Question: This is one of the toughest questions to be asked in the public square. What about the heathen in Africa? Are you trying to tell me that these people that live on another continent, live in another culture, worship another religion that they are going to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus?
Answer: One possible response is to say a person in Africa, who never heard of Jesus, cannot be held accountable by God. Therefore God would have to automatically let him into heaven. Is this what Jesus and his disciples taught?
If this was true then Christianity should immediately end all missionary trips and hide all Bibles. We could stop all information about Jesus from being spread, which would prevent anyone from being held accountable for their sins. If we were able to keep Christianity a secret then everyone would go to heaven.
This certainly doesn’t seem to be what Jesus had in mind when he gave the great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:19. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus throughout the New Testament sent out his disciples instructing them to tell people about Him. In multiple passages the Bible says we are to tell the world about Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. The Scriptures also teach that everyone commits moral wrongs (Rom. 3:23) and is accountable for their sins (Rom. 6:23). The scriptures say Jesus is the only solution to the sin problem (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). So how do we answer this question?
We must deal with two false assumptions people have who pose this question. First, no one goes to hell for not hearing the name of Jesus. Jesus is not the problem but the solution. People go to hell because they have broken God’s laws. It is sin that separates people from God.
Many Christians have a mistaken view of the nature of salvation. Usually we tell people the good news and leave out the bad. We share God loves them and He will do great things in their life. Go to a Buddhist and say accept Jesus and you will have peace. The Buddhist will say I already have peace, why do I need Jesus. Go to a New Age believer and say accept Jesus and you’ll get the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, and work miracles. This person will tell you I already speak in tongues and do miracles so why do I need Jesus. What are you going to do now? What we mistakenly do is present Jesus as if we are asking the person to join the Jesus club. People are not condemned because they don’t believe in Jesus. The fundamental issue is not belief but of behavior.
If there was such a thing as an innocent heathen, when he died he would go straight to heaven. God does not punish the innocent. Non-Christians don’t go to hell for wrong belief; they go to hell for behavior. The real issue is not who has heard of Jesus, the real issue is who is innocent. Where is the innocent heathen in Africa, South America, and Australia? He doesn’t exist. Every single person has broken God’s law and will be judged by God. Rev. 20:12, “…The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” In this passage nothing is said about accepting Jesus. They are not being judged for their belief but behavior. The books that are opened contain every wrong the person has committed.
Jesus says we will even give an account of every idle word we speak. Breaking God’s law is the issue. If you never have had a traffic ticket and you run a stop sign, you will still get a ticket. You get a ticket, not for being good all your life, but for breaking the law. God doesn’t give us credit for following the law; it is what is expected. Justice means if you break the law you pay. James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” James says that if you break just one law you are a lawbreaker. The point is God only punishes the guilty!
God does not owe us a pardon. Some people think God owes us forgiveness. In our government if we break a law, does the government owe us forgiveness? Absolutely not! We deserve punishment. If we get leniency we don’t call that justice we call it mercy. A woman receives in the mail her photographs and goes back to the photographer and complains, “These photos don’t do me justice.” The photographer replies, “Lady you don’t need justice you need mercy.” That’s what we need. When it comes to the law we don’t want justice we appeal for mercy even though we deserve punishment. God looks at mankind and if they are guilty of breaking His laws, He doesn’t owe anyone forgiveness. We do not deserve mercy. If He wants to pardon some it’s up to Him to do so. The rest will get justice.
On Friday I will complete this post.