Romans 2:12-16 Are Unreached People Damned?

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.

Prayer

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.

Questions

  1. What happens to those who sin without the law?
  2. What do righteous acts performed by Gentiles show to Jewish people?
  3. What will God judge on the last day?
  4. How do those around us in our home cities stand condemned even when they do not know God’s laws?
  5. 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?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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13 Responses to Romans 2:12-16 Are Unreached People Damned?

  1. Michael McCardle says:

    What happens to those who sin without the law?
    They will perish without the law, for they are a law unto themselves.
    What do righteous acts performed by Gentiles show to Jewish people?
    They show that the law is written on their hearts.
    What will God judge on the last day?
    The secrets of men.
    How do those around us in our home cities stand condemned even when they do not know God’s laws?
    Their actions and thoughts are a law unto themselves.
    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?
    With love and grace, sharing the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith

  2. Kimberly W. says:

    Over the years, I have grappled with this doctrine. It is hard to think of God condemning an “innocent” man or woman to hell–but of course, none of us are innocent, as this passage demonstrates. It seems unfair that God would send someone to hell who has never heard about Jesus–but none of us deserve to hear about Jesus. God is the just judge. We are blessed beyond measure to have relationship with Him; it is not something we deserve. We deserve hell. Scripture is clear that Jesus is the only way to the Father and to Heaven. If we say that people can somehow come to God apart from the Gospel or that God won’t condemn an “innocent” man in Africa who has never heard the Gospel, our message loses all power and missions become worthless.

  3. Jung Kim says:

    Those who are without the law will perish. Knowing this, we as Christians must feel the conviction that the Holy Spirit brings us to share the Gospel in this corrupted world. I, for example, chose Christian education over public so that Jesus may be known to elementary students. What an honor it is to share the Gospel as well as knowledge with the competence that God has given and equipped us for. May God continue to use our educators on this side of earth to share about Jesus and be bold across the border.

  4. 1. Those without the law will perish and be eternally apart from God.
    2. Righteous acts of the Gentiles shows the Jews that the law is written on their hearts.
    3. On the last day, God will judge the “secrets of men”.
    4. Those around us condemn according to their own personal code and set of laws they live by.
    5. We should show them that no set of standards or laws can be lived up to, rather, a personal relationship with Jesus is what earns us eternal life.

  5. Emmy R says:

    This truth should motivate us that much more to get out and share the good news of the Gospel. We hold truth that can change lives, and yet we are keeping it for ourselves. We know that those around us are doomed, but our fear stands in the way of us giving them the gift of life. May we not just see the issue of the lost cross-culturally, but may we go to our neighbors today with the truth that can change their lives and destinies.

  6. Maelynn says:

    This verse is interesting in that it brings out the commonality among all men. All of us fall short of the glory of God. All of us are in need of His saving grace.

  7. Maria T. says:

    I was thinking about these verses toward the beginning of this semester because someone very close to me thinks that God will deal with those who have never heard of Him differently than those who have heard of Him but rejected Him. I would be uncomfortable believing that God deals with them any differently than He deals with those who have heard of Him, because salvation is only found in Jesus Christ and being united to Him. I think that the reason people have trouble with this is that they see human beings as truly being good on the inside, and that they would desire to know Christ if only presented with the opportunity. The people who have not heard of God are not ready to just fall at His feet of their own volition. They are opposed to God, and live according to their sin. Thus, He is right when He condemns them in their sin. It would be a very different thing if these people were just neutral beings who could go either way. Of course, if God sends a missionary and calls people to Himself, then they come to Him desiring Him. But God does not owe us a thing.

  8. Christina W. says:

    It is a good reminder that all people need to hear the truth of Jesus because all people are in need of reconciliation. Without Jesus we are all lost.

  9. Andrew Moore says:

    When learning about this, I thought it was interesting to see that if you argue for the idea that people will not be judged if they do not hear the gospel, then it takes away motivation for evangelism. While there is great motivation to do evangelism if every life is at stake, why would we ever tell people the good news if God did not hold them responsible? The unreached are incredibly important, and it is our duty as Christians to reach them as best as we can.

  10. Christa says:

    1. What happens to those who sin without the law? They die without the law
    2. What do righteous acts performed by Gentiles show to Jewish people? The saving and redeeming work of Christ among the Gentile people
    3. What will God judge on the last day? The secrets of men (thoughts, actions, attitudes, etc)
    4. How do those around us in our home cities stand condemned even when they do not know God’s laws? They still commit sins in their hearts by rebelling against God and desiring to place themselves in the highest position
    5. 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? We should share Christ with them

  11. Megumi says:

    1. they will “perish without the law”
    2. they show that the law is written on their hearts
    3. “the secrets of men”
    4. because even their own moral standards condemn them
    5. build on their own recognition that they haven’t lived up to their standards and point to Jesus as the Savior

  12. 1. They will perish.
    2. They show that even without the privilege of having the law, God’s moral law has been written on their heart. Their is no distinction between someone who perishes without the law or with the law because both perish.
    3. God will judge the secrets of men.
    4. As fallen beings they cannot come close to meeting these even though they themselves set the bar.
    5. Show the need we have for a Savior based on our own standards much less those of a perfectly holy God and be there to guide them through words and actions as they wrestle with the Holy Spirit.

  13. Nate Silvieus says:

    I have always struggled with this issue of the unreached people. It is difficult to wrap my mind around the justice of God in this sense because I believe that he is also merciful and gracious. I will never understand how all of his attributes work in perfect harmony with each other, especially in situations like this. However it all works, I know that he is good and his ways are much higher than my ways. In light of a passage like this I can only praise God that I have received his truth and grace and this is a message I must continually spread to my generation.

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