[ This is an edited version of a portion of an assignment I had for Liberty University. ]
There are four main reasons to believe there is a possibility that people may be saved outside of specifically confessing the name of Jesus:
- The requirement for salvation has always been faith.
- Scripture notes that some Gentiles have kept the law in their hearts.
- God searches each individual person’s heart.
- God is never dependent on others to accomplish his will.
As Osburn noted, salvation has always been by faith. This does not diminish the work of Christ on the cross—actually the reverse. It is because, as Towns notes, Jesus was the substitute for the whole world, redeemed the whole world, was propitiation for the whole world, satisfied the demands of the law for the whole world, and reconciled the whole world that we can find salvation through faith. Jesus’ work is enough for all, whether a missionary has reached them or not. Otherwise, how can all the people listed in Hebrews 11, who did not have a true knowledge of Christ, have a city prepared for them (Heb. 11:16)? If “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) means people literally have to confess Jesus’ name, how was anyone in the Old Testament saved? We know that they longed to see and hear Jesus but did not (Matt. 13:16-17). Cannot an unreached person, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, have the same longing? Cannot they, to the level they are able, exhibit faith in the same God?”
Indications in Romans 2:12-16 are yes. Verse 14 describes Gentiles who do not “have the law” but, “by nature do what the law requires” (ESV). It is almost impossible to take verses 15 and 16 as saying anything but that some of these Gentiles will be saved when “their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when . . . God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Verse 13 even speaks of them as being “justified.” Justification is a part of salvation.
In addition to being able to see the Law written in certain individual’s hearts, we know that God searches and tests hearts (1 Chr. 28:9; Jer. 11:20, 17:10; Rom. 8:27; 1 Thes. 2:4, Rev. 2:23). What good would that be if it was not for the purpose of finding those who will accept God’s offer of eternal life? We know from John 6:44 that the Father draws people to Jesus—would it not make sense that this would happen when He is searching “all hearts” (1 Chr. 28:9)? Additionally, what good is a “heart test” if there is no way for the answer to be in the affirmative?
The final reason to give reasonable credence to the chance unreached people can be saved is that God has never been dependent on anyone else to accomplish His will. He says His “word . . . shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose . . .” (Isa. 55:11); that He will fulfill what He has spoken (Num. 23:19); that what He speaks He will “perform (Eze. 12:25); and that He will accomplish all that He “purposed”” (Is. 46:10). There is never any question that God will do what He intends, and we know that He desires all people be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and that it has always been His intent to provide salvation via the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8, KJV). It is true that our Lord calls on man to help Him accomplish His purposes, but any claim that our help is required would negate the omnipotence of God. Additionally, we have evidence that God does work through non-human methods, whether it is searching and testing hearts (please see above) or general revelation (nature and conscience). The same God who could make a “speechless donkey [speak] with human voice and [restrain] the prophet’s madness” (2 Pet. 2:16, ESV) can speak to our hearts while searching them. God does not need man to save man; man needs God to save man.
Does all this “prove” God has saved people outside of His revelation in the Jewish and Christian faiths? No. However, I do think it highly indicates it, and gives hope for the millions (perhaps billions) who have died without being presented the Gospel.
Finally, if God does not need us, should we sit back and let Him take care of it? No. What greater invitation can we get from our Lord than to join Him in His search for His lost sheep?