what about people who have never heard the Gospel? Are they' lost' forever?
Just Because They Were Born At The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time?
Christians claim that Jesus is the 'only way' to reconciliation with God. But there must be MANY people who have never heard of Him, either because they lived in a part of the world where they would have had no chance to hear of Him, or they lived in a time that communication was not like it is today. So are these people 'doomed to Hell' just because they did not have the chance to hear, much less accept, Jesus as Savior and Lord?
This is a fair, and important question. It seems very arrogant, and very 'politically incorrect' to assert that Jesus is the only way to God, and that some may not make it to heaven if they do not have a chance to accept Him. Many Christians inappropriately avoid the question, or water down the answer to 'fit in' and 'not offend'. But the issue behind this really is: What did Jesus say about it, and what did He mean about it?
We've discussed elsewhere why Jesus is the only way to reconciliation with God, so here we'll focus on the other half of the issue - about those people who 'never had the chance to choose'.
First, we must understand the real issue, and clarify what are basically false assumptions. Christians hold that Jesus is the means of salvation. He clearly said that 'whosever believeth in him [Jesus] shall not perish...", but this refers specifically to those who choose to reject Him personally. Jesus also said "I am the way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me." This assertion does declares that Jesus is the only way, but it does not specifically preclude those who do not have a chance to personally accept or reject Jesus as Savior.
Let me explain. First, we are ALL condemned because we are guilty - not because we did not believe in Jesus. We will be judged according to our deeds; we will be punished according to our crimes against God. Justice demands this. God's perfection demands it.
"The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books...and each person was judged according to what he had done." Revelation 20:12,13b
Second, we must understand that God has revealed Himself to everyone in the world, and at all times in history. In His Natural Revelation, He exhibits Himself in the very existence of the world, it's wonderful design, our internal longings toward Him, etc etc etc.
"For 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
"He has not left Himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons' He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." Acts 14:17
But third, we know that by our very nature we do not seek God - we seek our own fulfillment.
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them." Romans 1:18-19
"There is no one righteous, no even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God." Romans 3:10
Fourth, we must understand that it is God who is seeking us out. He loves all of us, and does not want any of us to be separated from Him for eternity. He proved this to us by taking on the punishment Himself, that was due to all of us.
"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
Fifth, when the un-evangelized hears the call of God and responds to his feelings of guilt and submission from the law placed in his heart, he receives the gospel of grace that was provided by the death and resurrection of Christ.
"Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciousness also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." Romans 2:14-16
So to summarize, it was the death and resurrection of Jesus that solely provided for the salvation of the world. For those of us who have heard the gospel, we have the responsibility to accept or reject Jesus as Savior and Lord. For those who have not heard the gospel, and are genuinely seeking God (because God is drawing them near), they will receive the grace of God.
Many do not accept this response, and it is certainly open to debate. But we should consider the saints of the Old Testament, who were clearly following God's will before Jesus lived, died and was resurrected on this earth. These are people who heard the call of God on their lives, and their belief was credited to them as righteousness. They were seeking for God, and they called on Him for reconciliation.
"But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God...because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Hebrews 10:12,14
"Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Romans 4:3b
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Joel 2:32 (Old Testament!)