This is the question of the collegecampuses, the skeptic and the agnostic. This is the question of those who wish todeflect making a personal commitment to Christ. This is the question of those wholike to play mental gymnastics with God. Rather than face their own personal responsibility to respond to Christ, they ask, "What about the aborigines? What about those poor African natives who never heard about Christ? Will your God send them to Hell when they die?" While it avoids the question, it is never-the-less a worthy theological issue. How would you respond?
This is just my opinion, but here is how I would approach the question. For this current age (the church age, or the age of grace), the Bible is clear that the only way to gain entrance is through the person of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary death (Acts 4:12). At the same time, God makes it clear that He does not want anyone to go to Hell (2 Peter 3:9).
God (Elohim) is made known to all through His creation. The heavens declare His glory and tell the Gospel story (Ps. 19:1-6). The invisible things of the creation of the world are clearly seen by all men (Ro. 1:19-20).
Nature however is an incomplete revelation. So how does God, as the perfection of holiness (Acts 4:12 - you must come through Jesus) and love (2 Peter 3:9 - I want you to come) enable this.
Acts 10 gives us a beautiful story of a God-fearing man names Cornelius. He was a good and righteous man who had never heard of Jesus Christ, but believed in God. Cornelius was praying to God when God sent him a vision to send for Peter. At the same time, God sent a vision to Peter to go with the men that were sent for him. When Peter met Cornelius, Peter told him of Jesus and Cornelius was saved. We have similar circumstances with Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.
If a God-fearing man asks God for salvation, and does not pervert the knowledge that he is given, then God will send him somebody or something to allow him to hear the message of Jesus Christ. If you have been "called" by God to be a missionary, be careful, Cornelius could be praying for you to come. If we fail in our response, God will hold us accountable for those who perish in Hell (Ez 3:18, 33:6).
It often times helps to see this in practice. Here is the testimony and view of this topic from a friend of mine who has been a missionary in Kenya Africa for decades. Jerry Daniels can be reached via e-mail at JDaniels@daniels.maf.org. His view takes the response out of the classroom and into real life. It also shows the response that each of us need to have ready when God leads us to put feet to our knowledge. As the old Puritans used to say, "When you pray, move your feet."
Jerry writes, "Are the Heathen Lost? This question was the stumbling block which kept me from accepting Christ for almost three years after clearly understanding the Gospel. I needed an honest answer - but, interestingly, I did not see the answer in Scripture until AFTER I was saved. The weight of my guilt finally drove me to accept Christ (30 years and one month ago) even without first having that question resolved. I accepted Christ in simple faith, believing that there was an answer which God would reveal to me in His time.
Several years later, it all came together for me. This is the way I understand the issue of the heathen who have never heard of Christ:
1. They are lost, because the Bible says so. John 3:18 - "Condemned already" Eph. 4:1 - "dead in trespasses" (BORN spiritually dead - Rom. 5:12)
2. The only way to be saved from this condemnation is through Christ! There is absolutely no doubt about it - the Bible clearly teaches that salvation can be found ONLY through JESUS CHRIST! John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:12
3. God IS fair. He gives EVERYONE a chance to be saved - 1 Tim.2:4
He shines LIGHT into the sin-darkened, spiritually dead heart of every man. REJECTION OF THE LIGHT is what CONDEMNS the Lost Man. - John 3:19 (This is the crucial, foundational principle upon which God can justly and fairly pronounce a heathen to be lost, EVEN IF HE HAS NEVER HEARD OF JESUS)
The THREE LIGHTS which lead to Salvation:
(1) Light of Creation - Rom.1:18-20 (When a man sees the evidence of the True God, revealed in Creation, and turns away to worship idols - he has rejected the Light! He deserves no more light. He has rejected what he has seen.
(2) Light of Conscience - Rom.2:14-15 (When a man feels the weight of his sin through his conscience, and turns away, EXCUSING his sins by clinging to some self-justifying religious, philosophical, or social notion - he has rejected the Light! He deserves no more light. He has rejected what he has seen.)
Note: God shines these two "lights" into the heart of EVERY man who has come to the Age of Accountability. IF a sinner RESPONDS to these two lights, and yearns for more light, God will then give him the final, saving light. (I believe this above conclusion is inescapable based on the FACT, revealed in Scripture, that God wants ALL men to come to salvation - 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4. Therefore, He WILL give the responsive heart more light!)
(3) Light of Christ - John 8:12; 12:46. Also, the main thrust of the message of John 3:16-20 is that Christ is the Light which saves the sinner from condemnation. (Of course, rejection of Christ brings condemnation. But, we have also seen that rejection of the Light of Creation and Conscience also brings condemnation - even if that man has never seen the Light of Christ)
Therefore, God is just and fair when He condemns the heathen who may not have ever heard of Christ. If the heathen rejects whatever light God has given him, God is under no obligation to show him the Light of Christ in order to justly condemn him.
APPLICATION: One of the driving forces in my missionary career has been the belief that there are heathen out there to whom God has called me to take the Light of Christ. Heathen who have seen the first two lights, and are yearning to know how to have peace with God. Indeed, I have seen numerous cases which prove this hypothesis. In 1976, for example, I had the privilege of leading a man to Christ who was over 100 years old. After praying the sinner's prayer, he said: "Oh missionary, thanks for coming! This peace which I now have in my heart is what I have been looking for all my life!" So, paradoxically, the stumbling block which kept me from salvation for three years, became the driving force in my service for God."
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