Last month, in Part 1, I did my best to prove that since Adam, God has offered salvation to everyone and that He has granted salvation to anyonewho repented and believed in Him. Those who do repent and believe in Him are characterized by obedience to the law that He has written in their consciences.
Moreover, salvation has always been offered on the basis of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice, before and after He died. He died for the sins of the world, not just for the sins of the people who lived after He died.
Finally, God has always been drawing all people to Himself through creation, conscience and circumstances. He is the Great Evangelist. Last month we considered just a few of the circumstances found in Scripture by which God drew even non-Jewish people to Himself. He has always desired that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). If you didn’t read Part 1 in last’s month’s magazine, I suggest that you do, lest you misunderstand this month’s teaching. Part 1 can be read by clicking here.
One of the questions I received after last month’s teaching was this: If people could be saved by faith in God before the time of Jesus and not know His name, is it possible that people can be saved by faith in God now without knowing Jesus’ name?
Perhaps that can best be answered if we consider what Peter once preached to a group of men who professed to love God but who had recently murdered His Son: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
And what was that name given among men by which we must be saved? Peter would have told you, Yehoshua, or Yeshua, which means “Yah is salvation” (or something close to that).
But I’ll bet that you believe in Jesus. Are you then not saved because you haven’t believed in Yehoshua or Yeshua, the only name given by which we must be saved?
Others might have the same problem as you. Arab Christians, for example, believe in Yasu or Isa. Fijian Christians believe in Jisu. Korean Christians believe in YaeSu. Indonesian Christians believe in Yesus. Are those folks not saved because they don’t believe in Yehoshua, or Yeshua?
It can get even more interesting.
The apostle Paul called Greeks to repent and believe in Iosous, or more accurately .
Chinese Christians believe in .
The apostles Peter, John and James actually didn’t believe in Yehoshua. They either believed in (Hebrew) or (Aramaic).
Jesus’ Hebrew name, , consists of the Hebrew characters Yud, Shin, Vav, Ayin, written properly, from right to left. Is that whom you believe in?
In the original King James version of the New Testament used from 1611 to 1628, our Savior’s name was spelled Iesus or Iesvs. People have only been calling Him Jesus for a few hundred years, and only in the English-speaking world!
I hope you are getting the message here. The name is not so important as the Person whom the name represents. If someone believes in “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” but doesn’t know that the Lamb’s recent English name is “Jesus,” I’d be willing to bet that God would still save that person.
I have a Cambodian friend who survived the killing fields of Cambodia. His name is Setan Lee, and he was raised as a Buddhist. When the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia, anyone with an education or other sign of social standing was brutally slaughtered. Setan succeeded in hiding from the Khmer Rouge soldiers that he was university educated, so his life was spared. But he was forced to work in the rice fields of the new socialist communes.
Setan was once required by his captors to destroy a statue of Buddha, which he did with great trepidation, expecting to incur Buddha’s wrath. But after several days, nothing extraordinarily bad had happened to him. He was still alive. His fear of Buddha waned.
One day, camp guards learned that Setan had attended a university. He was led along with two others to be bludgeoned to death. All three men were blindfolded, had their hands tied behind their backs, and were forced to kneel before a ditch that would become their grave. All three were crying for mercy. The two men kneeling beside Setan were each killed with a blow to the back of their heads. Setan felt their blood spatter on his face. In desperation he prayed, “God of the Universe, if you will save me, I will serve you the rest of my life!” (That is an example of faith and repentance!) A moment later, the camp director ran up and commanded the guards to stop the execution so that he could question Setan further.
Setan’s life had been spared, and he knew it was no accident. He eventually escaped from the killing fields and met up with a Christian pastor in the jungle. Setan told that pastor what had happened to him, and that pastor told him the name of “the God of the Universe:” .
Without a Bible, Setan began telling his testimony and preaching in his Thai refugee camp,”saved me! He will save you!” Many believed. Eventually they received Bibles and learned much more about , because promised, “Seek, and you shall find.”
So the answer to the original question—If people could be saved by faith in God before the time of Jesus and not know His name, is it possible that people can be saved by faith in God now without knowing Jesus’ name?—is yes. This does not mean that they can believe in any god, however, and be saved. If they believe in the true God, they will turn from sin and follow their conscience, living righteously. But let me say once again, if someone believes in “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” in the “God of the Universe,” in , , , , or (and so on) and repents, God will save that person. And naturally, God will work to help that person know more about Himself and His Son.
A Second Question
So does this mean that we can stop preaching the gospel, since it is possible for people to believe in the true God—who has revealed Himself through creation, conscience and circumstance—and be saved?
Certainly not. Jesus commanded His disciples to preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15). That is one more way, beyond creation, conscience, and circumstance, that God is revealing Himself and drawing people to believe and repent.
But three important points could be made in this regard.
First, people who never hear the gospel are still held accountable before God to believe in Him and repent, because He has revealed Himself to them through creation, conscience and circumstance. God expects everyone to seek Him, just as Paul once said in a sermon in Athens:
He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist (Acts 17:27-28).
Of course, anyone who seeks Him will find Him. That is His promise (Matt. 7:7).
Second, those who hear the gospel are even more accountable before God than those who don’t hear it, and their judgment will be that much more strict, just as the judgment of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles will be even more strict. To whom much is given, much is required. Woe to those who have the privilege to hear the gospel and reject it.
Third, because God knows the hearts of all people, it seems reasonable to think that He would direct His servants to proclaim the gospel to those who are the most receptive to His drawing through creation, conscience and circumstance. A perfect example of that would be God’s directing His servant, Philip the evangelist, to wait for an Ethiopian eunuch who would soon drive by in his chariot while reading Isaiah 53 (see Acts 8:26-39). That eunuch was certainly a seeker who was responding to God’s call, the call that God makes to everyone all their lives. That eunuch obviously knew some of Israel’s spiritual history, and he hoped to find answers to his deepest questions in Jerusalem. He spent his money and bought a “Bible” of sorts. And God sent someone to tell him about Jesus.
Along these same lines, you may recall that Jesus told His followers not to cast their pearls before swine, to leave the dead to bury the dead, and to shake the dust off their sandals as they departed from unreceptive towns (Matt. 7:6; 8:22; 10:14). God does not want His servants wasting their time on hardhearted people.
But what about people who respond to God’s call through creation, conscience and circumstance, but who are out of reach of any of God’s servants, such as those in very restricted nations?
No problem for God. These days, people in remote places and closed nations are being reached with the gospel by the thousands through radio, satellite television and the internet. Not too long ago, Heaven’s Family provided funds for a well in a very remote village in Vietnam, and just about everyone there has come to Christ by listening to a shortwave radio broadcast. If you are frustrated that no one in your social circles seems to want to listen to you talk about Jesus, you can be selected to chat with people who have inquired about Jesus at an evangelistic website sponsored by Campus Crusade (visit http://truthmedia.com/chat).
And the God of the universe is not limited to or dependent upon modern technologies. It is amazing how many Muslims in restricted nations—who have had no contact with Christians and who had no knowledge of the gospel—have come to Christ by means of dreams that they’ve had of Jesus. He often says to them in those dreams, “I am the Way, the Truth and Life.” I met one from Ethiopia just last month when I was in Africa.
If you have the time, I suggest that you view five films in a series titled “More Than Dreams,” which highlight the true stories of five Muslims from Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Nigeria and Indonesia, who all converted to Christ as a result of God-given dreams. You can find those videos on YouTube and Google video. Interestingly, a description at the “More than Dreams” website (where you can purchase the DVDs) says, “A common denominator appears to be that the dreams come to those who are seeking to know and please God.” Not surprising, is it?
A Third Question
One person asked, “Will people of other faiths, such as Muslims and Buddhists, who live righteously, go to heaven?”
Personally, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a righteous Muslim or Buddhist. Buddhists are generally idolaters, and Scripture says that no idolater will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). And although the Koran has some basis in the Bible, Allah, as he is portrayed in the Koran, is not the same god as the true God who is revealed in the Bible. The Koran acknowledges Jesus as a prophet who was born of a virgin and who is going to return one day, but it denies that He is the divine Son of God. For any Muslim or Buddhist to be righteous before God, he or she would have to repent of idolatry and/or devotion to a false god, and believe in Jesus. “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father” (1 John 2:23).
Moreover, no one can live righteously, truly righteously, without being delivered from sin by God and transformed by the Holy Spirit, which only comes as a result of faith in Jesus (or in , , , , or and so on). There are some semi-righteous Buddhists or Muslims—in the sense that they do some good deeds—just as there are many semi-righteous, professing Christians who do some good deeds. Maybe a better description for those kinds of people would be “pseudo-righteous.” Their righteousness certainly does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, and Jesus solemnly warned His followers that unless their righteousness did, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). There is a vast difference between being religious and being righteous. It is righteousness, not religion, that “delivers from death” (Prov. 10:2). And only God, the God of Scripture, can make a person righteous.
I must admit that when I preached in Indonesia some years ago, I was quite surprised to hear my interpreter use the word “Allah” every time I said the word “God.” Many Christians there, living in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, use the word “Allah” for “God,” just as a means of bridging the gap to Muslims. They sing songs of praise to Allah, not the “Allah” of the Koran, but the “Allah” who so loved the world that He sent His Son! Don’t forget that it hasn’t been that long that people have been referring to the creator as “God,” and it has only been done by people in parts of the world where English is spoken. God is a word of Germanic origin, related to the German word Gott.
Let’s keep in mind that God is not trying to keep people out of heaven. He’s doing everything He can to get them into heaven. Let’s work with Him on that!