What About Those Who Have Never Heard About Jesus?

November 4, 2012 — 3 Comments

The other night I had the opportunity to speak at MTSU to some great college students on the question Is Jesus the Only Way to God? In the Q & A time afterwards, this question came up and what follows is the biblical framework I shared with them. Any distinctively Christian answer to this challenging question must account for (at least) the following passages / revealed truths as we reason from the scriptures.

  1. God is compassionate and just (Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4; Pss. 7:9; 85:11; 89:14; 145:8–9; Rev. 16:7).
  2. All are sinners in need of a savior (Rom. 3:10–18, 23; 5:12–21; 6:23; Eph. 2:1–3).
  3. Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5; 4:10; 1 John 2:2) and the only way to God.
  4. Since the time following the resurrection of Jesus, no one can be saved apart from the knowledge of Christ (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:14; Acts 17:30-31).
  5. God genuinely desires all to be saved (Ezek. 18:23; John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:3–6; 2 Peter 3:9).
  6. God has revealed Himself to the whole world both in creation (Ps. 19:1–2; Acts 14:15–17; Rom. 1:19–20) and human conscience (Eccl. 3:11; Rom. 2:14–16), so that people are without excuse.
  7. God’s Spirit is at work convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11).
  8. Christians are commanded to take the gospel to the whole world (Matt. 28:19–20; Acts 1:8).
  9. God has providentially arranged the world so that people might seek Him and everyone who seeks Him will find Him (Acts 17:24–28 cf. Heb. 11:6; Jer. 29:13; Acts 10:35).
  10. There will be people from every tribe, tongue, and nation in heaven (Rev. 7:9).
  11. The awful reality of hell indicates that not everyone is saved in the end (Matt. 10:28; 25:31–46; 2 Thess. 1:7–9).
  12. There is not a second chance after death to accept the Gospel (Heb. 9:27).

It Is Crucial to Remember:

First, people are Judged for their sins—not what they don’t know. The Bible clearly teaches that people are judged for their willful sins (Rev. 20:12–15; cf. Isa. 64:6–7; Matt. 5:48; 12:36; 2 Tim. 4:14; James 2:10–11) according to the standard of revelation they have received (Rom. 2:4–16; James 4:17). They are not condemned because a missionary never made it to them and they never heard the name of Jesus.

Second, they are already condemned and actively choosing life away from God (though this will look differently for all of us). Humanity’s universal problem is that we suppress the truth available to everyone that God exists (cf. Rom. 1), mute our conscience and fail to live up to even our own standards (Rom. 2), and ultimately want to go our own way (Rom. 3).

Finally, God has many ways to get the message of the Gospel to those who seek him–(through missionaries, dreams, visions, radio, Bibles, internet, TV, tracts etc.).

At the end of the day, God doesn’t specifically answer this question to our (emotional) satisfaction in the Bible. We are left with some mystery when it comes to saying exactly how God will work out His plan of salvation among the nations. Therefore we trust ultimately in His goodness and justice. Will not the judge of the earth do right?

*Thoughtful, Bible believing Christians approach this question in different ways in light of the passages mentioned above, but I have found William Lane Craig’s approach to this question to be helpful (click here to listen)

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Jonathan Morrow

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Jonathan Morrow (D.Min) is the founder of Think Christianly. He is the author of Welcome to College: A Christ-follower's Guide for the Journey, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority, Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture, and Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists (with Sean McDowell), and contributed the chapter "Introducing Spiritual Formation" to Foundations of Spiritual Formation: A Community Approach to Becoming Like Christ. Jonathan contributed several articles to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students and has written for Leadership Journal Online (of Christianity Today). He graduated with an M.Div. and an M.A. in philosophy of religion and ethics from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and served as the equipping pastor for 6 years at Fellowship Bible Church in Murfreesboro, TN. Jonathan is currently the Director of Creative Strategies and Immersion at Impact 360 Institute where he trains high school and college students in Christian worldview, apologetics, and leadership and serves as adjunct faculty with Union University. His books have been featured on shows like Family Life Today, Stand to Reason, Breakpoint, WAY-FM (Mornings with Brant), Frank Pastore, The Janet Mefferd Show, and Apologetics 315. He and his wife have been married for 13 years and have three children.

3 responses to What About Those Who Have Never Heard About Jesus?

  1. Great post with a lot of great points. I would like to suggest a verse to bolster your comment “First, people are Judged for their sins—not what they don’t know.”:

    John 15:22 – If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.

    Gill’s Exposition of the Bible says they would not have “been guilty of the sin of unbelief, in the rejection of the Messiah; not that they would have been without sin in any sense, or without any kind of sin, but without this particular sin”.

    So, I think this gives an interesting possible answer regarding those who’ve never heard of Jesus. It seems that God won’t condemn them for the rejection of the Messiah if they’ve never heard of Him.

  2. If you flip this around we live in a country saturated with the gospel. Bibles are even in hotel rooms thanks to the Gideons! Yet the vast majority of our society rejects the gospel message. Just because someone hears doesn’t mean they will respond. God knows who is willing. The Holy Spirit forbid Paul at one point to go to asia minor but later allowed it so He must know when a nation or people group is ready.

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