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Do people of other faiths have to believe in Jesus to go to heaven?

Earlier this morning I had a video up of Joel Osteen’s response to this question on Larry King Live. Resurgence had asked me to comment on Osteen’s answer. A couple hours after the post went up the folks at Resurgence contacted me saying they found out Osteen issued an apology several years ago for the statements made on Larry King. You can read about the apology here. It is a clear, humble apology for which Osteen should be commended. As I remarked in my original post at Resurgence, “It's not easy to winsomely answer a question about the eternal fate of billions of people and do it on live television before the next commercial break.” I’m sorry the clip went up, even for a short time, because it does not accurately reflect what Osteen believes.

Very little of my post at Resurgence actually focused on Osteen. Mostly I imagined what I would have said (if I were thinking clearly and quickly on national television, which is a big “if”!). Here’s my answer:

"You know, Larry, that's a huge question. On one level it's hard to answer because it feels like a trap. 'Will he or won't he condemn everyone to hell?' Well, it's not my place to give the final evaluation for anyone. And I don't want to sit here and say that I deserve to go to heaven more than someone else.

"Because the fact of the matter is none of us can merit heaven. God is holy and we are not. No matter how sincere we are or how many good things we do, we can't begin to approach the purity and perfection of God. So we need a Mediator, a go-between.

"The Bible teaches that God sent his Son to be our Mediator. He lived the life we couldn't and died the death meant for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says he was counted as sin so that we could become the righteousness of God. This great exchange is only possible by faith. Even Jesus said that those who don't believe in him stand condemned already.

"And not because they don't believe. God doesn't punish people for not hearing about Jesus. He punishes us for being sinful sinners, for twisting what he has revealed to us in creation and what our own consciences tell us we should do. Without Christ, there's no bridge between God and man, there's no hope for a personal relationship with God, there's no chance of being forgiven.

"Look, I realize that's offensive to many people. But our desire is not to exclude anyone. That's why Christians believe in sharing their faith and starting new churches. We want everyone to put their faith in Christ and be his disciples. That's what Jesus told us to do before he ascended into heaven. But I can't accept that good Buddhists or sincere Hindus are doing just fine, because I don't believe Jesus is someone's personal God. I believe he is God. He is more than a personal Lord. He is the Lord over everyone and everything whether they recognize it or not. I can't fully honor Christ if I pretend he is just one option among many. To say what I think your viewers want me to say would be to deny all that I believe is glorious, precious, and unique about Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him.

"See, the good news is Jesus is not just my personal Savior. He is the Savior of the world. That means he's not my possession that I try to monopolize. No, he possesses everything and will gladly forgive all who turn to him in faith and repentance. Apart from Christ, no one can be right with God, no Hindus, no Buddhists, no Muslims, least of all this sinful pastor. There is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved. But in Christ, there is salvation, joy, and new life for all who believe.

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39 thoughts on “Is Faith Necessary?”

  1. So it is a cop out as a Christian to say “I am a Christian but I don’t really do anything” but it is not a cop out as a pastor to say “I don’t really know” or “Only God can judge the heart” when asked about other faiths and their standing with Christ and truth?


  2. Jeff Schultz says:

    I’ll give Osteen credit when he says, “Only God can judge the heart.”

    Of course, God has made it clear that all of us have a heart problem.

    I don’t know which is more sad: that a nominally Christian minister would not clearly point people to the only solution available, or that Osteen’s waffling on the gospel and the uniqueness of Christ is not uncommon.

  3. Kirstin says:

    Kevin, the linked website says, “You are not authorized to access this page.” Would you post your comments here?

  4. Todd Trausch says:

    It is back up now but with this message instead:

    “It has come to my attention that Joel Osteen wrote a letter of apology following the below video. I am sorry for asking Kevin to write this post without doing more homework.

    Here is what Al Mohler had to say on the apology.”

    There is a link to what Dr. Mohler wrote in ’05 about the apology.

  5. Skeeter says:

    Let’s go back to the authority, God’s Word, and find out the truth. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12.

  6. Doug says:

    Wow! Kevin, that was really good. Thank you.

  7. Jeff Schultz says:


    Thanks for the clarification and update. My earlier comment was on the original post showing the Larry King interview video. I wasn’t aware this was 5 years old, and I’m glad to read of Osteen’s sincere apology and clarification of his commitment to the gospel.

  8. Kristi Morris says:

    I find it interesting that it takes 5 paragraphs to answer Larry King’s question. Could it be that many Christian leaders are simply scared (maybe even ashamed) to speak the simple truth without apology? Jesus said it best, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.

    The lost do not need winsome, sound-bytes. They need the truth that brings salvation. Pastor Osteen missed his chance to share that message with millions in a loving way and I pity him for that.

  9. John Thomson says:


    I like your comment, ‘… it sounds like a trap’. A big part of me wants to answer fully and boldly without holding back on some of these questions whoever it is not always the wisest course. Jesus refused to be sucked into answering questions he knew were set to trap him (should we pay tribute to Caesar?).

    This is not an excuse for avoiding the proper offence of the cross but it is a reminder to be ‘wise as serpents’.

  10. NFQ says:

    Kristi, you’re right. Christians do claim that one can only be saved and go to heaven by believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ. I think it’s telling that many Christians aren’t willing to admit that in a straightforward way. I suspect either they don’t really think it’s true, or they realize how entirely repugnant the idea sounds to everybody else. Probably some combination of the two.

    The leeway that I see is that it could be possible to believe this line in John to be true but interpret the word “except” in a more nuanced way. Believing in Jesus is a necessary prerequisite, by that statement, but is not necessarily sufficient. Who knows what whimsical other criteria God might come up with?

    Some Christians believe one can be saved through faith alone. Others believe that good works alone are what gets you into heaven. Others still think you need both. There are many, many more ways the Bible lists to be saved. Why just pick one, when it’s easier to keep shifting the goalposts every time someone tries to have a discussion about it?

  11. Jugulum says:


    Agreed, that the priority is “clarity”, not being “winsome”. At least not being “winsome to the audience”.

    But clarity itself is a reason to say more than the isolated truth, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to hell.” We shouldn’t miss the opportunity to present what God has revealed about our sin, our need for a redeemer & mediator, our need to repent, and the free offer of the gospel. That’s what underlies the exclusive nature of Christianity–not a self-righteous “be good like us”, but a humble “Come repent and receive from Christ”.

    People are prone to mishear & misunderstand “the simple truth”. They can hear something more ugly than we’re actually saying; the clear truth is more winsome than some of the misunderstandings (even though it will still be offensive to a hard heart).

    In that light, 5 paragraphs isn’t surprising, is it?

    If you still think that some of Kevin’s answer was aimed more at getting people to like us than at clarity, then you could point it out specifically.

  12. donsands says:

    “Without Christ, there’s no bridge between God and man, there’s no hope for a personal relationship with God, there’s no chance of being forgiven.”

    Sin. Forgiveness. Calvary. The empty tomb. These are what Christians need to talk about. This is what Larry King needs to hear from so-called pastors that are on his show.

    Like you say, there’s only one bridge, one mediator, the Man Jesus Christ. Who just happens to be God at the same time.

    Great post. Keep em comin’.

  13. Lydia says:

    Kevin, this answer is so clear and nicely done! I hope I can answer this way in the future when I am confronted with a similar question. I think reading this will help!

  14. Kolin says:

    well done – good clear answer – but I don’t think you would have got all that in before the commercial break!! ;-)

  15. I second Kolin.

    You’ve got 30 seconds if you’re lucky…how will you condense it?
    Christians need to learn how to say what they believe and say it quickly. Mark Driscoll is better than most at that, and he is willing to risk misrepresentation as long as it makes him look bad, when Christ looks good.

    If only we could do this:

    “That’s a good question Larry. I believe…etc… ”

    Or alternatively
    “Press your red button now to get my full answer to this question.”

  16. Phil says:

    Larger Catechism Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?

    A. They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

  17. Rob says:

    The problem here is Joel osteen is the typical mega church pastor today . How is joel osteen going to fill his church if he says Jesus is only way to heaven . He dodge Larry king question for a reason . So he honors man instead of glorifying God . He posted on his website he made a mistake , My question would be he has been back on larry king numerous times why doesnt he say to the public i made a mistake Jesus is the only to heaven . You see larry king if there is any other way to heaven then Jesus died a brutal death for nothing so he is the only way like the bible says he is . ACTS 4-12

  18. Shannon says:

    I think this is a great response. People need to hear the truth, but they need to hear it in a way that they can accept. If a pastor just got on Larry King and said “If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, you’re going to hell”, there would be a whole storm of organizations coming down on Christianity. People would think Christians are hateful and judgmental. I don’t think this response is to “make people like Christians”, it’s just to offer the truth in a way that people will be more receptive towards…It’s still the same truth, Kevin even states that Jesus is the only way to heaven, so it’s not a cop out at all.
    And for those who were saying that deeds alone or a combination of faith and deeds is the only way to get to heaven…what Bible are you reading? The Bible doesn’t say that good works will get you to heaven. It is a faith in Jesus Christ. But as believers we ought to be more than willing to do God’s work. So yes, faith and deeds should go hand in hand, but the deeds aren’t what saves us!

  19. NFQ says:

    Shannon, maybe this will help.

    2 Corinthians 5:10 – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

    Revelations 20:12 – “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

    James 2:14-17 – “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

    Your mileage may vary based on what translation you’re using, but most translations should have something pretty close to that. In some places in the Bible, it sounds like it says “faith alone,” and in other places it sounds like it says “not by faith alone.” You can compare using the lists here.

  20. NFQ says:

    I was wondering why the second passage didn’t get its own automatic link and I realized I typed “Revelations” instead of “Revelation.” Sorry about that. Revelation 20:12

  21. Jonathan Roy says:

    That’s a great answer I wish someone should share on a show like Larry King one of these days. But over and over people seem to be too afraid to offend people with the truth. :/ They always seem to book pastors on the show that have strange beliefs (many paths to heaven), or don’t/won’t speak the gospel as it was written.

    A great treatment of this question I heard recently was David Platt’s message “What Happens To People Who Never Heard About Jesus”.

  22. The article said that Mr. Olsteen may have been nervous. I find this quite hard to believe, Mr. Osteen speaks in front of millions of people on Sunday mornings, he never seems nervous in these situations, and is very much in control of his thoughts.

    Also, someone else mentioned this, that it took him five paragraphs to explain his position to Larry King. It only takes a few words. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. PERIOD! If a preacher/pastor cannot articulate the above sentence, he needs to look for another line of work. Isn’t preaching ALL ABOUT JESUS? Or is it have your best life NOW.

    I wish people would stop compromising the truths of the Bible, for the sake of pleasing men.

    “What does the Lord say in Scriture?” “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven (Matt 10:32-33).”

    Real clear language.

  23. Bob says:

    It would be nice if we could simply say to an unbelieving world “Jesus is the way the truth and the life.” Period. Now go and believe. But we know from Scripture this is not always the case. Just look at Paul when he preaches, he tends to go on a bit doesn’t he? He even relates to his audience by recognizing their other “gods”. Look at the great sermons in Scripture and you’ll see that words may need to be many to convey and describe the great love of God through Christ that is offered to us. Some times few. If it was as simple as quoting a one line Scripture then every Christian should have a fruitful and bountiful ministry of witness. But we know that not to be the case.

    Having been introduce to Christ in my mid-30s I can tell you if someone gave me the one-liner Period… my ears would have been shut. Those one verse quotes do not show much compassion for the lost, the unbeliever, the confused, the skeptic, the searcher. Kevin’s words may have seemed to be many but it showed compassion to those listening that do not have the same framework of thought and reference. Christ never told us to say these 7 words or this one verse to provide witness to Him… no… He never told us that our confession to men had to take a specific dialog of words. Yes He told us to confess and a Christian can do that in 3 words or hundreds. You confess so others can hear and understand.

    Just because someone spends time explaining and guiding someone into the truth of our faith does not mean they are not “all about Jesus”… matter of fact I would believe that person who would spend many words might just be more about Jesus then the one that dumps and runs.

    Remember you don’t have to agree with either Olsteen or DeYoung, you don’t have to like their words, but one thing is certain, whether those words are few or many — His words (God’s) shall not return to Him empty but it shall accomplish that which He purposed…

    Peace and love

  24. SJ Camp says:


    Good article brother.

    I wrote an article on my blog called “Joel Osteen – Ashamed of the Gospel” that dealt with this issue in some detail. I received a phone call the next day from Joel and we talked about his interview with King for the better part of an hour. I encouraged him to write an apology to set the record straight. One of his staff contacted me and asked if I would help him write that letter of apology. I agreed.

    If you would like to know the real story concerning this issue I would be delighted to share it with you. It might help to answer and clarify many of the comments being made here.

    I appreciate your ministry greatly.

    Yours for the Master’s use,
    Steve Camp
    2 Cor. 4:5-7

  25. Elaine says:

    Commenting on the post. I personally prefer the way John MacArthur answered this question on his latest Q&A at his church, at 28:58min on this audio:

    Straight to the point. And with the usual confidence and conviction of where he stands.


  26. Elaine says:

    Mary Elizabeth wasn’t talking about giving the Gospel to an unbeliever. She was referring to a question to someone who everyone who was watching the show knew where he was coming from (well, at least in theory). The answer didn’t have to be an elaborated answer. Osteen failed miserably.

    What does NOT amaze me is that I can see him really asking someone else to write his apology. What amazes me is that someone would agree to writing it.


  27. Bob says:

    You might want to re-read Mary Elizabeth…

    Also, I wasn’t commenting specifically to M.E. post but those in the same vain… it is easy to give blunt answers to someone and turn them off to the Gospel. We don’t have to water the Gospel down but we sure can use words that are compassionate and caring. You must know your audience and help the receive the Good News…

    Now I didn’t like Olsteen’s answer but then again when put on the spot I can say some really dumb things too… He apologized… where our forgiveness? And so what if he took wise council to have someone help write the apology? This is exactly why so many in the unbelieving world turn a deaf ear to the Gospel message. We shoot our own (unless you are going to go to such lengths to read Olsteen’s heart and then declare him an unbeliever)… who wants to investigate and possible join a group that if you say one dumb thing they jump all over you… Gosh wasn’t it Peter that stuck his foot in his mouth a few times? Oh but I guess if Olsteen speaks to large groups then he should never get caught flat-footed… that is because everyone that comments here has direct experience in speaking to large groups… How unforgiving and hyper-critical we are…

    And on the apology subject… how do we know that this person was asked to write it… or was it just to give advice on it…

    No wonder the world is turned off by our message. It makes me sad.

  28. SJ Camp says:


    As a pastor of a church I find great comfort from serving with other elders and deacons. I entreat upon their prayers, fellowship, wisdom, and godly counsel in many decisions I make daily. That is a benefit of tremendous value.

    In like manner, I was asked to help him write that statement of contrition. Not write it for him, but help him. That shows great humility and reflects a teachable heart. That should not be a point of criticism but of thanksgiving.

    From the crucible of grace,
    Col. 1:9-14

  29. Elaine says:

    Your first paragraph describes relationship between brethren. That I understand, and greatly admire.

    I see, however, that we come from very different starting points in this matter, which I won’t discuss. But even if there was an agreement there, I cannot conceive a “pastor” (and I use the term loosely, since he himself likes to be viewed as a “life coach” instead) having to ask another pastor to “help” him explain what he believes!???

    There must be seriously something wrong with me expecting that a pastor, who should have strong biblical convictions on such an important doctrine as salvation, should be able to, clearly and straight to the point, state what he believes. I mean, it’s not rocket science, is it? It’s the Gospel! Even my 8-year-old wouldn’t fail that one.

    “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


  30. Thank you, Elaine. You seemed to understand what my comment was intended to convey. So, I choose to leave it at that.

    As to all the winsome contributors (here, there and everywhere it seems now-a-days), why is it that you can explain what the gospel is, but you cannot say what the gospel isn’t? Isn’t this a contradiction of sorts?

    Many false prophets, to garner the support of the general public and to draw people into their web of deceit, use the name of Jesus Christ as nothing more than a window dressing. Jesus is often an addendum to their sermons, and sadly tacked onto the closing as an after thought. “And, oh, by the way, receive Jesus into your heart and you will be saved.” REALLY! How informative!

    I would ask anyone here, is the gospel message ALL ABOUT JESUS (His life, death, resurrection, substitutionary atonement, repentance, sin, obedience, and all the other not so winsome topics such as God’s wrath and eternal torment in hell), or is it, “Have Your Best Life Now?”

    2 John 10-11: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”

    I have a feeling the winsome crowd would burn Jonathan Edwards at the stake for preaching his sermon, “Sinners in The Hands of An Angry God.”

    God gives us ***His BALANCE*** in Romans 11:22, which clearly prevents us from making an idol of Him, maybe we should listen with renewed hearts and minds.

    “Behold therefore the GOODNESS and SEVERITY of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in [his] goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”

  31. Annie says:

    Excellent! Thanks…

  32. Kathleen says:

    Thank you, Bob, for your wisdom and insight. You very helpfully pointed us all to the example of Paul and the other apostles, who were faithful to the Gospel unto death, and who preached the Word in ways that exalted Jesus Christ and were comprehensible to their audience. See Acts 17 where Paul actually quotes the Athenians’ philosophers and refers to their current religious practice to point them toward the true God and Savior.

    Sometimes, the Christian response should be short and sweet, quoting just a single verse or phrase. But it must be patient, perhaps repetitive for the sake of love, and always trying to reach the unbeliever in a way that removes all barriers except the inherent barrier of a sinful heart. And often that means a lot longer of an answer, much more even than 5 paragraphs: sometimes an entire lifetime of grace and truth offered to a person. We must use our creativity, our intelligence, our time and energy, to communicate the Gospel fully, faithfully, and effectively–to throw one-word or one-sentence answers at people does not mirror God’s patient and condescending grace toward us when we were hardened enemies, rebelling against His truth and love, unaware of our need for Him.

    Thanks, Kevin, I appreciate your work very much!

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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