Without the Law…
At death, what happens to those who have never heard the Word of God?
“All who sin outside the law will also perish without reference to it, and all who sin under the law will be judged in accordance with it. For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified. For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.” -Romans 2:12-16 NAB
Our God is a very merciful God, and He is also the God of justice. What we learn today is that those who do not know the Law, as in the commandments we learn from the Bible, will be judged on another level. They will be measured by a different standard than those who know the Law.
How can God judge these people if they have never heard the Law? Paul tells us that God has put the Law on their hearts. Basically, as we enter adulthood, we know the difference between right and wrong. So, someone in the third world who has never heard the Gospel message may not know all of the Ten Commandments, the Greatest Commandment, or any of the other rules from the Bible, but they still have a basic understanding of what is right. It is on that basic understanding that they will be judged.
Does this mean that we are better off not knowing the Law? Well, if you are reading this now, you already know at least some of the Law, so you can no longer claim ignorance of it. For those who have not heard it, they will be judged accordingly. We do not know God’s measures or standards, and I would not want to be measured on my actions alone. Most scholars, however, do hope that God will be merciful to those who do not know the Law but live accordingly anyway.
As Christians, we will be judged according to the Law, but it does not matter how well we know the Law; it only matters how well we follow the Law. In Scripture, we learn that no one is worthy of God’s forgiveness, but we have the hope, through the saving work of Jesus Christ, to receive God’s forgiveness. Instead of being meaured by our works alone, we have the Lord Jesus Christ as our Mediator for us.