As Christians, we are faced with a truth that can be hard to swallow at times. It is difficult because we want to focus on God’s love and grace, rather than his hatred of sin and his wrath in punishing sin. While we know it to be true that any person who does now claim to follow Jesus Christ is destined to spend an eternity in Hell, some Christians tend to forget that God’s judgement is not reserved only for those who have sat in a church pew and walked out of a worship service denying Jesus, but his wrath is spent on all who reject Jesus – even those who have never heard his name spoken.
That’s the hard part to swallow.
People who have never even had the opportunity to learn about Jesus are destined for Hell unless they choose to follow him.
How can this be?
God has revealed himself to all peoples in two means: creation and conscience. Paul, writing to the church in Rome, states that God’s glory is revealed in creation, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV) Paul continues, this time writing about how our conscience reveals God’s law to us, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:14-16 ESV)
So, what this means is that no one can state, “I did not know that God exists,” because God has revealed himself to us through the world and our hearts. However, this revelation (called “general revelation” by theologians) is not enough to save anyone. Creation and conscience can only point us toward God – we must hear the gospel of Jesus to be saved and to know God. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 ESV)
This leads to some obvious questions:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
(Romans 10:14-15 ESV)
People must hear the gospel of Jesus in order to be saved, but as we know, there are people around the world today living in areas that lack access to the gospel. What about them? Well, in my study of Acts, I believe that God has indicated he may provide a way for people to hear the gospel if they are acknowledging Him based upon the revelation they have received. For example, in Acts 8, Philip is commanded to go stand alongside a desert road. Upon arriving, he finds a man who is ready to receive the gospel message. Then, in Acts 10, Peter is sent to the house of a God-fearing Gentile who is waiting to hear the message of Jesus.
Now, while this may not be the norm throughout Christian history, it is possible. Nevertheless, since the creation of the world, men have been dying and going to Hell because they do not know the truth of Jesus Christ. Even today, as I write this, there are people dying throughout the 10/40 window in areas where it is currently illegal to be a Christian or even possess Christian materials.
People are dying and in need of Jesus. They need to hear the gospel. Therefore, what can we do to see people come to worship Jesus?
- Know that God’s ways and thoughts are much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). What God does might not seem “fair” to us, but he does have a plan, and we must trust him.
- Pray. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2 ESV) We must pray for God to send new workers into areas where the gospel has not been heard.
- Be obedient. When Philip and Peter were told to go, they went. If God calls us to go somewhere for him, we must be willing to GO.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
(Isaiah 6:8 ESV)