by George Sidney Hurd
What must I do to be saved? The correct answer to this question is by far the most important issue in life. And the simple answer given by the followers of Christ from the very beginning has been, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
In the past, this simple gospel of “only believe” was often compromised by adding works to the equation, thereby invalidating grace (Gal 5:4). However, today, in our all-inclusive Postmodern society, some Evangelicals have sought to be more inclusive and accommodating to the prevalent cultural norms, even when it comes to this most vital question: “What must I do to be saved?”
At one extreme, we see the Pluralists who deny that Jesus is the only way of salvation, saying that He is only one of many paths, all of which lead to God. A somewhat more reserved view is that of the Inclusivists who, while insisting that Christ is the only way to God, argue that it is not necessary for one to explicitly place faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. To them, one can be saved by implicit faith in a general revelation of God without ever having heard and positively responded to the gospel. They reason that one’s faith need not be cognitive as long as it is sincere and reverent. In this manner it becomes possible for one to be saved without having ever even heard of Christ. A sincere Buddhist, Muslim, or even an Atheist, can be saved through the once and for all sacrifice of Christ at Calvary without ever having consciously believed on Him – or even heard of Him, for that matter. These individuals who are said to be Christians without even knowing it are sometimes referred to as “anonymous Christians.”
Inclusivism is a relatively new doctrine which cannot be found within the Church prior to the Enlightenment in the 16th century. The Church has historically believed that one must hear and positively respond to the gospel in order to be saved. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Inclusivism began to be embraced by many, primarily due to the far-reaching influence of C.S. Lewis who was an Evangelical Inclusivist. Also, in an interview with Robert Schuller in 1997, the evangelist Billy Graham expressed that he had come to believe that people of other religions can be saved without ever hearing the gospel. [i] This also contributed to the popularity of Inclusivism in our day.
Under the broad umbrella of Universalism, we also see both Pluralists and Inclusivists, as well as biblical Exclusivism, which I hope to demonstrate in this blog to be the actual teaching of Scripture on the subject. The main difference between the Traditional Partialists (those who believe that only some will be saved), and Universalists, is that Universalists believe that ultimately all will be saved and reunited in God, whereas the Partialists do not believe that all will be saved in the end – not even those among them who are Pluralists.
Universalists do not face the same logical and moral dilemma as do the Partialists concerning those who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel in order to believe and be saved in this life, since Universalists see no biblical justification for the belief that one’s opportunity to repent and believe the gospel forever ends the moment one’s heart stops beating.
It is imperative that one come to salvation prior to the commencement of the Day of the Lord at Christ’s Second Coming in order to be among the elect firstfruits, taking part in the first resurrection and reigning with Christ during the Millennium (1Cor 5:5; Matt 25:10-13; Rev 20:5-6). That is why we must preach the gospel to the ends of the earth prior to the Second Coming of Christ. That is why I have been serving as a missionary in the Colombian Amazon Jungle for the past 22 years. I consider why it is imperative that we as Universalists preach the gospel in my blog: “Is Universalism a Deterrent to Evangelism?” While Christ is the Savior of all, the greatest reward is for those who believe in this age (1Tim 1:10). Ultimately every knee will have bowed, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord (Php 2:10-11, c.f. Isa 45:22-24; Ps 22:27). In the final Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times, all in heaven and earth will have been reunited in Him (Eph 1:10). But those who are not saved and sanctified in this life will be hurt by the second death – the death to the flesh and the self-life in the purifying lake of fire (Rev 2:11; 21:8). I consider this subject with more detail in my blog: “Sulfur, Salt and the Refiner’s Fire.”
The primary objective of this blog is to counter a new variation of Inclusivism being promoted by some Universalists which teaches that it is not necessary for one to believe in Christ for salvation since everyone was already saved at the cross 2,000 years ago. This teaching was first popularized among Liberal and Progressive Universalists by Carlton Pearson with the publication of his book: “The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God and Self,” published in 2007. According to his own testimony, his deconstruction from Evangelical Christianity began when the healing evangelist T.L. Osborn said to him: “Everyone is already saved; they just don’t know it yet.” This began a journey which eventually led him away from the authority of Scripture into New Age Expanded Consciousness and New Thought. The following is a consideration of some of the affirmations made by those who hold to the Gospel of Inclusion.
“Everyone is already saved.”
The advocates of this Gospel of Inclusion say that everyone was saved at the cross 2,000 years ago; they just don’t know it yet. William Paul Young, in his book, “Lies We Believe About God,” entitled each of his chapters with what he considers to be one of the lies we have believed about God. One of his chapters is entitled, “You need to get saved.” According to him and other Universalistic Inclusivists, those of us who say that one must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved are preaching a false gospel, since everyone was already saved at the cross. He says:
“We don’t offer anyone what has already been given; we simply celebrate the Good News with each one: We have all been included.” [ii]
What is misleading about this statement is that it is a half-truth. It is true that all were included in Christ’s atonement upon the cross, and salvation has been extended to all as a free gift of grace. All were indeed included in Christ’s death and resurrection, and as the Last Adam, all who died in the first Adam will ultimately be justified and made alive in Him (Rom 5:18; 1Cor 15:22).
However, that being said, there is a great difference between the gift of salvation being offered and the gift of salvation being received. There is a difference between provision and appropriation. For example, imagine that a deadly pandemic were to spread across the entire planet which would have eventually killed off the entire population, except that one man’s blood was immune to the virus. He offered his blood, providing a vaccine that would totally reverse the effects of the deadly virus for everyone. The vaccine was freely offered to all, but in order for them to become immune to the virus, each individual had to receive the vaccine.
In a similar manner, the blood of Christ justifies us, or makes us immune to condemnation and cleanses us from all sin. However, just as those bitten by the serpents in the wilderness had to look at the bronze serpent in faith to be healed, we are not justified without first placing faith in His blood to propitiate us unto God:
“being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, THROUGH FAITH, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of THE ONE WHO HAS FAITH in Jesus.” (Rom 3:24-26)
“in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:14)
It is important to note that justification and forgiveness were provided on the cross when Christ shed His blood for the propitiation of the sins of the whole world (1Jn 2:2). However, just as one must receive the vaccine in order to become immune, so also one is not justified and forgiven prior to the moment we receive by faith the justification and forgiveness offered, even though it was provided by His blood on the cross 2,000 years ago. When Jesus commissioned us to preach the Gospel, He said:
“He who BELIEVES and is baptized will be saved; but he who does NOT BELIEVE will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
So, we see that the prerequisite to being saved and justified (free from condemnation), is faith. In fact, Jesus said in John 3:18, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, BECAUSE HE HAS NOT BELIEVED in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Throughout the entire New Testament, we see it repeatedly emphasized that one must appropriate Christ’s provision of salvation by personally placing faith in Him in order to be saved. He must be received by faith in order for one to benefit from His propitiatory sacrifice (Jn 1:12-13; 3:16; 8:24; Rom 3:22; 3:28; 3:30; Gal 2:16; 3:8; 3:24; Eph 2:8; Php 3:9; 2Tim 3:15, etc.).
In accordance with the Great Commission, whenever the gospel is presented in Acts and in the epistles, we see that one must respond in faith to the gospel in order to be saved. When the Philippian jailor asked Paul, “what must I do to be saved?” Paul didn’t respond saying: “You are already saved; you just need to know it.” No. He said: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you SHALL BE saved.” Contrarywise, Paul says elsewhere that those who do not believe will be condemned (2Thess 2:12).
Paul said that the Gospel he preached was the “word of faith,” meaning that it must be received by faith in order for one to benefit from it. He continues saying what the “word of faith” is:
“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you WILL BE saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom 10:9-10)
There is no such thing as an “anonymous Christian.” There are no non-believing Christians. One must believe in the gospel in order to be saved. Paul continues by saying that, in order for one to believe they must first hear the gospel, and for that reason it is imperative that we preach the gospel to those still outside the fold (Rom 10:13-17). Paul begins the chapter saying: “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Rom 10:1). Certainly, Paul did not understand everyone to have already been saved and simply needing to discover that they were unknowingly and involuntarily saved, independent from repentance and faith on their part!
In 1Corinthians 15, Paul makes it clear that one must not only believe in the gospel in order to be saved, but also it is necessary to have a persevering faith in order to be saved. He said:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:1-2)
Paul here says that we are saved by receiving the gospel into our hearts by faith, and anyone who does not continue in the faith had an empty or vain faith which was mere mental assent and not of the heart. He also told the carnal Corinthians to make sure that they were truly in the faith:
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified.” (2 Cor 13:5)
This is a far cry from the claim of those who hold to the “Gospel of Inclusion,” saying that the “Christ Spirit” already dwells in everyone, and they only need to discover that truth. Paul says that if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Rom 8:9). We were without Christ until we received Him by faith, at which time we were born again of the Spirit with Christ’s own resurrection life, thereby becoming one spirit with Him (Eph 2:12 cf. 1Cor 6:17).
Universalistic Inclusivists say that all of humanity is already in Christ. However, Paul says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” clearly indicating that all are not already in Him (2 Cor 5:17). Also, in Romans 16:7, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junias, “who also were in Christ before me,” meaning that they had received the gospel of Christ before him.
“Everyone was already Born Again the moment Christ rose from the Dead.”
Another claim made by many Universalistic Inclusionists is that everyone was born again when Christ arose from the dead. However, since it is nonsensical to say that someone is born again before being born the first time, they usually try to argue that γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν (genethe anothen), rendered “born again” in the Authorized Version, should read “born from above” since that is an alternate meaning of anothen.
However, while it is certainly true that the new birth originates from above, the context in which the term is used indicates that it should be understood as “born again,” as can be seen by Nicodemus’ puzzled reply in John 3:4. He asked Jesus: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Nicodemus clearly understood Jesus to be saying that it was necessary for one to be born a second time. He didn’t understand Jesus to be speaking of being born from above.
Jesus went on to explain to him that the second birth was not as the watery birth when we were first born into this world, but rather that it was by the Holy Spirit that our spirit, which was dead to God, must be born again. Jesus said to him:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6)
Jesus equates being born physically of flesh to being born of water, and the new birth of our spirit being brought about by the Holy Spirit. This new birth was made possible by Christ’s resurrection, but we are not born again until we receive Christ. John says:
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13)
So, it is only upon receiving Him by faith that one is born of God, becoming children of God (τέκνα Θεοῦ, tecna Theou, lit. “born-ones of God”) in His new creation. Paul says that, prior to receiving Christ by faith, we “were children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2:3), or to use Jesus’ own words, the wrath of God abides upon those who do not believe (Jn 3:36). Therefore, it is a grave error to tell those who have not received Christ that they were already born from above in Christ 2,000 years ago.
“All were saved by the Faithfulness of Jesus.”
Another claim made is that we are not saved by our faith, but rather by the faithfulness of Jesus. Again, this is a half-truth, since no-one could ever be saved unless Jesus had been
obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil 2:8-11). However, as with many half-truths, this is a dangerous half-truth, since it leaves the unrepentant sinner under the false impression that he has already been saved without the need for repentance and faith on his part. As we have already seen, Christ’s work on the cross is only applied to us when we personally believe on Him for salvation.
This error is the result of rendering the phrase “the faith of Jesus” (πίστεως ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ, pisteos tou Iesous) as “the faithfulness of Jesus,” rather than rendering pistis as “faith,” which is the normal meaning. I demonstrate why the reading “the faith of Jesus” is the correct rendering, rather than “the faithfulness of Jesus” or “the faith in Jesus” in my blog: “The Faith of Jesus.”
In reality, saving faith is not of ourselves, but rather it is granted unto us to believe by His grace, and the saving faith imparted to us in the day of our visitation when we come to repentance is nothing less than the faith of Jesus, who from the moment of regeneration becomes our very life, our all. His righteousness, wisdom and faith are imparted to us the moment we become one spirit with the Lord when our spirit is regenerated. Once His faith has been imparted to us, it becomes ours, and for that reason it is also often referred to as “our faith,” just as His salvation becomes “our salvation,” His righteousness becomes “our righteousness” and Christ’s life is referred to as “our life” (Php 2:12-13; Jer 23:6 Col 3:3-4). We have become joint heirs with Christ in all things.
So, while it is true that Christ’s faithfulness provided salvation for all, it is necessary that we personally believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved, and to tell sinners otherwise is to fail to proclaim the true Gospel, the word of faith.
“There is no Them and Us.”
In the Scriptures we see a clear distinction between the saved and the lost, the elect and the non-elect, the just and the unjust. Universalistic Inclusivism ignores these distinctions, claiming that, since all were included in the atonement, there is no them and us; no distinction between those who are in Christ and those who are without Christ. Don Keathley is representative of them when he says:
“There was never a time when you were not in Christ. That’s where you were created… This will change your world. We need to see every person also created in that position. That eliminates all the them and us… That eliminates all the boasting that says, ‘well I invited Jesus into my life as my personal Savior and you didn’t. I made wise choices on my behalf and if you’re smart, you’ll be like me and do what I have done. And if you don’t, you’re ‘gon ta hail.’” [iii]
Keathley says that everyone was created in Christ from the beginning, and that eliminates all the them and us – it eliminates all the boasting. In contrast, Paul says that not many were chosen; that in this age God primarily chooses the foolish, weak, base and those who are as nothing in their own eyes, so that none should boast. Boasting isn’t eliminated by awakening to the reality that we are all very good as to our essential being, as Inclusionists affirm, but by recognizing that we are foolish, weak, base and as nothing without Him, and that it is only by Him that we came to be in Christ, who is now our righteousness.
The distinction between the saved and the unsaved is so often repeated in Scripture that Inclusivists cannot deny it without making the Word of God void in order to maintain their unbiblical doctrine. Jesus indicated in Luke 13 that initially few would be saved:
“Then one said to Him, ‘Lord, are there few who are saved?’ And He said to them, 24 ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:23-24)
Especially at the close of this age, during the Great Tribulation, Jesus says that the love of many will grow cold, and only the elect who endure to the end will be saved (Matt 24:9-14). He also said of that time:
“For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matt 24:24)
“And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened.” (Matt 24:21)
Jesus said: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:13-14). He said of His disciples: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19). One cannot insist that everyone is elect, as the Inclusivists claim, without ignoring these and many other such exclusive statements in the Scriptures.
The examples of distinctions being made between the saved and unsaved are too numerous to cite in this blog, so I will just cite a couple more. Paul makes a clear distinction in 1 Corinthians 6 between the unrighteous and those who have been justified:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such WERE some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11)
The believers at Corinth were once among the unrighteous or unjust, but they were justified, washed and sanctified upon believing by the Spirit of God. My last example is from 1 John 3 where John distinguishes between those who are born of God and those who are still under the power of the devil:
“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD PRACTICES SIN, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:6-10 NASU)
John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that there are those who have been born of God, as opposed to those who have not, and for that reason continue living in sin under the power of the god of this age. As Jesus said, we are no longer of this world. We are to be light and salt in the world, marking the difference between the darkness and the light.
In conclusion, the “Gospel of Inclusion” is a deceptive half-truth, making it a heretical false gospel which will keep many on the broad path leading to destruction. Those of us who believe in the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and the final restoration of all, need to take a clear stand, insisting upon the true gospel, the word of faith which we preach.
[ii] Young, Wm. Paul. Lies We Believe About God. Kindle Edition loc. 917.
[iii] Don Keathley. Unmasking the Gospel. Video 29:10