One of my good friends (an honest skeptic) has asked me to respond to a question. I’ll be honest, this question is hard. This question is hard in the sense that this truth is rarely dealt with in open forums. It’s also hard in the sense that the answer I will give is not easy, nor is it acceptable in postmodern terms. The truth of the Gospel is never easy.
The question: What if you never heard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What then?
First a Word to Christians
Often times we have trouble seeing beyond our own lives, at most our own city. So this idea can be hard to imagine for those that live in the Bible belt, the United States, or anywhere that has a Christian presence. But this is something we all need to think about, and do something about.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven he said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
This was a command, go to all nations, make disciples, baptize them, and finally teach them to observe all that he had commanded them. This command was not just for the disciples, but for us also. This is the heart of Christian missions. But how can we teach the peoples of the world to observe all that Christ commanded us, unless we are faithful disciples and observe all that he taught us ourselves? This is the problem, most of us ignore the first part of the great commission. ‘go to all nations’.
To the Heart of the Question
Beginning with the time post Christ, has the gospel been proclaimed to all people? I am not sure that it has? But than again, I am not sure that the Gospel has not been preached to all people groups? There are many people of different languages and tribes which may have, or have not received the Gospel. When it comes to the particulars of how the Gospel reaches different people groups, God’s ways are not our ways. There has been a trend in the Muslim world in recent years where people are having dreams and visions of Christ and coming to faith. All this to say, I feel that it is beyond my ken to make a certain statement on ‘how many have actually heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ’.
But for the sake of argument, I will assume that there are those who have not, and will not.
Some might ask, does this contradict what the Apostle Paul wrote when he proclaimed about “the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven?” I don’t think so, Paul is not saying that every particular creature has or will be presented the Gospel, but that the proclamation has gone forth to the whole world, every part of the world in some way.
In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” So the idea is that the Gospel will reach all ‘inhabited areas’ (the literal meaning of the Greek word translated ‘world’). But not necessarily every person.
So what do we think of those who have never heard? Well the Apostle Paul is quite clear;
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
It is clear that Christ offers salvation to all men, Jew or Gentile. God makes no distinction. So the call for salvation is clear. Christ himself proclaimed, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. So there is no other way. But some might ask, then why has God clearly not made himself known to all people? God has made himself known.
Paul answers this question in Romans 1;
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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, 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.
Paul clearly states that we are without excuse. All men have a sense that God exists, God has revealed himself in the natural world. Look around you. It is up to man then, to seek after him. The Bible tells us clearly that,
Here’s the point, for me to tell you that someone who has never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be saved, I would be contradicting they very heart of Christianity. It would be much easier for me to tell you that, but it would not be true.
I can say this though, not one Christian deserves salvation. We all deserve the same fate. As for those who haven’t heard, well, the blame rests on us as Christians. We will all be held accountable one day for our actions. God is just, man is sinful and deserves punishment. God gives grace, man deserves nothing in and of himself. God is good, man is evil. This is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is needed for salvation.
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