That there is no salvation apart from a conscious faith in Jesus Christ is considered by many to be scandalous. Here are ten things to remember about this critically important issue.
(1) The doctrine I believe is taught in Scripture is known as particularism or exclusivism or restrictivism. Advocates of this view insist that all are lost apart from a conscious and volitional embrace of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. Salvation is available only to those who by faith in Jesus have become confessing Christians. It should be noted, however, that most particularists believe in the salvation of those dying in infancy.
(2) Advocates of inclusivism argue that whereas Jesus is ontologically necessary for salvation, he is not epistemologically necessary. In other words, salvation is only a possibility because of what Jesus has done in his life, death, and resurrection. Apart from what he did, all would be consigned to eternal death. However, one need not consciously confess faith in the name of Jesus to be saved. Salvation is available to those who have never heard the name “Jesus” if they respond positively in faith to the revelation God has made of himself in nature and conscience.
(3) Pluralists contend that there are many ways or paths to salvation, one of which is personal faith in the personal Jesus. Others, however, can be saved by other saviors, whether Buddha, Mohammed, etc. The center of the universe and the object of knowledge and faith is “God”, not Jesus. Jesus (or Christianity) is like the earth, one planet among many that orbits the sun (God). Salvation is in the sun, not in any one of the planets to the exclusion of any other. In other words, notes John Hick, “the Copernican Revolution in astronomy recognized that the sun is at the center of the solar system and that our earth is only one of the planets revolving around it. A comparable revolution in theology acknowledges that the ultimate reality we call God is central, with Christianity as one of the worlds of faith revolving around that divine center” (“A Pluralist View,” 82-83).
(4) Many people have argued that the existence of the multitude of non-Christian religions in the world is evidence that people are always sincerely seeking after God, but in their own unique way. Will not God acknowledge this “seeking” and save them based on that alone, apart from conscious faith in the name and gospel of Jesus? The best answer to this question is found in Romans 1:18-25.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom. 1:18-25).
Most evangelicals have interpreted Romans 1 not in terms of man’s gradual evolution up the ladder of spiritual enlightenment, but of his grievous devolution into the depths of sin and rebellion. This is not an ascent but a descent, not progression but regression. In other words, non-Christian religions are the result of a deliberate denial of God and a refusal to glorify and honor him as God. Idolatry and non-Christian religions are not signs that men are searching for the truth, but evidence that they do not want it. R. C. Sproul is representative of this perspective when he writes:
“According to Paul, religion is not the fruit of a zealous pursuit of God, but the result of a passionate flight from God. The glory of God is exchanged for an idol. The idol stands as a monument not to religious fervor but to the flight of man from his initial encounter with the glory of God” (The Psychology of Atheism, 69).
All forms of so-called non-Christian religion, however sophisticated or primitive they may be, are not an indication of man’s struggle to discover God, but rather of man’s desperate attempt to deny him. The world’s many religions and philosophies are not the efforts of men and women to reach God but a deliberate, contrived, cold-hearted attempt to run away from him. Paul’s point is that humanity does not begin in ignorance of God and patiently work its way to knowledge. Humanity begins with knowledge and makes its way wickedly to ignorance and idolatry.
People often argue that non-Christian religions are preparatory to faith in Christ, that they are the initial groping of a heart hungry for truth. According to this view, they are, in fact, a repudiation of the truth, the expression of a deep-seated hatred of Christ. The study of world religions is not the study of human progress toward God but of human rebellion against him.
(5) The Bible is clear about the necessity of conscious faith in Jesus for salvation.
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
God “wisely” chose that no one should come to a saving knowledge of him by means of their own human reasoning or efforts at discovery but rather through the apparent “folly” of hearing and believing the preached message of Christ crucified.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Peter is not simply saying there is no other “source” of salvation than Jesus Christ, as if one might be saved on the basis of Christ’s work but under some other name. The point of saying “there is no other name” is “that we are saved by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus. Calling on his name is our entrance into fellowship with God. If one is saved by Jesus incognito, one does not speak of being saved by his name” (Piper, 94).
“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:13-15).
To “call” on Christ one must “believe” in him. To “believe” in him one must “hear” about him. To “hear” about him someone must “preach” the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. . . . I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 10:16 and 17:20-21).
The “other sheep” are Gentiles who, in order to be saved, must “listen” to and “believe” in the voice of Christ that comes to them “through” the “word” that other believers proclaim.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).
“’Through me’ does not mean that people in other religions can get to God because Jesus died for them, though they don’t know about it. ‘Through me’ must be defined in the context of John’s Gospel as believing in Jesus through the word of his disciples (John 6:35; 7:38; 11:25; 12:46; 17:20)” (Piper, 114).
“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ. This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23).
(6) History has shown definitively that when people begin to doubt or deny the necessity of conscious faith in Jesus to be saved the missionary enterprise of the church wanes, and in some cases dies altogether. The same results are most often seen in personal evangelistic outreach. If you do not believe in the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation it is unlikely you will be devoted to making known the gospel to your friends, family, and neighbors.
(7) It’s not enough simply to believe in God. Monotheists aren’t saved. Only Christians are.
(8) It’s not enough to be “spiritual”. People are deceived into thinking that because someone recognizes a dimension of reality beyond the physical they must be saved. But “spirituality” is not necessarily the same as Christianity. It’s not enough to believe in, affirm, and even experience the supernatural. One must believe in, affirm, and experience Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.
(9) It’s not enough to believe that Jesus is God incarnate and that he truly lived, died, and rose again from the dead and that he provided us with a glorious way to live. One must trust, treasure, embrace, and believe in his death and resurrection as one’s only hope for forgiveness.
(10) The so-called “scandal” of particularity is in fact an unimaginable expression of divine mercy. That God should provide even one way for the salvation of hell-deserving sinners is remarkable. That salvation is available at all through faith in Jesus Christ is not a “scandal” but a breathtaking revelation of God’s amazing grace.