Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Gentiles before Christ died on the cross - how were they saved?

QUESTION:
  
I am particular interested in the eternal fate of Gentiles before Christ died and those who never had the opportunity to hear and therefore consider the Gospel.

If all are born in sin (Ps 51:5) the eternal fate of babies, young people, etc., who again never had the opportunity to hear and therefore consider the Gospel.
 
If 'Original Sin' is true, then they must be 'lost'; I cannot see how we can have it both ways. 

David

ANSWER:

David:

More tough questions. I encourage you to go back to the question (#58 in the answers list) dealing with Calvinists for details on the background, and also in infant salvation.

1. Just to shorten it up here, and to set a Scripture foundation, Paul said, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…For the wages of sin is death…And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Romans 3:23; 5:12; 6:23; Revelation 20:14).

To reemphasize, all humanity is streaming, by their choice, onward to their eternal destination in their final locality, the Lake of Fire. This is based on the guilt of Adam, our father, and people’s own personal sins against the Law of God. No one “deserves” to be saved.

Think of this way, David. Let me put up a hypothetical. If I was a really good person, but measured against the perfect Law of God, let’s say I committed only one violation or sin a day. That adds up to 365 sins per year. When I become 70 years old, that would be over 25,000 sins, or crimes against the Law of God. What, then, would be my chances of getting into heaven with a record like that? The answer is none. This, then, is the problem of the human race.

Only one sin is enough to establish our guilt, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). Look at it this way, if a bank robber robbed a bank, would he be any better off if he stole only $5,000 or $100,000? No. Even the theft of only $1 would establish his guilt. He would go to jail regardless of the amount he stole from the bank.

To sum it up, all gentiles (or Jews) who ever lived are guilty.

2. Ok, now let me return to the gentiles who never heard the gospel, and lived before Christ died. Actually, it covers all who lived even after Christ, but never heard the gospel.

First, Christ chose to save some, but it was by grace, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; that that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). What basis did God use to choose some? To the Arminian, those opposed to Calvinism, salvation is by faith. However, they have the notion that God gives everyone enough basic grace or ability to believe, but only some will respond by faith. God foresees those who will exercise saving faith, and elects those.

On what basis, (from the Calvinist view) then, does God elect? It is by His good pleasure. Only He knows. Then isn’t He bias and unfair? In response to this objection, Paul answered, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?...And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:20, 21, 23).

In other words, it is God’s business on how He chose. We are mere creatures created by Him. If we have trusted Christ, believe Him, and are saved, born again believers, then we should enjoy, trust, and obey Him. If others wail at God’s alleged injustice, then let them receive Christ and be saved.  

If we believers wail and begin to dispute, wonder and focus on trying to understand God’s predestination, then we shall soon begin to forget God and the glorious riches that are ours in Christ. Soon, we despair and make God to be the villain. We don’t have to justify God and His actions. That is up to Him to defend Himself. Some things we will never understand here on earth.

3. Now, how does Christ’s Atonement relate to those gentiles who died before Christ? Paul explains, in referring to the Atonement of Christ, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:25).

In other words, the Atonement happened at a specific time in history. However, the effect of Christ’s Atonement applies throughout all history. The effect was applied retroactive to those believers before Christ’s death upon the cross. The effect of the Atonement applies to us today and all believers since Christ.

4. The next question, then, is how are those saved who never heard of Christ (before He came to earth)? They were born again by faith in the promises of God as they best they understood them at that time. Do you remember how puzzled Nicodemus was when He disputed with Jesus about the spiritual rebirth (John 4-9)? Jesus answered, “and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (John 3:10). This assumes the spiritual rebirth occurred before the Christian era.

Then consider Abraham, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).  Old Testament believers, then, were also saved by grace through faith. They were saved by believing God would save them, based on the information He had given them at that time. The content of their knowledge, obviously, did not contain the details of Christ’s Atonement as it occurred in a later point in time.

5. Now we enter another area of some speculation and (and maybe too much) deduction from Scriptural dogma – and a whole lot of mystery into the secrets of God of which we know little.  

The Atonement of Christ is sufficient to pay the penalty of every sin of every person who ever lived. However, it is applied only to the elect who accept God’s promise by faith. There were those gentiles whom God called and elected who were outside of the realm of Judiasm. That had to be true, because people were saved before Israel was a nation (e.g.. Able, Noah, and Abraham).

In Genesis, in the genealogical tables (or maybe it is better called the obituaries), it states over and over the phrase, “and he died.” However, it also states occasionally something like this after Eve gave birth to Seth, “And to Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26).

Again, “Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah…But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 5:22; 6:8, @v 9).

I would conclude, then, that throughout human history, God has saved some people. Since I don’t have access to the Book of Life, I don’t know who those people are. In fact, we are going to be very surprised when we get to heaven to discover who is and isn’t there (Cf. Matthew 7:21-23).

6. Now, about the infants. You say we cannot have it both ways with infant salvation. The Calvinist, and others too, hold that the value or effect of the Atonement covers infants and all those who are not consciously aware of right and wrong. Yes, babies are sinners from the moment of conception, but the Atonement is sufficient to cover their sins until they reach the age of accountability. They are not held accountable, because Christ paid for their sins.

This is not a weak excuse, because even in our own feeble human laws, we do not hold infants and children accountable – nor even the insane. God’s law is perfect – surely He would not either.

Some theologians go so far as to say that is how multitudes of indigenous native people are saved. When babies die in the jungles and deserts of remote peoples, they are saved, because the Atonement of Christ pays for their sin.

But, many, like you, say we cannot have it both ways. Maybe you are right. Keep thinking and studying.

Well, David, here are more pages to give you thought. I do have more “meaty” writings, but they are not yet in a course form. I will, however, send you my writings on the doctrines of humanity, sin, and sanctification. May they will keep you busy for a while.

Stay in touch. I will give you more as you ask. You might consider the course on Gospels and Acts.

All the best; and God bless,

Dr. Newman

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