Who Then Can Be Saved?

Jesus’s disciples asked this question of Him — then who can be saved? A man who stood before Christ declaring that he’d kept all the Law, went away grieving because Jesus asked one more thing of him — all he owned.

Jesus explained it was as hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven as it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Then the disciples’ question, essentially asking, Who can give what it takes?

Jesus responded by saying, No one. It really is impossible for you … but not for God.

Who in the world is saved?

In the twenty-first century the question of the day, spurred on by writers like Paul Young (The Shack) and Rob Bell (the soon-to-be-released Love Wins) is this: since God can save, does He save all? The understood corollary is, If not, is he not an ogre? (And since we choose to believe he is not an ogre, then he must save all.)

I am not frightened by the questions. I think they’re valid, even fair. But questions about God should be answered by God, not by people imagining whatever they wish about Him. Consequently, we should look at what Scripture has to say about who can be saved.

First, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that everyone isn’t going to be saved. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. People not accepting Jesus will have no mediator.

Everlasting life is promised to those who believe on the name of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. Forgiveness for sins comes from no other name. Those not believing on His name will have no forgiveness.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
– John 3:18

In addition, Jesus spoke often of a divide — those who follow and obey Him separated from those who don’t. He said this divide would split families, that some would think they were on one side of the divide only to find out on the judgment day that they were on the other, that few would actually be on the road to salvation and many would be marching toward destruction. He told story after story that ended with disbelieving or disobedient people thrown into outer darkness or into a place of fire where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So, is God an ogre? I mean, if ALL these people are doomed for eternity, and He has the power to save, then how can He be considered as anything but the cruel being atheists like Christopher Hitchens and emergents like Mike Morrell claim — if the God of the Old Testament existed (which neither of them believe).

Again, I say, that question, is God an ogre — a cruel, terrifying being — needs to be answered by going to the Bible. Within the pages of Scripture, I learn that what God created is good, His acts are good, His words are good, His plans are good, His gifts are good, His promises are good, His lovingkindness is good, His Spirit is good. In the end, Jesus states it outright:

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
-Mark 10:18 (emphasis mine)

If those asking if God is an ogre say they believe Jesus, then they should take Him at His word, concluding that God is good, not cruel. [By the way, Jesus as God Incarnate, is also good. That He asked, Why do you call me good? served to show that the guy he was talking to didn’t really think Jesus was God, or good.]

We see from Scripture, then, that not everyone will be saved and that God is not an ogre. How can the two both be true? Don’t we have to believe either one or the other?

This seems to be Rob Bell’s approach, judging from his promotional video. I could stop right here and say, trust in God is accepting what He has revealed, even if I don’t understand how these apparently conflicting elements can both be true.

But in this case, we don’t have to stop because God has given us so much more upon which our faith can stand.

First God doesn’t hide the truth about sin. He stated from the beginning that rebellion against Him would lead to death.

At this point, some might argue that it shouldn’t, that God doesn’t have the right to sentence people to death or that death is too harsh a punishment. Essentially those people are saying God shouldn’t be allowed to be the judge, another way of saying God shouldn’t be allowed to be God. Or they are again accusing Him of not being good. Ironically, what God has done about sin proves His goodness more than anything else.

At the start, God warned Adam about the consequences of doing what He told him not to do. When Adam sinned anyway, God illustrated the consequence right away by making an animal sacrifice. But He also kept His word, and eventually each person except Enoch faced physical death.

God’s work throughout history has been to save Mankind from the consequences of our sin, culminating in He Himself becoming the needed sacrifice. How is it that people miss this when accusing God of wrong-doing?

He died to satisfy the penalty His justice demanded. We don’t have three gods. Jesus is not at odds with His Father. God is not wrathful and Jesus loving.

The penalty for sin was one the triune God required and the triune God paid. The Father’s wrath was the Son’s wrath. The Son’s sacrifice was the Father’s sacrifice. We cannot split God and make Him out to be three individuals operating as if they were independent from one another.

The mystery of God, manifesting Himself as three yet being one, does not allow us to accuse Jesus of being less just or the Father of being less loving. God, in His mercy, went to the cross — the Father sending, the Son dying — to provide reconciliation with sinners.

But reconciliation is not a blanket pardon. God stipulated that those who believe will be saved.

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved
– Rom. 10:9

In the end, the matter is simple. We can believe what God said or what some men have imagined.

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm  Comments (11)  
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  1. Good post. I agree that Rob Bell is very dangerous an is missing the point. I think his book will prove beneficial in the end, because it gives us a chance to define salvation and the gospel again, and I am convinced that truth will win out.


  2. Thomas, I don’t believe Becky has actually judged Rob Bell to be “very dangerous” and has been very factual in disputing the content of Rob’s promotional video, and not making any direct statement about the man himself. I appreciate the informative way she is handling this issue. The video in question has only posed controversial questions that are causing people to make assumptions about the one asking the questions. If nothing else Rob Bell seems to be igniting a needed discussion.


  3. The following is the post for the preaching schedule from Rob Bell’s web:

    [Mar 27] Love Wins Sunday
    [Revelation 2v12-17
    Pergamum Podcast] Rob Bell

    I suppose the interpretation of this passage in Revelation will explain the clear passages in the rest of the Bible.


  4. Have you read those verses? I can see no way these can be construed into a message of universalism:

    “14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”


  5. Patrick,

    The first two verses are:
    12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;   13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

    I can imagine that someone might say that Pergamos (sounds like purgatory, doesn’t it?)- this ‘church’ is in hell – where Satan lives. The following ‘repent’ in v16 then would sound like a second chance for salvation.

    This is just my speculative fiction on the subject.


  6. The Church at Pergamum was still here on earth (so it can’t be a purgatory). When Jesus says repent, he is referring to the teachings the Church was allowing (the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans), not a repentance after death.


  7. interesting… but even then the human inhabitants of Hell still must repent at the second chance (I’m trying to join you in your speculation) in order for all to be saved. The phrase “there’s not a chance in Hell” comes to mind. But then I wonder- Why would any who would “hold fast to [Christ’s] name” be in the actual place of Hell? And there’s a Christian church there? But the letter is written to the Church of a location- not the entire inhabitants of the location (likely the ones making it a hell)? Thanks, Bob, for showing me how such a verse can be construed… I think 😉

    I’ve not taken issue with the title of the book. Maybe someone could explain that problem to me too?
    “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”

    We all agree Love Wins- but argue about what that will look like in the end.

    He includes Heaven & Hell in the title; not denying the existence of either; not claiming that no one will go to either.

    “And the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” – I’m pretty sure no one here believes they will live in this world forever. We all have a fate, and the fate of all includes the judgment of God- our common fate.

    Rob Bell presented several questions- normal rational questions- that I believe many people have thought but have been afraid to ask. He just throws them out there… implying that his book has answers to these questions. And claiming that his answers are scriptural in the ending of this video

    “What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, and beautiful, that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the good news is actually better than that; better than we could ever imagine.”

    I have no problems with anything he has said so far. It is the assumptions and judgments in reaction that I am taking issue with.

    If he launches his own brand or Christian Universalism- follows the path of the speculative fiction provided by Bob here- then he is wrong. But so far he is just presenting the confused messy way the world looks at the Christian God, and claims he can clear up the mess with what the Bible actually says. I wouldn’t be surprised if he answers his own questions very similarly to the way Becky has answered them.

    From the reactions Rob Bell is getting, it makes me very glad to know LOVE WINS. That other Christians don’t get to judge me in the end. We will all be Judged by Love Himself. I know He is Holy and His Judgment should be feared… But I also know it’s not my own Righteousness that gets me through the Pearly Gate- It is the Righteousness of Jesus that has been credited to me because I belong to Him. Love Wins.


  8. “What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, and beautiful, that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the good news is actually better than that; better than we could ever imagine.”

    How could Rob Bell possibly know this? How does he know what I’ve been told? He’s saying he has found some good news in the Bible that up until this point the church has not had. His good news is better than whatever we’ve been taught. Well, I’ve been taught the good news that Christ died to reconcile me to a God I was at war with. How could Rob Bell’s good news be better than that? He’s found something surprising and beautiful. And the publisher says he’s putting hell on trial. And he’s arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. He then has to be a universalist or an annihilationist. And neither position is supported in Scripture. Is there a third option I’m missing?


  9. I’m curious. How can God be omnipotent if he fails to save everyone? If my choice affects whether or not God can save me, if God is dependent on me to get what he wants, if God could send his Son to die by torture to accomplish something which would only work if I want it to, if I pull the strings, decide my eternal fate, have God’s power around my pinky to use or discard as I please…why am I not God?


  10. Nathanael, I know we Christians don’t have a unified answer to this question. I believe that’s because we are not God. It would be like an ant trying to figure out why I step on some ants and not on others.(And please don’t take that analogy any farther. It completely breaks down for any other purpose than to illustrate the disparity between us and God). We do have what God says in the Bible, so that gives us a look at how He works in the world, but it is an imperfect look because we are imperfect, fallible, and limited in our understanding.

    That being said, here’s my best understanding. God has chosen for His own purposes to make Man in God’s image. Consequently He made us volitional beings. Though God could violate our will, He does not.

    As to whether or not He then fails to save us, the failure is all on our part. If you were drowning, and I threw you a life preserver, but you refused to take it for whatever reason, is the failure to save you mine? Perhaps I jump into the water and swim to you in an effort to drag you to shore, but you fight me off and push me under. I might even die in my efforts. Would I be at fault for not saving you?

    This is essentially the scenario describing our rebellion against God. He has called to us, sent warnings (come to shore), and finally came in after us. How then is it His fault for not rescuing people who fight Him off?

    So much more to be said — it’s a big question — but I hope this gives you at least a toe hold to dig more deeply.



  11. Becky, your response to Nathanael was well put. Just on point – Elijah was also taken up to heaven in the chariot of fire, so didn’t see death.


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