Joe: Hey, Bob. What are your plans for vacation this summer?
Bob: Well, my wife and I are actually going on a mission trip during our vacation time this year.
Joe: Really? I didn’t take you to be the proselytizing type.
Bob: Oh, I’m not. Or least I haven’t been. But recently my wife and I both decided we needed to do more to spread the gospel.
Joe: Admirable. Of course, you know I’m an agnostic, so I would never do such a thing. But I can understand why a believer such as yourself would want to go. Where are you going?
Bob: A remote tribe in South America. It’s my understanding that the gospel has never been presented to the tribe before.
Joe: Wow! That remote, huh? I’d be scared out of my mind. But since you believe they are lost and going to hell without Jesus, I understand why you’d want to go. And speaking of that, I’ve always had a problem with a God that would condemn people for not believing in someone they don’t even know existed. Seems unfair to me.
Bob: I never said they were going to hell. There are some verses in the Bible that indicate that God may judge people who have never heard the gospel using a different standard than those who have heard.
Joe: Really? I’ve always understood the Bible to say that the only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus.
Bob: Yes, that is true, but there is some indication that God will have mercy on those who have never had a chance to hear about Jesus. God really is merciful. I don’t believe he’d condemn people for not believing something they don’t even know about.
Joe: Well, I guess that’s good to know, assuming that the Bible is true. But now I have to ask: Why are you going?
Bob: How do you mean?
Joe: I mean, why are you going to preach the gospel to a group of people who are already saved?
Bob: Who said they are saved?
Joe: I thought you just did. You said they would be judged according to a different standard than those who have heard the gospel. I thought that meant they were saved.
Bob: No, salvation only comes through faith in Jesus Christ.
Joe: So, that tribe is not going to heaven?
Bob: I didn’t say that either. I believe they will go to heaven rather than hell, but only by the grace and mercy of God, not because they are saved. Their rewards in heaven will not be as great as a believer who is saved.
Joe: Okay, I’m a bit confused. Isn’t the most important thing to go to heaven rather than hell, not that you get there through salvation in Christ? And isn’t heaven with few rewards much better than hell?
Bob: Yes, that’s true, but the good news of Christ is not just about the afterlife, it’s also for this life. Knowing Jesus will make this life better as well.
Joe: I would argue that that’s not always true, but let’s put that aside. I have a question. What happens to the tribespeople that hears about Jesus and then reject the message?
Bob: Well, according to the Bible, they will be lost.
Joe: And bound for hell?
Joe: So why are you going?
Bob: I answered that already.
Joe: Not exactly. Let’s lay out what you have said so far. The tribespeople are all going to heaven. Their life here on Earth may not be as good as it could be, and they may not be rewarded as well in heaven, but at least they aren’t going to hell. To me, that seems to be a positive. Now, you plan to preach the good news of Jesus to them. What are the possible outcomes? Some will believe, which may lead to a better life here on Earth and more rewards in heaven. But those who reject the message will now be on a path to hell whereas before hearing the message they were on a path to heaven. Overall, it seems like your preaching has no upside, only a downside.
Bob: I haven’t really thought about it that way.
Joe: Well, maybe you should. So, now, why are you going?
Bob: I guess my answer has to be that Jesus commanded us to preach the gospel to all tribes and nations.
Joe: I know enough about the Bible to know that is true. But why would he ask people to do that if everyone who hasn’t heard the gospel is going to heaven anyway? Wouldn’t the only valid reason for preaching be that people are lost and bound for hell?
Bob: I don’t know. I can certainly see your point. Perhaps I have been wrong about people who haven’t heard about Jesus going to heaven. Or perhaps some are going to heaven and some aren’t. So, he wants us to preach to everyone just in case they need to hear.
Joe: That certainly makes Jesus’ command to preach to everyone make more sense. But it still concerns me that there might be some who are going to heaven who no longer will after hearing the gospel. I thought preaching the gospel was about bringing people into heaven, not casting them out.
Bob: I hear you. I just don’t know how to answer that. On the one hand, I find it hard to believe that God would condemn a person who has never heard about Jesus. But on the other hand, I don’t know why he would have us preach to those who are already going to heaven if it could lead to some of them rejecting the gospel and not going to heaven. I think I’m going to have to study this topic a bit more.
Joe: Sounds like a good plan. Let me know what you find out.