How Much? How Little?

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this topic, but I thought it was an interesting question.

How much, or how little do you need to know to achieve salvation?

Of course, these questions are all just hypotheticals. 

What if you are a person in a mountain community who only has heard of this Jesus character as a great moral teacher and sometimes people will come into town and tell you something new about Jesus and you love learning about him, his teachings and his life.  You live your life as best as you can according to what you know, but that is all? 

Do you have to know he died for your sins?

Do you have to know where he was from?  When he lived?  What if someone told you the story about Jesus, but told you that he was from Greece in the 1940s and you believed it?

Do you have to know about baptism?

I have asked questions like this before, and it has caused me problems.  But I think that it is interesting and worth pondering.

Some would suggest that babies go to heaven if they die.  This, though they know nothing of Jesus.  But they also do not know sin and wrong-doing.  Some would say though that an adult who never knew of Jesus and never knew what sin was, would not get into heaven.  This is salvation based on age and an ignorance, not just ignorance.

Thinking about these things is tricky stuff, and something that a lot of people feel very passionately about, despite little evidence to argue and no way to know for sure. 



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About coleyoakum

My name is Coleman Yoakum. I am formerly a student at Harding University. Today you can find me in Detroit Michigan doing what I can to expand the Kingdom of God and preparing to start an intentional community in Pontiac. I enjoy reading, writing, photography, music and politics. I am sure that all of these things will find their way to this blog from time to time. Twitter: coleyoakum Facebook: Coleman Yoakum Email: Flickr:

4 responses to “How Much? How Little?”

  1. Katie Holmes says :

    I ask this question all the time, Coleman, and I don’t know that we’ll ever actually know the answer. Having grown up in a very conservative and legalistic church, I have witnessed many people profess that only those who have followed the step-by-step salvation plan can actually go to heaven. (With the obvious exception of babies and those who are mentally handicapped to the point where they can’t be expected to comprehend all of this…)

    Growing up in that environment I always found myself thinking that something seemed wrong. I would ask “What if someone honestly doesn’t know about Jesus?” The reply was simply something to the effect of “well that’s why it’s our responsibility to tell everyone we can about Jesus.” Like if Christians fail to effectively proselytize then these people will all be sent down the chute to hell without a thought. One time I asked the question “What if someone truly had it on their heart to give their life to God, but died on the way to being baptized?” The answer? “According to the Bible that person will not go to heaven.” While you can make the argument that maybe they should have made this decision sooner, who are we to say that God won’t consider what was on that person’s heart? What about that grace thing that he mentions so much in the Bible?

    That’s the thing. God has an infinite amount of grace, and I truly believe he uses it. I don’t know how he decides to use it, but I believe he does. We’ll never know HOW God makes decisions, but I think it’s unfair to try and strip him of his grace-giving power. There is a lot we don’t understand about God, and I don’t think it’s right to put him in a box like that.

  2. coleyoakum says :

    I think we try to come up with blanket statements and criteria for God and that is impossible. As if God doesn’t have the power to approach each situation on a case-by-case basis.

    I know we were friends around the time that I started pondering the inclusive vs. exclusive question, and all the problems that caused me.

    When I read the Bible I feel like God says that Gentiles, outside of the old law were judged by a different standard. I don’t know why that might have changed when Jesus came along. Can’t people who don’t know Jesus still be judged by a different standard?

    I don’t think this cheapens the need to spread Christ, which I think is a fear that some might have. But any Christ-believer has to think that a person who doesn’t know Christ isn’t living as full as a person who does. The question I get is, “well then, weren’t they better off not knowing about Christ?” The answer is no. No one is better off not knowing about Christ.

    Sure, salvation is a good motivation to spead Christ to others, but you know what a better motivation is? Christ.

  3. Aaron J. Rushton says :

    Before I say anything else, I’d like to offer up my caveat and make it very, very, very clear to everyone that “I don’t know.” That’s the only answer I can give that I KNOW is right.

    Also, I’d like to quote Dr. Monte Cox’s reply when he’s asked if all the people of the world who have not fulfilled “the plan of salvation” are going to Hell: “Boy, I sure hope not.”

    So to actually answer the question put forth in this post… I think that Paul is onto something in Romans 1:18-20. I take from that passage an understanding that – even if you’ve never actually HEARD of the Gospel, or even the Law, or God at all – you can still come to some basic understanding about the existence of God through simple observation of Nature. The existence of the creation provides plenty of food for thought about a/the Creator. We also get this in Psalm 19:1-7. It’s kind of a harder sell in today’s world, but I think that if you’re a mountain man who’s never heard the story of Jesus, you’re probably just as likely to never have heard the story of the accidental creation of the universe, either.

    Now, if we follow the rest of Paul’s comments in Romans 1, we see that he’s putting a whole lot of guilt on the backs of people who have left God, but he’s also relying pretty heavily on the idea that these people once actually knew God. Verse 28 says that these people “did not think it worthwhile to RETAIN the knowledge of God” (emphasis mine). You can’t retain something you don’t ever actually have, and mere observation of nature might lead you to believe that there is a God, but it won’t tell you anything about His Son or how to follow Him.

    So I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. In as much as you know about God, it is your duty to hold to that knowledge as best as you can, and to fulfill the responsibilities that you are made aware of to the best of your ability. This may be as simple as a basic morality of not murdering or stealing, or it may be as educated as a full memorization of Scripture, Augustine, and Kierkegaard. In any case, the responsibility is to do as best as you can with what you’ve got in front of you. I believe THAT to be the standard by which God judges almost all of us.

    The exception that makes the “almost” true is for those who should (or rather, do) know better. James 3:1 says that those “who teach will be judged more strictly.” In the case of someone’s partial understanding of Jesus, I don’t believe that God’s judgment falls harder on the less-educated student, but rather on the more-educated teacher who failed to deliver the full message. But here we come to a bit of a problem, as well. If I, knowing the full story of the Gospel, teach you the story of Jesus, but intentionally leave out His death, resurrection and any elements of His Divinity, I am clearly at fault for distorting the story. However, if you were to take your (mis)understanding of Jesus – who at this point is merely going to be a great moral teacher in your mind – and spread it to someone else, but leave out some of the things I taught to you, are you at fault? I think that depends on whether the omission on your part is intentional or accidental. An intentional omission of what you know to be good and true, even if you only know it in part, is not acceptable. An accidental omission is less of a problem. In either case, I believe that the greater share of the blame still falls back on me for misrepresenting the entire story in the first place.

    I realize that’s kind of a tangent, and I’m sorry, but it came up in my mind and my fingers just ran with it…

  4. coleyoakum says :

    A good run sir! I agree with all points and ideas and now have something more to ponder, but I would like to stress your first point.

    “I don’t know.” Is the best answer. I have no idea, so I better be living and spreading like an Excusivist, while hoping the answer lies with the Universalist.

    I want everyone in heaven. Knowing what I think I know about hell, I don’t want anyone to go there. So I hope everyone is in heaven, but knowing what I think I know about Jesus, that won’t be the case either…

    Thanks for your thoughts buddy!

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