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Does a man that is stuck on an island his entire life apart from any other human contact, go to heaven if he dies? If he accepts the gospel of Christ, then he goes to heaven. This answer should be obvious, but in contemporary evangelicalism it is anything but obvious. Instead of the Scriptures having the final say on the issue, whatever we deem is “fair” often wins our opinion on the matter. We often say, “But, they cannot reject what they have never heard.”
Regardless which side you are on, we cannot say that sinners can be saved apart from trusting in Christ, unless we want to deny that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only Way to get to God the Father (John 14:6); or that we want to deny that everyone on earth is a sinner (Rom. 3:23). After all, if everyone that does not hear the gospel automatically goes to heaven, then we should STOP sending missionaries. Because, what if we send a missionary to share the gospel, and the hearer rejects it? They are thus worse off than before they heard the good news. Furthermore, the Great Commission and the historic-redemptive nature of Scripture only make sense if the gospel is essential for salvation (Matt.28:18-20).
Furthermore, although the man on the Island does not know the gospel of Christ, he does know the God of creation and conscience (Rom. 1:18-21). He has a choice of whether or not he will accept or reject this God; and if he rejects this God, he is without excuse regardless if he ever hears the gospel on earth or not (Rom. 1:20). Thus, the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-32 argues that creation and conscience are enough information to drive sinners to the God of the Bible, but this general revelation is not enough information to save anyone (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The gospel cannot be deduced from creation and conscience alone.
Is there any hope then for the man on the Island? In Acts 10 we learn of a gentile named Cornelius that feared the God of Israel. We must notice that he responded to 1) the limited knowledge he possessed concerning God’s law (Acts 10:1-2), and 2) his conscience as well (Acts 10:1-2). He submitted to the God of Israel, prayed to Him always, and sought to love his neighbor as himself (Acts 10:2). As a result, God sent him the apostle Peter to share the gospel. *It is interesting how an angel told Cornelius to send for Peter instead of the angel himself telling the gospel to Cornelius. One however can argue that the Angel did not share the gospel with Cornelius because God was going to teach Peter through this experience as well. This argument is a sound concerning the context of Acts 10; but, based on the rest of the Scriptures, one cannot deny 1) the rarity angels are involved in sharing the gospel in Scripture, 2) that the salvation of souls through the gospel is not something that the angels are involved in (1 Pet. 1:12), and 3) Christ gave the Great Commission to His church, not to the many, many more powerful and supernatural (compared to humans) angels (Matt. 28:18-20).
In conclusion, does the man on the Island go to heaven or hell? Based on the Scriptures, 1) Sinners cannot be saved apart from the gospel of Christ (John 14:6), 2) The gospel of Christ is given primarily on earth through His church taking His good news to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:18-20), 3) We have no biblical reason to believe that angels are involved in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth as well (1 Pet. 1:12), 4) If a sinner will submit to the God of creation and his conscience, then we can reasonably deduce from Scripture that God will send someone to preach the gospel to him: Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48), 5) If a sinner will not submit to the God of creation or his conscience, then this disobedience alone condemns him apart from his hearing of the gospel (Rom. 1:20), 6) If a sinner has already rejected the God of creation and of his conscience, then is it really “unfair” in even human terms for God not to give the gospel to these rejecters, 7) apart from sinners repenting and placing all their trust in the finished work of Christ, salvation is impossible. I will leave you with what Dr. Russell Moore concludes concerning this issue:
The question of the man on the island’s eternal destination is settled ultimately not by a consensus gained in a youth Bible study or in a breakout session of the Evangelical Theological Society, but in the words God has revealed to us in the Bible. The issue is no trivial matter since it encapsulates both the content of the gospel and the task of the Great Commission.
This question was not a matter of mere speculation to the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ since they too had to wrestle with the destiny of the man of the island who had never heard the name of Jesus. And for the sake of those who were “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12, NASB), they refused to reassure themselves with a manufactured sense of hope for the unevangelized. Instead they endured horrifying persecution to take the gospel to the Gentiles. In short, a North American Christian who ponders whether God is “unfair” to the man on the island should go to the nearest mirror. There he will find a graciously redeemed “man on the island” staring back at him.
You can read the rest of Dr. Moore’s article “The Man on the Island: Facing the Truth about those who Never Hear the Gospel” here.
What are your thoughts about “the man on the island”? Does he or she automatically go to heaven when he or she dies? Why?
What are your thoughts?