Wednesday, December 30, 2009

But What About Those Who Have Never Heard The Gospel?

Paul lays out six principles of God's judgment in Romans 2:2-16
A) Romans 2:2-3 "We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?"

God's judgment is according to truth, according to things as they really are. God is an utter realist. God sees us exactly as we are. He knows all our secrets. He knows all the carefully concealed, hidden areas of our life that we keep away from every other eye.

God’s judgment is based on truth, but our own judgement is not always based on truth. Often it’s based on how the issue affects us. A matter is right or wrong depending on how costly it is to us, or makes us look, or affects our own wants and desires.

Romans 2:4 "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?"

Yet God patiently waits to help us see through these delusions. God is patient with us; He is forbearing. God doesn't beat us over the head, and demand that we face the truth. He patiently waits and gently leads, and put us in circumstances where we will be able to see these things if we are willing to face the facts.

B) Romans 2:5 "But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed."

People bring God’s judgment on themselves In verse 5, having a hard and impenitent heart does not necessarily translate into leading the lifestyle of a criminal. Most of us are very much blessed. We have access to everything we need, clothes, food, shelter, transportation, comforts, education, and so much more.

People who live the good life often don’t sense the need to be saved from God’s wrath. Their life is fine, they’re happy, they’re doing good things, they don’t “need” salvation, they’re doing great. It’s easy to get lulled into the idea that God isn’t concerned about this little secret thought, or that little secret sin. That attitude is showing contempt for God’s forbearance and patience. God’s kindness is designed to lead one into repentance, not indulgence.

C) Romans 2:6-8 "He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury."

Is Paul really saying that God judges according to works? Almost everyone has the idea, even if they have never actually read the Bible, that God has a giant scale in heaven. He puts all one's good deeds on one side and all one's bad deeds on the other side -- and if the good deeds outweigh the bad, one gets into heaven; if the bad outweigh the good, one goes the other direction.

But this isn’t what Paul is saying. All the rest of Romans makes it clear that salvation is by faith, not by works. Works don’t save a person, but they do come out of being saved. If there is no fruit, then it’s probably not a fruit tree, because a saved person always produces fruit. Paul is pointing out that the deed reveals the heart. God will judge according to the result of obedience to the truth, or lack of obedience.

Putting it another way, what makes a person do good? That person is following some principle of truth! What makes a person do evil? It's right here in verse 8: They are self-seeking; the do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness. This is why they do evil. This is going back behind the deed, into the heart, into the belief. The truth is, people are what they believe.

So how does one explain the good things people do who are not Christians? They are obeying some principle of truth, even though they don’t yet know God. That’s called God’s common grace, when He fills the world of humankind with the knowledge of how to love, how to be kind, how to be patient, how to forgive and so on.

Will God save someone who lives a good life but never hears of Christ? In light of everything Paul writes in this letter to the Romans, the answer would be: "It is impossible to live a truly good life and never hear of Jesus Christ!" If God gives anyone eternal life, it is only by knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son. Truth obeyed leads to the knowledge of greater truth, until it leads at last to knowing Messiah Jesus.

God says if someone is really looking for Him, He’ll make sure that person finds Him. Read about Cornelius in Acts chapter 10, a Roman centurion who was a good man and devout, even though he was also a pagan. But he wanted to know God, so God sent an angel to tell him to go find Peter, who would tell him the gospel. Read about the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts chapter 8, where God miraculously presented Philip at exactly the right moment to help him.

These people were eagerly obeying the truth that they had. The test of whether a person is really obeying the truth and doing good is to offer that person the Lord Jesus in the gospel -- they will eagerly receive Him if they are obeying truth. If that person is simply a respectable sinner, trying to look good, then he or she will reject the offer of grace.

D) Romans 2:9-11 "There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality."

God judges without partiality, whether a Jew or a Greek, a religious person, a moral person, an educated person, or a total pagan who knows nothing of God, it makes no difference whether one's sins are notorious sins or respectable sins, obvious sins or hidden, secret sins, one still falls under God’s judgment, there is no protected class of people who are exempt from God’s judgement

There will come a time when Jesus returns, when all secret thoughts and acts, good or bad, will come out. For Christians this means that all those sinful acts, all the bad thoughts and deeds are already covered in Christ’s righteousness, and all the good thoughts and deeds will be rewarded, at Christ’s judgement seat. You are not judged for the bad, but you are judged and rewarded for the good.

On the other hand, for unbelievers, all disobedience will be revealed, and they will be judged for it.

E) Romans 2:12-15 "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them."

God judges according to opportunity. This is for those who are wondering how God could judge people who haven’t been taught about Him, who don’t even know about Him. It is a common charge against God that He is being unjust by condemning people to hell who have never heard of Jesus Christ. It's pretty commonplace to hear the idea that "people are basically good."

People accept that nobody's perfect, but the idea of human wickedness, the depravity of sin, is minimized. But if people were born basically good, we could expect at least a small segment of people to remain good and sinless. Instead everybody deals with sin.

What person has lived up to their own ideals? -- because God won't judge a person on the basis of something that one has never heard, but on the basis of what one already knows. Which person has never deliberately done wrong? What person can say that he or she always measures up to his or her own standard of what they ought to be?

God judges according to the light given. And some light is given to all persons in the form of a conscience. God's judgement is based on what you do with what you know. Even those who have never heard of Jehovah or the law have a conscience. If a person hasn’t heard of God, if that person would live even according to her own conscience, she would be justified. But the fact is, no one lives even according to their own conscience. No one of any religion lives up to their own religion or philosophy, or their own principles. God judges us not by some artificial standard, but by our own standard. God is justified in judging all, because all are guilty even according to their own conscience.

F) Romans 2:16 "...on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. God judges according to the secrets of men."

This is not talking about every thought that comes to one's mind, because often those thoughts are temptations you and I are powerless to stop. But it’s the reception you and I give to unworthy thoughts. We sometimes open the door and welcome them. Instead of driving these thoughts away when they come, we usher them into our living room, and set them down, and ask them to be comfortable and stay with us, and we invite them back again and again; we allow them to take their coats off, get comfortable and live there. These are the secret things that we don't want to tell anybody about -- even our dearest friend.

God searches the heart and knows exactly what one's true motivations were, even when one is suppressing one's motivations to oneself.

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Dutch, was bummed that you removed your comment! I just got back towayd from being away for a few days(and modified this site, so I would be notified when someone made a comment) and read through the scriptures you put here. I enjoyed reading what you had to say, and enjoyed the scriptures too.

    I also saw your recent comment about election, especially talking about free will.

    Right now, where I am in my thinking, is propbably more Reformed than anything, but I listen carefully to what the Arminian side has to say. I think one of the chief problems that the Arminian would want to speak to is: is God's invitation through Christ, "Come to me ALL who are weary, and I will give you rest" (among the many invitations that Jesus gives) genuine or not? Are all truly invited? Or are only the some whom God has elected invited?

    If the answer is "only some," then that seems to make God's invitation insincere.

    How can this dilemma be resolved? The way I have heard election talked about, that really appeals to me, is that over the archway to heaven is written "All are invited) and for those who pass through, "I always knew you" is written over the other side of the arch.

    Election is a doctrine for believers, an assurance that God has always love you and always wanted you. Your entrance into His kingdom is a wonderful union with the One Who has always loved you.

    At the same time, God opens His arms to all people, knowing that not all will accept His invitation, not because the invitation is not genuine, but because not all will want to. That's where the "free will" comes in.

    In fact, in the Gospel of John, Jesus seems to go back and forth with this -- that all are welcome, yet only those who are drawn by the Father will respond (Chapter 6 is a lot like this).

    I guess with the concept of free will, the word "free" needs to be defined. We aren't free in the absolute sense since so much of who we are has already been determined by how we were raised, where we live, the influence of culture, people in our lives, and so on, even our genetics.

    I think understanding that brings us a little closer to understanding the tension between God's invitation, the responsibility of every person for their sin and their response to God, and election

  3. Hi joanne: some good points you bring out here.
    I strongly believe
    Gods invitation is still and allways has been "whom so ever will may come and drink freely of the water of life" cant think for sure where thats at but it in there.

  4. yup! I looked it up, since I love that quote too: it's in John 7:37-38

  5. I think the thing to remember is "The just shall live by faith" Abraham believed God, the law coming 430 years later was to show our need for the Messiah, not provide our way of justification.

    C.H.Spurgeon once asked a question in one of his books, thats a verse from the bible, "who made you to differ?" I think how one answers that ? will determine where they stand on free will. The credit for ones salvation being some natural light in themselves that others rejected, and God had nothing to do with. LOL-human speak with forked tongue. can't type as fast as I can think so this comment might sound like a bunch of gibberish.:)

  6. yes, that is completely scriptural, Jesus says so, that we are drawn by the Father, and later in the epistels Paul expands on that by saying that our faith is from God, that salvation is from God. Jesus says that His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the illuminator, and Paul expands on that by saying that no one can understand spiritual things without the Holy Spirit's help.

    So the best I've been able to do with human responsibility on the one hand, and spiritual deadness on the other, inability to respond without the Spirit's help, yet total culpability for rejecting God is that these two concepts are held in tension.

    There's a wonderful book called "The Gospel According To Moses" That talks about these thing too. I'll do a post on it soon ~ thanks for taking time to talk about these things with me

  7. Proves to much for Arminians even I would think.

  8. Your very welcome, enjoying it. I've been "Reformed" for long enough that it's good to rethink these things one has rested on for years. If for no other reason then to see if I come back to the same place each time.:)
    Good to know the Lord is the same yesterday today and forever!!

  9. I looked up the John 7 passage you posted, it fits ok, but the one I had in mind was (had to use concordance to find it) Rev 22:17And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

    The wording is just different enough I thought I should clarify, for my memory if nothing else.

  10. Hello again, I got to thinking about the question of your original post, is their really such people still around?

    The spreading of the gospel or the "great commission" was started in the middle east and spread from there. I know for myself anyway I'm settin in the utter most part of the world from where the command to go was given, and I'm surrounded by the gospel. At least surrounded by churches anyway. I cant help but wonder, is there a people or culture that hasn't had a opportunity to embrace the gospel at some time in their history? If they rejected it way back when, what right do they have to here it twice before everyone has had the chance to here it once? I wonder if God didn't just write "Ichabod" over em and move on. Then there is the ones that build churches for a way to make money, just as in Ezekiel's time.
    Ezk 16:24That thou hast also built unto thee an eminent place, and hast made thee an high place in every street.

    25Thou hast built thy high place at every head of the way, and hast made thy beauty to be abhorred, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms.

    Well just some thinkin and wonderin out loud, and the sandman is flippin moon dust in my eyes,so ~later~

  11. Yeah, those are really good points. I don't know. I hear that there are still several thousand language groups that have yet to receive the gospel, but as to regions, every area of the globe has been reached in some way.

    "Come, Lord Jesus!"


Thank you for sharing your thoughts