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.

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

  1. It is surprising that our most important concern, salvation, is so misunderstood by those who claim to believe the Bible. You have those who say you’re not saved if you’ve not been baptized, if you don’t worship on the Sabbath, if you backslide or sin, if you’re not part of our group (JW, Mormon), or if you don’t do this or that. We are all excluded by one or more of the criteria. Thankfully there is a gate, howbeit narrow, that is open to those who repent and put their trust in Jesus, whatever that means (said facetiously).

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    • Bob, I think this misunderstanding is tied with what I said in “Satan Has A Plan.” Above all our adversary wants to keep us confused and uncertain. God made salvation so simple a child can understand: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

      I had a pastor once who explained that interpretation of Scripture should be based on the plain and easily understood, not on the questionable and unclear. But it seems like a number of false teachers and groups take the opposite approach, including those advocating for inclusivism.

      To me, that’s just a variation of Satan’s approach with Eve: Has God really said . . .

      As always, Bob, thanks for your comment.

      Becky

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  2. […] This morning I once again thought about inclusivism and salvation, Jesus and the unreached peoples, Abraham and faith–many of the same topics I covered in yesterday’s post “The Way Of Salvation.” […]

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  3. One question I come back to is what then happens to those who have no opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel, like children born and raised in Hinduism. Yes, God sent Thomas to preach in India. So do you believe hundreds of millions of souls that died before God sent Thomas suffer eternal damnation?

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    • Mike, I probably did a better job addressing this question in the next post, “The Way Of Salvation: An Addendum.” One thing I don’t think I said there, though, is that our culture may be influencing the view of Christians when it comes to salvation. Scripture says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that the wages of sin is death. In essence, we all deserve to die. But our culture influences us to think all deserve to be rescued.

      The thing is, God says Himself in Ezekiel He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Elsewhere he says He wants none to perish. If this is God’s heart, then how can we think He has missed something when it comes to people we consider “unreached”? Reminds me of Mike Morrell’s statement that he thought he was nicer than God. We can’t be nearly as concerned for the people in the world as God is.

      I have confidence in God’s goodness that He will take care of the preaching. It could be people we don’t know about–Thomas’s Indian converts preaching Christ to hard hearts who would not believe, for example. If they had believed, we would know about them. If they reject Christ and embrace their false religion, we wouldn’t have any way of knowing they had been presented the gospel. So our not knowing doesn’t negate the possibility of God sending someone to preach to them.

      More so, God is not constrained to use people. He used angels to rescue Lot, so why couldn’t he send angels to preach to the “unreached”? He used a vision to save Paul, so why couldn’t He use visions to save the “unreached”? He spoke directly to Abraham, so why couldn’t He speak directly to the “unreached”?

      And as I said in my Addendum, if God chooses to speak to the “unreached” today, I doubt He would be telling them about circumcision as a sign of the old covenant or about a son who was to be born to bless the nations. No! He’d tell them about the new covenant and the Son He already sent for their salvation. He’d preach Christ.

      Then there are the verses in 1 Peter that open the door to the possibility that Christ went and preached to those who died in Old Testament times, or before the flood or during the flood or to all who die: “For the gospel has, for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead . . .” (4:6a). I don’t know what that means, but clearly there was some preaching done that we don’t have specifics about.

      How does God deal with the “unreached people”? I don’t know. But clearly this is not a problem He can’t handle. He’s not limited in His power or love. If He knows each star by name, we can be sure He knows each of these people in far away places by name also. You and I are concerned for anonymous millions or billions–He knows and loves each one personally, to the point, I believe, that if only one of them remained alive, He would have sent His Son to die for that one person.

      I believe God is completely trustworthy. He will take care of each and every one of us, including the “unreached,” justly, righteously, with lovingkindness. It’s who He is.

      Consequently, He doesn’t need us to come up with a solution for the “unreached people” by interpreting Scripture based upon our speculation. Salvation is His gift, after all.

      Becky

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      • I agree with most of this. “God is completely trustworthy. He will take care of each and every one of us, including the “unreached,” justly, righteously, with lovingkindness.” Amen. But what I’m looking for is a more straightforward answer. If preaching is the primary mechanism of salvation, what happens to those who have not heard a Christian preacher and given a chance to respond? Do they all suffer eternal punishment?

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        • But what I’m looking for is a more straightforward answer.

          I could be wrong about this, Mike, but it seems you, who so often advocate for ambiguity in fiction, want just the opposite when it comes to God’s dealings with humankind.

          The thing is, we can know some things–what God revealed about His work in the past with the people in the Bible (and only some of them–there are a number of “man of God” references that don’t apply to a Jew, and God doesn’t tell us how those individuals became men of God) and what God has told us in the New Testament about trust in Christ.

          But He simply hasn’t told us whether He will use some special means to see that all people everywhere hear the gospel. I suspect He will, based on Col. 1:22-23:

          yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Emphasis added.)

          But I don’t know how literal that phrase was meant to be (there are lots of all passages that don’t literally mean all), and I’m not going to hang doctrine on my ideas regarding that one verse. I’m only going to proclaim what God has made clear throughout the whole of Scripture, epitomized by the clear statement in Acts:

          And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.

          And I’m going to trust a good God who will do what is right. I don’t need to figure out precisely how He’ll do it, and I don’t have to agree from my limited perspective what that good will be. I know God can see that each person hears the gospel message, as surely as Christ fed the 5000+ with five loaves and two fish. But if not–if by God’s omniscience He knew the unreached had turned their backs on Him, which was why He chose not to open their blind eyes–He would not be doing wrong to bring judgment upon them.

          But I simply don’t know, and neither does anyone else. I don’t know why it isn’t OK to leave the fate of all those people in God’s hands (since that’s where it is anyway), and simply say, it could be this or it could be that or it could be some other, but I don’t know because God hasn’t told us.

          Too ambiguous? I’m OK with that because I trust God to do what is right.

          Becky

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          • OK. So am I to understand that your answer to this question — “If preaching is the primary mechanism of salvation, what happens to those who have not heard a Christian preacher and given a chance to respond? Do they all suffer eternal punishment? — is, you don’t know? Because if so, we agree.

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          • Mike, part of my not knowing is to say that the people we think are unreached might indeed suffer eternal punishment. Is that within the scope of possibility in your thinking, or do you rule that out?

            I think Scripture is clear that the one who believes in Jesus will be saved. I don’t think Scripture supports the idea that God mediates between us and Christ. Rather, there’s clear teaching that Jesus reconciles us to God.

            The passage in Ezekiel I quoted above seems to say those not warned are still responsible for their sins or their wickedness.

            At the same time, I know God can preach to the “unreached people” if He so chooses. I’m not in a position to make a statement about those who “haven’t heard” because I’m not sure that group exists.

            Does that sound like we believe the same thing? 😉

            Becky

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  4. “Does that sound like we believe the same thing?” I don’t know. You’re not being clear about what you believe.

    You asked, “part of my not knowing is to say that the people we think are unreached might indeed suffer eternal punishment. Is that within the scope of possibility in your thinking, or do you rule that out?” My answer: Absolutely! The Bible is clear that souls can be damned. Conversely, inclusivists would believe, as I understand it, that there is some sort of “age of accountability” where one becomes accountable for their actions. The two year-old is hardly as responsible for their sin as a 52 year-old. Also, the inclusivist would posit that that same Moral Law becomes the arbiter of those “without the Law” (Romans 2). Which is why I can’t say emphatically that those without the Law automatically suffer hell. I don’t know everyone’s heart, the degree of internal / external witness they received, and their mental ability to grasp that message. So, no, I can’t say for sure where unreached people go.

    On the other hand, you seem to be stuck on trying to parse what it means to have been preached to and what that constitutes. Which means you would believe that everyone in hell has been preached to, in some form, and rejected the Gospel. Even the pre-born child. Correct? If I’m not mistaken this is simply an attempt to soften and/or simply avoid coming out and saying, Children who die before they get a chance to hear the Gospel and respond automatically go to hell. Which, honestly, I’m still not sure that you believe.

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    • Mike, I’ve tried to be clear about what I believe, but maybe what I believe seems ambiguous ( 😉 ) because Scripture is ambiguous on this point. I feel as if you want me to say something I don’t believe in.

      1. I don’t know what the eternal destiny of “unreached people” is because

        a. I don’t know if such a group actually exists
        b. it may not be my concern since God hasn’t specifically addressed the issue in Scripture; hence, I am to trust Him to do right.

      2. I do know Scripture says Jesus is the door, the way, the mediator between God and man, a clear indication that there is salvation through no other.
      3. The inclusivist position seems like an end-around the clear teaching of Scripture to reach a position (the unreached don’t automatically go to hell) that God hasn’t revealed. (Rom. 2 must be read in light of the rest of the Bible, and as such seems to say, all have sinned. The “circumcision of the heart” is a work of the Spirit – v. 29 – something Jesus identified too, in John 3 with the phrase “born of the Spirit,” a result of believing in Him).
      4. In fact, the one passage I’ve found that seems specific to this question, Ezekiel 3:18-21, seems to say those unwarned will die in their sins/wickedness.
      5. But God being God can do what He wishes. He can tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, then say, no not Isaac, but the ram. He can say through Jonah that He’s going to destroy Nineveh, then say, no, since you’ve repented, I’ve relented and will not destroy you now. So clearly, He can say, Make disciples of the world, then say, I’ve made myself known to them another way.
      6. Salvation is God’s gift to bestow as He wishes. It’s not for me to dictate to Him what He can or can’t do.
      7. But the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40, 1 Peter 5, other passages that repeat this truth). So God’s word trumps man’s reasoning.

      You wouldn’t like my answer about the pre-born child. Again, my leaning is based on a single passage of Scripture and some deduction, not on a broad base of instruction, so I don’t pretend to know God’s mind. He hasn’t revealed to us precisely how He deals with these little lives.

      Becky

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      • Well, as someone leaning towards inclusivism, I must say that you’ve done nothing to rebut the position. I would agree that we “don’t know what the eternal destiny of ‘unreached people'” are, that “Jesus is the door, the way, the mediator between God and man, a clear indication that there is salvation through no other,” and that “God can do what He wishes.” None of these points contradict inclusivism. I can only conclude, a.) We actually agree, or b.) You’re just being evasive (which I conclude from your cryptic statement:that I “wouldn’t like my answer about the pre-born child.”)

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      • you’ve done nothing to rebut the position

        And here I’ve written several thousand words doing nothing but rebutting inclusivism, the most prominent point of my argument being that there is no Scriptural basis for that position.

        I don’t see “unreached people” and the pre-born as the same. The position I take on the latter I’ve derived from a verse in 1 Corinthians, but I’m hesitant to state it publicly because it’s mostly my speculation. I probably fall within a .5% of believers who hold this position, and that might be a generous number. I just don’t see the value of creating controversy about something that lies entirely in God’s hands.

        The greatest position a Christian can take on both these issues is that God is trustworthy. How He chooses to deal with people in circumstances different from those shown in Scripture is His to make.

        Why would someone want to go out on a limb and say God is working with “unreached people” by circumventing Christ, when there is no Scripture to suggest such a thing?

        Becky

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        • Becky, you haven’t rebutted inclusivism. In fact, you’ve agreed with many of its points! When you say that you don’t believe that “God is working with ‘unreached people’ by circumventing Christ,” I have to believe that you don’t understand inclusivism. Back again to the C.S. Lewis quote from Mere Christianity: “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.” Because Christ is the pre-Incarnate Logos who “lights every man that comes into the world,” the creator of the universe, the Door and the Shepherd of sheep, no one can be saved but by Him. What we don’t know is if “only those who know Him can be saved by Him.”

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        • Because I disagree with Lewis doesn’t mean I don’t understand what he’s saying, Mike. There simply is no Scriptural support for that position which basically says God mediates for Christ rather than Christ mediating for God.

          Becky

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          • “God mediates for Christ rather than Christ mediating for God.”

            I’m not sure, at all, what you mean. And I’m still really unclear as to your position.

            OK, then, Thanks for the conversation, Becky. Grace and peace!

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  5. “God mediates for Christ rather than Christ mediating for God.”

    I’m not sure, at all, what you mean.

    I mean that “light” from God allowing someone to appropriate the salvation which comes from Christ’s sacrificial death (“God mediating for Christ”–God bringing Man to Christ) is opposite of what Scripture tells us—that there is only one mediator between God and Man, the man Christ Jesus (“Christ mediating for God”–Christ reconciling Man to God).

    And I’m still really unclear as to your position.

    My position is that a person is saved by faith in Christ: “He [Jesus] is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

    I’m sorry I didn’t rebut the position you’re leaning toward, Mike. I know you believe the Bible with all your heart, and I see Inclusivism as a system that re-interprets Scripture in a similar way that a variety of other false ideas do.

    The article I quoted from in this post, “Is Belief in Jesus Necessary,” is a scholarly study of the topic and perhaps can offer the refutation I couldn’t.

    I also appreciate the conversation.

    Becky

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