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