READER>> Here are some of my thoughts in response. On the surface, you have answered all the questions. It seems having harmonized God’s grace with man’s faith without compromising His justice. But I think you have compromised all of them. You said “the non-believers will be condemned to Hades as punishment for their unbelief, but will ultimately go to the new heaven due to God’s grace.” First of all, it is undermining the character of God’s grace.
Grace, in my understanding, is unmerited. Consider the prodigal son in Luke 15. When he came back to his father, his father received him out of grace. What if his father let him work for ten years due to his prodigality, and then restored his sonship after his hard work? Is it grace? What would be in that son’s mind then? He had been working for ten years before the sonship was restored. Is there something he could boast? Say the unbelievers go to the new heaven eventually, will they have something to boast before God? “Oh yeah, I’ve only spent less than 100 years sinning on earth, but I have been suffering in Hades for (I don’t know, maybe) thousands of years, as punishment. I’ve got what I deserved. Now you pull me up from Hades and expect me to be thankful?” Certainly when grace is contaminated with “works,” even just a teeny tiny bit of it, it is not grace anymore. I don’t think God would do this to embarrass Himself, to damage His character, or to undermine His grace.
ME>> This is an excellent question and a good point to clarify. Punishment in Hades / Hell may not be remedial. Each individual human being is born into sin according to Romans 5:12. Everyone begins with a depraved human nature that ultimately hates God and grace in favor of self-righteousness. Until the Holy Spirit specifically targets an individual for the new birth their heart remains constantly at enmity toward God. Yet, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 2:2, and many other verses make it clear that even these unbelievers have been bought and their sins fully paid. God loves them dearly. However, they have not been touched by the Holy Spirit and so their hearts are unchanged and they continue to be wicked men. Hell is a fit destiny for these unregenerate souls who hate God. Furthermore, even the suffering of Hell may not bring about repentance and love toward God. Hell is the home they chose and God gives it to them. Hell may not draw their hearts one inch closer to God. Given the choice between worship of Christ or going to Hell, they have chosen Hell. So time in Hell is not a "work" that earns grace! Instead, Hell is a home fit for the self-righteous who hate grace. Though God loves all mankind very dearly, including the human beings in Hell, no one in Hell has a heart changed to love God in return... at least not yet. So why does God awaken love in some people early in life before suffering great consequences from sin and others later in life after suffering great trials from sin? The prodigal son may have rebelled for 1 year, 10 years or even 20 years. We do not know the length of time he was separated from his father. Yet our father's love remains constant regardless of the length of time we remain in unrepentance. Furthermore, the time we spend in unrepentance (whether in this life or in Hell) is certainly not a "work" that earns grace. Grace cannot be earned. Jesus is Lord of salvation. It is his choice as to who he forgives, a choice he already made when he paid the entire sin debt of mankind on the cross. It is also his choice as to when he transforms the heart to receive his love and forgiveness. Why would God let many pass this life into Hell only to change their hearts with grace after death? Simply, God is demonstrating the great patience of his grace according to his wisdom in the lives of depraved humanity. King David had confidence that, if he wound up in Sheol, even there God's love would guide him, Psalm 139. Of course David was a believer so he did not go to Hell. No one transformed by grace will ever say "I’ve got what I deserved. Now you pull me up from Hades and expect me to be thankful?" as you suggest. In fact read about the Great White Throne Judgment yourself in Matthew 25:31-46 and see that instead Jesus graciously credits righteousness to the sheep standing before him, just extracted from Hades. The sheep are both incredulous and grateful. That is the heart of a sheep.
READER>> Revelation 20:12-15 (NASB) “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
From my study and understanding, the ungodly have been kept in a place of torment and punishment in their spirits, but not joined with a final supernatural body fitted for their punishment in the eternal hell--the lake of fire. It's like a prisoner who hasn't had his trial yet, he's still incarcerated in a jail until his trial at which time he is sent to the penitentiary to serve out his life sentence. The unbelievers are incarcerated now in a place of torment away from God. They will be brought before the tribunal of God, they will be given a new, resurrected body fit for their eternal incarceration in the final hell called the lake of fire. I don’t get any indication that God raises them up in order to bring them into the new heaven. This is what Jesus called "the resurrection of damnation," or “the resurrection of judgment” in John 5:29. Or “the resurrection of the wicked” in Acts 24:15.
ME>> Yes, exactly. John 5:29 and Acts 24:15 are also speaking about the Great White Throne Judgment. But where is your Scriptural support to prove that even one unbelieving human extracted from Hades will then be cast into the Lake of Fire? Matthew 25:41 says that the eternal fire is "prepared for the Devil and his angels." Revelation 20:15 says that the final determination is not conditioned on man's faith, but on the ledger of the Book of Life. You seem confident that your name is there, but on what basis? I am also confident that your name is there, but only on the basis of grace. Do you think "faith" is the condition that added your name to the book? Then that would be a human work / condition and not grace. Do you think Christ paid effectively for your sins and not effectively for the sins of all mankind? Holding to either of those views puts you in jeopardy of the destiny of those in 2 Peter 2:1 who deny Jesus as Lord of our salvation. You are right that the unredeemed will be united with a body to suffer eternally in the Lake of Fire. However, Isaiah 66:22-24 makes it clear twice that all mankind will worship God and all mankind will look with loathe upon the bodies of the wicked. Who are the wicked unredeemed? If all mankind is looking upon them, then it cannot be mankind! Instead, Satan and his demons are the unredeemed cast into the Lake of Fire united with loathsome bodies. All Mankind has been redeemed through the death of Christ, but not Satan and his angels.
READER>> God is the God of grace, love and mercy. He is also the God of wrath and justice. He has to be consistent with His judgment. God’s justice does not mean He will just send those who rejected His Son into Hades for “temporary” (compared with eternal) punishments.
ME>> Yes, exactly. I whole heartedly agree that God's character is balanced perfectly with love, justice, and grace. These excellent attributes cannot and will not be compromised in any way. In fact that is my main point! The wrath of God has been fully satisfied for the sins of both believing and unbelieving mankind. The justice of God has already been met for all mankind and thus all mankind must be saved -- not because of any condition we could meet, but because of the condition Christ already met. Since justice has been served for all mankind, all mankind must be saved! 1 John 2:2 could not be more clear that atonement has been made independently of any condition that man could ever meet for both the believing and the unbelieving. Romans 5:10 also makes it clear that we were reconciled to God while we were yet enemies. The reconciliation of men to God was accomplished by the grace of Christ alone. Many Christians talk about the "finished" work of Christ. I believe his work is truly finished for all mankind and evangelism is simply inviting people to believe it. Yet, 2 Peter 2:1 does make it clear that those who reject their sovereign Lord will suffer for the duration in Hell even though their sins are paid for.
READER>> I think this might be the key question: You have asked, “What is the extent of God’s grace? Or what is the extent of the atonement?” Based on my limited understanding, the extent of God’s grace is unlimited. He COULD surely save everyone if He wills. But the effect of the atonement is limited. It only goes to the elect. God offers salvation to whomever he wants to please Himself for His own glory. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” He is not doing this to please us. Neither do we have the right to question Him. And it is not done according to anyone’s understanding. It is not our job to figure it out, nor do I think we can understand God’s infinite mind with our tiny brains. What I have done, and what I will be praying for you also, is to be comfortable with our inability not to get it, to stop fighting it, and to be content not to get it. We are just the clay in His hands after all. He has the right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use.
ME>> You suggest that God's grace is unlimited in potential, but limited in effect. Perhaps you have been talking to some Regular Baptists. I assert that if you believe that Christ's atonement has both potential and effective components then you have also received a salvation that waffles between potential and effective. There is nothing potential about the grace of God in any way whatsoever. God's love and grace is determined and set upon his chosen people and he will not be thwarted. I have to completely refuse your offer to allow question marks and doubt into the salvation equation. Why would I ever do that? Instead I invite you to believe that your sins and the sins of all mankind are fully paid. Why not put both your feet solidly down on the rock of Christ? You point out that God says, “...he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires," Romans 9:18 (WEB). That statement is true. Most of mankind is not chosen to believe that their sins are already fully paid for. Their existence is to be pitied while they attempt to hide their sin with religion. One could argue with perfect reason from the Scripture that the sins of mankind are fully paid and rather than joyfully rest in the fact they will never let go of their self-righteousness salvation. They will never let go unless the Holy Spirit gives them a heart of flesh. They are dead men clinging to life preservers made of lead. Their hearts remain unrepentant and self-righteous. God has forgiven them from the cross, but not yet given them the mercy of repentance, Romans 2:4.
READER>> You have said, “If the atonement is limited, then you CANNOT know that the atonement applies to you.” I receive it by faith. And you asked, “How can you prove it?” Salvation can be verified by works, as James taught in his epistle. Thus it proves the atonement applies to me. If you are not satisfied with this answer, then I think I CANNOT prove it. I’ll just trust the Lord. It’ll get me nowhere if I try to prove it. You asked, “Are the sins of a Christian forgiven before or after his/her repentance? If it happens after conversion, then faith itself is work.” My answer would be: No! Faith is not work. You stated, “If it happens before repentance, then it applies to everyone.” I cannot agree. I don’t see any indication that they are related that way. I think “the price has been paid” is not equal to “everyone has received forgiveness.” The former is God’s grace; the latter is man’s responsibility. This goes back to your question “Since the price has been paid, do I receive my forgiveness before or after my repentance?” I don’t know. I don’t think one can define WHEN it happened. It is God’s miracle.
ME>> Works are evidence of the transformed life and Christian faith, that is true. However, works can never prove that Christ atoned for you and not another. The great transaction at the cross of Christ is independent of all conditions anyone could offer and is proved to vicariously apply to all mankind because Christ became a man and thus is the new Federal head of all mankind, Romans 5:12-21. So yes, works are evidence of having received God's love, but they are not evidence that God loves you in the first place. Think carefully about that. God loved us while we were still his enemies. Biblical faith is the result of being born again, but "faith" that claims to be the condition that secures God's love is anti-grace and a work. You are right that “the price has been paid” is not equal to “everyone has received forgiveness.” The price has been paid, but not everyone has received forgiveness. All Christ's chosen are forgiven, but most continue to stubbornly refuse forgiveness in favor of self-righteousness. They hold to Peter's rebellious words, "you shall never wash me." And if these rebellious continue in unbelief they will be sentenced to Hell. You say I asked “Since the price has been paid, do I receive my forgiveness before or after my repentance?” To clarify, my question to the religious is "are we forgiven before or after we ask for forgiveness?" The answer is most certainly before. Jesus prayed for our forgiveness from the cross and there was not one person asking.
You quote me saying “If it happens before repentance, then it applies to everyone.” I have shown you the verses that say Christ died for all. I have also shown you that the very nature of how Christ paid for sin, that is becoming a man, demands that his death apply to all mankind. He was not a divided man on the cross paying for a division of mankind's sin. He was a whole man divided for all our sin. Are you concerned that I believe if Christ paid for one, then he must have paid for all? Consider Romans 11:16 (WEB), "If the first fruit is holy, so is the lump. If the root is holy, so are the branches." The Scriptures confirm that if the part is holy, then the whole is holy as well.
READER>> You asked, “Is your faith a pen or glasses?” Obviously it is not a pen, I didn’t write my name in the book of life with my faith. It’s not glasses either. I still cannot read the book, or even see the book. And you asked, “How and when were those names written into the book of life?” Based on Paul’s teaching, they were written down there by God before the foundation of the world. “Why some are there and some are not?” I don’t know. Let God decide. The same as the potter and clay relationship. “How do you know that your name is in the book?” If you are asking how I can physically see my name in the book. Well, I can’t. But I know I have eternal life, so it’s gotta be there. 1 John 5:13 “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.”
ME>> I am glad you have confidence that you have eternal life. My goal in teaching about the gospel of Jesus Christ and his grace is nothing less than to help others have rock solid confidence in God's love for them and all God's people. However, your objections to my primary thesis expose that you do not have both feet squarely on the rock of Christ.
READER>> It seems to me that you are undermining the role of faith in salvation. The Scriptures clearly teach on God’s Sovereignty (Election) and Man’s Responsibility (Faith). Let me borrow John MacArthur’s term and call it the “Twin Truths” here. And the Scriptures go back and forth from divine sovereignty to human responsibility. They always run parallel, and they will never intersect.
The grace of God is sufficient for all men. But only those He chose receive salvation. In other words, the extent of the atonement is universal. It is available to all. But the effect of the atonement only goes to the elect, based on His purpose according to His choice. He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
On one hand, God has His “irresistible grace,” on the other hand He holds every one responsible for his/her own belief or unbelief. What is the role of faith then? How do we harmonize it with God’s “irresistible grace?” The answer I found is there is no way to harmonize these two things without destroying one or the other, or even both. I just need to believe in both.
The fact that we don’t understand how it works only proves that we’re less than what we think we should be. It doesn’t say anything about God. Our inability to harmonize those things is a reflection of your fallenness, and my fallenness. They can’t be harmonized in our puny human mind, compared to the infinite, vast, limitless mind of God.
1 Corinthians 13:9 “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.” We are limited to what God has revealed, and we are limited by the fact that a human mind cannot understand a superhuman God in fullness. Systemizing God is very difficult because we don’t have all of the information, we are trying to put the pieces together and make conclusions without fullness of revelation. Romans 11:33-34 ”Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” His ways are past finding out. We are always dealing with a part of the truth in terms of its total.
ME>> We agree on much. Faith is essential for salvation from a self-righteous heart, for salvation from sin, for salvation from Hell. Faith is essential to be a Christian. Faith is essential to be graced with the title "God's Child." Faith is essential to be reconciled to God... that is for our hearts to cease being at enmity toward God. The point that we disagree upon may be small, but it is critical. Faith does absolutely nothing to reconcile us to God... for his part. Faith does not get Jesus to die on the cross for us or get Jesus to decide to love sinners. He did that without our asking. He did that in spite of Peter's objections! God loved us first! That is the heart of grace. God's heart never had or will have condemnation toward us. And if he never condemns us then no one is left to send us to the Lake of Fire. God loved us while we were yet sinners. That is the good news. We do not have to do anything to get God to love us. And if he loves us at all, he loves us completely.
In the end I think we have different definitions of saving faith. Unfortunately we cannot share the same joy until you let go of "faith" as a condition to God's love and instead begin to trust in Christ's unconditional love. You point out that we "know in part." That is true. However, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not reveal "part" of God's love for mankind, but the gospel reveals the full extent of God's love. The gospel does not conceal, but reveals. The willing sacrifice of God's only son proves that God loves us to the maximum! The love of God for all mankind is fully manifest in Christ's willingness to die for all mankind, while we were yet sinners. I hope that I can continue to be patient with your resistance to this good news.
READER>> But what I do know is: if one doesn’t BELIEVE, he/she is NOT BORN AGAIN, thus he/she is NOT a CHILD OF GOD, and could NOT inherit the kingdom of God. One cannot go to heaven if he/she cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
ME>> I agree. Those who reject grace and remain unbelieving will not be in paradise when they die, but will be punished in Hell. Their hearts remain unchanged by grace and so Hell will be a fit destiny for their souls. They are not sons of God while in unrepentant unbelief. Yet, because the death of Christ has satisfied justice for their sin, the grace of God must and will prove victorious in the end, even for them. These wicked unbelieving humans will be extracted from Hell and transformed by grace to receive grace with gratitude, Matthew 25:31-46. They will be sons of God. I take sides with King David who believed that the love of God continues even for those in Hades, Psalm 139. I also take sides with Jesus who said that even "...the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18b WEB).
READER>> 1 John 2:2 says “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” I think it can be explained in this way. The extent of the atonement is SUFFICIENT for each individual. But the effect ONLY goes to the elect. Besides, ”the whole world” in 1 John 2:2 would fit the rest of the Scriptures better if it is taken as “every nation, every race,” instead of “every individual in this world.”
2 Peter 2:1 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” In what sense are the false teachers bought? The same as in 1 John 2:2. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was a SUFFICIENT purchase price to redeem all men. The price has been paid for all in terms of availability. In that sense they have been bought. Still, only the elect will be saved.
ME>> When you do evangelism do you tell people that Christ might love them or might have died for them? To say that the atonement is only sufficient implies that it only potentially satisfies the wrath of God against the sinner. If the atonement is only potential then what ingredient is needed to activate the atonement and make it effective? If the sacrifice of Jesus was only sufficient or potentially sufficient to pay for the sins of the false teachers, then on what basis can we say it effectively paid for our sins? The Scriptures say that we were bought and that they were bought. If one is only potential and the other effective, then on what basis can anyone claim with certainty that their sins were effectively paid? On the basis of their "faith?" Then the object of their "faith" is their "faith" and it falls on itself! Their "faith" is no longer on Christ, but "faith in faith." You must agree that a person could be deceived and not have true faith. If that is true then how can you tell if your faith is real and has reached the effective part of Jesus' atonement? This is all silly. Jesus has atoned for the sins of all mankind, period. That is where my faith rests and I invite you and everyone to confess the same.
READER>> 1 John 2:27 “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” I think John was rebuking “those who are trying to deceive you” in verse 26, and their human wisdom. He was not talking about pastors, teachers, or shepherds of the flocks. It doesn’t make any sense to me that John, as a teacher himself, was writing to the Christians in Asia Minor to tell them they didn’t need anyone, including himself, to teach them. I hope Satan did not use this verse to deceive you.
ME>> John is warning the believers about those who are trying to deceive. Deceivers could come from anywhere. How can you say that he is not talking about a pastor or teacher? Certainly not all pastors or teachers are deceivers, but just as certainly some are both deceived and deceiving. You quoted 2 Peter 2:1 above which says exactly that! The point of this verse is that a believer should never turn off the "mind of Christ" he has been given and allow another person to serve as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture. You should not believe what I or anyone says because you trust another person's interpretation. Instead you should read the Bible, listen to the thoughts of others if the Lord leads, but most importantly pray and ask God to show you the truth. Only the Holy Spirit is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture. You may disagree with me and me with you. Thankfully the grace of God has that covered. However, there is no human being that can ever stand as the referee to judge the match. Who would we choose? Again, the Holy Spirit is our teacher.
READER>> In addition, I think the argument that one need a statement in one verse to prove a point is weak, because there are many truths in the Bible that are indicated to us by the totality of Scripture rather than any one given statement.
ME>> That is a good point. Did I only cite one verse in my book? Here is another one that is an encouragement to believers... 1 Timothy 4:10 (WEB), "For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we have set our trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." It is odd that the Holy Spirit would say "especially." He says it this way because all mankind is loved by God and already reconciled to him and guaranteed a seat in the New Heaven and Earth. Believers are especially saved because they have received God's love and love him in return now. However, unbelievers, though already forgiven at the cross, have not yet received forgiveness and do not yet love God. Also believers have transformed hearts and are saved from punishment in Hell, whereas unbelievers will be punished in Hell.
READER>> Salvation is by grace ALONE, through faith ALONE, in Christ ALONE, and to the glory of God ALONE. God chose to save some for His own glory. Often we think God as what we think He should be instead of “I am who I am.” And we think God works in a way that we could comprehend. Instead, we should trust Him in everything, “and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
ME>> You echo the rally cry of the reformation to me. Those are powerful words, yet they are claimed by both Arminian and Calvinistic Christians. As for Luther and his great statements about salvation by faith alone, did he teach us whether faith is receiving God's love already guaranteed or the condition that activates God's love? I don't know what he thought, but you and I have come to different conclusions about what saving faith is, about what Hell is and who goes there, and about the Lake of Fire and who is saved from it. You say that I have compromised all, but in fact it is you who has compromised the meaning of the word "all." You add condition to the unconditional love of God and so compromise salvation that is ALL of grace. You also limit the extent and effectiveness of Christ's atonement which paid for ALL. If the Lord changes your mind you will be a most dear brother to me. By the way, you might be tempted to simply choose conventional understandings that surround you instead of my unconventional view. However, history reminds us that truth is not determined by conventions or even the majority. Perhaps if my idea was totally alone in history or even alone today I would abandon it myself. Yet a Google search of "Victorious Gospel" and "Greater Grace" will show you that many are rejoicing in this understanding.