What If Someone Never Hears the Gospel?



Yesterday, I addressed the question, “Is the Age of Accountability Biblical?” I concluded with the idea that the answer depends upon having a right view of the atonement. I believe, based largely on 1 John 2:2, that atonement was made for all mankind. Christ’s sacrifice has already provided forgiveness for all of our sins, thus we are not eternally punished for them. Rather, such punishment can only be the result of rejecting Jesus and the salvation he provided. If you have not already done so, please read my post from yesterday before continuing.

After posting, I received many excellent comments. I really do appreciate the feedback, so thank you! I’m now going to address one of the questions that was raised.

Jason on Facebook asked, “Do those who have never heard of the gift that Jesus offers get eternal life?” And Brad on the comments said, “Your argument would have to imply that those who have never heard are automatically saved. And if that were true, then the very worst thing we could ever do would be to tell them. Yet, we can't ignore the Great Commission.”

“Him of Whom They Have Never Heard”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14, ESV)

The above verse is central to this question. In fact, it is essentially the same question being asked. Unfortunately, it seems that most people who read this verse tend to stop there and answer it themselves saying, “They can’t hear, so they can’t believe, so they can’t call. Therefore, they must have preachers to tell them.” However, this is quite the opposite of the answer Paul supplied just a few verses later.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:18, ESV)

Paul quoted from Psalm 19:4, the fuller context of which is as follows:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
 the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
 night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
 no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
 their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1–4, NIV)

With this quotation, Paul was further affirming the statement he made earlier.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19–20, ESV)

In other words, there has never existed a thinking adult who did not become aware of God’s existence. God has made himself evident through his creation, so all will be accountable to him. As soon as each man becomes aware of this, he has the choice to either seek after God or “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18, NASB). Those who choose the latter automatically reject Jesus, even though they may not yet know his name. However, when they do choose to start seeking, God will reveal himself more fully to them.

“Seek, and You Will Find”

I’ve heard plenty of stories about people in the jungle who came to this awareness of God and started seeking him. A short time later, the first missionary to that area would come through and explain the good news to them. Likewise, I have heard stories about those who sought God and saw Jesus reveal himself to them in a vision. I have no way to verify if such stories are true, but I do know of a promise repeated many times to many different people throughout Scripture.

“Seek Yahweh your God, and you shall find him, when you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29, WEB)

“Yahweh searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.” (1 Chronicles 28:9, WEB)

“Yahweh is with you, while you are with him; and if you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” (2 Chronicles 15:2, WEB)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7–8, ESV; also Luke 11:9–10)


Paul says that everyone has heard. All those who live long enough will come to the realization that they are accountable to God. If they seek him, they will find him, they will learn about the good news of Jesus Christ, and they will be able to place their faith in him.

Those who choose not to seek have already rejected him.

What Do You Think?

Is this a satisfactory answer? Do you have a better one? What about the people who claim to be “seeking” but never really get anywhere?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.