Jesus doesn’t tell us direct information on this matter because he assumes we will obey his command to go into all the nations and share the Gospel. But even without direct information from Jesus, people will speculate based on what we do know from Scripture. For one, we know that no one enters heaven through his or her own good deeds. When we think of heaven we tend to think of a place for nice people. The whole, ‘good people get to God’ sounds right and fair but, surprisingly, there are a lot of problems with it.
First, this view excludes the bad people and the broken people. If good people go to heaven, there is no hope for bad people. This leads me to my second complaint. This view assumes we are all good. Otherwise we wouldn’t think it was such a wonderful and fair idea. But are we really that great?
I have my doubts.
Jesus, who many Christians and non-Christians believe is the most insightful moral teacher in history, believed that people are amazing because there are created in God’s image, but he also took it for granted that our hearts are filled with sin.
Human history seems to have proven Jesus right again and again.
When we are painfully honest with ourselves we are forced to admit that the seeds of anger, rage, malice and contempt are in our hearts and, if watered by the wrong environment and upbringing, we are capable of those evil acts we condemn from the comfort of our couches.
This means that our lives have been better but we are not.
In the end, the idea that good people get to God is actually a hopeless position to take. The bad people don’t get in. We are the bad people, so none of us get in.
We might protest, ‘But doesn’t God forgive us?’ And the answer is a resounding yes; God does forgive us through the cross of Jesus Christ, but wrongdoing has to be acknowledged and forgiveness has to be accepted. If we reject the means through which God has chosen to forgive us, we can’t complain, ‘God, why won’t you forgive us?’ And if we continue to demand forgiveness on our own terms it proves we were never truly sorry in the first place.
The good news is that a relationship with God is not for clean people, it is for cleansed people. It is not for good people; it is for forgiven people and God has made a way for all to be forgiven through His Son, Jesus Christ.
It might still appear unfair to insist, as Christians are prone to do, that Jesus is the only way to God. But, as pastor and author, Andy Stanley, points out, Christianity is actually beyond fair because it is a system where everybody is welcome, everybody gets in the same way, and everybody can meet God’s requirement, which is to simply accept His free mercy. Christianity gives us something far better than fairness. It provides us with forgiveness, and that forgiveness is available to all.
We are not made right with God through our good works, but through the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
However, as great as this news is, it still doesn’t answer the question regarding those who never hear about Jesus.
Theologians have provided all kinds of answers ranging from, God will judge people based on how they would have responded if they had heard the Gospel, to, if an individuals heart is truly open God will get them the Gospel through a missionary, a dream or through some other miraculous manner. Others might speculate that God arranges human history in such a way that those whom God knows would freely reject the Gospel message if they heard it end up living in places where there is no knowledge of Jesus.
Many other theologians point out that, in the Old Testament, there were believers like Abraham who didn’t consciously know Christ, but they were saved by faith in the promises of God. This has lead some Christians to speculate that there are some who respond to the clues of God in nature by acknowledging a creator and admitting their wrongdoing. As a result, God applies the finished work of Christ to their lives. Revelation chapter seven teaches that there will be worshippers of God from every tribe and nation, which seems to imply that this could be the case because there are tribes that were wiped out of existence long before any of their people heard the good news of the Gospel.
In the end, these are all speculations and none of them should be used to undercut the importance of sharing Jesus with people because He commanded it. Plus, Jesus came to bring abundance, healing and hope in this life as well, and it would be a tragedy to rob people of the amazing opportunity to know and love the true God revealed in Christ.
In the end, I don’t really know the answer to this question, but I am comfortable with the final response being, ‘Won’t the judge of the earth do what is right?’ I am confident that God will do what is right, just and fair. No one will be excluded from the presence of God because of time, or geography, but because they have in some manner chosen to reject God as He has revealed himself to be and settled for idols of their own making. This question is a wonderful opportunity for us, not to play the judge of all the earth, but to trust the Judge of all the earth.
The heart of God on this issue matters more than our speculations, and we find it expressed in the pages of the New Testament. As the apostle Paul writes, ‘this is good and pleases God our saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one mediator between God and mankind, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”
Or, as the apostle Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth and He desires everyone to come to repentance. This is the heart of God.
Perhaps we may also find encouragement from God’s promise to Abraham that his people will be as numerous as the stars in the sky leading us to hope that the amount of individuals who end up reconciled to their maker will be far greater then the number of those who choose to reject the love of God in Christ.
No religion leads to God.
We don’t need a religion; we need a rescue mission.
Not all paths lead to God.
Yet God will travel any path to find you. He has proven this in Jesus.
How amazing is this when you consider that we have all sinned and turned our back on God.
God sent prophets. We killed them.
Then God sent His own Son. Humanity murdered him.
In light of these facts, it should not be shocking that there is only one way to God. Rather, it should be startling that there is any path at all. How much must God have loved us to pursue us in Jesus, even to the point of death on a cross?
Surely, this crucified and suffering God, pouring himself out in love for all of humanity on the cross, can be trusted to do what is right when it comes to the eternal fate of every person who has ever lived.
Join me in trusting Him.