The idea that anyone can achieve salvation without hearing Jesus Christ’s name is growing in popularity. What is the truth?
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The media loves a controversy, especially when it appears to show hypocrisy in Christianity or biblical discrepancies. The attention given to Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is no exception.
In it, Mr. Bell, a theological seminary graduate and church pastor, presents ideas that appear to challenge traditional Christianity. One belief that stirs ire is that people who have never heard Jesus Christ’s name can be saved.
Following the book’s publication, a war of words began regarding salvation, which many consider can be obtained only through belief in Christ. Those who espouse this idea claim that salvation through Him allows Christians to go to heaven instead of hell, a type of fiery underworld where unbelievers are supposedly tormented forever.
Both sides use Scripture to back their views. Those in the “anyone can be saved regardless of religious affiliation” camp look to verses such as I Timothy 2:4, which states that God “will have all men to be saved…” and II Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise…not willing that any should perish…”
On the other hand, those on the “must believe in Jesus to be saved” side point to passages such as John 14:6, which declares, “I [Christ] am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me,” and Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [Jesus Christ] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
While many traditional Christians consider Mr. Bell’s views radical, prominent ministers, televangelists and leaders of giant Christian denominations have made statements that support similar theories—long before his book was published!
In an interview for the religious-themed “Hour of Power” television program in 1997, a well-known preacher asked televangelist Billy Graham about Christianity.
“I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the body of Christ…” Dr. Graham answered. “Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don’t have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven” (emphasis added).
Pope Benedict XVI made a related statement in a speech, summarized by Catholic news agency Zenit: “Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith, says Benedict XVI” (emphasis added).
With so much confusion, how can someone searching for answers know what to believe?
As one looks to mathematicians to expound on calculus or engineers to explain mechanical devices, a Christian must look to the Bible—God’s Instruction Manual for mankind—for information regarding salvation. This ancient text—and it alone—relates God’s mind on how salvation is attained.
To understand any biblical teaching, it is necessary to put all verses about a particular subject together, as it states in Isaiah 28: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (vs. 10). Only when all related passages are assembled can one have a full view of a topic.
Since the Bible is composed of “pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psa. 12:6), it is essential when examining salvation to read all verses about it, setting aside any ideas that are not provable within its pages.
According to Dr. Graham and some other professing Christian leaders, a person can essentially “know” Christ, but not know that he knows Him. This is regardless of a person’s religious beliefs, practices or way of life, or if he has ever seen a Bible—let alone read a single scripture in it.
Think: What would be the point of Christianity now—and the Bible itself—if each person will eventually be saved because he was a “sincere” or “good” person? How would God measure one’s level of sincerity? Where would He draw the line?
Would God say: “You were almost sincere and good enough, even though you did not know it, but you did not quite make it. Eternal hellfire for you!” Or perhaps, “Oh, no! A country’s Communist government is blocking My Plan to save ‘all men.’ They will not allow My missionaries into the country to preach Jesus to their citizens, therefore, they will all burn in hell.”
Is God that powerless? Such a view makes Him into a weak being that is feverishly battling Satan, the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4), to save as many souls as He can. If this is true, then God is losing!
There are also those who are indifferent, but do not know what is on the line. How could God hold them accountable for knowledge they do not have?
Additionally, if salvation is only available through Jesus Christ’s name now, think of how many have lived and died in polytheistic nations, never having had even the opportunity to hear it. Are these consigned to eternal torment when they were never given a chance to believe in Him?
These scenarios make God into either a monster or bumbling fool, who either condemns people to eternal hellfire indiscriminately or is powerless to save the majority of mankind.
Yet while these hypothetical situations seem illogical when placed in context, each does not remove the fact that certain scriptures seem to contradict themselves…
The Bible states in I Corinthians 14:33 that “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…” A few verses later in the chapter, it declares, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (vs. 40).
If such verses are in the Bible, would its Author really create such a contradictory plan of salvation? Could He really be called the author of peace if He knew that millions of people would be punished for all eternity for what they never had the opportunity to understand?
The Bible reveals there is a third aspect of the salvation debate that theologians and ministers of professing Christianity miss. It explains why mankind cannot reach a conclusion regarding this most important of questions, and details in a logical manner what one must really do to receive salvation.
As President and CEO of the universe, so to speak, God sets standards that keep His “company” running efficiently. If He did not have an established plan to advance the organization’s objectives or help it reach its goals—and instead had a disjointed one that caused huge losses—He would be unable to operate a successful company.
Before establishing the universe and creating mankind, God developed a clear plan for humanity, and then constructed a way to communicate it to them over thousands of years.
The Bible reveals that Plan! It expands what should be the aim of mankind, including receiving salvation—eternal life. But to fully understand it, one must start at the beginning.
Genesis 1 records the re-creation or renewal of Earth. Verses 20-25 record that God formed sea creatures, birds, land animals, and every creeping thing according to its kind. Fish after the fish kind, birds after the bird kind, cattle after the cattle kind—everything that swims in the sea, flies in the air, or moves on Earth—all after their own kind.
In verses 26 and 27, man is made after the God kind: “And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness…So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”
Man is not the “highest form of animals”! He was not made after the animal kind—but after the God kind. He has God’s form and shape, which has crucial implications.
God then performed a marriage between the first two human beings and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply—to expand their human family. This human reproduction pictures—is a type of—God reproducing Himself through man. (For a full explanation of this topic, read The Awesome Potential of Man.)
The Hebrew word translated God in verse 26 is elohim. It is a uniplural term such as group, team, committee or family. All of these terms represent one entity, comprised of several persons.
Notice: “And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” This verse reveals that there is more than one Being in the Godhead. In fact, there are two! (To understand why there are not three, as taught by most of professing Christianity, read The Trinity – Is God Three-In-One?)
The Bible teaches that there is one God Family, composed of two Persons—the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. Yet Their ultimate purpose is to expand that family and add to it human beings. But why the need for a family?
The answer explains the reason humans were put on this Earth—why you were born!—an incredible truth that has been hidden by mainstream religion for almost 2,000 years.
Few concern themselves with the meaning of their existence until faced with death. They simply float through life, moving from one event to the next, without any real understanding of why, out of the millions of planets in the solar system, they were born on this one, why they have the ability to experience childhood, acquire an education, work, get married, have a family of their own, and why they eventually die.
Yet asking this greatest of questions should be central to one’s thinking. The reason you were born—and what occurs afterward—has everything to do with how one should conduct his life.
Conversely, not asking such a question can lead to believing there is no greater purpose for one’s existence than to proverbially (or literally) eat, drink and be merry. If such were the case, a human life would have no more value than a goldfish won at a state fair, kept in a tank for several days, and then sent down a drain after its life expired. Each person who ever lived would simply become lost to history—having never had any more importance than to live for a mere few hours compared to the age of the rocks, trees and oceans around them.
Viewing life in such a way reduces everything to mere coincidence and random chance—without any hope of clear answers about the “afterlife” and what death really is.
Such empty thinking was never part of God’s Plan.
Before creating man, God developed a clear road map for him and the universe as a whole. The book of II Timothy states, “[God] has saved us, and called us with a holy calling…according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (1:9).
The world has generally supposed that when Jesus Christ came to Earth in human form, a message about His Person and His First Coming itself was the gospel He announced. Few know that when Christ came to Earth, God’s purpose was for Him to bring a message about His soon-coming kingdom—a world-ruling supergovernment to be established during Christ’s Second Coming. (For more about this topic, read The True Jesus Christ – Unknown to Christianity.)
This message, however, was not well received. Christ was actually killed for preaching it! His death qualified Him to become the Savior of the entire world. This made Him the first to qualify to rule in the Father’s kingdom. His sacrifice also made it possible for other human beings to do the same.
But why did He have to die this way?
Think of the account in the Garden of Eden in which God established the “tree of life” and the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). These two trees represented opposing ways of life. While God told both of the first humans to only eat of the tree of life, He also gave them freewill to decide which tree to choose in order to help them learn right versus wrong.
Another being was also in the Garden—Satan the devil, a fallen angel whose mind had been corrupted by pride. He caused a third of the angels to turn against God. These angels, called demons, disqualified themselves from being part of God’s Plan and from helping human beings.
Through cunning and subtlety, Satan convinced Eve to eat fruit from the wrong tree. Eve then convinced her husband to eat what she had.
This was a grave mistake. Eating from the tree of life would have given them access to God’s Way—and provided knowledge of Him through the Holy Spirit (which helps build perfect character and provides sound mindedness). Eating from the other tree led them down a path that has caused man to engage in wrong living ever since.
As a result of Adam and Eve’s decision, God set in motion a plan to give man 6,000 years to live as he pleased, and to establish his own governmental systems.
Not surprisingly, it has not yielded positive results. Under Satan’s influence—and cut off from God—man has committed sin, disobeying His commands.
But the Father is merciful. After the 6,000-year period is finished, He will teach man the right way to live by establishing His kingdom on Earth, to be ruled by Christ and His saints—human beings who have built character in this life by obeying Him and have been born into the God Family.
Yet this does not mean that those who do not know His Way now will be left out.
Christ had to qualify to rule in God’s kingdom by living a sinless life, which included keeping all of God’s Commandments and teaching others to do the same. Although He did not sin, His death paid the penalty for the sins of the world, which qualified Him to not only be part of God’s kingdom, but also provide others a chance to have the same opportunity.
The Resurrection of Jesus was the first of many that will occur in the future. Through Him, others can and will receive the Holy Spirit and salvation—eternal life. Yet receiving salvation can only occur if a person repents of his sins and turns to God in obedience. While not everyone understands how to do this now, someday all will be taught the right way to live.
Yet this is only the foremost edge of God’s Plan.
Jesus Christ is the first of the firstfruits—the first in God’s Plan to be resurrected. There are other firstfruits to follow. These include those who qualified in this life to be resurrected to eternal life, the first smaller spiritual harvest of humanity to receive salvation. These will reign with Christ at His Second Coming and help educate all of humanity about God’s Way so they can receive salvation.
This special period of 1,000 years is called the Millennium. During this time, all the negative influences that stop people from turning to God will be eliminated. Additionally, Satan will be bound so that he can no longer deceive nations.
But what about those who died never having been offered salvation—never having even heard the name of Jesus?
Revelation 20:12-13 explains: “And I [the apostle John, who recorded the book] saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books [the Bible] were opened: and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it…”
Unknown to most, there is a Second Resurrection!—a time when countless billions who died, but were neither offered salvation nor heard of Jesus Christ, will be brought back to physical life. All will be given 100 more years to live the right way (Isa. 65:20), which will qualify them to rule with Christ.
During this 100-year period, often referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11), billions will be offered eternal life for the first time. It will be their “day of salvation.” The Bible will be opened to their understanding, and they will learn about God’s Law. They will come to realize that they violated His Commandments and brought the death penalty (I John 3:4; Rom. 6:23) upon themselves.
But they will also learn about the true Jesus Christ—that they have a Savior who died and paid the penalty for their sins. They will be offered the choice to believe in Him—to accept His shed blood for payment of their sins. If they actively obey God’s commands during the 100-year judgment period, then they will be given the Holy Spirit and receive salvation.
The Father is a God of love and mercy (I John 4:8; Psa. 116:5). It is not His will that any should perish, but rather that all come to the knowledge of the truth and as many as are willing to be saved.
With this understanding, the verses quoted at the beginning of the article do not contradict one another.
Truly, God “will have all men to be saved…” (I Tim. 2:4) and He “is not slack concerning His promise…not willing that any should perish…” (II Pet. 3:9). After everyone is taught about Christ—“the way, the truth, and the life”—and that “no man comes unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6), salvation will be available through “none other name [Jesus Christ] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Theologians, religionists and ministers that teach otherwise miss the point. This current age is not the only “day” or time of salvation. Through His real Plan, God will save the vast majority of mankind, but only through the name of Jesus.
This wonderful plan of salvation will allow each in his own time to have an opportunity to receive the greatest gift of all—eternal life!