This week's author is Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Director of Research at the Institute for Religious Research. He has previously served at the North American Mission Board, Luther Rice University, Biola University, the Christian Research Institute, Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project, and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama. Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.
Is faith in Jesus Christ the only way of salvation--the only way to gain eternal life? In thinking about this question, here are some fixed biblical teachings to keep in mind:
Not everyone will be saved. Some people will not make it to heaven (Mt 7:13-14; 25:41,46; 2Th 1:6-9; Heb 10:26-31; Rv 20:10-15).
People will be judged by their works. God does not condemn people who never heard of Jesus because they failed to believe in Him. Rather, God judges all people based on their works (Ps 62:12; Mt 16:27; Rm 2:6; Rv 2:23; 20:13). People who trust in Jesus are mercifully saved from God's just judgment by Jesus' death on their behalf.
None of us can be saved by doing good works. "For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law . . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rm 3:20,23). Two important conclusions follow. First, God is not obliged to save anyone, for no sinner deserves eternal life. Second, everyone needs a Savior.
Jesus is the only Savior available. Only Jesus died to save us from our sins (Mt 1:21; 1Co 15:3; 1Tm 1:15; 2Tm 1:9-10). That is why Jesus is "the Savior of the world" (Jn 4:42; see 12:47; 1Jn 4:14). Jesus claimed to be the only way: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (Jn 14:6). Peter agreed: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people and we must be saved by it" (Ac 4:12).
Those who reject Jesus will be lost. Whatever may be said about those who have never heard the gospel, those who have heard and rejected it are in trouble. Jesus warned that those who reject Him are rejecting the Father (Lk 10:16; Jn 12:48). People who know that Christ died for them but refuse to follow Him face a terrifying judgment (Heb 10:26-27).
Does all this mean that no one who has not heard of Jesus can be saved? Not quite. We know that Old Testament believers were saved by trusting in God's mercy, even though they lived before Jesus came (Rm 4:1-7; Heb 11:4-32). The unborn, infants, young children, and people whose mental development is impaired are not capable of discerning good from evil or making moral choices (Is 7:15-16; Rm 9:11). We may presume that God does not condemn these souls even though they do not consciously choose to follow Jesus. Apart from these exceptions, it is clear that Jesus' command to take the gospel to all nations (Mt 28:19-20; Lk 24:47) assumes that people who do not know Christ as Savior are in spiritual darkness and need to hear and embrace the gospel (Ac 26:18; Eph 2:12). Every Christian should have a sense of urgency that all people everywhere need Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Director of Research, Institute for Religious Research