One of our readers has asked about "the growing tendency among professed evangelicals to accept that people outside the orbit of the gospel call can be saved by a moral response to general revelation of God's presence." What about this?
We should begin by pointing out that "general revelation" is the term often used to refer to God's making Himself known in creation, conscience and history. The term is used in distinction from "special revelation," i.e., God's saving revelation through Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.
This "general revelation" is referred to in a number of passages, but most clearly in Romans 1:18-32. That passage speaks especially of God's making Himself known in the things of creation (vss. 20, 25) and conscience (vs. 19 - notice the words, "in them").
This general revelation, however, has no saving power. It is not even a kind of grace (many speak of it as an example of so-called "common grace"). Instead, as Romans 1 makes so very clear, this "general revelation" is a revelation of the wrath of God, and only leaves the wicked without excuse (vss. 18, 20).
Certainly, then, general revelation does not provide another way of salvation. The idea that the wicked can be saved by a moral response to this "general revelation" is wholly without ground in Scripture and is, as the questioner suggests, just another form of salvation by works.
This idea that general revelation has saving value is flatly contradicted by Romans 1 itself. The wicked do see the "invisible things of God," particularly His eternal power and Godhead (vs. 20). There is even aninternal aspect to this manifestation of God. Verse 19 says that the things that may be known of God are manifest "in them."
And this has important implications. For one thing it is the reason no one will ever be able to plead in the judgment that he did not know God. There is, as far as Romans 1 is concerned, really no such thing as an atheist. It is also the reason why even the wicked who never heard the gospel can and will be condemned in the judgment day.
Nevertheless, the only result of this manifestation, as far as the wicked are concerned, is that they refuse to glorify God, continue unthankful, and change the glory of God that is manifested to and in them into images of corruptible things (vss 21-25).
Put simply, this means that their idolatry is not a seeking after the God whom they do not know or an attempt, however feeble, to find Him. It is rather a turning away from the true God whom they do know.
They are not, according to Romans 1, seeking truth, but suppressing it (vs. 25). Their philosophies and religions do not represent a small beginning of truth or a love of truth, but truth refused and turned into lies (vs. 25).
Confirming all of this, Scripture also makes it clear that salvation is only through the preaching of Gospel (Rom. 1:16, 10:14, 17, I Cor. 1:18, 21, 24). There and there alone Christ is revealed as the very power and wisdom of God unto salvation, so that without the preaching of the gospel there is ordinarily no hope of salvation.
General revelation, therefore, only serves to increase the guilt of those who do not hear or believe the Gospel. To teach otherwise is to deny the blood of Jesus Christ and His perfect obedience as the only way of salvation and to slander Him and His cross.
- Volume: 5
- Issue: 3
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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