If someone has never heard of Jesus, does Romans 2:14-15 apply to their judgment?
If someone doesn’t know about Jesus, like they never heard about Jesus and they live in a far-off and remote part of the world, then, as far as their judgment is concerned, is Romans 2:14-15 the the applicable scripture? Does this translate into saying that their own conscience will be used for them or against them when they are being judged by God?
The romantic idea of a person in a far-off land who has never heard of Christ is no longer a reality. One hundred years ago, there were small but significant numbers of people who had never heard of Jesus. Even fifty years ago, there were extremely remote places, but rapidly vanishing ones, where people had never heard of Christ and languages into which the Bible had not been translated. In 2013, such is no longer the case. How we should apply Romans 2:14-15 is a good question, but there is no one left on this planet who is not aware at least broadly of Christianity and some of the main tenets of the religion. Every person you ever meet and even people you have never met is aware of Jesus and almost certainly also aware of the claim that he is God’s son.
So, my answer is that Romans 2:14-15, however it applies, does not apply today to people who have never heard about Jesus with regard to judgment because there are no such people.
I have heard this passage applied to people who lived in the past, and perhaps it is legitimate to do so, but discussions about God’s judgement on people who lived long ago and who we never personally met are fairly abstract and have no practical value. Nevertheless, I can address the issue. I believe that God is just and he will judge all fairly. Romans 2:14-15 does in fact suggest how God may deal with sincere God-fearing people who have done their level best to always serve him. However, if you look at this passage, it says that they will be judged according to their consciences. I wonder how many of us have always obeyed the dictates of our conscience with regard to what is right and wrong to do. I would guess that if this is the case, none of us will be in heaven. I am not saying that no one will be in heaven based on a kind of judgment described in Romans 2:14-15, but what I am saying is that if the standard is perfection–sinlessness, even under our conscience, then I am not very confident about people who never heard about Jesus. The best plan, from the beginning of the church, has been to get the word about Jesus out there as widely and with as much conviction as possible so that men and women can be baptized into Christ, clothed with Christ, die with Christ and be raised with Christ a new person–guaranteed their salvation.