The principles considered earlier in this chapter also help us to understand better how God views people who are following false religions. Are they ignorant people to be pitied because they’ve never heard the truth? Does all the blame lie at the feet of the church for not having effectively evangelized them?
No, such people are not ignorant of the truth. They may not know everything that a Bible-believing Christian knows, but they know all that God is revealing about Himself through creation, conscience and calamity. They are people whom God has been calling to repentance all of their lives, even if they have never seen a Christian or heard the gospel. Furthermore, they have either been softening their hearts toward God or hardening them.
Paul wrote of the ignorance of unbelievers and revealed the reason for their ignorance:
This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Eph. 4:17-19).
Notice that the reason that the Gentiles are ignorant is “because of the hardness of their heart.” Paul also declared that they have “become callous.” He was obviously speaking of the condition of their hearts. Calluses develop on people’s hands from continual contact with what is abrasive against soft skin. Calloused skin becomes less sensitive. Likewise, as people continually resist God’s call through creation, conscience and calamity, their hearts become calloused, making them progressively less sensitive to that divine call. This is why statistics indicate that people generally become less receptive as they grow older. The older a person is, the less likely it is that he will repent. Wise evangelists mostly target younger people.