Many people have gone through this life without even once hearing about Jesus Christ. Even among those who live in cultures where Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter are observed, there are multitudes who never really hear the gospel. And some who have had contact with professing Christians never give Jesus Christ serious consideration because of what they see in the lives of people who claim to be His followers.
What about such people who will die without ever having heard a clear presentation of the gospel? Can we assume that God will find some way to open the doors of heaven to them? We would like to believe that. But the Scriptures make it clear that those who haven’t heard the gospel are lost just as surely as those who refuse to believe on Christ. Jesus declared that He Himself is the only way to God (John 14:6). Peter boldly told the Jewish rulers who had arrested him, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved?” (Acts 4:12). Paul referred to all who don’t know Jesus as “those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:3) and described the Gentile world before the time of Christ as “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). The heartbreaking fact is that people who never have heard the gospel responsible for what they did with the light that they had in this world. Paul said of the pagans that God had revealed Himself to them in nature (Romans 1:18-21) and in conscience (Romans 2:12-16). They must give an account of what they did with this light and will be punished accordingly.
Sir Norman Anderson, a respected evangelical, has pointed out that some who never hear the gospel become conscious of their sinfulness, abandon all efforts to earn God’s favor, and cry out for forgiveness. He contends that they are to be viewed in the same situation as most of the Old Testament believers who were saved by God’s grace through faith even though they had only a vague concept of Christ. He writes “The believing Jew was accepted and blessed not because of the prescribed animal sacrifices he offered, not even his repentance and abandonment to God’s mercy, but because of what God Himself was going to do in His only Son at the cross of Calvary” (Christianity And World Religions: The Challenge Of Pluralism, 1984, page 153).
It’s not imperative that we accept Anderson’s suggestion, because the Bible doesn’t tell us about the fate of these “noble pagans. But we can be certain about one thing: We can trust God to do right by all those who die without having heard the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. And that is all we need to know!