When studying the Bible with people, there are a number of intellectual challenges that they will have to deal with. It seems at each step towards salvation there are stumbling blocks waiting to trip someone up. One example is when someone gets hung up on the question of what about the person who has never heard the gospel. Will they be lost? How could God allow those poor people who have never had a chance to hear the gospel be lost?
Well what about those people? Will they be lost? In order to answer the question, we must clarify some very important points.
First, people will not be lost whether they hear the gospel or not. They will be lost because they have sinned (Isaiah 59:2). People have a need to hear the gospel because of their sins. Therefore, if a person has never sinned, they do not need to hear the Gospel. For the child who doesn’t understand right and wrong, or the mentally disabled person who is unable to understand, the gospel certainly will not hurt, but it is not necessary that the gospel be preached for the forgiveness of their sins. They do not have sin to be forgiven of (Ex 18:20).
However, those who have transgressed the law of God either by committing or omitting have sinned (James 4:17). And all of us have certainly sinned (Rom 3:23).
Secondly, God is sovereign over all things. He rules over all men. This means that all humans are amenable to his law. In America, we obey the sovereign law of America. We are not held accountable to any other country. But all people of all nations are going to be judged according to God’s law.
Acts 17:30-31 says, “The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
With these fundamental points established, we find ourselves looking at the same answer that the early Christians saw. The people who don’t hear the gospel will be lost. Paul would say it like this “How then shall they call on 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?” (Romans 10:14). We do not see any other response from the church of Christ than a need to fulfill the great commission, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16).
Questions like this are placed in front of us by Satan to take our focus on the reality that stands in front of each of us personally. We are not in that position. We are not a person who has not had an opportunity to hear the gospel. We are blessed beyond measure at the availability of the truth. While the Bible does not tell us the specifics of how those who never hear the gospel will be judged, one thing the Bible does tell us is how the people who hear the gospel will be judged.
In what is commonly called “the limited commission” Jesus tells his disciples, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.” (Matt 10:14-15).
Sodom and Gomorrah represented the absolute worst of society (Gen 18-19). The cities were destroyed with fire and brimstone. Only Lot and his family were rescued from the destruction. Jesus makes the point that disregarding the gospel upon hearing it is worse than those perverted cities. Those people who hear will be judged more harshly than those who never heard. This is the point that every one of us needs to focus on.
Don’t allow satan to distract you from obeying the gospel by removing your focus on your own personal obligation. You are not one of those people. You are someone who has heard the gospel. If you have read this column for any amount of time you have heard the truth.
We have tendency to get the cart before the horse and focus on others instead ourselves. Don’t worry about what God has or hasn’t done for others, and begin by observing the wonderful advantage that God has given to you. Out of all the people in all the world, he has proven his love for you, and his desire for you to be saved by sharing the gospel with you. Rejecting the things that we hear will not save those who have not heard. It will just solidify what we already deserve.