter/pastor/teacher from Tennessee, and missionary Scott Carter to teach Christian apologetics to fellow believers and assist local pastors in their discipleship and church-planting efforts.

Sept. 28, 11:32 p.m. — ConneXion Subang (university student ministry center), Subang Jaya

The question was inevitable. After two and a half hours of teaching on the uniqueness of Christ and addressing a series of challenging issues with university students who have gathered here for Bible study and prayer, a coed raised her hand and asked sincerely, “But what about those who have never heard of Jesus?” She and her fellow Christian students from countries in Africa and Asia are serious about effectively sharing their faith with their Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and atheist classmates, and for them this question is key.

But it’s not a question given to soundbite responses — or easily dismissed as an unbeliever’s barb. True believers wrestle with this question as well, and I doubt that any of us can fully plumb the depths of God’s mind on this issue — at least on this side of heaven. However, here are some important biblical truths to ponder:

  1. Christ is the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
  2. God loves all people and desires their salvation (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
  3. God is truly just and will judge all people justly (Job. 34:10-12; Ps. 9:8; 98:9; Jer. 11:20; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:5-11).
  4. All people are aware of the existence of God (Rom. 1:18-23). They have failed to act responsibly on what God has already revealed to them, whether through the light of creation (Rom. 1), the light of conscience (Rom. 2), or the light of Christ (Rom. 3).
  5. All people are sinners and know it. God has written His law in their hearts and all people are aware that they have violated the law of God (Rom. 2:1-16). No one will be able to stand before God in judgment and claim that they never willfully did wrong.
  6. Men and women are not sentenced to hell based upon whether they heard of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are justly and fittingly condemned based upon the fact that they are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23).
  7. It appears that if people respond to the light they do have, God will send them the light of the gospel (the Ethiopian eunuch, for example, in Acts 8:26ff, and Cornelius in Acts 10:25ff). Because no one has been kept in the dark about God’s existence, we’re all accountable directly to Him (Luke 12:47-48).
  8. Evidently, God will judge people based on their response to the light He has given them as expressed in their deeds (Rom. 2:6), words (Matt. 12:36-37) and thoughts (Heb. 4:12). This does not mean people are saved by good works; rather it means their response to God in faith, or lack thereof, is evident in their thoughts, words and actions.
  9. It appears there will be stricter judgment for those who have rejected the gospel than for those who have never heard (John 3:36; 12:48). Jesus also told the Jewish leaders – who had greater degrees of knowledge of the Scriptures – they would receive “greater damnation,” and He pronounced many “woes” on them (Matt. 23).
  10. Christian evangelism is essential for three primary reasons: 1) God commands us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20); 2) the preaching of the gospel is the means by which people hear and are saved (Rom. 10:13-17); and 3) all people should share in the blessings of eternal life, not only in eternity, but now (John 10:10).

Some other considerations:

  • People in Old Testament times were saved even though they didn’t know the name of Jesus (Heb. 11). Consider, for example, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Rahab and others, who are considered “heroes of the faith.”
  • Christ’s substitutionary and sacrificial death on the cross works forward and backward in time to pay the sin debt for those who respond to the revelation God has given them. His death once and for all paid humanity’s sin debt.

What about those who have never heard of Jesus?

What about those who have never heard of Jesus? This is a very difficult question to address, and one whose answer we may not fully comprehend in this life. However, there are some important biblical truths to ponder as we share our faith:

  1. Christ is the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
  2. God loves all people and desires their salvation (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
  3. God is just and will judge all people justly (Job. 34:10-12; Ps. 9:8; 98:9; Jer. 11:20; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:5-11).
  4. All people are aware of God’s existence (Rom. 1:18-23). They have failed to act responsibly on what God has already revealed to them, whether through the light of creation (Rom. 1), the light of conscience (Rom. 2), or the light of Christ (Rom. 3).
  5. All people are sinners and know it. God has written His law in their hearts and all people are aware that they have violated the law of God (Rom. 2:1-16). No one will be able to stand before God in judgment and claim that he or she never willfully did wrong.
  6. Men and women are not sentenced to hell based upon whether they heard of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are justly and fittingly condemned based upon the fact that they are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23).
  7. It appears that if people respond to the light they do have, God will send them the light of the gospel (the Ethiopian eunuch, for example, in Acts 8:26ff, and Cornelius in Acts 10:25ff). Because no one has been kept in the dark about God’s existence, no one is excused from giving an account to God (Luke 12:47-48).
  8. Evidently, God will judge people based on their response to the light He has given them as expressed in their deeds (Rom. 2:6), words (Matt. 12:36-37) and thoughts (Heb. 4:12). This does not mean people are saved by good works; rather it means their response to God in faith, or lack thereof, is evident in their thoughts, words and actions.
  9. It appears there will be stricter judgment for those who have rejected the gospel than for those who have never heard (John 3:36; 12:48). Jesus also told the Jewish leaders – who had greater degrees of knowledge of the Scriptures – they would receive “greater damnation,” and He pronounced many “woes” on them (Matt. 23).
  10. Christian evangelism is essential for three primary reasons: 1) God commands us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20); 2) the preaching of the gospel is the means by which people hear and are saved (Rom. 10:13-17); and 3) all people should share in the blessings of eternal life, not only in eternity, but now (John 10:10).

Some other considerations:

  • People in Old Testament times were saved even though they didn’t know the name of Jesus (Heb. 11). Consider, for example, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Rahab and others, who are considered “heroes of the faith.”
  • Christ’s substitutionary and sacrificial death on the cross works forward and backward in time to pay humanity’s sin debt.
  • Finally, for those who may use the question, “What about those who have never heard of Jesus?” as an excuse to justify their unbelief, a reasonable response is, “Well, you have heard of Jesus. What will you do about Him?”