What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?
What happens to those who have never heard about Jesus? This question torments our thoughts and emotions. God is a God of holy justice, but also love. How can He express both traits to sinners who have never heard of Jesus?
What the Bible Says. First, the Bible is clear that Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus Himself said that He was the only way (Jn 6:29; 14:6), and His earliest followers taught the same (Ac 4:12; Rm 10:9-17). The Bible also says that other ways to God fall short. Jesus Himself said this (Jn 3:18; 8:19) and Jesus’ followers agreed (Ac 13:38-39; 17:30). The Bible is clear: people cannot be saved without knowledge of Christ and faith in His works on our behalf.
Second, the Bible insists that it is our sins that make us guilty before God, not our rejection of Jesus. All humans are included “in Adam” (Ro 5:12-21) and have rejected God (Ro 1-2). Ignorance of Christ does not excuse us. If it did, it would be better not to tell anyone of Christ so that they would not have a chance to reject Him!
Third, the Bible says all humans are spiritually dead apart from Christ. “There is no one righteous . . . there is no one who seeks God” (see Ro 3:9-18). Even the Jews, who were given the Law of God, “have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Ro 10:1-2), and cannot be justified by the Law (Ac 13:38-39).
Fourth, the Bible lays out God’s merciful intentions for His creation. God is patient with us, “not wanting any to perish” (2 Pt 3:9). He proved this by His actions: “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Ro 5:8)
Fifth, God is sovereign over all people in His world, and has acted in extraordinary ways to spread salvation (Ac 5:12-16; 8:26-40; 10:1-43; 16:6-10).
What the Bible Does Not Say. The Bible does not speak of any special provisions for those who have not heard of Christ. The Bible is simply silent on this matter. The Bible is written so we’ll know Christ and engage the task of preaching Him to all peoples.
What We Can Conclude. First, we are responsible for the truth we know. Second, our concern for the lost should drive us to reach them with the message of Jesus Christ. Rather than dwelling on “what ifs,” let’s get busy! Finally, we are not ultimately in a position to judge God’s actions fair or unfair. Some people would consider it unfair that they were force-fed Christianity their whole life, while others could say it was unfair to hear the Gospel from Christians who tainted the message by being abusive or hypocritical. In other words, even those who hear about Jesus may hypothetically complain that they did not have a fair chance. In the final analysis, however, we know that God is just and that no sinner will be able, honestly, to protest to God that they wanted to know Him but were not allowed.
Written by John Stonestreet