I talked with and then received an e-mail over the weekend from an attender of United who was wondering, “If only people who pray and ask Jesus for forgiveness make it to heaven, then what happens to people who have never heard about Him?” I e-mailed him back with my response and thought it might be helpful for others of you as well. So here’s what I wrote…
As we spoke about Jesus is the only way to heaven. The question then becomes…”Well then what about people who have never heard of Jesus”? That question can be answered in Romans chapters 1-3. In chapter 1 we read about how God reveals Himself to us through His creation. It’s hard not to look at nature, space, the changing of the seasons, the complexities of the human body, etc and not come to the conclusion that something greater than us created it all. We call this “The Light of Creation”.
In chapter 2 we read about how our own conscience convicts us of right and wrong. As I shared with you, “Even thieves in the deepest, darkest, jungles of Africa still steal under the cover of darkness”. Why? Because they know deep down, even if there are no commands or laws against it in their society that it is wrong. This we call “The Light of Conscience”.
In Romans 3 then we read about the good news that Jesus is that “higher power” and that He can and wants to forgive us of all the wrong our conscience has convicted us about. This we call “The Light of Christ”. Now everybody during every time has had the “Light of Creation” and the “Light of Conscience”.
Many throughout time have been able to hear of Jesus and His offer of forgiveness. For people like that (which includes you and I) we will be judged on “What decision did you make about Jesus in regards to how to handle your sin?” If you’ve truly prayed and asked for His forgiveness and leadership in your life, then you will be forgiven and are given the assurance of eternal life with Him in heaven. If however you decide that you are going to try to make it into heaven based on your own good works and deeds then you’ll spend all of eternity in hell because heaven is a perfect place and only perfect people are allowed to enter in.
Some though never get the chance to hear about Jesus. So does this mean that they will have to suffer in hell forever just simply because they never heard about Him? The answer is no. Does this mean then that people who never hear about Jesus automatically get a free pass to heaven then? The answer again would be no. While they may be ignorant about the claims of Christ, they are not innocent of sin by any stretch of the imagination. So then what happens to these people? Simple…they will be judged based on the amount of light in which they have received. Again we all have an innate sense that there is something out there greater than us (whether we know to call Him God/Jesus or not) and we all feel conviction about the wrongs which we’ve done (even if we don’t know the theological term, “sin”). So the question is, do they acknowledge that sin in their life and recognize that only that “higher power” has the power to forgive them and change them? So all people need forgiveness of sin, we just happen to know that Jesus was God in the flesh who made that possible for us. So you and I will be judged on all 3 “lights”, some will only be judged based on the first 2 “lights” because that’s all they had.