googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Romans 10:14: How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? Are people who never heard of Jesus saved?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Romans 10:14: How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? Are people who never heard of Jesus saved?

The question has been often asked, “Why would a just God condemn people in other countries who live and die without ever having heard of Jesus?” This has been asked by both the critic and the believer. Opponents of Christianity sometimes raise this argument as though it is somehow evidence against the existence of God. Such a position is absurd; if something is an affront to our sense of “fairness”, that is hardly evidence that the thing doesn't exist. At the very least, unbelievers use it to argue that God is certainly not good nor worthy of worship. As believers, we ponder this question so that we might better understand the nature of God.

Before we address the question directly, it must be understood that God is under no obligation to save anyone. We are given a sobering analogy in Jeremiah 18:3-6. There, God compares Israel to a clay vessel in the potter's hand. If the vessel is marred, the potter may simply chose to destroy it and create another. As the Creator of the universe, God can exercise this same right over everything and everyone. At the very moment Adam sinned, God would have been perfectly just to discard His entire creation then and there. The Bible says that there are none who are righteous (Romans 3:10). We are all guilty before God. And since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), we each deserve death at any moment. The fact that God doesn't condemn us the very instant we sin demonstrates that He is loving and long-suffering.

Not only does God not blot everything out of existence but, even before the creation of the world, He already had a plan to redeem His creation. He could have laid upon us a tremendous burden where we must earn our own salvation. If God had said we must perform a million good works in order to be saved, it would be fair because, again, He has no obligation to save us at all. But rather than placing any burden on us, God Himself provided the means for our salvation. At great cost and sacrifice to Himself, He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believed in Him would be saved (John 3:16). The same God who is slow to judge is also loving and merciful. Salvation is a precious gift given at a great cost to Him. It is completely undeserved and unearned. It is grace!

As we turn now to the question at hand, we can see how it might already be answered. No one deserves salvation yet God has provided it anyway at a great personal cost to Himself. How then can we say that He is being “unfair” unless He gives everyone an equal opportunity to hear the gospel? Under what premise can one argue that God is somehow obligated to give the gospel to everyone when the truth is that He is not obligated to show mercy to anyone? It is vanity on our part to pretend to tell God what He must do in order to be just.

Remember too that the various peoples in all the world are all descended from the three sons of Noah. They also are descended from those rebellious people who conspired against God at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). They at one time were fully aware of God's wrath and His mercy but now many have fallen into false religions. Satan works to perpetuate the ignorance of these lost people. He is that crafty bird in Matthew 13:19 who snatches up any seed that might have fallen by the way lest any take root. His desire to thwart any effort to evangelize the world should not be underestimated. Raising up a communist regime that imprisons Christian missionaries is not beyond his purpose nor ability. Political entanglements are as real a challenge as geographic remoteness. Do not forget also that missionaries have often been met with strong resistance by the very people they have come with hopes to save - sometimes even costing the missionary his life. Certainly none of this is God's fault.

Of course, it cannot be said that God doesn't care about people in remote areas who have not heard the good news. Quite the opposite is true. God has commissioned His people with the task of preaching the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). Knowing that there are millions, or perhaps billions, of people in the world who have not heard of Jesus should create within us a dire sense of urgency.

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)

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