This past Friday I was honored to preach at a local christian school’s chapel. The text was from Philippians 1 highlighting verse twenty-one “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” My aim in the message was to show the studenta how to live a life worth living, and death worth dying. In my charge I exhorted the students to go those who have never heard the gospel. To go to the places with no Bible, to those who have never heard Jesus. My prayer is that this charge would stick with the students.
After my message I was talking with many students when one young man, Matthew, asked a very important question, “What about those who have never heard the gospel? What happens to them?” Matthew asked this with genuine curiosity and sincerity. This is an important question and one we must answer.
Unreached People Groups and Unreached/Unengaged People Groups
So how many people have actually never heard? Recent data estimates that there are 11,500 people groups in the world today. People groups are not “nations” but people of a similar area, culture, and language; they are mostly ethnic groups. Of the 11,500 people groups today 3,700 groups (4 billion people) are considered unreached. What makes a people group unreached is if less than 2% of the people group is evangelical Christian.
What about unreached and unengaged? The International Mission Board estimates that this is around 3,100 people groups comprised of 200 million people. These are people who have never heard the gospel, and have no Bible in their language. They will live their life, whether short or long, and die without ever hearing of Jesus unless someone gets to them.
So what happens to these people? Surely God will give grace since they have not heard, right? What about the innocent man on an island who lives a “good” life but never hears? I believe the Bible speaks clear on the issue.
Jesus declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This makes it clear, no one is saved apart from Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus is a requirement for salvation and is the only means in which salvation can be had. This is troubling news considering that at least 200 million have never even heard his name.
Romans 1 teaches that all men have knowledge of God, but they suppress that knowledge. Some people will argue because they can look at the world and see there is a God, then they can be saved by that knowledge. However, Romans 1 is arguing the opposite. Paul is saying that this revelation is enough to condemn a man, but not save a man. Romans 1:18 makes it clear that all men are guilty. Whether we have heard and rejected Jesus, or have not heard, we are all guilty.
I like how Matt Smethurst said it, “Humans aren’t guilty because they haven’t heard the gospel; they’re guilty because they haven’t honored their Creator. In other words, not because of the absence of something (faith), but because of the presence of something (rebellion).” Thus Romans 1 shows us that all men stand before God guilty and in need of a Savior.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:13-15, 17)
This passage makes it clear that people are saved by the preaching of God’s Word. Paul is working through the method of salvation. We are saved by faith in Christ. We do that when we believe the gospel. We can believe the gospel only after we hear the gospel. We can only hear the gospel when people are sent with the gospel and share the it.The only way to be saved then is for someone to preach the gospel, and for people to hear, and respond to the gospel in faith through Jesus.
Thus, people who have not heard the gospel preached cannot be saved according to Romans 10.
So, what we can we conclude about the innocent man on the island who lives a “good” life? Well, obviously, the innocent man who never heard the gospel would go to Heaven. However, no man is innocent as we have learned. We are born with sin and separated from God (Psalm 51:5). Since the man then is not innocent, he will spend eternity apart from the Father.
To many of us that does not seem fair. How can he be judged for something he has not heard? However, if people go to Heaven because of their ignorance then what is the worst thing we could ever do? Tell them the gospel! Because we went to them now there is a chance they will go to Hell. This is not the case. Our Lord commands us to go because they are living and dying and never hearing the good news we possess. Therefore, it’s not fair that we know and have this truth and we are not going to them. How selfish of us if we never go, and beyond that it is defiance and disobedience to the command of Jesus.
You don’t even have to get on a plane to accomplish this (though I recommend everyone go on a mission trip). In the United State the great commission has come to us! You can use this website to see what people groups live near you: https://www.peoplegroups.info/FrontMap
The sad truth is 86% of all Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists do not know a Christian. Many who come to the US to study and work never become friends with a Christian, or come to their home. If we truly believe they are living and dying without hearing of Jesus then we must go to them, and we must share with them. Not out of obligation, but because we truly love people of all cultures and want to see them saved. Jesus came to us, He commanded us to go to them.
Because He came, then we must go.