Have you ever wondered about the possibility of salvation for non-Christians? A growing number of Christians claim to have the answer in inclusivism. Inclusivism is the belief that teaches it is possible to be justified through Jesus Christ without explicit or complete knowledge of who He is. Specifically, inclusivists hold that it may be possible that some who have never heard the preached word of the gospel can still be saved through Christ. Man is only responsible for what he knows, and is only judged by God based on the light he has been given and his response to that light. This post will be similar to the last post in that we will consider passages of Scripture refuting the dangerous and errant view of inclusivism.
First, it will be beneficial to consider a couple myths of inclusivism in order to highlight the position being considered.
Inclusivism is not the same as Universalism: Universalism teaches that all will be saved sooner or later, and that all mankind will inherit eternal life. Therefore hell does not exist. However, the inclusivist teaches that many people will spend eternity in hell.
Inclusivism is not the same as Pluralism: Pluralism teaches that all religions are equally true. Each religion provides a genuine encounter with God. One religion may make a little more sense or be better, but they are all adequate. On the other hand, inclusivism teaches that while salvation is only through Jesus, God justifies some heathens despite their religion, not because of it.
Now let’s consider a couple more key passages that render inclusivism incompatible with Scripture.
The book of Acts is packed with truth about Jesus and His unique power to save (Acts 2:21; 2:38; 3:19; 13:19-20). Make no mistake; apostolic gospel teaching sets forth the exclusiveness of Christ.The most important text is found in Acts 4:12, which is the testimony of Peter and John:
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.”
Peter is speaking to the Sanhedrin, members of the Jewish religion which was very connected to biblical theology. If Peter was led by the Holy Spirit to tell that religious group of men that they must be saved through Christ alone by repenting and acknowledging Him properly, how much more does this apply to people of religions or beliefs which are not connected to biblical theology today?
Looking at the particulars of the verse, the order of the Greek text emphasizes the name of Christ. “There is no one else, salvation” is how the text could literally read. The phrase, “under heaven,” is not just referring to a locale, but cosmically, encompassing all of God’s creation. The word “must” means that it is necessary for us to be saved by “this one person alone.” The disciples of Jesus’ day knew that the God whom we have to do is not one of many understandings, but the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by believing in Christ alone we come to know this God. The biblical testimony is clear. The Scriptures teach us unambiguously against an inclusive gospel.
Another issue that is vital to this discussion is general revelation. The inclusivist must believe that faith in God via general revelation is sufficient for salvation. Yet that view must be rejected in light of Scripture. Romans 1-3 is clear that all men are sinners and destined to eternal punishment, because they deny general revelation. Romans 1:18-19 says,
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”
For those that are not “in Christ,” he or she “stands condemned already” (John 3:18). According to Scripture, no human is able to live up to the light given to man by general revelation. Special revelation, namely a Savior named Jesus, is the remedy for man’s sinfulness, and it is only through His name that salvation will come to men (Rom 10:9-10).
One final tenant of inclusivism that must be debunked is that man’s responsibility rises and falls with the amount of revelation he has received, so that God will hardly hold those without special revelation accountable for not obeying what they did not know. One logical problem with this is that if responsibility is raised with revelation, why would we ever want to share new revelation with the innocent and so risk their damnation? Notice that every prophet and preacher in Scripture was sent to people who were already in trouble with God, heading for judgment unless they repented (Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah).
It is dramatically easier to get people to respond to a simple truth that there is a God who made the earth, sun and stars, and that this “god” wants man to just do his best and enjoy life. Contrast belief in that “god” to a call of repentance of sin and belief in the historical Jesus, the One who came to this earth as both God and sinless man, died to save man from sin’s penalty, rose again and ascended to heaven. If people can become right with God by stepping over a “low bar of generic theism,” why would we ever want to raise the bar on them?
One biblical example that hurts the inclusivist position is the apostle Paul. Consider the apostle Paul’s spiritual condition before his conversion. Paul tells us that he used to zealously pursue spiritual things with sincerity that he was doing the right thing. His faith and sincerity in the works he was doing passed every test of inclusivist salvation. Paul’s own description of his preconverted zeal for God is staggering (Acts 26:4-5; Phil 3:4-6). If inclusivism is truly correct, then the apostle Paul should have been saved before he believed on Christ. And yet Scripture is so clear on the point that Paul did not come to faith in Christ until he was on the road to Damascus. In fact, Paul under the guidance of the Holy Spirit shared that he was not saved before his belief in the person and work of Christ (Phil 3:7-11). Paul was a lost sinner until his moment of conversion on the Damascus road (1 Tim 1:15).
Look for the third post in this series as we consider the question posed by many inclusivists, “If belief in the name and finished work of Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, then how did the Old Testament saints inherit eternal life in light of their ignorance of Jesus’ name?