Today we hear a great deal about the need to be inclusive by which is meant that there must be no discrimination against anyone on the grounds of race, religion, gender or sexuality. Everybody is to be included in every part of society and for those who refuse to go along with this a whole new vocabulary has been invented. They are branded as racist or sexist or homophobe and become the targets of hostility in the minds of those who are politically correct.
This set me thinking about whether God is inclusive or exclusive. The conclusion I came to from looking at the Bible is that He is both.
He is inclusive because the extent of His love has always been all the people in the world, whatever their race, religion or lifestyle. He chose Abraham and his family out of all the families of the earth at that time, but promised him that in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 22.18). Through the prophets of Israel He promised that the extent of his plan of salvation was the whole earth: Look to me and be saved all you ends of the earth (Isaiah 45.22). When the Messiah Jesus appeared he told his disciples to take his message into all the world (Mathew 28.19) because God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16). It is not Gods will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and eternal life through faith in the Messiah Jesus (2 Peter 3.9).
God is also exclusive because he has set clear boundaries to the way we can come to him and absolutely refuses to accept the possibility of mingling worship of himself with the worship of other religions. When he chose Abraham he took him out of the area of Babylon and into the Promised Land and out of idolatry and into faith in the one true God who is creator of all things. When he gave the commandments to Moses he began by saying ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20.3) nor make images or bow down to them and worship them. The whole message of the Hebrew Prophets is a call to Israel to turn away from the false religions of the nations around them and be faithful to the Lord. Isaiah 45.20-21 compares the worship of the nations who pray to a god that cannot save with the worship of the Lord: ‘There is no other God besides me, a just God and a Saviour; there is none besides me.’
When the Messiah Jesus appeared he also made it absolutely clear that the revelation he was bringing is so radically different from all other religious or philosophical ideas that there is no possibility of mingling this way with other religions. Because he came from heaven, he has unique authority to reveal the way back to heaven.
‘No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him’ (John 1.18).
‘If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who came down from heaven, that is the Son of Man who is in heaven’’ (John 3.12-13).
He will judge all people at the end of this age: ‘For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment also because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth – those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of damnation’ (John 5.26-29).
The way to escape damnation and enter into eternal life in heaven is through repentance and faith in the Messiah Jesus: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me’ (John 14.6). ‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4.12).
This is clearly totally exclusive as far as other faiths go. It means you cannot be saved by keeping the 613 commandments of the Torah or the 5 pillars of Islam or the eight fold path of Buddhism or any other belief. If you could be saved by these paths then the cross becomes an act of folly on the part of Jesus and an act of sadism on the part of the Father.
In the garden of Gethsemane just before he went to the cross, Jesus prayed ‘O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as you will’ (Matthew 26.39). The cup he was referring to was the cup of suffering he was about to drink – the physical agony of the scourging and the crucifixion, the public humiliation of being executed as a criminal and above all the torment of having the sins of the world placed upon him and being separated from the Father for the only moment in all eternity, as he cried out ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27.46, Psalm 22.18).
If it was possible to be saved by following any other faith, why did not the Father intervene and save Jesus from the cross, as he had the power to do (Matthew 27.53)? Only through the sacrifice of one who was without sin could those who are sinners be saved, for without the shedding of blood there is no remission (of sin) (Hebrews 9.22).
On the day of judgement there will be those who will be excluded from entering into heaven: ‘But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lambs book of life.’ (Revelation 21.27). To have our names written in the book of life we must be born again through repenting of our sin and believing that Jesus is the Saviour, the one mediator between God and humanity.
Since God is both inclusive and exclusive his followers should also be both inclusive and exclusive. We are to be inclusive in that our desire is to see all people saved and therefore we are to love them and seek to bring them to faith in the Messiah. We are to be exclusive in that we do not accept any mingling of our faith in the one God and the one way of salvation through Jesus with gods that cannot save and man made philosophies of improving human behaviour. We are also to keep God’s commands and not to be influenced by the standards of the world. Comparing the church to a boat and the world to the sea, if the boat is in the sea that is fine, but if the sea is in the boat, it is sunk.
Today the major problem for the believing church is that we are being too inclusive and allowing things into the church which should not be there – low standards of morality, counterfeit spiritual experiences and the ecumenical movement opening us up to merging with Rome and even with other faiths. On the other hand there is the danger of being too exclusive and not having a vision or desire to reach out to the lost, and of just having a bunker mentality that we will preserve our little patch until the Lord returns. A true understanding of the issues of the end times should spur us on to do all that we can to redeem the time and get the message of the Gospel out – to all people of all faiths and none.
For those who have not yet accepted Jesus as Saviour the following is a prayer of commitment: ‘Dear God, I admit that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus the Messiah died in my place paying the penalty for my sins. I am willing right now to turn from my sin and accept Jesus the Messiah as my personal Saviour and Lord. I commit my life to you and ask you to send the Holy Spirit into my life, to fill me and to take control and to help me become the kind of person you want me to be. Thank you Father for loving me. In Jesus name, Amen.’