The gospel doesn’t judge us, Jesus judges us


I really appreciate your articles; they are very informing and biblically-based.  I recently read an article that you wrote on why those who never heard the gospel would be/could be/ may be lost (the title was something like that).

In it, you mentioned Romans 2:12-16: "For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel."

You used the last verse in this passage to prove that those who are ignorant of the law will be judged by the gospel. It may seem minute, but my own observation and conviction tell me that that is not what the verse is saying. It does not say that they will be judged by the gospel. It says that they will be judged by God: "God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." It is by Jesus Christ, not by the mouth-proclaimed gospel. Romans settles it; those who sin without the law perish without the law. I know that God's ways and thoughts are not like mine, but where do we ever see someone being condemned unconditionally by God because they were ignorant of the whole law? Leviticus is huge on old commands given to the Israelites in regard to cleansing sin. Leviticus 4:13 says that the whole community is guilty if they sin unintentionally. One mustn't stop there. In verse 14, keywords are "when they become aware...," they are to obey God to make atonement. There are several other examples but I don't need to list them all.

It seems much more likely from the context of Romans 2 and the grammar that Paul is saying that what he has written thus far is according to the gospel, not that the gospel what is used to do the judging. "by Jesus Christ" is the authority of the judging, not the gospel. Jesus Christ is omnipresent, so he can universally judge. The gospel is not omnipresent, which is why we "go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature" and "make disciples of all nations... teaching them to obey." I may have misunderstood you, but this is my conviction from the Scriptures and not my own intuition. Thanks.


As you understand, personal conviction or intuition does not prove a point. You make several mistakes in your argument in an attempt to put it into a better light.

First, you asked, "Where do we ever see someone being condemned unconditionally by God because they were ignorant of the whole law?" Yet, I went back through the prior answer and did not find this being asserted. What you did was set up a straw man argument. Instead of addressing what was actually said, perhaps because it was more difficult to handle, you picked your own argument to refute but made it appear to be mine. It is a poor tactic because at its root nothing is gained by proving a point the other person doesn't hold.

Essentially you state that being judged by Jesus Christ does not equate to being judged by the "mouth-proclaimed gospel." You do admit that being judged by Jesus is a reference to who will be judging (supported by I Corinthians 4:4 among other passages), but you leave the matter of what we will be judged against unresolved and leap to a conclusion that it isn't by the gospel.

"And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books" (Revelation 20:12).

This passage in Revelation, while not precise, does tell us that we will be judged by multiple things. One is called the Book of Life which John tells us contains the works people have done in their life. Such is stated many times in the New Testament, for example: "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who 'will render to each one according to his deeds'" (Romans 2:5-6). But what about the other book? We will also be judged by the things written in that book as well.

James tells us, "So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty" (James 2:12). So despite your contention, we are judged by a law. But does that mean only those who have accepted the law of liberty will be judged by that law?

"He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him -- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).

Thus we learn that Jesus' words, which Paul also calls the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), will also judge those who reject the law as well as those who accept the law. This is compatible with another of Jesus' statements: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Notice that Jesus said he was the truth and yet later he says to God, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). The two statements are not contradictory because, as John stated at the beginning of his gospel, Jesus is the Word (John 1:1-3, 14). In other words, to say that someone will be judged by Jesus or that someone will be judged by the Word of God is to say the same thing. Jesus' teachings are the standard by which we are judged.

This puts an imperative on teaching that law since men will be judged by that law. "For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (I Peter 4:6). This is why Jesus gave orders, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

To claim that ignorance of the law means a person is not accountable would imply that a person is not lost until they hear the gospel. Then the gospel would not be good news by which people could be saved, but news which would make people lost in their sins. If ignorance is bliss as you seem to be implying then we would be better off never having or hearing the story of Jesus.

We know that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Try telling a policeman that you didn't know what the speed limit was and see if that buys you any sympathy. If one must know the law before he can break the law, then there would be no such thing as a sin of ignorance. Ignorance would imply there was no sin. But Peter charges the Jews that they killed the Christ, "Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:17-19). Peter tells them that they need to repent and change despite their acting in ignorance. He states that they had sins that needed removal despite their ignorance.

Paul told the Gentiles a similar message. "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31). Ignorance is no longer an excuse. God commands all people to repent.

Have you not stopped to consider how people become lost? "Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). People are lost because they have sinned, and sin is the breaking of the law (I John 3:4). In other words, there are laws that people are obligated to keep, which when they don't keep them puts them in sin. "Because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression" (Romans 4:15). If the gospel did not apply to non-believers, then they have not sinned. But Paul proved conclusively that everyone has been guilty of sin (Romans 2:23). And the gospel saves non-believers when they do become believers. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16). It is this written word of good news which had the power to rescue people from their sins, and the death that would afflict those who remain in their sins.

"and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thessalonians 1:7-8).

When Jesus comes, he will sit in judgment and those who will face his wrath are those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel. So are they judged by the Jesus? Most certainly. By what are they being judged? By their lack of knowledge about God and by their disobedience to the gospel. Thus being judged by Jesus is also to be judge by his gospel. The gospel is not the judge, it is the standard by which we are judged against.


I really appreciate your response. I am ecstatic that you took the time to write me such a detailed explanation. Let me make clear that I do not seek to set forth a predefined debate with the intention of unconditionally holding on to my initial conclusion to the end, as lawyers do. As I stated before, I readily admitted that I may have misunderstood you so my apologies for the perceived "straw-man argument."

You wrote, "To claim that ignorance of the law means a person is not accountable would imply that a person is not lost until they hear the gospel." I don't claim such a thing. I merely believe that the scriptures teach (especially Romans 2) that man is accountable for what he knows. Being ignorant of the full gospel does not excuse someone because Paul wrote that in its absence, man's conscience becomes his moral law and that the law is written in his heart if he follows. And as we know, all scripture is given by inspiration of God. So even though a remote tribe in the Amazon may not have the Bible, but they do have consciences to distinguish between good and evil, though their conscience's perception of the two is inherently imperfect. No, I'm not saying in any way that anyone is excused from their sins for being ignorant. However, no one is going to have it naturally on their conscience that Jesus died and rose and that we are to believe, repent, and be baptized. Hence, the instructions in Matthew 28 would never be necessary. Paul proclaimed, "those who sin without the law perish without the law."

You say that the scriptures teach that man is guilty of sin even if he is ignorant of the law. I wholeheartedly agree. Leviticus 4 teaches that. Verse 13 says, "'If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty." But one mustn't stop there. The next verse says, "When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting." The keywords: "when they become aware of the sin they committed..."

The Lord didn't say, "they are guilty, and if they don't know then they are condemned regardless of whether or not they knew my specific instructions." This really speaks of a just God and just let me add before this statement is ripped apart, I acknowledge that my feeble mind cannot process godly justice (Isaiah 55:8-9). The Lord said that they are to obey his command for atonement when they become aware of their sin and he also, being the mighty merciful God that he is, gives exact instruction for how to receive atonement for sins.  Yes, those Israelites were guilty every time they transgressed, just as we are, with or without knowledge. But those keywords, "when they become aware," lead me to conclude that the ignorant tribesman in the Amazon won't be held accountable for dying without baptism when he never heard of it or saw it  (Romans 10:13-14).

I don't see where the Bible gives us definitive answers on how the ignorant will be judged, whether they will be preached to after death based on the consciences that they obeyed or ignored, or whether they are all condemned for not knowing and consequently being unbelieving. I know God is a just God, and he foresaw everything that we are discussing. I was a little confused about I Peter 4:6; what does that "preaching to the dead" mean?

This is not an argument so much as it is my conviction. I am in no way set in stone on this biblical issue which is why I sought to engage in dialogue. I really appreciate your insight into the Scripture and I admire your God-given talent in your knowledge. Just as Timothy learned from Paul, I am interested in learning from those whom the Lord has given wisdom even if I don't agree at the end (Acts 15:36-39). Whatever it is, it's about faith, because whatever is not of faith is sin so I'm praying for my own conviction on the matter. No argument, no debate, just dialogue.


It seems when you use the words "argument" and "debate" you imagine hotly contested issues where two people are at each other's throat. I don't use the words in this fashion. For example, WordNet defines "argument" as "a fact or assertion offered as evidence that something is true" and that is the way I typically use the word. You have a viewpoint and you presented a series of assertions to justify that viewpoint. I pointed out several flaws in the method and what was asserted and then asserted other facts that you might not have considered. That give and take is called "debate." defines "debate" as "To consider something; deliberate. To engage in argument by discussing opposing points." Such is what you find typically happening in the Bible. But for the moment I wish to stick to the subject at hand, so may I recommend looking at "Debates" for further details on this subject.

We actually are not far apart on this subject. You stated:

"Being ignorant of the full gospel does not excuse someone"

"I'm not saying in any way that anyone is excused from their sins for being ignorant."

"even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty"

When a person is guilty, it means they have committed sin. Thus, you seem to agree that people can sin without being aware of it. But God is quite clear that the consequence of all sin is death. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Paul states that there is a resolution for the consequences of sin, but it is through Christ. Peter says the same thing, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). This is exclusionary. Salvation from sin cannot be found by any other means. That too is supported by Jesus, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).

So what we are faced with is a problem of sin which has only one solution. Ignorance does not solve the problem. Even in the passage you cited from Leviticus, God did not say they were released from the guilt of a sin done in ignorance. He demands that when they discover their guilt that they take the steps for resolving that guilt, steps they would have taken if they were aware of the sin from the beginning.

The point in Leviticus proves that you cannot resolve the guilt of sins you are unaware of committing. It makes sense. In order to change, or repent of a sin, you must first be aware that the sin exists. But once awareness comes, it behooves a person to quickly resolve the issue. What this illustrates is praying, "Forgive me of any sins I might be unaware of" is inappropriate because you would be requesting forgiveness without repentance. More appropriate would be to pray, "Help me to become aware of sins that I might have committed in ignorance so that I might do them no more and seek Your forgiveness."

So let's take your example of someone in a remote part of the world who somehow manages to live and die without ever hearing the gospel. Will he live or die? Paul's argument in Romans 1 and 2 is that the Gentiles were guilty of sin. God was just in holding them accountable for those sins because their conscience gives them a measure of standard regarding what is right and wrong, even if it might not be precise. Paul's point was that even with this loose standard, everyone finds themselves condemned because they have not fully lived up to the standard they did know. Paul then turns to the Jews in Romans 3 who had the advantage of having a law that laid out the standard of right and wrong. He proves that they too were unable to keep that standard without sinning. Thus he concludes: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

The Gentiles have all sinned, and their own conscience testifies the fact that they are guilty before God. The Jews have all sinned and their own law testifies of the fact that they are guilty before God. So what is the solution to the problem of sin? "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). We once again come to the same point: the only way out of the condemnation of sin is through Jesus.

You seem to agree that ignorance doesn't solve the problem. But we do find what does solve the problem. When people became aware that they were in sin, they rapidly worked to gain God's forgiveness. "And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized" (Acts 16:33). "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

But this doesn't answer the question: what happens if someone never finds out the way to salvation? The passage in Leviticus doesn't answer that question, though it hints that the situation is not good because God said they are guilty regardless of not knowing it. What I have pointed out, and you haven't addressed yet is that Paul states clearly what happens.

"and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thessalonians 1:7-8).

Those who do not know God, those who acted out of ignorance, will still face the judgment of Jesus. It is justified because they are sinners before God being self-condemned by their own conscience. Christians recognize the criticalness of this situation, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (II Corinthians 5:10-11). Christians understand that lives are at stake and so every opportunity to spread the gospel is not passed by because that chance might bring another soul to Christ.

Peter's statement, which you didn't understand fully, makes this same point. "For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (I Peter 4:6). A person who sins is dead because of his sins (Romans 6:23). We preach to the dead, that is we take the gospel to those lost in sin, so that they might realize that they are lost in this world (that they stand condemned, that they are judged guilty) and with that knowledge might find life in the spiritual realm through the knowledge of Jesus taught in the Scriptures. It is only by realizing that they are in danger will people be motivated to do something about their problem.

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