There's only one place to go to answer the question, can a heathen be saved without the gospel?
And that's to the Bible, right? Let's hear what God has to say. We don't know anything in the spiritual realm in the area of salvation unless we go to the supernatural revelation of God in Scripture. It's not available to us through our intuition or our reason. We can know some things about God. We can know enough to be damned but not enough to be saved. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.
I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Today it seems that many churches encourage their congregations to trust their own thinking, not the Bible, about whom God saves or who's going to heaven. What are the requirements for salvation?
What's behind this trend towards spiritual malpractice? Are there elements of the gospel that are open to interpretation, parts that need improvement? Well, on this edition of Grace to You, John MacArthur is going to explain the reasons people try, in futility, to improve on the gospel. He'll also spell out exactly what God says about salvation and the people the Lord delivers from sin to eternal life. John calls his study delivered by God.
Now here's the lesson. The subject at hand is, can the heathen be saved without the gospel? If Satan wants to do the greatest damage to the church, then he needs to confuse the church about the gospel because if we don't know what the gospel is, then we are really ineffective in the world.
And he has done a very good job of doing that through the years. The confusion about the gospel reigns not only in liberalism and in false forms of Christianity, but confusion about the gospel exists within the quote-unquote evangelical world today. In fact, evangelicalism has leaped its traditional boundaries and has become so amorphous as to need a new definition. But within the large framework of the amorphous term evangelical, there is very great confusion about the gospel.
As if that's not bad enough, Satan has added another level of confusion. Not only do we not really understand what the gospel is, but we're not now sure that we need to even preach the gospel. Because we are being told today that people can be saved without the gospel, without the knowledge of Jesus Christ, without the Bible. And so, not only confused about the gospel, but now confused about the Great Commission, the church is having its great power eliminated. There really isn't any other thing as important as preaching the gospel. It's not something trivial.
It's not something that can be reduced to quibbling. Whether or not we preach the gospel is a very critical matter. And if Satan can trivialize a clear understanding of the theology of the gospel and trivialize our understanding of the necessity to preach the gospel, then he has achieved an immense victory.
And so, we're going to fight back in this series and we're going to make it very clear from the Scripture as to whether or not heathen people can be saved without the gospel. Jesus Himself said that the door into the eternal kingdom is narrow, narrow, Matthew 7, and few there be that find it. Those who advocate this sort of universal salvation through many means and many religions are hard pressed to fit that into Matthew 7, where Jesus clearly says that the door is very, very obscure.
It's hard to find and it's very narrow so that few find it and few enter it. Of course, the New Testament goes on to say the only people who do enter it do so because they believe in and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. They must know about God. They must know about Christ.
They must know what He did. They must believe that and embrace that. Since this is true, clearly the Scripture and the Lord Himself has commanded us in the Great Commission to take the gospel to every creature, to take the gospel to every person on earth in every generation. And that Great Commission has been the church's mandate, the church's duty, and the church's passion since Pentecost. But there is this new wave of theology today, or I guess the resuscitation of an old wave of theology, that wants to remove this duty, to remove the necessity for the Great Commission by stating that people don't need the Bible and they may not even need to know about Jesus Christ or the gospel to be saved. This ideology some have labeled as natural theology, that man by natural means, that is human intuition, human reason, can ascend to the knowledge of God. He doesn't need a supernatural revelation coming down, natural reason going up is enough and he can with his natural reason and his natural religious inclination ascend to a saving knowledge of God even without the Bible and without the gospel and without any knowledge of Jesus Christ.
He will experience some kind of faith and some kind of behavior that God will accept as a good enough effort given the fact that he doesn't know the gospel. It says people can be saved in many contexts of religion or in no religion at all if they will just do the best they can with the information they have and with their natural inclination. This is also labeled by some evangelicals as the wider mercy view that says that mercy is wider than we think. We think God's mercy may be confined to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but there is a wider mercy that includes those who don't know anything about the Bible or Jesus Christ.
If they just do the best they can with what they've got, they'll be all right. Now this not only attacks the uniqueness of the triune God since only in the Bible do you find God as a Trinity. This not only attacks the virgin birth, the incarnation, the sinlessness of Christ, his substitutionary death and atonement, resurrection, ascension, intercession and second coming as if they are just one among many ways to God. It destroys the uniqueness therefore of Scripture, it makes the Bible just one among many. But does the Bible allow for that? That's the question.
You can get there rationally, you can get there philosophically, you can get there emotionally by feeling like it's not fair. And the question always comes up, well what about the people who don't have the message? Well what about the people who don't have the gospel?
Answer number one, you better get to them with it because that's what we've been commanded to do. Number two, if God in His sovereign, eternal, elective purpose has determined to bring people to salvation, then He will be sure that they receive the gospel and we are to be the instruments by which that gospel is proclaimed. We can also conclude from Romans chapter 1 that if people take the light of creation, the light of the knowledge of God in creation, if they take what has been given them as indicated in Romans 1 and Acts 17 that God is very near to them and God is manifest in His creation. And if they acknowledge that and if they recognize by the conscience God has given them and the law written in their hearts that they are sinful and if they have a true desire to know the true God and to have Him deal with their sins, the promise of Scripture is that God will bring the light to that seeking heart. The Old Testament prophet said, if you seek me with all your heart, you'll what?
Find me. Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount, seek and you shall find. But there are people who are purveying this heresy within the amorphous boundaries of evangelicalism that though Jesus is the only Savior, they will say that and He is the only sacrifice for sin, people will be saved without ever knowing about Him or knowing about His sacrifice or even knowing that He existed.
Where do you go to get an answer to this? Not to your emotions, not to your theology, self-invented, not to your philosophy, not to your reasoning. There's only one place to go to answer the question, can the heathen be saved without the gospel, and that's to the Bible, right? Let's hear what God has to say. We don't know anything in the spiritual realm in the area of salvation unless we go to the supernatural revelation of God in Scripture. It's not available to us through our intuition or our reason. We can know some things about God. We can know enough to be damned but not enough to be saved. We can know enough to be inexcusable.
We can know enough to grope, but we can't know enough to know the truth. That has to come through Scripture, and we'll see that in a moment. Now, to look at the Scripture, last we looked at Genesis 3, Romans 1, 18 and following, and 1 Corinthians 1, 18 to 21.
What we saw there was that man unaided by revelation, unaided by supernatural revelation from God, can't know God's will, can't get to God. In fact, in Romans 1, though he knows God to some degree through His reason, he knows there is a Creator, that there is a cause to the effect in which all of the universe exists. He can reason that. He can reason something about God's power, something about His godhood, something about His morality because of conscience, as Romans 2 says. But he can't get to God.
He can only know enough to be without excuse. He can't know enough to be saved because to know the way of salvation requires the revelation of the record of salvation in Jesus Christ. And so we saw that all that ends up for the man in Romans 1 is that he takes the knowledge of God, rejects the knowledge of God, becomes a fool, and turns the truth about God into an idol and an image.
So he perverts it and he ends up as an idolater who feels the fury and the wrath of God. 1 Corinthians 1 tells us the same thing. The most erudite, the most educated, the most literate, the most elite, the wisest of the wise, when they've reached the epitome of their human reasoning, the human rationalizing, the human religion, end up as fools. 1 Corinthians 1 says the wisdom of man is what? Foolishness with God. They don't get to God. It's folly. It's empty.
It's useless. And 1 Corinthians 1 says man by wisdom knew not God. You don't get there through natural theology.
You don't get there through any process of human reason, intuition, or religion. And we dealt with those passages. Now I want to take you to some other texts. Let's turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 2. And again, this is more of a Bible study than a sermon, and I'm really just kind of hitting these Scriptures and grabbing some salient elements. I can't go into detail.
I don't have time for that. You can read the commentaries I've written on 1 Corinthians, Romans, the book of Acts when we get there and get more detail. But I want you to look at 1 Corinthians chapter 2 because there's plenty of insight here to answer our question, can the heathen be saved without the gospel? The end of verse 10, 1 Corinthians 2, starting at the last half of verse 10 says the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
Here's a simple principle. If we want to know what God thinks, if we want to know the deep things of God, if we want to know the things that are not accessible to us, we can know some things about God. He's powerful. He's a God of order. He's complex. He's a God of beauty.
He's a God of life. We can see a lot in the creation, and we can conclude a lot. But if we want to know what's not on the surface, what's not sort of empirically visible, if we want to know the spiritual side of God, we want to know about the law of God, or we want to know about the salvation of God, we want to know about the righteousness of God, the redemption of God, the things that are below the surface, the Spirit searches those things. We have to know that the Spirit of God knows the deep things.
Why? Because the Spirit is God, right? The Spirit of God is God, one with God. And so we don't have access to the deep things. We have access only to that which is visible to us, that which is empirical, that which is on the surface, that which is manifest to the human senses. We don't know spiritual things about God, the nature of God, the essence of God, the will of God, the salvation of God. Those things we don't know. The Spirit does know them.
Verse 11, he's sort of an analogy, who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? I don't know your thoughts. You don't know my thoughts. We don't know each other's thoughts. We can be close to each other. We can be married.
We can be in the same family. We can be engaged in a common enterprise. We still don't have access to each other's thoughts. All we know is what is manifest. The only one who knows the thought is the spirit of the man who has the thought, and just an analogy. So here we are with God.
We're like we are with each other. We can know what we see. We can see a certain amount of conduct.
We can draw some conclusions. But we don't know the deep things. We don't know the thought, what's going on in the mind and the heart of an individual. And the same is true with God. We can see what is manifest by what He has made, but we cannot know the deep things of God any more than I can know what's in you. The spirit of the man knows what's in him, and the spirit of God knows the deep things of God. So if we're going to know the saving truths, if we're going to know the deep truths of God, the spiritual truths, then we're going to have to have them revealed to us. And so verse 11 says, the thoughts of God are not known to anybody except the spirit of God. And then he goes on to say, now we, this is the apostles, this is Paul and the other apostles who wrote the Scripture, we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit who is from God that we might know the things freely given to us by God. And what is freely given to us by God?
Forgiveness of sin, salvation, the hope of eternal life, all of the blessings of justification, sanctification, glorification. You can't know those by human reason. You can't find those by a test tube experiment. You can't know that by rationalization. That is only known by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. You can't know about heaven except the Bible reveals it, right?
You can't go there and know about it. You can't know about salvation unless the Bible tells you. You can't know the means of forgiveness, the plan of God in redemption. And so Paul says, we have received this information. Paul obviously had...who wrote at least 13 epistles in the New Testament, collectively himself and the others who wrote Scripture are included in the we. We have received this from the Spirit so that all of us might know what has been freely given to us by God. And then he says, we speak these things, verse 13, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit. Combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words, it's a great statement. He not only gave us the thoughts, the Holy Spirit not only gave us the thoughts, but He gave us what? The words.
And we wrote the words down. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, right? And 1 Peter says that they were moved by the Holy Spirit and they wrote. That's the only way we can know about redemption. That's the only way we can know about salvation. That is the only way we can know the things that are below the surface, the deep things of God. You get down into the spiritual well and that's only available to us because it was given by the Holy Spirit, two apostles who wrote it down and they took spiritual thoughts and put them in spiritual words. Now look at verse 14 and we could take this verse and drop it right before the eyes of anybody advocating natural theology. Listen to this. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised or understood or evaluated or examined.
Here's the problem. A natural man that is unaided by supernatural revelation, unaided by Scripture, a natural man cannot know the things that only the Spirit of God knows. He can't know the deep things. To him, they are foolishness. They are completely nonsense, is what he's saying. He can't comprehend them. He can't understand them.
He can't grasp them because they are spiritually appraised. They are not rationally appraised. They can't be examined by a rational mind. They can't be examined by any empirical study. They can't be attained by any human intuition.
It's not available. So where does natural theology lead you? Here is the...here's the natural theologian's verse. A natural theology gets you nowhere. You can't accept the things of the Spirit of God. They are absolute folly.
They're just nonsense. You can't understand them because they can only be appraised through the power and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Very important verse. But for those of us who know the Scripture, who have been taught by the Holy Spirit through the Scripture, the end of verse 16 says, we have the mind of Christ. And that really is critical because that completes the Trinity.
The Father is God. The Spirit of God knows exactly the deep things of God, the things that are not visible on the surface by the senses, the five senses, and by our human reason. He, the Spirit, knows the full depth of the spiritual truths which constitute the mind of Christ. What is the mind of Christ?
It's the way He thinks. We know how Christ thinks. You say, how do we know how Christ thinks?
Because it's revealed here, right? We know how He thinks. We know God's thoughts on salvation.
We know Christ's thoughts on salvation because the Holy Spirit has revealed them to us here in Scripture. Natural man unaided by the mind of Christ revealed through the Spirit gets nowhere. He ends up with no understanding. He ends up a fool, just like Romans 1 said, just like 1 Corinthians 1 said.
It just keeps repeating the same thing over and over. Whether you're in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 1, 1 Corinthians 2, you get the same effect. Man on his own ends up a fool, and he ends up in judgment. The only way you can know the mind of God with regard to the deep things, the things that relate to salvation, is through the revelation of Scripture.
That's why it says we live by every word that proceeds...what?...out of the mouth of God, Matthew 4. That's why Jesus in John 14, 26, said to the disciples, and the Holy Spirit's going to come upon you and He's going to do this. He's going to teach you all things and He's going to bring all things to your remembrance.
He's going to instruct you so you can write down the deep things that are not discernible to the human senses or human intuition. You have to have revelation from the Spirit to know the deep things, the things that regard salvation, which constitute the mind of Christ. We, the Apostle Paul says, we have that mind of Christ. We know exactly how Christ thinks. We know exactly how God thinks about these matters because it's been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. You don't come to the true knowledge of God without the Bible.
You don't come to the true knowledge of God without the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just the opposite is true. You end up a fool. You end up not understanding. You end up in ignorance.
And the best that human wisdom can produce is sophisticated ignorance, sophisticated folly. Now, let's go to the seventeenth chapter of Acts because there's more to say, but I need to keep moving to get to the remaining texts in Acts 17. Now, I've had a couple of times the privilege of preaching in the Areopagus in Mars Hill in Athens. It's where the philosophers always gathered and in ancient times you didn't have television, didn't have radio, didn't have print the way we know it today. So everything was verbal and you went to school, as it were, by going up there and the various elite, the literate, the philosophers, the orators were all up there and they had their little groupies and they were giving their philosophies. And so Paul went up there and did essentially what was a very normal thing to do in verse 22.
They were into this. Verse 21 says they loved to get up there and hear new things. So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "'Men of Athens, I observe that you're very religious in all respects.'"
Well, to some people today that might sound like enough. You know, just be very religious in all respects and that's all that's really required. If you're very religious in all respects, you know God's going to count that as a fair enough deal and you're in even if you don't know anything else. But he says to them, "'You're very religious in all respects, for while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription to an unknown God.'"
How interesting. They've got lots of altars up there and lots of gods that they worship, but they had this feeling that there might be one left out and they don't want to offend Him. They don't know who He is, but just to remove any unnecessary offense, they make a concession and put up an altar to the unknown God. He says to them, "'This is a very religious thing to do.
This is a noble thing to do. You don't know God. You haven't hit His revelation.
You don't have the Old Testament. You don't know about the God who's the Creator, the God who is the sustainer of the universe, the God who is the God of Isaac and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, the living and true God, the only true God. You don't know about this God, but you're very religious and you've made a noble effort, folks.
You really have. You've done as much as you could do without having a supernatural revelation and you've got this thing to the unknown God.'" He says to them in verse 23, "'What therefore are you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.'" He says to you, "'Ignorant people who this really is.'" So here they were having achieved their epitome of religion and they were as ignorant as ignorant could be. So he says, "'I want to tell you who this God is that you don't know.'" They didn't know God and God knew they didn't know God.
Paul knew they didn't know God and Paul wants them to know they don't know God. He says, "'Let me introduce Him to you. He's the God who made the world and all things in it. Since He is Lord or sovereign of heaven and earth, He doesn't dwell in temples made with hands. Neither is He served by human hands. You don't walk up to Him with a plate full of stuff. You don't put a wreath around His neck. You don't make some kind of offering to Him.
That's not the kind of God He is. He doesn't need anything. You don't have to feed Him. You don't have to put flowers on Him.
He doesn't need anything. He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things.'" Verse 26, "'And He made from one...He made from one every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.'" This is some God. This is the God of gods.
This is the Creator. This is the One who made everything in earth and everything in heaven. He Himself is the One who gives life and breath to all things. He created everything and He sustains everything and perpetuates everything in the power that He has to give life. He is the God who determines what nations exist and where they exist and when they exist, the point of their origin, the point of their termination.
He is in charge of history. This is the God you don't know. This is the God you are ignorant of. You can't worship some deity and say, oh, well, that's the best shot they can make. They're really worshiping the true God.
No, they're not. Paul says you're not. You're not worshiping. That's John MacArthur, chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, continuing his look at what it really means to be delivered by God. That's the title of our study here on Grace To You. Now, John, today you looked at God's sovereignty in salvation, the doctrine of election. That's a subject that is foreign to many Christians, and a lot of us, when we first hear about it, among the questions we raise is one that we just received on our Q&A line. So let's listen to that question now, and then, John, please respond to this.
Hey, John, this is Lisa Collins from Bowling Green, Kentucky. My question is on election, and I just have great concerns with it. The long and the short of it is, when God created people that are chosen to be saved, does he choose people not to be saved? I hope you can understand what I'm trying to ask you here in reference to election. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Lisa. And that is a provocative question, and all of us ask it, and all of us struggle with the right answer. The bottom line in the Bible is that no one is saved by his own power, not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Old Testament, and the New Testament puts it this way, who are born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The New Testament is clear about the doctrine of election, names written in the Lamb's Book of Life before the foundation of the world, chosen in him before the foundation of the world, predestined, all of that's in the Bible. It is obvious that if God chooses some to be saved, he passes by others. That is what Scripture teaches. The balancing aspect of that, however, is that God holds all people responsible to put their trust in Christ and to be saved. Now while those two things seem mutually exclusive, the Scripture lays them side by side. The sinner is responsible if he rejects. He is accountable if he rejects the gospel, and he is punished because he would not believe. We have to hold those two in tension and realize that the harmony and the unity of those two is clear in the mind of God, but it's beyond our comprehension.
For us, all we need to know is that if we've come to salvation, it's by the power of God, and if we reject, it's because of our own will, and we are responsible. Yeah, thank you, John. That is helpful. And friend, keep in mind our Q&A line is open right now. If you have a question for John, you can call us, record your question, and you may hear John answer your question on a future broadcast. Just us today, the number for the Q&A line, 661-295-6288. You can call that anytime, and you'll be able to leave your question on a recording. The Q&A number one more time, 661-295-6288.
And if you're driving and you can't write that down, you'll find the Q&A number at our website, gty.org. And if you're looking for more immediate answers to your questions, a reminder about our flagship resource, the MacArthur Study Bible. The Study Bible has 25,000 footnotes that explain practically every verse. It will help you understand what you're reading and also help you apply Scripture's life-changing power to your life. It's available in the English Standard, New King James, and New American Standard versions, as well as Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and other non-English translations. To order the MacArthur Study Bible, call us toll-free, 855-GRACE, or shop online at gty.org. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, inviting you back tomorrow when John looks at how some churches have distorted the gospel and how to make sure you're clear on what it means to be delivered by God. Be here for another half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Race to You.
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