Will the Ignorant Be Lost?
One of the hardest problems for many to grasp is the Bible teaching on just who will be lost. We readily recognize that for one to be saved he must hear the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believe it (John 3:16, Heb. 11:6), repent of his sins (Luke 13:3, Acts 2:38, 17:30), confess his faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10, I Tim. 6: 12, I John 4:15), be buried with his Lord in baptism for the remission of sins (I Pet. 3:21, Acts 2:38, 22:16, Mark 16:16, Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12), and then live as the Bible directs for Christians to conduct themselves (James 1:12, Rev. 2 :10, etc.). However, many continue to come back to the question: What about the others-will they all be lost?
It would logically follow that if the Lord requires the above conditions for one to become a follower of his (recognizing that these apply to those who have reached the age of accountability), then all those who have not met these qualifications would be lost (Heb. 5:9). While realizing that most of the world has not met these qualifications, this still does not change the fact the Lord Himself foretold that the "many" would be those who would be lost (Matt. 7:13-14), and that salvation has only been promised to those who obey Him (Matt. 7:21-23, Heb. 5:9).
But, someone objects, I know of many people in various denominations who have lived as good a Christian life as they can, and are even more zealous in living as Christ wants us to than many Christians are. No doubt this may well be true (and ought to shame those professing the name of a Christian), but this does not change the fact they have not obeyed the gospel, the means for the remission of sins, and hence are still lost in the sea of sin (Rom. 6:23) . In Acts 10, we have the case of the life of Cornelius, a centurion, who at that time lived what many of us would no doubt term a "Christian life" (note verses 1-2, 22). Yet, he was told by the angel that appeared to him to send to Joppa for Peter, "who shall speak unto thee words whereby thou shaft be saved" (Acts 11:14) . He was religious, he did good deeds, he lived a spotless life in the eyes of his fellowman, but he was not a Christian nor was he saved because of his good life. Being religious and living a life such as Christians should live will not make one a Christian; and likewise, one cannot be a true Christian without living as God expects, regardless of whether he has obeyed the beginning steps or not.
Again, in the case of the rich young ruler who came to Christ, we find another religious man who had lived a good life. This point is made manifest for us in Mark's statement, "Jesus looking upon him loved him" (Mark 9: 21) . Here was a man who spoke the truth and was truly near to the kingdom of heaven, but yet even he lacked complete surrender to the will of God (v. 22). A man who never even goes to church at all, or one in a denomination, may live as he should live in relation to his fellow man, but just so living will not make him a Christian nor will it grant him salvation. He must yield to the complete will of Christ ( 2 John 9 ) . Although having done part of what is expected of him, until he has gone all the way in obedience to the gospel, he has missed the mark and his labor was in vain.
It might be further pointed out that even if he were already a Christian before beginning attendance in a denomination (which is the only way possible, seeing denominationalism does not teach a man what the Lord expects of him to become a true Christian), he would be lost for having transgressed the will of God and having fellowship with the "unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph. 5:11, 2 Jn. 10, etc.).
But, someone objects further, what about those who have never even had a chance to hear the gospel? What about those in Africa., Asia, etc. who don't even know about God? Will all of these be lost just because they haven't heard. the gospel? In reply to questions such as these, there are several points we need to keep in mind. First of all, there is a vast difference between having the ability and having the opportunity. All too often we have the tendency in approaching this question to confuse the two terms. The Bible is quite clear that those who lack the ability (that is, they would be able to respond even if the opportunity were available -such as babies, etc.) are not fit subjects for the gospel. These don't need to be saved because they are already safe. However, any and all who do have the ability (that is, they would be able to respond if the proper opportunity were presented) are subject to sin and in need of the saving gospel of Christ. In approaching this question, we are not dealing with the former group, but rather those we are concerned about fall in the latter-they have the ability, but just have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel.
Secondly, we need to also realize and grasp more firmly the fact a man is not lost because he has not heard the gospel. A man is lest because he is guilty of sins which he has committed, and the gospel is now his only way to salvation. Having reached the age of accountability, he is now held accountable for his sins, which have condemned him (Rom. 3:23, 6:23, etc.), and not because he just hasn't had an opportunity to hear the gospel. To illustrate, a man who drowns does not do so because no one rescues him, but because he was in water he was unable to get out of himself. If someone attempted to rescue him by providing a boat, and failed to reach him in time, the man still drowns because he was in the water. Man, likewise, has sinned, placing himself in the sea of sin. In this condition he is lost, he stands self condemned and unable to save himself. He is lost even if the gospel has never reached the borders of his country-not because the gospel never arrived in time, but because he was sinking in his own sea of sin. The gospel was his only opportunity for salvation, but if he does not get it in time, he will still be lost because of his own condition. Likewise, if we have the opportunity to help him and refuse, we shall also be held accountable (read Ezek. 3:16-21), just as if we could have saved the drowning man by dangling a rope to him that was available and would have saved him, but we refused just to watch him drown. We cannot change the fact they are lost because of their sins, and thus stand condemned (2 Thess. 1:7-9, Rom. 6:23, 3:23, etc.); but we can do something to change their present lost condition-introduce them to Christ and the saving gospel that they might obtain the blessing of the remission of sins.
Occasionally it is helpful to reverse an argument to better understand the error of it, so let's turn this one around and study it from the other side. Let us suppose that those who have never heard the gospel were not lost (2 Thess. 1:7-9 showing to the contrary), then we would be defeating our very purpose in preaching the gospel. Christ has given us a soul-saving gospel to preach to a world lost in sin, and all readily acknowledge it is the will of God that none should perish. Now, if one who has never heard the gospel and knows nothing of it or God were saved because of his ignorance of this gospel, then why preach the gospel to him and jeopardize his salvation? Suppose we preached the gospel to him, and he rejected it - what then? Would he not be lost for rejecting the word of God (Lu7ke 10:16, John 12:48)? Then why destroy his chances of salvation by preaching the gospel to him? Are you not then accountable for causing him to be lost by placing the stumbling block before him? But, since it is the will of God that all be saved, and since preaching the gospel will have so many ill-effects and destroying of souls, let us rather take the gospel and hide it, cover it up so it can never be found, so that mankind will not be condemned for rejecting that which was given to save them, when they were save before it was ever given. If ignorance could have saved, then why was it necessary for Christ to come into this world, die upon the cross, send the Holy Spirit back to guide the apostles into the paths of all truth and leave us with a written guide that was to damn us for learning the truth and rejecting it?
The truth of the matter is that mankind is already lost because of his sin. Mankind was lost before the gospel was given, mankind is lost today in regions where the gospel has not reached, and mankind is lost in regions where they still refuse to bow down in obedience to the will of God. By preaching the gospel to them we are not condemning them for rejecting it-they already stand condemned because of their sins. But rather, we are offering to them the only available opportunity or the remission of sins and the hope of eternal life. May . God help us always to become greater aware of the grave responsibility that faces us.
Truth Magazine, V:10, pp. 8-12