Can people be saved apart from hearing about Jesus?

Posted by Pastor J.D. on October 6, 2010
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As expected, I got a little pushback from the message on Sunday, “The task is urgent” from Romans 10:14-17.

Some of it came from well-meaning and very Scripturally-savvy friends whom I respect very much. The questions basically went like this:

“How can we say, assuredly, that there’s no way to be saved apart from conscious faith in Jesus? Haven’t Christians disagreed on that over the years? And why can’t we just leave the verdict out and just ‘let God judge them’? The Gospel is offensive enough without adding this element into it! And if it’s true that all adults are responsible to God (since they have a law written on their hearts), but children do not, wouldn’t that make us excited about abortion, since that is the only way you can guarantee going to heaven?”

The answer is yes, I am familiar with the varying opinions on this question. But varying opinions doesn’t alway mean that something is not clear in Scripture… It may just mean that the results are so offensive that it’s hard to reconcile ourselves to them. I also know that my opinions are NOT infallible. I am open to being persuaded I am wrong. I have been wrong about many things in the past and might be so about many things now. I am open to anyone approaching me with an open Bible and open mind.

I have read just about all of the major dissenting views to the one I shared on Sunday. I just found them unconvincing, and their ideas more based on human reasoning (i.e. “this is what I think God should be like…” “this idea about God offends me,” etc) than deductive conclusions from Scriptural affirmations. I wanted (oh, how I wanted!) to believe in the escape-hatches and plan-B’s, but just could not find allowance for it in Scripture. What I preached this morning was my conscience, and the most faithful interpretation, in my judgment, of Paul’s thought in Romans. I think he builds up to a very weighty conclusion… namely, that they simply cannot believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear without a preacher, and we (the church) are the only preachers who can be sent.  Ultimately, this is what the whole argument is about. Can they believe apart from our being sent? I think Paul’s answer is unequivocally “no.”

When I am urged to just “let God judge them,” that is surely what I am trying to do. Paul has concluded that, in response to general revelation, no one has responded to the general revelation correctly. He even clarified, lest we doubt: “no, not even one!” Thus, all are without excuse; all have sinned; all are under the righteous wrath of God. Had God saved none of us (like he did with the angels) none could have faulted him with injustice.

The force of Paul’s logic is, quite simply, the lost nations cannot call on one whom they have not heard, and they cannot hear unless someone is sent to preach. Where there is no preached word, there can be no faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God. There is not even a hint of a hole in Paul’s logic, and his conclusion is inescapable. There is no record of anyone in Scripture, ever, coming to faith in Christ apart from the instrumentality of the church.

And… if there was such a one as who worshipped Christ by worshipping God sincerely in his religion, and so found the ‘exception clause’ from needing to hear about Jesus, SURELY Cornelius was he! Yet, as I pointed out, the clear language of Peter is that Cornelius needed to be justified, not told that he was already justified.

Now, I left, intentionally, one “hole” in this whole thing… namely “could God do things he didn’t tell us about?” and I said “sure.” But, even so, it is clear that he never let on to us in the only revelation he gave to us that he was doing that. Throughout the Bible, which is ALL we have to go on (Deut 29:29), no one comes to faith apart from preaching  by a human being. Can you find me even one example from any place in the Bible that even approximates such a case, where where faith and salvation was achieved apart from the preaching of a human instrument? Even one?

So, in humility, I must speak clearly what Scripture says, even when it offends me greatly. And it certainly does so on this point. But let God’s word stand and our opinions be damned.

As to the rationalisms… such as “if what I’m saying is true, then abortion is the greatest missionary endeavour ever,” that would be to take a path clearly forbidden to the people of God (Deut 29:29). “Let us do evil that good may abound” is something we can always come up with, and even if its true, we are forbidden from it. This is not the only case where we can reason how a sin would bring about greater good… For example, if you believe that you can lose your salvation, as Wesley did, then as soon as you are convinced they are saved, kill them immediately so they won’t fall away. Makes rational sense, but clearly forbidden. The revelation is what we have to go on. It says that where there is no law there is no sin (thus no babies are condemned), and that all adults have a law which they have rejected.

Reasoning from moral axioms is never as reliable as revelation, even when it makes sense to us or more clearly accords with our sense of justice, rightness, or compassion.

Frankly, I find other aspects of God’s revelation to be even more offensive than what I shared today. For example, I think the idea of eternal punishment is abhorrent. I can’t yet make it make sense. But I am not the judge. And I cannot and will not judge God’s revelation.

It overwhelms me, hushes my mouth in silence, and drives me into God to seek, desparately to be used by God in His salvation plan.

Again, I am always open to being persuaded to be wrong. But I can’t see any conclusion but this one. So, may God empower us to get this message to our neighbors and the nations.

Pastor J.D.

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J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). More

31 responses to Can people be saved apart from hearing about Jesus?

  1. OK, I agree with your sermon and the above. Would like your comment on a couple of other scenarios I’ve heard: What about people who lived before the advent of Jesus Christ – pre-cross dwellers? What about American Indians between the time of “the cross” and the first gospel sharing “white men” came to America? Especially the later . . . is a whole era of a people group condemned because they didn’t place their faith in Jesus, whom they had no way of knowing about?

  2. I have to agree with John on this one. There are many people who sincerely seek God, but through no fault of their own, never hear about the name of Jesus. We as humans can’t say that they cannot make their way to heaven. We cannot limit God’s mercy and grace; there is no way we can definitively say God can’t save those people.

    John’s point about “pre-cross dwellers” is valid. To follow your logic JD, then Isreal’s great patriarchs (Abraham, Moses, etc.) wouldn’t be saved because they never knew Jesus. Even Moses who spoke with God face to face never knew the person of Christ.

    But here is the catch. The Christian mystery of the Trinity tells us that God the Father is God the Son is God the HS. So Moses “knew” Jesus by knowing the Father, who intrinsically shares his personhood with the Son and HS. We can therefore say that those in distant countries who sincerely seek God and truth with their lives somehow know Jesus without ever hearing his name.

    The other point is that you are only using scripture to defend this stance. Scripture is truth but not everything that God has ever revealed. It is only a piece of the pie. The Gospel of John ends by saying Jesus did so much more that all the books of the world couldn’t contain these writings. To say that those things Jesus did but are not in scripture are irrelevant is slightly ridiculous. God works outside of scripture, reveals Himself outside of scripture, and can save outside of what we know through scripture.

    If when Jesus ascended he suddenly stopped mid way up and dropped a bible down to the His apostles and said, “Here you go guys, this is all you’ll need to set up the Church and get people into heaven”, then we might be able to say that. Again, lets not put limits on God.

  3. John, I second your question regarding pre-cross dwellers.
    And J.D., I appreciate your remarks concerning wanting to believe other options but simply not being able to as your conscience leads in your reading of Scripture. This line in particular–”Reasoning from moral axioms is never as reliable as revelation”–is spot on. Thanks.

  4. I’d love to hear Clayton King chime in with some of his Napal stories!

  5. I agree with you completely. The NT makes evangelism a matter of urgency because without the gospel, people can’t be saved. We’re commanded to spread the news about 1)the need to be saved and 2)the way to be saved because otherwise, people will remain condemned. If God gives exceptions for ignorance, then we do a disservice by preaching. Better to leave them in their blissful, clueless condition than give them the opportunity to reject salvation. If there was any other way of redemption, or if God excused “those who never heard”, the great commission would be meaningless.

  6. Shannon Mathews October 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    I’m glad to hear this truth being spoken so gently and strongly at the same time. Our task is so important. I do see your desire to search the scripture for the answers.

    I’m interested to know your biblical defense for the “moral law of God being written on adults hearts” Since I was saved as a very young child I have a hard time believing that I would not have been held accountable for my sin and my knowing sin even at a very young age. As a mother now, I see the knowledge of God’s law and the conscience written on my children’s hearts and I don’t find a biblical defense for saying they will just get a free pass because of their age. I’m wondering where you get that position, and the implications of how that affects the gospel if people come to Christ without belief in faith and grace.

  7. Guys, quick response only on the “pre-cross” dwellers. They were saved by looking forward to the Messiah promised to come. This promise dates back to Adam and Eve (Gen 3:16). Moses and Abraham put faith in God’s revealed word, and trusted in God’s salvation just like we do, just from a different vantage point (they looked forward, we look backward).

    This is not the same as the American Indian who responds to his urges about God, for 2 reasons. A. According to Paul, ALL have rejected the God revealed in creation (Romans 3:10-11). B. There can be no faith apart from the revealed word of God (Romans 10:17). The preached word is what produces faith. Abraham and Moses and pre-Chris Jews believed the preached Gospel, and were saved essentially the same way we were.

  8. Brandon Squizzato October 6, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    “If when Jesus ascended he suddenly stopped mid way up and dropped a bible down to the His apostles and said, “Here you go guys, this is all you’ll need to set up the Church and get people into heaven”, then we might be able to say that. Again, lets not put limits on God.”

    Matt — that’s a bit of a dangerous statement to make don’t you think? True, we shouldn’t put limits on God. But, God has sufficiently revealed all that a church should and should not do via Scripture. Anything that is not explicitly outlined as a “should” or “shouldn’t” in Scripture can go either way within reason. But, I think the point J.D. is making here is that, by his analysis, scripture has clearly outlined that people are not saved outside of the Gospel being preached to them. This is the point being argued at hand…

    This is not about putting limits on God, we’re trying to look at what Scripture has clearly outlined for us.

  9. I guess I’m still a bit confused though…because the reality is that there must have been numerous people in the past who have never heard of Jesus and the preached word, both before the cross or after the cross. If, as Paul says, all have rejected the God revealed in creation, does that mean that these people are condemned, even if they have never heard the Gospel?

  10. You’re not alone Evan. I’m a bit confused myself. I know you earnestly seek the truth J.D. and I respect your knowledge and wisdom God has imparted to you. I just have a hard time understanding how the God I love could condemn people who have never heard of Jesus. I always thought that fools,children and the ignorant would be taken care of. I do believe we all are born with a knowledge of God in our heart and spirit. We don’t know His name at bith, but there is an awareness of His presence in the world. I remember as a little child having a knowledge like this myself. But if a person never hears the name but believes in that presence and does the best that he can with the knowledge he has…for that person to be condemned is unthinkable. However,I believe in the Bible totally and unconditionally. I just thought there was a provision in the Word for those lost souls right along with the babies and “fools”. Guess I have been wrong,but it’s still hard to comprehend that I can be saved because I have heard and believe. I might have been the worst sinner anywhere,yet I know I’m saved because of Jesus in my heart. But a lost soul who happens to be in the jungle… just because he was born in a different world where the Word hasn’t reached yet, is condemned. It’s mind boggling to say the least and very disturbing to me.

  11. Brandon, thanks for your thoughts. I don’t mean to be rude when I say this, but my reply is plainly no. It is not a dangerous statement to make because Jesus didn’t leave the Apostles with a guide for how to run the church as a parting gift. I think its more dangerous to say “God has sufficiently revealed all that a church should and should not do via Scripture.” Especially considering the early church had no canonized scripture but still operated by handing down the teachings of Christ (Tradition) and listening to the HS.

    So for example, Acts 15 tells how the early church came to an agreement on an early question that arose. But Peter, James, Paul, and the others didn’t have Acts to look at to determine how to go about this, they operated without the Bible (but through the HS and the leadership structure in place). Many people forget that the church existed for almost 400 years before the Bible was canonized, so for almost 400 years decisions were made, teachings defined, church hierachy setup without canonized scripture.

    One last thought is that there were countless writings and letters from apostles and early church fathers like Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Tertullian, etc. that never made it into canonized scripture; even writings of Peter, Paul, John, etc. (our NT writers) that did not get canonized. To say God has sufficiently revealed all that a church should and should not do via Scripture is tough to say, because most of the NT letters were to address the problem areas in certain churches. There was much doctrine/belief that was universally accepted that didn’t need much instruction. The majority of the letters address only the problems, they aren’t all encompassing on what God has revealed to his people. And scripture itself tells us there is more than just scripture to look to (2 Tim 2:2, 1 Cor 15:3-4, 2 Thess 2:15, etc.).

    All that said, I see the point that JD is trying to make through his analysis of scripture. I still find holes in his argument, but I wasn’t going to reply to his second post for this reason, and I think this is the bottom line. Even if people can be saved apart from hearing the name of Jesus, then its almost better for us to think otherwise so that we are more urgent in spreading Truth. I think we can all agree with that.

  12. Thanks for posting this. I think in any struggle with theology, we first have to sift through to see where the struggle starts.

    I would insert that this is where one’s belief about the doctrine of total depravity could be the main issue. (That is that mankind is totally depraved, or dead in their sins, without Christ). I think one has to ask first, if their struggle starts with this doctrine. If one in fact believes in total depravity, one would have to follow that Christ is necessary and has to be the full substitute for humans if humans are completely unable on their own to do anything for their salvation. If a Christian doesn’t believe in total depravity (Christ + something else, or Christ + an exception = Salvation) has to come in. Of course, if one is not a Christian, they wouldn’t believe Christ or salvation is even needed.

    If one claims belief in total depravity, yet disagrees with those who do not hear spending eternity apart from God, the other tension would better be pointed to a primary struggle with God’s election of his people. Meaning, the struggle would then first lie with the attributes of God’s goodness and his ability to administer pure and perfect justice, and why he allows those who haven’t heard to suffer apart from him for eternity. Yet still, I would argue that one cannot firmly believe in total depravity if they disagree that people who haven’t heard spending eternity apart from God as the two logically have to go hand in hand as J.D. argued. Mainly, because this thought process directly falls under (Christ + an exception = Salvation.) The exception here being those who have not heard, and Christ pardoning them for their lack of hearing. (Christ + pardon of those who have not heard = Salvation). I think the issue is that you focus on which one you primarily struggle with (the depravity of man, or God’s goodness and justice?) Though, both effect the other and shape your view of the other.

    It could also be that its not that one doesn’t disagree that those who don‘t hear spend eternity apart from God, but instead the struggle lies with “election guilt”. This is something I struggle with, and I think I can safely assume that most Christians do as JD has alluded to (though some seem to struggle with “election arrogance”). I think the enemy gets us to waste a lot of time feeling guilty, as it distorts our reception of the gift of salvation as guilt starts with us, and puts the gift into our power. Instead of pointing the gift back to Christ in thankful reception and sharing, we instead hold the gift in our hand with shame and reluctance. (Once again, I struggle with this.) So, from election guilt, I believe the doctrine of Universalism (that is all are saved whether or not they accept Christ, have heard or not), and Universalism minus people like Hitler, Stalin, etc. comes into fruition. As well as other doctrines about eternity, etc.

    One could make the argument that “election guilt” actually attests, and is actually in an ironic way an apologetic, for how great and past our own understanding the gift of salvation is. Meaning, deep down we know that none of us deserve it, hence our changing of the reception into a feeling of guilt.

    Sorry for the length, and hopefully this made some sort of logical sense and aids this discussion somehow.

  13. Brandon Squizzato October 7, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Matt,

    I guess what I said came across wrong. What I meant is that God has specifically revealed things that SHOULD be done, and things that SHOULD NOT be done. In the cases where Scripture isn’t clear, I agree that we certainly have more liberty, but I just think that it becomes dangerous when we say “Well, I know that God has outlined this in Scripture, but I think God could probably work differently than what I see here, since after all He is God.”

  14. Evan and Sherry,

    Just a quick comment. It’s biblically flawed to think that the exclusive or main reason that someone goes to hell when they die is because they rejected Jesus. It is true that if one rejects Jesus until their death, they will go to hell. But the rejection of Jesus is just one sin on top of the individual’s original sin and the thousands of sins they committed in their lifetime. And it is THOSE SINS, apart from any rejection of Jesus, that are their undoing. To say it another way: our condemnation is not put into effect at our rejection of Jesus, rather our condemnation is in effect at birth and reinforced every waking moment of our lives because we came forth from the womb speaking lies (Ps 58:3), dead in our sin (Eph 2:1), condemened already (John 3:18), having earned and continuing to earn the wages of our sin: death (Rom 6:23). To put it yet another way: If I have cancer (sin) and I reject the doctor’s cure (Jesus) and die, I did not die from the rejection of the cure (Jesus), I died from the cancer (sin). You also may want to study 1Corinthians 15:12-19. That text does not speak to exactly what you are asking but it does shed significant light on how we should think about this topic and your questions around it. Kind Regards.

  15. Hey guys, first for full disclosure I disagree with you. I think Cornelius is a great example of a person who was saved without preaching. Scripture says he was devout and God-fearing. I don’t think Peter came to justify him but to make a disciple of him. The reason I wanted to comment though was not to disagree with your main point but to direct your attention to the Great Commission. The Great Commission calls us all to more than just preaching, but to making disciples. I think if we focused on this aspect of making disciples this crisis of salvation, (of which only God can judge who is saved) would right itself.

  16. Oh I also forgot to mention this: I first came across this issue as a teenager after reading Ezekiel 33. I think if you take your view of exclusivism then we, as Christian, are the watchmen and if we fail to tell those we have been demanded to tell then we will be held accountable for their sins.

  17. Like a spotlight searching the clouds, the light of God’s mercy is searching the nations; there is a kairos/time as in Isaiah 55, for every nation.

    I am a bit of a calvinist myself, though never fully or totally, as no teacher can exhaust Christ’s riches. In God’s time, He sends a preacher, reveals Christ and opens the heart. All this, while holding man fully accountable. What I’ve noticed however is the context of what is said about divine election in Scripture and how it is being preached and lived. It certainly is no cold doctrine, but assurance, letting the believer in to God’s merciful mysteries.

    That certain people are being elected out of sovereign grace doesn’t diminish in the least the heart and need for preaching the Gospel to each and every creature or nation. In fact, it strengthens the need!

    The same goes for that age old question about our forefathers (have you thought about North Europe’s spiritual history before AD600?), the Maya’s and those in today’s world who haven’t heard yet. If the Father revealed Himself in some way to some people out of divine grace, who are we to claim knowledge about it? Who was Melchizedek, for instance? Will such a providence diminish the urgent need to preach the Gospel that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, to all people? No!

    We are not being motivated by minimalism, so as to say: “we’ll only do for God what is really necessary and reasonable”, no, we preach and lay our lives down in His service for reason of loving Him! And loving people!

    About small children and the mentally handicapped: Is faith not a gift from God, worked by the Holy Spirit?

  18. I believe what is happening is we want to humanize God and say well if that’s what the Bible says it’s just not fair. What really is fair is that we get what we deserve…death and hell. I believe it is our responsibility as Christians to share the Gospel and God does the saving. May not be fair, but it is what is clearly proclaimed in scripture. If He is sovereign and I believe He is all this banter is mute. Acts 4:12
    God Bless

  19. If anyone can saved other than by Jesus then the cross is made insufficient and unnecessary. Some of these questions that are being asked really go to who the very nature of who God is. It is tempting to only look at God through the perspective of love and grace not properly consider his holiness and righteousness.

  20. StudentOfScripture October 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    The problem with many of our fundamentalist Protestant brethren is that they equate ‘saved’ with ‘eternal life’. There are many types of salvation. Sure, JD, of course no one can be saved in the way Paul is talking about in Romans 10:9 (salvation from the law) apart from faith in Christ. That is why Christ came… to fulfill the law. However, Scripture even, at one point, says women are “saved” by giving birth to children! There are other types of salavation, in other words, and so “saved” (even in Romans 10) doesn’t necessarily mean “having aquired eternal life.” Context is everything.

    IOW, Paul, in Romans 10, is not talking exclusively about eternal life. See chapter 2 (verse 7) for his opinion on how people get eternal life.

    I’ve had popular Protestant preachers say to me in private conversations, basically, “I would agree with the Orthodox Christian view of salvation, but it doesn’t leave me feeling very secure.” Yep. So there you have it. Nevermind that it is supported by ample Scripture, and nevermind that the Orthodox Christian view entered into history about 1500 earlier than the Protestant view. “Security” is their God, and they seek it over the Truth.

  21. Matt,

    I wanted to reply to your comment (#11, in the list as I currently see it).

    To say the Bible was canonized almost 400 years after Christ is misleading in two ways. First off, the canon is not an authoritative list of books , instead it is a list of authoritative books. Sounds like a bit of semantics legerdemain, but the church recognized that there were certain books which held authority over her. It was not the case that the church decided, “hmm…these are the books we’re going to listen to.”

    Saints may be “canonized” but Scripture does not “get canonized”–it *IS* the canon (the standard; the rule; the yardstick).

    Secondly, it was not 400 years…the early church, born out of Jewish Believers had the full 39 books of the Old Covenant (aka Old Testament). There was never any controversy about what was canonical in that group.

    As for the canonical books of the New Covenant (NT), from the earliest days there was a recognition that certain writings of the Apostles were indeed the “words of God.” Maybe you are pointing to the councils called by Constantine in the early 4th century AD, but the list of canonical books which “came out out of the councils” were more of an official, “here’s what has long been Scripture,” list to combat some heretics (who were proposing theologies by dropping certain canonical books).

    But as I wrote, there was early recognition that the new authoritative books had to have been written by an apostle. Peter, for instance, tells Believers to listen to what Paul has written, even though the words are hard (2 Peter 3:16). Paul states his authority with the rhetorical question, “Have I not seen the Risen Christ?” in 1 Cor. 9:1.

    The words of the apostles in our NT are quoted by the early church fathers. (I think that with the exception of about a dozen verses, all of the NT is quoted in writings by the early fathers.) In contrast, other writings by non-Apostles are alluded to, but not quoted. Polycarp, whom you listed, is a good example. Polycarp was a disciple of John, and he quotes John. However, Polycarp’s disciples do not quote Polycarp, but would quote John. Thus, very early in the church, there was recognition that certain folks had written some very important stuff…as if it had indeed been “breathed by God.”

    I’m not an apologist nor a theologian. Neither do I want to debate theologies of inspiration, inerrancy, etc. Nonetheless, from what I have investigated, I have every intellectual confidence that the Bible I hold in my hands are indeed the words from God He wants me to know…and not just some words which God finds “close enough” to convey His Message to me.

    Kindest regards,
    yucko
    (yucko@alum.mit.edu)

  22. To say, because of Romans 10, that no one can be saved except by consciously hearing a preacher would be like saying women can’t be saved except by getting pregnant because of 1 Timothy 2.

    There are many ways to ‘get saved’ because there are many types of salvation. You must consider the context of the “salvation”, both the historical and biblical.

    The gist is this: Paul isn’t talking about eternal life salvation in the context of 1 Tim 2 or of Romans 10. The part where Paul is talking about eternal life salvation is way back in Romans 2, in a verse that is very rarely if ever preached in many Protestant churches for obvious reasons.

  23. @Lev, so what are you saying? That “patient continuance in well-doing” and “work[ing] good” gets us eternal life? To be sure, this is what Romans 6-10 says and means. But this is very shortly followed by an analysis of mankind’s ability to Do Good (or lack thereof), and the verdict is not optimistic. The rest of the Romans then explains the need of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Protestants and not scared of Romans 2.

    So what are you saying? And where do you get your theology? Fess up!

    I really welcome this discussion, and I think the conversation has been uncommonly mature for the internet. Good job posters! Here’s what I think Scripture (and early Christian tradition, for those who think the Bible isn’t sufficient information) indicates: the gospel is necessary for eternal life, period. This goes for both adults and children–and I do think that children can have saving faith in Jesus (note that John the Baptist lept for joy in his mother’s womb at pregnant Mary’s approach).

    The scriptural catalyst is divine election; sovereign grace. This is the hope of the proverbial “person in the jungle with no access to the gospel.” I for one have heard many amazing stories of the gospel reaching the most inaccessible people in the most unlikely ways, ways that could only be divinely-orchestrated. God is a Shepard, and he will work tirelessly to find lost sheep that He intends to save, even when we willfully and sinfully try to ignore Him. That’s how big His grace is!

  24. I’m sorry, correction: “this is what Romans 2: 6-10 says and means.” The first way I wrote it seems to denote that four chapters rather than four verses.

  25. Whether or not Protestants are scared of preaching Romans 2:7 I don’t know. I do know they do not preach it. I was a Protestant for 25 years in multiple denominations, and I never heard it preached: *not even one time*. I heard Romans 10 at least once a month.

    My theology comes from Orthodox Christianity, the primary Christianity in Turkey, Greece, Israel, etc… all the places where the Apostles planted churches. That is no coincidence.

    The rest of Romans is not about mans inability to do good, it is mainly about how the Jews couldn’t do good and be saved *under the law*. That theme even starts in Romans 2, a paragraph or so after verse 7. Paul is basically saying we are saved by doing good, but not the definition of “good” that Jews use (the law).

    Paul concludes that faith saves, yes. But you must look at the context. He doesn’t conclude that *only* faith saves. Look at James 2, “Can faith save with out works?… No, you *fool*.” Here’s the kicker: Paul was talking about works of the law (like circumcision), which don’t save. James was talking about works of love (like clothing your brother), which do save. Look at their contexts respectively.

    A Jewish religious teacher once asked Christ what he must do to get eternal life. (see Luke chapter 10) “Faith, hope, and love: the greatest of these is love.”

  26. I believe JD is spot on with his analysis…Scripture must define our view here. Personal opinions, human views of God’s “fairness”, and anecdotal stories shouldn’t be authoritative in this discussion.

    Let me respond to a few folks:

    Matt (comment 2), Rom 3:11 clearly states that there are none who seek God…Also God never saves apart from what we know from Scripture. There are no examples of salvation apart from “special revelation” thru the word of God anywhere in the Bible.

    Evan (comment 9), I think the biblical answer to your question is yes they are condemned…that is tragic and as Romans 10 points out puts the onus on us to get the gospel to the Unreached.

    Matt (comment 11), The Apostles did use the Bible to make their decision in the Jerusalem council, the OT (Amos 9)…the apostles were not just listening to the HS and handing down the teachings of Christ, they were interpreting the OT thru the lens of the Christ event/person. The Bible of the early church, the apostles, and Jesus was the OT. And even though passages could be written to a specific time and situation they are sufficient and authoritative for us today b/c in reality they were written for the church (cf. 1 Cor 10). The Bible is sufficient for everything that pertains to life and godliness, to step outside of it is dangerous.

    Ian (comment 15), Cornelius is not saved apart from special revelation/the WORD (the gospel) b/c he is a god-fearer which means he believes the OT in the same way that an OT saint believed it (see jd’s previous comment on pre-cross).

    Lev and student of scripture, salvation in Romans is dealing with the issue of Justification and how one is made right with God…that cannot happen apart from faith as a result of hearing the Word about Jesus…To try to play semantics and say that Paul who is writing a letter that did not originally have chapter and verse divisions meant salvation one way earlier and another way later is to fail to see his argument throughout the book.

  27. The unpopular TRUTH is that God is a God of mercy (which everyone likes and understands) and JUSTICE (which not many want to think about.) The fact is that, according to Romans 5:12, we are all born with a sin nature. That’s not fair…unless you’re a holy, perfect God. When we truly see God as holy and perfect, then we have to honestly come to the conclusion that we ALL deserve hell (including those that have never heard the name Jesus) and it’s only by God’s mercy that Jesus Saves. No one has ever, nor will ever be saved without Jesus. See John 14:6 and Acts 4:10-12.

    The convicting portion is the obvious question “Who will not hear of Jesus in our generation, and who is going to do something about it?”

  28. Brandon (your follow up comment), I agree there are things God has revealed that should and should not be done. Also, that to go outside of what we know God is just because God is higher and bigger and beyond us, is somewhat guessing at something we can’t put our mind around. So we have to be careful about what we definitively define about God. Good points.

    Yucko, Thanks for your comments. I am not a theologian or apologist either; also was not trying to be misleading. Yes, the early Christian church, which grew out of Jewish community, had the what we call the OT. It was the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Alexandrian Canon, which has 46 books (Luther decided to disregard 7 of those and accepted the 39 from the Hebrew Palestinian Canon (the canon of Jews that denied Jesus as Messiah) that most Protestants have today)). I believe the Alexandrian Canon was around about 150 years before Christ, and it was the one He read out of and the one the apostles used in quoting scripture and writing letters. So yes, there was definitely something to go off of there. I was more referring to the NT as the scripture that the early Church did not have.

    There were some writings that were regarded as higher, HS-driven writings. You are also correct in that those apostles that actually rolled with Jesus (expection being Paul) were held in higher regard. However, there was no canon of scripture in the early Church; there was no Bible. A fixed canon of the NT was unheard of before the end of the 2nd and early 3rd century. And even then it was not until another 100 or so years until lists started coming out. The councils that I was referring to were the Catholic Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) that created a list of canonical books. The Council of Carthage is the council which many Protestant and Evangelical Christians take as the authority for the New Testament canon of books.

    God did not explicitly reveal what books are the inspired books of the Bible, title by title, to anyone, we must look to His guidance in discovering the canon of the Bible. So the Bible is the book of the Church; she is not the Church of the Bible. It was the Church–her leadership, faithful people–guided by the authority of the Spirit of Truth which discovered the books inspired by God in their writing. The Church did not create the canon; she discerned the canon.

    To Yucko and Jon Akin, so here is the point…could the Church have survived without the Bible? It did for close to 400 years. I want to clarify that I am not implying what the Church did before the Bible or what decisions were made outside of it go against what scripture says. Scripture and Tradition go hand in hand, they cannot contradict. I just want to be clear that saying that there is more than what is revealed in scripture does not mean it degrades the importance of scripture or contradicts it. This is a pillar of belief of the early Church and all Christians for at least the first 1500 years.

  29. No one is “playing” semantics, jon. Also, I’m not saying Paul necessarily uses the exact word “salvation” differently in different parts of Romans. I said he speaks of eternal life in Romans 2 and of salvation in Romans 10. Both ultimately have to do with being saved, one from death (ch. 2, eternal life) and the other from the vain attempts to be righteous through the law (ch. 10). The main point is this: if you want to talk about eternal life, talk about the passage where Paul actually says “eternal life” (Romans 2, do good to get eternal life) instead of talking about the more obscure word “salvation” in Romans 10.

    Paul does use the word “salvation” differently in various parts of his writings (child birth saving women, for instance), and it would be presumptuous of you to assume he only uses the word “saved” in only one way in all of Romans. It would definitely be in Paul’s MO to speak of different types of salvation. Plus the most ancient church in the world (Orthodox Christianity), the church still located where Paul planted churches, still to this day says Paul taught them about different types of salvation.

  30. Matt,

    The church never existed without scripture. It had the OT before the NT was written (and it was using the books of the NT VERY early on that’s why they were discerned to be in the canon).

    The NT reveals that the church is built on the foundation of the prophets (OT) and the Apostles (NT), those inspired to speak/write the word of God, see Eph 2:19-20. Without that foundation there is no church. That’s why the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. It’s the Word of God that creates the people of God…That’s the point of Romans 10. That’s the theme of the whole book of Acts..As the Word “grew and multiplied” so did the church… (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20)

  31. Charlene Hardin October 19, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    My grandson and i were talking about this subject just last week. He sent your addy to me just tonight. I was really excited to read the different opions. looking forward to reading more.
    Do you folks have the same addy everyweek?
    I don’t want to miss any.
    Thank you,
    God bless ya,
    Charlene

    P.S.
    It’s HARD for me to even THINK that God would punish someone who’s never had a chance to know him, it would be like punishing a child.

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