This is part one of a two-part series
One of the questions I have been asked recently is: what happens to people who don’t hear about Jesus Christ? Let’s go to the bible and see what it says.
I am cautious in writing about this because I have noticed that Jesus didn’t threaten anyone and He only spoke about judgement or hell or anything like that to people who were followers or if they were teachers, scribes or pharisees. We can learn so much from what Jesus did and trying to understand His choices really illuminates the way we should live. Jesus didn’t threaten people who He was talking to and we in the church should learn from Him. He lived His life as an example. His actions and choices spoke louder than His words. His life literally SHOUTED about God – the power, the love, the authority, the supremeness – it could all be seen in His life.
It can’t be emphasized enough that then Jesus spoke to the average person, He spoke not in threats but in promises about a powerful Kingdom of loving people who love one another.
According to the bible there are three (or possibly four) kinds of people:
1. Christians who believe in Jesus Christ go to Heaven
Period. End of story. It’s worth noting that the NT does provide some clear indications about who is saved. For example if our lives don’t change and we don’t begin to love others, then the bible says we’ve not actually come to Him and been saved.
But in general, the rule of thumb is that Christians who ACTIVELY BELIEVE in Jesus Christ are saved and will not go through the judgement… but that is hotly contested by some. Some verses indicate we will be called to account for our actions too.
2. People who have rejected Jesus as their saviour go to hell
I imagine that sticks in the throat of some. But what can I tell you… that’s what the bible says. Evil doers go to hell too – but we’ll cover that in point 4.
The book of Romans indicates a possible special dispensation for the Jewish race… but that is hotly contested. Some say that they do not have to accept Christ Jesus and the God of the OT will reveal Himself to them asthe OT God, bypassing the whole Jesus thing. I am sorry, but I do not see any scripture to support this. The book of Romans makes it clear, Jesus is the Messiah and that all are now children of Abraham. It also says that God will re-connect Jewish people back into the vine from which they have been cut off from. They will be restored. But the restoration MUST include them recognizing their Messiah. Jesus Christ said so Himself.
4. People who have NEVER heard and been challenged
This is the focus of this post.
In explaining what happens at judgement, it’s not my intention to condemn anyone, but to explain the hope that is spelled out clearly in the bible. The hope of living a life forever in the presence of a loving God.
The only way to BE SURE that you’ll go to heaven is to turn away from your sinful life and turn to Christ Jesus. It is the only way TO BE SURE of salvation.
But in this post we’re dealing with those who have not heard and therefore have not rejected Jesus Christ.
NOTE: In these passages the people who symbolize not having heard about Jesus are called “gentiles”. The people who symbolize having heard and who have been challenged are called “Jews”. It’s symbolic… an illustration. (If you are Jewish, it is not my intention to offend you.)
In Romans 1 the bible establishes that everyone knows there is a God. Essentially they only have to look outside their window to know that there is a God.
For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. – Romans 1:18-21
So that establishes clearly that everyone has an idea that there is a God. Even if they are born deep inside the amazon jungle and have never heard of Jesus, they know there is a God.
Now we need to know if everyone (even if they have never heard of Jesus) will go through a judgement. Let’s skip past the passages that speak of people who KNOW that God is good and have CHOSEN to reject Him. Let’s skip to Romans 2:5-16
For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done.
So that’s pretty clear. Many many times in the bible it speaks of a judgement where people are judged according to their works and actions. Let me take a moment to clearly state that salvation doesn’t come by works, salvation comes from God exposing Himself to us and we naturally respond to Him.
He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning–for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.
This passage and many others in Romans 1 and 2 point to some basic truths:
- God will judge all people according to what they have done
- bad news for those who live for themselves (selfishness)
- good news for those who do what is good (loving others)
But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good–for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.
So both groups (jews and gentiles) will be judged and those who do good in both groups will receive glory and honor. That is clear.
That leads us to ask… what is good and bad? Can we know what is bad (or good) if we have never heard about Jesus?
God will punish the Gentiles when they sin, even though they never had God’s written law … Those who obey the law will be declared right in God’s sight.
That seems rough… to be judged EVEN if they don’t have God’s written law. Written. Hmmm… is there something else? If you can know God by the world around you – without ever actually meeting Him, then can you know the law without ever reading it written down?
Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right.
So Gentiles who have not heard are to be judged on how they live their lives, according to the law that God has written within all of us.
The day will surely come when God, by Jesus Christ, will judge everyone’s secret life. This is my message. – Romans 2:5-16
The “secret life” statement (above) refers to our thoughts and our conscience and generally to our inner life. To find out more about the law that is “written in our hearts”, you can read about what Jesus says about loving others. He said that when we love others we keep the full law. It is the central theme of Christianity.
So… there you have it. I encourage you to read Romans 1 & 2 for yourself. Put aside what you may have heard and simply in your own bible how Paul speaks about judgment and how people who have not heard about law, sin and Jesus will be judged.
If this post has stimulated you to consider joining yourself to Jesus and learning about Him in order to gain eternal life, then please consider reading these posts: