Some people distrust God because they question the fairness of his salvation plan.
If the only way for us to get to heaven is through Jesus, then it seems grossly unfair for God to condemn to hell those who live and die without hearing or reading about him.
Fortunately, this is not the case.
God’s salvation plan is universally inclusive, not unjustly exclusive. He gives everyone the same opportunity to live eternally with him in heaven.
God made us in his image. Our sense of fairness reflects an aspect of his character.
Unlike us, however, God is perfect. His sense of fairness is more acute than ours, and his judgments are always righteous.
Consequently, God is more concerned about the fairness of his salvation plan than we could ever be.
Likewise, his determinations about what is, and is not, fair are more accurate than ours.
The Bible states explicitly that God does not want to condemn anyone to hell. He wishes everyone would comply with his salvation plan, so they could live with him forever in heaven.
The primacy of God’s goal, coupled with his supreme fairness, compels him to make it equally easy for everyone to qualify for heaven, including those who never read the Bible or hear about Jesus.
To equitably adjudicate our eternal destiny, God applies the same general standard to everyone.
He holds us accountable for what we know about his salvation plan. He does not hold us accountable for what we do not know.
Anyone can qualify for heaven by responding affirmatively to what they know about God’s salvation plan.
Those who casually disregard or overtly reject this knowledge disqualify themselves for heaven.
Here are the essential points of God’s salvation plan.
- God is our creator. He is morally superior to us and sovereign over us.
- We are sinful by nature and by choice. Our sins alienate us from God.
- God’s justice compels him to hold us accountable for our sins. He imposes a mandatory penalty for them that begins in the next life.
- This penalty is permanent separation from God and the good things he supplies. Thus, our sins render us ineligible to live with him in heaven.
- God’s love obligates him to make it possible for us to qualify for heaven, despite our sinfulness.
- He requires us to confess our sins, accept his forgiveness, and walk in harmony with him as best we can, i.e., we must repent.
- We repent because we believe God will respond affirmatively to our contrition, i.e., we place our faith in him.
- God bestows mercy and grace upon us in response to both our repentance and our faith.
- He forgives all of our sins—past, present, and future; grants us access to true contentment on earth; and gives us a free, irrevocable pass to heaven.
What about the mandatory penalty for our personal sins? How does God absolve us of this punishment and still satisfy his justice?
This is the powerful part of his salvation plan.
God paid the penalty for sin himself. He personally satisfied his justice through the death of Jesus.
God’s atonement, on our behalf, enables him to exempt us from the required punishment, if we comply with his salvation plan.
To participate in—and fully benefit from—God’s salvation plan, we do not need to know that he atoned for our sins through the death of Jesus.
We only need to know that God exists, that he is morally superior and sovereign over us, that we are sinful, and that we are accountable to him for our sinfulness.
A contrite response to these four basic truths—plus faith in God’s mercy—qualifies us for heaven, even if we are unaware of how his atonement made it all possible.
These four basic truths are self-evident, which means everyone has the same opportunity to comply with God’s salvation plan, including those who never read the Bible or hear about Jesus.
We all know God exists, because he reveals himself to everyone through nature.
We see the intricate beauty and complex functionality of our bodies and the world and realize nature evidences the power and creativity of an intelligent creator, i.e., God.
Even if our minds and bodies demonstrate the damage caused by sin, we recognize that we are products of God’s handiwork and conclude, therefore, that he is morally superior to us and sovereign over us.
We are all innately aware of our individual sinfulness.
Each of us has an internal moral code by which we gauge our own righteousness. Our values evidence the principles and parameters that define our moral boundaries.
Each of us violates our moral code. We all think, say, and do things that conflict with our personal ideals, as evidenced by our regrets.
We confirm that we are innately sinful each time we violate our personal moral codes.
This benchmark informs everyone about their inherent unrighteousness, including those who never read the Bible or hear about Jesus.
Those of us who are familiar with the Old or New Testaments have a second benchmark to gauge our personal sinfulness.
In the Old Testament, God established moral laws that supersede our individual standards.
In the Gospels, Jesus distilled these directives into a few general principles that were amplified by the New Testament writers who followed him.
Those of us who possess this Bible knowledge recognize our inherent sinfulness each time we violate God’s principles and precepts.
At creation, God imbued our conscience with the understanding that personal sins alienate us from him.
Our fallen nature prompts us to suppress this knowledge, dismiss our sinfulness, and live independent of God.
This conflict presents us with three choices.
- We can ignore our conscience, heed our fallen nature, and defy God.
- We can concede our sinfulness, but disregard God’s salvation plan, and presume we can reconcile with him on our terms.
- We can repent of our sins and reconcile with God, in accordance with our understanding of his salvation plan.
God condemns to eternal death those who defy him and those who believe they can reconcile with him on their terms.
He grants eternal life to those who reconcile with him, in accordance with what they know about his salvation plan.
Universal Grace And Mercy
God unveiled the rudiments of his salvation plan in the Garden of Eden, when he sacrificed an animal to symbolically pay the penalty for the original sin of Adam and Eve.
His salvation plan culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The death of Jesus paid the penalty for all the sins of all humanity, ranging from Adam and Eve to those yet unborn, including those who never have the opportunity to hear about him or read the Bible.
The resurrection of Jesus paved the way to heaven for all repentant believers, past, present, and future, including those who live and die without ever hearing about him or reading the Bible.
This universality enables God to extend the same mercy and grace, in equal amounts, to everyone who chooses to reconcile with him on his terms.
It allows him to equitably dispense these benefits without regard to our knowledge about Jesus and the Bible.
Old Testament Standard
In the Old Testament, God established a series of moral laws to help people recognize their inherent sinfulness.
He also prescribed an array of acceptable sacrifices that atoned symbolically for various sins—until Jesus actually paid the penalty for them.
God bestowed grace and mercy on those who confessed their sins and offered the correct sacrifices, in accordance with his prescribed protocols.
He condemned those who were aware of his laws and protocols but refused to confess their sins and atone for them as he required.
God applied this specific standard to only those in Old Testament times who were aware of his moral laws and sacrificial system.
His general standard remained in effect for everyone else. Their eternal destiny was determined by their response to the self-evident truths about God, their sinfulness, and their moral accountability to him.
New Testament Standard
God deemed the death of Jesus to be the ultimate atonement for all sin. His death eliminated the need for the sacrifices God prescribed in the Old Testament.
God now bestows mercy and grace on those who repent of their sins and ask Jesus to be their personal Savior.
He condemns those who are aware of their sinfulness, and of salvation through Jesus, but choose either to dismiss the importance of this information or to overtly reject it.
This specific standard applies to everyone who is aware that God offers salvation through Jesus, including those presently reading this sentence.
His general standard still applies to those who never have the opportunity to read the Bible or hear about Jesus.
God is omniscient. He knows who has access to the Bible and who has heard about Jesus. He knows how much of his salvation plan we comprehend.
God also knows when we wonder about him, when we think about where we might spend eternity, and when we contemplate our moral accountability to him.
At these spiritual junctions, God ensures that we have access to enough information about his salvation plan to make an informed decision about our eternal destiny.
He makes special provisions when necessary.
The New Testament includes several examples of God sending reborn believers to meet sincere seekers, when they were ready to hear the Gospel.
In the Old Testament, God often communicated to his followers through dreams and visions, or by speaking directly to their minds.
God utilizes similar methodologies today in countries where the Bible is banned and Christianity is illegal.
Underground believers in these areas routinely report that, prior to their conversion, God enlightened them about the basics of his salvation plan through a vision, a dream, or by speaking directly to their mind.
Those of us who live in areas where the Bible is readily available should not expect God to communicate with us through these mystical experiences.
We already have access to enough information about his salvation plan to decide whether we want Jesus to be our personal Savior.
However, when we are ready to repent, God nudges us. He makes us soulfully aware of his presence and reminds us of the steps we must take to be saved.
God gave the apostle John a glimpse of heaven before he died.
He recorded seeing before the throne of God an innumerable multitude from every nation, people group, tribe, and language.
This description affirms that heaven will be home to reborn believers who, for reasons of geography or era, lived and died in ignorance of the Old Testament protocols, Jesus, and the Bible.
We know from another Bible passage that heaven will be home to children who died too young to be accountable for their sins.
Knowing God’s character, we can presume he makes a similar accommodation for those who are mentally incapable of comprehending his salvation plan.