“What about all those people who never heard of Jesus, like people in Africa? Do they go to Hell just because they never heard of Him?”
Those are the Trickiest Questions, and they are usually asked by people who don’t want to consider their dismal eternity. Please read this article by my friend Tony Yu that explains this more clearly. Then read how I answer this question when it’s posed to me.
True or False: You mean I’m going to Hell just because I don’t believe in Jesus?
The correct answer is “false”.
If you said “true” you have fallen for one of the most subtle deceptions. Please read on before you label me a heretic and a blasphemer.
The key to understanding the correct answer is found in John 3:17-18:
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Did you catch that? Humanity’s condemnation has nothing to do with Jesus. We were condemned before Jesus ever stepped foot on earth. It was our need for a Savior that moved God the Father to send God the Son. This need predated Jesus’ arrival on earth. We would all still be condemned if it wasn’t for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The best way to explain the principle is with the following illustration:
Sin is the disease, hell is the prognosis, Jesus is the cure.
Is it clear now why the correct answer is “false”? We are not going to Hell because we don’t believe in Jesus. We are going to Hell because we are sinners. Every single one of us, because of our sinful nature, is inexorably and irrevocably headed for Hell. Everyone of us has sinned by breaking His 10 Commandments. All have lied, stolen, blasphemed, looked with lust (which is adultery), or hated someone (which is murder). This is the only way that God redeems mankind: to put His own Son on the cross to atone for our sins. To say that we are going to Hell because we do not believe in Jesus is tantamount to blaming God for our well-deserved fate. Adam tried to do that in the Garden of Eden when he said “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12)
Here’s another way to look at this. Imagine you are walking in the woods when all of a sudden you feel a sharp pain in your calf. You look down and see a snake slithering away. You’ve just been bitten by a black mamba. You go to the doctor and he tells you that he needs to administer anti-venom right away or you will surely die. At this point you self-righteously say to the doctor, “Do you mean I’m going to die just because I refuse your anti-venom?”
First, it’s silly to get mad at the doctor. He’s trying to save your life. This is what people do when they get mad at God because Jesus is the only way to Heaven. Rather, we ought to be glad that there is any way at all to Heaven.
Secondly, it is technically true that you will die if you refuse the anti-venom. But the root cause of your impending death is the snake’s venom and your own stubbornness—not the anti-venom. Similarly, you won’t go to Hell just because you don’t believe in Jesus. You are headed for Hell because you have sinned and you won’t believe in Jesus.
Why does it matter?
Is this an exercise in semantics or spiritual trivia? No! There are real-world implications. The enemy did not craft this deception for fun and games. He had a goal in mind when he did this. The trickiest part of this question does not lie in the fact that most people—even Christians—get it wrong. The most deceptive aspect of this question is that it’s not even a question. For most who pose this question—especially if there is poison in their voice— it is a statement disguised as a question.
This is what most people are actually asserting when they ask, “You mean I’m going to Hell just because I don’t believe in Jesus?”:
- This sounds arbitrary and capricious. It doesn’t make any sense.
- God could never send people to Hell just because I don’t believe in some ancient rabbi.
- Christianity is nonsense.
- You are a fool.
Just as the word of God is the Sword of the Spirit, this question is a weapon formed by the enemy to attack God’s servants who are obedient to the Great Commission. Be on notice Christian. When an non-believer asks this question, you are most likely being attacked spiritually. You and God are being mocked and discredited before an
unbelieving audience. If you have a heart to reach the lost and yearn to serve the Lord you need to have the right answer to this question. Fortunately, not only can you deflect this attack, you can turn this attack back upon the one asking the question and go on the offensive (but always in love).
The following is a sample script of how you can effectively defend the faith:
Him: You mean I’m going to Hell just because I don’t believe in Jesus (sarcasm in his voice)?
You: Actually, NO, you’re not going to Hell because you don’t believe in Jesus.
Him: What (stunned)? I thought you Christians think we have to believe in Jesus to get to Heaven.
You: Jesus has nothing to do with you going to Hell. All of human-kind was headed for Hell because we are all sinners. Hell is mankind’s eternal destination because we have all sinned. Jesus came to change all that.
Him: Oh (flabbergasted).
You: Do you understand how you’ve sinned? Do you know what sin is? Would you like to see how you’ve broken God’s law? (You then take this opportunity to go through a few of the Ten Commandments…Have you ever lied, have you ever stolen anything…etc.).
Steve’s note: This is how I answer someone who asks me: “What about all those people in Africa who never heard of Jesus?”
Me: If you are so concerned about those people you should get saved now—then become a missionary so you can tell those people about Jesus.