Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Happens to People who have Never Heard the Gospel?

One of the common questions that Christians receive about Christianity is the question of what happens to people who have never heard the gospel. Do those in remote locations or other times in history that never heard the name of Jesus go to hell? Is there another way for people to be saved, other than Jesus? Or are people just out of luck if they haven’t heard about Jesus?

This is an important question for Christians to answer. It can be a stumbling block for many who want to believe in Christianity if they see God as unfair or unjust. Many want to say that there is another way. Some will say that sincerity, even misplaced toward another religion, is enough to get to heaven. How is a Christian to answer this with both truth and grace?

There’s much that could be said here, but here is an introduction to the topic that I believe is both Biblical and rational.

I’ll start by saying that nobody ever goes to hell for not believing in Jesus.

That may shock some people, but hear me out. Nobody goes to hell from a lack of belief in Jesus. Just like nobody ever died of not getting CPR, nobody goes to hell for not believing in Jesus. People die of diseases or injuries. People go to hell because of sin. There will be no one in hell who can honestly say they don't deserve it. We all have sinned and we all deserve hell. So it’s an important distinction to make. Those in hell are there because of the sins they chose to commit. They had a terminal disease called sinfulness, and it caused spiritual death.

Of course, this doesn’t answer the underlying question of whether or not people can be saved apart from Christ. Obviously, the real issue here is whether or not lack of Jesus, the cure for the disease, results in a person going to hell.

The short answer is yes.

The Bible is crystal clear that salvation is through Jesus alone. There is only one mediator between God and man (I Timothy 2:5). There is no other sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:26). There is only one Son of God (John 3:16-18, 36). He only came once (I Peter 3:18). The death of a mere man cannot save anyone (Romans 8:3, 13-18, I Corinthians 15:50). Thus, only Jesus could pay the penalty for sin and redeem us.

But what about those who haven’t heard of Jesus? Is God unfair to withhold salvation from them? Did He give them no chance?

The Bible is clear that all mankind has some knowledge of God. Read Romans 1:18-21 and Psalms 19:1-4. These passages, among others, tell us that mankind knows, from the creation, that there is a God. It is obvious to all people that there must be a Creator, even if they reject this knowledge. They can also deduce attributes about the Creator from His creation. For example, because creation is orderly and purposeful, we can see that God is a God of order. He doesn't do things sloppily or without purpose. We can see that He is consistent because nature is steady and predictable. We can see that He values beauty, etc.

In addition, humans have an innate sense of morality (Romans 2:14-15). The Bible refers to this as the law written on the heart. We instinctively know right and wrong, at least in a basic sense. But if there is a moral law, there must be a moral lawgiver. There must be an ultimate moral authority.

These things are evident to all people. The information is out there for people to know there is a God and to seek Him. They have no excuse if they ignore this information and fail to seek God.

Of course, having a general knowledge of God doesn’t mean we have an innate knowledge of salvation. What we know initially from nature will only get us so far. We have to seek God. We have the first piece of the puzzle, but we need the rest of it to know how to be saved. Knowing there is a God ou
t there somewhere is just a beginning. We have to learn more. That's why it's our responsibility to seek God.

Of course, God is also seeking us, which makes the whole thing possible. We could never figure it all out on our own. That's why He revealed Himself in the Bible. And even if we could figure it all out, knowledge alone can't save us. A person can know how to be saved and still not be saved. So we have to rely on God to reveal what we need to know in order to be saved.

We also know that God wants everyone to come to Him (II Peter 3:18). The very reason that God created mankind is because He wanted to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t make people to populate hell with no chance of salvation. He gives everyone a chance.

Because God wants all to come to Him, God will reveal Himself to those who seek Him. The Bible says that those who seek God will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7-8). God will see to it that those who want to know Him will find the information they need to know to accept Jesus. He can send missionaries or a radio broadcast or a Bible or any number of other messengers to give people the knowledge of how to accept Christ. It is also quite possible for Jesus or an angel to appear (as Jesus did to Paul, for example) to people who don't have another way to hear the gospel and are seeking God.

Of course, God has no responsibility to go to such lengths for those who have failed to seek Him. We all have enough general revelation from nature and our own inbuilt knowledge of God to realize our need to seek him. It is our responsibility to act on what we know.

The principle is that, if we act on the revelation we have, God will give us more. For example, there have been many cases of missionaries being led to go to a remote location and finding there someone who has been seeking God and asking for truth. There have been cases of people hearing a radio broadcast or meeting a stranger who shared the gospel. The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 was seeking God, and God brought Philip to tell him how to be saved. These are just a few examples. God brought these people the knowledge of Christ they needed when they sought Him. He will not turn away any who truly seek Him (John 6:37).

Those who don't act on the knowledge of God they had may never hear of Jesus, but their condemnation will be just because they did not act on the revelation they had. They will go to hell, not because they had never heard of Jesus, but because they rejected what they did know of God.

For those who predated Christ, the way of salvation is faith in God's promise to send a Messiah. So they were saved through faith in Jesus that looks forward to Him. This is the case for Abraham, for example, who "believed God and it was counted unto Him as righteousness." There may also be some who lived after Christ who were also saved in this way, through faith that God would send the promised Messiah (even if they did not know he had already come). But every person who is saved is saved through Jesus Christ. There is no other way.

So, if Jesus is necessary for salvation, then sincerity isn't enough. Belief isn't enough. You have to believe in what is true. You have to follow the one true God and His one way for salvation. If one could be saved simply through sincerity, even if the religion was false, then there would be no need to preach the gospel or teach people about Christ. Just tell them to be sincere. Tell them to be honest. Tell them to follow their own native religion. Blend in, don't rock the boat, be a good person. But not once is this ever used by the followers of God in the Bible. It is always a case of calling people to leave their false religions and follow the true God.

The early Christians were murdered in horrific ways because they refused to follow their native religions and instead were determined to follow Jesus. If salvation were possible by simply following one's native religion, then all these martyrs died in vain. They should have simply gone with whatever would make them happy or not gotten them killed if they could be saved simply by following any old religion. But they knew that salvation only comes through belief in the one true God and in Jesus Christ. They were willing to die in order to have Christ and salvation because they knew there was no other way.

So, we see that the Bible is clear that salvation is only through Jesus, but why is that so important?

The reason we need Jesus is that we can't get to God on our own. We can have all the knowledge in the world, but we can never be worthy of salvation. We're flawed. We have all sinned (Romans 3:23). Sin taints us so that we can't stand in God's presence. God is perfect and holy. Sin cannot abide in His presence. So our sin separates us from God. It's a gulf that can never be crossed because no one can go back in time and un-sin. And good works, no matter how great, can't erase the past.

We all deserve death and separation from God forever because that is the penalty for sin (Romans 6:23). There is only one way for God to be just and judge sin, and yet extend mercy to us who don't deserve it. That one way is Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life. He was never tainted with sin. So He alone has the right to stand before God and live in His presence. Yet He died, and was separated from God the Father, in our place. When we let Jesus take our place, surrendering our life to Him, He swaps with us - His life for the death we deserve. It's the only way for both justice and mercy to be satisfied. The debt for sin is paid - a debt we could never pay - and we can live with God. Justice and mercy.

Since no mere man could ever live a perfect life, no mere man can save us. It had to be the perfect Son of God. It had to be God in a human body. It had to be Jesus.


  1. It would seem you tend to take a somewhat Calvinist approach to the situation; those who were put on earth at time and place where Christ was not preached, were determined not to be ones who would have received Him regardless. You correctly state the God is a God of order and purpose, but fail to recognize that all human beings are thus created purposefully. Do you not believe that God would have already discerned those who might faint away from Him before they were ever placed upon this earth? Might not such a God of order and purpose have spared these wretches the lives of misery here and there?

    I don't mean to sound so curt, but this is very limited thinking on your part. I understand well where it has come from as I was raised in the Baptist faith, but your observations are totally incorrect. God is not a human being and is not subject to human limitations and emotions. We as Christians are to be a Light to the whole world. That Light is Jesus Christ who is God Almighty. There were civilizations and people who lived and died never knowing who Christ was during their lifetime. The Abrahamic Covenant was totally and wholly irrelevant to these people and they were not bound to such laws.

    That having been said, I can offer only my own commentary to begin to answer the errors in thought which have been promulgated by orthodoxy. I would start with my commentary on how God regards us firstly which can be found here:


    If there are any questions or disagreements, please feel free to respond, but I urge you to first seek wisdom from the Spirit of God rather than the teachings from men. Once one breaks free from the temporal restrictions imposed upon us by men, it is amazing what the Spirit will reveal.

    1. I have no idea where you got the idea that I am Calvinist. I explicitly said that God does not make people to go to hell. I explicitly stated that God gives everyone a chance to be saved. I am not a Calvinist and I disagree with Calvinist teachings. Perhaps you should re-read the post a little more carefully.

      As for your comment "I urge you to first seek wisdom from the Spirit of God rather than the teachings from men." That is precisely what I do. I do not follow any man for doctrine, but go first to Scripture. And since I did not quote any man or refer to the teachings of any man in this post, I fail to see what would cause you to think otherwise.

  2. Wow, I did not see Lindsay saying that some people were just not destined to know God. I heard her say that God has already revealed himself to everyone (as stated in Romans).

    And specifically Romans says: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:19-21 ESV

    So God's nature is plain to them but they were given over to debased minds because they chose not to honor God or give Him thanks.

  3. God most definitely reveal himself directly to people, and especially people from non-western countries who are more attuned to spiritual matters may know who God is and have a choice to accept or reject the offer of His son. They may not know him by His Greek name, Jesus, or his title in Greek of Christ. But they know He is the Son and redeemer of the One God.

    There was a radio broadcast many, many years ago on Focus on the Family entitled, "Finding the One True God." About a man from a remote tribe and he said when the missionary came to evangelize them he already knew who that God was and described visions he had had of Him. In his case, he rejected that God because he felt the other spirits could give him more power and respect in this world. But he did know how God was and had an opportunity to serve Him.