What Does It Take To Get Saved?
For those with hope built upon the sure promises of Jesus Christ and happily professing the present reality of His rule in the earth, the melancholy state of the nation and the world offers a bummer and a challenge. What’s going on? Why don’t we see more of the right kind of judgment and vengeance? Are there merely a few to be saved? Will the Father only pluck a feeble minority from the wild fires of rebellion? Does Satan’s shoreline have a more sandy beach than the one to which Abraham was told to look?
Concluding that Christ must settle for a splinter group fails to come up to obvious expectations. Benjamin Warfield, writing on this polemic, gave us encouragement and a right understanding of certain pertinent Scriptures,[i] but we can go further. The urging of our Lord to faith and commitment should not be taken as an avowal of fewness. These statements are addressed to the slothful, the skeptical and weary, who excused themselves by questioning His deity.
Examining whether the race is a fallen one, out of which God is rescuing a struggling few or, on the other hand, if our’s is a restored humanity, out of which some are determined lost, I submit five perspectives. The first concerns the matter of the broad and narrow gates of Matthew 7:13-14 and Luke 13:24ff. Here we are dealt the terms broad, many and destruction, and the words straight, few and life. With Warfield, we see Christ preaching urgency, not feebleness. He calls here for vigor in the pursuit of life, not the paucitas salvandorum. The point is the urgency of the matter, not that God would have to settle only for stragglers. Though only eight souls were allowed to board the Ark, that judgment was not the end of history. These “limiting” references in the Bible must be understood correctly. They aren’t saying that God is losing out. Instead they exhort the need for gravity and earnestness on the part of man.
A second perspective is the nature of the Promise. For example, studying the Abrahamic Covenant we are told that his seed would be uncountable and that he would be the “father of nations.”[ii] God continually makes reference to “a multitude that no man could number.”[iii] Christ’s Kingdom parables also present the pattern of a work that starts small and grows to become vast and indispensable. Thus, the promise itself indicates a period of time in which the numbers will be disproportionate, but the Kingdom perspective provides key evidence of eventual numerical superiority.
World conquest is the third viewpoint that would deny there being a small, or lesser, number of elect. Though most of history to this point may reveal a hidden or unbalanced conflict, those bowing to Christ will eventually be innumerable, not only in absolute terms, but in contrast to the unsaved. A hopeful outlook for Christ’s Kingdom means that great success will accrue to the preaching of the Gospel before the end of history. Along with eventual conversion of the Jews, most of the world will see a general turning to the truth.
The Fourth factor has to do with the measure of saving faith, what exactly is it? Humanly, we see only the outside of man. Ready always to criticize another man’s servant, we undoubtedly misjudge many people. God sees the inner man and graciously accepts many in the Name and merit of His Son.
Indulging the nasty habit of imagining ourselves to be meritorious while others are beyond hope, we are accustomed to regarding most people as the enemy. If we were more oriented to Divine thinking, we would see the multitude surrounding us in the Faith. Most men will be very surprised when and if they are taken to glory.
A principle to be carefully admitted is the mandate of Scripture, “to whom much is given, much will be required.”[iv] We must refrain from imposing private expectations on others. We are not free to condemn another man’s servant, but rather are told to use care in examining our own motives. The log in our own eye has precedence over the sliver in our neighbor’s.
Rahab, of ancient Jericho, is described in Scripture as one who possessed saving faith, yet she could have known little about the true God. What shreds of doctrine could she have known on which to base her application for mercy? Her dealing with the Hebrew spies took only a short time, but she literally demanded mercy for her father’s entire house, as well as for herself. She went very far with very little. Nebuchadnezzar, another who was graciously found of God with merely personal experience and general revelation, turned into a preacher of God’s absolute sovereignty.
New Testament examples include the Corinthian church, a congregation that could not meet the membership requirements of most of our churches today.[v] Here faith was revealed through the operation of proper biblical discipline. The Apostle’s letters indicate a congregation in trouble, but one that listened to admonishment and then matured into a strong and significant body of believers.
Fifth in this article concerning perspectives on redemption is the comprehensiveness of the conflict. One man fights on one level against a single foe. Another is more concerned with a second aspect of the warfare, and so on. The Lord oversees the entire conflict and makes sense of the differences. Denominational ties present various aspects of Kingdom truth. Some reflect the dignity and glory, while others mirror love and grace. Combined, they all help in showing forth the true gospel and the coming of Christ’s presence.
Our Lord will not be settling for a rump group and a few misfits and stragglers. Indeed, His final accounting will include people from every tribe and nation. They will appear such great numbers that no one will be able to count them. Christ will be recognized and honored. His Name will be on everyone’s lips, His praise and glory will be seen by all. Those not clothed in His righteousness will be sent away into eternal torments, while His holy people are ushered into heaven.
[i] Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Lutheran Church Review, 1915, pp.42-58. See his article “Are There Few That Be Saved?” republished in Biblical And Theological Studies, Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co. Phil. 1952, p.334ff.
[ii] See Gen.15:5, 17:4 to get the sense of the numbers and the contrast with seeming impotence.
[iv] See Lk.12:48. Our Lord is speaking on focus. He urges diligence and perseverance, not allowing doubt when He doesn’t return immediately. Those having received much favor, instruction and responsibility will be expected to produce more fruit. The opposite is thus, also suggested.
[v] See I Cor.5:1. The scandal of incest would prove too difficult to overcome if presented in most Bible believing churches today, yet this person received discipline and was restored. The worst part of the sin, of course, was the unwillingness of that congregation to take necessary action, the sinful tolerance of an obvious evil in their midst.