This blog post was first written on the 31st January 2015. By this point, I was well on my way towards heading to Nepal on a short term mission trip and had been doing some serious thinking and consideration on mission, when I came to understand this hard truth about those who have never once heard the gospel. If you are reading, I hope this challenges you as it continues even today to challenge me.
This has, no doubt if you’re a Christian, been a question on your mind at some stage of your walk with God. So often we try to rationalise this out of our own logic and thoughts on who God is. This is a question that as a new Christian, I was always unsure of and never had a concrete biblical answer on.
The question is this: “are people who haven’t heard of Jesus saved?” Are people who haven’t had the opportunity to hear the gospel saved from the judgement of God? Are those innocent people in Africa, Asia, Europe, who haven’t heard the gospel, saved?
Some of the people who never had an opportunity to hear of Jesus includes infants who died in the womb, or kids who are too immature to make a decision or understand.The purpose of this blog post is not to answer this question, as it is not one there is a simple and biblical answer for. The bible just doesn’t cover it. When it comes to these issues, I wholly trust in the justice of God.
What the bible and these questions do address is the people in Africa, Asia, the Americas, in uncontacted tribes in the most unreached areas of the world. The people who have no access to the gospel or the chance to hear about God. Are these people condemned because they haven’t heard about Jesus? Because no one has gone to them to tell them?
Many of us will seriously dislike the answer. It’s hard for many of us to swallow. Even harder because it challenges us to think deeper on mission, and many in the western church just don’t want to be convicted into going. But it’s an answer we must consider and must be challenged with if we are to be World Christians stepping in lieu with a Christ who intends to draw all nations to Himself.
The difficult answer is this: yes, these people are condemned if they don’t know Christ.
So, what does the bible actually say?
(18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (20) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (21) 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. (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. ~ Romans 1:18-23
Let’s walk through it.
Gods wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. ALL ungodliness and unrighteousness. What can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. How? His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in the things that God has made. So, therefore, they are without excuse.
Are the innocent people who haven’t had the opportunity to hear the gospel saved from the judgement of God? I would wholeheartedly say that the innocent people who have never heard the gospel will be saved. The only issue is this: there are no innocent people. Every single person on every single continent is marked and defined by sin and we all stand guilty before a holy God. Every single person on every single continent, if they have not heard the gospel will not be spared from judgement and will not be saved.
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” ~ Romans 3:9-12
There are no innocent people. None is righteous, no one does good, not even one. All are under sin. Even if someone doesn’t know Christ or have never heard of Him, because of our sin, we stand condemned.God has shown Himself and can be known to these people. Although God has made His character and qualities known, He is not honoured as God or given thanks as God. Instead, His glory is exchanged for images resembling the things He has made; the very things through which He shows His eternal qualities and divine character.
This is the reason we do missions. If people could be saved just for the sole fact that they haven’t heard about Jesus, then missions would be pointless. The worst thing we could do would be to go and tell them the gospel. There wouldn’t be an urgency to spread it to people. There wouldn’t be a need for the gospel. If people could get to heaven because they haven’t heard anything about God or Jesus, why even bother evangelising?
This is why we must take the gospel to the far reaches of the Earth, to the unreached peoples dying and going to eternal separation from God, to the people amongst whom Christ is unheard. This is why the work of God through mission is vital. This is why we as the church must think deeply and be challenged on the issue of the unreached masses (estimates as high as 3 billion people).
C.H Spurgeon put it like this:
“I plead this day for those who cannot plead for themselves, namely, the great outlying masses of the heathen world. Our existing pulpits are tolerably well supplied, but we need men who will build on new foundations. Who will do this?
Are we, as a company of faithful men, clear in our consciences about the heathen? Millions have never heard the Name of Jesus. Hundreds of millions have seen a missionary only once in their lives, and know nothing of our King. Shall we let them perish?
Can we go to our beds and sleep, while China, India, Japan, and other nations are being damned? Are we clear of their blood? Have they no claim on us? We ought to put it on this footing–not, ‘Can I prove that I ought to go?’ but, ‘Can I prove that I ought not to go?’”
If this issue of the unreached does not concern you in the slightest, if 3 billion people on this earth living, never hearing the gospel and dying to enter eternal separation from God doesn’t even phase you as a Christian, then I really must ask why.
In the words of Spurgeon, shall we let them perish? Are we clear of their blood? Can we go to our beds and sleep at night while people who haven’t heard of Jesus are being eternally damned? Are we clear in our consciences about them? There are times when I have gone to bed at night and been unable to sleep for this reason and more.
When it comes down to it, I cannot for a moment prove that I ought not to go.