Tag Archives: Salvation

What about Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I have written on this, one of the most popular questions posed to Christians, in a few different posts and in comments.  Having said that, I have never answered the question in a systematic and thorough manner.  Recently I ran across the best, the most thorough answer to this question I’ve ever seen.  The author is Glenn Miller, the creator of a website called A Christian Thinktank.

You may not agree with each and every thing Glenn says, but I found his answer to this question to take into account a wide range of biblical data and treat that data with great care.  In order to whet your appetite for his entire article, here is his conclusion (he backs all of these statements up with Scripture):

Heaven will be heavily populated, with people from all nations, tribes, and languages–with many from outside historical Israel.

God’s judgment is completely fair and His kindness is communicated (and operative) to all. God reveals Himself to humanity through several non-linguistic forms (nature, anthropology, morality, patterns, emotions), and even linguistic data (in the form of tradition) has been preserved for all the descendants of the original pair of humans.

God deals with people according to the information they have–with specific focus on how they welcome or resist that truth. God’s moral judgment is based on actual deeds and actual motives–a very fair standard for everyone.

With those that respond to God’s revelation in nature and extra-biblical tradition, seeking grace and His activity on their behalf, God initiates a relationship with them, that typically eventuates in additional disclosures of God’s special, special love–His Son.

All of God’s overtures to man, and the acceptance of imperfect people into a living relationship with the morally pure God, is based on the penalty-removing sacrifice of God the Son on the Cross–sometimes unbeknownst to the recipients of that grace (e.g. OT saints).

Throughout the stretch of history, God has given additional detail, precision, instruction in the record of His disclosures and actions in history (i.e. the Bible). This in no way compromises or diminishes the ‘power-to-save’ of the ‘least-precise’ statement of God’s gracious nature and God’s saving actions in history.

The elements of original truth are mixed with historical distortions in all world religions, but there are sects within EACH of these major religious traditions that ‘look very much like’ aspects of OT religion, and there are often adherents of those religions that misunderstand their traditions ‘in the correct direction’!

The small, selected slice of history reported in the Bible indicates considerable action on God’s part in ‘getting the message out’ to individuals–often involving providence and ‘odd chanced’ events. A sufficiently competent God (!) could obviously orchestrate events, dreams, visions, rumors, conscience, mis-understood traditions, in such a way as to reach those who seek Him earnestly.

The response to truth in natural/universal revelation always witnesses to Christ–and never against Him. That is, a person who truly rejects the Biblical Christ (not some cardboard cutout or “engineered re-construction” of Him!), does NOT have a relationship with the Eternal God of heaven. (They may LATER come to accept Him, since many of us resisted His kindness for long periods of time before ‘softening before the warmth of His Love’.)

God’s concern for humanity and His interest in our welfare transcends both our petty attempts to criticize His plan, and our well-meaning attempts to ‘justify’ His plan! A love that sent a volunteering Son to earth, to die miserably and scandalously at the hands of “reluctant wrath” and “justly outraged holiness”, is a love that invites all to “come, drink of the Fountain of life”.

His instructions to Judeo-Christians to present/offer this message to the whole world is to be obeyed on His authority only, regardless of outcomes in any given setting. But we delight in the fact that His love drives us on, and that His Word can give life and freedom to those often un-interested or even openly hostile.

God is so perfectly good and so perfectly fair in ALL His dealings with us. His patience in delaying judgment (2 Pet 3) and His provision for forgiveness through the death of His Son (2 Cor 5), although often cast in His teeth in derision, is ample witness of His heart. His dealings with us incorporate ALL of the issues of our hearts, our background, and our basic attitudes toward truth/life.

“Shall not the God of all the earth do right?!” (Gen 18.25)

What Is the Cause of Our Salvation?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

This question first came to a dramatic head in the church in the fifth and sixth centuries.  There were four main protagonists.

Augustine of Hippo argued that salvation is totally and causatively of God’s grace.

A contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, argued that salvation is totally and causatively of man’s free will.

Following these two was Cassian, who argued that salvation originates in man’s free will, but then proceeds as a cooperation between both man and God.

Finally, we have the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529), a group of bishops who argued that salvation originates in God’s grace, but proceeds as a cooperation between both God and man.

The position of the Council of Orange (commonly called semi-Augustinianism) became the quasi-official position of the church until the Reformation in the 16th century.  The Reformers, especially John Calvin, felt that the church had drifted, since A.D. 529, to the position of Cassian (his position is commonly called semi-Pelagianism), and wanted to bring the church all the way back to the Augustinian position, rejecting the semi-Augustinianism of Orange.

This debate continues today in the Protestant world among Calvinists who are closer to Augustine, and Arminians who are closer to Cassian.  There are also those who reject these two views and land in the middle; these moderate Calvinists would be closer to the position that the Council of Orange took.

What do you think is the cause of our salvation?  Which of these four positions do you think is closest to being correct?

Do Catholics Affirm Justification by Faith Alone?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most remarkable lectures I ever heard at an apologetics conference was a Friday morning session with Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College.  Kreeft is a highly respected Catholic scholar who has taught at BC for many years and written more than 60 books.

Kreeft’s lecture focused on his desire to see Roman Catholics and Evangelicals move toward unity, certainly a worthy goal as long as we’re not compromising any essential doctrines.  But what I wasn’t expecting to hear was his statement that Catholics now agree that justification is by faith alone.  Yes, you read that right.

Kreeft explained that in 1999 the Catholic Church and Lutheran World Federation jointly issued a declaration on the doctrine of justification, the central issue of the Reformation.  In 2006, the World Methodist Council also voted to affirm this declaration.

In this declaration, the Catholic Church agreed that justification is by faith alone and it withdrew the condemnations of the Council of Trent toward those Protestants that affirmed justification by faith alone.  Kreeft explained that the Council of Trent was condemning the idea that works are not part of the totality of salvation, which is composed of justification, sanctification, and glorification.  Luther, on the other hand, was specifically speaking of justification, not sanctification and glorification, when he said works were not involved in salvation.  So the Council of Trent misunderstood Luther, according to Kreeft.  It took 400 years to figure this out, but better late than never.

During Q&A, Kreeft was quick to add that there are many other areas of disagreement that need to be discussed among Catholics and Protestants, but he believed that if Catholics and Protestants can come to agreement on the doctrine of justification, which was the defining controversy of the Reformation, then there is hope to come to agreement on other issues as well.

I have read the declaration and I believe Kreeft’s interpretation of it is indeed correct.  I invite all who are interested in this issue to read the declaration.  It is not that long and can be read by someone who is moderately familiar with theological terminology.  Also, to preempt fruitless discussion, I would ask that folks not comment or jump to any conclusions about this issue until you have read the declaration yourself.  I am very curious to hear reactions from both Catholics and Protestants alike.

What Are Romans 9,10, and 11 About?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I’ve touched on this topic before, but it continues to interest me, so I thought I would cover some new ground on this important section of the New Testament.

Context, when reading any passage of the Bible, is crucial to understanding it.  When we look at the context of Romans 9-11, we immediately discover that the Apostle Paul is speaking of the national condition of Israel.  If you take nothing else from this post, please take that!  Every verse in Romans 9-11 is advancing Paul’s treatment of national Israel.

Dr. Barry Leventhal, of Southern Evangelical Seminary, explains that Romans 9-11 can be outlined as Paul asking and answering a series of four questions:

  1. Haven’t God’s promises to Israel utterly failed? (Rom. 9:1-29)
  2. Why then did Israel fail to attain the righteousness of God? (Rom. 9:30-10:21)
  3. So then God has finally rejected Israel, hasn’t he? (Rom. 11:1-10)
  4. If Israel’s failure is neither total nor final, then what possible purposes could her failure serve in the overall plan of God? (Rom. 11:11-36)

Rather then answering these questions in this blog post, I invite the reader to read these three chapters and attempt to answer these questions herself.

A final point.  Some Christians attempt to draw from these chapters doctrines about individual believers’ justification before God.  But Paul has already dealt with individual justification in the first four chapters of Romans.  Certainly Paul could review what he taught in chapters 1-4, but the context of chapters 9-11 seems to deal with a completely different topic.  So be very careful when making claims about justification from chapters 9-11; you may be placing the words of Paul in a subservient position to your particular theological views.

Poll: Does a Person Need to Explicitly Believe Jesus Is God to Be Saved?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Once Saved, Always Saved?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Once a person is justified (saved), can they lose their salvation?  This seems like an important question, but there are differing views within Christendom.

Calvinists, both moderate and 5-point, affirm eternal security.  Eternal security is the idea that once a person is truly saved, he can never lose his salvation.  Calvinists point to many verses that seem to teach eternal security, such as 1 John 5:13, John 6:37, John 6:39-40, and John 10:27-28.

Arminians, both classical and Wesleyan, believe that a person can lose his salvation.  Classical Arminians believe that a person who apostasizes (denies that Jesus is the Son of God) loses his salvation.  Wesleyans believe that there are several (the number varies) serious sins, that if willfully committed, cause a person to lose his salvation.  This position is similar to the Roman Catholic view.

I happen to agree with the Calvinists on this issue, that once a person is truly saved, it is forever.

But there is another question to consider.  How does a person know he was ever saved in the first place?  According to Norman Geisler, a person can know they were saved if they “manifest the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-23).  He adds,

Throughout his first epistle John lists ways we can know that we are one of God’s elect:

(1) if we keep His commandments (2:3);
(2) if we keep His Word (2:4);
(3) if we walk in love (2:5);
(4) if we love the brethren (3:14);
(5) if we love in deed, not only in word (3:19);
(6) if we have the Holy Spirit within us (3:24);
(7) if we love one another (4:13); and
(8) if we don’t continue in sin (5:18; cf. 3:9).

I’ve discussed this issue with my Catholic friends and they always point out that when someone apostasizes or appears to be living in egregious sin, Calvinists like to say, “He was never saved in the first place.”  This seems like a convenient way to never allow a person to lose his salvation!  They have a point.  We truly do not know about other people’s salvation and we shouldn’t be making judgments about that.  We can judge their fruit, but never their salvation.  God just does not give us that information.

However, with regard to our own salvation, I think we can be sure if we examine ourselves, as suggested above.  I can’t imagine going through my Christian walk, wondering every day if I was really saved.  I settled that issue a long time ago.  Have you?

Can a Person Be Saved After He Dies?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are two difficult passages in 1 Peter  (3:19 and 4:6) that seem to indicate that this may be possible.  I have read a number of interpretations of these verses, but there seems to be no consensus.  However, almost every commentator I read agrees that these verses are not teaching that salvation after death is possible.  Below are some extended quotations from Norman Geisler and Tom Howe’s text on Bible difficulties:

With regard to 1 Pet. 3:19,

The Bible is clear that there is no second chance after death (cf. Heb. 9:27). The Book of Revelation records the Great White Throne Judgment in which those who are not found in the book of life are sent to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11–15). Luke informs us that, once a person dies, he goes either to heaven (Abraham’s bosom) or to hell and that there is a great gulf fixed “so that those who want to pass” from one to the other cannot (Luke 16:26). The whole urgency of responding to God in this life before we die gives further support to the fact that there is no hope beyond the grave (cf. John 3:36; 5:24).

There are other ways to understand this passage, without involving a second-chance at salvation after death. Some claim that it is not clear that the phrase “spirits in prison” even refers to human beings, arguing that nowhere else is such a phrase used of human beings in hell. They claim these spirits are fallen angels, since the “Sons of God” (fallen angels, see Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7) were “disobedient … in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20; cf. Gen. 6:1–4). Peter may be referring to this in 2 Peter 2:4, where he mentions the angels sinning immediately before he refers to the Flood (v. 5). In response, it is argued that angels cannot marry (Matt. 22:30), and they certainly could not intermarry with human beings, since angels, being spirits, have no reproductive organs.

Another interpretation is that this refers to Christ’s announcement to departed spirits of the triumph of His resurrection, declaring to them the victory He had achieved by His death and resurrection, as pointed out in the previous verse (see 1 Peter 3:18). Some suggest that Jesus offered no hope of salvation to these “spirits in prison.” They point to the fact that the text does not say Christ evangelized them, but simply that He proclaimed the victory of His resurrection to them. They insist that there is nothing stated in this passage about preaching the Gospel to people in hell. In response to this view, others note that in the very next chapter Peter, apparently extending this subject, does say “the Gospel was preached also to those who are dead” (see comments on 1 Peter 4:6). This view fits the context here, is in accord with the teaching of other verses (cf. Eph. 4:8; Col. 2:15), and avoids the major problems of the other view.

With regard to 1 Pet. 4:6,

It should be noted, first, that there is no hope held out anywhere in Scripture for salvation after death. Death is final, and there are only two destinies—heaven and hell, between which there is a great gulf that no one can pass over (see comments on 1 Peter 3:19). So, whatever preaching to the “dead” may mean, it does not imply that one can be saved after he dies.

Second, this is an unclear passage, subject to many interpretations, and no doctrine should be based on an ambiguous passage like this. The difficult texts should be interpreted in the light of the clear ones and not the reverse.

Third, there are other possible interpretations of this passage that do not conflict with the teaching of the rest of Scripture. (1) For example, it is possible that it refers to those who are now dead who heard the Gospel while they were alive. In favor of this is cited the fact that the Gospel “was preached” (in the past) to those who “are dead” (now, in the present). (2) Or, some believe this might not be a reference to human beings, but to the “spirits in prison” (angels) of 1 Peter 3:19 (cf. 2 Peter 2:4 and Gen. 6:2). (3) Still others claim that, although the dead suffer the destruction of their flesh (1 Peter 4:6), yet they still live with God by virtue of what Christ did through the Gospel (namely, His death and resurrection). This victorious message was announced by Christ Himself to the spirit world after His resurrection (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).

I would echo what Geisler and Howe say.  Difficult texts should be interpreted in light of plain texts.  As modern interpreters, we have lost the precise meaning of these two verses, so they are quite difficult to nail down.  Having said that, it would be a huge mistake to hold out hope for a second chance after death, based on these two verses.

Does God Really Hate Esau?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Many Christians are shocked when they read Romans 9:13: “Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'”  Since when does the God of love hate people?  This verse, coupled with the rest of Romans 9, has led many to believe that God does not love all people, at least with regard to their eternal salvation.  He seems to arbitrarily choose some people for salvation and some people for damnation.  But must we interpret this verse in that way?

I think the answer is “no.”  A more careful reading of this passage indicates that the subject is not individual salvation, but Israel’s national role in redemptive history.

Paul is actually quoting from Mal. 1:2-3, and a reading of those verses in the context of Malachi’s book clearly indicates that Malachi is using the word “Jacob” to refer to the nation of Israel and the word “Esau” to refer to the nation of Edom.

This makes perfect sense because Romans 9, 10, and 11 are all about national Israel and her role in redemptive history.  Romans 9 refers to Israel’s past, Romans 10 refers to her present, and Romans 11 refers to her future.

It is a serious exegetical mistake to interpret Romans 9 to be referring to individuals’ salvation.  According to Norman Geisler, “the election of the nation was temporal, not eternal; that is, Israel was chosen as a national channel through which the eternal blessing of salvation through Christ would come to all people (cf. Gen. 12:1–3; Rom. 9:4–5). Not every individual in Israel was elected to be saved (9:6).”

God works through nations to accomplish his will, just as he works through individuals.  Just because Israel was the chosen nation to bring forth the Messiah did not mean that every Israelite would be individually saved.  Individual salvation has never been and will never be based on a person’s nationality.  Paul is talking about the nation of Israel in Romans 9, not individual salvation.

Finally, it is also important to explain that the word used for “hate” in Malachi 1 is a Hebrew idiom which actually means to “love less.”  Norman Geisler explains: “This is evident from Genesis 29:30: The phrase ‘loved Rachel more than Leah’ is used as the equivalent of ‘Leah was hated’ (cf. also Matt. 10:37).”

God does not hate anyone, but he does bless some nations more than others.

Can Man Choose God On His Own?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

No.  The Bible seems to clearly teach that God must call on man before man will respond.  Original sin has caused man to reject God without God’s intervention.  Jesus said, ““This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him” (John 6:65).  The Psalmist said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5).  God must initiate salvation because man cannot.

So does God intervene to convict all men of their sins and call them toward him?  Yes, he does.  All men are given the chance to accept or reject God because God calls all men.  According to 2 Pet. 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  According to 1 Tim. 2:3-4, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

God will freely offer the gift of salvation to everyone, but each person must decide to accept or reject this free gift.  God must call us first, as we are incapable of inclining our wills toward God on our own.

Historical footnote: The belief that mankind is born innocent of original sin and can freely choose God without God first initiating salvation is called Pelagianism.  This heresy was condemned by the Council of Carthage (A.D. 416-418).

Can I Be Saved By a Simple Prayer?

The Bible unequivocally teaches that faith in God is what saves.  So the question before us is whether speaking a “sinner’s prayer” constitutes saving faith.

All people possess intellect, will, and emotions – the ability to think, choose, and feel.  When the Bible refers to faith, it seems to teach that faith involves all aspects of a person.  In other words, a person’s intellect, will, and emotions must all be involved for faith to be salvific.

Let’s look at intellect first.  Based on the NT, there seem to be six propositions that a person must intellectually believe to be saved:

  1. Existence of God
  2. Necessity of Grace
  3. Human Sinfulness
  4. Christ’s Deity
  5. Christ’s Atoning Death
  6. Christ’s Bodily Resurrection

Each of these doctrines must be intellectually held by a person to be saved.  But believing in these truths with the intellect is not enough.

Billy Graham once said:

The word believe means more than just intellectual faith, because the Bible says, ‘The devils also believe.’  The devil is a fundamentalist, and he is orthodox.  He believes in Christ.  He believes in the Bible.   Intellectually, he believes in the dogma.  He believes in the creeds.  But the devil has never been saved and he is not going to heaven.  You may be able to recite theology, but I tell you that is not enough.

Saving faith also encompasses the will and emotions.  The NT seems to teach at least six ways that our will and emotions must be involved in our faith.

First, true faith involves trust in God.  Trust is the confident expectation that God will do what he says he will do.  Trusting God involves an act of the will that is beyond mere intellectual assent.

Second, true faith involves the willingness to fully commit ourselves to Christ as the means of delivering us.  Saving faith involves a true commitment to the gospel.

Third, true faith involves our obeying God’s command to believe in His Son.  If we have saving faith, we will obey God’s command to believe in His Son.  If we truly understand who God is and what He has done for us, our intellectual knowledge is accompanied by obedience to God’s command to turn to Him.   The demons do not obey the gospel and have forever turned their back on God.  Though they know who God is, they disobey Him.  Likewise, unsaved people have no will to obey God.

Fourth, true faith involves love of God, which is the greatest command.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).  You cannot have a saving relationship with God unless you love Him.  Love of God is willing the ultimate good.  God is the ultimate good. This is not merely a feeling of warmth toward God, but a robust passion and desire for Him that manifests in all our actions.

Fifth, true faith involves childlike trust entailing humility.  There is no room for arrogance in saving faith.  Demons exhibit no humility toward God, whereas believers realize that humility is the only reasonable response because God is completely responsible for their salvation.  Dr. Gary Inrig explained humility this way:

If I try to make myself as small as I can, I’ll never become humble. Humility comes when I stand as tall as I can, and look at all of my strengths, and the reality about me, but I put myself alongside Jesus Christ. And it’s there, when I humble myself before Him, and realize the awesomeness of who he is, and I accept God’s estimate of myself, and I stop being fooled about myself, and I stop being impressed with myself, that I begin to learn humility.

Sixth, true faith involves repentance.  Faith implies the kind of commitment to and trust in Christ that will make an actual change in one’s life.  True repentance is a real change of mind about our sin and about who Christ is – our Savior.  Repentance is life-altering as well.  Therefore, faith and repentance are inseparable in the same way that the command to “come here” cannot be fulfilled without “leaving there.”  True faith and repentance, regarding one’s salvation, involve embracing right and rejecting wrong – one cannot be exercised without the other.

So, is a simple prayer enough to save?  If that simple prayer is being spoken by a person whose faith is intellectual, trusting, committed, obedient, loving, humble, and repentant, then the answer is “yes.”  If not, then that prayer may be a significant step, but until the person has truly applied all of his personhood to his faith, it has not saved him.