Can People Who Have Never Heard of Jesus Be Saved?

Pastors confronted with questions and some dissent over the idea that no one can be saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ are reaffirming what they assert is a hard yet clear truth.

"You need to hear the Gospel to be saved," said Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

Piper, an influential author and theologian, was responding to a letter he received from a 12-year-old girl regarding the eternal destiny of those who have never heard about Jesus.

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"Here is what I think the Bible teaches," he said in response, as posted on his Desiring God ministry's website. "God always punishes people because of what they know and fail to believe. In other words, no one will be condemned for not believing in Jesus who has never heard of Jesus.

"Does that mean that people will be saved and go to heaven if they have never heard of Jesus? No, that is not what God tells us in the Bible."

He laid out the Apostle Paul's argument in the New Testament book of Romans, noting that all people know God by creation and by their own consciences. Despite knowing God, they suppress the truth and are guilty, deserving to be punished.

Pastor J. D. Greear of The Summit church in Durham, N.C., detailed this in a sermon he preached two years ago. He had received a little pushback from his congregation after preaching on the exclusivity of Christ. But reaffirming what he believes the Bible states clearly, he reposted this week a written response he made to his megachurch in 2010.

"I wanted (oh, how I wanted!) to believe in the escape-hatches and plan-B's, but just could not find allowance for it in Scripture," Greear wrote. "Where there is no preached word, there can be no faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God. There is not even a hint of a hole in Paul's logic, and his conclusion is inescapable."

What about the innocent native in Africa who has never heard about God? How can God hold him accountable for what he didn't even know?

These are some of the questions Greear has received.

His response: "The innocent native in Africa doesn't exist."

"There are two ways that every human being everywhere has been made aware of God: the first is the glory and beauty of creation that teaches us that there is a Creator ... We look up instinctively and we know that we don't come from nowhere," he preached that Sunday.

Second, people know innately that there's a sense of right and wrong and that's a strong indication that there is a Lawgiver to whom everyone will ultimately answer to.

With that, Greear continued, all people know about God. But they suppress the truth.

"No one is righteous," the N.C. pastor stated. "We reject God's rule; ... we resent Him; we want to make the rules, not submit to Him.

"All people are guilty before God ... We are not condemned because we haven't heard about Jesus ... but because we have rejected the rule of God."

The wrath of God only comes on people because of the suppression of truth so in the case of babies and the mentally challenged, there is no knowledge of truth and thus there can be no suppression, and thus no condemnation, he noted.

While some may complain about unfairness regarding the rest of the population, Greear stressed that what is fair is for everyone to suffer the penalty for their own sin.

But God offered the gift of salvation through Jesus on the cross. And salvation can only come when the Gospel is heard and received.

"People must hear the Gospel to believe and be saved," Greear stated.

Delivering what he acknowledged was an inconvenient truth to Christians, Greear underscored that the only way for the Gospel to go forward and be heard is through them. There is no Plan B.

"Do you understand that there is no other way that people are saved except through the preaching of the Gospel by the Church?" he said.

With more than 2 billion people having little to no access to the Gospel, Greear said the Church can either deny the truth, ignore it or embrace it and allow God to use them to bring salvation to the nations.

"The idea that God will be out there preaching the Gospel Himself to lost nations and ... He'll get it done on his own so we can go about our lives playing with our toys .... and messing around in church is a convenient fiction! The inconvenient truth is that if people in the world are to hear the Gospel, we the Church are the only ones that can preach it to them."

In his letter to the 12-year-old girl, Piper made the same conclusion.

"I don't think the Bible teaches that people can be saved without hearing the Gospel," he wrote. "[L]et's pray for missionaries and ask God if maybe we should be one. The world really needs more people to tell all the lost people in the world about Jesus and the amazing good news that he died for sinners so that whoever believes will be saved."

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