The Bible witnesses to God’s universal love (Jn 3.16; 1 Tim 2.4; 2 Pet 3.9) as well as a particular path to salvation. How do we resolve this tension? Scripture teaches that this particular path comes to a head in Jesus. But is this unfair to those who never hear of Jesus, or only receive an unfaithful witness, or grow up in a different faith system? What about them?
In part one I shared some preliminary points. Today I’ll offer ten “theses” and follow it up later (today or tomorrow) with a summary conclusion. Enjoy.
1. This debate often rests on and feeds an unbiblical portrait of salvation. See more on this in the last post here.
2. “Judgment” on this level is God’s call and God can be trusted to do the right thing. It’s not our job to figure out who will “go where” at history’s end. It is God’s, and whatever God does will be loving, gracious, and just.
3. If anyone receives eternal life, it will be because of Jesus. Scripture is clear that Jesus alone is able to fully save us from sin (John 14.6; Acts 4.12; Rom 10.9-15). Apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection there is no salvation.
4. People who reject Jesus as Savior and Lord thereby forfeit present and future life with God. (Matt 25.41-46; John 3.18; 5.28-29; 2 Thess 1.8-10; Rev 20.11-15) Acknowledging Jesus as Savior and Lord of course has to do with our lips as well as our lives, as does rejecting him.
5. In the Bible, other beliefs and experiences can be hindrances or helps to God’s efforts to save us. They can be idolatrous, deceptive and under judgment: Exod 20.3-6; 2 Chron 13.8-9; Psalm 115.3-8; Acts 14.8-15; 26.17-18. Or they can prepare us for Jesus: Acts 14.16-17; 17.22-31; Gal 3.23-25.
6. Scripture teaches that some people who never heard of Jesus were saved through him. Jesus’ death covers people who lived before him and could not have known him: Rom 3.25-26; Heb 9.15; 1 Pet 3.18-20; also Gen 15.6; Heb 11.
7. Most Christians believe that children and people with mental and emotional disabilities will be saved. We acknowledge that certain people don’t have the tools to make a choice for or against the truth of Jesus. Could the same be true of those who’ve never heard?
8. God’s people are routinely surprised by the wideness of God’s mercy and grace. God’s people are often (unpleasantly) surprised by God’s willingness to accept outsiders in ways that break the rules (Jonah; Mark 2.15-17; 9.38-41; Acts 10). This still comes through Jesus, but in unpredictable and “unorthodox” ways. (See also Mt 7.20-21; 25.36-46)
9. God wants all people to be saved, and we should too! (Ezekiel 11.17-20; 2 Peter 3.9; 1 Timothy 2.4) God weeps over those who don’t know him. We never rejoice at anyone being shut out of God’s present or future. If in the end we discover that God’s grace is wider than we imagined, we will celebrate!
10. If God plans to “save” people who don’t identify themselves as Christians, he hasn’t told us so. There is no clear statement in Scripture that plainly says people who don’t acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord are/will be saved. Until God adds to or takes away from this, we should focus on sharing the good news of Jesus with everyone we can.