Saturday, February 4, 2017

Can those who have never heard of Jesus be saved?

The Bible states in several passages that all people have the capacity for an understanding of God, good and evil, and our own eternal nature.  In Romans 1:19-20, we read, “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  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 men are without excuse.”  Psalm 19:1-2 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”  And Ecclesiastes 3:11 inform that “He has also set eternity in their heart”.

How do most people handle the general revelation of God?
In Romans 3:10-11, we read “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”  What if there was someone who sincerely wanted to live a righteous life and know God?  We see one example of this very situation in Acts 10:1-4, “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.  He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.  One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’  Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked.  The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.  Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.’”  When Peter arrived, he said to Cornelius and the others gathered, “"I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”  Cornelius had heard of Jesus, but apparently knew little because Peter proceeded to tell the group about salvation through Christ.  That day they were baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Cornelius was devout and God-fearing based on the knowledge he had at the time.  And, because of this, God sent someone to bring him a fuller understanding.  In Jeremiah 29:13, we are informed that “'You will seek Me and find me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

Does God have a chosen race?
Though God had designated a chosen people prior to the time of Christ, even then all people, regardless of race, were given the opportunity to be one of God’s people.  In Leviticus 17:8-9, God tells Moses, "Say to them: 'Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the LORD -that man must be cut off from his people.”  So, non-Jews (alien) were obviously permitted to offer sacrifices with the same requirements as Jews.  Many other verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy mention aliens alongside with Jews, indicating that they were given the same opportunity to come to God and be accepted by God as the Israelites.

Before the ten commandments
People living prior to the time of Christ, prior to the law given by God through Moses, and even prior to the founding of the Jewish nation exhibited faith in God and a keen understanding of their own sin as well as need for forgiveness.  Look at Genesis 8:20, where it is recorded that “Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.”  Job had an understanding of God, sin, and sacrifice.  We read in Job 1:5, “When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job's regular custom.”  Job certainly lived prior to the time of Jesus Christ and this book does not mention the law of Moses or the Jewish people.  Scholars generally agree that Job lived prior to the time of Jacob.  Speaking of Jacob, before God changed his name to Israel, “offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal” (Genesis 31:54).  Here are several clear examples of people who had never heard of Jesus and who lived prior to the time the Old or New Testament were even written.  Yet, they show faith in God and a very keen awareness of right and wrong and even the need for an atoning sacrifice.  Furthermore, we have clear indications that these men were accepted by God. 

What about Noah?
Look at the history of Noah.  He was not a Christian (never heard of Jesus Christ) and he did not have the law given by Moses.  In fact, he was not even a Jew, one of God’s “chosen people” because he lived before the time of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel, the inception of the Jewish nation).  Nevertheless, what did God say of Noah?  In Genesis 6:8-9, we read that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.  This is the account of Noah.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”  Noah is a very good example of someone who had not heard of Jesus Christ.  In fact, Noah had not heard of the ten commandments, nor had he heard of the Israelite nation.  Nonetheless, we see that he had enough understanding to live a righteous life and even walked with God.  If Noah could do those things, why cannot someone living today in some desolate location who has never heard of Jesus Christ do the same as Noah?

Is it even worthwhile to preach the message of salvation?
Should we not bother spreading the gospel if there is a possibility people who have never heard of Jesus Christ may be saved?  No, we have the commandment from Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  And, in Romans 10:14, Paul asks, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  God is a righteous judge (Psalm 7:11) and it would seem inconsistent with His love and mercy to condemn someone who truly desires to know Him and live a righteous life.  However, we must follow the instructions we are given to preach the gospel.  It is the best news we could imagine for all people, so how could we not tell them?  You may be a modern day Peter bringing the message to Cornelius.

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