For a few weeks we’ve been looking at the issue of revelation and salvation. The specific question we’re seeking to answer is, “what kind of revelation can save?” There are two main positions on this question, the inclusivist view, which holds that salvation is possible based on general revelation, and the exclusivist view, which holds that special revelation is necessary for salvation. By clicking on the links above, you can read a short explanation on these two views.
Last time I began to make a case for the exclusivist view by looking at what the Bible has to say about general revelation. Now, we’ll look at the biblical evidence for the exclusivity of Christ in our salvation. We’ll also address the first of the two most popular objections to the exclusivist view.
Not only is there no indication in Scripture that general revelation provides salvific truth, but the Bible teaches that salvation comes only through the knowledge of Christ, who cannot be known outside of special biblical revelation. Romans 1:16 tells us explicitly where the power of salvation originates, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. The gospel is the power of God for salvation. This gospel is undeniably centered on Jesus Christ. The New Testament testifies to this by referring to the gospel as “the gospel of Jesus”, “the gospel of His Son”, “the gospel of Christ”, “the gospel of the glory of Christ”, and “the gospel of our Lord Jesus”. Further, there is only one gospel (Gal 1:6-9). If it is the gospel of the Bible that saves, and that gospel is the gospel of Christ, and there is only one gospel, it follows that the only gospel that saves is the gospel of Christ.
Jesus Himself clearly stated that He is the only way to salvation. One must look no further than John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The definite article in each phrase speaks directly to the issue at hand. Jesus does not claim to be a way for those who are fortunate enough to hear the gospel. He does not present Himself as one option among many. He does not leave room for semantics, or interpretation, or any other hope for salvation outside of the saving knowledge of Himself. He is the only way. No one comes to the Father but through Christ. In John 10:9a, Jesus claims the same exclusivity, saying, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved . . .”
Scripture gives no indication that man can be saved through general revelation alone. It does give abundant, clear teaching that salvation comes only through Christ. The strongest position on this issue is that general revelation does not provide, by itself, salvific truth.
The first of the two strongest objections to the exclusivist position is that Christ is the salvation of the world, but that it is not necessary to have specific knowledge of Him in order to obtain that salvation. All God is looking for is a proper faith response to Himself, without reference to Christ. In other words, every person who is saved is saved by Christ, but it is not necessary for every person to know that.
John 3:18 deals a serious blow to this objection: Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 1:11-12 gives us more of the same: He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. One must believe in Jesus by name in order to become children of God.
Romans 10 holds says it even more explicitly. In this chapter, Paul explains Israel’s relationship to the gospel. Though they had a zeal for God (which some might argue to be a “proper faith response” among the unevangelized), it was not in accordance with knowledge (10:2). The context shows that the knowledge of which Paul is speaking is knowledge of God’s righteousness in Christ. So, although Israel was seeking salvation, as can be seen in 11:7, they did not obtain it because they were not looking to Christ.
Additionally, in verse 10:9, Paul explains the faith of the gospel saying, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Paul says explicitly in vv12-13 that this is the plan of salvation for both Jews and Greeks (that is, Jews and all non-Jews, meaning everyone everywhere), “for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Going on, he says in v14, “How then will they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” The antecedent for the personal pronoun “Him” is Jesus. The question the text is asking is, “how will they be saved unless the gospel of Jesus Christ explicitly is preached to them?” The implied answer is, “they will not.” Paul then, in v18, anticipates the reader’s next assumption, that since Israel has not obtained salvation, they must not have heard the gospel of Christ. The implication here is that specific knowledge of the gospel of Christ is necessary for salvation. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (v17).
God has placed Christ at the center of salvation history. He is the point. He is not a peripheral tool of which some saved people are aware and some are not. Read the whole of the New Testament and see if you can honestly arrive at the conclusion that the knowledge of the saving work of Christ is a touching, but unnecessary component of the gospel, and not the very essence of it.
Next time, one final objection and some practical application.
Mark 1:1; Rom 1:9, 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12, 4:4, 9:13, 10:14; Gal 1:7; Phil 1:7; 1 Thess 3:2; 2 Thess 1:8
To name a few: Isa 45:21,22; 59:16; Acts 4:12.
John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 225.
Terrence L. Teissen, Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 144.