What About Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

Is Jesus the only way to God? Are those who believe in different religions or in no religion on a path that leads to hell? What about those who never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel? One of the most controversial claims of Christianity is the exclusivity of the Gospel. This simply means that Jesus is the only way. There is no other options and there are no other paths to escape the destruction due our sin. The pluralistic post-modern sentiment that tends to dominate western thinking today is disgusted by such an arrogant and narrow-minded claim.

Jesus is the Only Way

Yet theology and truth is not determined by cultural wishes but by the revelation of God. God has revealed to us his truth and his plan in Scripture. The Word of God is quite clear as Jesus said himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). The exclusivity of Christ is not something arrogantly fabricated by the church but clearly taught by Jesus, the son of God. Jesus is not a way, but the only way. The simple definite article, “the”, makes it clear that there is only one possible route to the Father and it is through the son.

Most people who can escape the logical fallacy of a pluralistic understanding of truth can grasp the exclusivity of the Gospel. After all both Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity can’t all be right. The religions contradict themselves on the most basic level. So if we can grasp that only one religion must be true and if by God’s grace we come to see the Christian faith as the true faith, there is often one last hurdle for people. What about those who never heard the Gospel?

A Weighty Class Discussion

I remember the first time I encountered this difficulty. I was in my first semester at Charleston Southern University and I was taking an evangelism class. In that class the professor gave us a hypothetical dilemma known as “the man on the island”. The situation is that there is a man on an island who has never heard the Gospel. He is completely deserted in that island and there is no one who can tell him about Jesus. The dilemma is what happens to the man when he dies? Does he spend eternity in hell or does God save him even though he never heard about Jesus?

The professor then made us get into groups and begin discussing our position to the dilemma. For a bunch of first semester bible students we were surely stumped. This is the kind of stuff they didn’t encourage us to think about in Sunday School. After great discussion the class seemed split. Some said the man would be saved and others said that he would be condemned. After some class discussion the professor finally revealed his position, the man would spend eternity in condemnation and apart from God.

And the professor was completely correct. If Jesus is the only way than he is the only way. The New Testament is filled with an urgent passion to spread the good news of Jesus as far and as quickly as possible. You see the apostle Paul the great missionary attempting to make his way to Spain at the end of the life. He was always pushing to get to new people to share the good news of Jesus. Paul writes in Romans 11

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)

The whole class felt the weight of the professors words that day. It was a heavy reminder of an eternal responsibility that is passed from one generation to the next. There is a great urgency for us to take the Gospel to the very farthest and most isolated parts of the world. It is the great task of the church to go and make disciples of all nations.

Tell the World

Because there are thousands dying every day all across the world without access to the Gospel, the church has an urgent mission. Simply put, the world must be told that Jesus is Lord. They must hear about how Christ died in their place for the forgiveness of sins. Yet, they cannot believe in Jesus if they have never heard. As Christians we must begin to take the Great Commission seriously, urgently sending and being sent around the globe for the glory of Christ for the good of the nations.