If someone is on a desert island and never hears the gospel message, can they be saved?
by Rod Jackson
All verses are quoted from the NASB anything in [square brackets] is added by me for clarity.
In the old testament God elected a people for Himself (Israel). But what happened to the other (unelect) people of the old testament times? Paul answers this question when speaking to the Athenians, at the Areopagus, Paul says
"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent," Acts 17:30
So in this verse, we see that God "overlooked the times of ignorance". Or to put it another way - people's ignorance in the old testament times as to God's nature, etc, is not taken into account by God. For earlier Paul wrote
"In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." Acts 14:16 & 17
Here we see that God let the nations go their own way and still blessed them.
"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." Romans 1:19 & 20
There is no excuse for anyone to not believe in a God/Creator, even if they don't know the name "Yahweh" or "Jesus". Jesus said,
"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:24
The Creator is Spirit and thus is worshipped in spirit. Thus all people, even those without 'the 10 commandments' or 'the temple' or whatever, can worship God - as they do it in spirit.
However, this does not mean that all people who haven't heard of God are automatically saved. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were not saved,
"Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD." Genesis 13:13
"So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit." Matthew 7:17
and a few verses later
"So then, you will know them by their fruits." Matthew 7:20
A person is known by their actions. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were exceedingly wicked, they were not people who worshipped the Creator in spirit or truth.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:8 & 9
Even though people may not know the name of god (Yahweh) or Jesus, this ignorance is (or was) overlooked by God. They could know that God exists, by the creation around them and the truth within them themselves. They could also worship God in spirit, having the law of God written on their hearts. As it says -
"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." Romans 2:14-16
However, getting back to the people who haven't heard the gospel in the present.
"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." James 1:17
So we see that God does not change - thus people in the past were excused their ignorance when they had not heard the gospel, so too will people in the present, who haven't heard the gospel. However, anyone who knows enough about Christianity to ask the question - the question cannot apply to them personally and hence is only of intellectual value. Let us not forget the second part of the first verse I quoted
"God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent," Acts 17:30b
Thus to the person who knows enough to ask this question. God expects them to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!
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