What About Those Who Have Never Heard?
If Scripture is our basis of judgment, we have no trouble understanding the heavy
responsibility laid on everyone who hears the Gospel to accept the truth in Christ:
Whosoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see
life, for Gods wrath remains on him., John 3:36. In other words, our eternal destiny is
on the line when we hear the Gospel. To believe Jesus Christ means eternal life. To
reject Him means eternal death.
But what of those who have never heard of Jesus Christ and his death on the Cross for
their sin? Over the course of history, this would include millions. Any reflective
individual must ponder this question which leads to another. How can God be just and
condemn millions eternally when they have not had the opportunity to believe in the Son
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to address this very problem, and the solution is found in
Romans chapter one. Lets glean some principles from this key portion of Scripture:
Principle #1: God reveals himself to all people by mean of his creation.
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. For since the
creation of the world Gods 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 1:18-20. Every inhabitant on earth receives a revelation of
God through what He has created. In fact, its as plain as the nose on your face (which is
quite a creation in itself)! No one can say, I didnt know there was an eternal, powerful,
divine Being to whom Im responsible. That truth is seen in nature. Its inescapable!
Principle #2: All people have rejected the revelation of God in nature.
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.; They
exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things, rather
than the Creator who is forever praised. Amen.; Furthermore, since they did not
think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved
mind, to do what ought not to be done.; Although they know Gods righteous decree
that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do those very
things but also approve of those who practice them., Romans 1:21, 25, 28, 32.
Even though all human beings know better, everyone has willfully rejected the revelation
of God universally proclaimed through nature. This rejection of Gods revelation takes
the form of every kind of wickedness, cf. vv. 24-32. Therefore, all people stand
condemned before God on the basis of that rejection.
Now lets make some observations in the light of the above principles:
As summarized in Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of
God. Actually, it is the human race which has rejected God not the other way around!
God has done his part by means of his revelation in nature, but no one has ever responded
appropriately to that revelation. Consequently, As it is written: There is no one
righteous, not even one., Romans 3:10.
The charge that God is unjust to condemn those who have never heard the Gospel simply
does not take Romans chapter one into account. God has always maintained a witness to
himself by means of his creation, but that witness has been universally rejected. No one
has lived up to the revelation received! Therefore, it is the human race which condemns
itself. C. S. Lewis puts it this way in The Problem of Pain: (the lost) enjoy forever the
horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved. God cannot be
charged with injustice for something He has not done.
What about those who have never heard? Are they eternally lost? As Romans chapter
one teaches, they are eternally lost not because they have never heard of Christ but
because they have rejected Gods revelation of Himself in nature.
This is why biblically-motivated churches stress world missions. For them it is truly a
matter of life and death eternal life or eternal death. As John wrote: But these are
written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by
believing you may have life in his name., John 20:31.
How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they
believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without
someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is
written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!, Romans 10:14-15.