Is Salvation Possible For Those Who Do Not Believe In Jesus?

Scripture gives us no such hope. Jesus did not extend this hope to the Jewish leadership of His day:

  • “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24; ESV)

Without Jesus, the Mosaic Covenant would do them absolutely no good. To His own disciples, He warned that if they wanted the biblically promised salvation, it would have to come through Him:

  • 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)

According to Jesus, salvation isn’t possible through other religions or teachers:

  • So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:7-10)

However, some believe that there is another way. While they might acknowledge that the only way to salvation is through Jesus and what He accomplished on the Cross, they claim that it is possible to receive the benefits of the Cross without faith in Jesus. Consequently, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli have written:

  • If…“to become a Christian” means knowingly to profess [believe], then you do not need to be a Christian to be saved, or else Abraham is unsaved, and so are all who believe unorthodox ideas. How unorthodox do your ideas have to be to send you to hell? Where is the dividing line? Does God give you a theology exam? (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 331)

According to Kreeft and Tacelli, our lack of certain beliefs (faith) cannot damn us. Therefore, faith in Jesus might be unnecessary. If Abraham was saved apart from a faith in Jesus, there must be many others who were also saved without the right beliefs in Jesus.

However, this argument is not Biblically sound. Abraham had believed what God had told Him. However, today, God has been revealing more, and this too must be believed if we truly have faith in Him. Paul had explained to the Athenians that, after the Cross, God expects more from humankind:

  • The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

Consequently, the content of Abraham’s faith is no longer normative for us. While God still requires faith, He now requires faith in Jesus. However, Kreeft raises a deeper issue – Does God really care about theology exams and the correctness of our faith?

Well, what would be better than the requirement of faith? Perhaps nothing! If God used any other criterion for salvation, none of us would qualify:

  • “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

Consequently, salvation and everything else we mercifully receive from God can only be received as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 3:26-28; Gal. 3:1-5; 5:2-4), by grace. Therefore, it is ultimately God’s grace that saves us, but He saves through our beliefs and attitudes.

Kreeft demeans this means of salvation as a mere “theology exam,” something that sounds superficial to a loving relationship. However, our beliefs and thoughts are critical to God’s plan to reconcile us to Himself, especially in regards to our sin and guilt:

  • “Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people [Israel] have forgotten me, days without number… On your clothes men find the lifeblood of the innocent poor, though you did not catch them breaking in. Yet in spite of all this you say, ‘I am innocent; he is not angry with me.’ But I will pass judgment on you because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’” (Jeremiah 2:32-35)

It is important that we recognize and confess our sins. This is necessary for any kind of reconciliation. Ordinarily, we live lives of denial and rationalizations, even hating the things of God, as Jesus taught:

  • “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)

We must also believe that God blesses us if we seek Him:

  • And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

We have to believe that it is all about God’s mercy to us and not about our moral merit. This belief produces gratitude and guards against self-exalting pride and its flipside – depression. In summary, how we think (our beliefs) is not only how we are but also how we relate to others. If I think that I’m entitled to God’s forgiveness and salvation because of my moral rectitude, it will undermine any possible relationship I might try to develop with God.

However, it is not our thoughts alone that save us. The Devil had the right thoughts in this regard (James 2:19), but to no avail. Instead, the gift of faith is inseparable from a greater gift – the gift of a new heart (and the Spirit), which opens our eyes to the truths/doctrines of the Gospel and inclines us to be drawn to them.

In light of this, faith is far more than a “theology exam,” in which, if you produce the right answers, God will grant us entrance into heaven. This is a gross misrepresentation of both faith and God’s salvation.

Can we receive the grace of Christ without faith? The Bible gives us no explicit evidence of this. Instead, it seems that faith is absolutely necessary:

  • For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is CONDEMNED ALREADY, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)
  • Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not(“never” ESV) see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)
  • How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (Hebrews 2:3)

But how about those who simply never heard about this “great salvation?” Will they be eternally condemned? It seems so:

  • For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21)

It seems that, without faith, all know about God will fall under the “wrath of God,” instead of the salvation of God. And what of those who could not possess such knowledge? What about the salvation of babies and the aborted? We do not have any explicit Scriptural teaching on this subject. Instead, Scripture seems to leave this door slightly ajar:

  • “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does NOT KNOW and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:47-48)

What then is the Good News that we must preach? Where Scripture remain uncertain, we too must remain uncertain. Where its teachings are clear, we too must be clear.

Is there any hope for those who could have known better? Not according to Scripture! If there is a secret hope for them, we must remain as silent as Scripture on the subject. The secret things of God must remain with God (Deuteronomy 29:29).

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Daniel Mann

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