The Scripture, and Christian doctrine, is clear that salvation is found only in Jesus and by believing in him. But what about a person who has never heard of Jesus. Are they lost with no possibility of salvation? Or is there the possibility of another way? Like the testimony of nature, of the creation? This article will explore that possibility.
The Scriptural Basis for Salvation
I believe it is important to start this discussion with a brief examination of what the Scripture teaches about salvation. Specifically, what must take place for a person to be saved.
In John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It seems clear here from Jesus’ words that he is the only way to the Father. I visited in a church one time and listened to a preacher proclaim that there were many ways to God. That Christianity was merely one of those ways. But that is clearly in contrast to what Jesus says here. There is no other way.
In Acts 16:30 the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “what must I do to be saved?” Paul responded with “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Paul did not provide the jailer with any alternative. It was by believing in Jesus, trusting him with your life, that a person could be saved.
The last passage I want to look at is from Acts 4:12. In this passage Peter is standing before the Sanhedrin and defending his proclamation of Jesus to the crowds at the temple. And he tells them that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Salvation can only be found in the person of Jesus. There is no other way.
Objections to This Exclusive Claim
Some will object to this claim that it is only by believing in Jesus that a person can be saved. Sometimes they hold that position because they accept that all religions are equally valid. That no one faith has exclusive claims to the truth. And that all of them offer equally valid ways to heaven.
Others will object that a person who has led a good life should not be condemned to hell. Especially a person who has given much in service to others. Surely God would not condemn them because they did not find Christian truth claims convincing.
And still others will point to people in places where the gospel has not reached. Surely God would not condemn a person who has never had the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus. Of all the objections to Jesus being the only way, this is the most challenging to me. And I believe that it is an objection that requires careful evaluation.
Is There Another Way?
Picture a young adult man, or woman, in an Islamic country where proclamation of the gospel is forbidden. And what information about Jesus and Christianity is available is filtered through the lens of Islam. That young person has no opportunity to hear the truth about Jesus. And, thus, seems to have no way to experience the salvation Jesus offers.
Yet, the Scripture says that God loves the whole world (John 3:16) and is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). How can we reconcile a loving God who wants all to be saved with this inability of some to hear and know the truth about Jesus? Surely there must be some backup plan for these kinds of people.
The Testimony of Nature
One potential ‘other way’ is found in Romans 1:18-20. In this passage Paul expresses that people are without excuse for not knowing God. God has provided them with knowledge of his eternal power and divine nature through the witness of the creation. This ‘general revelation’ of God would seem to offer an alternative to salvation through Jesus alone.
Psalm 19:1-6 is another passage that talks about the witness of nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” All of creation declares the glory and majesty of God. Why cannot a person look to the heavens and see God, and thus come into relationship with him?
While this seems appealing on the surface, I find a problem with it. The testimony of nature can only tell me that God exists, as well as something about him. But that is quite different from knowing God. His desire for me is not just to believe that he exists. It is also that I come into relationship with him in Christ. And that is not something that can be learned via nature.
So, Are They Without Hope?
But I would hesitate to say that those who are born and live out their lives in a place unreached by the gospel cannot be saved. There is a story in Acts 8:26-40 that I believe speaks to this. An Ethiopian official had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home, reading the book of Isaiah. God sent Philip to him, who explained to the official what he was reading. The Ethiopian responded by believing in Jesus and being saved.
There are some things to note about this account. First, this official had chosen to go to Jerusalem. Why? There would seem to be no official business that he would have needed to conduct. Instead this would seem to be a visit for personal reasons. Going to Jerusalem as well as buying and reading a scroll of Isaiah would identify him as a seeker. It may be that the testimony of nature had led him to seek the true Creator.
I am convinced that God had moved within this man’s heart, bringing him to Jerusalem in order to encounter Phillip. And after that encounter, this man returned home rejoicing. And you can well imagine him taking the gospel to a part of the world that otherwise would not have heard.
There are many stories today coming out of the Islamic world that tell of people having dreams or visions of Jesus. And these send them to people or places where they can hear the gospel of Jesus. These people are not saved by the witness of nature. But that witness in nature may be what makes them receptive to God’s speaking to them in these dreams.
The Role of the Testimony of Nature
The Scripture is clear that no one will be saved apart from faith in Jesus. The creation gives witness to the creator. But it cannot save anyone. However, I do believe that all who seek the God that is proclaimed in nature will find him. That God will arrange a divine appointment that will enable them to encounter, and come to know, the one that they seek.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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This article was first published at Christianity.com on June 24, 2020