2000-08-15 - The Unreached
Summer Question Series, Part 7
Romans 10:14 "How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?"
"My question really is what happens to those who have never heard the Word of God. Now, I understand this to mean that they have never met a person who preached to them and told them Jesus' name and so forth, since it is written that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)" However, since Jesus is the only way to salvation, how are these men who do right, and have truth and love written on their hearts justified? And does Romans 2:13-16 play any role in this?"
This is one of those ultimate questions to which I have to say, "I do not know," but I can also say, "but I do know this …" and so this is my attempt. The easy answer is to simply say, "If God wanted to reach those people, He would have sent them the gospel through whatever means, they would have heard, understood, and believed." And while this may be true, there are other aspects to your question and other considerations to bring into the picture.
One consideration, which has not been held by many, but by some, even C. S. Lewis, is that those who have never heard the good news of the gospel will be given a chance to hear and respond after they die. I see zero Biblical support for this, but it is a nice theory, and I hope it is true.
Another thought is the Romans passage you brought up in Romans chapter 2:13-16. The problem with saying that the law will ultimately save someone from the wrath of God is that, again, there is no Biblical support here, and much to the contrary. The law condemns. The law shows us our short falls. The law of God is not the gospel. The law accuses us, the gospel clears us of the accusations. The gospel is a message of mercy and grace. The law is a message of duty and rule. Law and gospel are two distinct and separate concepts.
The biggest issue I have with your question is this quote, "However, since Jesus is the only way to salvation, how are these men who do right, and have truth and love written on their hearts justified?" And I will quote the book of Romans also to start, Romans 3:10-12, "There is none righteous, not even one, there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."
Paul says in verse 9 of this passage to start the whole thing off, "all are under sin." This is the great drive of missions; people are dying without the gospel of Jesus and they are going to hell for eternity. This is what drives those in missions to risk their lives, give up earthly comforts, and go to the lost, making disciples and spreading the love of Christ; it is that people are heading toward eternal separation from God because they have not heard, and believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And so the easy answer is the one I started with. But in many ways the love and mercy of God is much more than we can ever grasp or fully understand. I will be the first to admit that maybe God's plans of salvation are much broader and wider than I can or could ever fathom. I feel like such speculations, however, are just that, speculation. Rather than speculate, I feel like I would rather stick to the Bible and say loudly that outside of Christ, it seems to me, there is salvation for none. It is a chilling thought, and it ought to drive our focus, in life and ministry, to sharing the good news of the gospel of salvation with everyone who has ears to hear. Thank you for your thought provoking question.
"There is sin enough, which every man has committed, to convince him, that he is sold under sin, that his heart is full of nothing by corruption, if God by his Spirit leads him rightly to consider it." Jonathan Edwards
Soli Deo Gloria,