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Are We Saved By Our Obedience? Part 4

(Will everyone be saved?  --4)

We shall now consider some of the arguments that are used to defend the idea that the Pagan, Heathen and non-Christian world will be saved by living up to the light they have by nature.  After preaching on this controversial subject, folks come to me with a number of BUTS.  Let’s consider their “BUTS”:

BUT #1  “But we are told that every person is born with light from Christ.”

Actually the text (John 1:9) says, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”  Yes, Christ gives light to every man or woman.  This means quite simply that every one of us has some understanding of right and wrong.  Even very bad people know when they are doing wrong.  Theologians talk about GENERAL REVELATION and SPECIAL REVELATION and they are quite right.  All mankind receives some general revelation.  Nature speaks of the Creator, but doesn’t make it real plain what that Creator is like.  A smiling baby makes us think God must be kind and good, but ugly old T-Rex may conjure up another image of God altogether.  We need a special revelation to tell us what He is really like, and that’s why our great God gave us the Bible.  General revelation, in whatever form it takes, is insufficient for salvation.  It may point us in the direction of God, but it is subject to the whims of fallen human nature.  If nature were all we needed for salvation, then why is it that most scientists, who study nature all the time, are atheists?  No, we need something clearer and more powerful than the voice of nature, or even the voice of conscience.  We need a special, saving revelation, and we have that in the Holy Book the Creator has given us.  The Bible tells us what nature can never tell us, that salvation is found in the acceptance of the death of Christ for our sins.  Here is a compelling reason why we need to preach Christ wherever lost men and women are found.

BUT #2  “But God is just, and therefore everyone must be given the same opportunities to be saved.”

My response to that “BUT” is that it appears to be a good argument, at least at first glance.  I don’t think, however, that anyone who has traveled really believes that everyone has the same opportunities.  This is why I believe the public preaching of the Gospel is so important and is why I have dedicated over 50 years of my life doing this work.

When we think about the justice of God, we need to tread cautiously.  There is no doubt that God is good and just, but who are we to question the justice of God because His ways are incomprehensible to our puny little minds?  “One of you will say to me:  ‘Then why does God still blame us?  For who resists His will?’ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’  Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”  Romans 9: 19-21

I freely confess there are many things I do not understand.  I continually see through a glass darkly, but as a clay pot fashioned by the Potter, I accept by faith that God is just and righteous in all His ways.

God so loved this planet in rebellion that He gave His only Son to redeem us.  No one was left out.  Christ bore the sin of every son and daughter of Adam’s guilty race.  Then He told His Church to go into all the world and announce the Good News, but somehow the appointed messengers (you and me) got sidetracked from their mission.  We got into bureaucracies, committees, and discussion groups.  The fishermen talked about fishing but didn’t do any.

It is not a question whether God is just or not.  The question is whether we will obey God or not.  Billions wait to hear the message of salvation, and one day before His return, the Lord will have an empowered people who will carry the Glad Tidings to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.  Yes, it will happen, and in that final day of reckoning, the church and the world will recognize that God is just.

BUT #3  “But,” says a friend, “Paul says that the Gentiles have God’s law written on their hearts.  When they obey that law they are saved without hearing the Gospel.”  Let’s read the text, “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)”  Romans 2: 14, 15

It is a true saying that a text without a context is a pretext.  It appears that our friend is quoting this text out of context, and hence his argument must be a pretext.  You see, dear seeker for truth, this passage is found in Romans and teaches we are saved by faith in Christ, not by our works.  To interpret Romans 2: 14, 15 as teaching salvation by obedience to God’s law is to go contrary to the whole theme of Paul’s writings.  “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”  Romans 3: 20

So never, never, never forget it:  We can’t be saved by our obedience to God’s law.  We are saved by WORKS, but those works are not ours.  They are Christ’s works.

You will also notice when you read the disputed passage that Paul is talking about Gentiles.

And what does he say about these Gentiles?  He states that there are unbelievers who know what is right and wrong because some aspects of God’s law are written on their hearts.  Even Pagans and  the Heathen have some concepts, however primitive, of right or wrong.  My old missionary friends tell me that fierce cannibals in the wild highlands of New Guinea knew it was wrong to murder and commit adultery.  Where did this knowledge come from?  The Bible tells us that every person receives some light from Christ, and every one of us has some knowledge of good and evil.  But, the wild savages in New Guinea still needed the missionary to bring them the saving message of the Gospel of Christ.  General revelation was not enough.  They desperately needed God’s special revelation as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.

Now come back to the words of the great evangelist.  These unbelievers have some knowledge of right and wrong, and therefore their consciences “accuse or defend” them.  That’s what Paul says, but it is interesting that Paul doesn’t say they are saved!  Paul’s very life was a mighty argument against the notion that people are saved by living up to all the light they have.  He faced death every day to carry to the world of the unregenerate (the Gentiles) the message of salvation.

BUT #4  “But, Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, Christians, Atheists etc., etc., are saved by living up to the light they have.  God gives to different people different degrees of light.  Some receive much light, some only a few rays of light, and all are saved as they follow the light they have.  People are lost only when they reject the light.”

I had thought I had pretty much dealt with this one but here it comes again from another angle, “You are saved until you reject etc.”

Well, now, let’s look at it more thoroughly, because it sure sounds wonderful.  It has, however, one major problem—it is not taught in the Bible, for the following reasons:

a.      No one, without Christ, can live up to the light he has.  We are all sinners, in need of the grace of God.

“What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.  As it is written:  ‘There is no one righteous, not even one…’”  Romans 3:9, 10

So, dear friend, if we are depending on our success in living up to all the light we have, we are bound to come a cropper.[1]  The good news is that we are saved through faith in Christ, not because of our success in keeping the Law perfectly which, of course, is impossible.

“But now God has shown us a way to be made right with Him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was

promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”  Romans 3: 21, 22 NLT.

b.      We are certainly not saved until we reject; we are saved when we believe and accept.  Jesus said it best:

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  “He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.’”  John 3: 14-18 NIV.

c.      Those who teach that the Heathen, Pagans, Gentiles, Unbelievers, etc. etc. are saved until they willingly reject the Gospel just haven’t experienced the real world of depravity, sin and death.  The world out there, gentle reader, is bad.  I know; I have preached the Gospel in Africa, Asia, India, Russia, Ukraine, America, Australia, Iraq and other places.  I have not found the masses of humanity to be gentle souls living up to all the light they have.  I have found that the world is corrupt, evil, and on the road to hell.  I have found multitudes carrying heavy burdens, weighed down with fear, stumbling in despair, possessed by lust, hatred and every other vice.

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  …remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”  Ephesians 2:3, 12 

Yes, on rare occasions I have found “gentiles” who display positive characteristics such as Paul described in Romans 2.  These “good” souls, however, needed Christ’s Gospel just as much as their more depraved brethren.  We need to spend and be spent in taking it to them.  John Wesley said, “Go to those that need you, and go to those who need you most.”

Next Time:


[1] Australian for falling on one’s face.


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