If Salvation is Not in Christ Alone

How much do we need to know about the Son to do the will of the Father?

One of the hardest things about being a Christian is that no matter how much we care for those who don't believe, they know that our beliefs damn them to hell.

They call us unloving. They say we value an antiquated religion more than a committed relationship. They challenge us to be more open and generous about "god" and interpret our conviction as callousness.  After all, we choose to believe what we believe (as much as we can choose a God who sovereignly chooses us); thus, we choose to believe that their destiny is hellfire, annihilation, loneliness or whatever the answer should be.

Many of us have tried to repackage our religious exclusivism in rescue terms. We tell them that it is because of our love that we plead with them to believe as we do--that we don't want them to take the wrong path. Genuine or not, our concern still rings hollow to those who don't understand why their beliefs have to change, not ours.

Some have gone the way of universalism by focusing solely on what they think God's love means, not what God says about his love. It's a typical liberal Christian tactic to buy cultural currency, but it's theologically bankrupt. If you take the Bible remotely seriously it's hard to get around the exclusivity of Christ.

The apostle Peter once said that salvation comes through no one else, and that the name of Jesus Christ is the only name through which we can be saved. Likewise, the apostle Paul said that if we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we will be saved.

While a student at Moody Bible Institute, I was taught that these verses meant salvation begins with intellectual assent. No one can simply be good enough to get into heaven, so we have to give our assent, mentally and verbally, to Jesus' saving work.

For evangelicals, preaching and accepting the gospel is essentially a transaction. Guided by the Great Commission, they emphasize the quick and efficient conversion of souls, so intellectual assent is a necessary element in expediting their theology.

Of course, Peter also said that we have to repent and baptized, so evangelicals made repentance the litmus test of true assent. They loaded the term with a laundry list of key sins to avoid and called it a day. This is why they're so easy to pick out of a crowd: evangelicals are known by the works they don't do.

However, Jesus said that Christians are known by the works we do do. He told the apostles that loving him meant obeying the commandments, the greatest of which are loving God and loving others. Thus, when Jesus said the world would know us by our love for one another, he wasn't merely speaking of warm and fuzzy feelings but faithful good works.

It's harder to have works without assent than assent without works. As was the case with the young men in Paul's day who unsuccessfully attempted to exorcise demons, assent can be faked. Likewise, Paul said that acetic rules and self-deprecating contrition only muster the appearance of wisdom but have no real value to our salvation.

Evangelicals won't like it, but good works are crucial to our salvation as they both affirm our belief and confirm our confession.

Jesus didn't tell the rich young ruler to recognize that he was God or refrain from some arcane list of questionable activities. He told the man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow him. He told him to keep the law.

No, the Mosaic law never had the power to forgive like Jesus, but the law of Christ isn't all that different. The six hundred and thirteen specific commandments given to a specific people in a specific time were fulfilled by two, timeless commandments. And as Jesus said himself, he didn't come to abolish the law. The law is still very much in effect, it's just been both simplified and expanded in Christ.

Furthermore, the law was not given exclusively to the Jews but to anyone who followed it. So long as the foreigner observed all of the works of the law, the foreigner was justified by it. Similarly, Jesus said that anyone who does the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, he draws a distinction between those people and the folks who merely call him Lord.

I fear that the evangelical focus on assent has locked the gates of heaven to many a soul. Scripture is clear, from the law and the prophets to the gospels and epistles, that works are the expression of our faith.

Belief and confession need not be an awkward testimony in a poorly-lit baptismal. Like Jesus, our works testify that we are of the Father. We don't follow him by shouting his name loud enough for all to hear; we follow Jesus by doing as he did.

All of this raises an interesting question:

Is it possible to do the will of the Father without ever recognizing the name of Jesus Christ?

A number of saints placed their faith in God without ever knowing the name of Jesus or the doctrine of the Trinity. And their faith, expressed through works, was what justified them, not the right name. All religions cannot lead to God, but can he still be found in them if the love of God and others is present? I don't know. But perhaps those we care about are right, and it's time our beliefs change.

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Photo credit: Michael Dawes via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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