Salvation: For Christians Only? (Part Two of Three)

We ended part two by noting that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Love, according to the Bible. We also noted that Paul himself refers to God as the savior of all men and especially those who believe, but not exclusively or only those who believe, making it rather difficult to suggest that the God of the Christian Bible is a God only interested in allowing Christians into His kingdom. But if this is so then why does Christ Himself say in the scriptures that “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)? And if explicit acceptance of Christ as Lord and savior does not constitute the fundamental prerequisite for human salvation, what, Biblically speaking, does?

First, let me preempt a criticism someone would be sure to level at me. “There is no way Christ can be Lord and savior,” I know many think, “if He is not the only way to salvation.” Indeed. But in saying that non-Christians may be saved I’m not saying that all religions are equal, nor that one may find salvation through Buddha or Muhammad, etc. Yes, I do believe that many great spiritual teachers have contributed mightily to the goodness of the world and have served God in their own ways. But I believe in Jesus Christ, not only as my personal Lord and savior, but as that of the world. Yet when I say this I am not speaking with simple religiosity as many Christians do, but rather I am speaking of spiritual truths which, incidentally, is the manner in which the Word of God speaks.  In this vein there is an absolute standard for salvation which the Bible lays out, the meeting or missing of which determines where all of us will spend eternity. That standard is whether or not we accept within us the very Spirit of love itself: God’s Holy Spirit.

Prominent atheist author and intellectual Sam Harris made a documentary that focused largely on the claim that Jesus suggests all atheists (and virtually all non-Christians, though I suppose that using his logic most Jews would be exempt, a thing that apparently did not register to him ) are going to Hell. In it he seizes upon one passage to make his point, but interestingly that passage is not John 14:6. It is in fact Matthew 12:31,32, which is the very passage I see as underlying the Biblical truth that all people who are born of love (regardless of religion) are ultimately saved. How could two people have such radically divergent interpretations of the same words? Well the truth is, many Christians would probably agree with Sam Harris’s interpretation of Matthew 12 over mine. Nonetheless, they are all wrong. Jesus’s words here are as follows:

“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31, 32)

What did Jesus mean when He said these words? Sam Harris took these words as meaning that all those who did not believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit would be cast into Hell. This was the basis of his argument with respect to the unjust premise of Christ’s teachings. But in truth, these words in the gospel of Matthew have nothing to do with accepting or rejecting the existence of the Holy Spirit. I wish Mr. Harris had consulted a few more Christians before publicizing this argument because context is key here, and Jesus is not here nor is He anywhere else in the scriptures conversing with atheists. (The subject of atheism is in fact only rarely addressed in scripture, for there were even fewer atheists then than there are now.) Jesus is instead speaking with the Pharisees (the Pharisees represented a sect of Judaism), men who obviously believed in the existence of the Holy Spirit (the Old Testament does mention the Holy Spirit several times). Just prior to these words of Christ, he was seen by these Pharisees and others healing a man who was blind and mute of his afflictions, allowing him to both see and speak. Upon seeing this, these Pharisees who were enemies of Christ charged him with acting on behalf of Beelzebub (Satan), of using the devil’s power to heal the sick and the lame. But Jesus was using the Spirit of God’s love, His Holy Spirit, to work His miracles. Therefore, in saying that those who speak against the Spirit are not forgiven, what He means is that it is those who identify the Spirit of love and call it evil who are truly evil, and it is these and these alone who are damned. So then does Christ say in the gospel of John that “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.” (John 3:18).

So it is that those who speak against the Spirit of love itself are damned from the beginning because they have a nature which rejects the Spirit of God. But wait, doesn’t this mean that those who do not believe in Christ are condemned already? Only in the spiritual sense, which is the only relevant sense. For we have already heard Jesus say that those who speak against Him are forgiven, and surely one cannot both believe in Christ and speak against Him. Hence by Christ’s own words we understand that speaking against Jesus is not in and of itself a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, though He be one with God. So then does Jesus clarify the nature of the ultimate transgression in the following verse in John, which is not that one has not believed in Christ, but rather “that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (john 3:19). Of those who do not believe in Christ, there are those who do not understand His place under God nor His divinity. These, if they do not blasphemy the Spirit of love, of God’s love, will be forgiven. Then there are those who understand Christ’s goodness, and reject it precisely because they in their hearts reject that which is good. It is these who will not know forgiveness. For as the gospel of John says, those who believe in Christ will receive the Holy Spirit. But it is the Spirit Himself Whom Christ (being born of the Holy Spirit as the physical manifestation of such) identifies as being solely critical to the salvation of a man’s soul. Not that Christ and the Holy Spirit are separate, of course, in New Testament theology. They are one. To accept the Holy Spirit in one’s heart therefore is indeed to accept Christ, whether one ever achieves an adequate scriptural understanding of Jesus or not (something the large majority of Christians never have and never will. Through most of the history of Christianity the vast majority of Christians could not even read the Bible). When Christ said that He was the only way, therefore, He was again speaking of the Holy Spirit with Whom He was One. He was not speaking of Himself as a Man, but as a vessel of the Spirit and a servant of God the Father whose will alone, not Christ’s will (understanding of course that Jesus’s authority only derives from His oneness with God) is sufficient to deliver one into the Holy Spirit and into salvation. Why else would Jesus say what He said in Matthew? Why else would He speak these words in John?

Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (John 12:44-47)

So it turns out that God is just. Why should anyone be surprised?…

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