Belief in Jesus is necessary to eternal life. This is insisted upon by the New Testament and has been the conviction of the Church through the centuries. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved” is a phrase that was coined within a few weeks of the death of Christ and it is still declared at street corners by open-air evangelists and in many a tract and book designed to catch the attention and interest of the unconverted. A few generations ago Salvation Army lasses used to lead the “drunks” out of the beerhouses into the local Citadel and to the penitent form and if these in their semi maudlin state expressed belief in Jesus a shout of Hallelujahs went up; the man was “saved”. In present days attendants at revivalist rallies will answer the appeal to “come forward” and, perhaps somewhat more clear-headedly and intelligently, declare their conversion, and again the Lord is praised aloud for brands snatched from the burning and the counselors get busy to establish the new-found faith of the converts. But always the emphasis is upon the impossibility of salvation without this definite profession of faith.
In modern times this attitude is being questioned, not only by “modernists” who claim, with truth, that “there is good in all religions”, but also by some thinking Christians who realize that there have been, and are, some exceedingly good men who nevertheless are not Christians. One might cite the case of the Mahatma Gandhi, who, had he professed the Christian faith, would undoubtedly have been considered a saint. A character manifestly fit for Heaven, yet living and dying in the Hindu faith, is he to be denied entry on that account? It would be easy to quote similar examples and almost everybody could find such among their personal acquaintances in daily life.
Nevertheless, the New Testament is adamant. There is a future never-ending life but no one will attain it without deliberate and intelligent avowal of faith in, and acceptance of, and the linking of life with, the Lord Jesus Christ. “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” insisted Peter in Acts 4:12 — “Believe in the name of Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” said Paul to the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:34). “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart . . . . thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). There is no escape from this basic principle, so clearly enunciated so many times in Scripture; there is no possibility of eternal life for any man, however moral, noble, and good, unless and until he has consciously and intelligently accepted Christ and begun to conform his life and his being to the will and purpose of God. It is not that God has established an arbitrary dictum which he will modify or dispense with in individual cases when he sees fit; this demand is fundamental to the nature of Divine creation and things cannot be otherwise than they are.
There is a reason for this. We do not understand all the secrets of life and Nature, although researchers have made a lot of progress in recent years, but we do know that God is the source and sustainer of all life and the origin of all power — energy. Without access to that power and life man would cease to be. “If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh shall perish together and man shall turn again unto dust:, said Elihu the philosopher. (Job 35:41). We do not understand in anything like fulness the relationship and unity which exists between the Father and the Son, but we do know that the Son is the manifestation of the Father to man and the channel through which life comes to man. Hence the insistence of Scripture in so many places; “My sheep hear my voice . . . . and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (John 10:27-28). “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).
Now what the Scriptures call eternal life has a quality which does not exist in the measure of animal, physical, life which we possess at present. This is a life which must inevitably be terminated by death; that is a life which is infinitely continuous, never-ending. This life is one which, resulting from the original implanting of life in our first parents at the beginning, has been cut off from its sustaining source in God by sin, and is thereby defective and cannot endure. That is life continuing in full union with God through Christ, and being thus continuously derived from the immortal source of life will never end. But an essential factor in this union with the source of life is belief in, and acceptance of, and union with, the channel through which it comes and that is why the New Testament writers were so adamant that conscious and deliberate acceptance of Christ as Lord and acknowledgment of belief in him as Savior and medium of union with God is essential to salvation.
This is what is meant by being “born again”, to use a very familiar expression, although a more accurate rendering of the Greek is “begotten again”. The next step after conversion and acceptance of Christ as Lord is the unreserved and unconditional dedication of life, abilities and possessions to him for his service and the conscious deliberate resolve to live for him and in union with him, for the remainder of life and for all time. The Apostle Paul says that one who has reached this point has become a “new creation”, that old things have passed away and all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the point at which the inner being is quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit in the beginning of a new and eternal life which comes to the believer through Christ; this is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:11). And this means something much more than mere mental belief in the reality and the saving power of Christ or an outward verbal profession of faith in him; it means a vital linking of life with Christ and willing association with him in all for which he stands, even unto death. “We are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans 5:4-5). There is purpose in all this, for those who thus give themselves in complete consecration to the end of life become thereby members of the Church which is his Body, associated with Christ in all that he does in all the coming ages of eternity. These are they who are said to “reign with him” when he comes to rule the world in the day of his power; these are they who are gathered to him at his promised Second Coming when the “dead in Christ” are raised to life and the “living that remain” changed” to spiritual life to see him as he is and to be like him. (Revelation 20:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:5-53; 1 John 3:2).
This, then, is the path to the eternal state for all who, in this present Age, hear the invitation of God in Christ, and hearing, heed, and convert, and accept, and follow in the footsteps of the Redeemer, trusting in the efficacy and the power of his death on their behalf, until at the end of earthly life they find themselves at the beginning of a new and more abundant life in a sphere where sin and evil, frustration and imperfection, disease and death, are no more, and where Christ is All in All (see Colossians 3:11). From then on, life is without flaw, one of continuing progress and development and achievement in the ever-present radiance of the glory of God.
But what of those who have never heard, or whose capacity for hearing is so impaired that they cannot respond to the Divine invitation, and so, unwittingly and through no fault of their own, live life through and pass into death without even hearing, or at least without having ability to understand, the significance of the only Name given under heaven whereby men can be saved. What has God provided for them?