A question often asked is: "Is a person who has never heard the gospel lost?" Those who believe the one who has never heard the gospel will be saved argue, "To send an ignorant person to Hell would be unjust and contrary to God's nature of love. Since the alien sinner does not know the law of God, he is therefore not answerable to God." Is this reasoning in harmony with God's Word? Let us consider some important teaching on the subject of ignorance.
JESUS WILL TAKE VENGEANCE ON ALL IGNORANT PEOPLE (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Notice that condemnation here is placed on both the ignorant and the disobedient. The Bible states that it is in harmony with the righteous nature of God to condemn those who are ignorant of the truth.
IGNORANCE IS A SIN THAT NEEDS TO BE REPENTED OF. Under the Old Testament, atonement had to be made for sins of ignorance. "So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him" (Numbers 15:28). In the New Testament we see that those who were ignorant were also commanded to repent. Peter said: "Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers...Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out..." (Acts 3:17,19). Although these people were ignorant, they could not go to Heaven unless they were converted.
EVEN THE SINCERELY WRONG WILL BE LOST. Jesus said: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23). These unfortunate souls had given their life to Jesus, and expected to be saved. They found out, however, that Jesus had never known them, and they were cast into eternal Hell. At first glance, this seems to be unjust, but a close examination of the Scriptures will show that Jesus is perfectly justified in condemning such people.
THERE IS BIBLICAL JUSTIFICATION FOR CONDEMNING IGNORANT PEOPLE. An honest examination of the following categories of ignorant people, will cause us all to realize that God could not justly save any of them.
ATHEISTS AND AGNOSTICS. Atheists are those who say that God does not exist. Agnostics are those who are not sure there is a God. The Apostle Paul wrote of such unbelievers (Romans 1:18-20). This passage teaches that no one can justifiably claim to be an atheist or agnostic. The creation itself is ample evidence that an all powerful God exists. Since the creation can be plainly seen by all, there is absolutely no excuse for their ignorance. Therefore, all atheists can be justifiably condemned by God because they reject the plain evidence of His existence. God calls atheists "fools" (Psalm 14:1).
IDOLATERS. It is absurd that one could even consider that any part of the creation of God such as the stars or sun can be worshipped. It is even more foolish to consider that a graven image formed by man himself, can be worshipped. Yet many foolish people bow down and pray to idols. Paul wrote of idol worshippers in Romans 1:21-25. Revelation 21:8 tells us that "...idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
THOSE WHO ARE DECEIVED. Jesus said of the religious leaders of His day: "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:14). People such as these are ignorant of truth because they have followed false teachers. The Bible plan of salvation can be clearly understood. Each person must be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and check everything he hears by the Word of God which is the only true standard.
THOSE WHO JUST DO NOT CARE. They are apathetic. They can not be bothered to seek the truth for themselves. Most people are like this. They are only interested in things of the world. Spiritual things are of not real concern to them. This is why they are traveling down the broad road to destruction (Matthew 7:13,14). We can easily see why the apathetic will be lost.
SOME SINCERE RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. It is a sad fact that even some good, sincere people will be lost. Jesus promised that those who honestly search for truth will find it (Matthew 7:7). In this verse, the Lord encourages all to seek truth. The task of searchers will be made easier if Christians will carry out the Great Commission as Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). The providence of God, however, will ensure that true searchers for truth, even if they live in remote areas of the world, will have opportunity to come in contact with the message. God Himself seeks those who are searching (Acts 10:1-5; Isaiah 66:2). In this world of deception and religious confusion, it is not easy for the seekers to find the truth, but it is possible, if they are diligent (Hebrews 11:6; John 7:17).
IF THE IGNORANT WERE SAVED, THE GOSPEL WOULD BE USELESS. Romans 1:16 says that the gospel of Christ is the "power of God to salvation for everyone who believes; to the Jew first, and also for the Greek." If those who have not heard the gospel are saved, then we should disobey the Great Commission and keep the gospel away from unbelievers. The gospel would be for condemnation instead of for salvation, and the atheists would be the best evangelists. If I believed that those who had not heard could go to Heaven, then I would be afraid to preach to them, lest they reject it and lose their reward. If people are not lost until they have actually heard and rejected the gospel, the best method of keeping people out of Hell would be to stay at home and allow the world to push the knowledge of God out of people's minds altogether. The worst thing that Christians could do would be to preach the gospel to sinners because this would mean that those who rejected it would suddenly go from a right relationship with God to a lost state. It would mean that preaching the gospel to the world would lose more souls than it would save.
The Bible teaches that when the gospel is obeyed, sinners are delivered from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). If the ignorant can get to Heaven, then they can be saved without the gospel which is "the power of God to salvation" (Romans 1:16)! It would mean they could be saved without Christ who is the "way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). It would also mean the could be saved without the blood of Christ which is shed "for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). The Bible says that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6), and that repentance and baptism are necessary in order to be saved (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16). The doctrine that those who have not heard are not lost destroys the whole concept of the gospel.
IF THE IGNORANT ARE SAVED IN THEIR IGNORANCE, GOD IS UNJUST. Christians are commanded to abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11). If the ignorant are not lost, then they could live as they pleased and still enjoy the beautiful reward of Heaven. The Christian is required to labour all his life for his crown in Heaven (Revelation 2:10), but the ignorant person would not have to give an account for his actions.
It is not God's fault if sinners are lost. The gospel reached all men in the first century (Colossians 1:23). God has done His part to declare His love for the world through His Son and make it possible for us to be saved (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8). We have the responsibility to hear, believe, and obey the Gospel. The Lord gave the Great Commission to His church because He knew the world is lost in sin and desperately needs the gospel (Mark 16:15,16).
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