What About Those Who Never Hear About Christ?


This post is from an article on StartingPoint.com. That site also contains articles about other theological questions that may come up in your group. Check it out. Sooner or later, everybody exploring Christianity wrestles with this question. It can be especially difficult for seekers because it raises suspicions about God's character. The question goes like this: If Jesus is the only way to God, what about all the innocent people who have never heard about Christ?

Sometimes people raise this question as a way of finding a difficult theological question to validate their unwillingness to believe. But many skeptics have genuine concerns about worshiping a God who, from their perspective, is unjust. We shouldn't take the issue lightly, but try to better understand how the Bible addresses it.

First, it’s important to recognize that the Bible offers little direct instruction on this matter. Related topics are discussed, which is helpful for making some valuable inferences, but the absence of direct attention suggests we should hold our conclusions with open hands. In addition, it’s misleading to use the word “innocent” to describe people who have never heard about Jesus. Like all people, they're sinful (Romans 3:10-12) and in need of forgiveness.

So what's the plight of those who are so isolated (geographically or culturally) that they haven't heard the gospel message or been given any opportunity to respond? The New Testament asserts that the work of Christ is the only way to a right relationship with God (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). There is only one mediator between God and humans: Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). This is clear. Passage after passage in the New Testament presents Christ as coming to earth; dying on a cross; rising from the dead; and offering his life, death, and resurrection to all who would want to be restored to their heavenly Father. If there were other ways to God, then Christ’s sacrifice would have been in vain.

But we need to understand that Christ’s work is the basis for salvation. People receive this gift of grace when they accept it by faith. That's why Christians are so passionate about sharing their faith with others. Some Christian scholars suggest that there may be special circumstances where God applies Christ’s atoning work to individuals who were, for various reasons outside their control, prevented from knowing about Christ. God may be gracious to infants who die at an early age or those who are mentally incapable of hearing and understanding the gospel message. They're reconciled to God “through” Christ, but not in conjunction with an explicit affirmation of faith. Could it be the same for individuals who haven't heard simply because of when and where they were born and who God discerns would respond positively if they did have the opportunity? We can’t know for sure.

If this isn't the case, it's imperative that Christians share their message of hope with others. Maybe God is so gracious to judge people based on what they could possibly know and nothing more. But that doesn't diminish the sense of urgency for both seekers and Christians. Transformation and purpose in life remain motivations to place our trust in Christ and share the good news with others.

We trust that God is good, loving, just, and fair. The Bible says, “the LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8 TNIV). He doesn't want any to live self-destructive lives, but for all to turn from their sin and be reconciled to him (2 Peter 3:9).

Will we trust him and will we help others come to trust him?