[ Home | Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page | Back Issues | Complete Index ]
"[A]ll God's ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He" (Deut. 32:4).
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48).
"If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that His terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of Him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot" (Job 9:33-35).
"How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3).
An oft-asked question to Christians (by believers and unbelievers alike) is: What happens to the guy in a remote area of a far-off land, who has never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? He has no access to churches or missionaries. Can he be saved? Can he know God without being exposed to Christianity?
Though this question is often asked, it is seldom (in my opinion) answered satisfactorily. An answer that one often hears goes something like: "Well, Christ said, `I am the way, the truth, and the life', so if someone has not heard of Christ, well, that's their tough luck." This, I believe, is an overly simplified, and unbiblical answer to the question (even though this answer does cite a Bible verse). I reject this answer because it seems to me to be inconsistent with the fact that God is righteous and just. We are told unequivocally throughout the Bible that God is just. "[A]ll God's ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He" (Deut. 32:4). Given this, I cannot believe that the salvation of a man depends so much upon where he was born, the luck of the draw. I cannot believe that a man's salvation depends on whether he lives in a place where he has a chance of hearing of Christ.
Another answer that one often hears goes to the other extreme. I also reject the answer that says all religions lead a man to heaven. This is not intellectually satisfying because we find that the religions of the world patently contradict each other. The impersonal God of the Muslim cannot be reconciled with the personal Heavenly Father of the Christian. The work of karma for the Hindu cannot be reconciled to the work of faith for the Christian. The way of enlightenment for the Buddhist cannot be reconciled to the way of salvation for the Christian. I believe that Christianity is the true religion. I do believe that Christ, in truth, said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). And so, what does this mean for those who have not heard of Christ, and for those who culturally were brought up in another religion?
In answering this question, we must harmonize the following facts: 1. Christ did say, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"; 2. People of the world have differing levels of exposure to the Christian religion; 3. God is just. To harmonize these facts and to come up with a biblical, and also intellectually satisfying answer to the question, I will go to the written Word of God for support.
First, in the Bible, we are told that knowledge brings responsibility. Christ Himself said: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48). This is a very important concept in answering the question at hand. Men must respond to the amount of revelation that they are given. To those who are exposed to the work and teachings of Christ, direct faith in the work of Christ is definitely required for salvation. To those who do not know of Christ and His work, I believe less knowledgeable faith is required. We have many examples in the Bible of people who were deemed righteous by God ("saved" in Christian parlance), and who did not know Christ. In fact, most of the Bible, the entire Old Testament, is written about those who did not know Christ, because Christ had not yet come to earth.
Paul, when speaking of false religions, said: "In the past, God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people to repent" (Acts 17:30). Those who do not know Christ in this day and age are, for the purposes of our discussion, effectively living "in the past". I believe that those who live today, and who do not know Christ, live under the same "rules" (so to speak), as those who lived before Christ came to this earth. Given this, I believe that we can study the basis on which God judged those of the Old Testament, in order to know the basis on which He will judge those who, in today's world, are not exposed directly to the teachings of Christ.
In the Old Testament, men were deemed righteous based upon their response in faith to the revelation of God that they were given. Most of the Old Testament concerns the Jews who, of course, had direct knowledge of God via the Law and the Prophets. They were required to respond to this knowledge with faith that salvation would come from God through the Messiah. More applicable to our discussion, though, are the people of God in the Old Testament who did not even have the benefit of the revelation of God that was given to Moses. Such people would parallel those today who have not been exposed to the Bible. Job is a very valuable example of such a one. Job lived before Moses, and so did not have the New or Old Testament revelations of God. His faith demonstrates "saving faith" for those who do not have the revelation of God through Christ, or even through Moses.
Job was a very successful herdsman, yet, despite his success, "he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1) and, acknowledging his debt of sin to God, offered blood sacrifices of atonement for his sin (Job 1:5). Later, Job experienced terrible affliction. He lost his livelihood and his children, yet was able to say "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised" (Job 1:21). Then, his body was stricken with a terrible disease that produced painful boils all over his body (Job 2:7). His wife thought he was crazy to hold on to his faith in God. She told him: "Are you still holding on to your integrity. Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9). Job replied: "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10).
Job could accept trouble because he recognized God's holiness and the debt that he owed to God because of his own sin. Job's greatest concern was not being saved from the boils that afflicted his body, but from the boils that afflicted his soul: the sin in his life. Job realized, because of God's holiness, that his sin separated him from God. He cried out for a mediator, someone who could bridge the great gulf between God and him, and bring him into a relationship with God. He said: "If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that His terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of Him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot" (Job 9:33-35). Job was crying out, in effect, for Christ. Christ is the one who has arbitrated between God and us, and through His sacrifice, removed "God's rod" from us so that we can "speak up without fear of Him."
Later Job, recognizing the love and mercy of God, realized through faith that salvation from sin would come from God. He said to God in faith: "You will call and I will answer You; You will long for the creature Your hands have made. Surely then You will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; You will cover over my sin" (Job 14:15-17). Job believed in the salvation of God, just as Christians believe in the salvation of God through Christ. He came to this faith without benefit of the Bible, or a neighborhood church, or missionaries knocking at his door. He responded to the revelation of God that he was given by God. He could discern the magnificence and goodness of God from the creation of God. He recognized good and evil from his God-given conscience. Through reason (and, undoubtedly, also through the Spirit of God), he determined that he himself was not holy, and so, could not approach a holy God. Nevertheless, he cried out to God for a relationship with Him. He believed, recognizing the goodness of God, that salvation would come from God.
Given Job's example, we can infer that the elements of faith for those who have not heard of Christ are the same as those who have: recognition of God's magnificence and holiness; recognition of one's own sin and inability to have a relationship with God; desire, in spite of this, to know God; recognition that God, in His mercy, will provide a way of salvation (for those who know Christ, this way of salvation is through Christ). I believe that this constitutes "saving faith" for the person in a remote area who has never been exposed to the gospel. I believe that many, who have never heard of Christ, come to this saving faith in Christ, just as Job did. I believe that God, who is just, gives all men an adequate revelation of Himself such that, if they respond to His revelation, they are able to come to a saving faith. I believe that God gives this revelation to men through His creation and through His Spirit speaking to their hearts and minds.
I believe that God also speaks through prophets in these faraway lands, prophets we have never heard of. In the Bible, the writer of the book of Hebrews says: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Hebrews 1:1-2). Given that those who have not been exposed to Christ are living (for the purposes of this discussion) "in the past", I believe that God speaks through prophets in lands that have no access to the gospel message. An example of such a prophet in the Bible is Melchizedek. In Genesis 14, Melchizedek meets Abraham and blesses him. Moses tells us that Melchizedek was "priest of God Most High" (Gen. 14:18), and yet, Melchizedek was a Canaanite king. The writer of Hebrews affirms that Melchizedek was a true priest of the True God and, in fact, he was also a type of Christ (see Heb. 7). Despite the fact that Melchizedek lived in (what would be considered) a pagan land, He was a priest of the True God, bringing the true revelation of God to the people living in Canaan at the time. And so, who knows? Perhaps there are "Melchizedeks" in remote areas of the Amazon Jungle, or in inaccessible villages of New Guinea, preaching the true Word of God, and bringing people to Him for their salvation.[Footnote #5]
We who are exposed to Christianity do not need such prophets, for "in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son." We have the clearest revelation of God: the revelation of God through His Word and through His Son, Jesus Christ. While it is interesting to ponder the fate of a remote tribal warrior in the Amazon Jungle, we must remember that knowledge brings responsibility. Much of the world does not have the clear message of the gospel, so they will be held accountable by God according to their response to the revelation that they have been given. However, those of us who are exposed to the gospel of Christ must respond to it, because the gospel of Christ is the clearest revelation of God. Those who have heard the gospel and, in spite of hearing, turn to other religions and reject the gospel out of hand, have no excuse, for they have rejected the clearest revelation of God. As the writer of Hebrews said: "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3).
So Father, help us by Your Spirit to respond to Your revelation with faith in You and the salvation that You have provided through Your Son, Jesus Christ. We praise for the fact that we have such a clear revelation of You and Your purposes. Help us to take advantage of this, by persistent study of Your Word. In the name of Jesus, the Savior of all mankind, we pray these things, Amen.
5. Please do not get me wrong. I do not believe that Buddha or Confucius or Mohammed or Joseph Smith, etc. were such prophets as described in this paragraph. They cannot be because their messages are inconsistent with God's clearest revelation of Himself as found in the Bible.
[ Home | Table
of Contents | Previous Page | Next
Page | Back Issues | Complete