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Must we believe in Christ to be saved?

Published: 3 June 2017 (GMT+10)

Among the responses to the article What about those who have never heard the Gospel?, there were some professing Christians who seemed unclear about some of the basic realities of the Gospel. We publish one reader’s comments and my responses below in the hopes that it will be edifying for those reading it, and that it may clarify biblical doctrine for those unclear on these matters.

Warren E. from New Zealand wrote:

123rf pray

The photo of Huka Falls is so appropriate for the article as it shows a photo taken from the walking bridge across the ‘raging torrent’. The viewer is unaware of the bridge, but nevertheless it has saved them from almost certain death! While visiting a friend and devout Jew in hospital in the 1980s, who died a few days later, I wanted to tell him about Jesus, but the Lord spoke to me and showed me a truth about John 14:6—Jesus is the only way, but some people may never know of, or see the ‘Bridge’ (Jesus) and yet God saves them through their faith in Him. My daughter died at 15 months old, and while we can and do believe she was saved, she can only enter heaven through Jesus. I believe my friend (like many living in ‘un-reached’ parts of the world) was saved through his faith in the one true God and creator and also, as he entered Heaven he saw the ‘Bridge’ over which he passed.

 responded:

Thank you for this comment. But I feel that it is necessary to address your misunderstanding of the clear biblical teaching on this subject. For a person to be saved, he must believe in the Lord Jesus for forgiveness from sin. Those who have never heard did have revelation from nature which they nevertheless suppressed (Romans 1), and they failed even to live up to their own fallen version of ‘morality’ (Romans 2). So even their own conscience will condemn them on the day of judgment.

If God saved people who had never heard of or believed in Jesus, why would anyone feel urgency to obey the Great Commission and send missionaries all over the world to proclaim the Gospel?

The fate of infants who die and the mentally handicapped is a completely different issue, as I alluded to in the article.

It seems you have taken an extrabiblical ‘revelation’ you believe you received from God and have actually used that to reject the clear teaching of Scripture. The Lord Jesus, who affirmed every word of Scripture, would not approve of such practices. Are you in a local church where you can receive sound teaching on such matters? If not, I would urge you to connect yourself with a sound church.

Warren responded:

I wonder if Lita comprehended my post, as I may not have made myself clear enough—Jesus is the only way, and I already stated that. However Lita’s comment; “For a person to be saved, he must believe in the Lord Jesus for forgiveness from sin.” Is not supported or found in Scripture, i.e. where does it say “he must believe in the Lord Jesus” Obviously, Jesus’ sacrifice IS the only way or ‘bridge’ into heaven, and answers the tile of this article: “What about those who have never heard the Gospel?” Lita’s reply: “If God saved people who had never heard of or believed in Jesus, why would anyone feel urgency to obey the Great Commission and send missionaries all over the world to proclaim the Gospel?” This contradicts God’s Word as the Gospel is not about the name Jesus per se, but about God’s grace and love as it includes the Jew, and those who have died BC.
Romans 1:16—“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” I also find the last paragraph very patronising and refer the writer to Romans 2:1. To answer Lita’s question; I go to a church that is led by The Holy Spirit and not by man nor the spirit of man. I have been a Pentecostal believer and minister since 1968. All knowledge and wisdom is nothing without Love and the Wisdom of God, and as a scientist I found it hard to shift my understanding from ‘facts’ to a simple Faith in Him. Jesus is The Lord and the only path of access to our God and Father. However, that does not exclude those (e.g. tribes in PNG) who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus. If Lita can show me the “clear biblical teaching” that I seem to misunderstand then I am here to look at it.

Lita responds:

Warren, forgive me if I seemed condescending when I asked about your church involvement, but I am genuinely concerned that you seem to have been able to be part of a church for so many years and not have a basic understanding that belief in Christ is necessary for salvation. Have you spoken with your pastor about this? Your pastor may be able to provide clarification on this essential matter.

In John 8:24, John says, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins”. Jesus is speaking to the religious elite, they claimed to follow the Law of Moses and even to worship the true God. They had considerably more revelation than a tribe in PNG, but Jesus said that unless they believed in Him they would die in their sins. Peter says in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” How can someone trust in the name of Marduk or Muhammad or Buddha, yet somehow be saved by Christ without knowing Him? Scripture nowhere presents a category for that. When the jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?”, Paul and Silas responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Is this enough clear biblical teaching for you?

Even the Scripture you cite, Romans 1:16, says that the Gospel is the power for salvation to everyone who believes. Those who were saved before Christ were saved because they believed what God had revealed about Himself and trusted in Him. There weren’t random Marduk and Baal worshippers who were saved just because they hadn’t heard about Yahweh.

By the way, one of my professors in college was a missionary who dedicated many years of his life to ensuring the Bible was translated into one of the many tribal languages in PNG, and he spent many years as a missionary to them. He did so because he was convinced that unless they believed in Jesus, they would die in their sins, and he believed in the power of God’s word to transform their lives. Why would he spend many years away from a much more comfortable life in America if they had a chance of essentially being okay apart from the Gospel? Your view of salvation leaves no real urgency for missions, it simply robs the Gospel of its urgency.

Is it harsh to offer correction?

Some may read these responses and wonder, “Were these responses too harsh, considering they came from professing Christians?” However, when we are dealing with the most basic elements of the Gospel, the most loving thing we can do is offer plain refutations of anything that threatens to corrupt the biblical teaching regarding the Gospel. I was saddened to read of the gentleman who was kept from witnessing to a dying man because he had a faulty view that the man could be saved without Christ. This highlights what is at stake. It is already intimidating for many to share the Gospel, and any idea that it isn’t absolutely necessary will only make it easier for us to give in to any laziness or apathy regarding sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In short, not offering correction in these matters is unloving both to the people who hold these views, and to those who will not hear the Gospel because of these erroneous views. And most importantly, failing to offer correction would not be honouring to Christ, who died to make salvation possible, and who is the only name on heaven or earth by which we may be saved.