It took the disciples of Jesus many years to learn that God loves all mankind and reaches out to everyone—every tribe, kindred, lounge, and people. Religion often turns faith into an exclusive ritual, a theological test, a doctrinal quiz, a formula, a sinner’s prayer, or a justification theory. We like to place Jesus into our own theological boxes, claiming that people are saved by professing faith in certain things. Salvation is actually quite simple, for “there is salvation in no one else but Jesus! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Of course, misunderstanding this scripture can make it seem offensive and unacceptable. The men of Israel once asked their foes to say the name “Shibboleth” (Judges 12:6), and if they mispronounced it, they were doomed. This is how many preachers and Christians talk about Jesus, using His name as a denominational formula or magical incantation. It’s a name, for sure, but it’s more than just a name. In fact, I think Jesus’ authority has nothing to do with the name itself and everything to do with the character of Jesus. The name reflects the kind of person Jesus was and is. To name Jesus is to follow His character and the principles He espoused. It is to be Christlike, and to use His name for anything else is to abuse it.
Can people who have never heard or confessed the name of Jesus be saved? If following or accepting Jesus is about following His character and principles, then absolutely. Many know little of theology but cherish the principles of love, kindness, and integrity that Jesus revealed. One can hear His name whispered in nature or pick up His principles anywhere. If God is love, His love must be broad and full enough to penetrate everywhere under heaven. God is working in every heart. “God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27, NIV). John conveys this clearly: “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as [Jesus] is righteous” (1 John 3:7, ESV). No other name could be big enough. Any other name is too small!
Craig Ashton Jr.