If your Missional Community (Small Group) is anything like the one that I go to, chances are you have some pretty interesting questions come up as you gather around God’s word. Several weeks ago, this happened during our family meal discussion time. One of our members said that they were once asked by a co-worker, “What about people who never have a chance to hear about Jesus?” Their co-worker went on to say that this was the reason that they could not accept God and follow Christianity because this was not loving or fair. This sparked a great conversation in our group and would probably do the same at your group too.
For anyone who might be thinking through this question, here are 5 Quick Thoughts.
1. All are Condemned because all are Sinners.
I think this is an important starting point for this discussion because many people make a false assumption when they tackle this issue. Many ask the question like this: “What about the innocent person on a remote island who has never heard of Jesus? Surely God wouldn’t send them to hell.” The answer to this question is that the person is absolutely right, God would not condemn the innocent person because that would be unjust of him. However, this innocent person does not exist. The bible is clear: all have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard (Rom 3:23). There is none righteous, including the men and women on a remote island with no access to the gospel.
All Cursed Through Adam
Romans 5 goes on to explain that our unrighteousness is an inherited condition. Because Adam sinned, every person born from him was tainted with this same sin nature and deserving of the same penalty: death (Rom 5:12). This includes those far from the influence of the gospel because they originated from Adam and have sin hardwired into their very being. Thankfully, just as sin and death entered through one man, so now life can be brought through another man, Jesus Christ.
2. All are without excuse
Creation Reveals God
During our discussion, someone brought up that the Bible says that God has been revealed through creation, and that people can know that he exists by looking at the sun, moon, stars, trees, oceans, etc. The Bible does say this in Romans 1:18-25. The thought was that, if this is the case, then a remote people could look at creation, acknowledge the one true God’s existence, and worship him exclusively, wouldn’t this count as following and believing the gospel? While that line of reasoning makes sense, that’s not the narrative that Romans 1 depicts. Instead, Paul writes that creation clearly proclaims an awesome all-powerful God so that every person in the world has no excuse to not worship him. However, the reality is that millions of people look at the creation and instead of attributing it to the all-powerful God of the universe, they pick up a rock or a stick and they carve it into an idol to worship. In this way, creation serves as a condemning witness against the peoples of the world and places them squarely in the line of God’s judgment.
3. Jesus' claims are exclusive, not inclusive
“Good enough” is not enough
Others often ask, “Well what if one of these remote people faithfully follow a different belief system, one that isn't so different from Christianity, one with good morals, that challenges them to serve others, to only worship one God. Isn’t that good enough?” The idea they are proposing is called inclusivism and the answer is that it is nowhere close to being enough. The problem with this view is that it is in essence a works-based salvation. Someone’s merit for salvation is based upon what they did, and the bible is clear that mankind stands accused of sinning against an infinitely holy God, which carries an infinite penalty. Being good enough and only worshiping one God with some moral positives is not enough.
Jesus is the only way
Jesus addresses this issue rather directly in John 14. In verse 1, he charges his followers to believe both in him and in God. When asked by Thomas how they are to do this and eventually come to be with both Jesus and God the Father, Jesus answers “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).” Jesus’ claims are clear. No one is getting into the Father’s presence apart from Jesus. The reason for this is that only Jesus has been able to pay the high price of our infinite sin through his infinite perfection. This means that it is by Jesus and by no one else.
4. God Judges Justly
Thinking back to the original question and the co-worker who brought it up. Their reason for rejecting God was based on fairness. They could not see how it was fair for God to judge someone who had never heard of Jesus. One of our group members spoke to this with a very helpful point they learned from John Piper. Piper had pointed out that people are ultimately judged for their sin, not for failing to believe in Jesus. While the co-worker might have a point if God was judging people based on their failure to know and follow Jesus, that is not the case. God’s judgment comes as a result of people’s sin, Jesus is simply the answer to their sin problem.
5. The Task is Urgent
Based on the points above, each of us should feel both convinced of the remote islander’s spiritual condition, as well as immensely saddened by it. The next question that should come to mind is “if this is the case for these people, what must we do?” The answer is simple. We must take the gospel to them by any means necessary while also trusting in God’s sovereignty. This point alone could result in 10 or 15 quick thoughts, so I will attempt to be brief here. Jesus has declared that the church is God’s primary vehicle for engaging and reaching the lost. We have been commissioned to pray for the unreached, give to the work of reaching them, and even to go to them ourselves. Right now, we have brothers and sisters serving around the world so that others who are far from God might know and worship him. We at Christ Fellowship must also join that effort, prayerfully, financially, and physically on the ground. At the same time, we have a sovereign Lord who has promised not to lose even one sheep that the Father has given to him. He’s going to get all of them, and there will be some from every tribe, nation, and language represented around the throne. And so, we must move with urgency while also trusting him his sovereignty. May the ones unreached with gospel be on our hearts and prayer lists, and may it drive us to complete the task we have been given.