We are considering a post by Al Maxey and another post by Leroy Garrett arguing that, for those who’ve never heard the gospel, their salvation will be determined based on their response to what they know of God from other sources.
Leroy argues from —
(John 15:22) If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.
Jesus also said,
(John 15:24) If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.
This brings us to a critical point in understanding God’s relationship with Israel, and is entirely consistent with the earlier series on Rom 9 – 11, “Election.” As Paul wrote in Romans —
(Rom 3:25) God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–
(Rom 9:22) What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction?
Both passages have primary reference to the Jews. God was not pleased with the Jews, but because of their election, he’d been patient with them. He even sent Jesus to them to perform miracles and preach the good news of the Kingdom. They rejected Jesus, and so God’s patience with them expired.
Yes, it’s true that greater knowledge of God’s will causes greater transgression, but this is the reason for grace through faith in Jesus. Jesus came to the Jews, who rejected him and thus rejected the Father, and so God rejected them.
(Rom 11:20) Granted. But they [the Jews] were broken off because of unbelief, and you [Gentiles] stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.
Of course, the Jews were guilty of sin, as Jesus said, but their greatest sin was unbelief. The reason they stood guilty of unbelief was because Jesus had come to them and they rejected him — which brought an end to the time of God’s patience.
Jesus wasn’t saying that the Jews were sinless. No one is sinless. He was saying that the Jews were not charged with their sins, out of God’s astonishing grace, until they rejected Jesus. This left them “with no excuse”(15:22), which is exactly in line with Paul’s teaching in Romans 1 – 2.
Finally, Leroy argues from a series of passages that teach Jesus died for everyone. He concludes that all will be saved other than those who reject God. But what does it mean to reject God?
As we covered in the previous post, Paul states plainly in Rom 3:23 that all fall short of God’s glory because all have sinned — and sinned against that portion of God’s law for which they are accountable. This is why Paul spent so much time in chapters 1 and 2 explaining how everyone is guilty of sin sufficient to damn and so need a Savior.
And no other interpretation would fit the rest of Romans. For example,
(Rom 11:19-21) You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Paul’s argument is that the Jews rejected Jesus through their unbelief, and therefore they were “broken off” God’s olive tree. The Gentiles then believed in Jesus, and so they were grafted in. But if some Gentiles were already saved by having met the “available light” standard, they would have already been grafted in. Paul says the Gentiles weren’t grafted in until after Jesus was rejected by the Jews.
(Rom 11:30-31) Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
Before being grafted in, the Gentiles were “disobedient” — meaning that they knew some of God’s law and they disobeyed it. And this is the reason they weren’t yet grafted in.
Just so, Paul says,
(Rom 5:10) For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Before receiving grace, the Gentiles were God’s “enemies”! The same word is found in —
(Rom 11:28-29) As far as the gospel is concerned, they [the Jews] are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
The Jews, having rejected Jesus, became enemies of God — but enemies to whom the gospel remains extended.
Here’s the point: we are an enemy of God if we, like the Jews in the First Century, reject Jesus. But 5:10 says we are also enemies before being saved through the death of Jesus — by faith.
In short, yes, we are accountable only for so much of God’s will as we know. But that’s enough to damn us all. Nonetheless, I think God is merciful to those who’ve never heard the gospel — just not through the doctrine of available light.