A few days ago I wrote about the exclusive claims of Jesus. Today I am challenged by another approach to those exclusive claims of Jesus. In the record of the Acts of the Holy Spirit there is a story of a man who was visited by God in a dream and told to go to Joppa and seek out the apostles. Here is the description of this man: “a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” It is well known that among the non-Jewish community were many people who were considered devout and prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jewish religious establishment does not question the extent to which these devout people understood they were praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
If there was no question in the mind of the Jewish religious leaders as to the accessibility of these devout people to the riches of their faith, there appears to have been some question in the mind of the early church and the apostles. St. Luke records the response of St. Peter, the spokesman of the early church, in these words; “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Even today, for most evangelical followers of Jesus these words seem to contain a generosity of spirit, an outpouring of gracious welcome, which borders a kind of universalism. Is there room for entry into God’s presence without the acknowledgement of the Christ and his death and resurrection? Some will deny such a possibility because Cornelius did come to Joppa and realized that Jesus was the way. (In fact, one of the names of the early church was “people of The Way.”)
The question remains: Is access to God granted by those who exhibit the qualities of a devout faith: fearing God, giving generously especially to the poor and constant prayer or communication with God? The words of St. Paul open the door to this understanding;
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:13-16)
If you are worried about who will get to the pearly gates at the end, please do not worry: you are not the final judge of the living and the dead.
Here is the crunch: you and I are responsible for the light we already have. Jesus was right when he said, “To whom much is given, much is required.”