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Does everyone need Jesus?

Author // Felicia Caid Smith

6 different views on salvation

Does everyone need Jesus?

In 2020, when it seemed like only terrible things were happening all around, the most amazing thing happened in my family—my eight-year-old son asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior.  This itty-bitty, brand new believer was so excited about what Jesus had done for him that he couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else missing out, so he began making phone calls to unsaved family members and telling each of them about Jesus.  In every conversation, he would share the gospel and talk about the ABC’s of salvation:  A) admit that you’re a sinner, B) believe that Jesus died for your sins, and C) confess that Jesus is Lord.  Even though no one was converted during these gospel calls, a fire for evangelism was burning deep in his bones and nothing was going to put it out.  I heard him pray, “God, I promise that someday I will do a world tour and tell people everywhere about Jesus!”  

I am inclined to believe that my son will share the good news of Jesus Christ with a whole lot of people in his lifetime, which brings me to the topic of this post:  Do all people everywhere need to hear about Jesus?  Is the gospel necessary, or is there another way for people to be saved?


the doctrine of salvation

To answer this, we must take a closer look at soteriology and examine the different views of how a person comes to be saved from their sins.  Imagine there is a man on an island, somewhere far across the globe, and a missionary has yet to reach him—no world tour has taken place on this tiny atoll—so the man has never heard the name Jesus.  Before we can examine the means by which this man can be saved, we must ask an important preliminary question: Is this man a sinner who needs saving?  

Let’s pretend that you and I observe this lonesome island-dweller’s behavior, and he seems to be good and upright.  We must remember that the standards of two sinners like you and I are not the same as the standards of a perfect, holy God.  The Book of Romans states, “there is no one who does good, not even one” (3:12b) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).1  No one will ever be blameless enough to meet God’s holy standard and cross the chasm that separates he and God.  

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.   --Isaiah 59:2

So then, how is the sinner-man on the island to be reconciled with a holy God?  Let’s look at six different soteriological viewpoints and how each would attempt to address this dilemma:

1. Universalism:  The view that God loves everyone and will not judge anyone.2   All people who ever lived will be saved, including the man on the island. 

Universalism does not align with the Word of God.  God certainly does love his creation, but his creation has been corrupted with sin since the fall of man, and sin must be judged. 

Romans 14:10b-12 reads: “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” 

Furthermore, universalism conflicts with the very words of Jesus Christ, who said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

2. Religious Pluralism:  The view that all sincere religious people will be saved no matter which religion they practice.3  All religions are pathways to the same God, so as long as the man on the island is practicing some form of worship in his heart, he will be saved.

Shamefully, when I was in my very early 20s, I had nearly bought into religious pluralism.  Although I was a born-again Christian, I had not read the Bible, and so I was easily persuaded by ideas that contradicted Christianity, including the idea that all paths lead to the same eternal outcome.  After all, it was a whole lot easier to believe my non-Christian friends were saved, because it relinquished any responsibility of gospel-sharing on my part.  When I mentioned this idea of religious pluralism to my boyfriend at the time (now my husband), he asked, “Felicia, if there are other ways to get to heaven, why did Jesus have to die?”  This question led to more questions, and not long afterward, I began reading my Bible and realized that religious pluralism is not biblical.

The Bible tells of people groups who had a generic belief in God—the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Amalekites, the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Sidonians, the Assyrians—and they were all a sinful mess.   Even the Israelites, who had an actual covenant with the One True God, were in a constant struggle with sin and turned against God again and again.  You and I and all people have this same rebellious, sin-nature, and on our own it is impossible to keep steady fellowship with the Holy God.  But unlike the ancient Israelites, we have an advocate with the Father, and that advocate is Christ Jesus.  

In 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Paul writes: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”

Like universalism, religious pluralism conflicts with the words of Jesus Christ, who declared that He is the only way to God.  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

3. Inclusivism: The view that all people will be saved through Christ’s redeeming work, even if they don’t realize who redeemed them until after they die.4  If the man on the island doesn’t hear of Jesus or believe in Him, after his life ends, he will learn that Jesus saved him, and then he will receive his eternal reward.

This idea assumes that Christ’s redeeming work covers all people with or without hearing the gospel or believing it; however, this view also conflicts with the Bible.  When the jailer of Acts 16 asked Paul and Silas what he must do in order to be saved, they didn’t respond by telling him he was already included in Christ’s redeeming work.  No, they responded by telling him the specific action he needed to take in order to be included: “Believe in the Lord Jesus” (v. 31). 

Simply put, believing in Jesus is required for salvation.  John 3:16 tells us that by believing in Jesus, we can have everlasting life.

4. Annihilationism: The view that people who do not believe in Jesus will not be saved, but they also will not be punished for their unbelief.5  The man on the island will not receive an eternal reward in heaven when he dies, and neither will he be punished in hell, but instead, he will cease to exist. 

This interpretation is also contrary to the words of Jesus Christ.  In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke about an eternal separation that will take place between the righteous and the unrighteous in the final judgement.  He went on to say that the unrighteous will be told “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (v. 41) and that “these will go away into eternal punishment” (v. 46).

Paul also wrote of this eternal punishment in his first letter to the Thessalonians, stating that those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (1:9).

5. Post-mortem evangelism:  The view that after unbelievers die, they will be given another opportunity to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved. The man on the island doesn't need the gospel brought to him because he will be presented with an opportunity to trust Jesus after he dies. 

I have considered this viewpoint in the past and thought there must be an opportunity beyond death for unbelievers; however, the more I read the Word of God, the less I am able to hold to this view.  

In Luke 16, Jesus speaks about a rich man and a beggar who died and inherited two very different eternities.  In death, the beggar was carried by angels to the place where Abraham dwelled, while the rich man opened his eyes in a place of torment and anguish.  There was no intermediary place for conversion, evidenced further by the rich man’s desperate hope that his still-living brothers would repent before their deaths.  

6. Exclusivism:  Only those who heard of Jesus Christ and believed in Him will be saved.7  The only way for the man on the island to be saved is for him to hear the gospel and trust in the Lord Jesus.

I know there is much that I cannot understand until the day I stand in glory with the Lord and can ask him all the questions that I have pondered while here below, but from my reading and interpretation of Scripture, it seems that exclusivism is the most biblically aligned view.  The man on the island must hear and accept the gospel or else he is doomed.

So what does this mean for you and me?  It means if we want the man on the island to be saved, we have to be willing to be the man in the boat.  We have to be willing to go to him and tell him about Jesus.  You might say, “I can’t drop everything and travel around the world to be a missionary!”  You don’t have to.  The man on the island is not 5,000 miles away.  He’s just across the street or down the hall or a phone call away, because the man on the island is your neighbor, your co-worker, your family member, or your friend.  And he is headed toward an eternal separation from God if someone doesn’t love him enough to tell him about Jesus. 

I pray that the burden for the man on the island grows heavy in our hearts so that we are compelled to bring the gospel to him.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of who they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching.
Romans 10:14


  • 1. All verses are taken from the ESV.
  • 2. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 140.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid.

About the Author

Felicia Caid Smith

Felicia Caid Smith

Felicia is married with two little theologians who have a lot of BIG questions. She is a former history teacher, Sunday school teacher, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry leader. She has a Master of Theological Studies from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a calling to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. When she is not speaking and blogging, she subs at her sons’ Christian school, leads a women’s discipleship group, and sings on the worship team at her church.

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