Haven’t Heard – Part 2

November 5, 2012

Adam Harwood, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
Truett-McConnell College
Cleveland, Georgia

Haven’t Heard – Part 1

The previous article asks: “How does God deal with people who die without hearing the gospel?” They can be placed into two groups, the uncondemned and the unreached. The uncondemned are comprised of infants, young children, and the mentally incompetent. Appealing to 10 biblical texts and the Baptist Faith and Message, the article explains that they inherit a sinful nature but are not condemned by God. Instead, God welcomes them into His arms.

This article considers the eternal destiny of the other group, the unreached. This group is comprised of people who reach an age or stage of moral accountability but die without hearing the message of the gospel.

God reveals Himself through His creation and our conscience. According to Psalm 19:1, creation declares the existence of a creator. In Romans 1:20, Paul writes that God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen.” Notice that the unseen is clearly seen. God’s existence and power are “understood through what has been made” (verse 20). As John Stott writes, “Creation is the visible disclosure of the invisible God.”

Romans 1:20 declares “that they are without excuse.” All people who step into eternity and declare they didn’t know that God exists will be called a liar. Although some people may claim God doesn’t exist, they actually know He exists but try to suppress that truth and fail to worship Him (verses 18 and 21).

Also, God’s existence is declared by the human conscience. Paul’s argument in Romans 2 is that Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) are sinners. Paul anticipates this objection: What if a person argues that Gentiles can’t be considered law-breakers since they haven’t been given the Law of Moses? Paul explains that their conscience demonstrates that God’s law is written on their hearts (Romans 2:14-15). Gentiles don’t need to be told that taking an innocent life is against God’s law; their conscience tells them it’s wrong. The same is true for adultery and lying and other sins. Knowing an action is wrong doesn’t keep one from committing the action. But knowing the action is wrong and doing it brings condemnation. That is the bad news which makes the gospel such good news.

Every person who recognizes the creator and law-giver is responsible to Him. Universal revelation brings universal condemnation. It is not necessary for a person to reject Christ in order to be guilty before God. According to Romans 1, people are idolators because they worship creation rather than their creator. People who could keep God’s moral law perfectly would not be subject to His judgment. But all of us fail to love perfectly both God and neighbor. We’ve all sinned and we’re all under God’s judgment, even those who haven’t heard the gospel.

The question sometimes arises: Can a person be saved by responding only to the “light” they receive through creation and conscience? There is no indication in Scripture that a person who lives after the Cross of Christ can be saved apart from hearing and responding to the gospel message.

One might speculate that because God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), He might ensure that someone reaches some unreached people with the gospel message. But it’s also possible that many unreached people will step into eternity without hearing the gospel. We can’t know. But we do know that believers are promised empowerment by God’s Spirit as we are worldwide witnesses of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8).

Christ didn’t come to condemn but to save; we’re already condemned (John 3:17-18). Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). But it’s necessary that people hear and believe that Christ died for them. Paul asks how the unreached can believe in Christ if they haven’t heard of Christ (Romans 10:14). They can’t.

All people are separated from God and need to know how to be made right with Him. We’re only made right with God by hearing and believing that Christ died for our sins and was raised (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We must reach the unreached with this message. Why? Because every person’s only hope is to repent of their sin and believe in Christ. As Jesus explains, people who don’t believe in Him will die in their sins (John 8:24) but those who believe in Him will live even if they die (John 11:25).


– AH, 9-27-12