Salvation in the deep dark jungle

If you have been a part of evangelical Christianity for any length of time, you understand the importance of a relationship with Jesus Christ, and the importance of sharing your faith with others so that they may come to Christ as well. With this understanding, the question is inevitably raised, “what about the people in the remote jungle who know nothing about Jesus?”

There are many ways to address this question; some answers can get quite involved.

One answer is, ignorance is no excuse. God is holy, humans are sinful (all of us, with no exceptions–Romans 3:10, 3:23), and without an acceptable sacrifice applied on our behalf, we deserve to go to hell (Romans 5:12, 6:23). There is nothing wrong with this answer, and it should motivate Christians towards global evangelism (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth–Acts 1:8).

However, this answer is still unsatisfactory to some, who find it difficult to accept that there is no hope of salvation for those who die without ever hearing about Jesus. Perhaps this raises the question, “what does it take for an acceptable sacrifice to be applied on your behalf?”

The question with regards to the inhabitant of the remote jungle might be, “is it possible to be saved by Jesus without knowing about Jesus?”

While not attempting to provide a definitive answer to every question that might be asked, there are several concepts that I find helpful.

1. God reveals Himself to us through nature.

Romans 1:19-20 ESV
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Psalms 19:1-4 ESV
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

2. Those who seek God will find Him.

Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV
… seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Jeremiah 29:13 ESV
You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart.

Luke 11:9-10 ESV
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Proverbs 8:17 ESV
I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

3. To whom much is given, much is required.

Luke 12:48 ESV
…the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

James 3:1 ESV
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

These verses provide a picture of a God who does not “automatically condemn” people who are unfortunate enough to be born in a part of the world unreached by Christianity. This does not mean sin is excused when there is a lack of knowledge. No one is innocent, but God reveals Himself to everyone, no matter where they live. If someone responds to what they know about God, and earnestly seek the source of that knowledge, God promises to honor their search by revealing more of Himself. There is also an indication that the response that is required of someone who knows a little might look different than the response that is required of someone who knows a lot. This does not mean that there is more than one way of salvation–John 14:6 is clear on that. However, we should not fall into the trap of thinking that salvation is born out of a prescribed response to specific knowledge. The Bible teaches that we are counted as righteous in response to faith. Faith is a gift from God, and God bestows that gift upon whomever He wishes. This also does not excuse us of our responsibility to preach the gospel to a world in need of a Savior. Although God doesn’t “need” us to be His messengers, He glories in working through us, and it is a matter of obedience for us to be witnesses of His glory.

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