This is often asked of those dying around the world without ever knowing the gospel. Do they too get judged? Is that fair? If no one ever tells them about Jesus how can they accept or reject salvation?
Paul speaks into this now:
“If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God. When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to God’s yes and no will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences.” (Romans 2 v 12-16 Msg)
Paul has already said that there is no difference between Gentile and Jew. The Jews sin and are judged according to the revelation they received, the Law from Moses. (The NIV says they are ‘under the law’) The Gentiles sin and are judged according to the revelation they also received (the NIV uses the words ‘apart from the law’). What is that revelation they have received if it isn’t the Law of Moses?
There are aspects of the Law that are in every culture of the world eg. Murder is wrong, don’t steal, love etc. No one has to tell them that, they know. Where did that revelation come from? It is woven into the fabric of being a human. With that revelation comes the ability to spot what is wrong in other people, they have a standard. They will be judged according to that standard, that revelation they have received as a human is what they will face God about.
And like the Jew, the revelation itself doesn’t protect, whether it is the full Law of Moses or some aspects inherently built into their understanding, knowing isn’t important and no one will be able to defend themselves before God on the basis of how much they can quote it or some of it. But it is what you do that counts. In fact the more you know the more you realise how difficult it is to do what you know! For the revelation simply reveals how we need God to intervene to help us, we need saving from this revelation for it judges us itself.