If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to know Jesus. Knowing Jesus enables us to live an extraordinary life. Knowing Jesus gives us hope for an everlasting life.
But what destiny awaits the millions of people who have never had the opportunity to know Jesus? Can a person be saved without knowing Jesus?
For me, it’s a question of God’s fairness.
Is Jesus the Only Way?
Here’s the issue. Jesus said:
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me (John 14:6 NLT).
Have you seen the heartbreak couples experience when they lose a child? Some lose a child through miscarriage, others through a devastating disease or terrible accident.
What happens to children have been murdered at the hand of a parent or through abortion?
There are children born with severely damaged brains, or whose brain become severely disabled after birth.
I’ve known adults whose ability to make informed choices was impaired by the confusion of mental illness.
We know there are millions of people in parts of the world that have never heard the story of Jesus. There are parts of the world where even a mention of Jesus name can be a death sentence. There are other parts of the world where Christian missionaries have never set foot, and where millions died before a missionary ever arrived.
Even before Joseph and Mary laid baby Jesus in a manger, hundreds of generations had come and gone without hearing His name.
I’ve wondered, what destiny does God have for those who never had the opportunity to know Jesus? Is there any hope for them? Is God fair?
How to be Saved Without Knowing Jesus
As I’ve spent time pondering this, I’ve come to the conclusion that people who have had no opportunity to know Jesus can be saved.
- Salvation is a gift from God that can’t be earned. At the root of the answer to this question of how to be saved without knowing Jesus is this all-important gospel truth: Salvation is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Knowing Jesus enables us to live an extraordinary life, but it doesn’t make it easier to be saved. Salvation is God’s work, not ours. The child and adult who never knew Jesus are saved through Jesus, the same way as those of us who do know Him—it’s a gift that can only be received, but not earned.
- God is a fair judge who wants all people to be saved. The Bible proclaims God as a righteous judge. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness (Psalm 9:8 NLT). The Bible also makes it clear that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4 NLT). You and I have had the benefit of the Bible to reveal God to us, but God has also revealed himself in a few other ways.
- Before there was a Bible and in Old Testament times, God revealed Himself directly and through prophets. God explained His plan for saving people through the symbolism of the Hebrew tabernacle and feasts (Luke 24:27; Colossians 2:17).
- God has written His law on the heart of every person (Romans 2:14-16)
- God reveals Himself through nature (Romans 1:19-20).
By doing this, God has in essence revealed Jesus, by revealing His character. In the first few words of the Gospel of John, we learn that Jesus is God.
By doing this God has given every person who has the ability to make informed choices the ability to choose whether or not they want to be a part of His kingdom.
It’s About Choices
Before there was a Bible, and in Old Testament times, people made their choices in response to God’s in-person appeals. Each person made a choice to listen to and follow, or to reject God’s commands given through His prophets. Then and now, people make choices in how they respond to their conscience. In the past and present, people choose to acknowledge the revelation of the Creator in nature’s design, or to reject it.
What about those whose lives were cut short, the unborn children, the child who died young? And what about those who never had the mental capacity to make a choice? While the Bible doesn’t specifically address these issues, I believe God is a fair judge who has a place for them in His home.
Knowing Jesus isn’t a Guarantee
When it comes to being saved, knowing Jesus is not a requirement, and it’s certainly not a guarantee. Consider what happened to Judas, who knew Jesus and betrayed Him.
Salvation is a gift that can only be received not earned. Our choice of whether or not we want to receive this gift comes down to how we respond to God’s revelations of Himself in our lives. This is true for those who know Jesus, and those who have never had the opportunity. And for those whose lives were cut too short, or who did not have the ability to reason, God is a gracious and merciful judge.
Have you struggled with this question of God’s fairness towards those who haven’t had the benefit of knowing Jesus? What answers satisfy you? What questions still remain? Leave a comment below.
Scripture taken from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.