12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Are Unreached People Damned?
I have frequently been asked about the lone soul, usually pictured in one of the world’s great rainforests, who has been born and lived their whole life without hearing the gospel. The gospel is more than a get-out-of-hell free card. It is the good news of reconciliation with God so that we can live life in harmony with him eternally. How does God damn someone who doesn’t have the chance to know about Jesus and the means of reconciliation. One of the first things to be challenged in this scenario is the location. It is unnecessarily exotic and remote. The unreached now exist among us. I am not sure what it means to be the third largest mission field, but the USA has been reported as being the third largest mission field. In a city like Chicago, thousands of people fit the profile of the ‘unreached’ person who has never heard the good news of Jesus.
So, is he or she damned?
Both non-believers and believers have a code that they live by. The passage above makes a kind of moral argument. It states that people everywhere have a personal code. However, no-one lives perfectly in accordance with their own set of values. This perspective transcends culture. Each culture makes its own laws, and some individuals are a law unto themselves. However, the falling short of even our own arbitrary rules shows the hopeless condition of our hearts.
If we show we are damned by our own failings, we show that God is just when he condemns. So, God does not damn us in the active sense of gleefully making us go to hell. In a judicial sense, God is the judge who pronounces the just penalty on all people. All people, so the Bible teaches, do not act in accordance with their own standards (let alone God’s). In so doing, all people show that they start life among the condemned.
With the case of the poor soul in a rain-forest, we think of his fate very individualistically. Not all cultures think as individualistically as us. High context cultures, or more collective cultures, understand that people-groups and societies share responsibility because of a common identity. Scientific research and biblical truth align when they say that humans have spread across the globe. Biblical narrative starts with a single family in the Ancient Near East. At some point people in the narrative gave up relationship with God and in each case their ancestors have wandered from the truth.
People in New York, London, the Amazon, and the Himalayas who have not received the Old Testament laws of God have transgressed their own standards. They are all without God and without hope in the world. The grace of God has equipped followers of Jesus to reach out in reconciliation. We are sent to speak the truth to all who will listen. We are meant to make this world a better place for those who are perishing. However, it blunts our mission if we pretend that those who are unreached are just fine without the gospel of Christ. We are all lost without Jesus.
All over the world the unreached perish. They are successful business owners in L.A. and they are living in poverty in Washington D.C. We can not point to the Amazon, to Indonesia and to Africa as the great mission fields. Without you we are all orphaned and on the edge of doom. God, by your Spirit, bring revival. Renew our call. Help us to see those next door who are perishing. Let us share with them the hope that we have found.
- What happens to those who sin without the law?
- What do righteous acts performed by Gentiles show to Jewish people?
- What will God judge on the last day?
- How do those around us in our home cities stand condemned even when they do not know God’s laws?
- How should we respond to the condition of the people around us who do not know Jesus and can not live up to their own standards?