Will God Condemn People Who Have Never Even Heard About Jesus?

Written by Michael Horner

searchingmanA way of answering your question might be to answer the following: “How were people saved prior to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection?” People then were saved by responding positively to God’s revelation. In other words, people are held accountable for what they know. How much light has a person received from God? Whatever that is, that is what they’re accountable for. The same would be true for people today who have never heard of Jesus.

If someone lived in China prior to Christ’s death and resurrection, how could they be expected to believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of their sins? Obviously, they could not believe in something they had never heard. In fact, that’s what the Bible tells us: “How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14)

God doesn’t expect people to respond to something they’ve never heard. But He does hold us accountable for what we HAVE heard. This idea is expressed by the following passage: “sin is not taken into account when there is no law” (Romans 5:13). If a person cannot respond to the good news of Jesus dying on their behalf (because they haven’t heard that good news), what are they accountable to respond to?…

The Bible tells us that there are some basics. First, all people are accountable to know that God exists. “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 men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). The complexity of the world around us tells us that there is a God (even though people can suppress that knowledge in their heart). Even those who haven’t heard of Jesus are accountable for knowing that God is.

Second, we’re all accountable for knowing that we are sinners. The Old Testament law proves that we’re sinful. Who has perfectly loved God or their neighbor? Therefore, “through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). But what about people who do not know the Old Testament law?

The Bible tells us that even people who don’t have that law nonetheless have their own “law” — their own moral standard within their hearts (Romans 2:14-15). For example, if in his heart Nick believes it is wrong for others to talk behind his back, then that is a law within his heart. Therefore, when Nick talks behind someone else’s back, he has disobeyed the moral standard within his heart, thus proving he is a sinner.

So the two basics of revelation from God are (1) that God exists and (2) that we humans are sinners. How does one respond positively to these things? Well, if there is a God and we are sinners, then we need to humble ourselves before Him. Even the person who never hears about Jesus is accountable for humbling himself before God. In fact, the Bible speaks of a future time when God will proclaim the following “eternal gospel” to every nation, tribe, language and people on Earth: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:7)

In times past (prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection), people were saved by humbling themselves before God. God can have compassion and mercy on whomever He chooses (Romans 9:15), and He alone knows people’s hearts. Today, when a person hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they will respond positively to it if they are humbling themselves before God.

For those who don’t hear about Jesus, they still need to humble themselves before God. That means that they cannot trust in themselves for their salvation. Meaning, a person cannot think they can earn God’s favor by following religious rituals. That is an error because it’s like telling God, “I’m not a sinner — just look at all the good things I’ve done!” Therefore, it is a rejection one of the basics of God’s revelation to us: that we are sinners who need forgiveness from God.

But know that no matter who is saved, they will receive salvation on the basis of God’s grace, not by their works. God’s grace was given through Jesus’ death and resurrection. His atoning work is the way into heaven, even for those who have never heard of Him but who nonetheless are shown mercy from God. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

And He has commanded His followers to tell others about Him. He commanded them to go to the ends of the earth to declare His message of forgiveness of sin and offer of eternal life (Matthew 28:18-20). For, as the Bible tells us, with His blood He purchased people “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

Do you have questions about God or want to talk about your doubts? Talk to a confidential and free mentor.

See other articles by Michael Horner.

63 Responses to “Will God Condemn People Who Have Never Even Heard About Jesus?”

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Alley, we know something is from God because it lines up with what He has revealed through the Bible. That is why it is so vital for followers of Jesus to be immersed in His Word, so that we are familiar with what He has said and can recognize His voice when He speaks. While there are some differences over interpretation of scripture, that doesn’t mean that we just give up using it to guide our lives. A lot of the differences of interpretation are based on people’s willingness to accept what the Bible clearly states. It can be tempting to read into scripture what I want it to say and miss what God is actually saying.That is why I feel it is so important to find evidence in the Bible of the things I believe about God and ask for His help to understand it. Otherwise I might get led astray by my own selfish desires and miss what God really wants for me.

  • Alley McReal says:

    …Abracadabra is an incantation used as a magic word in stage magic tricks, and historically was believed to have healing powers when inscribed on an amulet.

  • Alley McReal says:

    Also Jamie, how does anyone know when they are prophesying that what they are getting is truly from God? How does anyone walking in any gift of the spirit know that what they are getting is from God? After all, everything is counterfeited by satan. For example, I heard about someone that was healed from someone practicing witchcraft at one time. Also, someone that initially prayed over me to get the baptism of the holly spirit told me to say what ever comes to mind. They did that as they told me someone they previously prayed fors first words were abracadabra. No Joke. How does anyone truly know anything is from God? I believe that God shows us in our hearts, that is the only way that anyone could ever truthfully walk in the gifts of the spirit.

  • Alley McReal says:

    Jamie, I can appreciate what you are saying with that last comment partly because I knew someone that thought God told her to cheat on her husband. Obviously, that wasn’t God that she was hearing. I don’t believe that the Bible necessarily states anything other than what I say I believe though, but once again the scriptures are up for interpretation. If they weren’t then all Christians would agree on everything and there would not be different branches of Christianity. In fact, I just read that there are 40,000 different Christian beliefs worldwide. It seems to me that Everyone thinks that their the one with the true understanding, but 40,000 different beliefs can’t all be right. When someone starts quoting scripture and acts as if they have it all right, my gut instinct is to disregard what they are saying. I believe that the people that think they know less usually know more, and the people that think they know it all usually know less. I believe that’s Gods way of humbling the proud and confounding the wise. I don’t drop what I am doing to prove anything to anyone at any given moment. However, If God shows me something in the Bible when I am reading it contrary to a formal belief, I am ok with changing that belief. Usually, my belief system is never altered by scripture quoting know it alls though, so I try not to be one of them. :-)

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Alley, I guess part of the problem is that while God does speak to us and lead us, we also have a sinful nature that battles against what the Spirit of God speaks to us. Paul wrote about this in Galatians, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:17) How do you discern whether the things written on your heart are from God and not from your own sinful nature? That’s one of the reasons why the Bible is such an important part of the life of a believer because we can measure those things on our heart and determine what is from God. I am sure that was part of what the author of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

    The Bible isn’t just a reference book that we use to prove our point, it is a living document through which we meet with God. He speaks to us as we immerse ourselves in His revelation there. It is a privilege to spend time with Him in reading His Word and allow His Spirit to shape our lives.

  • Alley says:

    Tom, I can appreciate what you are saying, but I do not have time to dig through the bible to back up what I believe. I also feel no obligation to prove what I believe to anyone. The scriptures are up for interpretation. Like I said, even theologians miss things as the Jews of the old testament did. No one knows it all, even if they memorized the bible from cover to cover! I have shared things that are in the bible that I believe back up my point of view, I just have not given specific scriptures. If someone wants to do a word search on what I am describing, so be it. Let them take the time. I am already convinced in my beliefs, via what I have read in the bible & otherwise. Tell me Tom, do you personally think that little children go to hell if they were to die? Most Christians say no to that question, that is unless they are at an age of accountability. That is the standard scripted christian answer to that question. What about aborted babies, do you think they go to hell since they never had the chance to receive Yeshua? Do you think God only shows concern for unborn & little children? I believe that the people that haven’t heard the gospel are basically held accountable as such. It makes absolutely no sense for God to show mercy to these little children but condemn everyone else that hasn’t heard. Also, according to the scriptures the word & truth of God is written in our hearts. I speak what God puts in my heart.

  • Tom Tom says:

    Sam Gibson—
    You are right in saying the Bible is clear about the purpose for baptism. It is a physical sign/indication that one has given their life to Jesus Christ and is ready to serve him, and it should be done in obedience to Christ. Like much of what he did, Jesus was baptized in order that we would have an example.

    People will be judged in two ways:
    1) Heaven or hell depending on whether a person has or has not trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    2) Based on what the person did in life—varying rewards in heaven for the believer, and varying degrees of torment in hell for the unbeliever.

    If we love the Lord Jesus, we’ll be as obedient as possible to live faithfully for him. However, no amount of works will have anything to do with God’s grace in saving us in the first place or keeping us secure thereafter. I trust you are being obedient to the Lord in order to honor him and bring him glory.

  • Tom Tom says:

    Alley–
    Everyone has beliefs. But wouldn’t you agree that just because someone believes something, that doesn’t necessarily make it true?

    I’ve noticed you’ve stated a number of beliefs, but you haven’t given any reasons for having them. Believing things simply because you’d like for them to be true seems rather dangerous, don’t you think?

    Jamie has given you what he believes and given you the reasons for those beliefs. The Bible addresses most of the beliefs you’ve stated, but its description differs from yours. That should give you some reason for reflection on not just what you believe, but why.

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