Justice and mercy
Won’t He judge them by their words and actions as we will be and judge with justice and mercy with them as well as with us?
Yes, he’ll judge them by their words and actions, and he’ll judge with perfect justice. But there is no “justice and mercy.” It’s either justice or it’s mercy. Those are not the same concept!
And mercy is found only in Jesus.
(Rom 15:8-9 ESV) 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
Mercy comes from the sacrificial service of Jesus on earth.
(Eph 2:4-5 ESV) 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–
“Dead in our trespasses” is justice.
(Eph 2:8-9 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The “saved through faith” is mercy.
(Eph 2:12 ESV) 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Before they came to faith in Jesus, the Gentiles were “separated from Christ … having no hope” and “without God.” And this is so even though many Greeks were monotheists, having learned to worship but a single God from Plato and Aristotle. But they didn’t worship the God revealed in Jesus — and so they were hope and without God. There are no substitutes for Jesus.
(Eph 2:13 ESV) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Outside of Jesus — attained through faith — there is no hope, only separation and alienation. We cross the gulf by becoming “in Christ Jesus,” which is by faith in Jesus.
This isn’t an all-or-none proposition, to me, when God’s choice is involved; nothing in scripture says all those who haven’t heard are in darkness and lost and condemned — nor does it say that all is forgiven for those who never heard because they couldn’t have known about the promise. What I am trying to plumb out is whether God’s justice is so overpowering that mercy toward those who don’t know of the promise is impossible.
Again, you begin by assuming what you want to prove — that the Bible doesn’t answer this question. But it does.
And you weight the scales in favor of the conclusion you want to reach: Is “mercy toward those who don’t know of the promise impossible”? The question begs for an answer that all things are possible with God. Possible.
But such logic allows you to prove anything. All things are possible. Possible isn’t the same as true. Or good. Or holy.
No, if God wanted us to believe that those outside of Jesus might be saved, he’d have said so. He didn’t. What he reveals is that his apostles gave their lives to reach people who’d never heard of Jesus — to save them.
What’s the alternative theory?
Those who teach that those who never heard of Jesus might be saved rarely actually say what they in fact believe. You see, any hypothetical scheme to save those who’ve never heard of Jesus will fall apart when confronted with elementary principles of Christianity.
Might they be saved by their good works? Obviously, no. Do we throw out the entire New Testament to create a works salvation for those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Surely not! Even Adam and Eve couldn’t obey well enough, with the minute knowledge of God’s law they had.
It’d unimaginable to me that we in the Churches of Christ would have spent the last 30 years begging our members to find salvation in grace, not works, because works cannot save — only to then turn around and pretend that those outside the church can be saved by their works. Do we really want to teach a works salvation to our members? Again?
Might they be saved by their faith in God? Well, after Pentecost, the Jews weren’t saved by their faith in YHWH, the God of Israel! The God-fearing Gentiles weren’t saved by their faith in the same God!
1 John condemns even believers in Jesus who rejected the incarnation — calling them “antichrist” — even though he was speaking of teachers who believed in God and in Jesus — but who so deeply misunderstood God and Jesus that they couldn’t accept the incarnation.
Might God accept a faith in love, or goodness, or the divine for those who’ve never heard of God?
No. The notion that we can have “faith” in an abstraction is absurd. As we considered in previous posts in this series, “faith” is faith in person — not legal system, not a systematic theology, not a creed book — a person.
God has built a kingdom ruled by a king, and our place is to be loyal to (have faith in) the king. Nothing else is “faith,” and we can’t yank the term out of its Biblical usage and re-apply it in some existential sense as though faith itself saves. Satre would approve. John the apostle would declare such thinking anti-christian and warn us that such thinking is worldly, even damnable!
(1Jo 4:2-6 ESV) 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Jesus saves those who are in Jesus by faith in Jesus. Faith in love, or goodness, or social justice, or the Divine, or the “unknown god,” or anything else is ultimately humanistic — finding salvation in our own wonderful thoughts.
(Act 4:11-12 ESV) 11 “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 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.”
It is, in fact, one of the great mistakes of the Reformation, to make mental assent the turning point in salvation rather than submission to the King of the Universe.
We see faith in Jesus as somewhat arbitrary and wonder why some other kind of faith that also motivates to good works would suffice. But that’s like asking whether I can be a citizen of US while my loyalty is to China. No, I cannot. It’s not about whether you are loyal to someone or something. You aren’t in the kingdom unless you’re loyal to the king of that kingdom.
Ultimately, I think we struggle so much with these questions because we’ve not really comprehended grace. We just can’t get comfortable with receiving a salvation don’t deserve. And, yes, we don’t deserve it. No one else does either.
We come from a legalisitic heritage, a heritage where we are required to earn our salvation. And it’s hard to wash the legalism out of us. Indeed, we think that by being so gracious as to imagine those who’ve never heard of Jesus as saved that we’re fleeing legalism.
But we aren’t. We’re simply replacing one legal system with another — one we made up out of nothing. No, grace carries with it the burden of accepting that we really and truly don’t deserve it, that it’s a “free gift,” as Paul likes to say. It’s no more deserved than God’s election of Israel or Jacob.
And because it’s undeserved, it cannot be earned — not by works and not by a “faith” that somehow merits salvation. It cannot be merited. It’s a gift.
We just aren’t that special. As God told Israel —
(Deu 7:6-8 ESV) 6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt …”
(Deu 9:6 ESV) 6 “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”
(Deu 10:14-15 ESV) 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”
We aren’t that special, but God’s election makes us special, so special that he dwells within us to transform us — because we chose to have faith in and be loyal to Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. We submit to him as king, however poorly.
There is no other king. There thus is no other salvation.
And we properly feel a little guilty. Why us? What makes us special? Why not my neighbor? To which God answers, “Because I chose you to invite everyone else in.”