John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
What happens if someone dies without hearing the gospel?
This question is often times presented as a rebuke against God’s Mercy and Grace. How can a loving God condemn someone to die in Hell if they were never given the opportunity to hear the message of good news?
To be able to answer this question, it’s important to first recognize mankind’s position before God.
Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—”
There is not one person born of man, who has ever lived, that has not sinned– except Jesus.
Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Not only has everyone sinned, but everyone has inherited a sinful nature through Adam.
Romans 5:15-17 “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
What does this mean for all those brought under the condemnation of sin?
Romans 5:18 “So then, just as one trespass brought condemnation for all men, so also one act of righteousness brought justification and life for all men.”
Condemnation or Righteousness?
We are now faced with a dilemma in life.
Do we accept the Grace of God given only through Jesus Christ for the remission of sin? Or do we continue in our sin and remain under condemnation until the day we stand before God and give account for our rebellion?
Some people will claim that Jesus was only a myth. Others will accuse the Bible of being exaggerated stories that have no bearing on their lives.
We all must come to the conclusion as to whether we accept the fact that we are in a position of enmity before God or deny Him all together and hope for the best.
For anyone to come to Christ, the must hear the call.
Romans 10:17 “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
This brings us back to our original dilemma…
What about those who don’t know or haven’t heard?
Acts 17:26-28 “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’
Do you hear what Luke is reporting?
- God made every nation.
- Each nation in the history of the earth has their place and time.
- God appointed boundaries.
- The structure that God made for each period of time was designed for people to find Him.
- God has made Himself accessible to everyone.
Some people have overlooked this opportunity, some have disregarded His call, and some have wholeheartedly accepted God and believed in His name.
There is an interesting predicament for those who believe God only calls those whom He predestined for His grace.
Scripture seems to deny this claim…
Acts 17:30-31 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
How can God call everyone to repentance, but not allow some to receive eternal life? For the staunch Calvinist, the belief is that God knew some would never respond to His call so He simply didn’t bother making it evident to them.
I would beg to differ on this point…
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
So we see a couple issues at work:
- God calls all men everywhere to repent.
- God desires(not willing) that any should perish.
How does God call people?
Does God have to use a believer to share His message of hope and salvation? How did Abraham hear God? Didn’t Moses hear God speak to him through the burning bush?
Didn’t Paul believe only after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus?
I believe that God uses His people to proclaim the message of salvation, but He also calls people Himself. Maybe a Bible falls into the hands of someone at just the right time. Maybe a distant word is spoken that confirms in a tribal leaders heart that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
I believe God finds a way because He is just.
God is Just
What does God’s justice look like?
In judgement, God is fair. He doesn’t require more than what He has established. He doesn’t leave people wandering in confusion, lost without hope. His law is the expression of His nature and since everyone offended His nature, He made a way for them to be absolved of their crimes.
Isaiah 30:18 “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”
If God required death to those who broke His laws and yet didn’t call them to return to Him, He would not be just in judgement.
How could there be laws and subsequently people breaking those laws and not know they were breaking them, then condemn them for refusing Grace that they never heard of?
Psalm 98:9 “before the LORD, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.”
God is fair. He doesn’t single out one person to hear the gospel and leave another to die in their sin. God has structured people’s lives so that they can come to Him and receive Mercy.
There will be so many stories of how God lead people to find Him. There will be far more stories of those who had the opportunity to find Him and they went the other way.
Either way, this one Truth remains—God is Good.
This fact is important to remember when considering God’s reasons for why He acts.
God is Good
Deuteronomy 32:3-4 “For I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Ascribe greatness to our God! He is the Rock, His work is perfect; all His ways are just. A God of faithfulness without injustice, righteous and upright is He.”
God’s goodness is His perfection.
If we believe that God destined some for destruction, we must reconcile God’s nature in creating them in the first place.
Psalm 139:15-16 “My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.”
The sanctity of life hinges on scripture such as this. We cannot claim that every child has value and should be saved and in the next breath exclaim some of those children are destined for wrath! It would have been better that they were never born if all they had to look forward to was an eternity in Hell.
If some people are destined for life and others destined for death…how does God choose? or better yet, the question should be, does God choose at all?
Does God Choose?
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
According to scripture, God does choose, the question is now what does God’s choice entail?
Exodus 19:5 “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.”
You see, God chooses a people to be called by His name, their only requirement is that they listen and obey.
Some may say that this is salvation by works but the indication is not in earning salvation, but showing the sincerity of heart. People don’t obey then God saves them, people who have a changed heart show forth obedience as evidence of their belief.
These are the ones chosen….the call goes forth to everyone but it is those who have received Jesus into their heart that God receives.
John 1:12-13 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
How does God call everyone to repentance?
Brother Yun, a chinese christian who lived under the communist regime for many years and served the Lord in the underground church was saved by Jesus’ direct intervention in his family. In 1974 his father was dying of cancer and was told that he would not survive the disease. His mother was told by the doctors “There’s no hope for your husband. Go home and prepare for his death.”
Brother Yun tells the story….
My dad’s sickness sapped all our money possessions, and energy… My brothers, sisters and I were forced to beg food from our neighbors and friends, just to survive…. My mother was under great pressure, facing the daunting prospect of raising five children alone… Things were so hopeless she contemplated suicide.
One night my mother was lying on her bed, barely awake. Suddenly she heard a very clear and tender voice say, “Jesus loves you.”
She had heard the gospel and given her life to Christ in the early 1940’s, but in 1949 the Communist government jailed all known pastors and the churches were scattered. She left the church and “forgot most of what she had learned as a young woman. Her relationship with the Lord grew cold.
She knelt down on the floor and tearfully repented of her sins and re-dedicated herself to the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the Prodigal Son, my mother came home to God.
She immediately called our family to come and pray to Jesus. She told us, “Jesus is the only hope for Father.” All of us committed our lives to God when we heard what had happened. We then laid our hands on my father and for the rest of the night we cried out a simple prayer, “Jesus, heal Father! Jesus, heal Father!”
The very next morning my father found he was much better! For the first time in months he had an appetite for food. Within a week he had recovered completely and had no trace of cancer! It was a great miracle from God.
I believe God finds a way to get His message of salvation to everyone. I believe Him to be Just and Good, not just because His Word says so, but because He has proven Himself in my own life.
Not everyone who is called will receive God’s grace, but they are all called and that is God’s justice shown faithful.