What about Those Who Have Never Heard?

Skeptics sometimes say “If Jesus is the only way to heaven, then God is unjust, because some people have never heard of Him.” Between the Scriptures, the oral message, creation, dreams, visions, and the myriad of other ways that God speaks to man, there is probably no one who actually has never heard.

The discussion last Sunday, centered around how someone can be sure of his salvation and focused on Luke 23:32-43, the story of the thief on the cross, engendered some lively discussion. One issue which came up, which always comes up in lessons about salvation, was the question about what God is going to do with people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus.

The Bible teaches that everyone is a child of God, in the sense that we are all created by Him (Genesis 2:7), but some people are His children in the sense that they live in good relationship with Him (Galatians 3:26, 1 John 3:10). It also teaches that every person will live forever, some people with God and some people without Him (Matthew 13:40-43, Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20:11-12). In that sense, all religions and even non-religion lead to God because every person will stand before Him in judgment. To use a human analogy, every person is a child of their parents because they were “created” by them but not every person lives in good relations with their parents. Bible believing Christians hold that Jesus is the only way to eternal life; defined as everlasting life in good relations with our Heavenly Father.

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Key Concepts of Paul in Salvation – Romans

The Apostle Paul emphasized righteousness, faith, redemption, and justification in his letter to the Romans.

The book of Romans has been described as the magnum opus of the Apostle Paul.  In it, Paul laid out his theology of Christ and salvation in his clearest, most concentrated style.  Scholars have labored to plumb the depths of Paul’s words and concepts for centuries, and much is still to be written.   Luther and the other Reformers found in the first five chapters of Romans their fundamental idea for the Reformation, justification by faith alone.

Righteousness (δικαιοσύνη dikaiosynē) to Paul was not a result of good works, earned by the person, as though he could gain a favorable account with God by his deeds.  Rather, righteousness is a standing imparted by God as a result of faith (Romans 4:3), which is itself a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).  For centuries, Christian scholars have contrasted righteousness by faith, a Pauline Christian teaching, with righteousness by works, a Judaistic teaching.  E.P. Sanders work minimized “righteousness by works” in Judaistic teaching in the first century and emphasized “righteousness by covenant”.  This has significantly shaped the modern discussion, and borne some good fruit by improving Jewish-Christian understanding.  However, Sanders’ “covenantal nomism” has a serious flaw.  If the Jews are saved because they are God’s covenantal people, but must still perform good works to stay in that relationship, salvation still depends on works.

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