This is one of the more vexing questions that Christians encounter (or ask themselves): if Jesus is the only way through which we’re made right with God, what does that mean for people who never hear about him? It’s one thing to hear the Gospel and choose to reject it; but what about somebody who never had a chance to hear, let alone reject, the message of Jesus?
Christians have taken many different approaches to this question. I’ll highlight responses from two different online ministries below. Do you agree with either (or both) of them?
Uplook Ministries answers the question by arguing that God works in people’s hearts in many more ways than just through overt preaching of the Gospel. They conclude:
God has promised us that, if we seek Him with all our hearts, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). He is not eager for anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). “For there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:12-13). We do not know how God is dealing with people in lands yet unreached by the gospel, but from Scripture we can see that He will never condemn anyone unjustly, but will be faithful to reveal Himself to anyone who looks for His salvation.
We also know that John saw in heaven “…a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Revelation 7:9-10). Not only every nation but every tribe will be represented in heaven.
Notice that they all sing the same song. We are not saying that sincere Muslims or Hindus, trusting in their religion, will make it to heaven. There is only one Saviour, and everyone in heaven will be there through the salvation provided by God’s Lamb, the Lord Jesus.
The Faith Facts ministry answers the question:
…the Bible also teaches that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2)! And it implies that whoever seeks after God earnestly will find him (Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalm 86:5; Proverbs 8:17; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 7:7-8). God is fair as well as just. We are confident, for example, that the Old Testament patriarchs who lived by faith before Jesus’ earthly ministry, are in heaven. So certainly some people have gotten to heaven without knowing Jesus in the personal way that the New Testament speaks of. Ultimately only God can judge as only He knows the individual’s heart. We hold out hope that for those who have not heard but have not rejected God, those have been misinformed, or those who are unable to understand (children, mentally ill, etc) may be pardoned by a just God.
Certainly, the Bible does not teach “universalism.” Universalism is the idea that everyone gets to heaven.
The Bible clearly teaches that the only certain way to heaven is through Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We are confident that God will not hold anyone accountable for any knowledge he did not receive. At the same time, the Bible emphatically states that Christ is the only sure way to salvation. Anyone who has heard of the saving grace of Jesus, and rejects it, would be thumbing his nose at God (John 3:36).
Do these answers satisfy you?