The bible says in Romans that people without the Bible (or those who have
never heard the message) will be judged by their conscience. My question
is about those who have read scriptures in the Bible or attended church
sincerely, but have never had a true disciple of Jesus Christ show them
the true way according to God. Are those people going to be judged
according to the word or their conscience?
I assume that you refer to Romans 2:14,15. Here Paul says, “For when
Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law,
these, not having the Law are a law to themselves, in that they show the
work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness,
and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day
when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through
Christ Jesus (NAS Bible). Here it seems to state that on Judgment Day,
those who do not know the Old Testament Law, but who out of obedience to a
sensitive conscience, obey the laws written in their heart, God will in
some unstated sense take that into account.
Does this apply to those who know the Bible and do not obey it? Does this
mean that they can nevertheless be saved? The simple answer seems to be
no. First of all, Paul is speaking in the context of the Old Testament
Law. The book of Romans makes it clear that no one is saved through
obeying the Law, either of law their conscience or the Law of the Old
Testament. Salvation is found in no one else but in Jesus Christ, through
obedience to the gospel: through repentance, confession of the Lordship of
Christ and baptism into Christ.
It would appear that you suffer from a common problem. You confuse
judgment with judging. What I mean is this. I too struggle with feeling
that when I decide, based on clear biblical teaching, that a person is not
saved, that I am judging that person. That is simply not true (I hope not.
I better not be judging people. That is a sin.) God is Judge. Neither I
nor you want to take that job from him. It is our job to read the
scripture, to apply them both to ourselves and to those with whom we come
into contact. If it is our judgment that someone needs salvation, then it
is our job to present the gospel to that person. When we make judgments
about how to help people, does that mean we are setting ourselves up as
Judge? I certainly hope not.
This brings us back to your hypothetical friend. Is he or she lost or
saved? Let us leave that in God’s hands. Aren’t you thankful that is God’s
job? If you come to the conviction that that person is lost, based on what
you know from the gospel, go to work, but leave the judging to God. And
don’t allow Satan or anyone else accuse you of judging people. You are
simply trying to help.
John Oakes, Ph.D.