The question: What about those people who live in some far corner of the world and have never heard the gospel? Will they be saved if they “live up to” the knowledge of God they naturally have? Can they be “anonymous Christians” who somehow believe in Jesus even though they’ve never heard of him? Or is conscious faith in Christ necessary for salvation?
Paul’s answer: The apostle Paul settles this question clearly and finally when he writes, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:13-17)
Interpreting Paul’s answer: Right after stating that all who call upon the name of the Lord—that is, those who believe in Jesus Christ—will be saved, Paul asks, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” His answer is not, “Oh, they don’t really need to believe in Jesus. They can just live up to what they know about God.” His answer is, “They can’t! That’s why we need to go and preach the gospel to them!”
Bottom line: Conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. Consider John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” The only way to be saved is to believe in the Son—to hear the message about Jesus, turn from your sin, and trust in him for salvation.