Since salvation is essentially reconciliation to God, a person must know that he is a sinner and that God has provided a way for his forgiveness. That implies knowing that God is a person, that sin deserves wrath, and that the sinner’s merits are insufficient. Those three realities are denied by various religions. A person may be saved without understanding much about the atonement, like people in Old Testament times. A person cannot be saved while rejecting the message of Christ, but may without the gospel message submit to God and find His mercy.
As the “Good News,” the gospel is urgent information. The Apostle Paul summarized the gospel this way: “That God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). This is reconciliation by forgiveness of sins, and the message is that Christ made it possible.
The prophet Joel prophesied, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered” (2:32) or “saved” (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13). “Whosoever” is a wonderful missionary word; the gospel is for everyone, everywhere!
Our question has caused a lot of theological discussion. In simple terms, though, I think the cited verses involve at least three implications:
(1) Recognizing that a holy God exists. Romans 1:18-20 indicates that conscience and natural revelation teach this, leaving man without excuse.
(2) Recognizing God’s wrath, which results from disobedience and alienation (the same verses as above).
(3) Recognizing the impossibility of saving oneself from God’s wrath and the need of His deliverance. This is the reason for calling upon Him.
The Holy Spirit makes one feel God’s wrath, yet reveals that He is the one who delivers -- and “whosoever” can be led by the Spirit into salvation.
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13 makes it clear that, in order to be saved, one must “call” (or respond in faith). The next verse shows that calling on Him is preceded by faith: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?” And faith is preceded by knowledge that comes from a message: “And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” That message requires a messenger: “And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
A person, to be saved, must know Jesus and put saving faith in Him; that is all. That may happen even if he does not know Scripture or the details of His life. Jesus is our salvation. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
Based on Hebrews 11:6 and 1 Timothy 4:10, a seeker after God must:
*Believe that there is a personal God who cares for man and who responds to us.
*Believe that he is a sinner and in need of a Savior.
*Believe that a Savior is willing to save him.
Based on a doctrine of prevenient grace and a conviction that God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9), I believe that God will give further revelation to anyone who responds in faith to the amount of revelation they have already received.
(HOWEVER, this does not deal with the nature of this Savior (is it possible to believe in “Christ” without full revelation of His name?); with the nature of faith (is it possible to “believe” without full cognitive knowledge); etc.
At first glance, this question sounds easy to respond to. However, when working with people groups (and those in western societies) who possess no knowledge of Christ, we need to re-think some of our assumptions. We must clearly communicate the essence – the core – of salvation, unhindered by our cultural and theological trimmings.
Many in America (and too many in our churches) do not have the FIRM FOUNDATIONS of a biblical worldview; thus, what knowledge is essential for salvation? I give it a try: (1) One must understand that he is lost and hopeless. Without the hopeless part, he will pursue various “self-salvation opportunities.” (2) He needs to know that he needs help and hope from an outside source. (3) He needs to know that God (his Creator) is that outside help and will re-make him. (4) He must believe his Creator will do it.