By David Wise
The scriptures restrict man’s salvation and merit of entrance into heaven to Christ alone:
1) Jesus is THE WAY (John 14:6) – Jesus is THE [ONLY] DOOR OF THE SHEEP (John 10:7)
2) There is ONLY ONE MEDIATOR between God and man, and it’s Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5)
3) NEITHER IS THERE SALVATION IN ANY OTHER: for there is NONE OTHER NAME UNDER HEAVEN GIVEN AMONG MEN, WHEREBY WE MUST BE SAVED. (Acts 4:12)
So if salvation is truly “In Christ Alone”, we should never have to apologize that our doctrine – when applied consistently – covers all of God’s children in their specific circumstance: that God will save them all to heaven, despite their individual conditions here in this life. So what is the way of salvation that is presented in scripture?
BY FAITH ALONE?
The prevailing thought in Christendom or evangelical circles today is that the way salvation is “by faith in Christ”, making it incumbent on a dead sinner to somehow revive himself and have faith in God. This might appear to exclude the Old Testament saints who we trust to be in heaven since they did not know about Christ to make a profession of faith in His name. Job knew he had a Redeemer, but he didn’t know his Redeemer’s name (Job 19:25). The New Testament gospel gives the children of God their Redeemer’s name – Jesus of Nazareth. So to prove those saints before the time of Christ were also saved by faith, the scriptures are often provided of Abraham’s faith in God from Romans 4 and Galatians 3.
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, Gen. 15:6). However, notice the distinction in the text – the righteousness was not counted unto God, but rather the righteousness was counted “unto him” or “unto Abraham”. It was not faith that made Abraham righteous in God’s eyes, but rather his exercise of faith in God was counted “unto Abraham”, declaring in his own conscience that he was righteous before God. Also as we read the account from Genesis 15, we find what Abraham was actually believing the Lord about; it wasn’t a choice to trust him for salvation, but rather he believed in the Lord (v.6) that God would uphold His promise of delivering him a child (v.4-5). There is nothing in that account that indicates that Abraham made a decision to trust the Lord for salvation, but rather he believed that what the Lord told him about his seed would ultimately come to pass. So the standard of Abraham’s faith makes salvation by a nebulous “believing in God”, rather than repentance, acceptance, and confession in Christ alone. But Paul does not leave room for a general faith in God as the means of salvation; he restricts the requirements quite narrowly in Romans 10. Notice the requirement for the “gospel salvation” that is offered by believing on Jesus Christ, faith in the heart is not good enough – “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom. 10:10).
External, public confession and calling with one’s mouth must be made to receive the salvation that is offered in this text. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved…. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rom. 10:9,13). Friends, faith in your heart doesn’t make the cut for this salvation, only confession does. So how can one confess Christ in a public manner, if they have never heard about the death, burial, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus? They can’t. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). So the only people who have an opportunity for salvation are those who have heard a preacher declare that God has raised Jesus from the dead. There is no faith apart from hearing the gospel brought by a God-sent preacher and hearing the word of God, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17). Those Old Testament saints who are commended for their faith in Hebrews 11 and are certainly in heaven today don’t make the cut; all Gentiles before Jesus who never had a prophet sent to them to call for repentance don’t make the cut; everyone today who’s never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ don’t make the cut; all infants who have never heard the gospel don’t make the cut; all handicapped people who can’t speak can’t meet the requirements because they can’t make an audible public confession.
Friends, if our view of scripture restricts eternal salvation to only those who hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ from the requirements in Romans 10, heaven will be a lonely, empty place. But we see a glimpse into heaven where there is a multitude which no man can number worshipping the Lamb (Rev. 7:9). In the same verse, we also see a diversity of natural ethnic and cultural backgrounds because the redeemed are “of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues”. That couldn’t be the case when no Gentiles prior to Jesus (except for a few rare cases, such as Rahab, Ruth, and a certain widow of Sidon) even had an opportunity to hear from a Jewish prophet about Jehovah.
Rather, it behooves us to rightly divide the implications of the “gospel salvation” that can only be enjoyed with one hears the word of God preached by a God-sent preacher about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is a deliverance (truly a “salvation”) from the internal condemnation of one’s sin on a believer’s conscience, when one hears the good news and makes a public confession of Jesus. Does this save one from hell to heaven? No, but the repentant sinner will experientially feel the “heavy laden” of their sin lifted off their shoulders, with the knowledge that their sin was actually laid upon the person of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, and the work of salvation was completed once and for all right there. “But this man, after he had offered ONE SACRIFICE FOR SINS FOR EVER, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12). There truly is salvation in the belief of the gospel, but in context this is gospel, kingdom salvation, not eternal salvation.
If you’ve ever had a discussion about the only way of salvation, you may have found all conversations usually end up taking the same route:
BGA (By Grace Alone – i.e. ME): So you believe that you are only saved by confessing that Jesus is your personal Savior?
BFA (By Faith Alone): Yes, Jesus the only way of salvation. Otherwise, if you don’t accept Jesus as your personal Savior, you’ll go to hell if you died today!
BGA: So what about those before Jesus who couldn’t confess and believe on His resurrection?
BFA: Oh well they’re a little different; they were saved by faith by believing in God, not confession of Jesus.
BGA: So what about those infants that can’t confess and believe on Jesus?
BFA: Oh well they’re different because they don’t know right from wrong yet, and they haven’t reached the “age of accountability”?
BGA: So what about those mentally handicapped that will never be able to fully comprehend the gospel?
BFA: Oh well they’re different because they won’t ever truly understand right from wrong, so God just has to treat them different. They kind of get a free pass.
BGA: So what about those who have never heard the gospel or had an opportunity to believe?
BFA: Well I don’t really know but I just think God has a way of appearing to them and saving them too, by Himself.
BGA: So what about those Gentiles before Jesus who never heard of the prophets?
BFA: Well I don’t guess they have a shot to go to heaven. Actually no, I think God just saved some of them too like he does those nowadays who haven’t heard the preached gospel.
BGA: So just to summarize, accepting Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, unless you were born before 26AD, are an infant or mentally handicapped, have never heard the gospel, or some other exception?
BFA: Hey, so what do you think is the only way of salvation then?
BGA: Um, by grace alone.
Infants and Mentally Handicapped
If salvation is only by confessing or accepting Christ, an exception must be made for infants and mentally handicapped individuals to keep them out of hell. Therefore the unscriptural concept of the “age of accountability” has been derived to allow an avenue into heaven for these people. In an attempt to reconcile King David’s confidence that he would see his son again – presumably in heaven – who died at 7 days of age (2 Samuel 12:18,23), with the fact that the child could not have had faith in God and meet the requirement for salvation, it is taught that God must let infants into heaven in a different manner. Infants are just as corrupted by sin as those who progress to full age because we are all “conceived in sin” (Ps. 51:5) and we manifest our sin nature by sin practice as soon as we are born (Ps. 58:3). Apparently when you reach a point where you know right from wrong, you are accountable for your actions at that point. Until then they have a free pass into heaven and have an exemption from judgment upon God’s law. Just because a person never reaches a point where we think they cognitively understand their sin does not exclude them from judgment under God’s holy law. So when you reach the “age of accountability” your chances of living in heaven just went from 100% to 50% at best, from one day to the next? But if you are mentally handicapped your probability of eternal salvation remains at 100% no matter what? Infants and the mentally handicapped are judged just as any other sinner who is not righteous, nor good (Rom. 3:10-18), and their only hope of salvation is the righteous atonement of Jesus Christ. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Heb. 9:22). No one will be let into heaven because they are innocent because there is none righteous, no not one. And if the blood of Jesus was not shed for that person, they have no hope of living in heaven.
Those who’ve never heard the gospel
Since a very small percentage of the inhabitants in the history of the world have even ever heard the name of Jesus, hearing and believing the gospel restricts the list of possible saved individuals to a very small number. With no other alternative that to affirm that everyone that doesn’t hear the gospel from a preacher (because how shall they believe or hear without a preacher and faith comes by hearing – Rom. 10:14-17) is destined to hell, you might find that God apparently has yet another way of saving the unevangelized lost person. God might just appear to him in some manner to where the lost person might be able to have faith in Jesus. Apparently, God just has a way of saving people to heaven in this circumstance apart from the means of the gospel. Well, interestingly enough, that’s exactly correct. The distinction, however, is that every single child of God is saved in the same manner, apart and independent of the gospel. Herein lies the truth of the WAY of salvation. God’s sovereign manner of revealing Himself to His children apart from the help of man is the way for every elect person, not the exception. God sovereignly chose a people to love out of all the destitute populace of mankind, sent his Son to die for their sins, and then sovereignly reveals Himself to them in the new birth at some point in their life. This leaves no one loved by God before the foundation of the world on the outside looking in because there are no restrictions to the sovereign hand of the Lord that is mighty to save!
Every requirement of salvation that requires a work on the behalf of man – i.e. confession, belief, faith, baptism – will always be forced to make exceptions to not alienate someone who they “want” to be saved. However, there is only one WAY of salvation that the final result has a multitude in heaven which no man can number of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people. And the only way that such a numerous and diverse of a group of people will end up in heaven is that God unilaterally chose, purposed, and completed the salvation of sinners by Himself. I don’t have to apologize for the Lord’s work in salvation that somebody should have made the cut but didn’t because they didn’t have an opportunity to hear the gospel. Because no one who is supposed to be in heaven – according to the election by God before time – will be left out.
There is truly only one WAY of salvation. And it’s by the finished, completed sacrifice of the blood of the Son of God that was poured out on a cross over 2,000 years ago.
Jesus offered ONE SACRIFICE FOR SINS FOREVER (Heb. 10:12), ONE OFFERING (Heb. 10:14)
Jesus entered in ONCE into the Holy Place and OBTAINED ETERNAL REDEMPTION FOR US (Heb. 9:12)
There was ONE SACRIFICE that took care of sins FOREVER, and our ETERNAL REDEMPTION has already been OBTAINED (i.e. COMPLETED, ACCOMPLISHED, DONE). Salvation is not an open-ended transaction that we must complete because scripture affirms it’s already FINISHED (John 19:30). There’s nothing left for sinners to do, other than accept, believe, confess, and glorify Jesus Christ for what has already been accomplished on our behalf, and partake of the “gospel salvation” and the “abundant life” that God intends for His elect children to partake of here in this time. There is only one WAY of salvation: that God would manifest Himself in the likeness of man, to pay the penalty for sin that we could never complete, for no other reason than His Grace and Mercy towards His children. To Him be glory forever, and ever. Amen.