The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is accepting Jesus a necessary condition of being saved?

Continuing with the themes of sufficiency and necessity in the Bible . . .

If accepting Jesus is a necessary condition of being saved, being saved implies that one has accepted Jesus. Under necessity, there is no other way of being saved. I think most Christians agree there is no other way of being saved. And John 14:6 supports this idea.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

However, while most of the Bible seems to support the claim that accepting Jesus is a necessary condition of being saved, at least one verse seems not to. Consider the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. In this parable the sheep are to receive eternal life granted by Jesus because they helped the poor. Nothing is said about their accepting Jesus. In fact, the sheep appear puzzled at their being so favored by Jesus.

Now, unless (1) helping the poor is a proxy for helping Jesus (and this is not hard to agree with because Jesus says as much in Matthew 25:40), and (2) helping Jesus by proxy is equivalent to accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, then this parable is problematic for necessity. It’s problematic because while (1) seems correct, (2) seems quite a stretch. It’s not at all clear that helping Jesus by proxy is equivalent to accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.

What makes this point significant to us in this forum is the final verse in the chapter, verse 25:46, which is perhaps the one biblical verse most often used to argue against Universalism (despite translation problems with the Greek for eternal and punishment).

These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

But if this verse ends a parable that incongruously speaks against accepting Jesus as a necessary condition of being saved, is the critic of Universalism standing on firm ground in drawing soteriological conclusions from it?

Hi, Lancia

Could you point me to some scriptures that talk about “accepting Jesus,” and also define what you mean by that phrase? There may be some, but I can’t think of them, and it makes me suspect that “accepting Jesus” is a sort of Evangelical code phrase for saying the “sinners prayer” (which I know isn’t scriptural.)

Assuming that the gist of your question is whether or not pagans, etc., who have never self-identified as Christians, but have lived by the light within them (or however it was that Paul put that in Romans) and have therefore been a law unto themselves, will be “saved” aside from the work of Christ, I would say that no, they will be saved THROUGH the work of Christ, though they knew it not. When the time comes, I think they’ll be like Emeth on meeting Aslan in CS Lewis’ The Last Battle:

But if this verse ends a parable that incongruously speaks against accepting Jesus as a necessary condition of being saved, is the critic of Universalism standing on firm ground in drawing soteriological conclusions from it?

But since Jesus is the Good Shepherd his followers are sheep and they recognize his voice. So by calling these folks sheep, isn’t that in effect another way of calling them Christians?

As I said to Bob Wilson in the related thread on sufficiency, I was searching for a word to concisely capture the essence of what is required to be saved, and then to use context to complete the story. I settled on the word accept because it has become a formula for assurance of justification. People know what it means.

But to say a bit more, what I mean by the word accept is confessing that Jesus is Lord and believe it in your heart. That is patterned after Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

No, I am not saying that they will be saved aside from the work of Christ. What I am saying is, according to Scripture, the sheep are saved apparently, and nothing is explicitly said about their accepting Jesus or confessing that Jesus is Lord or anything resembling that. I am not extending that to anyone else. I am simply questioning that parable, because if I am reading it right, it appears to be an exception to the rule that being saved implies that one has accepted Jesus, i.e., that one has confessed that Jesus is one’s Lord and Savior.

Hi, Lancia

So . . . is your emphasis here on the “sheep” who are surprised NOT to be entering into the joy of the Lord? Or are you interested here in the “goats” also?

Forgot I wanted to post this for you also, Lancia: JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Matthew 25

I suppose that could be the case. But it seems very odd, then, that the sheep didn’t have any idea of why they were so favored by Jesus. I mean, if they were Christians, they would have known it, and that (plus their helping the poor) would have explained why Jesus favored them. But we don’t see that in their behavior. Instead they appeared clueless as to why Jesus saw merit in them and thus rewarded them. They did not act as though the knew they were Christians.


Since you just posted, I wanted to make sure you saw my two most recent posts above. Sometimes they cross when both people are posting simultaneously, and then people don’t notice.

No, my emphasis here is on all of the sheep, who were surprised to learn they were favored by Jesus. Such surprise does not give one much confidence to think that they knew they had accepted Jesus. All that we know definitely, from the narrative of the parable, is they did good things like helping the poor.

No, the goats are not a direct part of the argument.

Thanks for the link. It’s excellent, as usual for Jason!.

Okay, I think I understand your question now. And having understood, let me punt. :unamused: :laughing: Um, [tag]JasonPratt[/tag] . . .

No, actually, I will weigh in a bit at least, even if only to be corrected at some later time. I would say that these “sheep,” having gone through the motions of “accepting Jesus,” saying the sinners’ prayer, being baptized, etc., have never truly done the things Jesus commanded. He said, “Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I have commanded you?” This question is in Luke 6, following that gospel’s version of the Sermon on the Mount and a number of parables having to do with actual, physical OBEDIENCE to Jesus’ commandments. I’ve often heard the SoM explained as having to do with displaying for the Jewish listener the impossibility of obeying even the bare skeleton of the law, let alone obeying the LAW in all its spiritual glory, as revealed by Jesus. It is, people tell me, meant to show us our need of Christ, and not really a thing we (who are utterly incapable) are expected to truly obey. Jesus here seems to think otherwise, though.

I think that the point of the SoM is not so much that we can’t obey, but we are the sort of PERSONS who can’t obey, and that we need the transforming power of the Spirit working in our lives, to make us into the sort of persons who can’t NOT obey these injunctions. In Christ, we begin to become the sort of people who obey the tenets of the SoM as our default position. We become mature sheep (or to be more precise, mature small heard animals. :laughing: ) From this pov, the mature enter into the joy of the Lord (whom they obey) while the immature who THINK they ARE mature, do not enter in, because they have NOT obeyed. It isn’t that no one who is a sheep will expect to be a sheep – not necessarily – but imo the point of this parable seems to be, to its immediate audience, “Just because you are a child of Abraham after the flesh, or because you obey the outward tenets of the Law, or because everyone THINKS you’re a religious giant, a leader of men, a teacher of the simple, do NOT expect that you will automatically be counted amongst the mature. You too may be found to be a rambunctious, compunctious, unthinking, uncaring, self-serving baby goat. Be careful to SERVE one another rather than taking advantage of and exploiting one another – whether the other happens to be, in your own estimation, amongst the mature or the immature (and annoying) segments of the flock.”

And to US, the point would be similar – just insert descriptors of hypocritical religiosity rampant amongst overly confident Christians who are NOT actual Christ followers/disciples/imitators of Christ. So no, ostensibly “accepting” Jesus as Lord doesn’t count unless we actually DO the things He commands us to do. And I’m told that the Jewish conception of faith always included DOING. It wasn’t passive mental acceptance, but rather an action of the wholesale life of the person having the faith. Otherwise, if you didn’t act, how could you be said to have faith?

The typical evangelical interpretation of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man asks the same question. (I don’t believe that parable is even ABOUT eschatology, but most Evangelicals do think this. What has Lazarus done? All he’s done is to sit there and be poor and receive bad things of life (and nothing of the Rich Man). What has the rich man neglected to do? Only neglected to extend kindness and love to Lazarus – and to have received good things already. How does this fit in with our prevalent theology that it is only “what you do with Jesus” that determines your eternal destiny?

Thanks for a great question, Lancia. :slight_smile:

Instead they appeared clueless as to why Jesus saw merit in them and thus rewarded them. They did not act as though the knew they were Christians.

I didn’t see it quite this way. “Lord when did we see YOU hungry and feed YOU” They knew he was Lord but they didn’t know when they helped
the hungry and sick etc they were helping Jesus. I think it’s more about him revealing more of himself then anything else.

I might have missed something in the rest of your thoughtful post, but the issue seems to come down to the above quotation.

You seem to be saying that if one had the faith, then one would act accordingly. So, the actions of the sheep point to their having the faith.

The problem with this, as far as the parable is concerned, is that if the sheep had faith, and acted accordingly, they should not have been unaware of why they were being favored. They would know that their faith was at least partly responsible for their positive fate. That they were unaware suggests they did not have the faith. All we know, according to the narrative, was that the sheep helped the poor, and nothing in the narrative suggests anything more.

It’s the apparent cluelessness of the sheep, concerning their favorable treatment by Jesus, that makes this parable an enigma, at least to me.

So, you feel that addressing Jesus as Lord implies they have accepted him, in the way I have been using the word accept in this post and the sufficiency post. That’s possible, and it would solve the problem I seem to have with this parable.

I think the “cluelessness” of the sheep (in this story) is probably meant to point out that these who are presented in the parable as mature sheep may possibly NOT be those that the Hebrew audience would expect to be mature sheep. IOW, they may even be pagans who have nevertheless lived according to the law of love (as illustrated in my CS Lewis quote of the character Emeth above).

That’s not to say there will be no sheep who expect to be received into blessedness, but mentioning such sheep would be beside the point of the parable, imo.

It is, I think, one of a classic genre of parables sometimes called role-reversal parables in which the audience is lured into a kind of “bait and switch” position. They think they know who will be rewarded, but then Jesus pulls the rug out from underneath their feet (so to speak) in granting blessedness to those who don’t know ANYTHING about how to serve the God of Israel (in the eyes of the listeners). The ones who EXPECT to be received are rejected (for a time) and the ones who expect (rightly in the eyes of the religious audience) to be rejected, are instead received. IOW, it’s not who’s children you are (Abraham’s) after the flesh, nor how well you perform in the eyes of men, but whether you work the works of the Father – the true works of the Father.

Those who have done all sorts of wonderful religious works are rejected. Those who have merely showed love and kindness to the poor, for the sake of kindness and love, are received. They perform their good works solely for the sake of kindness, not even considering that they’re doing these things ultimately for God. This is a theme throughout the OT, and a thing God continually harped on through His prophets. He did not like the down-treading of the poor and needy. Yet Israel continued to respect the rich and denigrate the poor. This was still the case in Jesus’ day, as can be seen in the attitudes of the people we read about in the gospels. In truth, it’s still OUR tendency to this very day.

I hope that helps . . . ?

Things seem to be resolving here since I was pinged, but since I was pinged… :laughing:

Just how many official Christians who have already formally accepted Christ as they’re savior are going to be surprised to find out they’ve been serving Christ by helping the hungry, imprisoned, etc.??

Granted their surprise may be being exaggerated for a rhetorical point; but since the baby goats want to know when they weren’t helping Christ, I should think the rhetorical point is something else along the line of the typical Synoptic warning: some who are first will be last and some who are last will be first.

Though of course I think the point turns out to be deeper than mere charity, since there’s a direct narrative connection between the baby goats about to be punished and the “least” of Christ’s flock whom they weren’t interested in helping.

Anyway. “What I am saying is, according to Scripture, the sheep are saved apparently, and nothing is explicitly said about their accepting Jesus or confessing that Jesus is Lord or anything resembling that.” As Steve notes, they don’t have any problem accepting Jesus as Lord at the judgment, so they aren’t getting in without that (though I think you’re right, Iancia, that they’re being humbly cautious about not having accepted Him as Lord previously.)

It seems to be more of a question of timing rather than of condition. But hey, the baby goats accept Jesus as Lord, too, and they’re headed into the eonian fire prepared for the devil and his angels! – and as Jesus says earlier, there are those who are empowered to do miracles to further His kingdom and even know enough to address Him with the double “Lord Lord”, who as sons of the kingdom are still going into the outer darkness where the weeping is and the gnashing of teeth!

So it isn’t a question of doctrinal profession. Ditto with Lazarus as noted upthread. (Or the rebel on the cross for that matter.) Paul knows this in Romans 2, since that which is apparently the Holy Spirit acting in the position of the Paraclete can defend as well as accuse those who are otherwise ignorant of God’s Law in the day of Christ’s judgment to come.

On the other hand neither is it a question of someone entering into eonian life without “confessing” (i.e. gratefully praising) Jesus as Lord. That’s the natural destination of those who are cooperating with the Holy Spirit (thus also with the Son, even setting aside Trinitology points) – the Spirit leads them to the Son and the Father, and cooperating with one Person involves cooperating with all the Persons. Or, cooperating with God by tautology involves already cooperating with God.

And yet again, Christ is prepared to harshly judge some people who not only (like the baby goats) didn’t know they weren’t cooperating with Him, but who (like the Lord Lord-ers, and the church at Ephesus) had a lot of really good reasons to believe they were cooperating with him greatly already. So there has to be some kind of attitude at issue, not merely belief (confessing as Lord, believing He rose from the dead, being prepared to judge the claims even of apostles) or works (good deeds, suffering hard blows for Jesus, even advancing the kingdom through miraculous deliverance).

Refusing to give up fondling this or that sin must be the issue; but in at least two of those surprise counter-judgments Jesus hints at the same sin that He occasionally warns about elsewhere in the Synoptics: denying the name of Jesus (the Lord saves), refusing to forgive the sins of others, judging hopelessly, “leaving your first love”, refusing to help the least of the Shepherd’s flock thus becoming the least of the Shepherd’s flock whom the mature flock cooperates with the Shepherd in helping (even when they didn’t even know they were helping the Shepherd). “Thus will your Father in the heavens do to you, each one of you, if you are not forgiving your brother in your heart.”

It ought to have been always pretty obviously logical, that denying God’s salvation of those people over there from their sins, is not a good way to coherently accept God’s salvation of one’s self from one’s own sins!

But again I expect there’s an attitude of the heart here as the problem, not a mere doctrinal error on the topic which can easily be excused (and corrected); and refusing to let go of any particular sin would be equally problematic, so it isn’t like Christian universalists as such can claim some kind of special passcard for ourselves either. :wink:

Thank you Steve, Cindy, and Jason–it’s given me a lot to think about.

But note that the goats addressed Jesus as Lord, as well.

But note that the goats addressed Jesus as Lord, as well.

They addressed him as Lord with their mouth but did their actions back it up?

No, their actions did not back it up, but can they be blamed for not knowing that helping the poor was equivalent to helping Jesus? After all, the sheep didn’t know that either, as you acknowledged above. And not knowing that is why the sheep were clueless about why they were being favored.

But if it is the addressing Jesus as Lord that signals acceptance of Jesus, as you maintain, then both groups are in the same category with respect to acceptance because both addressed him as Lord. If addressing Jesus as Lord does not signal acceptance, and I don’t think it does necessarily, then the only clear difference between the sheep and the goats is helping the poor: the sheep helped, and they were saved while the goats did not help, and they were not saved. So, as I said before, this parable seems to be a case in which acceptance is not a necessary condition of being saved.