Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jesus Christ and the Salvation of Non-Christians

Someone who goes by the name "The apologist" challenged me to a debate on the following topic: "Christ as the only way." After I said that I already believed that Christ is the only way, he gave me the following clarification:
So if a budhist who never hears the gospel of Jesus dies, what happens to them? and please give me biblical proof.
I offered the following response:
- - - - -
It depends on the nature of his ignorance of Christ and the degree to which he has followed the natural law imprinted on his heart. If the Buddhist is ignorant of Christ through no fault of his own, and if he lived a good life according to the natural law, then Jesus will welcome him into the kingdom.
In Lk 12:47-48, Jesus shows us that a man is only held accountable for what has been given to him. "To whom much is given much is required." But what of the person who never has the opportunity to believe in the Gospel? "How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?" (Rom 10:14). The implication is: they can't. Yet we're still going to damn them to hell for not believing in Jesus? Men cannot justly be held to a standard they have not been given.

But, this does not then mean that they are free to live lawless. Natural law is their standard. "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Rom 1:20). "When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them" (Rom 2:14-15). Remember: to whom much is given much is required. They have not found the pearl of great price. Thus, they are held accountable to the natural law.

And what happens when they follow it? There will be "glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek [. . .] For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified" (Rom 2:10,13). The Greek (and by extension all Gentiles) were not hearers of the Law. They did not have His word from the prophets, or the Ten Commandments, or any type of explicit revelation like what the Jews received. Yet, because of what is imprinted on their hearts and their obedience to it, they are considered doers of the Law and thus "glory and honor and peace" will be theirs. "He will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith" (Rom 3:30). In fact, "those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law" (Rom 2:27). This shows the veracity of the life they are called to live, even though they do not have the gospel.

Their reward is affirmed in other Scripture passages as well. The psalmist tells us that God will not despise a broken and contrite heart (cf. Psa 51:17), and this He does with no partiality (cf. Rom 2:11). Peter affirmed this very thing when he said, "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34-35). Jesus himself says that anyone who feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and visits the sick and imprisoned will "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Why? Because whenever they did this to the least of their brethren, they did it for Christ (cf. Mt 25:34-36,40). This leads me to my final point.

You may be asking yourself, "How can you say that Jesus is the only way to salvation if you affirm that a person who is ignorant of the gospel of Christ can still be saved?" The reason is this: everything he has and does that is good comes from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Whenever the Buddhist loved his neighbor, he served Jesus (cf. Mt 25:40). Even though he is not of this flock, Jesus is still his shepherd (cf. Jn 10:16) and his God (Rom 3:29). The natural law imprinted on his heart comes from God, and it exists as the voice that he responds to when the Shepherd calls.

Most importantly, the grace that the Buddhist received so as to do good and follow this law comes from God. After all, all grace is of God (cf. 1 Pet 5:10) and no man can do good without it. Grace is likewise of the Spirit (cf. "Spirit of grace", Heb 10:29). In receiving grace and doing good by it, he is led by this Spirit and anyone who is led by the Spirit is a son of God and co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:14,17).

And thus, Jesus Christ, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14:6), the only name under heaven by which we must be saved (cf. Acts 4:12) is vindicated and glorified, despite (and I would say most especially by) the salvation of the non-Christian.

I hope this will suffice as a Scriptural defense.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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