"What About Those 'What About' Questions?"
"What about those who have never heard the gospel? Are they saved?" "What about the sincere believer who has never been baptized?" "What about the sincere (insert any world religion)? Are they really going to be lost?" "What about this situation?" "What about that situation?" "Is God really going to be so strict?"
These kinds of questions are well-known to those of us who have preached the gospel for any period of time. And, frankly, these are not easy ones to answer. Here are some thoughts for your consideration.
While it may be the case that some of the "What about/what if...." questioners are sincere, it has been my experience that many of them raise those questions to reach the conclusion: 'Therefore, it doesn't really matter what the Bible says about anything.' If, for example, it's a "faith only" advocate who is asking the question about the necessity of baptism, then I just turn the question back on them: "What about the sincere Jew, sincere Hindu, sincere idol worshipper, sincere atheist, etc. who has not yet believed in Jesus? Are we therefore to discount John 14:6?" The point is, if human reasoning is going to be our standard, where do we draw the line?
I may not always know how to effectively respond to such questions as these. But what I do know for sure, is the ultimate source of those questions. The source is Satan! From the very beginning Satan's task has been to raise questions which attack the reasonableness and credibility of God's commands. His first effort was in the Garden of Eden, to Eve: "Thou shalt not surely die..." In other words, 'Does it seem reasonable that a loving Creator would punish you just because you ate this particular fruit?' You can find numerous other examples of Satan's cloven hoof behind the scenes throughout the Bible. (Viz., Nadab & Abhiu in Lev.10; Saul in 1 Sam.15, etc., etc.)
Let's play a little "What If" game of our own here. What if it is the case that Christ, the Righteous Judge, should decide that this sincere _________, who was never baptized for the remission of sins, should be saved anyhow? Let me hasten to say, that there's no way I can affirm that that would be the Judge's decision. But, (stay with me here) what if it were? Would that in any way diminish my responsibility to obey Acts 2:38 and to preach it to others? No way! What if God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, should decide to save the pagan in the remote jungles, even though he never heard of Jesus? Would that reduce my responsibility to hear, believe, obey and take the gospel of Christ to that pagan? No way! What I'm trying to say, is that the source of the question is Satanic, in that the father of all lies, the Great Deceiver, is using those apparently sincere questioners to sow the devil's seed which produces the conclusion that we really don't need to pay attention to what God has said! I may not always know the best way to answer the question - but I recognize immediately where it comes from!
Let me refer you to a passage that has helped me some in my struggles with this subject. It is Matthew 11:20-24. Read it carefully. Notice that God's omniscience is such that He is able to know, not only what man has done, but what he would have done under a different set of circumstances. Jesus said that Tyre and Sidon would have repented if they had seen the miracles done in Chorazin & Bethsaida, and that that was going to be factored into what was done with them on the day of judgement. Read it again, and see if that's not what He is saying. Now, if that's the case, God is able to look at my life and not only see what I have actually done, but what I would have done under different circumstances. Is that a fair conclusion? For example: Polycarp, one of John's converts, willingly chose to be burned at the stake instead of renouncing Jesus. You and I will hopefully never be faced with that situation. But what if we were? What would I do if I had to make Polycarp's choice? Well.... I like to think that I would have done the same thing as that ancient Christian. But God's wisdom is such that He knows absolutely what I would do, and that will be factored into the judgement. Now, having established in our minds the awesome omniscience of our God and how He is able to use that in the Judgement, this furnishes me with a ground of confidence and comfort when such questions are put to me. My answer should therefore be, "I don't know what God will do. But I do know that that person will be in the hands of a just, merciful and omniscient God Who will always do the right thing, because He has perfect knowledge of all the hypothetical 'what ifs'. I'm willing to leave it in His capable hands. But in the meantime, my responsibility remains undiminished to find out from His word what He wants me to do, and then do it explicitly with all my heart." When we let hypothetical questions weaken our respect for God's revelation and our resolve to do His will in spite of all else, then we have fallen prey to one of the Devil's most successful devices. May it never be!