The fact is that most of those who practice false religions are not sincere seekers of truth. Rather, they are religious because they are only looking for a justification or a covering for their sins. As they continually violate their consciences, they hide behind the guise of religion. By their religiosity, they convince themselves that they are not worthy of hell. This is just as true for religious “Christians” (including cheap-grace evangelical Christians) as it is for Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. Even as they practice their religion, their conscience condemns them.
When the Buddhist bows reverently before his idols or before monks who sit proudly before him, his conscience tells him he is doing wrong. When the Hindu justifies his lack of compassion for a diseased street beggar, believing that the beggar must be suffering for sins committed in a previous life, his conscience condemns him. When a Muslim extremist beheads an “infidel” in the name of Allah, his conscience is screaming at him for his own murderous hypocrisy. When the evangelical “Christian” lays up earthly treasure, regularly views sexually-explicit television, and gossips about fellow church members, trusting that he is saved by grace, his heart condemns him. All of these are examples of people who want to keep on sinning and who have found religious lies to believe by which they can continue sinning. The “righteousness” of unregenerate yet religious people falls far, far, far short of God’s expectations.
All of this is to say that God does not consider people who are following false religions to be ignorant people who are to be pitied because they’ve never heard the truth. Neither does the blame for their ignorance lie at the feet of the church for not having effectively evangelized them.
Again, although we know that God wants the church to preach the gospel all over the world, we should follow the leading of His Spirit to where “the fields are ripe for harvest” (see John 4:35), where people are receptive because they’ve been softening their hearts to God’s relentless effort to reach them.