Can somebody be saved by simply seeing creation?
Scripture and Christian teaching are clear that salvation can only be found in and through faith in Jesus. But what about a person who has never heard of Jesus? Are they lost without a way of salvation? Or is there a possibility of another way? This article examines this possibility.
The biblical basis for redemption
I believe it is important to begin this discussion with a brief examination of what Scripture teaches about salvation. In particular, what needs to happen so that a person can be saved.
In John 14: 6, Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the father except through me. “It is clear from the words of Jesus that he is the only way to the Father.
I once visited a church and listened to a preacher who announced that there are many ways to God. Christianity was just one of those ways. But that is clearly contrary to what Jesus is saying here. There is no other way.
In Acts 16:30, the Filipino jailer asked Paul and Silas, "What do I have to do to be saved?" Paul replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." Paul offered the jailer no alternative. Belief in Jesus and trust in your life saved a person.
The last passage I want to look at comes from Acts 4:12. In this passage Peter stands in front of the Sanhedrin and defends his proclamation of Jesus to the crowd in the temple. He tells them, "Salvation cannot be found in anyone else because there is no other name given to humanity under Heaven by which we must be saved." Salvation can only be found in the person of Jesus. There is no other way.
Objections to this exclusive claim
Some will object to this claim that a person can only be saved by believing in Jesus. Sometimes they take this position because they accept that all religions are equally valid. That no one faith has exclusive claims to the truth. And that they all offer equally valid paths to heaven.
Others will object that a person who has lived a good life should not be condemned to hell. Especially a person who has served others a lot. Surely God would not judge them because they did not find Christian claims to truth convincing.
Still others will point to people in places where the gospel has not reached. Verily, God would not judge anyone who never had the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus. Of all objections to Jesus as the only way, this is the greatest challenge for me. And I think it's an objection that requires careful evaluation.
Is there any other way?
Imagine a young adult man or woman in an Islamic country where preaching the gospel is prohibited. And what information is available about Jesus and Christianity is filtered through the lens of Islam. This young person has no opportunity to hear the truth about Jesus. And so there seems to be no way to experience the salvation that Jesus offers.
However, Scripture says that God loves the whole world (John 3:16) and does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3: 9). How can we reconcile a loving God who wants everyone to be saved with the inability of some to hear and know the truth about Jesus? Surely there must be a backup plan for these types of people.
The witness of nature
A possible “other way” can be found in Romans 1: 18-20. In this passage Paul expresses that people have no excuse for not knowing God. God has informed them of His eternal power and divine nature through the witness of creation. This "general revelation" of God seems to offer an alternative to salvation through Jesus alone.
Psalm 19: 1-6 is another passage that speaks about nature's testimony. “Heaven proclaims the glory of God; Heaven announces the work of his hands. “All creation proclaims the glory and majesty of God. Why can't a person look at the sky and see God and thus relate to him?
While this seems appealing on the surface, I find a problem with it. Nature can only tell me that God exists and something about him. But it is very different from knowing God. His wish for me is not just to believe that it exists. It is also the case that I have a relationship with him in Christ. And you can't learn about nature.
So are you without hope?
But I would hesitate to say that those who are born and live their lives in a place that the gospel does not reach cannot be saved. There is a story in Acts 8: 26-40 that I believe speaks to.
An Ethiopian official came to Jerusalem to worship and returned home to read the book of Isaiah. God sent Phillip to explain to the officer what he was reading. The Ethiopian replied by believing in Jesus and being saved.
There are a few things to consider about this account. First, this official had decided to go to Jerusalem. Why? There doesn't seem to be an official business he should have run.
Instead, this appears to be a visit for personal reasons. Going to Jerusalem and buying and reading a scroll of Isaiah would identify him as a seeker. Nature's testimony may have led him to seek the true Creator.
I am convinced that God moved in the heart of this man and brought him to Jerusalem to meet Phillip, and after this meeting this man happily returned home. You can well imagine that he brings the gospel to a part of the world that he otherwise would not have heard.
There are many stories from the Islamic world today that tell of people who have dreams or visions of Jesus, and they send them to people or places where they can hear the gospel of Jesus. These people are not saved by the testimony of nature, but this testimony in nature can make them susceptible to God speaking to them in these dreams.
The role of nature's witness
The Scripture is clear that no one will be saved except faith in Jesus. Creation testifies to the Creator, but cannot save anyone. However, I believe that those who seek the God who is proclaimed in nature will find him; that God makes a divine appointment that enables them to meet and get to know the one they are looking for.
Photo credit: © iStock / Getty Images Plus / sara_winter
Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of the Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and blogs regularly at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married with two children and a grandfather with three children. He is retired and is currently enjoying his gardens and backpacking tours.