What about Those Who’ve Never Heard?

Question: “Can a person be saved through general revelation?”

Answer: General revelation can be defined as “the revelation of God to all people, at all times, and in all places, that reveals that God exists and that He is intelligent, powerful, and transcendent.” Scriptures such as Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20 clearly state that certain things about God can be understood from nature and the universe around us. For more information, please read our article on the differences between general revelation and special revelation. In regards to the question, “Can a person be saved through general revelation?”, this question is usually asked in relation to another question, “What happens to those who have never heard the Gospel?

Sadly, there are still parts of the world with absolutely no access to the Bible, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or to any means of learning Christian truth. The question then arises, what happens to these people when they die? Is it fair for God to condemn a person who has never even heard the Gospel, nor heard of Jesus Christ, nor even heard that there is a God? Some propose a solution to this dilemma in the idea that God judges those who have never heard based on how they responded to general revelation. The presumption is that if a person truly believes what can be known about God through general revelation, God will judge the person based on that faith and allow the person entrance into Heaven. Is it possible that such a concept is true?

Before we address that question, a key assumption must be dealt with. Some make the assumption that those who have never heard the Gospel are searching for God, seeking for truth, practically begging for someone to come and deliver the message of salvation. The problem with this assumption is that Scripture declares the exact opposite. Romans 3:10-12 exclaims, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” According to Scripture, people take the knowledge of God available through general revelation and pervert it to their own liking. Romans 1:21-23 states, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” According to Scripture, the “status” of those without God is not one of seeking salvation, but rather one of rebellion, darkness, and idolatry.

Back to the question at hand – can a person be saved through general revelation? The Bible nowhere gives any hope that those who have never heard the Gospel are fully believing the truth about God available through general revelation. Again, the Bible describes the lost as being in rebellion against what they already know about God, not seeking for more truth about God. However, there is always the question, “What if?” IF a person who has never heard the Gospel truly and fully believed what can be known about God through general revelation, would that person be saved? IF such a person did exist, it would seem consistent with the love, mercy, and grace of God that such a person would be saved. Again, please understand, this is a hypothetical that Scripture does not support.

Acts chapter 10 records the story of Cornelius. Cornelius is described as “devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:2). Did God save Cornelius because of his devotion to God based on the limited knowledge he had of God? No. God sent an angel to Cornelius with instructions for Cornelius to contact the Apostle Peter and have him come to Cornelius’ home. Cornelius obeyed, and Peter came and presented the Gospel to Cornelius and his family. Cornelius and his family believed and were therefore saved (Acts 10:44-48). Acts chapter 10 is a clear example of how we are not saved by believing certain truths about God, or by obeying God in certain respects. The only way of salvation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

The fact that the lost reject general revelation is the reason why it is so important for us to proclaim the Gospel throughout the whole world (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Romans 10:14 declares, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” God commands us to present the Gospel because of the fact that “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10-11). Rather than hoping some people are being saved by believing what can be known about God through general revelation, God calls us to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel. Believing in the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ is the only method of salvation the Bible mentions (John 3:16).