The Way Of Salvation

A recent Facebook discussion came up about salvation, particularly Inclusivism–whether or not God’s grace extends to people who, to our knowledge, have not heard the gospel preached.

Proponents of a view known as inclusivism argue that while no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus, it is not necessary either to know about the gospel or to believe in Jesus for salvation. (“Is Belief In Jesus Necessary?“)

Bible-openI see no teaching like this position in Scripture, so I am troubled to see this view taking hold with some Christians. Here are my concerns: are these ideas a “different gospel,” which Paul warned against? Does inclusivism honor humankind over God? Is this teaching a departure from the clear teaching of Scripture?

Here are the thoughts I shared on Facebook (with some editing and some addition) which address my concerns to a degree.

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Scripture teaches salvation is the result of God choosing us AND of us choosing God. I trust God to know the hearts of all humankind. He’s not going to hide from someone who would choose Him. I think that’s inconsistent with His nature as revealed by Scripture.

The thing is, we don’t know who all has received God’s word in the past–and rejected it.

I only recently learned that Church tradition says the Apostle Thomas went to India and evangelized many. How many Indians, then, went further east to spread the good news? We assume there was no missionary endeavor into places like China and Indonesia because they are not Christian cultures, but that’s merely an assumption on our part.

What did the other ten Apostles do, the ones Scripture doesn’t tell us about? Did they sit home or did they go to the utter parts of the earth as commanded and evangelize those we think never had a chance to hear?

We know that Philip evangelized an Ethiopian. Presumably he took the gospel to Africa. So how many African converts traveled south and west spreading the gospel? We assume none because we don’t see fruit. But that’s based on our limited knowledge.

In addition, before the earth was divided, all men knew of God. Did they take that knowledge and teach their children to mock Him or love Him?

And is it possible that God has a way of reaching people, preaching to people, that is beyond our understanding? 1 Peter 3:18ff certainly raises that question.

There’s a key passage in Ezekiel that speaks to this very issue, I think:

When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may die, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die, since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself. (Ez. 3:18-21, emphasis mine)

I’m still mulling the divide between “wicked” and “righteous” mentioned in these verses since other passages tell us there is none righteous. But for the sake of this topic, it seems clear that those who aren’t warned don’t get a pass. They are still responsible before God for their unrighteous state.

And even if there are people today who we think could fit the “righteous” category because of their sincere desire to seek God, this passage leads me to believe their sin, like that of all the rest of us, still separates them from God. In short, they need to be warned.

But I’ll come back to my original point. I believe God is good, and wise and faithful and omniscient and all powerful–so He is more than capable of meeting those who seek Him, however He chooses to do so. I tend to think that is by sending someone to them to preach Christ and Him crucified–whether that’s a missionary or an angel (angels rescued Lot, after all) or the resurrected Christ Himself–He’s not going to turn His back on anyone except those who turn their back on Him.

I personally think this issue has become hard because we live in a society that believes humans are good. We no longer think people deserve to die, though that’s what Scripture tells us. We believe people deserve to be rescued, that God was wicked for only saving Noah. But that’s an idea from the deceiver, I think.

God certainly isn’t wicked, and He would have saved any other person who was righteous. And Noah preached that they might be saved, probably for as long as he was building the ark and perhaps for years and years before hand.

In the end, I think it’s a matter of taking God at His word, much the way Abraham did: he believed God when He told him that Isaac would be the heir of a great nation AND that he was to sacrifice Isaac.

So, too, I think we need to believe God means what He says that Jesus is the way, that He shows us the Father, that no man comes to the Father except through Him AND that God desires none to parish. He’s a good God and He’s not going to do wrong.

We can trust God to deal with those we label “unreached” according to His lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness because He delights in these things.

As I understand the Bible, those who are saved are those who believe that God gave His only Son Jesus who died once for all, the just for the unjust, that we might have peace with God.

I believe in a big God who knows the hearts and minds of all people and who will not turn away those who draw near to Him. He’s told us in the Bible how He saves. Consequently, I believe He will bring the truth of Jesus to all who want to know Him.

Is He limited? We in the West seem to think so. We can only conceive of God saving the “unreached people” by a means we understand–a reasoning away of clear statements throughout the Bible about humankind’s guilt and need of salvation which God provided through His promised Messiah.

I choose instead to believe, “The Word of God stands forever” AND that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, nor His ways my ways, but that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than my ways, and His thoughts higher than my thoughts.

Whatever ideas I have of solving the “unreached peoples” problem are tiny. God’s ways are right and best and will not violate His word. He is righteous and He is infinite, not limited nor unfaithful. He can be trusted to do what is right.

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 5:14 pm  Comments (17)  
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