Friday, August 3, 2007

Postmodern Christianity: A biblical answer for the man on the island scenario

Acts 10:34, “So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’”

In this verse, one can either learn wonderful biblical truths, or one can become greatly confused. One one hand, Peter clearly communicates that God does not favor any particular race of people — salvation is for everyone. On the other hand, the second half of Peter’s statement almost sounds like a man can become acceptable to God by his works. How should a Christian interpret and apply this verse and its context, while not ignoring difficulties?

One of the questions that often arises in one’s mind after reading this verse is, “Was Cornelius already saved?” The response to this question has been answered in different ways for centuries. Both Augustine and Calvin wrote that Cornelius had saving faith prior to Peter’s coming. Recent theologian John Piper gives good reasons why Cornelius did not have saving faith. My own own investigation of this question has ended still in mystery, to a degree. I see a case to be made for both sides of the argument, and I will discuss this later on.

Solving this mystery, however, is not the point of the passage. Regardless of Cornelius’ state of salvation prior to Peter’s coming, Acts 10:34 and the surrounding context reveal very important truths about Christ, the gospel, and missions.

One of the most important truths taught is that there is salvation through no one else but Jesus Christ. One cannot find salvation through “highways” of different religions. Acts 10 is a great illustration of the fact that faithfully following a non-Christian religion is not good enough for salvation.

Let me explain why. As I have stated in the past, proper biblical study considers not just a word, a verse, a chapter, or even an entire book. One must consider the purposes of the whole Bible — all 66 books, in order to even come close to interpreting a passage properly. That being said, one must remember that over 4,000 years of events have occurred leading to this point in the history of Christianity. Wars have been fought, sons have been born, kings have been assassinated, Israel has been exiled twice, and prophecies have been fulfilled. All these plus many other events have led up to the coming of Christ, Who came to fulfill the old covenant and establish a new covenant.

I say these things to support my next statement: What happened to Cornelius was part of the fulfillment of promises made by God thousands of years beforehand, and these were promises of a Messiah, a Savior, and a Redeemer who would come and save people from their sin. In the book of John 8:56, Jesus spoke about how Abraham looked forward to His coming as Messiah. Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Peter also wrote of how the prophets waited for the fulfillment of Messianic promises: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.”

These verses must be considered carefully. It is immensely important to realize that Abraham, the prophets, and many others waited thousands of years for salvation through the Messiah to come. Most men consider an engagement period of six months or even a year to be an eternity. Sellers of antiques will have to wait at least fifty years for modern-day items to become valuable treasures. The people of China waited over two thousand years for the Great Wall of China to be completed. Yet the lengths of all these events are nothing compared to four thousand years of waiting for salvation through the promised Messiah.

The weight and gravity of the promises hoped for is so deep that to suggest salvation in God can be gained by following another religion or god is laughable. Even to hint at the idea that a man on a deserted island can come to faith without Christ is to deny a foundation of promises so longstanding, that only an unlearned or ignorant person would dare suggest such a possibility.

God promised to the saints of old the coming of Christ and all that He brings in His person,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

And in speaking of His plan to bring salvation to the whole world, God says through Isaiah the prophet,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

What is meant by this “light for the nations”? It speaks of the coming of Christ and the message of salvation to the whole world through Him. After a wait of thousands of years, this and many other promises erupted into the worldwide explosion of the gospel as we see recorded in the events of Acts. Starting with the apostles, the gospel would be preached to the Jews, who mostly rejected it, and then received by the Gentiles, in fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6. Notice what Paul says in Acts 13:47 and the response of the Gentiles: “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

This is astounding. This event, which Isaiah had prophesied about some eight hundred years earlier, was now becoming a reality. And what was this reality? That a message of hope and salvation would come through Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and many other religions? No. God had not designed these events and carried them out so that Christ’s coming was of little consequence. Instead, salvation came through the climactic conclusion of salvation alone through Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” said Peter.

We must understand this! There is no other name, no other person, no entity, no spirit, and not anything under heaven that can save us accept Christ. And in case there is confusion in the interpretation of the word “name” here, let there be no mistake. Grammatically, the Greek word “onoma,” according to Thayer’s lexicon means “the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e. for one’s rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds etc.”

There is no room for misinterpretation here. Any idea, thought, or feeling that even is associated with anything else other than Christ cannot save a man. Salvation is through Christ alone.

God revealed Christ to Cornelius through the appearance of an angel, a vision, and the sign of the Holy Spirit. Cornelius needed Christ, otherwise God would not have gone to such trouble to reveal Christ to Cornelius. If Judaism is an alternative path to Christ, then why bother with 4,000 years of promises and prophecies of a Messiah? Judaism is not an option, and neither is any other religion or religious figurehead. That is because Cornelius, along with every other human, needs a redeemer for their sins so that they may have a right standing before God. They need salvation, and that salvation comes only through the name and person of Jesus Christ.


Rhett said...

Some "Christians" seem to forget that other world religions are actually Satanic deceptions. I am amazed at how some Christians act as if Native American religions were something to be admired!

Thanks Seth!

gordan said...

Nice post, Joker, and I assume the new logo is your work as well. Gotta love it: Luther in a fedora. Primo!