by Bobby Killmon
How would you address the claim that “There are ‘good people’ who haven’t obeyed Acts 2:38 who might be saved…” or will perhaps be “…judged by the light they knew”?
First, I wouldn’t answer that personally but instead would let Scripture speak on that clearly. Scripture does not say people will be saved by ignorance in our age (Acts 17:30). Further, Scripture is against salvation by works. Paul spends the first three chapters of Romans making the theological point clear that no one is saved by works righteousness. The only way to be saved is to appropriate by faith the perfect law keeping of the man Jesus through obedience to the Gospel. The absolute uniformity of the entire NT witness to this fact is a powerful witness that cannot be denied.
As one man said, we must see all of humanity’s ruin in sin and the surety of God’s just punishment guaranteed before we can then go on to God’s perfect remedy in Christ. The old timers used to teach this same point strongly as well through statements like, “You must preach them lost before you preach them saved!” Or “God didn’t come to make good men better . . . He came to make dead men alive!”
The question of what we do with “good people” has at its core an unscriptural view of humanity. By what definition do we say people are “good” and then what is the standard for entrance into heaven? All have sinned . . . and sinless perfection is the standard of entrance into heaven. Either we are “hid in Christ” and have joined with Him as a perfect man in covenant, or we are left on our own to face a holy and just God alone. Paul is clear. No one, not even the Jews, including David their greatest King and Abraham the father of the faith, has ever kept the law perfectly. All have “fallen short.”
The purpose of the law then was not to give us a series of steps to heaven. It was to expose our inability to merit heaven so we would be convinced we could not earn salvation. This leads to both acknowledgement of our sinfulness and the subsequent need for salvation. Only after this can we be preached to about Christ! The correct response will then be obedient faith, which simply takes what God freely gives. Our obedient faith is critical, and the continued life of faith afterward, but it adds nothing to the gift of entrance into the Kingdom itself. It is only by grace we have both capacity (the measure of faith innate from our created make-up) and opportunity (through the substitutionary work of the man Christ Jesus).
The point is simple then. Anything less than appropriating this provided forgiveness through the direct command of Jesus through both water and Spirit baptism (John 3:3-8), which was also affirmed by the apostles throughout the NT (Acts 2:38-39; 4:12; 8:5-15; 10:44-48; 11:17; 19:1-6; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 12:13; Titus 3:5-6) is not salvation. Anything less is not Apostolic. We do not believe in “works righteousness” or that people will be saved because they are simply “good people.” We cannot believe in salvation by ignorance either. Jesus and the Apostles did not lie. God does not ever “grade on the curve.” This message has always been clearly in the Bible, and the command at Pentecost for our age has still not ever changed. We do people no favor by trying to include them another way. We must only say what Jesus and the Apostles said! That truth still works today as it always has since the day of Pentecost!