If salvation is only found in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12), what about all of those people who lived before Him? That is a good question.
In Mk 12:26 Jesus spoke about the subject of a future Resurrection. He referred to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom the LORD said to Moses that He was the God of. Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (v. 27). The patriarchs, who lived long before Christ, are alive in Him. How is this possible?
Faith in the Lord and His promises and covenants, which since the Fall (Gen 3:15) have always pointed to Jesus, is how those of long ago could be saved long before Christ came. All of the OT was pointing to Jesus (Lk 24:44b). By virtue of these forward looking promises the people of old who trusted them were saved (That is what Ro 3:25b is speaking of).
Specifically, to reverse the curse of the Fall God chose (when He didn’t need to choose any) to do so through one man’s family, Abram (Gen 12). God would bring about a blessing to the nations through Abram’s offspring, Jesus (Mt 1). From this time, specifically, God’s Covenant promises of salvation became caught up with this people, the Jews, until Christ came when it was opened more fully to the Gentiles. This didn’t mean all Jews were saved, only those who had faith in the promises (Gal 3:7). This also didn’t mean that non-Jews, or Gentiles, couldn’t be saved either. The OT has a number of examples of Gentiles who came to fear God and join this Covenant community. People like Rahab and Ruth and the Queen of Sheba. God has been saving a people unto Himself ever since the Fall.
Just as salvation is exclusive to those who trust in Christ since the coming of Christ, the same was true before Christ came, but it was by faith in the promises of Christ that they too were saved.
A question that is often asked of Christianity is this:
“What about all those who never hear about Jesus; is God just to sentence them to hell?”
The question is usually asked because someone wonders as to the ethic of such an exclusive claim of salvation.
So let’s begin with an example of an exclusive claim to salvation, Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
The objection then often arises, but what about someone in a secular community or a remote island nation who has never heard of Jesus, doesn’t have missionaries or a church or a Bible to instruct them in the way of salvation, is that person eternally damned to hell?
Yes, they are “without excuse.” Why?
To understand this one must realize what the Bible says about humans, we’re fallen, sinful beings, cut off from God and incapable of any spiritual good that might please Him and therefore earn our salvation (read more here). This is why God graciously sent Jesus, to be the rescuer of all those who’d hear the Gospel message and put their trust in Him. This is the basis for an exclusive salvation. We’re sinners, God appointed a means for salvation, we must believe in Jesus in order to be saved.
But is that fair? (Another option would have been for God not to have saved anyone, we see His grace in that He choose to save some; something to think about). Yes, because people are “without excuse.” Why are people without excuse?
If I were born on a stranded desert island with no knowledge of Jesus I would be without excuse for not believing in Him for three simple reasons from Romans 1:
For these sorts of reasons Paul says that unbelievers, everywhere, are “without excuse” (Ro 1:20b); even if they’ve never heard of Jesus. Knowing of Jesus and rejecting Him only increases our culpability; not knowing of Jesus doesn’t diminish it.
There has been a lot of praise of late, and rightly so, for our amazing health care professionals. Most of them have fearlessly embraced their calling to serve their communities, even at risk to their own health and that of their families. They deserve our praise.
However, even in the midst of thanks where thanks are due, there is something, which at best is misguided and worst, is disturbing. That is how our naturalistic, death fearing society, treats health workers as saviours. If this life is all there is to existence and death is the great enemy, then of course they would view doctors and nurses and paramedics in this light. They alone, in their eyes, are the only ones who can deliver us from Covid-19.
And so we see signs that say, “honk, heroes work here,” or in some communities like the UK there are pot banging parties each night at 8 p.m. in praise and support of these heroes.
Now again, such praise is not inherently wrong, but it is wrong if we praise them as saviours.
100 years ago, there would have been signs and calls for national days of prayer during a pandemic. In an increasingly godless culture, turning to the One who is Sovereign over disease and death has been replaced by faith in medical saviours. Where are such calls to prayer, certainly not on the lips of most citizens or politicians (and even many Christians). I am aware that some organized one such prayer day in Canada. Christian politicians, church and business leaders in Germany recently organized perhaps one of the more cohesive events, but on the whole, a seeking of God (and a proper worldview which understands disease and death as rooted in the Fall and resolved in the Gospel), is absent in our society. It is that, the salvific heartbeat behind the praise of our wonderful medical professionals that makes this all so disturbing.
Speaking to godless Israel, the prophet Amos said, “Seek me and live, but do not seek Bethel…” (Amos 5:4b–5a). Bethel, among other locations the prophet goes on to list, were among the high places, the centres of false worship, false security, false hope, false assurance. These all, “come to nothing.”
And so it is with worshipping the medical system and professionals, as grateful as we ought to be for them, to place our ultimate trust in them over against the Lord is idolatrous and idolatry brings us to nothing. Ultimately spiritual (and physical) life is to be found in the Lord alone.
So may we seek the Lord that “we may live, and so the LORD,… will be with you.”
 Whether by healing or through the Resurrection.
When our toddler son articulated the reality that we had purchased a new home but were still temporarily living in our old one as we undertook renovations he described it as the “new, new house.” Affectionately, this is the way we’ve come to describe our new home.
As many who have helped us will testify, it has been a fixer-upper. The saving grace is that the roof and foundation were in good repair, much in between that high and low has required substantial initial repairs and improvements. The walls and basement needed insulation. The floors took two men 5 days to sand back to their original state, thanks to a build-up of stain, floor wax and linoleum glue. The walls needed patching, puttying and in some cases dry walling (and not to mention the sanding). There was some framing to do, some plumbing, and new light fixtures. Then there were the coats and coats of paint and the many other little jobs (and the gardens to come!). The “new, new house” didn’t involve a simple lick of paint, rather it was a true transformation (see pictures below).
There is a spiritual analogy here. Christianity is not just about covering up the old walls with a fresh coat of paint, we’re in a far needier place than this. To assume we simply need some touch ups is to fail to appreciate how absolutely corrupt and depraved we are as humans and the dire spiritual state we are in before a holy God. Such a faulty presumption would be works righteousness: legalism, that we can achieve a right standing before God; liberalism, that we are good enough to please Him through our charitable deeds; or even Christianity-lite, that we simply need His grace a little bit.
Paul says in Ro 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
We are all, naturally, like a wretch, abandoned, derelict, fixer-upper. We are fit for no good spiritual purpose and we deserve to be torn down or have the match set to us.
What hope is there? None in works, but only in the grace and transforming power of God available through faith in the Gospel and by His Spirit.
Later in Romans Paul speaks of the total transformation the Gospel can bring to our lives, one which is rooted in God’s work to transformationally save and not our ability to provide a meagre face-lift. Ro 12:2 speaks of being “transformed by the renewal of our minds.” The word transformed is the same as what happens to a caterpillar when it turns into something entirely new, metamorphosis.
In salvation, God completely renovations our worm-like life and transforms it into something beautiful and to His glory. It’s as if He puts His “work done by” sign in front of our house so all will stand amazed at His craftsmanship. He buys our property. He fixes everything from top to bottom. The finished result blows the top out of the wow factor, a stunning new home.
Would you recognize the desperate straits the home of your life is in? Would you repent of that and ask Jesus to renovate your life and make you new by His Spirit? In faith, be prepared to be amazed!
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.