Available Light: Will God Save Some Who’ve Never Heard the Gospel?

Al Maxey recently posted Reflection 413, in which he deals with the doctrine of “available light.” This is a fairly new teaching to me … intriguing for sure. I’ve never really studied it. So that’s what I intend to do in the next few posts.

Al cites Leroy Garrett as agreeing with his views on this. That worries me greatly, because my initial reaction is that I disagree with this idea. And I’m a big fan of both men — so it worries me a lot when I find myself in disagreement with the two of them. In fact, this may be the first time it’s ever happened. And it likely means I’m wrong (and I hate being wrong).

As I type this, I’ve not yet worked through all their arguments. Rather, I thought I might write as I study what they have to say on this subject and see whether I change my mind.

“Available light”

The doctrine of available light addresses the eternal fate of those who’ve never heard the gospel. Although Al discusses this doctrine in his recent post, he relies on an earlier post as supplying the scriptural support.

Al begins by dismissing the notion that those who’ve never heard the gospel are necessarily saved.

That is totally illogical. It would render pointless any missionary effort on our behalf. Indeed, why would Paul spend years of sacrificial service to the Lord in his missionary journeys if these people were all saved by virtue of their ignorance? It makes no sense! Ignorance is NOT the basis of eternal salvation. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

I agree.

Al then rejects the notion that all who’ve never heard the gospel are lost.

[We’ve traditionally asserted that the] fact that untold millions lived and died without ever having the opportunity to hear this good news, through absolutely no fault of their own, is “irrelevant.” They didn’t “obey the gospel,” so they are doomed to hell. Period. And, furthermore, it is OUR fault. Why? Because we didn’t take the gospel to them like we were supposed to! Thus, their blood will be on our heads.

This is an extreme, harsh, and very legalistic theological stance …. and it is, unfortunately, held by many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is, of course, the doctrine I’ve been taught all my life. This is why we send missionaries. And it’s too soon to agree or disagree.

Al then offers his own view —

Simply stated, this view holds that all men, who ever have lived or ever will live, are amenable to whatever available light God has given unto them. Those who genuinely respond to that light with fullness of faith will be judged fairly and benevolently by our Father; those who willfully reject that light will be rejected by God. … I was also pleased to discover that the vast majority of readers who emailed me embrace this same conviction.

The foundational principle of this teaching is that our God has revealed Himself to all men, although the methodology may vary dramatically. There were times, for example, when God revealed His will to certain men via dreams and visions. These persons then became responsible for complying with the truths and tenets contained therein. God also spoke through prophets. God also speaks through nature (Acts 14:17). He speaks through the Scriptures. And He speaks most perfectly through the “word become flesh” — Jesus Christ. In each case, God has dispensed light, although some lights shine more brightly than others and are thus more easily discerned.

Now, this is an appealing doctrine. It avoids the horrific thought that those who’ve never heard the gospel are necessarily damned to an eternity of torment and offers the hope that some might find God by other means and so be saved. And it avoids the absurd thought that those who never heard the gospel are saved, so that preaching Jesus to them will actually damn those who otherwise never have heard the gospel — making the gospel very bad news indeed for the majority of those preached to!

But is it biblical?

____________________
* After preparing these posts, I sent them to Al Maxey to get his thoughts. He kindly prepared a response that I will post at the end of the series.

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72 Responses

  1. Jay, I don’t yet have a good sense of the Biblical support or non-support of this idea, except to note that there are passages which describe the nature of God’s judgment (e.g., Jer. 11:20 — “O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind. . .”) and passages that clearly teach that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But while thinking about these kinds of passages in relation to the “available light” idea, there seem to arise in me some logical disconnects that I have to work out.

    If Acts 4:12 and the rest of apostolic preaching is correct (about which I have no doubt), then knowledge of Jesus is a necessary step toward salvation. But if God judges righteously, then how will He condemn those who had no chance to hear about Jesus? If so, and even taking the position that the “faith in Jesus” aspect of salvation only began with the first gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost, one is faced with this dilemma: in the days following the day of Pentecost, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide died in parts of the world far too far from Jerusalem to have had any chance to hear about Jesus. Do we assume that, because they never heard, their destination is hell? Does that fit our understanding of God’s nature, God’s character, God’s grace? Is that a God who “judges righteously”?

    I fear my brain is not big enough to work out the apparent contradiction. I am always leery of trusting my own conclusions when they come as the result of logical deduction but seem to contradict the clearer tenets of scripture.

    I look forward to your study, even as I pursue my own.

  2. 2 Chronicles 12:14 NIV “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the LORD.”

    Could it be possible to seek the Lord without realizing it?

    James 4:12 NIV “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?”

    Can we even say for sure whether or not they are going to hell? we know by our baptism and faith we are saved, but what about those who haven’t heard the good news. God is the ultimate judge.

    We can’t just stop with John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

    Those who don’t believe are condemened, but God came not to condemn but to save and he commissioned his disciples to help spread the news so that more would believe. Is it possible to believe in an assertion without having knowledge of the assertion? Ill give an example: can someone believe that God created the world without being able to conceptualize the full extent of the process of that creation

    God is love and as Jesus said even the heathens love those who love them, but what if someone hasn’t heard the good news and loves even their enemy, is this a gift of the holy spirit? is it possible they can love God without truly knowing all of God?(Jesus/Holy Spirit).

  3. Sam,
    its not just those who died in the far reaches of the world, but what about all who died before Jesus was even born? I would hope that though Moses could never have heard of Jesus, God would know what would be in his heart had he heard. If God could know us before we even leave the womb, is it possible that he could know what would be in our heart had circumstances been different and had heard the good news?
    I think so, and if that is the case he can judge righteously and not be a contradiction.

    I’ve also decided that though Mr. Guin has pointed out the problem with the idea that all who haven’t heard would be saved would mean that telling the good news could in fact codemn people, but i think it is more than that. Spreading the gospel isnt just about saving people. You don’t want to hear the good just so you can be saved, but it is good to hear in of itself. It is liberating to know we can live our lives free from sin, because God sent his only son to die on a cross.

  4. Oh, to my question of whether or not you can believe in an assertion without knowledge of the assertion: John 20:29 NIV “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”” So maybe Jesus thinks you can.

  5. When it comes to thinking about this subject and not knowing the answer, I rely heavily on the wisdom described in James 3:17. It’s the type of wisdom that man can’t understand. That is the wisdom that will judge people on the fringe who’ve never heard the gospel. That’s just my opinion. And like Jay, I hate to be wrong. But there might be a hint of truth herein.

  6. I confess this question makes for an interesting academic exercise.

    But it is also a completely pointless exercise. It is only relevant to those of us who have heard the gospel message. If you’ve not heard it, it’s not possible to discuss it rationally.

    And I probably agree with it, because a few oblique references in the text to those who have never heard the gospel, but still try to live as God wants us to live.

    But I have heard the gospel — and it is a gospel of grace and forgiveness. And I give to everyone as much grace and forgiveness as I can muster, which is still far shy of the grace and forgiveness God has given me.

    I choose not to judge any other person’s attempt to walk with God. I can only teach others what I believe and try to be true to it.

    But, I’m sure I will enjoy reading what Jay has to say on the subject. As I said, it’s an interesting academic exercise.

  7. The theory reminds me of the position taken by the old Armstrongism, Worldwide Church of God. They discouraged mission work on this same basis: it was better to have never have heard the Gospel than to have the opportunity to hear it and then reject it.

    Blessings,
    Alan S.
    Sugar Land, TX

  8. Jay
    This is exactly what my kinfolks in Cherokee, NC on the reservation have said for generations. The Native Americans of all Tribes in the USA have worshipped the nature and behavior that God created for us and the God Himself. Whatever they called Him in their language it was always The Great Spirit that knows all and judges all ultimately the same way we Christians do. There is a part of our Gods desires for us put in each of us at birth (Holy Spirit) regardless of our actual knowledge of God.
    Check our Romans 2:6-16 with special emphases on verses 15-16. Gentiles having not a law are a law unto themselves. emphasis mine, but, pretty plain. Hard to misunderstand. Would make a good sermon.

  9. Hey Jay,
    Interesting study. If I remember correctly, our brother James D. Bales also addressed this in his very helpful material on “Not Under Bondage”. The jest of his thoughts on this is that men are accountable to moral law, which of course is enough to prove they are sinners and thus need the saving blood of Jesus like everyone else.
    It supports the mission we all have as Christians, to get the message to them. Final judgment is not our business. But as I see it, all are lost without Jesus. This also is the message of Paul in Romans 1-3.

    This is why it is so important to pray that the church will wake up to this mission and stop arguing over things like ‘kitchens in meeting places’, the number of cups used in communion’, ‘divorce and remarriage issues’ (which we have for ages disagreed on)(which by the way is not beyong God’s gracious forgiveness), ‘instrumental music’, (by the way I believe in acapella music in worship because it simply divides us) and on and on…

    These are things which have distracted the church emotionally, and spiritually. God’s grace means ‘unmerited favor’. I know people will disagree with me on this, but it seems to me that the mission to save the lost is more important than these and other things.
    Just immagine if all the energy of the church worldwide were spent in really reaching the lost. Immagine if IN SPITE OF differences like these, could be layed aside. Things that, in the end, God must be the Judge, and we focus on our real mission.

    It still amazes me… that Paul not one time, tells brethren in Galatia, Phillipi, Ephesus, Antioch, Jerusalem, and so forth, to WITHDRAW FROM THE BRETHREN IN CORINTH. On the contrary, he asks brethren in corinth to help out with money for the poor saints in Jerusalem.

    There are many things we never will agree on with each other. However, before fellowship is severed it must carefully be considered as to whether or not it is over a metter of salvation. The present practise of one congregation withdrawing from another congregation is in my opinion wrong.

    What’s the point? The point is, the harvest is still white unto harvest. There are still way to few to reap the harvest. These people, because whatever ‘light’ they have is enough to condemn, but not enough to save.

    We must get the message out about Jesus and his saving grace.

    Jack Exum Jr.

  10. There is always “some” available light:

    Rom 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse

    That light is “a law” for them:

    Rom 2:14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law,
    Rom 2:15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

    I wonder if we really believe that last phrase: “now even defending them.” Or do we just ignore it?

    The death of Jesus on the cross gives God the right to forgive anyone he wishes, without neglecting justice. What we are discussing is who God wants to forgive. Certainly that includes those who put their faith in Jesus, and it does not include those who reject Jesus. But what about the rest?

    Consider:

    1Pe 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,
    1Pe 3:19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison
    1Pe 3:20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

    Now what’s that all about? Did these people get another chance after they died? Were they given a chance to be saved outside of the covenant in force during their lives?

    Here’s someone who was saved outside any covenant:

    Luk 23:40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?
    Luk 23:41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
    Luk 23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
    Luk 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

    I think we’ll be surprised at who is forgiven in the end — some delightful surprises, and maybe some disappointing ones.

  11. In 1991, I was part of a medical team who helicoptered into a remote village in the frontierland of Panama. We saw 400 patients during the day and held a singing and preaching session each evening. The sermons were given in Spanish with local language translators. Our PA system ensured that all 2000 in the village heard the message even if they weren’t one of the two hundred attending live.

    That week, seven people were baptized. Each of the seven were immediately shunned by their local families with a voodoo/indian belief system. To our knowledge this was the first time in history these people had heard the gospel.

    I left feeling like we had helped seven be saved. The concept of available light says we immediately condemned the nearly 2000 who now know about Jesus.

    God can save whomever He wishes. I’ll be happy if available light ends up having a place. The more in heaven the better. However, from a big picture perspective, I’m concerned that even entertaining the notion will only cause bad behavior on our part. We will lose the whole concept of the great commission.

    Interesting discussion though.

  12. Why isn’t the gospel being preached. Too busy arguing over the Bible, looking to see what arguments we can have with others over the Bible instead of preaching the gospel is a big one. People want to make up excuses, I don’t think excuses fool God.

    Romans 10:15 “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”

    People want to say “what about those who don’t hear the gospel?” as if God has failed. Whose fault is it that people aren’t hearing it? Who did God tell to preach the gospel to all nations – Followers of Jesus. If all Christians were doing what God has told them to do I don’t believe that question would be asked. And how do you know that God doesn’t give visions or signs of who Jesus is to those we have failed to preach to?

  13. This is a rather interesting idea. I first thought of Romans 1:20 but when I went back and read it, I’m not sure if Paul’s purpose is the same as saying there is “available light.”

    Starting in v. 18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. for although they knew God they neighter glorified God nor gave thanks to him but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

    It seems to be that Paul believes God’s invisible qualities should be made known, but people have done nothing to glorify God. Is he actually making a case against avaliable light? Perhaps.

    I guess it depends on who we label as the “godless and the wicked” from v. 18. Well I would interpret that as pretty much everyone since we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

    And also how does one honor God? The apostle John quotes Jesus as saying, “Whoever does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father who sent Him (JOhn 5:23).

    Now the context of that little quote is devoted to the authority of the Son…at least according to my little heading (thank you editors for doing the thinking for me!!). But the line previous discusses the judgment the Son can bring and the line following discusses those who “hear my words and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged…”

    So right now…I see no theological basis for this doctrine and no practical implications for it either. Although emotionally it breaks my heart to think about people missing out on heaven…and I’m pretty sure it breaks Jesus’ as well.

    For right now I’m not inclined to agree…but I’m certainly willing to listen.

  14. I have always held a view that is very similar to the “Available Light” concept. I do not, however, see it as being detrimental to the great commission. In my estimation, those who have never been exposed to the gospel – assuming that they follow the moral constructs innately possessed and naturally derived – are analogous to children who have not come to the age of accountability. They are safe, but not truly saved. Thus to shirk our responsibility to those living in ignorance of Christ would be similar to shirking our responsibility to our children. Would we shield children from the gospel in an attempt rely on the fact that they are safe?

  15. Weldon,

    Thanks for your analogy. I had not thought about that. I do see a difference between the two. I taught my children because I knew they would reach the age of accountability. In other words, the gospel is still good news because it helps prepare them.

    However, to those who have never heard of Christ, the gospel becomes bad news because they now have a new accountability that didn’t previously exist.

  16. This is a very good discussion and deserves thoughtful answers. Does it really matter which position we take? I believe yes it does. Our belief on the fate of those who have never heard the gospel will determine what we think the ultimate purpose of missions to be. No question about this. Anybody who thinks otherwise is just being naïve and foolish.

    First, I think we need to address the question of: Why does somebody need to believe in Jesus to be saved? Most people’s stock answer is so that they will go to heaven, not hell. While true in itself, it obscures the real message of the Gospel because it doesn’t explain why Jesus is necessary, only what the consequences are. It makes God sound petty, and unbelievers are quick to point this out.

    You see, a common misconception (among both Christians and non-Christians) that needs to be addressed is that people go to hell because they haven’t heard of Jesus. The truth of the matter is that people go to hell because they are guilty of sin. The only way to escape hell is to be innocent of sin, and the only way to be innocent of sin is to accept Christ’s atonement. Men are not even condemned because they don’t believe. They are condemned already. Belief is the only thing that can save them from their condemnation. Their failure to believe simply allows them to reach the destination they were already headed for. People do not die because they don’t visit the doctor, but because they have a disease. Our disease is sin. We will die of this cancer unless we acknowledge that we are incapable of doing anything about it, and seek help from a powerful Doctor.

    Second, the issue being discussed here is the notion that people can only go to hell if they have heard of Jesus, and then reject Him. Those who have not heard of Christ are innocent and should be saved because of their ignorance, providing they followed the revelation of God they did have. Of course this is the idea under consideration, often more commonly called the “light doctrine.” But I believe such a perspective invalidates the Christian message. Despite what Leroy Garrett says, this teaching does indeed turn redemption on its head, making knowledge of Christ the cause of one’s damnation rather than their only hope of escaping sure judgment. It presumes that humanity contracts a disease by visiting the doctor, rather than having the disease by nature.

    Rest assured that humanity will not escape judgment because of their ignorance. Even those who have not heard of Jesus have sufficient evidence to know of God’s existence/nature and seek after Him, but all fall short of this revelation and are deserving of judgment (Rom 1-3). Without Jesus all would be lost. Jesus is not the cause of anyone’s condemnation—they are condemned already. (cf. John 3:16-18)

    God has offered us a solution for our grave condition, but has done so on His terms, not ours. That solution is the person of Christ. He is our pardon, taking the punishment for our sins in our behalf. No one else has done this. Now humanity has a choice. They can either accept the pardon, or refuse to accept it and pay for their own crimes. If we choose to reject Jesus what we are choosing to do is stand before God based on our own works. In light of such a choice we will surely face condemnation. Only by accepting Christ’s work on Calvary on our behalf can we escape the consequences of our sins. That’s the Gospel. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. “ (Mark 16:15-16) May God help us go to work!

    Sincerely,
    Robert Prater

  17. Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

    We are to preach the gospel making disciples of Jesus and baptize them.

    Do it and quit arguing over it.

  18. Greetings from the Land of Enchantment.

    As someone has pointed out, God is able to save any He chooses to save. He has paid the price of redemption once, for all. Our Savior’s blood is quite sufficient to cover all sins whether individuals are aware of His sacrifice or not.

    A fact that’s often overlooked is that the Scriptures were not specifically addressed to those who’ve not had opportunity to read them. The statements we find in the Scriptures applied to those to whom they were addressed, not to others. When we appropriate and apply advise, instructions, and commands given to specific recipients as though they were addressed to ourselves or to others throughout the world, we misuse those Scriptures.

    Sometimes it’s hard to admit we don’t know the answers to questions. However we answer the present question, our answer must be based on assumptions about what’s not specifically revealed by God through His Word.

    The best we can do is make our assumptions based on principles we find stated or demonstrated in the Scriptures. God loves. God forgives. Hebrews 11:6 comes to mind. All who have faith in God, believing He exists and rewards, please God and are thus subject to His mercy. Those who see evidence of God in their surroundings, yet refuse to believe either that He exists or that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him cannot please God. Their lack of faith will seal their destiny.

    If we love our neighbors … wherever they may live, surely we will share the Good News delivered and enabled by the Son of God with those neighbors. As someone has pointed out, we don’t share out of fear but out of love.

    Blessings,
    Paul

  19. Kudos to Jay for his willingness to approach a controversial topic with an open mind. How would we ever change our mind — or improve our understanding — if we simply rehearse, over and over again, what we think we already “know?”

    It is important to remember that this is a “process” of considering, that is hopefully only beginning. For those who want to ponder, I suggest part of the problem we have is a too-narrow understanding of what “salvation” really means. We have been trained to view it as an event, triggered by our acceptance of certain propositional truths, that results in us being immediately “transferred” from the group that has no passage to heaven when they die to the group that now has a ticket to heaven when we die.

    I think it is for this reason, at least in substantial part, that we focus on how concepts like “available light” impact our “mission.” What if we viewed “salvation” in a much larger, deeper sense? Jay has cited the work of N.T. Wright here previously. If his ideas about Kingdom, rescue, renewal, New Creation, and the “Biblical” idea of salvation have merit, and I think they do, don’t they provide ample reason and motivation for mission/evangelism (of the right kind) regardless of whether “available light” is valid or not?

    I’m trying to say that it now seems to me there is a lot more to “salvation” than securing my passage to heaven after I die. Isn’t God seeking our help in restoring his kingdom in the here and now? Not completely, of course. But aren’t we already IN eternity; albeit the very initial stages of it, for us? And isn’t our “commission” to make disciples; rather than simply “converts?” And don’t we believe that the Spirit-filled life of a disciple of Jesus ON THIS EARTH is something worth sharing — regardless of what happens to us after we die?

    One other point. Why do we automatically assume that BECAUSE salvation is available exclusively by and through Jesus, that ONLY people who know ABOUT Jesus and who acknowledge certain propositional truths ABOUT Jesus can be “saved?” Yes, what about all those folks who lived prior to Jesus? They are saved by Him too, aren’t they? They didn’t know the things about him (nor “accept” them) that we often consider “essential to salvation.” But we know Abraham, Moses and Elijah, for only a few examples, “got saved” without following any 5-step plan we’d recognize.

    I join Jay in pleading for open minds and serious reflection as we consider these things. Maybe we could learn something.

  20. The people who lived before Jesus came knew the Messiah was coming, Jesus’ blood on the cross saved them.

  21. I’ve thought a lot about this topic over the years. Recently, there was an article in National Geographic about groups spread throughout the Amazon in Brazil and Peru who have never had contact with “the civilized world.” The governments of those two countries are understandably not particularly anxious to let either anthropologists or missionaries into those areas because of the history of mass die-offs due to those groups not having any resistance to western diseases. Missionaries believe their salvation is at stake. I honestly don’t know if that is the case or not. We don’t choose to be born or born into a particular culture. Why is it fair that I was born in the U.S. to Christian parents when others are born into a culture that is completely different religiously?

    This applies somewhat to so called “closed” countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia where 99% of the population is Muslim and missionaries aren’t allowed. Any of us on this blog would probably be Muslim today had we been born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia. So I struggle with this immensely. But the good news is that we can debate this and wrestle about it but in the end, God is in control.

  22. I don’t believe those who live in Muslim populated places are oblivious to Christianity and other religions that so many are fighting over. And there are missionaries who slip through to reach people better there.

  23. No, you’re right. I didn’t really mean that. Of course they’ve heard of Christianity. I (and I realize this is slightly changing the subject) meant to point out that environment has so much to do with what you become most of the time. They are taught that Islam is the one true religion and that Christianity has had a negative influence on their culture. And there is rarely a counter to that as the media is state controlled and very few ever hear from missionaries.

    And I know what the Bible says about the only way to salvation is through the cross but I’m trying to analyze all of this from a human’s flawed since of what is just. It’s almost like a Christian born in a free society is like a runner in a marathon getting to start at mile marker 20 while the person born in a jungle that never has the opportunity to hear the gospel starts at 0 and the Muslim in a closed society starts at mile 5. It doesn’t really sound fair. Of course, there is probably a higher expectation for those who are born into the faith in a country where you won’t die for your belief in Christ.

  24. Thanks to all the comments above. Robert Prater, special thanks for shedding light on available light!
    Don’t make knowledge of Jesus an idol. All those people in Hebrews list were saved by faith in God, accessing the blood of Jeus, even though they never knew His name! I beleive the Romans 1 & 2 are addressing faith in God, not knowledge of Jesus.
    Second, the John 3 passage and similar is probably decision on what you heard. That is now that you know, what’s your choice; life or death? Actually, the Romans 1 & 2, is similar with far less knowledge, requiring one to construct their own law.
    Third, ignorance of this stuff is not bliss! The untaught are dying in their sin, and must reach out to God and obey what they know, and……. Wouldn’t anyone who was seeking God want to know God’s will more perfectly? Wouldn’t they want to know God sent a sacrifice for their sins?
    Lastly, there are 3 good reasons for missionary work; give the good news to the ones looking for it, give a choice to those not considering God, and God told us informed people to do it! It’s a win/win for the hearer, and us.

  25. Robert prater,
    I totally agree. Missions does more than saving their souls but has a profound and liberating impact on their lives when they can be freed from sin. The gospel doesn’t just end with the death of Jesus, there is resurrection and redemption. Why would we not want anyone to have that too?

  26. Anonymous,
    I think arguments over things like how exactly the end times will happen is silly, but the search for truth is never fruitless. Sometimes it can teach us truths of even ourselves upon reflection. This intellectual exercise on “available light” can have a profound impact on how and the purpose of our missions work. You don’t go into war without understanding your own capabilities or without understanding the enemy or you will lose. It also can help us reflect on the full extent of our own grace and salvation. God’s grace is greater than we can ever comprehend, but if we can at least comprehend a little more maybe we can be that much more thankful.

  27. There is much meaning and significance of the Hebrew name given to the divine Son.

    The Greek translation of the English word Jesus is “Iesus” which was translated from the Hebrew word “Yeshua”. Yeshua means Salvation. His name is found about 100 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.

  28. When did I say searching for truth is fruitless? I think it can become what it shouldn’t be when we are wanting to argue opinions over the Bible more than we are wanting to preach the gospel to those who haven’t heard.

  29. Anonymous,

    Yeshua, as i understand it, specifically identifies YHWH as Savior. I.e., it means more than Savior. The English translation Jesus doesn’t convey the significance of the Name given the Son of God very well. Every time we see LORD in all caps in an English translation, we should identify it with the Living God. Yashua, or Y’shua, embeds the holy Name of the Most High in that of the Son.

    Paul

  30. Who is Holy, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament tell us.

  31. I’m not sure I buy all of Al’s argument. I will study the idea. I just don’t want people to withdraw from one another and be mean spirited to one another based on whether or not they accept these thoughts…

  32. John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

    John 5:43 “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.”

  33. Zach,

    I believe in Jesus but I haven’t seen him in the same sense that the apostles did. And consider —

    (Rom 10:14) How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

  34. David,

    Hard to say whether it’s an academic exercise until we know the outcome … right?

    If only those who reject the gospel are damned, then maybe we should only send missionaries where the gospel is already known?

    I’ve been in classes (years ago) where it was seriously argued that we send people to hell by sending missionaries (as preaching the gospel causes most to reject the gospel) but we do it because we’re commanded to do so! In short, we send others to hell so we won’t go to hell!!

    This teaching is still among us.

    If some are saved without knowing Jesus due to “available light,” poor teaching by a missionary might actually damn someone who’d otherwise have been saved — by failing to save someone who was saved by AL.

    Both teachings can have an impact on how zealous we are for mission work. And they affect how we teach missions to our congregations. It may even have an effect — as some have already noted — on how we perceive “saved” and “lost.”

    And the traditional teaching that God will damn billions who’ve never heard the gospel is so difficult that some struggle to accept Jesus because of it.

    So I don’t see it as purely academic at all. And besides, in the worst case, we’ll get to study Romans some, and that’s always good.

  35. i don’t disagree, but what about all those who died before Jesus was born? could they have believed in him had they been born after?

  36. They already believed in Him. They believed what God said was true.

  37. Jack,

    I pulled out my old copy of Not Under Bondage. Bales argues that Paul’s and Jesus’ “legislation” is not binding on those outside of covenant relationship with him. He argues that Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matt 19:9 did not go into effect until Pentecost.

    Paul does not explain things that way in Romans nor does Jesus speak as though his words (interpreting Deu 24!) weren’t yet effective.

    I doubt that Bales means that the lost are exempt from all God’s laws (or else they’d be sinless, right?) Rather, he seems to argue that the MDR commands are positive commands uniquely binding on Christians. If that’s right, he’s not really making an Available Light argument.

    But it’s easy to see how such teaching could lead some to conclude that those who’ve never heard the gospel aren’t lost. But Bales argues at 195 ff that even those lost people who know God’s will regarding divorce aren’t bound by that law because they aren’t yet in covenant relationship.

    PS — I’m not really interested in one more MDR discussion (really).

  38. Alan,

    The thief of the cross believed that Jesus is the Messiah. “Come in your kingdom” is a reference to the prophetic language re the Messiah.

  39. Chris,

    Thanks. When I was a teenager, I was taught that everyone in the world could learn about Jesus if he wanted to! I’m pretty sure that’s not true today, and can’t imagine arguing that was true in, say, 1000 AD.

  40. Robert,

    Glad to see you’re still among the readers. And I agree: it matters for lots of reasons, not the least of which is whether we are working from a sound understanding of what salvation is all about.

  41. Dan

    I agree. You never know what someone will up and decide is a salvation issue (seems it’s often pretty subjective, to me), but this certainly shouldn’t be one of them.

    We seem to have a wide variety of views being expressed here, which means it’s a topic that needs discussing.

    PS — No one’s hit on my crazy opinion yet, so everyone disagrees with me. I’m about to get used to it, though.

  42. Jay

    I can see that you have the spirit of Christ in you, and I’m praying that more brothers and sisters will read your blogs. I am very muh interested in your book on the Holy Spirit. God is good.

  43. even if it was possible to be saved without hearing of Jesus, saying that preaching the gospel to them could possibly mean that less would be saved is false. if it is possible then the same people who would accept Him without hearing would accept Him after hearing and the same people who would reject him after hearing would reject him without hearing.

  44. and again the gospel is not just about salvation but also reconciliation, so we should preach it anyway.
    i think we can apply Pascals wager here (Pascal said that we should believe in God whether or not he exists just in case he does) in that we should preach the gospel whether or not it’s possible to be saved without it just in case it isn’t possible.

  45. All have sinned. The wages of sin is death. Jesus died so that sinners could be saved. Only those enter into life who are born again of water and the spirit. Some refuse to believe that all HAVE sinned and that the wages of sin IS death. We’d surely better get the word out about how sin can be remitted. Acts 2:38 tells the tale.

  46. Jesus was replying to Nicodemus that there is more than the first birth of water from the womb he also needs to be born of the Spirit.

    John 3:6-8 “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I say to you, ‘You must be born again’. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    After Peter spoke the gospel to Cornelius and his household they believed and were given the Holy Spirit belonging to Him. (Acts 34-44, Acts 15:7-8).

  47. Acts (10:34-44, Acts 15:7-8).

  48. Anon, I doubt, and I think most commentaries would agree that Jesus and Nicodemus is talking of a special Spirit baptism. Nic was probably one ot those that John complained about repentance being a Jewish leader.

  49. The meaning of John 3:5 has been debated for centuries, with strong proponents of immersion in water convinced the reference to water means baptism. For those of faith only persuasion, it must mean something else … such as the water of physical birth. Some even think the passage is a gloss appended by later disciples to fortify the case that immersion in water is necessary to salvation. Since Jesus spoke with Nic long before John wrote his gospel, the case that He intended a reference to immersion in water seems weak. But John lived much later, during an era in which immersion in water was the common practice. Did John modify the conversation in support of Christian doctrine? God knows.

    Paul

  50. Those who want it to say baptism will think as such. The context makes it clear what Jesus was saying when He replied to Nicodemus.

  51. The context makes it clear…

    Yes it does…

    Joh 1:31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

    Joh 1:33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

    Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

    Joh 3:22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.
    Joh 3:23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized

  52. People who want it to say baptism will try to make such a stretch, but is not within the same context of when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Jesus was baptized days before Nicodemus. Jesus never told Nicodemus to go to the Jordan River and be baptized. Why didn’t Jesus take Nicodemus to the Jordan River and tell him to be baptized?

    The context of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is very clear.

  53. When were the apostles baptized, being as you say is the event all people are saved it would be of significance and importance to record the apostles baptism.

  54. Do you know Christians who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit yet have never been immersed in water? If the answer is yes, the fruit of the Spirit testifies there is nothing magic in the water. On the other hand, if one believes immersion in water is the will of God, it is necessary as the appeal of a good conscience toward God. The key is submission to the will of God in whatever manner that will has been revealed to one who believes God exists and rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Our Lord gave His life to cover our lack of understanding in our efforts to seek Him. Since we all fall short, we must trust in His willingness to forgive that lack of understanding both with regard to ourselves and with regard to others. What, but pride, would make me think God more willing to forgive my errors than those of others? Call this ‘available light’ or something else if you will. It’s consistent with the love that moved God to send His Son to deliver us from the rightful consequence of sin.
    Paul

  55. Paul took the gospel to the Gentiles. Doesn’t that answer the question for us?

    To entertain that non believers…who do not have faith in Jesus the Son…may be saved seems to suggest that the great commission is limited. What good can come of this kind of intellectualizing?

    I have to concur with the statement Anonymous made above at 10/9 at 12:12…………

    “Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

    We are to preach the gospel making disciples of Jesus and baptize them.

    Do it and quit arguing over it.”

  56. Robert Prater, I just read your comment made on 10/09/09 11:44: I couldn’t have said it better.

    Is Leroy Garrett on record as supporting this “available light” doctrine? Please tell me no. I’ll feel better if you tell me you made it up. I will forgive you.

  57. Do you know Christians who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit yet have never been immersed in water?

    I know Hindu’s who have love, joy, peace, patience… That doesn’t mean they are saved.

    On the other hand, if one believes immersion in water is the will of God, it is necessary as the appeal of a good conscience toward God.

    Agreed.

    Since we all fall short, we must trust in His willingness to forgive that lack of understanding both with regard to ourselves and with regard to others. What, but pride, would make me think God more willing to forgive my errors than those of others?

    Baptism doesn’t make God more willing to forgive. OTOH, faith and repentance do make God more willing to forgive. I believe baptism is given for our benefit, not for God’s benefit. It provides a marker we can look back at to give us confidence in our salvation, to reassure us that we were born again, that we were forgiven, and that we have the Holy Spirit within us — that we have all the promises associated with baptism in scripture. That’s how Paul used baptism in his teaching. We need that reassurance. Note how many people have tried to pray Jesus into their hearts multiple times in their lives. So many believers are not confident in their salvation. Collectively we’ve confused ourselves and done a great deal of harm to one another by failing to stick to the biblical process for conversion.

    Whether or not God will forgive those people is a different question. It comes back to the question of “available light”. Will God forgive those who fall short because they don’t know better?

  58. The thief of the cross believed that Jesus is the Messiah. “Come in your kingdom” is a reference to the prophetic language re the Messiah.

    He didn’t fulfill the requirements of the old covenant (Lev 6:1-7). And he didn’t fulfill the requirements of the new covenant either. (Acts 2:38). Besides, he didn’t live under the new covenant. Covenants don’t come into effect until the death of the one who made the covenant.

    The thief on the cross illustrates the fact that God can forgive whomever he wants, even people who fail to obey the covenant under which they live.

  59. Alan,

    Good post, including the last paragraph. The instruction to go and baptize is given to those who’ve become disciples. It doesn’t tell us God’s decision toward those who never hear. What we speculate about that is by inference rather than knowledge. Some plant, others water, but God gives the increase.

    Stan’s certainly right about the bottom line. Go teach all our Savior has commanded, immersing all in His Name.

    Paul

  60. To say the thief didn’t live after the new covenant came in effect is very unbiblical. Jesus died before the thief, Jesus’ legs were not broken since he had already died the thief’s legs were broken since he was still alive (John 19:31-33).

  61. What you are not getting is that the people before and after the cross who are saved are all saved the same – we are not saved by performing acts of righteousness but by the all sufficient blood Jesus sacrificed on the cross.

  62. 1) the thief – – so what are you saying? Surely you don’t mean to say that since the thief died after Jesus, then he could only have been eternally saved if, before he died, he confessed the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior, and — for some, I guess — made his way off his cross to get baptized?

    2) No one was EVER saved by acts of righteousness. Everyone who will be in heaven will have been saved because of God’s grace recognizing their submissive faith.

  63. The thief was saved because of his faith and his repentance. He didn’t meet the formal Mosaic requirements for forgiveness (animal sacrifice) nor the formal Christian requirements (baptism), but he came to God with faith and penitence, and he was saved.

    That tells us much about the heart of God. It doesn’t argue that one can be saved without faith in Jesus.

  64. “No one was EVER saved by acts of righteousness.”

    Amen, Sam!

  65. That tells us much about the heart of God. It doesn’t argue that one can be saved without faith in Jesus.

    Few if any of the OT Israelites had faith in Jesus.

    The point is that faith in Jesus is a condition of the current covenant. You can’t be saved under this covenant without faith in Jesus. But the thief on the cross illustrates that God can forgive people outside the terms of the currently-in-force covenant. He has done so at least once. Whether he will do so for others, only God knows.

  66. Who exactly do you think the Hebrew Scripture prophets and others worshiped and believed in, who did they prophesy about was to come? They were looking forward to the same Messiah to save them that we look back to who saved us.

  67. Jews today still put their faith in their misguided concept of the messiah. Being a Christian requires something different.

  68. Anon, Hebrews 11:6 spoke of faith in God (i.e., the Father), than faith in the Messiah. The Messiah was to be and is … for lack of better words … the instrument of salvation. God is Savior. See, for example, Isaiah 43:3, 45:14, 45:21 … et cetera. See also 1 Tim 1:1.

  69. Jews that don’t believe the Messiah came are rejecting God.

    Many Jews had turned to religion to save them instead of God. Gentiles are also doing the same thing.

  70. Jay,
    You said a few days ago, “No one’s hit on my crazy opinion yet.”

    I like challenges. So I thought I would try to guess this morning. Could it be…

    *God saves only those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

    *He condemns all others because of their sins (not because of their lack of faith).

    *Those who have rejected the gospel of Christ will face an eternity in hell.

    *But those who have never had the chance to reject Christ will be destroyed early in hell rather than suffer eternally.

    *This would explain the passages that refer to the eternality of hell, the passages that refer to one’s destruction in hell, and the passages that refer to degrees of punishment in hell.

    Am I close? Or do you have another “crazy” idea in mind? (By the way, everyone, I’m not trying to argue. I’m just trying to make a guess at Jay’s position.)

  71. I am on the side of prevenient grace applied to Rom 2:12-16).

  72. Terry,

    You’re getting warm …

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