Is General Revelation Sufficient for Salvation?, Pt. 1

Inclusivists believe that one can be saved through Christianity as well as other faiths. Ask an inclusivist about his or her belief that one can be saved through other faiths, and he or she will tell you that salvation is possible in other religions because of general revelation; that is, the individual’s practice of another religion or faith is the person’s way of responding to the revelation they have.

Since a person cannot help where he or she was born (whether in evangelical America or Buddhist Asia), the individual can only help whether or not he or she is religious. If a person responds to the “form of salvation” he or she has access to (the form of salvation being the religion or faith leader and doctrine followed), the individual can be saved.

Despite the individuals who do adhere to some form of religion, there are individuals in the world who die without hearing the gospel from the lips of a human missionary.

Surely, God wants to save the island inhabitants as well as Americans, correct? Yes, He does. For many, however, they struggle to understand how an individual can be saved if he or she never hears the gospel — since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17, NASB).

Romans 10:14 is even more explicit as to the struggle many Christians have between their belief that Jesus came to save all persons in the world and their belief that one must hear the gospel through a Christian missionary in order to be saved:

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?

How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?

And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14)

Many respond by saying that those who do not have access to a missionary can still be saved.

I agree; the question becomes, “how can the inaccessible be saved without the aid of a human missionary and hearing the gospel message?”

For some, the answer is general revelation: since general revelation is the only revelation they have, then inclusivists believe that humans who respond to the only revelation they have (general revelation) can be saved.

Unfortunately, for inclusivists, the Bible does not support the idea that general revelation saves.

The reason is simple: general revelation is common to all, while special revelation comes through the preached gospel of the Word of God.

Only faith in Christ saves (Rom. 10:9-13).

Thus, special revelation is what is required for salvation. Christ is Lord of all creation, as John says in his prologue (John 1:1-3); however, at the same time, it is Christ’s coming into the world that “enlightens every man” (John 1:9). As Jesus Himself says in John’s Gospel,

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause’” (John 15:22, 24-25 NASB).

In other words, it is Christ’s coming to earth that eliminates excuses and unbelief. Without His arrival and without special revelation, someone could say, “I did not believe because Christ did not reveal Himself to me.”

Since Christ came to earth, however, and revealed Himself in bodily form, it is not enough to believe that God is Creator by examining nature.

What does general revelation do?

General revelation is God’s way of disclosing Himself to all people by way of nature, as Paul writes:

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NASB).

The Lord’s essence (as divine) and His power are revealed in creation. This seems to be enough, correct? Not so. While creation shows God is Creator, it does not show God as Savior in Christ. This is the reason why “the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Jesus’ coming was necessary because without it, the world would not have known who the Creator was. While creation tells that God is divine (not human or an object of nature) and powerful, it does not tell humanity exactly who is the real God. The identity of the Creator makes special revelation necessary.

A. Does the Bible Distinguish Between General and Special Revelation?

Whenever someone makes a distinction between “two different types” of something with regard to the Scriptures, it is always a wise thing to investigate the Scriptures before agreeing to the division.

With that said, can we see two types of divine revelation within the Bible? Yes. We see these two types of revelation in Psalms:

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2 NASB).

In the same chapter, we read of special revelation, as revealed by God’s Law:

“The law of The Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of The Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

While the law of The Lord refers to the Old Testament (perhaps the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17 NASB).

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

There are several verses in the New Testament that demonstrate that actions involving Christ and His teachings (such as His name, “Jesus”) are only a fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures (Matt. 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17, 33; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9; Mark 1:15; 13:4; 14:49; 15:28; Luke 1:20, 45; 4:21; 21:22, 24; 22:16, 37; 24:44; John 12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 18:9, 32; 19:24, 28, 36).

Last but not least, the Law leads to Christ:

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

There is a distinction between general and special revelation. Nature is God’s general revelation, but the Law (and Christ, the summation of the Law) is God’s special revelation. While I applaud inclusivists for wanting everyone to be saved (and I believe The Lord desires the same thing, John 3:16), inclusivists cannot find the truth by denying the distinction between the two types of divine revelation.

An excellent case in point concerns Cornelius, the first Gentile to receive the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.

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