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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.


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.

Readers’ comments

Samuel B.
I have read through these comments. The office of Evangelist has been played down in congregations for years resulting in turned-in fellowships and a silencing of the mission we are all called to regardless of personal persuasion (preference) the antithesis of the call of Christ to all who believe on His name.
David B.
John 14:6 is not a suggestion....it is the "new" Law that fulfills the old Law. Sounds unfair especially if a person never has a chance to "hear" the Gospel. That is the thinking of arrogant self serving believers in the Gospel but NOT the transforming power of the Gospel. No doubt the most important words ever said by Jesus was..."Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Jesus grave a parable that explains the apparent "unfair" nature of God's command that the ONLY way to be restored to the Family of God is through Jesus Christ. The parable of the "Workers in the Vineyard" (Matthew 20:1-16) is VERY unfair and it not only reveals the mercy of God but it points out that a person's salvation status can never be known except by God and we therefore must avoid the trap to imply that that "so and so" will go to hell because they reject or don't know Jesus, not "born again" or practice a religion that does recognize the Gospel as the "new" Law. Such a person could be like the "last" worker" to work in the vineyard one hour and got paid the same as the guy who worked all day. Jesus said "do not judge or you will be judged with the same measure." (Matthew 7:1-5) Most realize this has to do with God's patience but it says so much more about salvation. The parable is clear.....a person could be visited by Christ in the last 10th of a second before death and could embrace Jesus as Savior....not fair you say?...YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHAT GOD'S MERCY IS!!! God's job is MERCY...our job is to live according to the Gospel and sow "seeds" into and unbelieving world and unbelievers...God does the watering and the harvesting!
In the Precious Name of the Lord Jesus...David Brown
Stephen N.
Not long ago, I had the chance to help on aging neighbor when his car wouldn't start in the grocery store parking lot. While we waited for the tow truck for which I called, I shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with him. He was uncomfortable and very resistant and asked, "You mean now, I have to accept Jesus right now?" I told him that if he didn't know Jesus, he would spend eternity in Hell, apart from receiving Jesus as Lord. He refused. A short time later, I saw his name in the obituary section. I don't know what my old friend eventually decided but, I was obedient to Christ to share God's Word, even though it was uncomfortable for me, too, since he had been a highly respected military doctor and Lt. Colonel. We are all called to preach the truth of God's Word in any place at any time. We don't have to go to Papua New Guinea or leave our town to be missionaries. We are all called to share that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
Rodney P.
Consider Revelation 20:12,13. At the white throne judgement the dead are judged according to their works and the one who is judging is Jesus.
David B.
I'm going to throw a few more thoughts and verses in here more regarding works versus belief since I have been down this road myself and it is one of the tougher thought challenges of being a Christian. First off, for belief, I pondered for quite some time what works I needed to accomplish to be saved. Was it baptism, fellowship, Bible reading, believing in creationism ;) I was under a lot of condemnation and spent much time in study and meditation on this topic. Then one day I came upon this verse. John 6:29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." Once I applied that to my life, everything else came together. My works, were no longer spiritual merit badges but acts of love in recognition for His gift to me and an opportunity to point to Him Then later I was thinking about the thief on the cross. Though this has be argued against, I always liken him to the guy who gave the first sinner's prayer. The only question I'll ask you is what works did he do to be saved? I'll let you go study that to better appreciate the context. Finally, I'll leave you with this verse that I hope the church will preach more because every time I have used it as a test, it has not failed when challenging an unbeliever 1 John 4:1-3 Testing the Spirits 1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
King T.
Just an interesting observation that John Chapter 3 seems to address the very issue head on with so many references to the exact words that troubled the original correspondent:
John 3:18 specifies both positive and negative sides:
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Then the last verse spoken by John the baptist amplifies it - John 3:36
36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

God Himself said " I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy". We do not know to whom God will show mercy, i.e. help to accept Jesus as Lord, so we have to do our duty and tell anyone and everyone we can reach to believe in Jesus..
king T.
Thank you for once again throwing light on this rather testing subject. I have a neighbor who also uses this topic as an excuse to reject the bible.
From a slightly different perspective one can look at the words Jesus used: John 3:14-15
"14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life."
The context of the bronze snake show just how nonsensical and ridiculous the gospel is from a logical and human point of view. We all know that no one gets cured from a venomous snake bite just by looking up at a bronze snake. In the same way, it doesn't make sense to be saved from condemnation just by believing that someone died in one's place on a cross.
Except that there is no other prescribed way to be saved since no amount of human effort and ingenuity can do it. One either believes in the saving power afforded by Jesus or one perishes. Look up to the serpent in the desert or die. There is no other way.
Peter W.
Bless the Lord, and CMI and Lita Cosner for this article and its clear words of Gospel truth. Is there a difference between these five statements? 1) Salvation is by the name of Jesus Christ. 2) Salvation is by belief in Jesus Christ. 3) Salvation is by faith (trusting obedience) in Jesus Christ. 4) Salvation is by the blood of Jesus Christ. 5) Salvation is by faith in the power of the blood of Jesus Christ. I'm thinking these are all biblical truths, reflecting different depths of understanding the gospel. This is not to boast, but to explain: Challenged to defend and explain the first, I've had to articulate the fifth. A witnessing Christian should be able to explain WHY salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Many Christians are uncomfortable to talk about blood, but a mature believer should not be ashamed of going there. When someone asks 'What about people who have never heard the Gospel?' one response is: If you understand enough to ask the question, you're also responsible for the solution- assisting (in some way) the missionary effort. May your witness always stand on the Rock that is Christ, may your ministry be blessed and guided. Open to correction and His rebuke, Peter W.
John B.
Thankyou for the article.
Just one correction to a very good response, (probably a slip of the pen): "Christ, who died to make salvation possible" is not Biblical.
He came to save His people. He did not make it possible, but did and will save His people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
Norman P.
I have read all the comments and responses in the original article, and feel sure we are not giving sufficient place to the Sovereign grace of God. Our thinking is 'two-dimensional', i.e. limited to our own earthly understanding. But Scripture abounds with wonderful insights which, by the Spirit (i.e. the mind of Christ) we are able to discern the glorious mercy and salvation of God (albeit through a glass, darkly).
There was much discussion about people having the opportunity to choose to believe, yet no-one mentioned the words quoted by Paul in Romans 3: "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips..." (No, I'm not a died-in--the-wool Calvinist, but I do love God's word.)
To quote Paul again: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." By the time we get to the end of Romans 11, I think we can discern something of the majesty and glory of God, who can be trusted to do all things well!
This should not deter us from the Great Commission, inaugurated at Pentecost with great power. Take comfort, brother Warren.
Phil K.
I grew up Pentecostal and I left them for the Southern Baptist Church when I went to college. My issue had more to do with the over-emphasis on emotion. Doctrine had a hand in it, too. But this isn't the platform to discuss that. I get it, humans are emotional beings and praise feeds the spirit while sermons feed the soul. But emotions have a dark side when it blinds us to the hard facts that we don't want to see. My Pentecostal father died in the hospital because he wouldn't follow the physician's orders while in ICU. He only followed the Great Physician who was going to heal him. In my studies on the Doctrine of the Trinity, I learned that God is not who we want him to be. God is who he revealed himself to be. When emotion guides our doctrine, God becomes who we want him to be. When reason is our guide, we accept God as he is. If the only way to Heaven is through Christ alone, then that is how it is, regardless of how we "feel" it should be.
Morris G.
Lita, I agree that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Regarding those who have never heard the Gospel I believe that on the last day Jesus, sitting at the right hand of the Father, will judge all those who have ever lived. Only Jesus will decide who will be saved and who will not. Who are we to say who will be saved and who will not? Only Jesus has the infinite wisdom to decide.
Lita Cosner
I agree, we cannot say who will and will not be saved. But Scripture is abundantly clear on this matter.
Henri D.
Thank you Lita for making this point very clear. I cannot agree more. I am afraid that people are often all too willing to let an opportunity to bear witness go by for any reason they find good enough, because bearing witness can be uncomfortable and humans have a very understandable fear of rejection. I admit that I too struggled with that problem earlier in my life. We tend to be afraid to speak out about the Gospel because we fear being ridiculed or rejected. It is especially hard to witness to people close to us. I pray that your correspondent will see the truth and change his heart on this matter. If his position was correct, Stephanus would not have been stoned, Paul would not have been beaten and thrown in jail, Peter would not have been crucified upside down and Thomas would not have been murdered in India. Why? Because they would not have bothered sharing the gospel and bearing witness to God's grace through Jesus Christ.
May God always lead and guide the people at CMI and bless them for their important work.
Geoff C W.
A thought occurred to me as I was reading this article. Is it possible that some will be saved without hearing the Gospel (as you say in your related article, Lita: '... they will be judged according to the amount of revelation they had'), but that we are to evangelise in order to add to that number?
Lita Cosner
If anyone could be saved through ignorance of the Gospel, why would we send missionaries to risk that they will reject the Gospel they've heard and spend eternity in Hell? No, one can only be saved through believing in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
Philip I.
This strict limit on how to be saved offends human reason and the Roman Catholics have "dealt" with it: according to them, those who don't know the Gospel see Jesus after their deaths and decide then whether they will run to Him and to Salvation (though they may not know what that is or why they choose Jesus) or whether they will run from him and thus choose Condemnation. Apparently their own consciences determine their actions. This of course is fully unscriptural, but appeals to human reason. C.S. Lewis adopted this idea for his Narnian novel The Last Battle, but I've seen it present nowhere in his other writings.
Hank H.
This is an awesome article. You are so right. I actually just did a talk on this at a school recently. The only way we get salvation is through Christ and what He has done and if a person does not hear the Gospel, they can't be saved. This leads to the urgency missionaries have to spread the Gospel to people in countries that do not hear it as often. Thanks again for this article and continue to spread Christ's love and knowledge through this organization.
Matthew L.
This was a good and loving article for correcting the false teaching of inclusivism. Lita, you have done a nice job lovingly presenting the dangers of depending on the unbiblical idea that God will reward people with salvation based on the good they have done, or general revelation they have followed to the best of there abilities. Both these ideas are completely denied in scripture (Rom 1:18-25; 2:14-15; 3:10-20). General revelation is not capable of saving men left to themselves, but only brings condemnation for there suppression of it.
If people were able to be saved by their obedience to what they believed about God and not what God has revealed of Himself in special revelation (scripture), the power of the gospel would not be needed. This is a dangerous, unbiblical teaching that, perhaps unwittingly, fosters a salvation by works mindset. Faith in the Christ is the only way to salvation. This includes those that existed BC, who by faith searched for this same salvation (1 Pet 1:6-12) in what was testified beforehand, albeit in a progressive way.
Also, I have encountered this same mindset that believers in certain movements are being led by the Holy Spirit while the rest of us are being led by a "spirit of man". Lita has done a kind and loving job of applying God's revealed word and reminding believers that the Holy Spirit will not lead in a direction that contradicts what He has already revealed through scripture. We must bring our ideas to the authority of God's word and let them be corrected. Thanks for a great article.
Earle R.
Lita;Warren E, New Zealand obviously has been reading into Scripture things which are not there. Whereas you have stopped short of a complete Gospel. Belief is a good start, but that's all; James 2:19. Where do you find "belief unto the remission of sin" ? From the inception of the church (Acts 2) on believers repented and were baptized and then sealed with the Holy Spirit unto salvation. Read Acts 2:38 ; Acts 8:12 ; Acts 22:3-16 ; Romans 6:1-6 ; Gal 3:26-29 ; Eph 2:8-10 ; 1 Peter 3:18-21
Listen; I love reading your science articles. Your depth of research is quite impressive. But please leave salvation doctrine alone until such time as you understand it. Please don't pull pet Scriptures out of context as you have been. I know you will become indignant when reading this, but keep in mind 1 Cor 11:19. I would be happy to have an ongoing study with you to resolve this issue. You have my email.
Lita Cosner
Earle, as I've told you before, if you expect us to 'stick to science', you will be disappointed, because we have never done that. And we reject baptismal regeneration--i.e., we believe that baptism is an important act of obedience, but it does not save someone. And all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, since no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Daniel M.
Lita's article is spot on. I was a missionary in PNG for 9 years living with a tribe who had never previously heard the gospel. We learned their language and culture and then translated and taught in their language the gospel, beginning in Genesis. As Romans 1:20-21 says, this tribe had a knowledge of a distant Creator but failed to worship him, instead choosing to worship and serve evil spirits by following the rituals and beliefs handed down by their ancestors. They did this as it gave them justification for various sinful behaviours - even though they knew these to be wrong (e.g. they knew that adultery, stealing, gossip were wrong - their consciences accused them, Rom 2:14-15). As the article states, they were rightly under the judgment of God because they had rejected the light they had, Rom 1:18. There is no other way to be saved apart from specific, conscious belief in the death of Christ alone for our sins, John 14:6. Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. Acts 4:12. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Notice how Jesus in John 3 compares the cross to the bronze serpent. To be saved, the bitten person had to look towards the uplifted pole showing that they believed the promise of God, “whoever looks will live” Num 21:8. Jesus shows we need to look to the cross alone and believe “Yes, He died for my sins there and He rose again” in order to be saved. There is no other way. After 4 months teaching, hundreds of the people believed this message. This gospel is truly the power of God to save whoever believes, Rom 1:16. It is why I and many other missionaries left our homes to go and tell the only saving message.
Eileen T.
If anyone can be saved without specific belief in Jesus, it would make His great sacrifice on the cross for us totally irrelevant - why would He have done it ? It renders His death and resurrection valueless and pointless doesn't it?
ronald B.
All though I agree with CMI's responder to this question, ie his facts are correct.
Having read many responses from the CMI team I often find them condescending and not said in a spirit of love, eg The reply Is this enough clear biblical teaching for you? Is that really warranted. Couldn't the author of just said these are the facts as I see them, without sounding strident in his response.
Yours in Christ,
Ron B.
Lita Cosner
My statement you took exception to was after my initial response, which he did not accept in the least. Also taking into account that he claims to be a pastor yet does not understand the basic realities of the Gospel, and it is affecting his evangelism as shown in the account he gives of not sharing the Gospel with the dying Jewish man. I think you will find my tone in agreement with Paul's tone when people are trying to undermine the very Gospel. And other people found my tone very loving and appropriate.
Peter H.
Greets in Jesus precious name. Thank you for publishing on this important subject and clearly enunciating biblical theology on salvation. I fully agree with all the teaching presented, however, I was a little disturbed by the "tone" of the conversation. I know I have a tendency to be very passionate about my thoughts and beliefs across all fields of endeavour. In the past I have made passionate defences (& attacks) on secular work matters and this has caused me unending problems in my employment, even to the point of being "let go" from many positions. It is from this place that I reflect on what I've read and wonder if I was a participant in this conversation, could I have done it better and perhaps better shown the love of Christ in my response. I know my faults and flaws and so I often get my very understanding and discerning wife to read my emails and reports before dispatching them. My wife is a people-person and understands the many ways others can read the written word. She is an invaluable asset to me in this regard and I have learnt a lot about how to come across more in a way that is more loving, understanding and less offensive. I suppose my wife is teaching me to ask "how would Jesus respond in this situation". I think this is the bottom line for all of us who are asking God to shine the light and love of Jesus in us through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.
God bless
Peter H (Australia)
Lita Cosner
Thanks Peter. I realize that my response is a bit stronger than my normal tone would be. But given the Gospel realities at stake here, and the gentleman's continued resistance to the truth, my stronger tone was warranted. Compare with Paul's strong tone against the Judaizers when they tried to corrupt the Gospel. However, I will be publishing other comments that thought my tone was very loving, which just shows how much people read tone into written communication.
Philippus S.
We should read all of this to find the Truth.
I am the Bread of life. John 6;35
I am the light of the world. John 8;12
I am the door. John 10;9
I am the good shepard. John 10;11
I am the resurrection of life.John 11;25
I am the the way, the trut and the life.John 14;6
I am the true vine. john 15;1

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