Josh has put up a couple of posts arguing that people of other religions—and even atheists—may still be saved. If you’ve read Josh’s blog before, you know that he is a very interesting and expressive writer; these posts are no exception to his ability. And because Josh is a friend of mine, it’s not fun for me to say that his view of salvation is unbiblical, false, and dangerous. But it is all three of these.
In this post, I’m responding to his main argument. In a follow-up article that I plan to write tomorrow, I’d like to address several other serious problems found in his two posts. So let’s get started. In a nutshell, this seems to be Josh’s line of reasoning:
- Loving character demonstrates personal knowledge of God (1 John 4:7-8).
- Personal knowledge of God indicates that its possessor is saved.
- Many non-Christians display loving character.
- Conclusion: Thus, these non-Christians are saved.
First, I have a couple of observations about this argument:
- It’s very appealing. It implies that virtuous people all over the world who are not Christians—including some from our friends and family—are not going to hell for eternity. Thus, it removes much of the offense of the orthodox understanding of the gospel. It seems to exalt love and good deeds while saying that such good works are an evidence of salvation, not a means to salvation. It puts a personal relationship with God before mere external religious activity.
- It makes sense. The argument seems airtight, agreeing with reason and experience.
However, there are a couple of areas of concern:
- This line of reasoning is not found in the Bible. The biblical authors of both the Old and New Testaments had a great deal to say about God’s salvation. However, the above argument is assembled piecemeal from several verses scattered across the Bible. This doesn’t mean it’s false, but it’s a serious problem when an argument with such serious, life-and-death implications, is foreign to the scriptures, “which are able to make you wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).
- This teaching is rejected by orthodox, biblical churches. Josh admits this at the end of his first post. Once again, this doesn’t mean he’s wrong. However, when our theological views fly in the face of centuries of teaching by true spiritual giants, we need to tread with caution.
Obviously, I believe that Josh’s argument is wrong. Can you guess at which step it falls apart?
If you guessed step 1, you’re wrong. It’s actually step 3. Sorry!
So what’s so wrong with step 3? Aren’t there many non-Christians who seem to behave more lovingly than professed Christians?
Let’s take a look at what the apostle John had to say. Ironically, the very author Josh quotes is the one, who, a chapter later, drives a stake into the heart of his argument by explaining what love really involves. (We will see more of this tomorrow; most of the verses Josh cites are surrounded by passages which directly contradict him.)
The verses cited in line 1 above are 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” First, I’d like to note that, in this book, John is not dealing with the behavior of people of other religions; rather, he is dealing with the difference between those who are genuine children of God and those who are not—all of whom claim to be Christians. Josh is probably using this verse outside of the scope which the author intended it to have.
Second, John explains that love is more expansive than we often think. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2-3). True love, as the apostle sees it, involves a total obedience to the commandments of God. This includes the first two commandments of the Ten: that we should have no other gods but our God, and that we should not make for ourselves idols. John condemns those who unrepentantly persist in these sins: “No one who abides in [God] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). People of other religions and atheists who deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who worship idols, who refuse to repent of their denial of and opposition to biblical teaching, and who refuse to do many of the things which are pleasing to God (as taught in the Bible) are not born of God. They neither see Him nor know Him. They have rejected God’s truth—biblical revelation—and love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).
We hold a very small, cheap view of love if we believe that those who deny the God of the Bible can truly display the love of God. This is the message of John, who no doubt would have been appalled at the argument presented in the beginning of this post. Genuine love, flowing from biblical truth, will cause a believer to be zealous for this truth and urge all those around him to “believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).
Stay tuned for part 2, coming tomorrow.