What will happen to those who have never heard the gospel? Will they go to heaven or hell or nowhere? The truth is that they will go to hell. If that were not true, then there would be no point in sending missionaries out to make disciples of all nations. Think about it. If the only sin that damned a person to hell was the sin of rejecting the gospel, then the last thing we would want to do would be to jeopardize the security people already enjoy by giving them a gospel to reject. Once they rejected the gospel (permanently), then they would fall from the state of supposed innocence and go to hell. No, the reason we send missionaries to the nations is twofold: 1) God deserves to be glorified amongst all peoples; 2) All people are perishing without the gospel.
Paul clearly shows in Rom. 10:13-14 that no one can be saved apart from believing in Christ, and no one can believe in Christ unless they hear of him by the mouth of a preacher.
"WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”
Paul had already declared early in the epistle to the Romans that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16). The point is that no one can be saved apart from the gospel. No one can be saved by being sincere in the religion they grew up with. The gospel must be heard, believed and obeyed for salvation to occur.
Some have objected that this is not fair. How can God fairly judge people who have never heard the gospel and never had an opportunity to receive it? This objection is based on a faulty view of human nature. We have already looked at Rom. 1:16. Let’s go a few verses further in Romans 1 for the explanation as to why it is just and fair for God to judge those who have never heard the gospel.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom 1:18-25)
In this passage, we see that men are without excuse before God, even if they never heard the gospel. Why? Because God has revealed enough information about Himself to render men inexcusable for their sin. That which is known about God is evident within them. God has written a certain amount of information on the human heart and conscience to show men what they ought to do. But, instead of obeying their conscience, they rebel against it. God has revealed His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature through creation. All men see this revelation and all men understand to a certain level who God is. But what do men do with this knowledge? Do they improve the knowledge to their benefit? No. Do they seek the true God that is revealed to them within and without? No. They suppress the truth, exchange it for a lie and they serve idols instead. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness and they serve created things. They invent their own gods and serve them, rather than give God the homage and love He deserves. This is the religion that they are so sincere about – a false religion that they have chosen instead of the true revelation of God.
In Rom. 3:10-12, Paul said, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE."
No one seeks God. They could if they wanted to, but they don’t. All men, ALL OF THEM WITHOUT EXCEPTION, exchange the truth God has put in them for a lie – unless of course, God has mercy on them and changes their nature. Is God then under obligation to send a gospel preaching missionary to all men? No, He is not. God is not obligated to throw His pearls before swine just so they can trample them under foot. God never has to send a missionary to anyone. When He does so, it is an act of pure mercy. That means, God doesn’t have to do it. He simply chooses to do it. He can treat people according to justice (giving them what they deserve) or according to mercy (giving them salvation they don’t deserve). God is free to act either way. Consider that before Christ sent the disciples out to the nations, all men all over the world -- except believing Israelites and a few Gentiles here and there – were lost and without hope in the world.
“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands-- remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Eph 2:11-12)
All Gentiles, generally speaking, no matter how sincere they were in their religion, were without hope and without God in the world. They perished without the gospel. All men today are in the same condition. Unless they hear and believe the gospel, they are without God and without hope in the world.
Where then did some people get the idea that God would never judge those who have never heard the gospel? That error is the logical consequence of a universal atonement. In other words, those who believe that Jesus died for every sin of every man (except the sin of permanent unbelief and unrepentance) are eventually forced by the logic of their system to conclude that God would never judge those who have never heard the gospel. If Jesus died for every man’s sin, except for the sin of final unbelief, then all men are in a secure condition unless they hear the gospel and reject it. Sadly, this is what most people believe today. Sadly, this destroys missions. Why would we send missionaries to people who are already safe due to the fact that Jesus died for them? Why would we risk their eternal soul and their eternal happiness by giving them an opportunity to commit the only sin that could damn them? This is nonsense. The truth is that Christ did NOT die for every sin of every man, except the sin of final unbelief. No, Christ died for every sin of every believer who ever lived and every believer who will ever live.
"I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:14-16)
Jesus laid down His life for the sheep, not the goats. He died for the sheep. It is those who believe that have their sins paid for. It is those who will believe (other sheep that are not of the current fold) that missionaries go out to find. And Jesus’ words are reassuring. “They WILL hear My voice; and they WILL become one flock with one shepherd.”