Bible Study Opportunities
Can One Be Saved Without Knowing Christ?
By Jon W. Quinn
There are two passages which I want to begin with as we seek the true answer to this question which God has given the world in the Scriptures He has inspired to be written. The first is probably the most well known verse in the New Testament: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." and the second is: "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (JOHN 3:16; I TIMOTHY 2:5).
From time to time, I have had to deal with the question, "What about someone who has lived in some remote part of the world and has never heard of Jesus Christ? Is he lost because he has never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? That does not seem fair." And admittedly, it is a tragedy when someone lives and dies without ever hearing the gospel. That is a situation which ought to be remedied as quickly as possible. But all to often, those who ask such questions are not very interested in doing anything about the situation. They are merely attempting to justify their own lack of properly responding to God's word.
But sometimes the questions may be asked in a genuine concern for those who have never heard the gospel. Or it may be a sincere question about God's character that a person is trying to work out. There is certainly no shame in that...Abraham did the same thing prior to the destruction of Sodom. Is God merciful? Is He just? Is He righteous? Then what about the heathen?
JESUS DIED FOR ALL HUMANITY
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (ROMANS 1:16). The gospel is for everyone. It is God's power to save. Jesus' invitation is to "all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." (MATTHEW 11:28). When He was born, an angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds; "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord." (LUKE 2:10,11). After His resurrection from the dead Jesus told His apostles, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (LUKE 24:46,47). The book of Hebrews states that Jesus, by the grace of God, tasted of death for everyone and that without faith it is impossible to please Him (HEBREWS 2:9; 11:6). Jesus died for the whole world (I JOHN 2:2; REVELATION 5:9)
But there are conditions which must be met in order to receive the benefits of God's wonderful grace. We have already seen the necessity of faith in order to please Him. We also find that if we do not believe and obey the gospel we will be lost (II THESSALONIANS 1:8,9). Peter understood that "God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him." (ACTS 10:34,35). Paul wrote about the necessity of teaching others the gospel so they could call upon the name of the Lord. He asked, "How shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?" (see ROMANS 10:9-15).
SALVATION IS ONLY IN JESUS
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (JOHN 14:6). Jesus is the only way unto God for everybody if He is the way for anybody at all. If He is wrong when He says that no one comes to the Father but through Him, then He cannot be a way unto God for anybody and is not to be trusted at all. Peter put it this way: "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (ACTS 4:12). He is the only mediator between God and men. Before Jesus, there was no way unto God. Now, by God's grace, there is one way.
Jesus came to our world not to condemn anyone, but to save. His coming has absolutely nothing at all to do with how men are lost. Man was already lost when Jesus came. "For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (JOHN 3:17,18).
If man can be saved apart from the gospel, then Jesus' coming and death was a tragic mistake. It was a foolish and unnecessary action if we have other means of salvation. But we do not.
WHY THE LOST ARE LOST
"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."...For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (ROMANS 3:23; 6:23). People are not lost because Jesus came. Whoever is lost would be lost even if Jesus had never came.
Nor is there anyone lost because God doesn't care or worse, that He is cruel. He loves so much that He was willing to pay for our sins Himself. His Son was sent, and His Son willingly came. That is love and mercy in action. There quite simply never has been a greater act of love.
No one is lost because they have never heard the gospel. We enter the world in a safe state. Babies are not lost. Nobody has reached a state of alienation from God because he or she has not heard the gospel.
The cause of a person's lost condition is sin! Sin is an action which is contrary to God's law. "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness." (I JOHN 3:4). When we reach the maturity where we are accountable and responsible for our actions, and we do those things which are contrary to God's law, we have put ourselves into a state of alienation from God. We are lost. If Jesus had not come we would be lost. But because He did come, we can be saved.
Sin is poison. Satan is the snake. We have been bitten. The gospel is the antidote. Now what would happen if Jesus had not come? There would be no antidote! But He did come so what happens if someone does not get the antidote even though it exists? He dies. What kills him? Not the antidote which he did not receive, but the poison which he did.
Shall we praise God for the antidote and do our best to get it out to everyone? Or shall we curse God because so many need it and then do nothing at all about it? Sadly, many opt for that latter choice.
But from the perspective of the one who is lost and has never heard the gospel, what can He do about it? Can he do anything about it at all? The answer is "yes!" and he'd better be doing it!
First, he can notice some things about God's creation which tell him about the Creator of which he has not yet heard (PSALM 19:1-3). There is plenty of evidence as to God's existence.
Second, he can notice some things about himself; that he has a soul and is capable of love and moral decision making (ROMANS 1:19)
Third, he can begin to search for the true and living God. He can inquire of his creator and thank Him for the earth and stars and skies. He can seek to do those things which he feels are right and refrain from those things which appear to be wrong .(ACTS 17:27,28).
Fourth, he can refrain from substituting obvious false concepts of God and thus stop from searching for the real God. Men and women have worshiped rocks, trees, stars and moon. They thus stopped searching for the living God and so never found Him. God holds them responsible for their choices (ROMANS 1:18-23).
Fifth, when, as a result of his search God providentially provides the answer by getting the gospel to him, he can do what Cornelius and countless others have done; obey the gospel and be saved. (ACTS 10:1-2;48; 11:13,14).
But can we be sure that seekers will be rewarded for their search? Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you." (MATTHEW 7:7). Yes, if one is willing to respond to the light, God will get the light to him.
Reprinted From the Bradley Banner Bradley Church of Christ Bradley, Illinois July 25, 1993