This is a fairly common question or comment in discussions about our accountability to God and how to obey the gospel. In a recent episode of Bible Q-n-A LIVE, the comment was made that baptism is necessary for salvation for the person that has heard the command to be baptized. In other words, if a person has never heard the gospel then God will not hold them accountable for obeying the gospel. Aside from some very serious implications connected with this idea, it is based on the false notion that a person is lost because they haven’t obeyed the gospel. The reasoning goes something like this. 1) A person must obey the gospel to be saved (Romans 1:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; et al). 2) To obey the gospel a person must hear the gospel (Romans 10:14-17). 3) If a person hasn’t heard the gospel, they cannot obey the gospel, therefore, God will not hold them accountable for obeying the gospel.
It is absolutely true that a person cannot obey the gospel who has never heard the gospel. That’s why Jesus commanded the gospel to be preached to every creature under heaven (Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18-20). That’s why the disciples preached the gospel everywhere they went, even under threat of death (Acts 8:4). Before AD 70, the gospel had been preached throughout the world (cf. Mathew 24:14; Colossians 1:23). The gospel is the only hope a person has of being saved! (Romans 1:16; 10:17; Hebrews11:6; Acts 8:12; 2:38; Romans 10:9, 10; Acts 8:35-37; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 1:23).
But to say that a person who has never heard the gospel will not be held accountable for obeying the gospel is to imply that they will be safe by not hearing the gospel. Unaccountable basically means that a person is safe from the guilt of sin. Children, for example, are innocent – free from sin – therefore, they are safe,i.e. they don’t need to be saved. If a person is safe who has never heard the gospel then the worst thing we could do to that person would be to share the gospel with them. Then we have put that person in the situation of either accepting the gospel or being lost for rejecting it. We should have just left them safe in their ignorance. Right? No! Of course not!
A person is not lost because they haven’t obeyed the gospel. A person is lost because of sin. The gospel is the only way to deal with the sin problem. A person in a burning building is not in danger of death because no one has saved them. They are in danger of death because they are in a burning building. The way to be saved is to get out of the burning building! Sin is the burning building and the gospel is the way to get out. That’s why we have to be doing everything in our power to make sure as many people as possible hear the gospel of Christ. That’s the one and only way to get out of the fiery end sin brings (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Watch Bible Q-n-A LIVE every Monday at 7PM EST on YouTube.com/PreacherNorm.