"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « The Parable of the Sailboat | Main | Growing in Grace & Conscious of Sin »

    What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

    One question frequently stops Christians in their tracks: "If the Gospel alone saves, then what about the heathen in Africa who never heard?" Can God justly convict a man who hasn't heard about Jesus? Some people hear the Gospel and reject it, but most never hear it. How can God condemn them? Christians are ill-equipped to respond because they don't really understand something vital about sin and mercy. Sin brings guilt. Mercy is a gift. Anyone who is a sinner receives punishment he deserves. Anyone who is saved receives mercy he does not deserve and which is not owed him. Think of this question: How could the sheriff send anyone to jail if he didn't offer him a pardon first? The answer is simple. If he's guilty, the sheriff is justified in throwing him in jail. There is no obligation to offer a pardon to a guilty man. The same is true of God. He can justly convict a man who has broken His law even though the sinner has heard nothing about God's pardon in Jesus. God owes no one salvation. He can offer it to whomever He wishes. That's why it's called grace. -Gregory Koukl

    Posted by John on January 2, 2008 11:02 AM


    I have no objection to your conclusion, but still I think the allegory to the sheriff sending someone to jail is too simple. What if there is a pardoning system in the law, but the sheriff offers it to some and not to the others? Do you still think that sheriff is a good sheriff? Trusting in Jesus and being saved is not banned to anyone.


    Point well taken, yet I would encourage you to consider the following:

    God calls us to obey His commands, we don't. We could have very easily avoided the consequence of being taken in to jail by obeying the law, but we chose not to. Likewise, believing in Jesus is also a command BUT ALL OF US CHOOSE NOT TO.

    In 1 John "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ"

    The greatest sin of all is to reject the Savior and since none believe on their own, we doubly deserve to be taken in to prison. The sheriff taking us in, you could say, is happening to those after they reject Christ's appeal to come to Him. All men without exception refuse the pardon, apart from a Spirit wrought change in their heart.

    John 3:19,20 says the reason for our refusal to believe is that we love darkness, hate the light and WILL NOT come into the light.

    So while to Gospel is hearalded to all creatures, as you suggest, no one can come to Christ apart from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit (John 6:63-65) which is mercy. Paul says, no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Spirit. And this redemptive blessing is not granted to everyone, only those on whom God has mercy as the Scripture affirms (Rom 9:15, 16)

    A good summary of Predestination/Election. But I have always had trouble reconciling that view with passages like Mt. 18:14 and 2 Peter 3:9 where the text seems to indicated that God does not want anyone to perish. How would you exegete those passages?


    Thanks for your thoughtful question. There is a difference between God's preceptive will and his will of decree.

    Consider that it is God's will for everyone to obey the Ten Commandments. So in one sense you can even say this is God's desire. Yet people do not obey the Ten Commandments. Does this mean they are thwarting God's will? No because this is His command, not what He decrees will take place with certainty. Likewise, that men would obey the gospel is God's desire for all. He does not desire that anyone disobey this command. But this is His preceptive will, what He commands and desires man will do. But this does not mean it will take place. On the other hand, what God decrees cannot be thwarted and will infallibly take place. IN other words, God's preceptive will can be thwarted but not His decreetive will.

    So when God says in Ezekiel, "Do I indeed delight in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather in his turning from his way that he might live? . . . I do not delight in the death of the one who dies, says the Lord; so turn and live" (cf. 33:11).

    Notice, this is what He disires that man will do for himself, (and in doing so glorify God) but not what God will do for him.

    Suggested reading
    Are There Two Wills in God? by John Piper

    Are There Two Wills in God? by Sam Storms

    Hope this helps

    In the analogy in Koukl's quote, perhaps it would be better to think of a president rather than a sheriff. While the sheriff enforces the law, he has no right or ability to grant any kind of mercy; his job is merely to enforce the law. A judge enters at this point to ensure that justice is done, no one recieving anything but what he deserves for his actions. A guilty person would therefore recieve prison, an innocent would go free. Neither the judge nor the sheriff have the right to ignore the law; they are to enforce the law and deliver justice. The power to pardon lies with the president. The president does not offer pardon to all, but chooses to whom he will show mercy. Not all agree with the presidential pardons, but those whom he pardons are nevertheless pardoned. In the same way, those whom the Son has set free are indeed free, objects of God's mercy and grace.

    Hi Scott

    Indeed, I do believe that yours is an even better analogy than Koukl's. Although all analogies are imperfect amd merely attempt to give a more fuller picture to the reader, yours hits closer to home and perhaps avoids some of the possible protests.

    It seems as if God is creating some whose end will be hell. I have a hard time with this. I keep wondering if I am one of his elect or have I been fooling myself. This is a troubling issue with me.

    Hi Betty

    Thanks for your email and for expressing your thoughts. The sign God has given us that we are his elect is that we have faith in his Son Jesus Christ. Those who trust in Christ show that God has done a work in them to change their heart. Unless Christ acts to set us free our will remains in bondage to sin. The assurance is actually much greater this way since we know nothing we do can make us lost. What Jesus Christ has done for us is sufficient. Ask yourself, is what Christ did for you sufficient for your salvation or not? Are you saved by the grace of Christ alone, or Christ plus something?

    It is highly unlikely that a non-elect person would worry about such things as you are since the unregenerate person is, according to Scripture, hostile to Christ and does not desire fellowhip with him.

    Ultimately it is about what God has done for us, not what we do for him. In this he gets all the glory. Otherwise we could take credit for being wiser than our neighbor who did not have faith. But if faith is the gift of God (John 6:65) then we can only boast in Jesus Christ.

    Apart from the Holy Spirit no one would natually submit to the humbling terms of the gospel. Would you prefer to leave salvation in your hands rather than God's? Apart from His grace changing your heart you would have never come to him. It is grace itself that you even have the faith and humilty to embrace Christ.

    Why do the heathen always have to be in Africa? Why can't they be from New York or San Francisco?

    Blessings from Africa

    Hi Dan

    I think the author's intent was "unreached people groups" who live in the 10/40 window. Fact is, there are probably more African believers then there are American believers, yet there are still parts of Africa, the Mid-East and Asia where people not only have not heard of Christ, but do not even have such an opportunity to hear. NY & SF may be filled with "heathens" but their exposure to the gospel exists. The post was responding to argument whether responsibility exists for persons who never even had an opportunity to reject the gospel, which is really no longer the case in the United States.

    I my personal opinion, if you want it, is that the local church itself in America, is one of the greatest mission fields there is, not because they have not heard, but sadly because most have heard a diluted message.



    I like the sheriff analogy better.

    Here's why. The King would not get into a patrol car and go faster than the posted speed limit to "catch" the speeder and once he caught him let him off with a warning because the speeder agreed with him quickly.

    The "speeder" was breaking the "law". The Sheriff, although going maybe even "faster" than the posted speed limit, as the speeder was, was not "breaking the law" he was called upon by society to enforce.

    Jesus was called upon to speed up to us sinners so to speak. To those of us who agree with Him and accept His offer, He does not write a ticket, instead, we are let go to speed again! Thank you Lord for the Sacraments and for Your Great power to keep us!

    These mysteries are just that, mysteries. Can you understand them?

    Mat 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.


    1Pe 1:5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.


    What makes us think that those who never hear would believe if they did
    hear the Gospel. I believe God has arranged the world in such a way that those who will believe will hear and those who would never believe will never hear.

    I agree with the belief that God has two wills as pertaining to the passage from 2 Pet 3:9. But do you believe Peter is stating here that he believes God truly wills for no man in all of human history to perish? I ask, because I have seen other Reformed theologians interpret this text as referring to God being patient with the wicked until all his elect have been redeemed. Do you agree with that interpretation? Are both views applicable to this text?
    I've been wondering about this for awhile.

    God Bless!
    Brandon Lucas
    (A Peculiar Pilgrim)

    " you believe Peter is stating here that he believes God truly wills for no man in all of human history to perish?"

    Even if he does not do so here, he certainly does in the Ezekiel passage. You could perhaps interpret this passage to refer to all kinds of men since he just listed several types to pray for. Howver, passages like the Ezekiel one make it clear that God doe snot want any person to perish, including the wicked ... no more than he wants any person to disobey His commands. Ask yourself the question from this perspective: does God truly will that some people would disobey His command?

    So God Chooses to save some and not save others, which basically means he creates people knowing ahead of time he isn't going to save them but burn them in hell. What a monster

    Hi David

    Thanks for taking the time to post and unveil a common point of ignorance among professed Christians. Perhaps you do not realize it, but you just called God "a monster."

    "How?", you ask, 'that's your God, not mine', you would say. Consider, are you thereby asserting that God did not know what would take place before He created the world? That He had no idea who he would save? That God is in fact, totally ignorant of any, and every, aspect of the future, including our salvation? Is there anything God does not know? Does time itself, therefore, have mastery over God? Such is not the God of the Scriptures nor is He any God that can be trusted to save. For if God did not know evil would enter the world before He created it then you have no way of knowing whether He will overcome evil in the future. For, if there is something outside of God like 'chance', or 'evil 'which God has no sovereignty over (the god you seem to propose), then evil would be on equal par with God. Such is a Greek, not a Hebrew or Biblical concept of God. Our comfort can only come from a God who has complete sovereignty over all events (Eph 1:11). There is no comfort in a god that has no idea what the future holds.

    Similarly, in all concepts of God, even Arminians and Greek Orthodox ones, He exhaustively and meticulously knows the future. And if He knows the future exhaustively, before He created it, then we both know that the future cannot be otherwise than it was decreed. And He knows, not some, but all things before they take place, unless you believe God is ignorant of some things. Therefore, if you are a Christian, as you seem to claim, then even in your conception of God He knows exhaustively what would happen to each individual even before He created them. Their eternal destiny, therefore, could not be otherwise - from eternity He chooses some in Christ (Eph 1:3-5) according to His sovereign good pleasure. In other words, by your own words, you just called your own God a monster, unless you think God is, in any way, ignorant of the future, which would mean that He is no God at all, but a finite, created being. People who think this way need to be called to repentance, for it is pure ignorance and folly, and one of the highest forms of blasphemy, to call God a 'monster' simply because He exhaustively knows all things before they take place, AND as this is exactly what you, (and many like you), have just done. So if you acknowledge that God knows the future exhaustively, then I think repentance is in order for you because if you consder these things for am moment, you realize you believe the same thing as I. I trust you have said this without deep consideration and if you ask forgiveness of God He will forgive your careless words because Christ has paid them in full.

    If you still doubt, ask yourself, is there anything God is ignorant of? Do not fasten ignorance on God - it does not bode well for a Christian of any stripe. And you must remember, God justly casts persons into hell because of the sin he sees in them, not randomly. And since all have sinned, then some get justice and others mercy, but no one gets injustice.

    Lots of nice classic reformed arguements, but none of them really resolves the heart of the key issue that I see with reformed theology. Let me describe the issue as best my untrained layman mind can. First, none can come to the father except by the HS. Two, the HS only does His work upon whom the Father elects. Three, the elect have no factors recommending them for salvation other than election, such that outside of election their "Free will" would be exersized in opposition to God due to their nature just as it is for the unelect - both catagories inherited (did not choose) the same sin nature. Four, those God elects from before the foudations of the universe are destined for eternal Bliss/Salvation and those not elected are likewise predestined from eternity past for eternal TORMENT/Damnation. If God did not elect some, all would be damned to eternal Torment. So in this case, you say "And you must remember, God justly casts persons into hell because of the sin he sees in them, not randomly. And since all have sinned, then some get justice and others mercy, but no one gets injustice." If all have sinned (and this is what the Bible says and is my personal experience with everyone I have met) and all cannot help but sin or even desire not to sin due to the same sin nature, how is God's act of election not is some sense arbitrary. Under your worldview, most people are created for the express purpose (express becuase nothing else really matters)of Damnation - which the Bible discribes as eternal and immeasurably horrible.
    Even if the unelect deserve damnation due to their exersizing the "free will" (uncoerced) according to the fallen nature, the inconvenient point is that thier nature was given to them (universally and without exception - save Christ), and they can do nothing about it. Now who is it that believes God is a Monster. You believe that God is a monster, just on a deeper level. That view does not fit with the whole of revelation anymore than Armininism does. The problem with both positions is HUBRIS - wanting a tidy package with no appreciation for mystery, no awe of God's being who HE is, no trust that HE can somehow reconcile perfect love and perfect justice eventhough it is truely beyond our comprehension as to how He works it out. Ours business is to Trust and Obey. Our motovation to preach or our understanding of what happens when someone hears and believes is not as important as the fact that HE bids us to preach and calls on men to respond to the Gospell. Whether God calls men irresistibly or whether they freely respond that is God's business.

    kirk hudson

    Hubris huh? -- While this may very well be the case with many people, and we should all be vigilant against it, in this case, I would argue that there is no biblical warrant to call a "mystery" something that God has already revealed. The Bible says "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."

    Effectual grace, I believe can be easily demonstrated,is something God has plainly and often revealed in the Text of Scripture, something that Jesus himself taught. IMHO, it may be hubris actually to escape our responsibility to this by calling it a "mystery" because it means the difference whether we are saved by grace alone or not. Jesus talks about this concept (John 6:63-65, 37) - and since we are exhorted to preach the whole counsel of Scripture it would be dereliction of duty to do otherwise. There is no "tidy package" here. Affirming this doctrines did not come through philosophical or confessional routes for me but through the route of biblical exegesis.

    Fact is people do not want to believe that salvation is by grace ALONE. It is offensive to human nature. There really is no middle ground here. Either God saves by grace alone or He does not. There is no mysterious middle place between these two positions, as some might claim to take. By not taking a position, I believe, you by default must teach something less than grace alone in your gospel. The Bible nowhere gives you warrant to create a dogma of mystery or uncertainty. Salvation is wholly of the Lord. if you do not believe that then you have not correctly apprehended the gospel. The gospel is all about Jesus Christ. It is easy to find where you fall on this idea if you ask the following to yourself --- Were you saved by Jesus Christ alone or are you saved by Jesus plus something else?

    You rightly say we should call on all people to believe the gospel, but is it Jesus alone who saves them or not? This is no small matter

    Consider, why do you believe the gospel and not your neighbor? Is it the grace of Jesus Christ alone? or something else? This is crucial to our understanding of the gospel. Yes he calls us to preach indiscriminately, but what are you preaching. Grace alone in Christ alone? or something else?

    you completely did not understand me. I think when you get so steeped in Tulip and reformed rhetoric, you interpret words that others use through a reformed context. For instance, if I say that the reformed in general lack an apreciation for mystery, you think I mean that God is completely unknowable, or He has not revealed what He wants us to know. What I mean is that I cannot possibly know exactly how God does all that He does or achieves His purposes, nor can I fully know His Mind. It is Hubris/Sin to think you can. He is God, you are a man. You still must someday deal with the achilles heal of your theology. How do you reconcile "For God so loved the World that He gave his only Begotten Son the WHOSOEVER believes in Him will have eternal life." with a theology that believes God creates the vast majority of creation for the singular purpose of eternally damning them and their doom is sealed by the nature they were born with.

    "For God so loved the World that He gave his only Begotten Son the WHOSOEVER believes in Him will have eternal life."

    Kirk, this is a passage from Scripture and I believe it just as it is written. WHOSOEVER believes the gospel will be saved. The problem is. I believe, that you have failed to read it in context. It goes on to say but men loved darkness and hate the light and will not come into the light ... those who do show that it is work wrought by God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6 It is not the man who wills or runs but on God who has mercy (Rom (9:16).

    8"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

    In other words the Spirit is sovereign. Bad theology comes when we read texts in isolation and form our whole tehology around them rather then look at what Jesus is actually saying. The whole passage is about the new birth. being born again is not spoken of in the imperative mood. Not something commanded by God anywhere in Scripture because man cannot do it. it is something the Spirit does to us.

    you said >>>>I cannot possibly know exactly how God does all that He does or achieves His purposes, nor can I fully know His Mind.

    Yes this is exactly right, except when he reveals himself as in Deut 29:29. The sectret things belong to God but the things revealed to us and our sons forever.

    We do not believe in salvaiton by grace alone because we have arrived at it philosophically but because the Bible teaches it. We owe a debt we cannot repay. Our inability to repay it does not alleviate us from the responisbility to do so. So Christ pay the debt for his people effectually bringing them to Himself. The free will position that you hold is a picture of God which teaches that his love for us is conditional, that is, based on something we have to do to win salvtion. But Christ does for us what we could not do for ourselves.

    No one can say Jesus is Lord apart from the Holy Spirit, say the Text. Are you going to continue arguing that we we can come to Christ apart from the Hoy Spirit changing our hearts? Can an unregenerate person come to faith? According to 2 Cor 2:14 this is not possible. The gospel declares that we must lose all hope from ourselves. The assistance of grace does not depend on the humility or obedience of man --- it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble and believe the gospel and all who get this grace believe. Jesus teaches it (John 6:65, 37)

    Those that call God a monster really resent his deity. As Spurgeon has said: "They have deep enmity to God." They really do arrogantly think they could save themselves and were strong and wise enough to work saving faith-a spiritual virtue-in their hearts while dead in sin and rebellion. It is pure ignorance,depravity,perversity,and arrogance. They need to tell that to God now. Tell him face to face that if he makes his own decisions He is a monster. These cowards would not dare. But if one is so audacious perhaps God would explain his higher ways to them and then might even read then their rights.

    Arminians insist that there can be no accountability without ability. Same objection was raised against the Apostle Paul and therefor God himself. Sinners can't accept truth that they put themselves in the position of inability through their connection with Adam. They actually believe that they would have chosen different than Adam and we wouldn't be in this mess.

    Not only is the analogy weak..its premise is stated as fact when you actually have no idea what God is doing. You think you can compile a few verses that no one finds clear consensus on and pawn that off as the unmitigated truth when there are so many other possibilities.

    Did it ever occur to you it is not for you to know? That it is vague so we can express faith. I mean if God wanted to make it crystal clear--dont you think he could--yet he didnt.

    One possibility is that God has arranged the world so those who would reject God are the ones who never hear. Of course your construct doesnt allow for God to do anything but what you allow. Your neat little package that 90% of Christians reject. I guess its his will that only you know the truth?

    I leave the details to God. Dont you have enough faith to just say you dont know--that you trust God? Ever think Calvinists have a certain crude anal personality that draws them to this theory?

    "God calls us to obey His commands, we don't. We could have very easily avoided the consequence of being taken in to jail by obeying the law, but we chose not to. Likewise, believing in Jesus is also a command BUT ALL OF US CHOOSE NOT TO"

    I didn't think anyone had a choice, according to Calvinism. What you just wrote seems contradictory to me. Also, doesn't the command of God for all men everywhere to repent seem disingenous of Him if it is a command that not all men can obey because He has decreed that they cannot?


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