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Monday, May 16, 2005 

The Holy Spirit and the Exclusivity of the Gospel

Today, I heard the best sermon on the Holy Spirit to ever enter my ears. It was given by Dr. Tom Schreiner at Clifton Baptist Church here in Louisville. The sermon will eventually be available by clicking here. Because it was Pentecost Sunday, the focus of the service was on the Holy Spirit. Dr. Schreiner explained the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity and how that relates to the exclusivity of the Gospel.

Lately, I have read some rather disturbing things by some who claim to be Christians. It has for some time now been quite a fad for Christians to believe that people who do not confess Christ can somehow be saved in the end. Some say that these who do not confess Christ are saved through their ignorance by means of their faith in a monotheistic God. Others say that these will be given a second chance later on after death. But always these are emotional arguments. I have yet to see a truly Biblical defense of these suppositions. But what I have seen are carefully articulated arguments that point to the fact that one cannot enter into God's rest apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Today I heard yet another great argument for this Biblical truth by Dr. Schreiner -- one that I had never pondered in depth until now.

Often the way that I argue that only those who confess Christ will be saved is by referring to numerous passages that teach this. A few examples are John 14:6; Acts 4:12; and Romans 10:8-21. However, there remains a doctrinal argument concerning the Holy Spirit that I believe is almost as strong of a witness for this view than the verses themselves.

First, we must recognize that the Spirit has placed Himself in subjection to both the Father and the Son. John tells us that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and by the Son in the name of the Son and that He does whatever He is told to do and says whatever He is told to say. In this way, the Holy Spirit acts as a sort of ambassador for the King and His Son. He is co-equal with these Regents, but His role is to work in the world. And as an ambassador, it is His job to point back to Those to whom He is sent, namely the Father and Son. Regarding the Spirit's work, Jesus says:
And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been
judged. 12 I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you (John 16:8-15).

Here Jesus says several things about the work of the Spirit in salvation. First, He convicts of sin. This is the first action wrought in the believer. Salvation does not come without conviction of sin. Those who are poor in spirit understand that conviction. And notice that the sin directly relates to their unbelief in Christ. So not only does the believer get convicted of sin, but of unbelief in Christ. Then the Holy Spirit guides the believer into truth and glorifies Christ. Finally, He discloses the Father's will and Christ's words and deeds to the believer so that He might be sanctified, another act of the Holy Spirit.

Now, those who believe in a salvation for people who do not confess Christ as Lord, they have no outs here. There is nothing in this text or any other that suggest that the Holy Spirit works apart from Christ and glorifies God without glorifying Christ. Both Father and Son are uplifted by the Spirit. Further, the Spirit brings life. He is the one who applies the work of salvation to the believer. Thus He only applies it by means of the formula given by Peter in Acts 2:38, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit can only apply the work of salvation to those who by faith acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Otherwise, He would be working outside of His jurisdiction and thus be making Christ a liar and usurping His subordinate role. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit would be denying Christ His due glory -- the glory due His name, the name at which all men will bow.

So, what we have here is a thoroughly Biblical argument which once again ends in the exclusivity of the Gospel call. No one can be saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit and no one can inherit eternal life without the righteousness of Christ and the Holy Spirit cannot give anyone that righteousness anonymously. He must do it as every good ambassador does, by means of His King, the one who sent Him. In this case, it is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.

So, please, if you are reading this and you are beginning to be pursuaded to believe in a salvation that comes apart from the conscious acceptance of Christ as both Lord and Saviour, then repent and accept the testimony of Peter as he spoke these words, "[Jesus Christ] is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. 12 "And 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 4:11-12).

D.R. could you help me with the question of all those millions who died before hearing the truth, and young children or severly handicapped individuals. I do believe that Jesus is the only way, truth, life, path to the Father. And I've heard your explaination of the first work of the HOLY SPIRIT from my husband in his sermons. I do not believe that all roads lead the same place, or that all gods are the same GOD. But I waiver a little when it comes to those I mentioned. I was once even told that all aborted babies go to hell because they were never given the chance to accept Jesus. I think the decision of who gets in, or doesn't get in is in the heart and wisdom of Jesus. No one enters unless they go through Him...but, is there room for a but here?

Maryellen,

I think you bring up a great question here that needs to be answered. From my experience in trying to explain this to people, I think that presuppositions control how these questions are answered. And those presuppositions are exactly the problem. I am not going to answer your questions here for it would take too much comment space, but I think I am going to dedicate the next post to answering it.

D.R.

It would also be helpful to exegete the relevant passage of Romans 2.

Jesus told this little story about two brothers who were given instructions by their father. One brother said he'd do it and didn't. The other said, "No way!" but did what his father asked anyway.

And Jesus asked, "Which son followed the father's direction?" And the answer was obvious...

By the way, I see you're from Louisville: What up, homey?

Dan, I am not sure where you are going with your point. But if you are trying to use that passage to suggest that those who do know Jesus Christ as Lord can indeed enter heaven because they do the will of the Father than I think you have to throw out the whole context. First of all the context indicates that the first brother is the Jews and the second is the Gentiles. Also, you forgot the last verse in that passage, which was,

"For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him."

This verse indicates that those who did go and do as they were told BELIEVED the message of John (which was repent for the kingdom of God is at hand and Behold the Lamb of God who takes away sin). Also, Jesus tells another passage to further make his point. In that passage He says,

"Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits."

We know from several other, especially John 15 than in order to bear fruit one must be "in Christ" and that bearing of fruit glorifies God by making known to the world that you are Jesus' disciples. If you don't know Jesus, how can you show others you are His disciples and thereby glorify God.

Finally, the author of Hebrews makes it clear that you must have faith in order to please God. Faith in what? Jesus Christ.

It is a circle and it cannot be broken. There is no name under heaven by which men might be saved.

Briefly, "there is no other name under heaven"...yeah, maybe. But what does that mean? Does it mean following in Jesus' steps (whether you've been taught about Jesus or not) or does it mean "saying the sinner's prayer and accepting Jesus in your heart?"

Religions have made a magic potion out of getting "saved" instead of just following the fairly straightforward teachings of Jesus and all of our world's wisest folk - Love God and Love your neighbor/enemy/all of God's creation.

Or so it seems to me.

Since we're both here in town, shoot me an email sometime, if you'd like.

Dan,

first I would say that neither of the two options you have presented are best. It does indeed seem to indicate that being saved in the name of Jesus is important. Peter is clear that the Jewish religiosity would not save. He put at odds Judaism and Christianity. And if this is true, then that would mean all other understandings of God would fall even more short (since we could all agree that God made clear His intention for Israel in the OT and it would follow that one could not be involved in any religion other than Christianity that would even come close to the worship of the true God. And the OT makes it clear as well that worship of any other God than YHWH was idol worship and idol worship is condemned by Paul as worshipping demons. Anyother cyclical argument that brings us back to the issue at hand -- the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Now, having said that, I do not believe, nor have I for some time, that walking an aisle and saying a prayer brings about salvation. Salvation is wrought in the believer by the Holy Spirit through faith. Faith entails not only facts, but obedience. As Luther said, we are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone.

Finally I will throw one more passage at this argument to once again show this to be a New Testament teaching. It is from Paul in Romans 10. Here Paul is speaking of the Jews in particular, but all men in general. For, he presents a formula for what happens to the unbeliever outwardly as the Holy Spirit works in his inner man.

"Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, 'WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?' (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or 'WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." 8 But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART "-- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."

If you read that carefully you will see that it excludes those who have never heard. Heard what? The word of Christ.

"Salvation is wrought in the believer by the Holy Spirit through faith. Faith entails not only facts, but obedience. As Luther said, we are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone."

OK. Fine. (Except I'd say we're saved by God's grace, through faith). But that's all religiousese. What does it mean?

I'm just saying it seems to me that the bible tells us that we are free to follow Jesus or not. And those who follow Jesus (not by speaking a bunch of churchy language but in fact) are those who've accepted God's gift.

And sure, hearing the word of Christ is fine - but are you telling God how God can choose to speak the word of Christ to folk? I hear the word of Jesus in the my homeless friends and the kindness shown by and to them. I see God in the intricacy of the design of a leaf. I hear Jesus' word in the sweet babble of a baby.

God can choose to reveal God's self to anyone anyway God pleases, wouldn't you agree?

First Dan,

I cannot sustain a meaningful conversation on more than a couple of posts and still do everything else I have to on the internet. But this one is important to me, so I am going to keep answering you here (and possibly the one about the Bible). Other than that I just can't continue. We will have to just move on.

When you say, "that's all religiousese" I think you miss the point. The only way we can understand salvation is by means of the Bible's explanation of it. We can't go outside of the Bible, otherwise we move into the realm of our own understanding. How can we speak of salvation apart from what is revealed to us through the Bible. We learned of Christ through the Bible, we learned of faith through the Bible, and the works of God were made known to us through the Bible. Hence, if we go outside of the Bible for the answers then we deny the very foundation of what we can know -- namely about the God and Christ who is revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. You can call it religiousese, but in the end a proper exegesis of the Scriptures regarding salvation and faith are all we can definately know about this Jesus and His salvation.

When you say this:
"I'm just saying it seems to me that the bible tells us that we are free to follow Jesus or not. And those who follow Jesus (not by speaking a bunch of churchy language but in fact) are those who've accepted God's gift."
I can completely agree with you, but then you go astray with your next paragraph.

"And sure, hearing the word of Christ is fine - but are you telling God how God can choose to speak the word of Christ to folk? I hear the word of Jesus in the my homeless friends and the kindness shown by and to them. I see God in the intricacy of the design of a leaf. I hear Jesus' word in the sweet babble of a baby."

I am not telling you how God can speak the Word of Christ, I am telling you what He tells us about salvation, which is that salvation comes by hearing the word of Christ and in Romans 10 it is apparent Paul is saying that it only happens if God sends a preacher and then only if the one believes his message and then only if that one calls upon His name. Whose name? The name of Christ. Now here you have a dilemna. Do you believe Paul or do you reject him and believe that you know better? And as far as hearing Jesus in all those things, that's wonderful, but it doesn't bring salvation to anyone unless they confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Romans 1 is clear on this that nature can bring us to know that there is a God, but it is insufficient for salvation. Paul's whole argument in Romans is that Jesus Christ alone is who saves and his summary in Romans 8-11 makes clear that salvation comes by means of confessing Christ as Lord, which entails obedience as Luther said. Further if salvation could come through any other means, why would Paul be so amanent about his own religion's failure to bring salvation to them (Romans 9). Over and over again in his letters he points our how good a Jew he was, but then relays how insufficient it was to save. Why is he so amanent about taking the gospel to the nations if he didn't have to? Why do we still take the gospel to the nations? In your scenario everyone is saved unless they are a really bad person. And that seems to go against the entirety of the Scriptural witness.

Finally you said:
"God can choose to reveal God's self to anyone anyway God pleases, wouldn't you agree?"

Here I would agree with you, but you wouldn't agree with yourself. I have shown you several times in Scripture and in the original post pointed out what the Bible says about salvation -- what God has revealed to us through men who spoke not on their own intiative as Peter says, but by means of the Holy Spirit and yet you are saying, "God's salvation is not that exclusive." So in essence you deny God the right to save by whatever means He desires, which the Bible tells us is though Jesus Christ alone by means of the Holy Spirit revealing Him to the unbeliever and thereby regenerating that unbeliever.

You see the point is not how good someone is. That is the theology that the Jewish leaders worked off of. They believed that it came down to obedience alone. But they were wrong. Salvation was by means of faith and that faith is wrought by the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 2). Thus salvation is wholly a work of God and not our own merit. That is why Jesus came. To pay the penalty for our sins and to remove the burden of guilt for those who would believe. Now the bonds of sin are broken and Christ can be glorified resulting in the glorification of God, the purpose of our salvation.

That is not religiousese . . . That's the GOSPEL!

't seems to me that you're saying that if all the bibles somehow suddenly disappeared tomorrow and the wisdom therein, we'd all be doomed. I'm saying I don't think God limits God's revelation to the Bible. My God is much bigger than that.

And I'm just not sure what you're saying when you suggest I'm saying "God's salvation is not that exclusive." I never said that. I said that anyone who wants to accept God's gift and follow Jesus can. That's all.

Dan,

1) I am saying that God will never allow His word to disappear from the earth. Men have tried to control it, to subdue it, and to destroy it, but the Word of the Lord still remains. Men have died for the Bible to remain and to get its contents into the hands of all men in their own language. I think that is a testimony to its power and importance. One note on this. Notice that at least 2x in the OT the law is re-discovered (as if it has been buried or lost or forgotten). It is read and then the people repent, leave their foreign gods (at least for a time) and forsake their pagan practices. The Scriptures were vital in those times for reform. I think that is still true today.

2) When you say, "I don't think God limits God's revelation to the Bible; My God is much bigger than that" I would ask what do you mean by revelation. There are two types: general and specific. If you mean general revelation -- that which can be known by all men though nature and His creation and though their own hearts, then I would say He doesn't limit that to the Bible. But if you mean God's specific revelation by which He teaches specifically how He is different from all other competing god-images, and records for us His redemptive history, and explains to us His commands and reveals to us His salvation, then I would say that I disagree. The specific revelation of Jesus Christ is what the entire Bible testifies of and nothing outside of God's Word (and the testimony of men who bring that word) can save us from the wages of sin. God blessed us by moving men to write an authoritative account of His actions and His words and by preserving that word for us. Look at the history of the Bible. It is amazing how well God has preserved His word. We have fragments of NT manuscripts that come within 100 years of the original writings, something that we don't find with the writings of Homer or any other poet or writer of that time period. We have over 5000 NT manuscripts transcribed over a period of over 1000 years that differ in less than 2% combined. We have an OT that is so similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls (transcribed 500+ years prior to the oldest Masoritic scripts) that it is uncanny. The Bible is a trustworthy document. I believe that upon entering glory I will be able to stand and say to God that I did not rely on my own finite knowledge, but wholeheartedly grasped the teachings of the Bible and held to them. I don't think I will be disappointed! Why would I seek after God in things that are not on par with the Bible -- that fall so short of His revelation as to be worthless without It? I believe that those things you mentioned in your prior post make sense because we can know God definitively through the Bible. We can enjoy the sun because God is sovereign and we know that through the Bible. We can celebrate birth because children are a gift from God and we know that through the Bible. We can see design in leaves because God has told us He created all things and we know that through the Bible. I hope you see where I am going. As far as God being bigger than His revelation it goes back to the prior argument in saying that you are just looking at it from your perspective. From mine God is being limited by your argument when you call His word a limitation. I don't think He sees it as such. I believe He sees it as a blessing and as a means of stooping down to us and giving us an objective, simplistic, studyable, readable, and carryable revelation of God that gives us the ability to seek Him, know Him, and glorify Him to the best of our ability.
3) So are you saying that salvation is indeed exclusive to only those who confess Christ with their mouths and believe in Him in their hearts? And furthermore live the life He has called them to? Would you say that God saves only those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? Because if so, I will admit that I misunderstood you. But I don't think that is what you are saying. If you hold to what seemed to be inclusive optimism in your prior posts (that God will save some people who have never heard of Christ and who have not called upon the name of Jesus because they followed His teaching well enough to get into heaven), then I would say that indeed you do not believe in the exclusivity of the Gospel, but rather an inclusivity that we do not find being taught in the Bible.

Again, I am glad to see us digging deeper. I challenge you to read through Romans in one sitting and watch carefully for Paul's argument on this. It's not that I don't think you have, but that I think you should again in light of our conversation on this. And then let me know what you think.

Soli Deo Gloria

I think we probably just disagree.

I will agree with you on this: You mention that at least twice in the OT the scriptures they had were lost and then rediscovered. Once they rediscovered them, they realized how far they had wandered and repented and began reformation (by the way, the reformation they began was specifically economic, which you didn't mention).

I'm praying that we'll rediscover the scriptures again in our day, after having been buried so long in the dusty traditions of men. I pray that we discover that the Good News for the poor, release of the captive, the day of Jubilee that Jesus proclaimed and wrap our minds around that kind of love.

Thanks for the many comments and thoughts. I will try to get back to Romans here soon.

Peace.

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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