What happens to those in the deep, dark jungles who have never heard about Jesus Christ? Are they lost just because they haven’t heard the gospel? Is it fair to send someone to hell if they never had the opportunity to be saved?
The Witness of Creation
It doesn’t seem fair to condemn those to hell who have never heard the gospel. One person once asked me what happens to the innocent aborigine deep in the jungle who never had a chance to hear the gospel. My reaction is that no human is innocent for we have all sinned and fallen short of God‘s glory and standard of holiness (Rom 3:23). We are born into sin (Psalm 51:5). A person doesn’t go to hell because they haven’t heard the gospel – they are judged because they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God because there is not one human that is righteous (Rom 3:10) and the wages of sin are death (Rom 6:23).
There is actually evidence of a Creator in the creation itself. The Psalmist declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God; skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun” (Psalm 19:1-4).
Paul declares that creation itself displays the Creator in Romans 1:18-23.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, 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. 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 people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
Paul writes some very clear testimony to the evidences of a Creator here. In Romans chapter one he says that “God is being revealed from heaven”, that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness”, even though “God has made it plain to them.” Paul pulls no punches by saying that “God’s invisible qualities…have been clearly seen” and “that people are without excuse.” Rather than giving glory to God and His creation, they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” We see this in the many idols created throughout human history and in many different cultures where “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25).
What is the result of this pushing God out of the realm of possibilities? “Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God [He] gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (Rom 1:28-29). The result is that they became “God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom 1:30-32). The key verse comes at the end of this chapter and seals the reason that God condemns those who are disobedient: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death.” Paul says that they are without excuse, they denied God’s existence, became a God-hater, are filled with all kinds of wickedness, worship the creation rather than the Creator, and even though they know God’s righteous decrees, they do the very things that “deserve death” (eternal death specifically).
The Witness of the Conscience
The Bible speaks of a thing being established by the testimony of at least two witnesses (2 Cor 13:1, Duet 17:6). There are two witnesses that proclaim that there is a God even without the gospel: The creation and the conscience. This is what Paul focuses on in Romans 2:14-16 by writing, “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. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” Paul shows that by nature even the Gentiles who didn’t have the Law of God knew better because “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts” while “their consciences also bearing witness” and even “their thoughts sometimes accusing them .” What Paul is saying is that the Law of God – that is to do what is good and not what is evil – is written on their hearts and bears witness to the truth in “their consciences.”
The Roman Centurion, Cornelius was a great example of this because he didn’t know the gospel fully or about Jesus Christ but was still called a “devout and God-fearing” man (Acts 10:2). Listen to how God heard him and understood that Cornelius knew God even before he knew about the gospel in Acts 10:1-7:
“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants.”
Not only was Cornelius a God-fearing man but so was his entire household and one of the soldiers that attended to him was also said to be a “devout soldier.” Cornelius probably didn’t know about Jesus Christ but he did know that God was real because when God spoke to him He seemed to know Him immediately saying, “What is it, Lord?” The men that Cornelius sent to Peter told him that “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people” (Act 10:22). Eventually Cornelius was baptized (Act 10:47).
Why Is Anyone Saved?
The question is not why God would not save those who have never heard they gospel, for we see that they really have no excuse (Romans 1:20), but that God would save anyone! There is not one of us that deserve to have eternal life because there is not even one person who has ever lived that was sinless (Rom 3:10, Rom 3:12, Psalm 14:3, Psalm 53:3). The only sinless person that has ever lived was both Man and God – Jesus Christ. He paid a debt that He did not owe for a debt that we could not pay in a million lifetimes. Our sins will be paid for one way or another. Either we will bear our own sin punishment in the utter darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12, 22:13) or we will believe in the atonement that Jesus Christ paid-in-full for us (John 3:16). Imagine a man jumping out of a plane without a parachute. It is not because he didn’t have the parachute that he will die, but the law of gravity and the landing. If the parachute in the plane is Jesus Christ, we must by all means tell others about putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14, Eph 4:24, Col 3:5-14) for there is no other way that men must be saved (Acts 4:12).
The fact that there are those who still have not yet heard the gospel ought to compel us to support missionaries, to be a missionary, to pray for the missionaries or the lost, or to “Go!” ourselves and proclaim the liberty that is in Jesus Christ alone. Even if the lost are next door. We can pay or He can pay. In fact, He already has if only you would believe (John 12:44).
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