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Apr 13, 2022 991 Father Joseph Gill, USA
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Q&A: What Will Happen to People Who Don’t Believe in Jesus?

Question: Is it true that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation? What about all those who do not believe in Him, like some of my family members? Can they be saved?

Indeed, Jesus makes some bold claims about who He is. He says that He is “THE way, THE truth, THE life”—not just one way among many or one path to life. He goes on to say that “no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6).

As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ alone is the Savior of the world. Anyone who is saved finds salvation in and through Jesus—His death and resurrection, which took away the sins of the world and reconciled us to the Father; and through our faith in Him, which allows us to access His merits and mercy. Salvation is through Jesus alone—not Buddha, not Mohammed, not any other great spiritual leader.

But does this mean that only Christians go to Heaven? That depends on whether or not someone has heard the Gospel. If someone has never heard the Name of Jesus, then they can be saved, since God has placed on every human heart a “capax Dei” (a capacity for God) and natural law (the innate sense of right and wrong written on our hearts). Someone who has never heard the Gospel preached is not culpable for their ignorance of Jesus, and by seeking God as best as they know how and by following natural law, they can be granted the grace of salvation.

But if someone has heard about Jesus and chooses to reject Him, then they have chosen to reject the salvation that He has won for them. Sometimes people choose not to follow Jesus because their family would reject them, or they would have to give up a sinful lifestyle, or their pride does not allow them to acknowledge their need for a Savior. How sad it would be to turn away from the incredible gift of salvation that Christ desires to give each of us!

With that said, we recognize that we cannot judge any individual soul’s salvation. Perhaps someone heard the Gospel but it was distorted; maybe all they know about Jesus comes from The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live; maybe they are scandalized by the bad behavior of Christians and thus are unable to accept Christ. A famous—if possibly apocryphal—story of Gandhi tells of the great Hindu leader’s admiration for Christianity. He loved to read the Gospels and relished the wisdom contained therein. But when he was asked, “Why do you not convert and become Christian, as you evidently believe in Christ?” he famously responded, “Ah, I love your Christ, but you Christians are so unlike Him!” It was the poor example of Christians that prevented this great leader from becoming one himself!

So, to sum up the answer: God, in ways known to Him alone, can save those who have never heard of the Gospel—or perhaps have not heard it preached or lived well. However, those who have heard the Gospel but reject it have turned away from the gift of salvation.

Knowing that souls hang in the balance, we who know the Lord are given the critical task of evangelization! We must pray for our non-believing friends and family members, witness to them with our joy and our love, and be able to give them “reasons for our hope” (1 Peter 3:15). Perhaps our words or our deeds will bring a soul from darkness into the saving light of faith!

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Father Joseph Gill

Father Joseph Gill is a high school chaplain and serves in parish ministry. He is a graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Father Gill has published several albums of Christian rock music (available on iTunes). His debut novel, “Days of Grace” is available on amazon.com.

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