If they haven’t heard

GlasgowuniVIA VERITAS VITA is the Latin motto for Glasgow University, where I had the opportunity to study for a couple of years.  These words, which translate to way, truth, and life, are displayed prominently on the University’s official crest.  They are taken from John 14:6 where Jesus states, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  That’s a pretty bold statement!  It is perhaps the most divisive statement in the New Testament.  Jesus didn’t claim to have a way, to know a truth or to model a life.  Making that kind of a statement wouldn’t have caused much friction with the religious officials.  As Mike Glenn, senior pastor at Brentwood Baptist church often points out, it was the definite article “the” that got Jesus crucified.  There is an exclusivity to the Christian message.  As Luke states in Acts 4:12 “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  The proclamation the Jesus is the only way does not sit to well in today’s culture of “tolerance” and “acceptance.”

This exclusivity brings up for many avery serious question.  What about those who never hear the Gospel and, therefore, never have a chance to respond?  In this world of nearly seven billion people, there are children who are dying every minute who live in poverty stricken places where, even if they heard the gospel, which is unlikely, they wouldn’t have been able to understand it or respond to it.  There are tens of millions of unborn children each year who are sacrificed on the altar of abortion.  And then there are those tribesmen and women who  live their whole lives with virtually no contact with the outside world or the Gospel.  What about these people?  Are they doomed by God because of where they are born and the situation they are born into?

The logic is this.  If the Gospel claims that the only way a person can get to the Father, the only means by which a person can be saved is in and through the person of Jesus Christ, then those people who, for whatever reason, never ever hear about Jesus are excluded.  But this doesn’t make sense when the Gospel also claims that God is just, righteous and loving, that He loves the whole world.  How are these two things compatible?  How could a just, righteous and loving God exclude a person, whom we are told He loves, simply because of circumstances beyond that person’s control?  A similar question was asked to God directly by Abraham in Genesis 18:25.  “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?”

God had proclaimed that He was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness.  Abraham had family there, and was stunned by this proclamation.  Thinking of his family, no doubt, Abraham asks God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked.”  The conversation that ensues is an account of Abraham bargaining with God.  Starting at fifty righteous people Abraham ultimately gets God to declare that if ten righteous can be found, then He would not destroy the cities.  The next chapter, chapter 19, accounts how the two messengers of God seek out and rescue Abraham’s family before the city is destroyed.  The point is, the answer to Abraham’s question is Yes, the judge of all the earth will do what is just, and No, He will not sweep away the righteous with the wicked.

There is a fascinating passage in Romans 2:12-16 where Paul states,
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  For it is not the hearers of the law
who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.  for when gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law
to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their
conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men’s heart.
The teaching here is that God judges, and He judges by a standard that we cannot know by looking at the outward appearance.  Every man and woman is born with the Image of God, and, as Jeremiah 31:33 teaches, God has put his law within every person and written it on their hearts.  Hebrews 8:10 echos this.  Romans 1:19-20 states that God’s power and divine nature are clearly perceivable through what He has created, and so no one has an excuse.

All this makes it clear that God, His character and power, can be known through the general revelation of creation. His law is written on the human heart, and each person bares His image.  This is true for those who have the law and the Gospel as well as those who do not.  Matthew 25:14-28 tells us that people are judged based on what they do with what they are given.  God will not violate justice, righteousness and love because He is Justice, Righteousness and Love, and anything that God is, He is in the fullness of His being.  We can, therefore, trust that God will act in accordance with His Character and judge each person righteously with perfect justice and perfect love.  It must be stated that those who do hear and understand the gospel will be judged according to their response to it.  However, those who do not hear the Gospel or die before understanding it, are not automatically condemned to an eternity in Hell.  That doesn’t seem to fit with what Scripture teaches us about God’s nature and character.

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Posted in Apologetics, Theology
One comment on “If they haven’t heard
  1. Paul says:

    Hello Forrest,
    I sat next to you last night the the “Death of Truth…” event.

    Your above exposition was laid out very well. It made me think about the common saying..”If God doesn’t destroy America, he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah” But after reading your piece it occurred to me that there were not even 10 righteous people there and as evil and depraved as our country is, there are many righteous, atoned for, souls in our land. Perhaps He will consider that.

    Blessings, Paul

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