If the only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ, and the only way to believe in Him is by hearing about Him, then what should be said about the many people who have no access to the gospel? Wouldn’t God be unjust to send them to Hell if they never had the opportunity to believe in Jesus? Even if somebody doesn’t specifically believe in Jesus as He is revealed in the Bible, if they are sincere in what they believe and truly do the best they can, will God not accept them? If someone believes that there is an all-powerful being that must exist and desires to genuinely worship that being, but does not do it according to what the Bible says, does such a person go to Hell? Is this a problem for Christianity?
What the Bible Says
Please keep in mind that not everything that could be said about this is written in this post (that’s probably true of most writings about theology). There are different ways to explain this topic, with some approaching it from a more philosophical but still biblical perspective. I may have enough time to write about those alternative explanations later.
In answering these questions there is one passage in particular that is helpful in understanding how to biblically address the situation.
Let us look at Romans:
“…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 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. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
There are several important points to take away from this passage:
1. All People Have Knowledge of God’s Existence (verses 19-20).
God’s revelation of Himself through the created order, called general revelation, gives all people everywhere knowledge of God. The beautiful design and order of the universe gives witness to the great Creator. This is available to all people, and none can say that they have not experienced it and bore witness to it.
2. All People are Guilty of Rejecting God (verses 21-23).
What is sinful man’s response to this revelation? Unfortunately, man’s response is worshipping the creation instead of the Creator (verse 23). Because of man’s sinful nature, any attempt to worship apart from special revelation, revelation that is written or spoken and given by God to specific people, will result in worship that is out of touch with the truth. Because man is so depraved, they reject the evidence that so clearly shows God’s existence, and they have no excuse for doing so (verse 20). We see from this that general revelation ultimately brings condemnation for all people.
3. God Will Inflict Wrath on Everyone Who Has Rejected Him (verse 18).
Because God is holy, just, righteous, and loving, He will pour out wrath on all sin (actions, thoughts, and heart motivations that reject His design and commands). God never overlooks sin, and He will judge sin with the penalty that it deserves. God is not partial to anyone in His judgment (Romans 2:11). Ultimately sin leads to eternal separation from God in Hell (Matthew 25:41).
So, what does this give us? It gives us the biblical truths necessary to know how to view this question and the lost people around us.
The biblical truth is this: yes, even people who have never heard the gospel will spend eternity in Hell should they reject God through their knowledge of Him from general revelation, and no one can charge God with injustice or point at Him and say, “It’s your fault.” How so? Because God has given all people knowledge of Himself, and with that knowledge they choose to reject Him as Creator and King and worship other things instead. The problem is not that people have no evidence or knowledge of God, but rather that they reject and suppress the evidence and knowledge that He has already given them. So, while faith in the atoning work of Jesus is necessary for salvation, failure to believe in His work due to not hearing about it is not necessary for condemnation. All people are guilty of sin (Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 Kings 8:46). Therefore, there are no innocent people. God is just to send everyone to Hell, regardless if they have ever heard the gospel or not. Faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the only way to obtain salvation: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
What should our response be to this reality? We should strive to fulfill the Great Commission at all costs. If we truly believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved and that eternal wrath waits for everyone who does not submit to Him as their Lord, then we should take every opportunity to tell people about Him. We should also give resources so that people can hear the gospel and be told about the love that God has for them. As God does, we should desire all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), and we should offer up prayers, money, time, spiritual gifts, material possessions, comfort, and whatever else may be necessary so that others can hear the gospel. We must be intentional with sharing the gospel wherever God has placed is in our lives and day to day activities.