Saturday, January 29, 2005

Q-and-A: What Happens to Those Who Die Without Hearing of Jesus Christ?

Someone asked me recently, "What do you think happens to those who die without ever hearing of Jesus Christ?" In other words, can those who haven't had the chance for a relationship with Jesus possibly spend eternity with God?

The New Testament portion of the Bible never specifically addresses this question, although I think we can do some educated speculation. But first, let's consider a few things that we know for certain.

First, we know that God cares about all people. Jesus came into our lives to be the sacrificial "Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world." [John 1:29] "World" is a fairly inclusive term. All who repent and believe in the Good News that Jesus died and rose to destroy the power of sin and death over our lives will enjoy eternity with God.

Second, we know that Jesus is the exclusive means by which all people can have a relationship with God. Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.' [John 14:6]

We also know that Jesus' concern for the eternal destinies of all people was still on His mind after He had died and risen. Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus commissions His followers, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." [Matthew 28:19] It's the job of Jesus-Followers to keep telling others about Jesus, whether through our words or our lives. Jesus wants His followers to keep producing new members of His family.

But there are millions of people who haven't heard of Jesus or who, because Christians lack either compassion or a sense of urgency to fulfill Jesus' commission, have never experienced the true love and goodness of Christ.

Now, I shift from what we know to what I think: I don't believe that God will hold the failures of Jesus-Followers to share Jesus against those who haven't heard of Him.

In the New Testament book of Romans, the evangelist and preacher Paul speaks for a moment to his fellow Jews, the people God first designated as His own, the bearers of His message of love and hope for the world, and the nation that would birth the Savior Jesus.

Many of Paul's fellow Jews thought that their ethnicity or religious affiliation would gain them free passes into eternity with God. But Paul writes that, "When Gentiles [non-Jews], who do not possess...[God's] law, do instinctively what the law requires," because the reality of God and the purity of God is written on their hearts, they are in effect, surrendering to the God we know through Jesus Christ. [Romans 2:14-16]

I once read the true story of a missionary who told an elderly Chinese man about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection and how Jesus had done this just so that this elderly man and all of us could live with God forever. After a time, tears came to the man's eyes as he said, "All these years, I knew that He was there, but I didn't know His Name."

That man no doubt represents millions of people who, in their hearts, know there is a God like the One we meet in Jesus and Who, out of the gratitude they feel to this unknown God, seek to serve and love others. But they haven't yet met Him.

Knowing the God I know through Jesus like I do, I can't imagine that God will turn such people away from eternity.

I also can't imagine why we who claim to be Christians won't move heaven and earth to let the whole world know Him and all the love, hope, and power He brings to those who follow Him!


Charlie said...

If those who haven't heard can be saved without hearing the Gospel, then it would be best not to send missionaries. They might reject Christ and then be lost. You're assuming that we somehow merit or deserve salvation or that people are basically good. The Bible says that no one is good and no one deserves to go to heaven. If we receive what we deserve, then ALL Christians would go to hell, too. God is just in damning those who have not heard because they refuse to accept what they do know about God from nature and because we are all dead in our sins and trespasses. Until God raises us from the dead we too are lost. That's the whole premise of Christianity: Men and women are wicked and in rebellion against God. The Good News is that God forgives and justifies the wicked APART from good works: Romans 4:7-15.

God bless you,


Mark Daniels said...

As you say, salvation is by grace and not by works. All are born in sin and separated from God and Christ's death and resurrection and our faith in Christ reconciles us with God.

You are right to say that if we were judged on the bases of our works, we all, Christians included, would go to hell.

I owed my speculation--and I called it just that--to what Paul writes in Romans 2.

Thanks for dropping by and for your comments.