Possibly one of the most difficult questions for a caring Christian to consider and answer is the fate of those who have never had the chance to hear the gospel. To many it seems an unthinkable unfairness that God would send people to hell who never had the chance to be saved. Walking carefully through the Bible’s teaching is not always easy. Despite the great emotional tensions associated with this question it can only be answered by a thorough consideration of what God has said about man, sin and salvation.
The Bible’s answer can be summed up in a very straightforward fashion. Those who die without turning to Jesus for forgiveness of sin are not forgiven and remain under the judgment of God. Only when one starts with a Biblical perspective can this answer begin to make sense. Many imagine that condemnation happens after death based upon one’s sin or refusal to believe Jesus.
Condemnation does not happen after death. Men are not sentenced to hell for rejecting Jesus or for committing an excessive number of bad deeds. Men are sentenced to hell because they are born sinners who are already condemned by God. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” (John 3:18) “You were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) The first chapter of Colossians describes all men as separated from God and enemies against Him. The third chapter of Romans describes all men as wicked, refusing to seek after God, having no good in them and filled with all manner of wickedness. The Bible consistently teaches that all people are currently guilty before God. Romans 3:19 says all the world is guilty before God. Everyone is already condemned for sin. Men are not waiting for judgment to find out if they are guilty or not. The conviction has been handed down. Sentencing is delayed to give opportunity for salvation.
The fate of those who die in their guilt is eternal separation from God in hell. 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9 says Jesus will exact vengeance on those that do not know God and have not obeyed the gospel. Jesus’ vengeance will be unending destruction apart from the presence of God and His glory. In other places in the Bible this everlasting destruction is described as a place of fire and intense suffering. Those who do not know God will be sentenced to eternal hell.
Wrong ideas about Divine judgment are abundant. Most seem to believe that if they are better people than a lot of others then they will make it to heaven. Some believe there is no hell. A growing number believe that God will not send anyone to hell (or maybe only send the really, really bad people to hell). The Biblical truth is that hell is real and only those who have turned to Jesus for forgiveness will escape hell. Those who do not do so, whether it be because of stubbornness, rebellion, ignorance or some other reason will be punished with everlasting destruction. Into this bleak assessment shines the good news of the gospel. Salvation from hell has been purchased by Jesus and is freely given to those who will turn to Him for forgiveness.