What About Those Who Haven’t Heard Of Jesus?

Tim Clemens  —  — 15 Comments

As a Scripture teacher there is rarely a day when I don’t tell students the message of Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” As I’m sure you can imagine, one of the most common responses to this idea goes something like this: “Isn’t it unfair that people who’ve never heard about Jesus get sent to Hell?”

I think it’s a fair question. So having awkwardly mumbled my spur-of-the-moment response too many times to remember, I finally decided a few months ago to study the Bible in search of an answer. My conclusions left me both humbled by God’s grace and trembling at his justice.

Answer

No, according to the Bible they get what they deserve.

Explanation

This question assumes that people who haven’t heard about Jesus don’t deserve to go to hell. This is wrong for two reasons.

Firstly, since the beginning of the world, creation has testified to the invisible qualities of our creator God (Rom. 1:20). That means, there’s enough evidence in creation to convince you that God created it.

Secondly, although not everyone has access to a Bible, God has written the requirements of his law on the hearts of all people (Rom. 2:15). We experience this when we naturally do things required by the law or our conscience tells us that we should or shouldn’t do something.

Consequently, no human being on the face of the planet can say that they didn’t know what God required, for God has made it plain to them (both through his creation and in their heart). Additionally, when people break God’s law (whether it’s the requirements of the law written into their heart or the law written in the Bible), they deserve Hell (Rom. 6:23). This is because a sin against an eternal God deserves an eternal punishment. Since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) all deserve Hell.

Therefore, when somebody who hasn’t heard about Jesus is sent to Hell they are getting what they deserve.

They cannot say it’s unfair. They knew they were disobeying God and yet they did it anyway.  Whilst they could legitimately say that they didn’t know about Jesus, it’s irrelevant. It would be like a murderer claiming that they didn’t deserve jail because they didn’t know that the President had the power to pardon people. Just because somebody hasn’t heard of the President doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go to jail for murder.

In actual fact it’s the ones the President pardons that don’t get what they deserve. Which is where we come back to Christianity. Christians are like the pardoned murderers because Christians don’t get what they deserve. It’s unfair that Christians go to heaven, not unfair that non-Christians go to Hell.

In terms of why God chooses to reveal the message of salvation to some and not to others, we must answer that God will have mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he wants to have compassion (Rom. 9:15). He’s not obligated to have mercy or compassion on anyone!

Application

The application for Christians is two fold! Firstly, Praise God that he chose to have mercy and compassion on you even though you didn’t deserve it. And secondly, tell everybody you can about the Presidential pardon. Tell them that because of Jesus, they don’t have to get what they deserve.

The application for the non-Christian, is simple. The message of the Bible is that you will be sent to Hell unless you repent of your sin and trust in Jesus for you salvation. You need to do it now!

15 responses to What About Those Who Haven’t Heard Of Jesus?

  1. Hey Tim – I’m still struggling with this one.

    You say people can know they are disobeying God, but can then also say that they didn’t know about Jesus. How do they do that in practice?

    If, say, I was a small boy growing up in a rural town in ancient China under the Zhou Dynasty (about 8th century BCE), I would understand the world perhaps through Confucianism or Taoism. That is how I would read the messages of the world and be told what is right/wrong.

    Seeing as we shouldn’t belittle faith and make it a mere mental exercise but see it as a practice, how do we *practically* say that my community had the choice to overthrow centuries of Confucianism/Taoism and follow Christianity? It would be even harder for me individually.

    Should we be unsettled by the arbitrariness of it all?

    • Hey Hez thanks for your thoughts dude, really good questions! I’ve had a think and here’s what I’ve come up with. By the way, as a Christian I take the Bible as the word of God, so my answer is pretty much just telling you what I think the Bible says. Let me know whether you think I’ve answered them or just dodged them.

      1) Q: “You say people can know they are disobeying God, but can then also say that they didn’t know about Jesus. How do they do that in practice?
      A: Chapters 1-3 of Romans (a book in the Bible) basically talks about how all people are guilty before God… and therefore why all people need Jesus. It splits everyone into one of two groups: a) Jews and b) Gentiles (everyone else)

      The bit I want to focus on is Romans 2:9-16 which can be found here.

      The argument goes like this: God will judge all people both Jew and Gentile, but he will judge them on the basis of the law that each group possesses.

      a) The Jews had a massive claim to fame, which was that God had chosen them out of all the people on earth and explicitly given them his law (the 10 Commandments etc.). So in the language of v12, when the Jews (who are the guys under the law) sin they will be judged by the law. Because God explicitly told them not to do it!

      b) But the Gentiles never got God’s law. So how can they sin if they were never told what was right and what was wrong (which I think is essentially your question)?

      Verses 14 and 15 answer that question. Here’s the gist of the answer:

      Even though the gentiles (or the small 8th Chinese boy) don’t have the revealed law (the 10 Commandments etc.), they are not completely without any law at all. This is because God has written the requirements of his law on their hearts. And we see the reality of this in two ways:

      a) “They do by nature things required by the law”. They naturally do things that agree with God’s law such as caring for the sick and elderly, honoring their parents, pursuing lawful vocations, valuing honesty etc.

      b) “Their consciences also bear witness”. Not only do they do the things required by the law, but also their consciences encourage them in that direction and convict them when they go against it.

      This is the “law” that the Gentiles will be judged by… not the revealed law of the Jews. The 8th Century Chinese boy will be judged not on the basis of the Jewish law, but on the basis of the requirements of the law written on his heart that he failed to obey. “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law” (v12).

      Having said this, I think there’s a strong case to be made that his judgement will be less severe than that of the Jews (see places like Luke 12:47-48 and Matthew 11:22-24).

      2) Q: “Seeing as we shouldn’t belittle faith and make it a mere mental exercise but see it as a practice, how do we *practically* say that my community had the choice to overthrow centuries of Confucianism/Taoism and follow Christianity? It would be even harder for me individually. Should we be unsettled by the arbitrariness of it all?”

      A: There is a chance that my next post (it’ll go up on Wednesday or Thursday cause I’ve gotta give the talk on Wednesday at 12) will partly answer this question. Have a read when it goes up and then if you’re still not satisfied I’ll have another go.

      • i know i am may be irritating u mate, but was just wondering if from what u said that the judgement of God, in relation to having not followed his laws, has varying degrees of severity?
        if so wouldnt that imply that the less knowledge that one had of the laws of God would result in a less severe punishment?

        second question: the line of reasoning with the written law and then the law written on one’s heart, I wonder where that leaves an infant or even an unborn child where there understanding of right and wrong has not been taught? and if they are to judged less severely does that mean that there are varying degrees of hell?

        (just thought it might be of interest)

        • otherwise completely agree with marcus very articulate and impressive piece of work. Good stuff!

          • Giles!

            Stoked you read my blog man! Hopefully i’ll see you tonight!

            Q. “Wouldn’t that imply that the less knowledge that one had of the laws of God would result in a less severe punishment?”
            A. Yes i think that is what the Bible teaches. I just wrote a quick article on this issue for you so have a read and let me know if i’ve made the issue any clearer. Its here. Hopefully it also answers the second question. If not hit me up and i’ll have another go.
            Tim

          • hey mate happy to have a read found it all very interesting. I read through the response and I think that the response suggests that sin, punishment, and heaven are merit-based exercises. I understand the logic that follows from having committed less severe sins resulting in less severe punishment. But I think that this reasoning flies dangerously close to the old monetary exchange to eradicate ones sins. Whilst monetary exchange was obviously not the way to go it still works along the same line of reasoning which is the more good you do the less you will be punished. Does that mean that christians who have repented will be still be punished because of they have done ‘more good’ in the eyes of God? If anything it is a terrific lesson for how to live ones life in general but as for conforming to divinity i find it less than convincing

            • Thanks for your thoughts dude, keep them coming! Thanks also for letting me know where I’m unconvincing or haven’t been clear. I’m keen to make sure I understand what you’re thinking, cause what I intend to communicate and what you (the reader) take away isn’t always the same thing.

              Q: I read through the response and I think that the response suggests that sin, punishment, and heaven are merit-based exercises.
              A: I hear what you’re saying. I guess that’s my fault for not framing the whole post in the wider context of Christianity more than just a few lines at the end (love the fact that you’re nit-picking my apparent unorthodoxy by the way! Divinity class at school clearly did its job!)

              I think you need to read what I said in “Are All Sins Equal?” in the context of what I said in “What About Those Who Haven’t Heard Of Jesus?” In light of that i wrote another article.

              I’ve basically written my reply to you in article form which you can read here.
              Let me know your thoughts,
              I’m keen for a game of squash again next week!
              Tim

          • *Does that mean that christians who have repented will be still be punished because of they have still sinned? or will they only be punished according to how much “good” they have done in the eyes of God? It just seems to me that if one has no knowledge of god they are better off than ppl with knowledge of god and choosing to not believe, both will still go to hell but it all seems to be based on a merit system

  2. Hey tim,

    Nice blog. Impressively articulate.

    Having read your thoughts.. I think on a couple of issues you would be a little more conservative than I. Generally speaking those are only small differences in interpretation and the resultant application.

    I reckon change the sub title – away from “Just another WordPress.com weblog” to something slightly more descriptive.

    • Haha thanks for the back handed compliment… i guess.

      I would change the sub title but i was under the impression i couldn’t without paying a monthly subscription. Let me know if you know how.
      Cheers

  3. Hmm???

    There was nothing backhanded intended. Pretty sure I sit in the conservative box too, and certainly in the circles we move in… conservative is king!

    I did some investigation for you. You should be able to change the sub title in the settings tab for the blog (the bottom menu option on the left). Click that, and you should find the second box is called ‘Tagline’ – underneath the ‘Title’ box.

    I guess if it isn’t there… then perhaps it isn’t available in the theme you are using. However, I wouldn’t expect this to be the case – it appears to me to be a wordpress tool rather than something related to the theme.

    Then again, the more I experiment, the more I come to understanding I am a noob at all things interwebs.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Capstone Living » The Missing Link - September 10, 2010

    [...] an attempt to bring together some of the apparently conflicting ideas i’ve shared in “What About Those Who Haven’t Heard Of Jesus?” and “Are All Sins [...]

Leave a Reply

*

Text formatting is available via select HTML.

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>