How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one in whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach if they are not sent? Romans 10:14-15a
The Bible makes it clear that hearing the Gospel (hearing what God has promised and done to save us) is an important part of forming a saving bond to Jesus. So what if somebody never got to hear? It would seem inherently unfair.
The Church has the burden of being the primary means of transmitting the Gospel to the world. We are responsible to teach the Gospel to the next generation, to take the Gospel to foreign lands and to share the Gospel with those within our circle of influence. God has the responsibility of using the Gospel to form a saving faith. Clearly, though, not everybody has had the chance hear the plan of God. People have been isolated from Christianity. Others died too young.
Is God’s plan only as strong as its weakest link, which is clearly the Church and the limitation of our witness? The honest answer is that we don’t know. Because we don’t know, we should take the burden of sharing the Gospel most seriously. Talking about Jesus with others won’t add to our being saved, but it definitely can be a factor on whether somebody is saved.
That said, don’t think that God would limit Himself to our faithfulness. When it came to saving us, He did it all Himself. Jesus fulfilled the Law. Jesus was forsaken. Jesus died for our sins. The Holy Spirit created the personal connection to Jesus. Clearly Jesus wants His people to be involved, but He won’t let us be the reason for failure. Two things, beyond reason, point in this direction. One is the rather common occurrence of Jesus appearing to Muslims in their dreams. Often He directs them to a Christian after the encounter, but Jesus still does the initial and critical contact like He did with the Apostle Paul.
Another, more obscure method, may be referred to in 1 Peter 4:6. Most explanations of this passage are totally unconvincing. The passage seems to refer back to 1 Peter 3:19 where Jesus preaches to the dead, while they are in Sheol. Does this mean that there might be a chance to be saved even after death, at least for some? It is hard to say. Honestly, that was the teaching of the ancient Church, especially in the East. I will say that the reason this idea is rejected is completely unfounded. It uses Hebrews 9:27 to argue that the book is closed on an individual at their death. A careful study of that passage shows that it is not talking about this topic and only rules out reincarnation. Judgment does happen at death. You either end up in Heaven or Sheol. The finality of that Judgment seems to be connected to Judgment Day. What happens until then is unknown.
The Bible shares the unpleasant news that many will be lost whether they hear the Gospel or not. Regardless of what a person’s response will be, God wants them to hear about Jesus. God has His ways. Be one of them.