In order to answer the question about those who have never heard of Jesus, let’s first review with what we know to be true, Then we’ll present reasons for a possible answer.
- Jesus said that we need to be perfect to enter into Heaven. We can’t do that.
- So God sent Jesus to save us. He is the only way to Heaven (John 14:6). There is no other way.
- As Christians, we know that our sins were judged at the cross and paid for by Jesus (Col 2:14) and that He has forgiven our sins (1 John 2:12), washed them away (Rev 1:5), and given us His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), which makes us positionally perfect when we stand before God. His righteousness, given to us (2 Cor 5:21) makes us worthy to enter into Heaven.
That said, those who die without forgiven sins and the righteousness of Jesus will die in their sins (John 8:2), and will they not enter Heaven. So the question remains, what about those who have never heard of Jesus or His gospel of saving grace? This really is an unanswerable question because we simply do not know how God will judges such. But now let’s look at reasoning from the Bible to know that whatever their judgment is, it will be just.
Knowledge and Mercy
Jesus asked, “who do you say that I am?” and many suggest this indicates the basis on how people will be judged. God will judge people what they did with the knowledge they received about Jesus. Did someone repent and trust in Jesus, and therefore was saved? Or did someone reject Jesus, and die in his sins?
It’s safe to say that almost everyone has a knowledge of Jesus, in most nations and territories, but the question often arises, what about tribal people in the jungles of Africa?
Those Who Have Not Heard
What will happen to those who have never heard of Jesus or about the gospel of salvation? Will God, in His mercy, reveal Himself fully, in some way to them before death so they can trust in Jesus? Or will God have mercy on them as He does on those who are incapable of hearing the gospel or unable to understand and respond to the gospel, e.g. pre-borns, babies, small children, and the mentally impaired? (Read: Do Babies Go to Heaven if They Die? The Mentally Impaired, Young Children, the Unborn?)
Again, we simply do not know how God will judge people who have never heard of Jesus or heard the gospel of saving grace. But the bottom line is that we can trust God will be just and He is loving and merciful. We must leave this up to God and trust in His sovereignty to deal justly with those who have not heard.
Non-believers often use this question as a roadblock when Christians share the truth of the gospel. If you are confronted with this question, be honest and be quick to tell them that we don’t know the answer. But also tell them that God is good and He is just, and we can trust that He will deal with those who have never heard in a loving, merciful, and just way. Then “turn the table” a bit. Remember that all witnessing is meant to be a conversation. So perhaps respond with something like, “I might not know the answer to your question, but would you answer my question?” If they say, “no,” then end the conversation. But if they respond “yes,” say something like, “Since you have heard the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, who do you say that Jesus is?” Wait for their answer and then continue the conversation by responding appropriately.
- If they say that Jesus was a good man or a good teacher, remind them that Jesus clearly said He is God. Tell them that if Jesus is not God, He was lying, and a liar is not a good man.
- They might then respond with, “Well Jesus thought He was God, so in His mind, He wasn’t lying.” Respond with, “If Jesus thought He was God but He was not, then He was crazy, and a crazy man is not a good teacher.”
At this point, they can only consider three options. 1) Jesus was a liar, 2) He was crazy, or 3) Jesus was, is, and always will be, exactly who He claimed to be…God! If the conversation continues, share the gospel. Tell them:
- Jesus is God who created all things and gave you life. He came to earth and took on human form to dwell among His people and to live a perfect, sinless life.
- Then Jesus gave His life for all people on the cross, taking on our sins, and paying the penalty for them with His shed blood. (For God has said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness [of sins].” Heb 9:22).
- Finally, tell them, if they will turn to Jesus in faith and trust in what He did to pay for their sins, Jesus will forgive all their sins and give them eternal life.
Finishing the Conversation
Continue to share with them as the Holy Spirit leads you to do. And at some point, “test the waters” to see if their hearts are turning to Jesus and they desire to trust in Him. Maybe ask, “How do feel about what I’ve shared with you?” Or maybe ask again, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” If they aren’t ready to turn to Jesus in faith, then suggest they think about what you’ve shared with them. Leave them with a tract (see below).
In any witnessing encounter, trust that God will lead you by His Spirit to share the knowledge you have of Jesus and the love you have for Him. Know that the Holy Spirit will work on the person. But also know that they have free will to respond, or not to respond, to who Jesus is and the salvation He desires to give them. Remember, you can’t make anyone believe what you believe. All you are called to do is to share Jesus with all people. Be bold. Be a testimony to the Truth. And be praying for the hearer. You’ll be blessed and the hearer just might be transformed.
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