Last Sunday night, a member asked me a question that many ask, have asked, and will continue to ask in the years to come:
Pastor Sean something has really been bothering me lately is how the question started. Will God send people to hell who have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel?
(You know those people in the middle of country xyz where the gospel is NOT freely proclaimed. People like the Shaikh in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan or the Japanese in the remote regions of Japan’s mountains and tiny villages.) What about them?
First, God is under no obligation to ensure everyone hears the gospel before He judges them. Romans 1:17-21 and 2:14-16 state that He gives everyone an opportunity to follow the Light. He is the Potter and I am the clay. It is my sin and their sin upon which the wrath of God abides. A person is not condemned to hell because they rejected the gospel—the wrath of God abides on them because of the sin in their life which may or may not include rejecting the gospel (Romans 1.18). All men everywhere are commanded to repent—this is a universal expectation. I am born spiritually dead and remain that way until the Holy Spirit makes me a new creature in Christ. Outside of the mercy of God from birth I am a hell bound sinner in need of forgiveness and redemption. I do not become hell bound after I reject the gospel. I remain in that condition.
Sometimes someone may say, “God will not send them to hell; people send themselves to hell.” But this is not biblically correct. It sounds good to say and makes God appear kinder, but it is Jesus Christ, the judge, who said and will say again, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25). But that is God who is speaking and He is sending people to hell for rejecting the gospel, failing to repent, and every other sin that was not forgiven.
So then does this tough presentation leave people without hope? Are there people out there who might otherwise accept the truth and become followers of Christ, but because they live in a remote region of the world, and from our perspective appear, outside the reach of the gospel miss the opportunity to be saved? Is God going to still condemn such a person?
Acts 10 provides the answer to this question. Read the chapter; it is a great story. John Piper writes concerning Cornelius, “Cornelius represents a kind of unsaved person (among an unreached people group) who is seeking God in an extraordinary way. And Peter is saying that God accepts this search as genuine (hence "acceptable" in verse 35) and works wonders to bring that person the gospel.”
In this historical account, Cornelius in a spiritually dead state is seeking, but his seeking is NOT sufficient to bring about his own salvation. However it is such that it gets God’s attention to the point of sending the Apostle Peter on a mission to a particular person, in a particular region who would otherwise not hear the gospel. Praise God for missionaries; they never know when they are on divinely ordained trips to reach men and women for whom God is working wonders to bring them the glorious gospel.
The point from this account is clear. I am very confident in saying that their isn’t anyone who truly desires to know God that God is ignoring and will one day say depart from me. No one will stand up at the great white throne of judgment and call God unjust! No one will declare that they were devout, prayed, feared and sought God but He ignored them. No not one.