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22 May 2018

Saved exclusively through Jesus.

It’s the exclusivity that bugs people.

One of the things about Christianity that offends people most is how we claim we can only be saved through Christ Jesus.

We do have bible to back up the idea, y’know.

Acts 4.8-12 KWL
8 Then Simon Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, told them, “Leaders of the people and elders:
9 If we’re investigated today about a good deed to a disabled man—how was he cured?—
10 it must be made known to you all, and all Israel’s people:
In the name of Messiah Jesus the Nazarene—whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—
by this Jesus, this disabled man stands before you, cured.
11 This Jesus is ‘the stone dismissed by you builders, who became the head cornerstone.’ Ps 118.22
12 Salvation isn’t found in anyone else, nor is there given to people
another name under heaven by whom it’s necessary for us to be saved.”

Jesus is the only way by which people have access to God:

John 14.5-7 KWL
5 Thomas told Jesus, “Master, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?”
6 Jesus told Thomas, I’m the way. And truth, and life. Nobody comes to the Father unless through me.
7 If you knew me, you’ll also know my Father.
From now on you know him. You’ve seen him.”

These absolute statements make Christianity exclusive: You gotta have a relationship with Jesus if you want to get to God. There’s no getting around Jesus. He is how God chose to reveal himself, so if we reject Jesus, we’re rejecting what God’s trying to tell us. Bluntly, we’d be rejecting God.

Now if you’re of another organized religion… big deal. Your religion already has its own claims of exclusivity. Muslims figure there’s no god but God—and Muhammad’s his messenger, so if you wanna know God you gotta embrace Muhammad’s revelations. Buddhists don’t even care about Jesus; he’s a nice guy, but they prioritize the Buddha’s teachings. And so forth.

What these absolute statements tend to annoy most, are those pagans who are trying to claim all religions are the same, or just as valid as one another, or that it’s okay if people have a hodgepodge of beliefs from every religion. Namely it’s okay if they make up an eclectic religion, where they get to pick ’n choose their favorite beliefs from here, there, and everywhere. But if there’s no getting to the Father apart from Jesus, and they’re trying to get to the Father every which way, it kinda reveals they don’t know what they’re doing.

A lot of Christians claim what these bible quotes mean is we must become Christians or we’re going to hell. And that’s not actually what they say. They say—no more, no less—that salvation comes exclusively through Jesus. Not that we gotta first become Christians. Not that we gotta first embrace Christian doctrines. These aren’t statements about the steps anyone has to take. They’re only statements about how God works: Through Jesus.

So if God chooses to save someone from one of those other religions, be they Muslim, Buddhist, pagan, even atheist: He’s only gonna do it through Jesus. Regardless of how they—or we—imagine salvation works.

Yeah, here’s where I start to confuse and lose people.

The exclusivity of Christianity?

Like I said, Christians claim these bible quotes require us to become Christians. That the only way to be saved is to become Christian. That’s the logical conclusion of “only through Jesus”—you gotta therefore join the religion Jesus founded.

And I gotta remind them this isn’t what the scriptures actually teach. Salvation isn’t limited to Christians.

Jesus stated Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in God’s kingdom. You do realize these guys weren’t Christian. (Technically they weren’t even Jews, ’cause Judaism was an invention of the Pharisees.) These guys knew bupkis about Jesus. What they were, were God-followers. They had relationships with God because they trusted God.

Romans 4.3 KWL
What’s the scripture say? Abraham believed God,
“and to God this was considered rightness.” Ge 15.6

Jesus indicated Abraham knew something about him, Jn 8.56 but did Abraham know enough to be saved? Doesn’t matter. God decided to save Abraham; Abraham believed God; Abraham was saved. Through, as we now know, Jesus. What Abraham knew about the mechanics of his own salvation, we’ve no idea. But we know the mechanics of his salvation: It’s entirely achieved through Jesus. Our sins were dealt with, as were Abraham’s. Sin is no longer a roadblock to our relationship with God.

But shouldn’t we know Jesus? Ideally yes, of course! If God wants to save us, he’s ordinarily gonna introduce us to Jesus too. But again I refer you to the folks of the Old Testament who never knew the details of their own salvation. They didn’t know who Jesus was. Hadn’t a clue. And yet God saved them—through Jesus.

This sinking in yet?

Well it hasn’t to a lot of Christians, who like to imagine that every single Old Testament saint was privately, secretly given some revelation of Jesus. That at some point, God sat Adam and Eve down and explained, “Y’know, one of these days I’m gonna have to become human and clean up this mess you made.” That at some point he did this with everyone. It’s a silly idea, but you’d be surprised how many Christians hold some version of it. Because they were taught, and firmly believe, we can’t be saved unless we first have our theology straight.

Thing is, being saved by correct theology is not the same thing as being saved by grace. Grace is the only way God has ever saved anyone.

And God graciously saved the Old Testament saints because, as it’s pointed out in Genesis with Abraham, they trusted God to do it. Ge 15.6 Wasn’t by works, wasn’t by good karma, wasn’t by ritual sacrifice, wasn’t by orthodoxy. Was by grace, through faith. Ep 2.8 Faith in a God who’ll take care of the details for us. Jesus is one of those details. If you don’t know who Jesus is, that sucks. But does that stop God from saving you? Nah. Never has.

No, this isn’t universalism.

So if you’ve always wondered, “What about people who never ever heard the gospel? Are they automatically doomed to hell?” No.

God knows which people he considers righteous. And Jesus died for them too. In the case of Abraham, and everyone who lived before Jesus was born, Jesus died for them retroactively. You know, kinda like how the Hebrews’ ritual sacrifices were meant to make up for their past sins, not their future ones. Jesus’s self-sacrifice took care of their past salvations—and our future salvations. There is no pre-Jesus dispensation where people got saved any other way than through Jesus.

So anyone who’s saved, is saved through Jesus. If you’re Hindu, and God saves you, it’ll be through Jesus. You might object you don’t know Jesus, and know nothing about Christianity—you’ve been Hindu all your life, and only ever practiced Hinduism as you understood it. Well, we aren’t saved through karma anyway, so that doesn’t matter. If God figures you’re truly seeking him, truly trust him enough for him to consider you righteous, and wants you saved, Jesus’s atonement is mighty enough to cover you too.

Ultimately God’s in charge of who gets saved. Not us Christians. Not our rules and traditions. If God wants to save a Satanist, he absolutely can. I think it highly unlikely, ’cause Satanists don’t care about God at all, but God has that prerogative. Christians might strongly object ’cause they’re getting off light, but to paraphrase one of Jesus’s parables, “Should you be jealous because I am generous with others?” Mt 20.1-16 If God wants to save more people than we ever imagined—and there’s every indication he will—that’s awesome! I won’t complain. Neither should any Christian.

The earliest Christians did complain: They found it amazing, and completely unexpected, that God was starting to include non-Jews in his kingdom. Ac 11.18 Over time, as non-Jews began to vastly outnumber Jews in Christendom, it’s become something we gentiles take a little too much for granted. We need to remember that lesson: God is far more gracious than we. He wants to save everyone he can, so Jesus died for everyone. 1Ti 2.3-6

Of course some Christians are gonna object I sound way too much like a universalist, one of those folks who think God’ll save absolutely everyone, and nobody’s going to hell. Universalism sounds like a nice idea, but taken to its logical conclusion it means God would have to force people into his kingdom, even though they really don’t wanna go; or mind-wipe ’em so they’d robotically want to. Either way it’s kinda warped. Nope, I’m no universalist. Plenty of people are going to hell; that’s the path they’ve chosen.

What I am saying, ’cause I believe the scriptures back me up here, is God wants to save everyone he can. So much so, he came to earth and died for them. Jn 3.16-17 If he’s willing to go that far to save us, I expect he’s willing to go way further than we will to save a lot of us. Right now Christians only make up a third of humanity. I’m pretty sure this number is nowhere near good enough for God. He doesn’t want hell to out-populate heaven. Just the opposite.

“But what about evangelism?”

Whenever I talk about God saving whoever he wants, I also get objections from evangelists: “Jesus told us to go make disciples of all nations. Mt 28.19-20 You make it sound like we don’t need to do that.”

No; you’re reading that into what I’m saying. Jesus did tell us to go make disciples, and we need to obey him. Go make more Christians. Go find these people who are searching for God, and introduce ’em to who God really is—namely who Jesus revealed him to be. Go make Christians of ’em.

We always need to do our part, and never lazily assume God’ll graciously make up for our apathy and sloth. Just because God does a lot of things behind the scenes, doesn’t mean we get a free pass. There’s still no excuse for it.

Lastly, here’s the objection certain non-Christians invariably make: “You claim that if I’m saved, it’ll be through Jesus, despite my religion? That’s patronizing.”

Not really. I expect I’ll be saved through Jesus… despite my religion too. The point of religion is to follow God and grow closer to him, right? But religion is the stuff we do. What God does is a whole different deal; and salvation is part of what God does. Has nothing to do with religion. Yours or mine.

The reason people might find it patronizing, is they believe they are saved through their religiousness, they’re kinda proud of their achievements, and they’re offended that I’ve just dismissed all their accumulated karma as irrelevant. But it is irrelevant. We don’t earn heaven! And if their religion doesn’t teach this, it’s seriously defective—whether it’s a Christian faith and practice, or not.

But the other reason people find it patronizing, is they wanted to invent their own path to the Father, don’t want it to be Jesus, and don’t like that I’m telling them there’s no other path. And I’m not gonna be one of those hypocrites who tell you whatever you wanna hear, for fear of offending you. Any end-run you think you can make around Jesus, leads to hell. There’s no getting around him. Period.