Is Salvation by Faith in Jesus Unfair to Those Who Never Hear of Him?

Amy K. Hall

What about those who never hear of Jesus? This is one of the most common questions I receive, and as with most of those common questions, it has to do with a challenge to the character of God. Is God acting unfairly if his salvation depends on trusting in Jesus and some never hear of him? Does justice require that God reveal himself to everyone?

In God’s Love, R.C. Sproul responds to the even stronger objection leveled at Calvinists that God would be unjust if he chose some for salvation but not others, but you don’t have to be a Calvinist to appreciate the quote. His concise explanation of why election by grace is consistent with the character of a good and just God applies equally to the objection about those who never hear of Jesus:

Somehow it is widely assumed that God owes all people either the gift of salvation or at least a chance of salvation. Since they cannot be saved apart from His grace, He owes it to everyone to grant them that grace.

This kind of thinking results from a fundamental confusion between God’s justice and His mercy or grace. Grace, by definition, is something that God is not required to grant. He owes a fallen world no mercy. If we cried out for justice at His hands, we could all receive the just condemnation we deserve. Justice is what we deserve. Grace is always and ever undeserved. If we deserved it, it would not be grace.

As Sproul also points out, in the end, some will receive grace from God, and some will receive justice. But no one ever will ever receive injustice. The key to grasping this is 1) understanding the difference between justice and grace and 2) an awareness of what our sinfulness actually deserves from a righteous and holy God.

If you’ve struggled with this objection, you’re not alone. In fact, in Romans 9:14–15, Paul anticipates the objection that grace not given to all equally is unjust:

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’

There is nothing unjust about giving mercy to some, and giving mercy to some in no way diminishes the justice deserved by others, as Sproul explains:

If God decides to pardon one guilty person, that does not mean that those He does not pardon somehow become any less guilty.

God’s grace is freely given—not to those who are owed it, but to those who aren’t. No one can say that justice demands they be given something they didn’t earn; and if someone gives an undeserved gift to one, in no way is he required to give the same gift to all.

As Sproul concludes, this is the beauty and wonder of grace. This is the source of our awe, our gratefulness, our adoration of a God whose gracious, undeserved love saved his enemies at great cost to himself.