When it comes to the souls of those in the world today who die without ever hearing the Gospel, we have no scriptural license to speculate about their eternal destinies. Instead, we must follow the scriptural admonition not “to go beyond what is written”; that is, not to go beyond what the Bible says (1 Corinthians 4:6). Although many speculate, without any scriptural foundation, the possibility of salvation by default to anyone unacquainted with the Gospel, it is biblically forbidden for us to do so!
God’s Word is not ambiguous, but absolutely clear when it comes to the way of salvation. For instance, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). In addition, the Scripture assures us that there is no “other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Therefore, there is no biblical basis to believe that there is any other way to Heaven apart from faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 16:30-31).
In hopes of bringing into question the clear teaching of Scripture on the subject of salvation, many ask about the eternal fates of stillborn babies or little children who die. Since they die before maturing to receive Christ and believe in His name (John 1:12), are they forbidden entrance into Heaven and consigned to Hell? Fortunately, the Scripture is not silent on this issue; consequently, neither should we be.
Jesus taught that the kingdom of God belongs to little children (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16). This teaching of our Savior’s is shown to square with the Scripture’s teaching about salvation when it is coupled with the Apostle James’ inspired definition of sin (James 4:17). According to James, sin is “knowing to do good, and doing it not.”
Until one comes to a point in their life where they know to do good, but deliberately choose to do wrong, they’re innocent before God and unaccountable to Him in regards to their sin. The moment they willfully and knowingly choose to sin, however, they become guilty before God, accountable to Him, and in desperate need of the salvation He has wrought for us in Christ. From that moment forward, there remains no hope of salvation for them apart from faith in Christ.
This age of accountability, as it is often called, eventually comes to everyone who lives to adolescence, with the possible exception of those who are mentally handicapped. Granted, it may come sooner to some than to others. It is not something we all celebrate on our twelfth birthday. Still, it is something that eventually comes to us all. Along with it comes the loss of our childish innocence.
Now, many people erroneously attempt to include within the ranks of childish innocence all who have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. However, the Bible forbids such application. For instance, the Apostle Paul plainly teaches that “as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12). In other words, entrance into Heaven is just as forbidden to those ignorant of the Gospel as it is to those who spurn the Gospel.
To be perfectly honest with the Scripture, Paul does go on in Romans 2:13-16 to teach that God will justly judge each man according to how well he lives up to whatever light he has. Yet, Paul is not speaking here of salvation, but merely of the degree of punishment each sinner will receive from God in Hell or of the particular rewards each saint will be rewarded by God in Heaven. That there are differing degrees of punishment for sinners and differing rewards awaiting the saints can be easily ascertained from the Scripture (Matthew 10:14-15; 11:20-24; Luke 12:47-48; Matthew 16:27; 25:23; 1 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 6:8; Revelation 22:12).
Whatever their eternal fate—Heaven for saints and Hell for sinners—we can be assured of God’s just and righteous judgment of all men. This includes sinners who have never heard the Gospel. We should therefore refrain from speculating about God’s particular judgment of anyone, and be content with leaving the judgement of everyone to God, who has appointed a day in which He will judge the world with justice (Acts 17:31).
Permit me to conclude with a couple of germane and salient points. First, have you ever thought about the fact that somewhere in the ancestry of everyone living ignorant of the Gospel today is a deliberate rejection of the one and only true God? It might have been a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, or an ancestor now several generations removed, but somewhere in the lineage of the inhabitants of all lands closed to the Gospel today is to be found an outright rejection of the Word of God. As a result of this sin of their forefathers, millions in the world today have never heard the Gospel and remain unacquainted with the only divine remedy for their sin-sick soul.
The Bible teaches us that the sins of the fathers visit themselves upon the children for generations (Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Jeremiah 32:18). It also speaks of the fathers eating sour grapes and the children’s teeth being set on edge (Jeremiah 31:29; Ezekiel 18:2). When we reject the Gospel, it is not only lethal to our own souls, but possibly lethal to the souls of our children and grandchildren as well. Our rejection of Christ will have ramifications upon our posterity. No wonder the Bible teaches parents the importance of training “up a child in the way he should go” and of rearing children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). Make no mistake about it; there is no greater responsibility in parenting than to point our children to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ! Any parent who fails to do so is a failure as a parent.
Not only is the sins of the fathers responsible for the fact that millions in our world today have never heard the Gospel, but the church’s failure to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission must also shoulder part of the blame for the widespread ignorance of God’s Word in our present-day world. Most apropos to this point are the following words penned by the Apostle Paul under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15).
If we’re really concerned about the eternal destinies of all who have never heard the Gospel, then I suggest that we start praying for missionaries and giving to missions. Furthermore, I suggest that we all become missionaries ourselves. After all, people who are ignorant of the Gospel can be found everywhere, not just across the world, but sometimes just across the street. Do your neighbors know the Gospel? How about your family and friends? Are you being a missionary to others? Remember, all missions begin at home, and the lost in your community are just as lost as the lost in other countries.
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