After writing one of the most mind-boggling and breathtaking paragraphs in all the Bible (Romans 3:21-26), Paul began to explain how God’s salvation becomes a reality in out lives.
The Jewish people in his audience were accustomed to following the Law in an effort to know and please God. But in Romans 3:27-31, Paul described how faith in Christ is the only way to be made right before God. He developed this line of thought in depth in Romans 4-5, concluding that “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith in Christ is the only means by which we can be saved.
Some may wonder at this point how people in the Old Testament were saved. Paul argues in Romans 4-11 that Abraham and others in the Old Testament were saved by grace through faith in the coming of Christ. Though they did not know all the details, they were trusting in the redemption God would bring through Christ. Based on their example, some have concluded that people today can be saved through a general trust in God even though they have never heard of Christ. But Scripture gives no evidence of this once Christ has come. The thrust of the New Testament is that Christ has indeed come and that the people must believe in His person and work on the cross for their salvation (Romans 10:9-10).
Now, obviously, if people can’t come to God apart from faith in Christ, then this truth is not encouraging for those who have never heard of Christ. Many conclude at this point, “I don’t know how, but surely God will make a way for these millions of people to get to heaven even if they have never heard of Christ.” In the emotional pull of the question, we long for there to be a way for those who have not heard to be saved. We are sure that God in His love would not allow them to go to hell when they haven’t even heard of Jesus.
Again, we need to be careful to consider the ramifications of such a conclusion. If we conclude that people can get to heaven apart from faith in Christ, then this would mean there is something else they can do to get to heaven. Such a conclusion would not only undercut the previous truth we saw in Romans; it would also be tantamount to saying to Jesus, “Thank you for what you did on the cross, but we could have gotten to God another way.”
Romans (and all of Scripture) is absolutely abundantly clear on this point. Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation
After the first four truths, we finally came to some good news in the fifth truth. But with this sixth truth, we seem to arrive at yet another dismal point. If people cannot come to God apart from faith in Christ, and if more than a billion people have never heard of Christ, then a serious and eternal problem exists. This problem leads to the final assertion in the book of Romans.