What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

Christians have asked this question centuries. Even in today’s globalized, social-media-driven world, Christians are still asking it. In question 60 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, the question is posed: “Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?” Here is its answer:

They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

It is true that there is salvation in no other name than Jesus (Acts 4:12). To be saved means to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that he is risen from the dead (Rom. 10:9). God is sovereign and he saves those whom he wills (see Rom. 9:19-24; John 6:44; 10:25-28; Eph. 2:8-9). The unsaved are non-elect, and therefore, those who have not heard are not elect. Furthermore, people are condemned because they are guilty sinners (6:23). We must remember that there are no innocent people in the world (Rom. 2:12-16; 3:10-23).

How could this be, you ask, when a person in the jungles of Africa does not even know God exists? John Calvin helps us understand: “Since, then, there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of deity is inscribed on every heart. No, even idolatry is ample evidence of this fact.” (Institutes 1.3.1).

God promises there will be a multitude from every tribe, language, people, and nation who were ransomed by the blood of the Lamb and who will reign with him forever (Rev. 5:9-10). So rather than raising a finger at God for what is clearly taught in Scripture, we must resolve to spread the gospel across this earth, making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). That might mean leaving all you have to be a frontier missionary. It might mean giving more (yes, more) money to missions. It will definitely mean praying often for unreached peoples. In all you do, remember to rest in the truth that God will bring all his sheep into one fold under the care and provision of their one, good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:16). cit confession, that a sense of deity is inscribed on every heart. No, even idolatry is ample evidence to this fact” (Institutes 1.3.1). There is a sense in every person that God exists. and the very fact that we worship something proves it.

To hear a little more on this, listen to a two minute audio clip to from John Piper.

Life Theology

The Result of a Debased Mind: Practicing and Approving of Evil Deeds

Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

These unbelieving sinners that Paul has just spoken of in verses 28-31 know that what they are doing is wrong. Paul never speaks of the law in these verses, which is significant.  This communicates to us that all humans are under the same judgment, even if we haven’t received the Ten Commandments or a list of do’s and don’ts from God.  We all suppress God’s truth.  We all exchange his glory and truth for idolatry and lies.

God has built it into the hearts of human beings to obey a moral code.  That is why in nearly all cultures over all time murder and rape are wrong.  What other explanation can there be?  People “know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die” (cf. Rom. 3:23).   This verse tells us that all people have some knowledge of God, as verses 19-21 tell us.  It shows that even if people do not have a Bible or a missionary, they are still held accountable to God.  Of course, Paul himself is talking about people without a Bible, since nearly all of the known Gentile world in his day did not have written Scripture and did not read the Old Testament.

Not only do people do such things as those listed in verses 28-31, but they also give approval to those who practice them.  This means that they congratulate evil and hate what is good — a gross inversion of God’s intention (see Rom. 12:9).  Our modern minds probably immediately go to a man bowing down to a golden idol and congratulating others who worship with him.  But consider the businessman on Wall Street who has committed fraud and is laundering money.  He defies the decree of God.  And his business partner has joined him, risking his job, credibility, integrity, family, and friends.  Instead of coming to his senses, this man congratulates his partner and tells him, “This is the only way you’ll get ahead, make money, and make something of yourself in this company.”  He not only does evil, but he is approves others doing it as well.  He is doubly guilty.

This can also happen with much “smaller” things.  And it can be passive, not active.  Take pornography, for example.  Instead of hating the sin and actively fighting against it, a man may rebuke his friend because he himself is fighting the same sin of pornography.  Instead of lovingly rebuking his friend who sinned while on the Internet yesterday, he says, “It’s okay.  I’m right there with you.  God forgives.”  Though that is true, it is not actively engaged in the battle against sin.  It’s passive and communicates a lackadaisical attitude toward the self-destructing ability of sin.  “Approving” sin may come in many shapes and colors.  And we must be careful to watch out for it at all times.