The first three chapters of the book of Romans contain some of the most depressing verses in all the Bible. Paul built a strong case for the depravity of humankind, using words such as “sinful”, “shameful”, “senseless, faithless, heartless”, and “ruthless” to describe us.
From Romans 1:18 to 2:16, Paul described the gentiles who had sinned against God. You can almost see Paul’s Jewish readers nodding in agreement at every verse as they think about the wickedness of the heathen around them. But then Paul turned the tables on the Jews in Romans 2:17 and confronted them in their sinfulness. His description of their sin continues all the way into Romans 3, at which point he concluded,
There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
The case has been made, and its decisive. All people, regardless of religious, cultural, or ethnic background, stand guilty before God. In Paul’s words, “every mouth is silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
Suppose you were to ask me, “what happens to the guy in the middle of Africa who dies without ever hearing the gospel?” My confident answer to you would be, “I believe he will undoubtedly go to heaven. There is no question in my mind.”
Now, before some label me as a heretic (And others label me a hero) read back over that last paragraph. Look carefully at the hypothetical question: “What happens to the innocent guy in the middle of Africa who dies without ever hearing the gospel?” (This is how most people word the question.)
The reality is, the innocent guy in Africa will go to heaven because if he is innocent, then he has no need for a Savior to save him from sin. As a result, he doesn’t need the gospel. But there is a significant problem here.
The innocent guy doesn’t exist…in Africa or anywhere else.
I am always amazed at how we bias this question concerning people who have never heard about Jesus. We give the man in Africa or the woman in Asia or even ourselves wherever we are far to much credit. There are no innocent people in the world just waiting to hear the gospel. Instead there are people all over the world standing guilty before a holy God, and that is the very reason they need the gospel.
All to often we view heaven as the default eternal state for humankind. We assume our race simply deserves heaven, that God owes heaven to us unless we do something really bad to warrant otherwise. But as we have seen in Romans, this theology is just not true. All people are guilty before God, and as such the default is not heaven but hell. This leads to out next truth.