Ligonier West Coast Conference - John MacArthur - II
After singing six verses of The Church’s One Foundation, Dr. John MacArthur gave a message on the question Is Jesus the Only Way? John noted that, in our day, the exclusivity of Jesus Christ is not an obvious truth for many professing evangelicals. When he began his ministry, John had not anticipated such an attack on the gospel from within the church itself.
Today, an ambiguous gospel is being promoted by many. But we cannot get this issue wrong without eternal consequences. True Christians have always believed that unless you hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ you cannot be saved.
PAUL REGARDED JEWS AS LOST APART FROM FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST
John had us open to Romans 10. John wants to show us this morning what the Bible says about any other path of “salvation.” In Rom 10:1, Paul notes that his prayer and longing for ethnic Israel is that they be “saved.” Such language assumes that they were not, presently, saved. Yet some today (e.g., John Hagee) have the audacity to say that Jews in our day can be saved in some other way than faith in Jesus Christ. But Jesus himself viewed the nation of Israel as apostate—even though they read and taught from the Old Testament. They had a “zeal for God but not according to knowledge.”
The Jews thought God was less righteous than He really was, and that they were more righteous than they really were, so “being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10:2). But the only way we will ever be righteous is through the One who satisfied the law perfectly. And this righteousness is available for everyone who believes.
Later in Romans 10 Paul makes clear that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be heard if it is to be believed, and must be believed if one is to be saved. This “ambiguous” gospel today is an assault on those who gave their lives for the true gospel. Was all this loss of life unnecessary? A waste? Ironically, in this day when we have greater means than ever to spread the gospel all over the world, in many circles we have less interest in doing that because we think that people are going to be OK even without hearing the gospel. This is an embarrassment. But it is being defended by various theologies. Such as:
Man can discover the existence, nature, and attributes of God by human reason. Human reason can understand cause-effect, and will ultimately trace things back to their source. (All this is true, from Romans 1). But then they go further and say that man can understand enough about God to come to Him and be saved without special revelation.
An example of inclusivism being rampant in our day is the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope recently taught that people can be saved by living good lives, regardless of whether they profess Christ and join the Catholic Church. In addition, Dr. MacArthur quoted from an interview between Billy Graham and Robert Schuller in which these men discussed “members of the body of Christ who are outside the church and have never heard of Jesus Christ….they respond to the light they have and live a very different life than those around them.”
Sometimes this kind of thinking is called “wider mercy.” We are to look to other religions to find out “what God is is doing there.” We should “humbly” recognize that God “got to them before we did.” But this is preposterous in light of the clear teaching of Scripture (e.g., John 14:6, Acts 4:12). Yet some today (e.g., Clark Pinnock) teach that the majority of the world is saved through other means (e.g., Hindus saved within Hinduism). Others teach that God looks upon them as having lived “in an Old Testament era,” and then saves them apart from Christ.
Yes, man can know certain things about God (e.g., His power) from general revelation, but this knowledge is insufficient to save—it is only sufficient to damn. What man does with this knowledge (because he is dead in sin, Eph. 2:1) is suppress it in unrighteousness. The information is enough to damn (be “without excuse”, Rom. 1:20). John noted that the most foundational issue in a biblical understanding of man and God is this: Apart from God, man is totally incapable of being saved or moving toward God.
Where do they wind up, suppressing the knowledge of God? This is the story of history: pursuing their own passions, living for various idolatries rather than the true God. This is where “natural theology” leads us. People do not follow the “light they have” (though they do have some light) to “more and more light”. Rather, they move toward darkness.
I CORINTHIANS 1
I Corinthians 1 notes that even when presented with the message of the cross finds it to be “foolishness”. So apart from special revelation, man cannot move toward God. And then when informed of the one way of salvation, he finds it foolishness–except those whom God is saving. Paul says “line up all the great folks.” Note: Did they come to God by their wisdom. MacArthur recommended the book Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (P.S.) by Paul M. Johnson, which chronicles the wisdom of these leading thinkers (both in the ancient and the recent past), who were nevertheless most vile.
I Corinthians 1 shows that the only ones who can believe are those whom God calls—those who are chosen. We are saved first to last by God. Why is it this way? So that nobody can boast. It is God’s proclaimed word reaching in and penetrating the heart of particular sinners.
I CORINTHIANS 2
Natural men cannot understand the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned. You must come to Christ for salvation, but you cannot do so without God opening your heart.
ACTS 17 (AND A FEW OTHER TEXTS)
John read from the account of Paul’s sermon on the Areopagus, where he noted that they were very religious. Toward the end of his recorded statement, Paul notes: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” So Paul told the Athenians that they must repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ.
In I Corinthians 10, we see that people offer to idols are in fact offered to demons. Demonic activity is behind all false religions. Muslims and Hindus worship demons. They are not doing “the best they can to worship God.” See also II Corinthians 10:3-5, Psalm 106:37, Deuteronomy 32:21ff.
In closing, John went to II Thessalonians 1:7-8. Those who do not know or obey God are to receive “flaming fire.” John shared that it breaks his heart that we undercut missionary endeavor in our day with inclusivist teaching stemming from natural theology.