The concern for those who have never heard the Gospel is common for believers everywhere. We should do all that the Lord leads us to do to get the Gospel message to everyone we can; however, there will be some, and have been some, who will never hear the Gospel in their lifetime. Let me lay out some foundational biblical truths that should guide us in our thinking on this subject.
First, we need to remember that God loves humanity enough to send His Son to die on a cross for our sins (I John 2:2, 4:10). Therefore, God cares about those who have not clearly had the Gospel preached to them as much as He cares about those who have heard it. The truth is that God is good to us all; He gave us life and, even after we rebelled against Him, sent His Son to provide payment for our sins, so that we can have our sins forgiven and have eternal life with God forever, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17 NASB).
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross made salvation possible. So, anyone who is saved is saved because of Jesus, He is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). If God chooses to save some who only respond to what they know of God, it is still based on Jesus’ payment for our sins (Acts 4:12).
The Old Testament saints had never heard of Jesus. They trusted and obeyed God and He counted this as righteousness (Romans 4:3). They had no righteousness of their own, but their faithfulness allowed God to apply Jesus’ later sacrifice on the cross to them in order that they could be forgiven, “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Galatians 3:6).
In his book, On Guard, William Lane Craig deals with this question in the chapter titled, Is Jesus the Only Way to God? with this idea: since God knows each person’s personality, character, and even what their response would be if confronted with the Gospel massage, He places each person in his or her life in such a way for them to have the best opportunity to respond to God’s call to salvation. Mr. Craig bases his theory, in part, on this passage of Scripture, “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;” (Acts 17:26-27). This passage seems to be saying that God has sovereignly guided, and is still guiding, situations and circumstances to bring each person to a place where they can choose to follow God or choose to reject Him.
The concern for those who have never heard the Gospel is at the heart of missions. That is why Christians send people out into all parts of the world with the message of Jesus Christ. However, if we are unable (or unwilling) to reach some, does God deal with them differently? I really don’t know. What I do know is that the God of the Bible is love. The God of the Bible is Holy. The God of the Bible is just. Therefore, a loving, holy, just God will deal fairly with all of us.
New American Standard BibleCraig, William Lane. On Guard. David C. Cook Publishing, 2010.