Some of us distrust God because we question the fairness of his salvation plan.
If the only way to heaven is through Jesus, then it seems grossly unjust for God to condemn to hell those who live and die without ever hearing about him.
Fortunately, this is not the case.
God’s salvation plan is universally equitable. He offers 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 explicitly states that God does not want to condemn anyone to hell. He wishes everyone would comply with his salvation plan so that 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 have the opportunity to read the Bible or hear about Jesus.
To equitably determine our eternal destiny, God applies the same general standard to everyone.
He holds us accountable for what we know or could easily learn about his salvation plan.
He does not hold us responsible for what we do not know and could never learn.
Anyone can qualify for heaven by responding affirmatively to what they understand about God’s salvation plan.
Those who casually disregard or overtly reject this knowledge disqualify themselves for heaven.
Here are the essential elements of God’s salvation plan.
- God is our creator. He is morally superior to us and sovereign over us, i.e., he is holy.
- We are sinful by nature and by choice. Our sins alienate us from God. He considers us spiritually dead in this state.
- God loves us despite our sinfulness. He wants to have a personal relationship with us, now and forever.
- But God’s justice requires him to hold us accountable for our sins. His mandatory penalty for them 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.
- We cannot escape this punishment because we have nothing of sufficient value to offer God as penance for our sins. We cannot remedy our unfitness for heaven because we are powerless to change our inherently sinful nature and become righteous.
- Fortunately, God makes it easy for us to qualify for heaven, despite our innate ineligibility. He offers us eternal salvation as a free gift, not as an earned reward.
- To qualify for heaven, all we must do is humbly acknowledge God’s holiness, contritely agree with him that we are sinful, gratefully accept his forgiveness, and walk in harmony with him after that as consistently as we can, i.e., we must repent.
- We repent because we trust that God will extend mercy and grace to us based on who he is, not according to who we are, i.e., we place our faith in him.
- In response to our repentance and faith, God forgives all our sins—past, present, and future; intentional and unintentional; egregious and innocuous—grants us access to true contentment on earth; and gives us a free, irrevocable pass to heaven.
- By God’s mercy and grace, we are reborn spiritually through our repentance and faith.
What about the penalty for our sins? If it is indeed mandatory, how does God absolve us of this punishment and still satisfy his justice?
The resolution of this binary impasse is the powerful part of his salvation plan.
God satisfied his justice himself in the person of Jesus so he could exempt us from our rightful punishment. The death of Jesus paid the penalty for all the sins of all humanity, ranging from Adam and Eve to those yet unborn.
This universal atonement enables God to extend the same mercy and grace, in equal measure, to everyone who complies with his salvation plan.
To comply with and fully benefit from God’s salvation plan, we do not need to know that the death of Jesus atoned for our sins.
We must only know that God exists, that he is holy, that we are inherently sinful, that we are accountable to him for our sinfulness, and that he stands ready to forgive our sins if we repent.
A contrite response to these fundamental truths—plus faith in God’s mercy and grace—qualifies us for heaven, even if we are unaware of how the death of Jesus made it all possible.
The truths of God’s existence, his holiness, and our inherent sinfulness are self-evident. He enlightens us about our moral accountability to him and his offer of forgiveness.
God discloses these primary truths to everyone, including those who never hear about Jesus, so we all have the same opportunity to determine our eternal destiny.
We infer that God exists from his natural revelation.
We see the intricate beauty and sophisticated functionality of our bodies and the world at both the macro and micro levels.
We conclude from this evidence that nature reveals the power and creativity of an intelligent creator, i.e., God.
We realize that if God created the world and everything in it, then we are products of his handiwork.
If God created us, then he is morally superior to us and sovereign over us. He is indeed holy.
We are all aware of our innate sinfulness.
Each of us has a moral code by which we gauge our righteousness. Our values evidence the principles and parameters that define our ethical boundaries.
Each of us violates our moral code. We all think, say, and do things that conflict with our ideals, as measured by our regrets.
We confirm our innate sinfulness each time we fail to abide by our moral values.
God prompts us to contemplate his holiness relative to our sinfulness and think about the eternal implications of this disparity.
He informs our conscience that our sins alienate us from him, that we are unable to rectify this situation ourselves, and that as a result, we are ineligible to live with him in heaven.
But at pivotal moments, he also tells our hearts that he loves us, that he stands ready to forgive our sins, and that by his mercy and grace, we can qualify for heaven through our repentance and faith.
Our fallen nature urges us to suppress this knowledge, dismiss our sinfulness, and live independently of God.
The dissonance between this message and God’s enlightenment presents us with three alternatives.
- 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 that we can appease him on our terms.
- We can repent of our sins, put our faith in God, and reconcile with him according to what we know about his salvation plan.
God condemns to eternal death those who defy him and those who believe they can appease him on their terms.
He grants eternal life to those who reconcile with him according to what they know about his salvation plan.
Old Testament Standard
God elaborated on his salvation plan in the Old Testament.
He established a moral code commonly called The Ten Commandments that superseded everyone’s individual standards.
He also prescribed an array of acceptable sacrifices that atoned symbolically for various sins—until the death of Jesus actually paid the penalty for them.
Those who knew about The Ten Commandments recognized their inherent sinfulness each time they violated them or the civil laws that grew out of them.
God bestowed mercy and grace upon those who responded to this awareness by confessing their sins and offering the correct sacrifices.
God condemned those who were aware of The Ten Commandments and sacrificial protocols but refused to confess their sins and atone for them as he required.
God applied this specific standard only to those in Old Testament times who were aware of his moral code and sacrificial system.
His general standard remained in effect for everyone else.
Their eternal destiny was determined by their response to what they otherwise knew about God’s salvation plan through nature and their conscience.
New Testament Standard
In the New Testament, Jesus distilled The Ten Commandments into a few principles. His key followers amplified these truths in their writings.
Those of us who are familiar with the New Testament recognize our inherent sinfulness each time we violate these principles and their related amplifications.
After Jesus died on the cross, God rescinded the sacrificial protocols that he prescribed in the Old Testament.
God deemed the death of Jesus to be the ultimate atonement for all sin. His death eliminated the need for any further sacrifices.
God now bestows mercy and grace upon those who repent of their sins and put their faith in the atonement of Jesus by asking him to be their personal Savior.
He condemns those who are aware of their sins, 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 currently reading this sentence.
His general standard still applies to those in the present age who never have the opportunity to read the Bible or hear about Jesus.
Their eternal destiny will be determined by their response to what they otherwise know about God’s salvation plan through nature and their conscience.
God is omniscient. He knows when we ponder his holiness relative to our sinfulness and wonder what will happen to us after we die.
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.
In the Old Testament, God often conveyed messages to people through dreams, visions, or personal visitations.
The New Testament cites several examples of God sending reborn believers to meet sincere seekers when they were ready to hear the Gospel.
God routinely utilizes these methodologies today in countries where the Bible is banned, and Christianity is illegal.
Many underground believers in these areas report that God initially enlightened them about his salvation plan through a dream, vision, or personal visitation.
Sometimes God alerted them to an upcoming encounter they would soon have with a stranger he had providently prepared to share the Gospel.
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 lived and died in ignorance of Jesus for reasons of geography, era, or education.
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 that he makes a similar accommodation for those who are mentally incapable of comprehending his salvation plan.