Is Ignorance a Doorway to Heaven?

Is Ignorance a Doorway to Heaven?

I wrote this article a while back, but I was reminded about the need for this discussion as we had our pastoral staff Q&A with our church family last night.

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What happens to a person who never hears the gospel when they die?  Do they go to Heaven?  Do they go to Hell?  That question is being discussed in our Sunday School classes, pulpits, and in the local coffee shop more often than we may realize.  The troubling reality is evident by the wide variety of answers that are given to that question. With an often watered down gospel message preached on the television and radio, coupled with a soft message of God’s judgment, the result is staggering and may be the cause for so much controversy over this old debate.  In order to fully address this question, it is important that we examine several key issues surrounding this question.

What Does The Bible Teach About Sin?

The Bible is clear about sin.  Everyone on planet earth (past, present, and future) has sinned against God (Romans 3:23).  Most people who are in a solid Bible preaching church understand that fact.  In such cases, it is clearly preached from the pulpit.  However, what is often missed in the discussion of sin is the justice of God’s character.  In other words, if God is fully just and righteous, He must punish all sinners for their sin.  In fact, in Romans 6:23, Paul explains that the “wages of sin is death.”  It becomes clear that what man deserves for his sin is the wrath of God in Hell, which is called the “second death” (Revelation 20:11-15).  However, many church going evangelicals understand that man deserves the wrath of God, but they fail to understand that God is required to judge all sinners who have sinned against Him.

What Does The Bible Teach About Salvation?

The Bible teaches us about the love of God (John 3:16).  In fact, Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 that God knew how wicked we were, but sent His Son to die for us.  That is the purposeful act and plan of God being carried out on the cross.  That plan was put into place before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8).  Much like the subject of sin, many good church going evangelicals believe in the love of God, also stated as the “good news” of the gospel.  However, many of those same people overlook the clear doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ.  In fact, that doctrine, although clearly taught in the Bible, is one of the most divisive doctrines in our present day.  Ronald Nash notes, evangelical objections to the exclusivity of the gospel often serves as a “romantic” comfort for those who “could sleep better if there were less urgency or no urgency in getting the gospel to the unevangelized.”1

The exclusivity of Christ is taught in Acts 4:12 and John 14:6.  It was Jesus Himself who claimed to be the “way, the truth, and the life.”  Although many will quote that part of John 14:6, they often leave off the last phrase of the verse that says, “and no man comes to the Father but by me.”  Is Jesus the only way to Heaven?  Is Jesus the only means of justification of sin? Is Jesus the only means of reconciliation to the Father?  While Jesus is the only means of justification and reconciliation, He is not merely the means to an end.  The Scripture teaches that God’s plan ends with Jesus as the exalted One.  The Scripture teaches that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:5-11)!  According to the Bible, Jesus is the absolute single door of salvation, and that very subject is the heart of this growing debate!  While the Bible uses such phrases as “whosoever will” and “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13)” – the fact remains – not everyone does!  Therefore, those who do not call on the Lord for salvation are not saved.  To use the language of Scripture, every person who is not saved by Jesus Christ is lost and currently under the wrath of God awaiting full judgment (Romans 1:18-20).

What Does The Bible Teach About Man?

While the Bible teaches that all people have sinned, it goes beyond that to teach that all of mankind is without excuse.  In Romans 1, Paul points out that all people have witnessed God in His marvelous creation and that all of mankind is without excuse!  Not only is man a sinner who deserves the wrath of God, but he is also unable to deny that God exists.  The creation of God declares that there is a God and that He is eternal.  Only the fool tries to deny that (Psalm 14:1)!  Furthermore, it’s this clear teaching that also demonstrates that man is not truly ignorant.  Whatever light man is given in creation, he tries to suppress it and push it away (John 1:9-11).  The very law of God has been written on the hearts of mankind (Romans 2:12-16), but it’s the wickedness of sin that causes man to reject that light and run away.  Therefore, the only searching that takes place in the world is by those people who are searching for a god that fits into their little box.  The Bible is explicitly clear that no man, on his own freewill, seeks after God (Romans 3:11).

What Does The Bible Teach About Missions?

The heart of the church is missions.  Any church that refuses to engage in missions is hardly a New Testament church by any biblical definition.  Christians are missional people by God’s design.  After being saved by Grace, it is the plan of God to send His people out into the world as witnesses for His name’s sake.  The people of God have been called by God (Romans 8:28-30) and commissioned by God (Matthew 28:18-20).  All throughout the history of the church, people have been going out into the world preaching the message of Christ.  In Romans 1:16, Paul said that the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation.”  However, he goes beyond that to say, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile).”  In other words, even the Gentile can be saved, but the emphasis is upon the gospel.  Statistics tell us that 3.8 billion people on planet earth have never heard the gospel of Christ (a statistic of 2010).  Many of those people are living in tribes and jungles among unreached people groups.  If ignorance of the gospel was the doorway to Heaven, wouldn’t our commitment to missions through mission offerings, mission trips, and lifelong missionaries to foreign lands be a lost cause?  Could it be possible that our mission endeavors serve as a means of damnation rather than salvation?  If a person could go to Heaven through a lack of knowledge, telling them the gospel with the reality that they may reject it, would be the most monstrous thing we could do.  The point is clear – God has sent people out on a mission.  God has given us His message of the gospel as His means of reaching the unreached.  According to the Word of God, all people without Christ are under the wrath of God (Romans 1:18).  It’s God’s plan to send us out on a saving mission to reach the nations with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion:

If the man on the island who has never heard the gospel recognizes the general revelation of God in creation and throws himself down under the mercy of God and calls out for salvation, will he be saved?  A better question may be, “Does this ever occur or has this ever occurred?”  The fact is, that is a hypothetical situation that does not exist.2 The individual who never hears the gospel will never desire to repent because it is through the special revelation of God’s Word that mankind is given the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and comes to the realization of his own sinfulness.  In other words, what Paul asked to his readers remains true today – “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)”  Certainly Jim Elliot understood this truth as he devoted his life to reach the unreached Auca Indians in the South American jungle.  We can likewise be certain that Lottie Moon understood the urgency of this truth as she gave her life reaching the people of China with the gospel.  If ignorance leads to Heaven, why would people be called to such great sacrifices?

Those who are emotionally driven to a conclusion of Grace without Christ in this debate should reconsider based on the Word of God.  Furthermore, it should be pointed out that Sodom and Gomorrah likely never heard the gospel, and they all perished under the judgment of God and remain in Hell today.  Is that fair?  On another note, Nineveh should have received the same judgment, but under the rich mercy of God, they received a warning from a disobedient prophet named Jonah and they repented.  Rather than perishing under the judgment of God, they received mercy and forgiveness.  Is that fair?  Jonah certainly didn’t think so.  At the end of this debate is the stark reality of our own salvation.  We were saved by the rich mercy of our great God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-20).  That simply isn’t fair.  That’s amazing Grace – how sweet the sound.

In Christ,

Pastor Josh Buice

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Is Ignorance a Doorway to Heaven?

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What Are Some Popular Opinions On This Subject:

1.  If people who never hear the gospel die and go to Hell, that is not fair and God would never do that to anyone.

Response:  The Scripture has clearly revealed that all people have sinned against God (Romans 3:23).  If everyone received from God what was fair, we would all go to Hell (Romans 6:23).  The fact is, Grace is not fair – it’s Grace.  Judgment and wrath is fair because it is what we all deserve.  Furthermore, God is not responsible for our sin.  Therefore, He did not merely send undeserving people to Hell.  Anyone who goes to Hell deserves it.

2.  If a person never hears the gospel, they are spared from the wrath of God because they never rejected Jesus.

Response: People do not go to Hell on the basis of rejecting Jesus alone, they go to Hell because they are sinners who have broken the righteous Law of God.  It is their transgression against God that requires the wrath of God.

3.  God loves the sinner and hates the sin.

Response:  Does God judge sinners or just their sin?  The rich man from Luke 16:19-31 was experiencing the wrath of God personally.  Jesus experienced the wrath of God for our sins.  The Father didn’t pour out His wrath on the sin, He poured out His wrath on the Son who became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Therefore, we must conclude that God both loves and hates at the same time, but He is committed to judging the sinner.

Sources:

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1.  Ronald H. Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994): 163.

2.  Russell Moore, The Man on the Island: Facing the Truth About those who Never Hear the Gospel.

3.  Carl F. H. Henry, “Is It Fair?” Through No Fault of Their Own?: The Fate of Those Who Have Never Heard, ed. William V. Crockett and James G. Sigountos (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991): 245-56.

4.  Mark Dever, The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. Wheaton: Crossway, 2005.

5.  Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993.

6.  William Carey, An Enquiry. Dallas: Criswell Publications, 1987 (1792 edition).

7.  John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993.

8.  John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus. rev. anv. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

9.  D.A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective In Tension. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002.

10.  Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

11.  Millard Erickson, Christian Theology. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

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15 Comments

  1. Josh,We are shown, many times by the Lord’s own word, that there is a more severe punishment for those who have heard but still rejected.That is: There appears to be degrees of hell. Though I don’t like the term.I saw one such supporting verse this week as I prepared a message in Matthew 11.”Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Matthew 11:21-24Notice in these verses the idea of “more bearable.”"If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” Matthew 10:14-16This verse seems to deal with the subject directly:”That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows . 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:47-48There is more. The point is simply that those who did not know, who were not shared the Gospel, will be judged less severely than those who knew and yet rejected the message.

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  2. David,Yes, I do agree with your position. I had the privilege to teach the “Women of the Word” Sunday School class this past week at our church on the topic of this blog post. They had some mixed opinions circulating around and desired for me to come and teach on this subject. I argued for this very position of degrees in Hell while teaching, but not to lose track, I did not spend much time on that simply because of a lack of time.Although the lost person in the Bible belt who sits on the church pew every Sunday out of tradition will be judged more severely than the unreached lost person in the jungles of South America who never heard the gospel – both will remain under the wrath of God for eternity. The lake of fire will be their destiny.I do agree that our God always judges rightly and He will judged every man according to their works (Revelation 20:11-15) out of the books of works. Therefore, the lake of fire will burn more intensely for Hitler than for the man who never heard the gospel in the jungles of South America.At the end of the day – our hearts should break for the fact that 3.8 billion people (in 2010) are without the gospel. The reality is that they are going to perish and we must reach them with the message of hope in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Romans 10:13).

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  3. I couldn’t agree more. My heart does break for the 3.8 billion that are unreached! and I am truly araid for our nation, my community and our church — so many hear the Good News and yet reject God. I am stunned as I drive through the community and see bars, massage parlors, night clubs, tatto parlors, and every form of seedy activity. All of it a testament to a people who have openly, hostily, rejected the message of the Gospel. I am saddened by these things, and hopeful only that our missions efforts might reporduce a people better than ourselves.

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  4. Josh,Is there ANYTHING that would cause you to NOT love your daughter? Is there ANYTHING that she could ever do to cause you to harm, or torture her? (even a little bit!)If your daughter required protection/salvation from ANYTHING harmful, you’d be right there for her and absolutely nothing could stand in your way. Right? So, say you had some “rules” for your daughter to follow with the stipulation that if she disobeyed them she’d suffer the ultimate penalty of an eternal BBQ torturefest. I’m fairly confident you’d come up with a crystal clear method to communicate your personal message with her. I KNOW you could you come up with a more creative way to get that message through to her then an almost 2000 year-old book written, edited, censored, translated, re-translated by …men. (with an agenda to control a population by fear)There is no love in fear. (Reflect)The real truth has been kept hidden (esoteric)from the masses since time immemorial. It’s a simple and beautiful secret which our brother, Jesus, revealed in his true teachings. I think you’d agree that God has absolutely NO limitations. NONE! And, there is nothing that God does not know (REMEMBER – the number of hairs on your head!) Omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. OMNIPRESENT, which means there’s no place left out of the equation. GOD IS ALL! YOU, my brother, are GOD! It’s TRUE! I am that I am. (Yes, that ONE.) I and the Father are ONE. The kingdom of heaven is… within… YOU!Hey, remember the golden rule? Do unto others… Why? Because WE’RE ALL ONE! …experiencing this WONDER-FILLED existence called “LIFE”… TOGETHER, yet separate. The “illusion” of physical separation and “time” allow us to fully experience life, unconditional love, smell of fresh cut grass, caffeine buzz from a really good cup of coffee, roller coasters, fire flies, raw honey, thanksgiving turkey, sunrise, ursa major, roasting marshmellows, watermelon, the sound of your kids laughing (my personal favorite)… separately. Otherwise, we’d know EVERYTHING and that would…. really be boring!!!Really think about this! (Fear not!)Namaste… enjoy your day!

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  5. Kevin,First of all, your opinion (that’s all it is BTW) of the Bible is completely tarnished and skewed. The same God that has the attributes you mentioned (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotent) is the same God who is capable of writing a book over a 1,500 year period by 40 different human beings without error. The Word of God is true – front to back – without any mixture of error or contradiction. It is God breathed (inspired) (2 Timothy 3:16).Secondly, you speak of the fact that “I am a God” and the “Kingdom of God is within you” when the Word of God clearly teaches something different. Jesus is God (John 1:1; Colossians 1; John 14:1-6). The Kingdom of God is not just an inner feeling or experience. We will live in God’s Kingdom forever (those who are His children) – see Revelation 20-22.We have been created by God for His glory and we do have many things to enjoy on this earth and in this life as you described. However, our chief goal in life is to enjoy God forever! We are to be completely satisfied in our God and to enjoy Him now and for all of eternity.I pray that you will see your errors. Remember, God is love and He will save anyone who calls out to Him with faith in Him. We are not saved by a book full of rules nor a religious system. We are saved by Grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus Christ died on the cross and whosoever comes to Him by faith trusting in His sacrifice will be saved and receive the forgiveness that only our righteous and merciful God can provide. Praise Him!Psalm 146

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  6. Kevin,You pointed out:”I am that I am”"REMEMBER – the number of hairs on your head!”"I and the Father are ONE”"The kingdom of heaven is… within… YOU!”"Hey, remember the golden rule? Do unto others… “But why would you bother to quote “an almost 2000 year-old book written, edited, censored, translated, re-translated by …men. (with an agenda to control a population by fear)”?

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  7. Hello Kevin -I recognize your post as a blend of New Age and Gnostic underlying belief. A friend of mine, originally “Christian”, converted to this belief system and I spent quite a bit of time with her addressing this subject.The ultimate problem with the pursuit of the “Essence of God” through life experience/human “knowledge” is in the inherent corruption of the New Age god (little g), manifest in the individual beliefs of each in his/her own view of their respective “god”. To question/redefine God is to be a fool. His Word is clear and direct. One of the most difficult exercises I have been through is to define a coherent charter of “New Age” doctrinal beliefs. Finding a tangible thread of the attributes of God becomes impossible, as each manufactures the god which approves of him/her. This makes Adolf Hitler as much an extension of “God” as any other.Another suspect attribute of this belief system is it’s polar opposition to Christianity. This puts it in relationship to Christianity by way of direct opposition. It bends over backwards to accept a wide assortment of world views, using absolutes only to condemn the Bible and it’s absolute claims.This world view attacks God by omission. It claims that human thought and pursuit of knowledge is superior to the all encompassing and powerful Word of the Living God and Christ. It speaks of love while committing the ultimate offense against God, complete rejection of Him and the savior of mankind, Jesus Christ. It claims human love is superior to the love of God in Christ Jesus, who died for our sins.There is only one way to salvation, through the cross of Jesus Christ. Any other way leads to death. The best of men would drive a knife through the heart of God given the chance. All men are depraved sinners, all deserving of Hell without exception. God owes us no explanation of his decision to save some, of choosing his Elect. In fact, to question God is to put ourselves above Him. His Word is all that is necessary to understand and worship Him. He will save who he wishes. His decisions are, by definition, perfect.Turn to the cross of Jesus Christ and be saved from your sin, I implore you.In time, men will be revealed as they are…haters of God.

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  8. 1 Timothy 2:1-7 (New King James Version)1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 7 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

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  9. We are, in fact, “Little Christs.”

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    • Mae,You know that isn’t the same…..in fact, we are not “Christ” at all. We are sinful humans who have been saved by the Christ of God – Jesus. That phrase isn’t exactly accurate if you take it to mean we are on the same level as God. We are not deity or little deity or any deity. We are human – period.

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  10. no, we are not deity.however, we are Holy, Sanctified, and made One With Him. We are to die to our selves and become Him.

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  11. We do die to ourselves. . . but I can’t think of a Scripture that implies we become him. Paul presents the truth that we die to ourselves and he now lives IN us — but he does not BECOME us, nor do we become him. Is that what you were referring to?

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  12. We do become One with Our Savior. We in no way become deity, and highly doubt that is what Kevin meant by his post–that’s why I jumped in.By the “namaste” at the end of his post, I’m guessing English is his second language…and I’m thinking he meant what I said…that we do die to selves and truly become “Little Christs.”

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  13. I love this: ” The fact is, that is a hypothetical situation that does not exist.2 The individual who never hears the gospel will never desire to repent because it is through the special revelation of God’s Word that mankind is given the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and comes to the realization of his own sinfulness.”

    Oh how I needed to hear this when we were baby Christians in a mega church. Praise God for showing us truth and growing us in knowledge over the years!

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  14. I don’t believe that ignorance is a key to heaven because the bible says no one is truly ignorant as creation testifies that God exists. However, I don’t believe that just because someone has not heard the name of jesus they will go to hell. If that were the case Abraham and Moses would be there now. John 14 verses 21-22 state that ” Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. I do believe that we are called to spread the word of God so that people will repent and God’s kingdom will be manifest on the earth so that even more will repent. Still that does not mean that tribe people ignorant of the name of Jesus but who keep his commandments in their hearts are bound for hell. As is stated above the commandments of God are written on all hearts a person does not have to read the bible to know right from wrong. Romans 2 12-16. Although having the bible does help as the heart is very deceitful.

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