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    Oct 12, 2014

    Class 3: Is Jesus the Only Way to God? The Necessity of Conscious Faith in Christ.

    Series: Missions

    Category: Core Seminars, Worldview, Creation, Work of Christ, Atonement, Conversion, Faith, Justification, Regeneration / New Birth, The Gospel, Nature of Sin, The Fall


    I. Introduction

    In the first few weeks of this class, we’ve talked about the foundation of missions. Why should we desire the Gospel to go out to all the nations? We concluded that, in using people to make the Gospel known, God acts to magnify his own glory; and he particularly delights to do that by showing mercy to sinners.

    As we think about this in particular, we need to ask ourselves, what is it that makes this an urgent endeavor? Certainly a proper understanding of the necessity of conscious faith in Christ is the heart of the urgency of missions; God’s judgment is not mere annihilation or a place where an unbeliever’s sins are purged after a finite period of time. Rather, it’s a real place where God’s just wrath is poured out on rebels for all eternity, and that makes the missionary task urgent.

    Thus the Christian claim of the exclusivity of Christ with regard to salvation is also an urgent and powerfully motivating claim.

    A. Christian Claim of Exclusivity

    The Christian claim to exclusivity says that only those who turn from their sins and trust in Christ as their substitute will be saved; that Christianity is objectively right and other religions are wrong in their conception of saving truth; it says that people will not reach God through other religions or by being good people, but only through faith in Christ.

    So Christians are quick to quote the words of Jesus in John 14:6:

    I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    As Christians then, this claim of Christ’s exclusivity should cause us to desire that the Gospel be proclaimed to all the world, knowing that only by hearing the Gospel can people be saved.

    But the skeptic might ask whether this is really true. Is Christ really the only way to become right with God, and do people actually need to have a conscious faith in Christ to be saved? Many today might object to that claim as ignorant and intolerant. I mean, surely this claim offends our egalitarian sensibilities?

    Well, I’m sure many of you have encountered these kinds of sentiments perhaps from co-workers or family members, or maybe you feel this way yourself. Well, if that’s the case, I’m glad you are here. What is the best way to approach this question? Well, I think it’s helpful to step back and think about the foundation of the Christian’s claim of exclusivity. And to do that I want to use an illustration:

    B. All Men Are Under the Judgment of Death Because of Sin

    Optional Illustration - [Let’s say there is a young man named Brian who was born without kidneys and therefore he absolutely must have regular dialysis treatments to remove the poisons in his body. If he misses these treatments, he will die. So the only thing that can save Brian is these treatments. That is an objective fact. Given Brian’s grave condition, he would not benefit from an exercise therapist who told him that he was just a little out of shape and would get better again if he followed a strict exercise regimen. Nor would he be comforted by a well-meaning philosopher whose advice is to embrace his terrible suffering and train himself even to desire it. Most certainly, the advice of a friend who told him he really wasn't sick would not be helpful.

    Well you can kind of see where I’m going with this. In the same way, Christians believe that all men have a grave problem in that they are separated from God because of their sin. We, like Brian, are objectively sick because of rebellion against God.]

    This is perhaps no more clearly illustrated than in Romans 3 as Paul speaks of the state of all men apart from Christ.


    As it is written:

    There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (vv. 10-12).

    Christians understand all people to be objectively sick (actually, Scripture says we are “dead” in our sins) and therefore to be under the judgment of God. This illness is just as real and just as terminal as is cancer or AIDS, but it is even more terrifying because it is spiritual and has eternal consequences. Understandably, this is not a popular message in our age of tolerance and building self-esteem, but it is an objective fact that we read of in the scriptures.

    II. Salvation Can be Obtained Only Through Christ.

    For example, David, an Old Testament king, understood this crucial fact. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then compounded his sin by conspiring to murder her husband Uriah. However much he had exploited and ravaged these subjects entrusted to His care -- and the pain he caused was great -- David realizes in his lament recorded in Psalm 51, that ultimately his sin was against God. "Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge."

    If I commit a sin against [pick person in class], could he say, “I forgive you for that?” Well maybe in sort of a human – I accept your apology – I won’t hold it against you -- sort of way, but can we atone for the punishment that such sin so rightly requires from God?

    Far from forgiving others of their sins, a mere man must die for his own sins. If it is true that man is objectively guilty before God, then there can be no reconciliation apart from God, and again this reconciliation is found uniquely in Christ.

    Other religions provide the wrong solution because they have the wrong diagnosis. If man does have a debt before God because of his sin that only God can repay, then how does Hinduism or Islam or Buddhism purport to address this problem? How can a religion or a philosophy be the answer to a question it doesn't even recognize or acknowledge?

    Jesus is recorded in the Gospels as saying that: "It's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick," and it is Jesus who is that doctor.

    We see this clearly in Romans where Christ is set forth as the universal answer to sin. Paul tells us that just as sin and death came into the world through one man Adam, life comes into the world through one man: Christ. So we read in chapter 5:

    For if, by the trespasses of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)

    For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:21)

    Christ is uniquely qualified to save because he, being God, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, shedding his blood as a ransom for the sins of those who would trust in Him and repent of their sins. For this reason, he alone is worthy -- not Buddha or Mohammed or any other religious leader. In revelation chapter 5 we see this wonderful picture:

    You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10)

    Only Christ is worthy to take the scroll and open the seals.

    Other verses speak more specifically to this point.

    In Acts 4:12 we read:

    And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved:

    This is Peter’s exhortation to the authorities who had detained him and John in Jerusalem as they preached the Gospel. Notice the broad implications of this statement: “there is no other name under heaven among men” by which we are saved.

    Well, what does this mean for us in this class on missions? Well, it means that since Christ is the only way for salvation, He must be announced to all the nations. Man will not be saved outside of Christ. As we read in Luke (24:46-47):

    repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

    Someone might say, fine, salvation can only be obtained through the redemptive work of Christ. But that doesn’t mean that someone actually has to hear the Gospel to be saved.

    III. Can people be saved through Christ without realizing it is Christ who saves them? Simply put, do people need to hear of Christ; to have a conscious faith in Christ; in order be saved.

    C.S. Lewis quote:

    We know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.

    Just a side note here. A lot of Christians have wrestled with this issue. This quote by C.S. Lewis illustrates that even a faithful Christian like him can be confused on this issue. [note you may just decide not to mention C.S. Lewis’ name and just read the quote anonymously -- C.S. Lewis’ writings are in tension on this point].

    Well, what do you think? I mean isn’t this an attractive idea? Doesn’t this solve the problem of the man on a remote island who never hears of Christ but has a great reverence for the God he believes controls the universe?

    Well, we once again turn to scripture to be taught by God on this point, and in that great book of Romans God tells us that no one can be saved without a conscious knowledge of Christ.

    A. Romans 10

    At the end of chapter 9 and beginning of chapter 10, Paul makes the point that faith in Christ has come to stand in the place of the faith in God that was required in the Old Testament. Christ is the goal of the Old Testament message and all faith must now be focused on Him specifically for salvation. The result is that only by faith in Jesus Christ can man be saved. This is what we read of in vv. 9-14 of chapter 10.

    If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved . For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile -- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

    These verses answer the question who will be saved:

    Those who call on him. But who will call on Him?
    Those who have faith in Christ; but who will have faith?
    Those who hear will have faith; but who will hear?
    Those who are preached the Gospel by someone: telling them the Gospel is precondition for hearing (this rules out people meeting Christ apart from being confronted with or told the Gospel). [someone can be saved by reading a book].

    So, calling on the Lord in a saving way is not something that we can do from a position of ignorance; we cannot do this by worshipping some other proclaimed deity in some other religion.


    B. What about Cornelius?

    Ok, but aren’t there examples in scripture of God-fearing Gentiles that God found favor with; what about Cornelius, as we find him in Acts 10 & 11. Cornelius is described there in Acts 10:2 in the following way: “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” In that chapter we learn that God sent a vision to Cornelius in which an angel told Cornelius to send some men to Joppa to find Peter and ask him to come to Cornelius. Meanwhile, God sent a vision to Peter designed to teach him that the ceremonial uncleanness of gentiles is not a hindrance to their acceptance by God. God also told Peter that certain men would be coming for him and that he should go with them without misgivings because God has sent them.

    When Peter meets Cornelius, he says: (vv. 34-35 of chapter 10):

    “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

    Well, there’s nothing in that verse requiring faith in Christ. Surely Cornelius then is an example of someone who is simply trusting God according to whatever he knows of God, and God is finding that sufficient. Any thoughts about that? [ask for comments from the class]

    Well, this is an example of taking a verse or two out of context to make it fit to one’s argument. It is clear from the rest of the chapter and chapter 11 that when Peter made this statement to Cornelius, Cornelius was not saved. In fact, Peter proceeds to preach the Gospel. And we read in verse 44, that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.”

    Even more compelling, when Peter gave a report of this in Jerusalem to the
    Apostles and other believers, we read in ch. 11:14, that according to Peter, the angel who had appeared to Cornelius had told him that he should send for Peter who will

    “bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”

    This text clearly conveys that before receiving Peter’s message they were NOT saved. Indeed, if anything, this story seems to show what great lengths God will go to include people in His great salvation plan. He orchestrated this entire situation so that Peter would proclaim the Gospel to Cornelius. For whatever reason, God seems to have committed Himself to use US to bear the message, and it is through that message, that His Spirit will bring people to Himself. Cornelius was saved not by disposition of faith but by a human preaching the Gospel to Him.

    [What does Peter mean in vv. 34-35?] Piper’s suggestion: represents sort of an unsaved person among an unreached people group who is seeking God in an extraordinary way. Or more likely it might just mean that God is not partial and accepts Gentiles as well as Jews; this is what He taught Peter in the dream. It was a new idea to the Christians who were mostly all Jews at the time even if it seems unextrordinary to us.]

    C. The “Unknown God” (Acts 17:23, 30) Cannot Provide Salvation

    Finally, let’s look at Acts 17, where Paul is preaching the Gospel to the Greeks in Athens. Paul had noticed in Athens an “altar to an unknown God.” We read his reaction in verse 23:

    For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23)

    Was it possible that those in Athens were worshipping the true God unknowingly? Could this happen today? Paul provides the answer in verse 30 where he says”

    In the past, God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all men to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. (Acts 17:30-31)

    Christ must be the object of conscious saving faith. Paul doesn’t say that they are OK worshipping an unknown God. He preaches Christ and calls for repentance.

    [Does this mean that God overlooked ignorance in the past in then sense of letting them be saved by some other way? No, this refers to God giving men over to their own ways; for His own wise purposes, he allowed the nations to walk in their own ways in that He did not intervene to overcome their disobedience and cover over their sins.]

    ** Is there a present-day analog to those who had faith in the Old Testament?

    All right then, aren’t there examples in the Bible of salvation apart from faith in Christ? What about the Jews who lived before Jesus; weren’t some of them saved? Well, this is an argument that you might have heard. Any thoughts? There are a number of things that should be pointed out in response.

    Three observations:

    1. we are in no position to say how little they knew about Christ (we don’t know),

    * given the fact that in John 8, Jesus referred to Abraham rejoicing at the thought of seeing His [Christ’s] day, (v. 56)
    * given the fact that Heb. 11 (v. 26) refers to Moses as choosing to suffer disgrace for the sake of Christ
    * given all the prophecies in the OT through Isaiah and others, maybe some people knew more about “hoping in the promised Messiah” than you think.
    * given that at the time of Christ’s birth there were people in Israel who by reading their OT were looking for a Messiah to bear the sins of God’s people. One such person, Simeon, even understood that the salvation Jesus would bring was for Jew and Gentile alike, not just for the nation of Israel (Luke 2: 22-32).

    2. they were in the stream of God’s special revelation of God making Himself known extraordinarily

    3. there has, according to Acts 17, Romans 16, Ephesians 3, been a shift in the ages with the coming of Christ, which has had cosmic
    significance. Therefore the situations of the OT saints should not
    thought to be exactly replicated today. They looked forward dimly to hope in a promised salvation, we look back clearly to praise God for an accomplished work of redemption. There is only one Cross that saves all God’s people, but what they saw dimly we see in the clear light of finished history.

    In Hebrews1:1 we read:

    In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son . . .

    So whatever it meant for people prior to Christ’s incarnation to be saved by him, it is clear that now conscious faith in Christ alone is the way of salvation. The mystery of Christ has been revealed.

    e.g.- in Ephesians 3:6, Paul says that the mystery that has been revealed is that through the Gospel the gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

    D. The Charge of Narrowness

    Ok. Let’s say that we’ve convinced the skeptic. Salvation comes only through conscious faith in Christ? And he turns around and says, what a horrible doctrine! What about the person who has never heard? Under the Christian doctrine, he will be punished for his sins forever just because no one ever told him the Gospel. Isn’t this incredibly unfair?

    I mean isn’t it horribly unjust of God, who is all powerful, to choose to save one but not the other, even if He had no obligation to save any? [use equal protection illustration]

    1. Brian’s Example

    Optional Illustration – [Well, to see how distorted a question this is, let’s go back to our original analogy regarding Brian, the guy without kidneys. You know, there was not always such thing as dialysis. People in the past would have died immediately were they born without kidneys. Now while Brian might dislike his current condition, I don't think he complains that there exists only one treatment for it. I’m sure he doesn’t insist that other people who have his condition be able to make themselves well by alternative means such as whipping themselves into shape at the local exercise club if they prefer.

    And while he may be saddened that for whatever reasons not everyone has access to dialysis, I doubt that He’ll refuse to go because of this. Rather, he clings to that one treatment as his only source of hope and is greatly thankful that it exists at all.]

    A man who encounters a great chasm between his current location and his desired destination will not complain if there is only one bridge, especially if that bridge was constructed at a great cost. Christians believe that God has unilaterally reached down to a rebellious people and built a bridge of reconciliation at great cost to Himself.

    One other point about this fairness/ equal treatment argument -- that God should either save everyone or send everyone to hell. Most of the time, those people who make that argument, when pressed, would admit that they don’t really believe the second part of that argument – that it would be fair for God to send everyone to hell. They would probably say that nobody deserves to go to hell.

    2. Scripture

    More importantly, however, the Bible is not silent on this question:

    In Romans 9, Paul asks how one can question God’s actions when it is that same very wise and sovereign God who formed us, as a potter molds clay. In Isaiah 40, Isaiah asks rhetorically, who is it that God consulted to enlighten Him or who showed Him the path of understanding. In the end, we must trust in God and His purposes which we can be sure of are just.

    * John Piper in LNBG tells us of a modern day Cornelius story. The Gedeo people of south central Ethiopia were a tribe of a half-million coffee-growing people who believed in a benevolent being they called Magano; whom they described as the creator of all. Very few of the Gedeo people actually prayed to Magano but one man, Warrasa Wanga, prayed faithfully to Magano to reveal himself. One day, Wanga had a vision of two white-skinned strangers coming to build some shelters in the town he lived in. Wanga heard a voice say, “these men will bring you a message from Magano, the God you seek. Wait for them.” Eight years later, in 1948, two Canadian missionaries came to Ethiopia to work with the Gedeo people. The missionaries set up their tents in Wanga’s town. 30 yrs later there were more than 200 churches among the Gedeo people. Wanga was one of the first converts, and the first to be imprisoned for his faith. [scrap this if not enough time].

    God is wise and sovereign and will see that His purposes are accomplished, and we can rest in that.

    But God’s sovereignty and justice are not the only things that we have to rest on; no, we can rest on His character as revealed in Christ which is one of almost incomprehensible, unimaginable, self-giving love. The idea that the Creator of the universe would go so far as to take on flesh and humble Himself to the point of death on a cross to save sinners who deserve hell defeats the charge of unfairness and arbitrariness.

    E. The Relationship to Missions

    How does our understanding of the fact that man can only be saved by a conscious faith in Christ effect our view of missions? [Ask the Class].

    Well, as John Piper concludes at the end of his chapter on this subject in the book, Let the Nations be Glad, an abandonment of the Biblical truth that hearing the gospel is a pre-condition of salvation would cut a nerve for missionary motivation. Conversely, understanding that there is no salvation apart from faith in Christ should propel us to proclaim Christ to those who have not heard of Him.

    The example that we looked at in Cornelius is compelling. God is committed to using humans to spread the Gospel. He has given us the privilege of being partakers in the unfolding of His plan of salvation, and this should only increase our motivation for missions.

    Even as we acknowledge that the desire to see God glorified in our faithfulness is the great foundation of missionary endeavor, we must see that a robust understanding of and meditation on the exclusivity of the Gospel is a worthy motivation, too.

    Far from being a discouraging doctrine, as we increasing think on the worth, the uniqueness and the exclusivity of Christ, God may cause our hearts to increasingly burn with the desire to be the instrument he uses to bring the lifesaving Gospel to men and women appointed for eternal life all around the World.