May 04, 2008

How Inclusive Is God?

In the comments of my post on Jeremiah Wright (which has been a great discussion, by the way), this statement was made:

The common Christian idea that non-Christians are all damned just strikes me as incompatible with the mercy and justice of God.

The speaker is asserting that the "other sheep" that Jesus mentions in John 10:16 are people who aren't creedal, confessional Christians, but instead are people who are simply good enough, and are trying to follow the "social gospel." I'm probably oversimplifying things a bit; read the comments on that post for a complete picture.

So the question is this: just how inclusive is the God of the Bible, anyway? After all, it says that He's not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, right? God is love, right? So He'll let everybody in, right?

That's what we want to believe. That's what is most comfortable to believe. A God who lets everyone in.
But then we've got a Jesus who says, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" to people who have done "mighty deeds" in His name. People who have the reputation and the following. People who are doing all the "right things." And they miss out. Why?

Because Jesus never knew them. They weren't His sheep. We become His sheep by faith. Don't believe me? Ask Jesus. John 6

26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Before we can actually do anything that pleases God, we have to believe on the One whom God has sent. Short of that, nothing we can do pleases God (Hebrews 11:6).

So God excludes those who do not come to Him on His terms. John 3:16 says it clearly -- "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Belief is a condition, according to John.

This isn't a new thing for God, though. Cain tried to come to God on his own terms, and God rejected his sacrifice. The rich man tried to come to Jesus on his own terms, and he went away disappointed. Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Not many people are on the right path. God's justice demands that people come to Him by the path He has ordained. God's mercy makes that path available to all who believe. But it's not an easy path, and the people who actually find it are few.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 07:42 PM | Comments (15) | Add Comment
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1 Hi again : ) If we are going to focus on inclusiveness, could you give me a better sense of where you are coming from. So if accepting Christ is the only way, do you believe that everyone who died before Christ is simply damned? Do you really believe that all non-Christians who lived after Christ came are damned? (I'm asking because there is some variation in this among Christians. For example, Catholics would say that salvation has to be through Christ but they also allow for the possibility of "anonymous Christians"... people who are saved through Christ without necessarily being confessional Christians)

Posted by: abdul-halim at May 04, 2008 11:17 PM (Ev9kD)

2 I think Jesus Himself eliminates the possibility of "anonymous Christians" when He says in Luke 12 "8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. " Romans 1 teaches us that the people of the world are ultimately without excuse, but that Christians are commanded to go and tell. This is the reason for the great missionary emphasis in Christianity throughout history. When Jesus says that the way to Him is narrow, and not many people will find it, I think He means just that. It's not an easy path. I also believe that if there is a group of people who will believe if they only hear and get the opportunity, that God will send someone to them. God's in charge, after all, and in His omniscience He knows who will believe. As far as pre-Christians, their faith in God and obedience to Him is counted to them as righteousness. That's what Hebrews 11 tells us -- it gives us examples of faith exercised by people who lived before Christ. So, yes, I believe that Jesus was telling the truth when He said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me." Would I be happier if God had done things differently? Sure. As with Jeremiah, the message that God has given to His people is not a popular one, and it's one that is rejected frequently. But as a Christian I have to stay faithful to what the Bible teaches, and it's pretty clear on this point.

Posted by: Warren at May 07, 2008 01:10 PM (Y0tXa)

3 1. I thought it would maake more sense to go back to the "original" question. In terms of the Luke passage, we could interpret that in the light of the "least of these" passage. There people who acknowledge Christ are the ones who acknowledge "the least of these " 2. I think you are misreading the passage in Romans. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; [21] for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. So God's existence and some of his nature is evident from the creation. That's what we don't have an excuse for rejecting. But this passage says nothing about believing in Jesus Christ or accepting the rest of the structure of Christian theology (Incarnation, Trinity) 3. In terms of pre-Christians don't Jews and Muslims today have a faith which would have been a saving faith before Christ? Why wouldn't it be a saving faith after Christ?

Posted by: abdul-halim at May 12, 2008 10:55 AM (Ev9kD)

4 "1. I thought it would make more sense to go back to the "original" question. In terms of the Luke passage, we could interpret that in the light of the "least of these" passage. There people who acknowledge Christ are the ones who acknowledge "the least of these "" Exactly. The people who believe (those who have faith) are the people who do the good works. Their faith leads them to works, not the other way around. 2. You have to consider the passage in Romans in light of the rest of what Paul is saying to the Roman church. Paul doesn't teach that salvation is in anything other than faith in Christ. His statements at the beginning of the book have to be taken in context. 3. Jews who looked forward to the coming of the Messiah had saving faith. They believed in Him who the Father was going to send. There were no Muslims before Christ, so the question is moot. Today, the object of the pre-Christ Jews' faith is made known, and all men are called to faith in Him.

Posted by: Warren at May 12, 2008 08:28 PM (Y0tXa)

5 1. Yeah, text in Luke doesn't say that. You are carrying that over from Paul and imposing it on the text. 2. The passage in question only says that God's "invisible nature" is clearly perceived. It says nothing about belief in Jesus. 3. My point is that the saving faith of the Jews before Christ is not that different from Islam. These Jews would not have had all the theological baggage of the Incarnation and the Trinity. Just a vague hope of a Messiah and belief in God. Well, if that was sufficient for salvation, then Muslims are even closer. The Quran teaches that Jesus was the Messah, born of a virgin, who by God's permission healed the sick and raised the dead, and ascended into heaven and will return again in the Last Days. That's a more developed theology than even the "good thief" had.

Posted by: abdul-halim at May 15, 2008 09:49 AM (Ev9kD)

6 1. Well, since Luke traveled and worked with Paul, it's pretty safe to assume that his theology was similar. The problem is that you're putting the cart before the horse -- the people Christ is talking to and about are already believers in Him. They've come to Him by faith, and now they are learning the implications of that faith. 2. As I said, you cannot take a passage and isolate it from the context of the book and have a clear understanding of what Paul is talking about. Romans is Paul's systematic theology, and must be taken as a whole, not in pieces. 3. What good works did the dying thief have? All he had was faith in Christ alone for his salvation. Nothing he did in his own life merited any favor from God -- he was a thief, and confessed as much on the cross. His faith saved him. Of course, Jesus was always telling people that their faith saved them. Not their theology, and certainly not their works. Their faith -- the belief that He alone could save them, that only through Him did they have any hope of heaven. Their dependence on Him is what saved them. But I guess He was wrong -- they had to do good works, didn't they?

Posted by: Warren at May 15, 2008 04:40 PM (Y0tXa)

7 1. not worth arguing about at this point 2. all i'm saying is that the one verse you mentioned doesn't correspond to the claims you were making. if you want to say that the book of Romans as a whole is still consistent with your position fine, but it isn't by virtue of your proof-text. 3. ultimately i would want to go back to the original discussion on how inclusive christianity is. To be honest, the faith v. works discussion isn't as important to me as the point that its not just Christians who are saved. I definitely believe in the power of repentance and the power of God's mercy so I'm really not bothered your claim that he had no deeds. For me the interesting thing is that Jesus clearly says he is saved, while his theology is so minimal as to include Muslims

Posted by: abdul-halim at May 15, 2008 07:06 PM (Ev9kD)

8 What did the thief put his faith in? What are Muslims putting their faith in?

Posted by: Warren at May 15, 2008 08:37 PM (Y0tXa)

9 God in both cases...

Posted by: abdul-halim at May 20, 2008 04:26 PM (zQ0OQ)

10 For the latter, I take you at your word - my education on Islam is unfortunately stunted. I heartily agree with you on the former, though. Of course, I'm surprised you admit that Jesus is God. "Luke 23:42 Then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.'"

Posted by: Warren at May 20, 2008 04:40 PM (Y0tXa)

11 The thief DOESN'T say Jesus is God. [39] One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" [40] But the other rebuked him, saying, ***"Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?*** [41] And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." [42] And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." [43] And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Note that if acknowledging Jesus' kingdom means accepting his Messianic claim (something which the Quran and all Muslims accept) but doesn't imply divinity.

Posted by: abdul-halim at May 20, 2008 08:04 PM (Ev9kD)

12 But the thief never prays to God the Father. He knows he stands condemned before Him. So he calls on the Son for mercy. He asks Jesus for mercy. It's Jesus that he's trusting in. So either he believed Jesus was God, who could declare someone forgiven (as Jesus frequently did, to the Pharisees' consternation), or the thief was a polytheist.

Posted by: Warren at May 20, 2008 09:50 PM (Y0tXa)

13 I think you are trying to put more weight on the thief's words than they were meant to bear. The thief doesn't mention the Trinity at all so I don't think it makes sense to argue that he was somehow excluding God the Father. The thief also doesn't say "Forgive me for my sins" he just says "remember me" which is something ordinary Christians can ask one another without implying divinity as well.

Posted by: abdul--halim at May 20, 2008 11:38 PM (Ev9kD)

14 When does the thief call out to God? All I see in that passage is a conversation with Jesus, and a request that Jesus not forget him when Jesus enters His kingdom. Point is, IF the thief is relying on God (as you said, and I agreed), he's treating Jesus as God.

Posted by: Warren at May 21, 2008 08:13 PM (Y0tXa)

15 What you are saying doesn't follow from the text. It's not like the thief recited the entire Nicene Creed from the cross. What is clear, is that (like all Muslims) the thief believes in God (verse 40) and believes Jesus is the Messiah (verse 42). There is nothing in his words which imply he believed Jesus was God.

Posted by: abdul-halim at May 21, 2008 11:11 PM (Ev9kD)

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