It was 2013 when I first started searching for truth. My yearning for the truth brought me to numerous things, which included the purchase of many books on Christianity and the existence of God, increased frequency in my church attendance, and conversations with many people with differing opinions. Although I learned a lot, uncertainties and unanswered questions still bloated my mind. I was not able to come to a conclusion. My search for truth led me to one question that mattered to me and to other non-Christians if the Bible were indeed true: Can non-Christians be saved?
The question about whether non-Christians can be saved has been a popular one for hundreds of years. It involves people who have never heard of Jesus or the Gospel, and even those who lived before Jesus Christ came to the earth and took on flesh. It would seem unfair for the ones who have not heard of the Gospel to be unable to go to heaven; this would raise many more questions about whether God is a God of justice if he did forsake those who did not hear of the Gospel. Mark 16:16 states that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” These three points that explore why that non-Christians can receive salvation are that non-Christians look towards the same Creator, faith and grace from God can be seen from the Old Testament, and that Jesus commended a non-Christian.
The definition of a non-Christian is a person who does not believe in what Christians believe. This makes it easier to define what a Christian is, and sees non-Christians as being what Christians are not. The core belief of a Christian that makes them who they are is that they are a “follower of Christ.” This means that they are a believer in Jesus Christ and have accepted Jesus as their God. Therefore, a non-Christian would be a person who does not believe or is unsure about Jesus Christ being the Son of God. In this essay, I will be examining non-Christians who believe in the existence of a God and also perform good deeds based on what they think God would want them to do, thus showing faithfulness to the voice of God. By defining non-Christians, we are able to reduce confusion as we delve into the essay. Other than that, what does it mean to receive salvation? In this paper, we will discuss receiving salvation as receiving eternal life.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). We can understand that the meaning of this verse is for us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to receive salvation. Although I do not want to challenge the verse on its meaning, I would like to view it from a different perspective, looking specifically at the meaning of the name “Jesus.” During the era of Jesus Christ, Jesus was just an ordinary Jewish name, as common as the name “Jonathan” is to us today. However, God sent an angel to tell Mary to give her baby the name Jesus (a Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua”), which also means “Savior.” God might have been trying to further emphasize that Jesus was like each and every one of us, and he would undergo the same suffering as all of us. Meanwhile, “Christ” is derived from a Greek word, the translation of a Hebrew word meaning “anointed.” This shows that the name “Christ” was merely a title that meant “the anointed one,” pointing towards him but not actually part of his name. It was a title that Jews used during that period to point towards the person they believed was God. I believe that the emphasis about Jesus should be on who he is rather than the name that he was given. Through the Bible, we are able to learn that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he is a part of the triune God. If we were to strip take away every detail about who, what, when, or where God is, the core concept of God is that he is the supreme being who governs the world. If a non-Christian were to believe in God, they are essentially believing in the same thing as Christians: a supreme being who governs the universe and the path to eternal life. Non-Christians might not believe in the same things about God as Christians, they might choose not to call the God they trust in by a name — but they still believe in the same thing, a supreme being. According to Hendrik M. Vroom, if a Jew were to say, “Adonai is the creator of all things,” and a Muslim were to say, “Allah is the creator of all things,” they are not speaking about finite persons — they are speaking about the Infinite, a Supreme Being who is also the Creator, the same. However, their ideas about ‘God’ are entirely different (Vroom 88). Other than that, Jesus taught people how to act in love. By providing a name for the God who performed all the acts of love, Jesus provided the people during that era with a role model they could follow.
Jesus did not come to Earth in fleshly form before the New Testament. However, characters like Noah and Abraham in the Old Testament were said to be saved by God. They did not have a God with a name to call, unlike people now. They were still saved from sin, though, by grace through saving faith in the Lord and his promises. In Genesis 15:6, we see that Abraham received the righteousness of God: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Abraham was a man who had a lot of faith in God and trusted him when many of us would not have. For example, in Genesis 22:2, God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I tell you about.” This is a crazy task for most people. If we were to consider Abraham’s perspective, he was in a terrible position to obey the command. Abraham was over a hundred years old. He had waited a long time for God’s promise to be fulfilled in his only son through his wife Sarah — and after God had promised to make a great nation through his son, God asked Abraham to kill his son. It must have been a really tough decision to make, yet Abraham obeyed God’s commands. Through this passage, we see that Abraham’s faith in God and his works would be the justification for his salvation. Jesus had not come to earth at that time, and it was difficult to understand that God himself is a triune God. Abraham believed in the essence of God. Although he was not a Christian, he was able to receive salvation due to the enormous amount of faith he had in God and how much he had obeyed God’s commands even during the toughest times. A non-Christian may learn about Jesus Christ and decide not to believe in him, but if they were to still believe in a God, have faith in him, and also follow his commands however they hear it, then the non-Christian is still being faithful in God, just as Abraham was faithful in God too.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite walked past the man who was half dead. Eventually, it was a Samaritan who helped the half-dead man. From the parable of the Good Samaritan, we learn that loving our neighbor means loving the people who need help, but we also learn about the practice that the priest and Levite performed. It was during an era in which people believed that they had to follow the Law to be saved. The focus of salvation was in obeying the commandments and the law rather than putting the focus on God. Jesus chose the Levite and the priest for his parable because they would be expected to be a neighbor more than a Roman or a Samaritan would be (Keener 207). The priest would have known all the teachings of the Scriptures. If a priest were to become unclean by touching a corpse, he had to undergo an elaborate ritual cleansing lasting up to seven days (Numbers 19:2–13). He would not be able to carry out his duties for up to a week and would thus affect the community of Jews that he was in. The Levites, on the other hand, were considered second-ranking figures compared to the priests during that era, and were experts of the law (Nehemiah 8:9). The parable shows a good transition from two extremes, one of the most prestigious (the priest) on one side and a villain archetype (the Samaritan) on the other. Yet both the Levite and the priest, who were experts in the Law and were most likely to be neighbors to the half-dead man, did not show any value of being neighbors.
If we were to compare the attitude of the priest and the Levite then to the era that we live in today, there are many Christians who proclaim to be experts on how Christians should act, yet sometimes they can be quick to judge non-Christians or groups that do not align with their values. How can we love people when we are judging them? When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer mentioned that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind (Luke 10:27). Jesus told the lawyer that to have eternal life is to love God and our neighbor, and then he told the story about the Good Samaritan. It was a parable about a Samaritan being a good neighbor. The Samaritans were people who embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry, and were universally despised by the Jews. In the parable, it would make sense that the Jew would not want help from a Samaritan, nor would a Samaritan want to help a Jew because of the history of how the two peoples despised each other. Yet both of them showed mercy and were neighbors to each other. Jesus’ preaching that the Samaritan can be a good neighbor too would have meant that a person who does not have entirely the same beliefs as the Jew could still receive salvation. If a Samaritan were to be faithful to God, the Creator, a Supreme Being, and act in love and kindness, a Samaritan too could inherit eternal life. Based on this parable, Jesus would be saying that a non-Christian who loves God and is faithful to Him, and performs good works through love and by being a good neighbor would receive eternal life. This shows that the question of “How are we neighbors?” is more important than “Who as neighbors can receive eternal life?” (Eaton 50). Therefore, the works of the person is much more important than the identity of the person.
Conversely, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he” is a verse spoken by Jesus himself in John 8:24. In this verse, Jesus clearly says that we have to believe in him — that Jesus Christ is God. The difference between Jesus and other religious leaders like Buddha, Mohammed, and Confucius is that they did not claim to be God nor claim to be able to forgive sins. Yet Jesus mentioned that he was God and the only way to eternal life was through him as he washed our sins away (Exum 2). If believing in God is sufficient and the Jews already believed in the existence of a God, then why did Jesus not only mention that he was God, but also that we have to believe that he is God in order to have our sins washed away? He would be saying that we cannot just plainly believe in a Supreme Being when it comes to God; rather, we have to specifically point towards him to receive salvation. If this is true, then not having faith in him would be equivalent to not having faith in God, and declaring Jesus as not being God would be equivalent to looking towards a different God. Not only that, the first commandment — the work that we have to hold with the utmost priority — is to love God. It was even mentioned in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Therefore, if we are not able to trust in Jesus, how are we able to love him and how are we able to perform good works if we could not even perform the work of the utmost importance?
Can non-Christians receive salvation? If we were to consider the teachings of Jesus Christ, there are definitely teachings that are vague enough to put us on the edge. Jesus Christ is a name that point towards God, and believing in God can be pointing towards Jesus Christ too, yet there are numerous counterarguments from the Bible that state that it is only through Jesus that we can receive salvation. Non-Christians can also have deep faith in God and do great works, sometimes even more than Christians, but the verse that was mentioned in the previous paragraph would argue against the works and faith that non-Christians have, and whether those deeds and beliefs can be even considered good or true. However, throughout the New Testament, Jesus preached about the importance of love and how God is love. Although I would like to stand firm on the argument that non-Christians can receive salvation, it is not a question that a mere mortal is able to answer — it requires God himself to answer this question. If non-Christians were to act fully in love though, then at the very least we can know that non-Christians are walking in the path of Jesus, and I believe that is definitely worth something.
This was an article I wrote for a bible class I took as a college student at Messiah. Clap if you enjoyed it, ask if you have questions, reflect with an open mind. Let love not hate :)
- . Vroom, Hendrik M. “Do all Religious Traditions Worship the Same God?” Religious Studies, vol. 26, no. 01, 1990, p. 73., doi:10.1017/s0034412500020217.
- 2. Eaton, Elizabeth A. “The good Samaritan.” Living Lutheran, no. March, Mar. 2017, p. 50., bluemoosesolutions.com/uss/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Eaton-March-column.pdf.
- 3. Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible background commentary New Testament. IVP Academic, 2014.
- 4.Exum, Raymond T. “Why Should You Believe in Jesus Christ?” Www.clcoc.org, 1989, www.clcoc.org/pdf/whyshouldyoubelieveinjesuschrist.pdf.