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Never heard – Can those without the gospel be saved?

What about someone who is sincerely seeking God, and yet has never heard of Christ?

1 Cor. 1:21  “For when in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

Though this seems to say that people only come to Christ through preaching, yet verse 23 here makes it clear that “preaching” is used in a wider sense than just spoken or written words:

Colossians 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

So Scripture says that the gospel has been preached to every person under heaven, in Paul’s day, but it seems probable that not everyone had been given a spoken or written message.  Certainly God can reveal himself to people without words, if we think of John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb, or of the Psalmist here:

Psalm 71:6 Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

Here is another verse, though, that seems to indicate that a written or spoken message is required for salvation:

Romans 10:17  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Yet in the following verse, there is a quote from Psalm 19:

Romans 10:18  But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Now this is a quote from a passage on God’s revelation of himself in nature! Not in the written or spoken word:

Psalm 19:1-4  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 display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

So similarly to the previous passage, the message that is meant quite possibly (or even probably) need not be a message which must require words.

Though a written or spoken message is the usual way the gospel is presented! Yet we must come in as little children, and such children are not generally ones who would seem to require a spoken message in order to come.

So there does seem to be hope for those who have never heard, and the Great Commission is not a command to go into all the world and make converts! It is to make disciples, as if evangelism was in a sense assumed.

This is not to say evangelism is unnecessary, because that also is commanded, and those who love God will do his will.

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