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The Lost Condition of Those Who Have Not Heard the Gospel
No question is asked more in the context of Romans 1 than, “What about the innocent people in Africa who have never had a chance to hear the gospel? Isn’t God unfair for judging them?” Besides the fact that the gospel is spreading and the church of Jesus Christ is growing faster in Africa today than in many parts of the world, there are other problems with this question.
First, Romans 1 does not say anything about the wrath of God coming upon those who do not believe the gospel. It says the wrath of God is revealed against godlessness and wickedness. Second, God is never “unfair” or “fair.” These are words used in human conversation which do not apply to God. God is righteous and just, not fair, according to Scripture. So the answer to the question, “Isn’t God unfair for judging them?” is “No.” The task is to determine why his judgment is just.
First, no one who has never heard of Jesus Christ will ever be judged for not believing in him (Rom. 10:14). God would certainly be unjust if he judged someone for something they never had the opportunity to do. Second, it is clear from Scripture that God has established testimony to himself in nature, the created order (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19; Acts 14:16–17). Third, the testimony is plain (Rom. 1:19), having been made plain by God himself. Fourth, humans choose to hold down the knowledge of God that they have been given rather than embracing it and seeking more (Rom. 1:18). Therefore, what “the innocents” are being held accountable for is what they were given, and they were given enough light about the existence of God to seek him, but they choose not to do so (Rom. 3:12). Because God is just, there will be degrees of punishment for unbelievers who are judged (Eccl. 12:14; Matt. 11:22, 24; 12:36; Luke 8:17; 12:2–3, 47–48; 20:47; Rom. 2:5–7, 16; Rev. 20:12–13).
Therefore, God is just and righteous in his judgments of those who have not heard of Christ or had a chance to respond to the gospel. Those who have heard the gospel clearly and still refused to believe will suffer a greater judgment than those who have not.