This is part of a series of posts looking at your questions about theology.
Question: There are people who act more like Jesus than some who claim to be Christian. Does a person have to literally profess the name of Jesus to be saved, or can we see evidence of this in their life some other way?
Jeremy Jernigan – Executive Pastor
I recently wrote about an experience I had watching a Jewish woman and a Muslim man tangibly display the love of Christ for their enemies (see: Peacemakers – The Parents Circle). I’m sure you’ve met someone who didn’t claim Jesus as their lord and savior yet actually acted like Him. What are we to do with this? Are these people saved? Can they be Christians even if they don’t claim that title?
At a minimum, I’d suggest there are people who claim to be Christian that don’t act much like Jesus, and others who don’t claim to be Christian who act a lot like Him. I’m sure you can think of people who fit both categories in your own life. Sadly, claiming the name of Jesus doesn’t equate to living like Him.
Yet the early church seemed to be quite clear on their dependence on the name of Jesus. Here are a few examples of this (emphasis mine):
- “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31
- “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” Acts 2:38
- “But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Acts 8:12
- “So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:48
- “Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 19:4-5
- “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11
- “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
- “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17
- “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Hebrews 13:15
- “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” 1 John 3:23
Clearly, there is life—or salvation—in the name of Jesus. But does that mean one literally has to say it or profess it? What if they’ve never heard this name? Or what if that name means something different to them so they respond in the way they understand it? Or which language do they have to hear and respond to it in (as it changes by language)?
I had a professor in college that would often respond to a question with his own: “Do you want the Biblical answer or a theological one?” Basically, are you looking for a verse specifically or a way to make the verses make sense together? Biblically, the list above shows just a few of the numerous references to the power and role of the name of Jesus. Theologically, I believe every person is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, 9:6) and has a natural sense of Him to some degree, even if that doesn’t mean they literally hear the name of Jesus. As Paul writes, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Even if they don’t know the name of Jesus, they know God to some degree. Therefore, I believe God looks at what they do with what they know.
In John 14:6, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” It might be helpful to think of it this way: whoever ultimately finds salvation will find it through Jesus and no one else. Who that definitively includes is not something we will know. And that isn’t our job or responsibility to figure out as Christians. However Jesus does the saving, it will be Him doing it. We also don’t know what the “minimum requirements” are to experience the Father through Jesus as He references in this verse. My personal opinion is that most of us will be a bit shocked by who we are spending eternity with.
The good news for us is that we can passionately pursue Jesus and tell others about His Name. This gives them the opportunity to respond to Him as we have had. As we do that, we can also trust that God is big enough (and good enough) to perfectly measure the hearts and responses of everyone to Him.
Let’s go spread how good He is and what He’s done for us so that they can respond to that.
Disclaimer: I’m providing you with my answer to these questions and what makes the most sense to me Biblically. There are numerous other Christians who would provide different answers. If you disagree with me, there’s no need to email me or any other staff member. I’m not making sweeping statements that define all views of Central and its leadership. The point is to create an environment where we go deeper in our understanding and experience with God. At the very least I invite you to consider thoughtfully the answers I give, even if they differ from your views. If you would like to talk through this post with someone, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.Click here for the photo credit on this post