Christian Scripture affirms first, that Jesus alone has accomplished the atoning work necessary to save sinners, and second, that knowledge of and faith in Christ is necessary for anyone to be saved and go to heaven.
Is Jesus the Only Savior? Is faith in Christ Necessary to be Saved?
Inclusivism answers the first question, ‘Yes,' and the second question, ‘No.' To the inclusivist, although Jesus has accomplished the work necessary to bring us back to God, nonetheless, people can be saved by responding positively to God's revelation in creation and perhaps in aspects of their own religions. So, even though Christ is the only Savior, people do not have to know about or believe in Christ to be saved.
Pluralism answers both questions, ‘No.' The pluralist believes that there are many paths to God, Jesus being only one of them. Since salvation can come through other religions and religious leaders, it surely follows that people do not have to believe in Christ to be saved.
Exclusivism answers both questions, ‘Yes.'
Jesus is the Only Way
Why do Christians think that Jesus is the only Savior? Of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.
1. Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus' conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother.
2. Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:1; Philippians 2:5; 1 Timothy 2:5), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. No one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man.
3. Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 2:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 9:13; 1 Peter 2:21), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. This prefigured the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. No one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life.
4. Christ alone died a penal, substitutionary death (Isaiah 53:4; Romans 3:21; 2 Corinthians 2:21; Galatians 3:10), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And because Christ lived a sinless life, he did not deserve to die. The death that he died was in our place. No one else in the history of the world has died because he bore the sin of others and not as the judgment for his own sin.
5. Christ alone rose from the dead triumphant over sin (Acts 2:22; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:16), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The Bible indicates that a few people, other than Christ, have been raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17; John 11:38), but only Christ has been raised from the dead never to die again, having triumphed over sin. The wages of sin is death, and the greatest power of sin is death. So, Christ's resurrection from the dead demonstrates that his atoning death for sin accomplished both the full payment of sin's penalty and full victory over sin's greatest power. No one else in the history of the world has been raised from the dead triumphant over sin.
Faith is Necessary to be Saved
Why do Christians think that faith in Christ is necessary to be saved? The gospel focuses directly upon the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, and that by faith in Christ one is forgiven of their sin and granted eternal life.
1. Jesus' own teaching shows that the nations need to hear and repent to be saved (Luke 24:44). Jesus commands that "repentance and forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). The people Jesus here describes are currently both unrepentant and unforgiven. To be forgiven they must repent. But to repent they must hear the proclamation of Christ's work in his name.
2. Paul teaches that even pious Jews, and everyone else, must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Romans 10:1). Paul's heart's desire and prayer is for the salvation of his fellow Jews. Even though they have a zeal for God, they do not know that God's righteousness comes only through faith in Christ. So these Jews, even though pious, are not saved. Whoever will call upon the name of Christ (see Romans 10:9along with Romans 10:13) will be saved.
3. Cornelius's story demonstrates that even pious Gentiles must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Acts 10:1, Acts 10:38; Acts 11:13; Acts 15:7). Far from being saved before Peter came to him, as some think, Cornelius was a pious (Acts 10:2) Gentile who needed to hear of Christ, and believe in Christ, to be saved. When Peter reports about the conversion of the Gentiles, he declares that only when he preached did Cornelius hear the message he needed to hear by which he would "be saved" (Acts 11:14; cf. Acts 15:8). Despite his piety, Cornelius needed to hear the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to be saved.
Watch Matt Smethurst, managing editor of The Gospel Coalition, discuss, “How do we know that Jesus is the only way to God?”
This article was adapted from the original on Christianity.com by Dr. Bruce Ware.
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