Christians often wonder as to who is saved, even amongst church members. The Bible says that many are not sincere, but false. But here we are concerned about (a) adults who have never heard the Gospel; (b) children, anywhere, who are not able to “believe”. These two are related, but are still different. What we usually mean by being “saved” is “going to heaven”. This is a poor conception of salvation. Our problem as to adults would be far simpler if we would ask, “Are they ‘saved'”, born-again, different, Christ-like now!
There are many reasons why we ask the question: 1. Simple curiosity, like too many theological questions. Impersonally. 2. Exclusivism. “Keep it few! We don’t want just anybody.” Strict church requirements are often less for the glory of God than for making membership elite. Often the question stems from uncertainty as to one’s own right to membership. The disciples quarreled for position. 3. Selfishness. Concern as to the salvation of loved ones, etc. 4. Evangelistic. Commendable desire that as many as possible be saved. 5. The glory of God. Christ’s “great salvation” deserves great results. The more people that are redeemed, the greater demonstration of God’s love, mercy. Think of Moses’ plea for Israel. Of Abraham: “Will not the Lord do right?” It is reassuring to know that God wants ALL to be saved; our desire is a reflection of that. Important reminder; God’s glory is not revealed in quantity: then God would have to keep on making and saving people forever! Christ’s BODY is being completed. The important question: Am I really saved? Do I reflect God’s glory, purpose?
It is certain that not every one is saved. Not even in some future life (Mt 12:32), as Jehovah Witnesses and modern Universalists teach. Every one who is saved, is through Jesus Christ only. This includes the Old Testament saints (sins “passed over” by “credit”, as ours paid for by “cash”). This does not mean that every saved person has to know Jesus consciously. Jesus paid for the sins of all men. (Jn 1:29; Rms 14:15, II Tim 4:10, etc.) This is the legal ground for God blessing unbelievers. In the Judgment day (Matt 25) the lost are not condemned because they were sinners! (see also Jn 16:9) There are not two Gods, a Creator who loves unbelievers, and a Redeemer who loves Christians. Those who constrict Christ’s death to only Christians are those who forget that salvation is MORE than just forgiveness of sins. “Mere” forgiveness does not get a person into heaven.
Every one who is saved has “faith”, BUT, faith comes in all sizes. A baby has intelligence from birth; similarly, can have faith. Old Testament people did not have faith in Jesus the way we do; He was not even born! (Incidentally, a child is not saved via his parents’ faith.) Faith shows itself, in both infants and adults. (Babies show trust in their parents, versus strangers.) Cornelius (Acts 10) prayed and gave alms; the centurion in Luke 7:5 built a “church”, Rahab in the Old Testament .
Revelation 7:5 says that there are members of every nation, tribe in heaven. This gets down to very small groups, and some such groups have become extinct without hearing the gospel. For those concerned about a legal, “covenantal” basis for God’s gracious dealing with those “outside” the preaching of the gospel, every human being is descended from Noah, with whom God first used the word “covenant”. God’s mercy to his creatures does not stop with the second or third generation, but reaches to the “thousandth” (Exod 20:6).
Some Bible-beleivers are convinced from the above considerations that all children who die without reaching the age of accountability will be saved, that is, be in heaven. (Of course, they will not be there, if they are, because of an innocence or because their parents believed in God. It will be through Christ.) This would shed new light on the text, “Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven”.
This salvation of billions of human beings who never reached adulthood on earth, plus the possible salvation of some adults who never heard the gospel but were saved in terms of what was said above, would explain the countlessness of the redeemed, and the fact that Christ saved “the world” (even if that doesn’t have to mean everybody or even the majority). An argument against the salvation of “countless” children is that it would be strange if heaven were made up mostly of those who were saved in what seems from Scripture to be the “abnormal”, exceptional way. This world is the “rehearsal” for heaven, not just a “soul-factory” to produce spirits for God to save.
Perhaps all that we can conclude from the observations above as far as adults are concerned, is that if a person outside the gospel responds to the light which he does have (Paul says that the world of nature “preaches” to him, and God speaks to him through his conscience. Rms 2:12-16; 10:14-18), God will reward him by giving him more light, the way that Peter was sent to Cornelius. (“To him that has, shall be given.” Lk 16:10 Many missionaries today report finding “heathen” who were “seeking” before the gospel came (prevenient grace).
Doesn’t this argument for the possible salvation of those who have not “heard”, discourage evangelism? (Paul says everybody is getting “preaching” in some way.) All that we have said is wishful thinking. The Bible does not answer our question specifically, so at best we are only hoping. (It is a worthy, a “Christian” hope – if it is concerned about God’s glory.) If we would like it, how much more must God, whose love so far exceeds ours. If we are wrong in our reasoning, then we are overlooking something important which we should ask God to show us. If any “heathen” adults are saved in this “irregular” way, their number is certainly very few. If preaching has great results, as the Bible says it does, it is criminal if we settle for he minimum. The few who might be saved in this fashion have only the scantiest enjoyment of God’s “full salvation”. Jesus didn’t die so that people would just squeeze into eternal life, but have it “more abundantly”. Such people, of course, are scarcely able to be God’s means of saving others, both because of their limited number and meager personal faith. God’s great program of saving the world (numerous individuals and society itself, by Christian living) cannot be accomplished in this way.
What about baptized children who die before maturity; are they all saved? Every one realizes that a little water saves nobody, so the question is, are children of Christians saved if they die before maturity? If ALL who die before maturity are saved by Christ (never having rejected him), there is no problem. Some people believe that the children of Christian parents are saved (and unbelievers’ children are not, or we “leave them up to the Lord”. This is hard to accept; Many do not “remain” Christians when they grow up. This situation would make a parent prefer their children to die young! Since we know that all do not become Christians, perhaps the best answer is to say of ALL children who die in youth, baptized or not, that God knows their nature, or, putting it in human terms, knows what they would become if they had grown up and were able to make a decision for Christ. While all these guesses are legitimate, the Bible wisely gives no final answer. (Deut 29:29 and Luke 13:24 are OUR golden texts.)