The goal of this article is to discuss the question “How can you say that unless you know about Jesus and believe in Him, you won’t go to Heaven? What about all those who have never heard about Jesus, do they just go to Hell?”
As a principle, it’s important we recognize that it’s okay to wrestle with this question because God has given us a heart of mercy. We see that our desires reflect God’s when he says in 1 Timothy 2:3-4, This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. The word wants in this passage is best interpreted from the original Greek as desires. God desires that everyone would know and follow Him. He desires all of His children to dwell with Him forever. But God’s will for mankind and his desires are two enormously different cases. Let’s do ourselves a favour and remove how we feel about this subject, look at the evidence, and draw our conclusion based on a Biblical worldview.
Unfair and Exclusive
Traditionally, this question has two different directions. The first question puts God in the unfair and exclusive category. It asks, “If God does exist, he must be fair. Therefore, sending people to hell because they didn’t believe in someone they have never heard of is not justifiable.” This question asserts that God is unfair because if the rules say you must know and believe in Jesus to go to heaven, then it’s unfair to send someone to hell if they don’t have a chance to know Jesus. Additionally, God is by nature exclusive, requiring something that is not possible. It’s like playing your favourite sport by the rulebook and still losing because of some rule or law you didn’t know about. You would naturally say “that’s unfair, I played the game by the rules.”
The second conclusion asserts that people must not truly need to believe in Jesus in order to live with Him forever. It asks, “If God exists, He must be fair. Therefore, there must be multiple paths to God, since not everyone will hear about Jesus.” This question suggests that if God is fair there must be more than one way to God because those who have not heard about Jesus must make it some other way.
Law of Non-Contradiction
The fallacy with these two views is they philosophically oppose each other. Terry Kaufman our Senior Preaching Pastor talked a few weeks back about the Law of Non-Contradiction. The Law of non-contradiction is one of the basic laws in classical philosophy rooting back to Aristotle. In this case, the path to God can neither be one way and multiple ways at the same time.
The law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be both true and not true at the same time when dealing with the same context. For example, your coffee cannot be both ice cold and boiling hot at the same time. Statements like, “War is peace,” or “I know one thing; that I know nothing,” and “I’m a compulsive liar,” don’t make any sense. The path to God cannot philosophically be limited and unlimited at the same time. This is what the world would like everyone to believe, but it’s just not true!
3 Key Truths in Relation to This Question
1. God’s general revelation has been revealed to everyone
God has historically revealed Himself in two forms. Through His General Revelation and Special Revelation. Special Revelation is when God revealed Himself by providing His word – the story of the redemption of man – and in His son Jesus Christ. God has also revealed Himself through Creation and our moral conscience, we call this General Revelation.
God talks about how He has revealed Himself through the natural world in Romans 1:19-20, because God has made it plain to them (Gentiles). For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
When it comes to our moral conscience, Romans 2:14-15 says, Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. In other words, when outsiders to the law – like the Gentiles – have never heard of God’s law but follow it by instinct, they validate its existence by their obedience. They testify that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us, but woven into the very fabric of humanity.
The word conscience means with knowledge. Everyone that has ever been born, God has hardcoded an understanding of right and wrong in their hearts. What does this practically look like? In the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, we observe 612 laws given to the people of Israel. These laws are broken into three categories: the sacrificial law, civic law, and the moral law. The sacrificial law was fulfilled in Jesus sacrifice on the cross. The civic law ended with Israel’s exile in 586 BC, when Babylon took the rest of God’s people into captivity. Interestingly, the moral law has never ended because it’s based on God’s character. God has written his moral law on all of humanities hearts. That means we can internally know what is right from wrong even though we don’t act on it and stand guilty of trespassing it.
Everyone, everywhere, in all of history, can know there is an eternal and powerful deity that created the world and everything in it and they stand without an excuse to say God has not revealed himself to me. Natasha Crain says, “In other words, the Bible says there are no people who are ignorant of God’s existence and moral requirements. So when we talk about those who have never heard, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a sense in which everyone has at least heard of God.”
2. All People are Guilty – No One is Innocent
Paul speaks of our guilty state in Romans 3:11-12, There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
The apostle Paul addresses the guilt of the Gentiles in chapter 1 of Romans and then the Jews in chapter 2, with his final remarks about everyone’s guilt in chapter 3. Paul then concludes that it doesn’t matter if you’ve had the law or not, whether you’re a Gentile or a Jew, everyone stands guilty before God, all have sinned.
#3 God’s character is trustable
This may sound like some hardcore Christian cheesiness, but it’s absolutely necessary for us to trust in the character of our God. Otherwise, we are trusting in ourselves.
As Christians, we understand God to be omnipotent – all-powerful, omniscient – all-knowing and omnibenevolent – all good and the righteous judge. If Jesus is perfectly loving and just He will figure out ways for people to hear the Gospel.
The question is both irrelevant and relevant at the same time.
If you call yourself a skeptic and you’re asking this question because it stops you from having faith in Jesus, then this question doesn’t apply to you because rationally you’ve heard about Jesus. It’s irrelevant to your understanding of God and faith. It’s like someone saying to a doctor who is giving them a vaccine for polio, “because everyone in the world doesn’t have access to this vaccine, then I won’t take it.” That’s absolutely absurd! If you are aware of the possibility and position of God and understand there is a Bible that lays out the story of redemption, then you owe it to yourself to investigate this possibility. Marie Curie a famous physicist in the early 1900’s says, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” It is your responsibility to dig for truth as much as it is for any other person alive.
If you call yourself a follower of Jesus and claim to have found truth that will set people free and transform lives, then logically, your mandate is to explain that truth to as many people as possible. Pen Jillette, a famous magician and atheist states:
I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there is heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
If you claim to have the truth. If you claim to know the path to everlasting life with God. Then it’s your duty to tell others about it. If a fireman pulls up to a burning building with women and children trapped inside and he runs away, we call that fireman a coward. Likewise, we must not be cowards when it comes to sharing the good news of the gospel. We need to go beyond our personal fear and insecurities to reach a world – in our Christian definition – that is lost and perishing.
What is Evangelism
The English word for Evangelism derives from the Greek term euaggelion meaning good news. This word makes an appearance 55 times in the New Testament. When we see it in its verb form evangelize, it changes slightly to announce or proclaim good news. Evangelism has three parts: a warning of sin and its consequences, explanation of God’s remedy for that sin, and a clear call to repent and follow Jesus.
I’ve heard Christians say, “I don’t swear, or drink, or go to the bar on Friday night like my friends do, to testify to them about the gospel.” I call this the “I Don’t Evangelist.” Meanwhile the “I Don’t Evangelist” is not able to articulate what sin or repentance or what the core of the gospel factually is. I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t be different or not serve or love the world.
SERVING IS NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH EVANGELISM
Helping, loving, being generous, encouraging, apologetics, caring for the poor and needy, digging wells, posting cheesy scripture verses on Instagram is all great. There is nothing wrong with them in and of themselves, but they’re all meant to be tools we use to announce or proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. I call those actions the normal Christian life. If we stop at just those actions, we are completely missing the point. My hunch is that skeptics would respect Christians more if we were honest and authentic about our faith and what we believe, including our failures.
As Christians in the west, we need to adjust our trajectory in how we impact the world and return to this original idea of evangelism. The Barna Research Group just recently released a study called “Sharing Faith is Increasingly Optional to Christians” on May 15 that said, “In 1993, 89% of Christians who had shared their faith agreed this is a responsibility of every Christian. Today (25 years later), just 64% say so – a 25-point drop.”
Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at Barna Group says. “After all, aren’t these (topics related to faith) the big questions of life? Don’t these topics matter more than anything else? The truth is, most Christians are busy with other things: the day-to-day of normal life – jobs, kids, budgets, sports, weather and what’s premiering on Netflix this week. None of this is bad, but the unfortunate reality is that most adults don’t seem to connect their everyday experiences with their faith. Or, at least, they aren’t talking about it if they do.” I encourage us to talk about it. Go into the world and talk about your faith unapologetically. Don’t sit idle until you feel like an expert, or for when you feel less scared or uncomfortable, that day will never come. The real question is do you trust that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do? That’s for you to decide.