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Do You Know God Well Enough to be Saved?

Topic: What does God expect us to know of him and how does that affect our lives and theology? Is there a minimal amount of knowledge we need about God before we can safely say we are saved?

People are confused when coming to God for the first time.

If they go to church for the first time, they're not sure what is expected of them. When should they stand and when sit? Should they make the sign of the cross? How?

After becoming comfortable with that, they wonder if their current bahavior is good enough to make up for their past bad behavior, and just what should they do to make sure they are really pleasing God?

Finally, they come to the point where they are relatively comfortable with their standing before God, but wonder about other people in other churches who do not believe or behave the way they do. Are those people Christian, too? If so, are they right and we're wrong? If we're both right, then how much of what I "know" and do really is necessary? If they're wrong, then are they truly saved? If I'm wrong, am I truly saved? Even if I understand that faith in Jesus and nothing else is all that God requires of me, how can I understand that somebody else, who believes more than that is required of them, is also saved?

How do I know that my belief and my church is good enough or right enough for me really to get to heaven?

God does not require us to have perfect knowledge of him in order to be saved because that would make salvation impossible.

If we could not know God unless we’re godly and we could not be godly unless we know God, then we would have no spiritual hope. If knowing God perfectly is required in order for us to know God at all, it is a self-defeating situation. It is hopeless to think that in order to become godly we have to be godly first. But that is not required of us.

In the gospel of John, chapter 4, Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman at a well. She said, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus replied, “a time is coming – and now is – when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Two ways to worship were presented, the Samaritan way and the Jewish way, but Jesus rejected them both as a way to please God. Instead, he said, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Jesus did not say that Samaritans are right and he did not say the Jews are right. He said, "This basis of worship – location and form – is not what God judges."

The Jews were correct in their doctrine. Jesus said, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” That’s a pretty powerful statement. Jesus said the Jews were doctrinally correct, although it was those same Jews who crucified him. The point is, perfect doctrine isn’t what God seeks in his children.

Whew! That’s a relief. I don’t have to be perfect in my doctrine in order to be saved. Can you imagine what it would be like if a person had to have perfect doctrine before he was accepted by God? There are Bible scholars today who have spent their entire lives studying the Bible and thinking about God. If you ask them where they are in their understanding of God, they will say, “I’m still learning.” After fifty years, they’re still learning? Yes, that’s true. After a lifetime of studying the Bible, scholars still don’t know God perfectly; they are still learning.

If perfection of doctrine were required, then people who wanted to be saved would have to pretend that the first thing they think about God has got to be the truth, the only truth and the whole truth; they could never change or grow... Oh, wait, people already do that.

The scriptures say, “The light shined in darkness, and the darkness did not understand (comprehend) it.” (John 1:5). God is light (1 John 1:5), shining in all his fullness and glory right in front of our eyes, and even then we don’t understand him. We don’t comprehend. We just don’t see it. God appeared to Moses in a flame and to the Israelites on a mountain. He presented himself to us in Jesus, who stood on earth and talked to us. He put his Holy Spirit in us and speaks to us in our hearts. He gave us scriptures to read and a spirit to understand, yet in all this, we still do not understand or comprehend God. We only know bits and pieces of this huge, mountainous Truth called God.

If, then, the scholars who by profession and passion have studied God all their lives still do not understand him, where does that leave us? Do we have any hope at all, or chance of being saved?

You say, “Ah Jerry! Salvation is not by knowledge of God. After all, the scriptures say in I Corinthians 1:20-31,

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

All scripture quotations taken from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

Salvation is by Grace! – “For you are saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) – We do not have to know God perfectly in order to be saved. We just believe in Jesus and he’ll take care of the rest.

OK, we have an “out.” We believe and hold to the doctrine that we do not have to be perfect in our doctrine in order to be a Christian. Well then, if we give ourselves that privilege, should we not also allow that same freedom to others?

Is our doctrine so perfect, so pure, so right and so complete that we are saved because we have the perfect doctrine, which is “Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus?” If we believe this doctrine is what saves us, then we believe it is a doctrine that saves us and not Jesus Christ. We believe those who know God best are those who are saved. And that puts us right back at the starting point of how can we ourselves be saved if God demands perfect knowledge of him first?

Let’s put it to the test again. Baptists believe we must be immersed in water as a testimony and symbol of our faith. Presbyterians hold to the doctrine of Predestination. Pentecostalists believe God is still revealing himself in power and tongues. Shall we say the Baptists are not saved because they (generally) do not speak in tongues? Or the Presbyterians are not saved because they do not insist on immersion of new believers?

It is true, they all believe in Jesus as their savior. But it is not true that perfection of doctrine is necessary for salvation. So let’s pick something more pertinent. You be the judge (and I’ll also give my opinion) of these three examples.

A person believes in Jesus Christ as his own savior. He believes that Jesus died for his sins and salvation is through faith in Jesus. He was told that by an evangelist and that is what he believes. However, he is a new believer. He does not know nor understand and therefore does not believe that Jesus is in fact divine. He does not know Jesus is part of the Godhead, co-existent with the Father. He assumes Jesus was simply a good man whom God chose to use to become savior of the world. This new believer, in obedience to his understanding of God, accepts Jesus as his savior, the person who died on the cross, the person who saved him from his sin. But he is a new believer and does not believe that Jesus is God. Is he saved? I say yes, and I suppose many other Christians say yes, too. Why? Because he is obedient to the Voice and calling of God, although he is not perfect in his understanding of God.

Let’s take a reverse situation. A woman who has been steeped in spiritism all her life repented of her sin and believed in Jesus as her savior. She had previously heard of Jesus only in relation to spiritism, but she had never heard the gospel until now. When the gospel was presented to her, she immediately believed in Jesus as her savior and repented of her witchcraft and godless ways. She turned to God in repentance and believed that Jesus is the Son of God and savior of the world. The only problem is, she – still being a new believer – does not understand that Jesus came in the flesh as a human. She assumes that Jesus, being the Son of God, acted in the world only in a spiritual way. She thinks that her salvation is a spiritual salvation resulting from a spiritual struggle and victory by the spiritual Son of God. It doesn’t matter what she will believe in the future; the question is, Is she saved now?

A third example is that of a man who was born and raised in paganism. He believed in Jesus as his savior and repented of his sins and belief in other gods. He rejected all other gods and serves Jesus only. However, he does not yet understand there is only one God. He thinks that God, our Father in Heaven, is the best God, the strongest God, and the only God worthy of our worship. He believes that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and is now both the savior of the world and his own savior in particular.

In these three cases, my response is that it is God, not I, who is the judge of whether they are saved or not. I suppose that is your position, too. Nevertheless, based on my understanding of God and the Bible, if I were asked, then I would say Yes, they are saved. They responded to the Call and Voice of God wholeheartedly with all the heart and knowledge they had. It’s up to God to lead them to a fuller understanding of God, just as he leads us to a fuller understanding of God.

We don't know God so well that we are aware of the extent of our ignorance, even as others are not aware of the extent of their ignorance of God. Would not God look on our ignorance as being the same degree as their ignorance? Let's liken the knowledge of God to the Pacific Ocean. What we have of this knowledge is a bucketful. What others have of this knowledge is a spoonful. So what if the bucketful, in our view, is more than a spoonful? When compared to the fullness of God, the whole Pacific Ocean, both the bucketful and the spoonful are equally laughable and foolish.

Jesus said to the woman at the well, “we know what we worship because salvation is from the Jews.” But he did not put the Jews heartfelt worship over the Samaritans heartfelt worship, for he said, “the time is coming – and now is – that we (humans) will worship neither on that mountain nor in Jerusalem but in true spiritual worship. God is a spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit (not in location).”

At another time Jesus told the Pharisees, the “fundamentalist” Jews, “I have other sheep who are not from this sheep pen. I must bring them [to the Father], also.” (John 10:10).

We understand the sheep pen to be the nation of Israel. Jesus, the good shepherd, owned sheep in this sheep pen, but not all the sheep were his. John 10:1-4 says, “The shepherd goes into the sheep pen and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his sheep by name they follow him. When he brings out his own sheep, he leads them away.” So we know many sheep were in the pen and they had many shepherds. Each shepherd knew his own sheep and called them out each day by name, and his own sheep followed him.

Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not from this sheep pen.” The sheep pen is the Jewish nation. Then what are other sheep? Is it not the Gentiles? It must be because Jesus gave this command to his followers, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19)

At another time Jesus said (John 7) “You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?” Already it was a real possibility that Jesus might spread his Gospel to include the Gentiles. That indeed happened. In Romans 11:23 Paul instructs the Gentile believers, “You were cut off from a wild olive tree and grafted into a cultivated olive tree.” Or, to return to our sheep pen analogy, You were taken from a wild flock of sheep and brought into the specific unique fold of the Good Shepherd.

In this story, there is one important thing that has been overlooked: Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” He already had them. It isn’t that he would invite others to come in. It isn’t that he would one day go and claim them as his own. No, he already had sheep that were not of that fold, that were not among the Jewish believers in Judah. Jesus called them his sheep. People who had not yet heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Jesus still considered them to be his own sheep who hear his voice.

How does this work? The Jews had the Bible (although it had also been spread throughout the world). Jesus had come to the Jews (not the Romans), to teach them the way of God. He had not yet been crucified. He had not yet been raised from the dead nor ascended into heaven. Paul did not yet preach salvation by grace through faith. Yet Jesus already had sheep from outside the Jewish nation. How did that happen? How could it have happened, unless Jesus counted as his own sheep all those who repented of their sins and turned to God for salvation even before they knew all the particulars of what it took to be saved? That is, they believed in God for salvation, but they did not know how that salvation would be accomplished.

Even the Old Testament prophets did not understand how their salvation would finally be accomplished. It is recorded in 1 Peter 1:10-12,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

We see, then, that perfect knowledge of God or his doctrine of salvation is not required in order for us to be saved. If it were, then nobody could be saved because nobody has perfect knowledge of God and his salvation. The best we can do is to respond to God with our whole heart based on the knowledge we have, whether it be partial or even erroneous. And if we allow ourselves this right, then we must allow it in others, too.

Again, the scripture says in Matthew 22:36-40,

The first and greatest commandment is this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind."

It does not say, “You shall understand the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”

Let me quickly and briefly interject here that once you do love the Lord your God, there is no excuse not to grow in the love, knowledge and understanding of God. It’s just that perfect knowledge of God is not a requirement for salvation.

The point is, we do not believe that God requires perfect knowledge of himself in order for us to be saved. Therefore we should not put that requirement on other people before we allow them to be saved. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the doors to heaven in men’s faces. You yourself won’t go in and you forbid others to go in, also.” (Matthew 23:13.)

We scorn the so-called “religious right” of our day who forbid Gays to be saved. They hoard the doctrine of salvation by faith to themselves and will not allow others to use it. They require gays to adhere to their perfect doctrine and deny the creation of God – their own bodies – in order to be saved. Woe to you, modern-day scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!

Acts 15:8-11

God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them [Gentiles who didn't have the Bible or a tradition of knowing God] by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us [Jews who have both the Bible and the tradition of knowing God]. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.