But there are two ways to frame the question. The first way is to ask whether a person has responded to God's offer of salvation. This is ridiculous speculation. My stock answer: "I don't know, I haven't checked the Lamb's Book of Life lately." The second way is to ask the question, "does one have to respond to God's offer of salvation in this life to be saved?" And that is quite a different question indeed.
I find that when Christians address this topic they are often times more colored by the worldview from which they come, say Western Post-enlightenment American, than the worldview proposed by Scripture. So I suppose that makes this post Part 1.
Since we posses a worldview different than that of the biblical authors it is only natural that we find parts of scripture distasteful. Perhaps for you it is the Bible naming homosexual acts as sin. Or perhaps it is animal sacrifice. Or perhaps it is the teaching that women should submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Or perhaps it is the doctrine of the wrath of God. Did I hit you yet? Our natural response to this is to stand in judgement of the worldview of scripture.
- "Well, it's views toward women are outdated, but the principles for life in general hold true."
- "That may have been true 1,000 years ago, but it's not anymore."
- "The biblical authors didn't have the information we did today, but the Bible can still help you live a good life."
- And on, and on...
But when we refuse to allow the worldview of scripture to challenge our own, think about the claim that this is subtly making. "We here in the 21st century in America, have a privileged position from which to look. Our worldview is completely correct and therefore things that challenge it shall be labeled 'intolerant'." We would never do this with an Asian worldview or an African worldview, so why is it that we do this with the one worldview (and it's derivative culture) that is given to us as God's revelation of himself? Perhaps our pride has gone before us.
All this talk of worldview can be extremely esoteric, so let me break it down for you. The biblical worldview of the early Christians (as best I can tell) is this: There is a Creator God who is distinct from, yet intimately involved in his creation. He created man to be in relationship with him and work for him, yet man disobeyed God and has purposefully chosen life apart from him. Man has chosen to separate himself from life itself. God graciously allows man to continue to exist in this state because he has a plan to restore relationship with women and men. God's plan to reconcile men to himself involves this God actively intervening in the events of history. The climax of this intervention is the sending of Jesus Christ God's son. This has inaugurated the kingdom of God where humanity is restored to God. During the current period God's chosen people, the Church, are empowered by the Spirit of God to be a sign and foretaste of this kingdom, which will come fully and powerfully to reconcile all of creation, man included.
Now, here is where it all comes back to how we view the Bible. Scripture is the God-given record of the activity of this Creator God in history to humankind. It is the way that God shows and tells people what He is like, what we are like, how we can be reconciled to him, and in large measure how we are designed to live. It makes no sense to believe in the saving activity of God in Jesus Christ apart from believing in the God who collapsed the walls of Jericho upon its inhabitants as judgement for their sin.
The challenge for Christians then is to understand themselves in light of the story of Scripture and to have their worldview changed more and more into the worldview of the Bible. I think the biggest challenge to this is self-righteousness, but that takes us to Part 2.