A Thought

Optimism Out of Control, A ThoughtOur Salvation Evaluator matrix has been useful to categorize different streams of thought concerning Christian salvation.  When the factors of [PART or ALL] of mankind and [PART or ALL] of salvation are considered carefully, there is no fence riding.  You might possibly ride the fence between PART and ALL.  You could argue that this subject is similar to the mystery of the Trinity being three in one, or Jesus being both fully human and fully divine.  However, the great philosopher C.S. Lewis and the great theologian James Boice both agreed that there is no fence riding, though each from different sides of the fence.


We have also shown that the three cases considered thus far all have a dispute with Scripture, more or less.  Here are the few Scriptures we considered.

I John 2:1-2 (WEB) explains that Jesus did die for ALL mankind.  Verse 2 specifically highlights that Christ atoned for the sins of believers and unbelievers -- for the church and the whole world.

1) My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. 2) And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (WEB) explains that we are saved by grace apart from any work and that even faith itself is a gift of God.

8) for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9) not of works, that no one would boast.

I have also said that all Christians agree that the PART for PART combination is bad math.  I have shown that the PART for ALL model (Arminianism) and the ALL for PART model (Calvinism) both dispute Scripture and reason.  First, they both claim that adherents can be certain of their salvation.  Yet it is impossible that two systems could be so different and yet both be true.  Either one OR both of these views is in grave error.  Second, since Arminian theologians claim that "faith" is the condition that secures their salvation, then their security is ultimately dependent upon their act of "faith" instead of directly and fully on Christ.  They trust in their trust.  Thus they have no true security.  Adherents can never be absolutely sure that God agrees that their act of "faith" is authentic and sufficient to guarantee salvation.  Third, Calvinist theologians do claim to have faith fully on and directly in Christ, but they also claim he only saves a chosen subset of mankind.  Thus their security requires confidence that they are part of that chosen subset.  They can have no true security either, because faith must be based on facts and the critical fact we have is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of ALL mankind.  They are trusting in their imagination.  Fear of eternal damnation inspired their imagination to hope that God loves them and the minority, because they think that God hates and damns the majority.  Again, how sad!

Curiously, when Jesus was physically present on this earth his ministry challenged both the Jew and the Gentile in different ways.  The Jews believed that they were God's chosen people, while also believing that the Gentiles were not chosen.  Jesus angered them by loving the Gentiles.  The Gentiles, however, believed that good people could touch the divine with religious acts.  Jesus angered them by saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me" (John 14:6b WEB).

Two thousand years later, mankind continues to pass by to the left or to the right of the cross of Christ like unbelieving Jews and Gentiles from Jesus' day.  But God continues to invite us all to come instead to the foot of the cross.  Unfortunately, the hypocrisy typified by the Jew and the false religion typified by the Gentile still obscure our understanding of God's loving grace toward ALL mankind even today.

Hopefully, I have been fair and balanced in my analysis because I have personally served time as both an Arminian and a Calvinist.  Yet now I am confident that the grace of God is a whole lot more comprehensive than either Camp Left or Right.

Join me now in considering the ALL for ALL combination next.


In this case consider the good news that Christ did ALL of salvation for ALL of mankind.  Some believe that when Jesus died on the cross he paid for the sins of ALL of mankind and that he did ALL of the work so that any individual can simply trust that Jesus has completely forgiven us ALL already.

For example, suppose Mother Teresa and Hitler are both within the part of mankind that Jesus forgave. (They are because Jesus died for ALL mankind!)  Furthermore, since Christ did ALL for ALL, unconditionally, Mother Teresa and Hitler are both spared from the Lake of Fire in the end by God's grace and saved to live with God and ALL his people in eternity.  This is a most curious thought, especially with you and me there as well. 

This view agrees with I John 2:1-2 (WEB) which says that Jesus did die for ALL mankind.

1) My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. 2) And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

This view also agrees with Ephesians 2:8-9 (WEB) which explains that we are saved by grace apart from any good work.

8) for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9) not of works, that no one would boast.

Christian Universalism fits into this case.  Yet, because the Bible is clear about the punishment of unbelievers after death in Hell, most Christians also reject this view.  However, for a fair assessment of each quadrant let's take a closer look at the Scriptures.

Romans 11:32-36

Consider a thorough exegesis of Romans 11:32-36 (WEB).

32) For God has bound all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.

33) Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!  34) 'For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' 35) 'Or who has first given to him, and it will be repaid to him again?' 36) For of him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen.

We ought to give our most serious attention and interpretive skill to these verses. 
I believe this paragraph of Scripture is the grand conclusion of grace theology for three reasons.  First, the paragraph is squarely at the end of Apostle Paul's treatise on grace and Christian salvation, a logical place for a grand conclusion to be.  These words are not a mere point or transition, but the summation of Paul's entire explanation of grace from Romans 1 through 11.  Second, Romans 11:32 is followed immediately by an equally grand doxology of worship (that is Romans 11:33-36) and five concluding chapters which focus on instructions about our response to this grand conclusion, that is Romans 12-16.  Third, I have already suggested that Romans 11:32 answers the three biggest questions that mankind has ever had or will ever have before God our creator.  Any concluding word about grace and Christian salvation ought to answer our biggest questions.  This grand conclusion does not disappoint.  Again these questions are:

1) How did sin enter the world?  2) What is God's purpose in sin and salvation?  3) Who is finally saved from God's wrath against sin?  Let's dissect this verse for the answers to these three questions.

For God

God is the subject of the grand conclusion of grace theology.  He is the subject of the sentence, the person in focus, the actor on the stage of everything.  "For God!"  It is certainly fitting that God would take the place as subject of the grand conclusion of redemption.

has bound

How has God acted?  The main verb is "to bind."  So "God has bound?"  This is curious, and in fact a bit dark and unexpected.  Freedom is what we seek, honor, and exalt.  Yet, "God has bound."


Who has he bound?  "God has bound all."  We are the direct object, that is ALL mankind, even ALL creation.  But how can there be rejoicing in this dark thought?  We might instead prefer to read that God has bound darkness, or bound Satan, or bound all evil.  But we read that "God has bound all."  We are the object of his binding.  What could this mean?  And does "all" mean ALL?  Is it only representatives from all categories of men as Mark Galli suggests in his book God Wins, or all men generally, or every single human that lived for all time?  Perhaps we misunderstand.  Perhaps we are ALL bound to his goodness or bound to forgiveness.

  to disobedience

Darkest of dark.  "God has bound all to disobedience!"  Who is this God?  Certainly this must be a mistranslation!  Certainly this must be an error from an evil scribe from millennia past!  Yet, this is an adverbial clause modifying the verb, "has bound," by answering the question, "has bound to what?"  But in light of the answer... who cares about grammar?  Why would God do that, and how could he possibly be good to do that?  Yet if we are reading and understanding correctly, then we now have the answer to our first question.

1) How did sin enter the world?  All men are bound to sin by the will of God.

The Biblical answer to the origin of sin is radically different than the answer suggested by C.S. Lewis.  As already discussed, Lewis believed that free will was required for a true expression of love.  Lewis also believed that giving man free will then allowed for mankind's choice of evil.  Though Lewis was a most excellent philosopher, he is in grave error on both of these points.  God's true loving grace is instead all the greater because he saves us, not out of our freedom, but out of our bondage to sin.  Lewis' suggestion that free will allows for the choice of evil is simply mistaken logic.  Actually God himself is the only being that ever lived with a perfectly free will, yet there is no possibility of his choosing evil.  A will that is free is truly free!  I write further about free will in my article, A Quintessential Defense of FREE WILL.

Furthermore, we now also see that "all" means every single human that has lived for all time, for Paul is simply restating Romans 3:23.  If "all" means ALL in Romans 3:23, as all Christian theologians agree, then it certainly must mean ALL here.  Though one might object saying that "all" simply means representatives from all categories of men, that is Jews and Gentiles, but not necessarily every individual.  At least it would be consistent to say that Romans 3:23 and Romans 11:32 both mean every category of men, but not every individual.  We should be consistent because the context for both verses regarding Paul's points about Jew and Gentile being alike under sin are the same.  However, Romans 3:23 is easily understood to mean every individual person, just as Romans 11:32 should be understood to mean every individual person, whether Jew or Gentile.  If we say "all" does not mean each individual, but only each category, are we then saying that there are some people who do not sin?  Are some people not bound to disobedience by God?  Hardly.  The point is that ALL who sin, and ALL sin, do so because God has ordained it.  Plus we now see that Galli is wrong to suggest that "all" merely means "all categories of men."  "All" can only mean ALL mankind in Romans 11:32 -- that is every single individual Jew and Gentile, even all creation.

Paul did warn us in Romans 8:20 that there is an actor on the stage that subjected creation to frustration.  Paul is now telling us plainly in his grand conclusion that it is God himself who has subjected creation to frustration.  God is the reason that each individual human that has ever lived for all time is a sinner.  This truth can also be confirmed in Isaiah 30:28.  So God has bound ALL men to disobedience.

Why Lord?  How can this be?


Thankfully we see the beginning of another adverbial clause to answer the question as to why "God has bound."  Thankfully God is willing to disclose the reason for binding us all to disobedience.  The thought of God's decree being the reason that we stumble, fall, and disobey seems utterly dark.  It is as if we were wickedly fooled and our only hope turned out to be trying to destroy us in the end.  If God himself were proved to be evil, what hope could possibly exist?  Yet now a light shines through the darkness.  God offers an explanation. 

But one very important question comes to mind first.  The English phrase "that" could be heading towards "allow" or "oblige."  One offers possibility while the other states certainty.  The possibility of hope is better than nothing, but certainty is better than everything.  So for this phrase, let's dive into the Greek for more clarity.

The Greek word translated "that" is "iva."  On page 378 of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Walter Bauer, "iva" is defined as "a result which follows according to the purpose of."  To further help us, "iva" is used several other times in the book of Romans.

Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that [iva] every mouth may be closed, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God.

Romans 3:19 (WEB)

and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that [iva] we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:17 (WEB)

The dictionary definition and the prior context in Romans indicate that "that" means "for the purpose of a certain result."  Just as the law certainly holds every individual accountable to God, so God's purpose and result in Romans 11:32 is certain.  Just as future glory is certain for God's children that endure suffering, so God's purpose and result in Romans 11:32 is certain.

So let's read his certain purpose.

he might have mercy on

Now that sounds better, much much better.  God's purpose was not to do evil, but ultimately to show mercy.  In a nutshell, God could not demonstrate forgiveness if he had nothing to forgive.  Now one might still reject such a god saying that binding us to sin for the purpose of forgiving our sin still seems cruel.  Suppose a father chained his son to a boulder and when neighbors asked why, he said so that he could set him free one day.  Such a father would be imprisoned.  God, however, will not be imprisoned, but instead worshiped by all.

C.S. Lewis also rejected this scripture in Mere Christianity when he wrote, "God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right."  The truth about God's sovereignty over all creation, even evil, was difficult for Lewis to accept, as it is for all of us.

We had concluded above that the phrase "that" means "for the purpose of a certain result."  However, we now have the word "might" to consider.  That sounds like "possibility" again.  Let's dive back into the Greek.  The phrase "he might have mercy on" is from the Greek word transliterated "eleese."  This special verb means "to have mercy on."  This specific verb and its conjugation is used only one time in the whole Bible!  The verb tense in the Greek is in the 3rd person aorist active subjunctive singular tense.  The 3rd person singular indicates that Paul is writing about a single third person, namely God, the actor on the stage of mercy.  The active tense indicates that the action is not passive but active.  God is actively demonstrating mercy.  He is not a passive forgiver!  The aorist tense, sometimes called the "fairest" tense was used by the Greeks to denote a general reference to past action.  In this case the aorist tense refers to the work of our "Fairest" Lord Jesus who brought mercy to ALL mankind.  Christ's work on the cross forgiving ALL mankind's sin is a finished and completed work.  The payment has been made and received by the Father.  Finally, the subjunctive mood typically indicates action that is... possible or potential, but not certain.

Whoa!  Stop the train!

At first glance, this thought seems to mean that God has made mercy possible, but it is only definite for those adding the missing PART of faith.  Or maybe mercy is definite only for the PART of mankind that is chosen for forgiveness.  That is the most common interpretation and fits well with either Arminian or Calvinistic theology.

So is my entire thesis unraveled?

According to www.ntgreek.org,

If the subjunctive mood is used in a ‘purpose’ (or in a ‘result’) clause, then the action should NOT be thought of as a POSSIBLE result, but should be viewed as the stated outcome that WILL HAPPEN (or HAS HAPPENED) as a result of another stated action.  The use of the subjunctive is not to indicate that something ‘may’ or ‘might’ result from a given action, but it is stating the ‘purpose of’ or ‘reason for’ an action.  The subjunctive mood in a purpose clause actually functions more like a verb in the indicative mood rather than in the optative mood.  It is not stating the possibility or probability of an action, but instead telling the intention of the primary action.

Whew!  That is good news... if you are among those bound to disobedience.  Romans 11:32 is not speaking about 'possible' mercy, but instead... certain and guaranteed mercy!!!

Yet we still may ask how can God get away with locking mankind in bondage to sin even if his goal is to set us free?  Well he is God, so he will do what he pleases.  He does not answer to us, but instead we answer to him.  And how would we stop him anyway?  In fact, Romans 11:32 is not telling us what he plans to do, but what he has already done.  Further, God's wisdom in such matters is quite beyond our comprehension.  Paul's response is simply to break out in worship with the concluding doxology.  "How unsearchable are his judgments!"

Paul also explained earlier in Romans that God's grace is such that his mercy does not merely release us from our bonds, but overwhelms and floods our lives with his goodness.  His mercy will finally and totally erase all the pain of our past bondage.  We may have many complaints about our trials and bondage now, but we are well advised to hold our tongue.  Shortly we will have no complaints, but instead reason for over the top rejoicing and praise for our savior.

Romans 5:16-18 (WEB), says,

16) The gift is not as through one who sinned; for the judgment came by one to condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses to justification. 17) For if by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; so much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ. 18) So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life.

Furthermore, t
he earlier picture of a father who chains his son to a boulder and then unchains him later does not capture the wonder of what God is actually doing. God does not simply reach down from Heaven with a key to unlock our bonds to set us free.  Instead, his very holy and powerful presence intimately indwells undeserving sinners and empowers us to break the bonds.  God shares his supernatural power with us to break the bonds that he ordained.  He shares his power with us as the Holy Spirit regenerates individual people, one by one, leading us to faith and victory over sin, sooner or later, whether today or even in the depths of Hades.  The bonds he created are too strong for us, but God designed these bonds to be smashed only through the demonstration of Christ's power at work in and through us!  I'll take some more of that power!!!

That is the meaning of Romans 8:37 (WEB), "No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."

That is the meaning of 2 Corinthians 4:6-10 (WEB).

6) seeing it is God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7) But we have this treasure in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves. 8) We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; 9) pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; 10) always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

That is the meaning of Isaiah 54:16-17 (WEB).

16) 'Behold, I have created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame, and forges a weapon for his work; and I have created the destroyer to destroy. 17) No weapon that is formed against you will prevail; and you will condemn every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of Yahweh’s servants, and their righteousness is of me,' says Yahweh.

People get ready!  Let Jesus flex some supernatural power in your life!  Live through Jesus Christ!

Ephesians 2:7 (WEB), an often overlooked but favorite verse of mine, also agrees that God acted with good purpose, "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

Now we have the answer to our second question.

2) What is God's purpose in sin and salvation? God decreed our bondage to sin in order to provide opportunity to forgive sin and demonstrate his power at work in us to conquer sin.  God is showing off his grace and we happen to be the beneficiaries!  He is flexing his grace muscles.  He is modeling his beautiful grace on the world's runway by indwelling sinners.

Awesome!  So who are the beneficiaries again?


ALLALL who?  Wait a minute!  ALL mankind?  The parallel construct of this verse demands that this second use of the word "all" is equal to the first use of the word "all."  That is, it refers to every individual human being that ever lived for all time.  That is right.  Just as God has bound ALL humanity to sinful disobedience, so he has chosen ALL mankind for mercy, even ALL creation.  Though ALL mankind is not presently indwelt by the Holy Spirit, ALL mankind has already been forgiven at the cross, and one by one, sooner or later, ALL mankind will reap the benefits of Christ's mercy.  Sounds like the certain guaranteed universal salvation of ALL mankind to me.

Praise God for his love for us and our neighbors!

3) Who is finally saved from God's wrath against sin?  ALL mankind.  Looks like our favorite 'Romans Road' collection of verses from the book of Romans has a few potholes in it!

The Biblical answer to the scope of salvation is also radically different than the answer suggested by Dr. James Boice.  As already discussed, Boice believed that since some men are sentenced to eternal damnation, it is an obvious conclusion that their sins are not atoned.  Thus God's grace is really only extended to a subset of humanity.  Yet Romans 11:32 could not be more clear, that just as ALL are locked in bondage to sin, so ALL are granted mercy.  Dr. Boice is likewise a most excellent theologian, but in the effort to tie a neat bow on his theological system he has also made a grave error.  Read on to discover my explanation of this conundrum.

Of course right now the Arminian Christians may be reading back through my explanation to argue that the usage of "might" must mean possibility and not certainty.  They may reason that salvation is only possible because each individual must exercise their free will to meet the condition of "faith" in order to be finally saved.  Impossible!  Faith is not the condition to God's unconditional love.  Instead, Faith is trusting in God's unconditional love.  The Calvinist Christians may immediately see the error in Arminian thinking, for salvation by grace is unconditional or else it would be of works.  Calvinists may argue that "all" must mean every category and not every individual.  Again impossible!  The only basis for individual personal confidence in God's love is through confidence in his universal love for ALL mankind.

Yet both the Arminian and the Calvinist argue that since the Bible teaches that people go to eternal damnation, then it is impossible that ALL would be finally saved.  That is an excellent point to continue our discussion.  So let's turn to re-examine the question of the destinies of mankind in light of additional Scriptures.

Luke 16:19-31

Consider the words of Luke 16:19-31 (WEB),

19) Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. 20)  A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was taken to his gate, full of sores, 21)  and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22)  The beggar died, and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. 23)  In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom. 24)  He cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.'

25)  But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But here he is now comforted, and you are in anguish. 26) Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that no one may cross over from there to us.'

27) He said, 'I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house; 28)  for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.'

29)  But Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.'

30)  He said, 'No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'

31)  He said to him, 'If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.'

So we see it is certain that the wicked will be sentenced to Hades.  So at least the Scriptures are clear that not all are saved from Hades.  So are we back to where we started?

Some would attempt to bypass the meaning of this story.  One strategy is to explain that the story is simply a parable, a fictional story told to communicate a general truth.  However, the account does not have the features of a parable.  None of Jesus' parables mention specific individuals by name such as this story does.  This story mentions Abraham by name.  Also if this were a parable, what would be the general truth taught?  The main point of this story is that if the wicked do not repent, they will be sentenced to Hades after they die.  The Holy Spirit is not using a parable to teach us about the certainty of Hades.  Instead he gives us a real life and afterlife account.

A second strategy often used to dispel the fear of Hell is to teach that Hell is simply the trials and natural consequence of a life lived apart from God both here and in the afterlife.  Unbelievers may say with all seriousness that a particular trial was "Hell."  One might find consolation thinking that they are surviving now without God just fine and so perhaps Hell in the afterlife will also be fine.  However, the trials of this life are nothing compared to the judgments of Hell.  The Rich man was in anguish!  Furthermore, the rich man died and was buried.  This account is not about God's punishments in this life.  In fact the account above is given to teach exactly the opposite point about the life and afterlife of the unbelieving.  The wicked man had many comforts in his lifetime upon the earth, but after life he was judged and sentenced to Hell for his sin and unbelief where every comfort was stripped away.  He begged to come back to warn us!

Hell is not a parable or the natural consequence of sin, but the active punishment of God upon the wicked dead.

One point that should be noted is that the WEB Bible translation properly identifies the Rich man's place of punishment as "Hades" though most English translations use the more ill-defined English word "Hell."

Revelation 20:11-15

Consider also Revelation 20:11-15 (WEB),

11) I saw a great white throne, and him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. There was found no place for them. 12) I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and they opened books. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13) The sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works. 14) Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15) If anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.

This passage of Scripture, little known and even less taught, helps us understand several important points.  First Hell or Hades is not the same place as the Lake of Fire.  This is a fact never pointed out to me in a lifetime of Sunday school.  Hades appears to be a temporary place of punishment for the wicked.  In this passage we see that Hades is emptied of all people and then Hades is thrown into the Lake of Fire empty of all living beings.  I've touched base on this subject previously in my article, Revelation 20:11-15, Optimism Out of Control, Part 5: Hades Gives Up!

The Great White Throne Judgment is instead the final judgment for all of God's creation.  It is the final sentence for the redeemed and unredeemed.  We certainly have no escape from God's sovereign will now.  Nor will there be any escape when all of creation is laid bare before him.  Man's supposed free will accounts for nothing, but only the free will of Holy God.  All creation will stand before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Jesus will sit on The White Throne arrayed in the brilliance of his glory.  Sin and imperfection will not stand in his presence.  Only those who are hidden safely in Christ will stand.  Every darkness, evil, and any unredeemed will be blasted from his presence with the force of his holy omnipotence.  There is no redemption for any sinner outside of the protection of Christ.

The passage above is clear and undisputed.  Even if someone endured millennia in Hades for their wickedness and escapes at this point to stand before the Lord of Glory, IF their name is not found written in the Book of Life, they will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  There is absolutely no escape from judgment to the Lake of Fire for the unredeemed.  There is absolutely no hope for the unredeemed.  The Lake of Fire is their destiny.

So we return again to the definition of Christian faith.  I have introduced various views of Christian salvation, many of which are in direct opposition to each other.  Arminian Christians, following C.S. Lewis, hope to write their own name into the Book of Life with their free will act of faith.  Yet I have proven that it is not possible to write your own name in the Lamb's Book.  "Faith" is not a "pen" with which to write your name into Jesus' book.  Instead faith is the "glasses" with which to see your name there from the foundation of the earth.  Calvinists claim to wear the "glasses" and see their name in the Lamb's Book.  Yet somehow they are confident that their names are written in the Lamb's Book, but equally confident that most are not.  Are we still no further in understanding?

Now, consider a very important lesson in logic: the Holy Spirit's use of the word "IF."

If a statement is true, the contra positive is always logically true. But only when the converse is true will the inverse also logically be true.  For example:

Statement:  if A then B ~ given as true.
Contra positive:  if not B then not A ~ logically always true.
Converse:  if B then A ~ possibly true, but not always.
Inverse:  if not A then not B ~ true only if converse is true.
Negation: if not A then B ~ true if the original statement is false, a test.

Note also in logic that an even number of nots such as "not not A" is the same as A, while an odd number of nots such as "not not not A" is the same as not A.  Let's apply this logic to Revelation 20:15. 

Statement: If anyone was not found written in the Book of Life, he was cast into the Lake of Fire. ~ given as true in Revelation 20:15.

Contra positive:  If anyone was not cast into the Lake of Fire he was found written in the Book of Life  ~ logically always true.

Converse:  If anyone was cast into the Lake of Fire he was not found written in the Book of Life  ~ obviously true in this case.

Inverse:  If anyone was found written in the Book of Life, he was not cast into the Lake of Fire  ~ logically true since the converse is true.

Negation:  There was one found written in the Book of Life, who was cast into the Lake of Fire ~ false since God's word is trustworthy so the original statement is tested true.

Hopefully this is not too tedious a return to high school logic.  However, our effort has proven the beautiful conclusion that the inverse of Revelation 20:15 is also true.

If anyone was found written in the Book of Life, he was not cast into the Lake of Fire.

I've written more about this concept in my articles Revelation 20:11-15, Optimism Out of Control, Part 6: If, If, If, If, If, If, If,,, and Revelation 20:13-15, Out of Control Optimism Part 8, Your Name in the Book of Life!

Typically when I propose this concept most people object with the question, "You are not suggesting a second chance are you?"  Larry Dixon also expressed a valid concern that Rob Bell was proposing some sort of "second chance" salvation.  So let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am definitely not proposing "second chance" salvation.  Rob Bell is guilty as charged and I have the exact same concern about his theology.  Because he believes that mankind has the free will to choose their destiny, he correspondingly believes that each individual's salvation is hanging in the balance, and subject to "chance" and even the possibility of "second chances."

However, the gospel of grace makes it perfectly clear that "chance" has no part in Christian salvation.  There is no such thing as a "second chance."  In fact there is also no such thing as a "first chance!"  Curiously, it would seem that Dixon's very objection to a second chance exposes that he believes salvation has a first chance.  Yet if Dixon or any other believes that salvation is by "chance" at all then they have a complete misunderstanding of grace.  Salvation by the grace of Christ leaves absolutely nothing to chance.  God's determined love is set upon all his chosen people with certainty.  That is what makes the good news great news.  The final salvation of elect mankind is certain and guaranteed, not because of man's will, but because God has willed it!  If salvation included an element of chance, then surely your sin nature and mine would find even the smallest crack to bounce through God's safety net into perdition.

But take heart: there is no falling from the hand of our Heavenly Father as he promised in John 10:28 (WEB), "I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand."

If the grace of God cannot fail in saving his lost sheep in this life, then the grace of God will not fail to save any remaining lost sheep at The Great White Throne Judgment, even those punished severely in Hades for their rebellion.  Surely someone saved by grace ought to be thankful for that!

Matthew 25:31-46

Consider Matthew 25:31-46 (WEB),

31) But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32)  Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33)  He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34)  Then the King will tell those on his right hand, 'Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35)  for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36)  I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.'

37) Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38)  When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39)  When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?'  40) The King will answer them, 'Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

41) Then he will say also to those on the left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42)  for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43)  I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.'

44) Then they will also answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?' 

45)  Then he will answer them, saying, 'Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.' 46)  These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Theologians debate the timing of Jesus return, whether before or after the Millennium described in Revelation 20:1-6.  The timing of his various judgments is also disputed.  This subject is relevant to our discussion because it would be helpful to know if the judgment described above is a judgment that sends unbelievers to Hell (that is Hades) before Revelation 20:1-6.  Or, is it a judgment that sends the unredeemed to the Lake of Fire after Revelation 20:1-6?  We have already explained that Hades and the Lake of Fire are not the same place.  Luke 16:19-31 teaches us that unbelieving humans are currently being punished in Hades for their rebellion.  So then we should ask: is the judgment described above the sentencing of unbelievers to Hades, the sentencing of the unredeemed to the Lake of Fire, or something else?

One clue is underlined in verse 41 above.  Based on the underlined words, I conclude that the Sheep and Goat Judgment is the same event as the Great White Throne judgment also described in Revelation 20:11-15.  This passage adds more detail and explains that the Lake of Fire is prepared for... the devil and his angels.

Again this is good news for mankind.  Sadly we all have been partners with Satan and his angels in some way or another.  We sin because we love our sin.  We deserve Satan's destiny in the Lake of Fire.  However, God has demonstrated his grace, his undeserved favor toward mankind, by forgiving all mankind at the cross and giving us Heaven for eternity.  However, the devil and his angels are sentenced to the Lake of Fire for The Ages of The Ages.  Satan and the demons are the goats on Jesus' left, not mankind!  Each of us deserve the destiny of Satan, yet by God's grace alone we are given grace and glory instead. I discuss this further in my article, Your Theory about the Goats... Is it Really Possible? Matthew 25:31-46.

Revelation 20:10

Revelation is difficult to understand, but we must consider Revelation 20:10 (WEB),

The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are also. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Only three people are explicitly named in Scripture as destined to the Lake of Fire.  They are Satan, The Beast, and The False Prophet.

So how do we determine the nature of the members of this Unholy Trinity: The Devil (Satan / Dragon), The Beast (First / Sea Beast), and The False Prophet (Second / Land Beast)?  Are they human beings, demonic beings, or non-being forces?

Everyone agrees that Satan is a demon, a fallen angel.  Well, not everyone agrees.  Mormons are confused about that, suggesting that Satan is actually Jesus' brother.  A few others have defined Satan as the epitome of evil, but that he is in fact not a being, not a person.  However, I easily side with the majority, that Satan is a being, a non-human spirit person with mind, will, and emotion.  He is the Chief fallen angel actively leading his rebellion against God.

However, what about The Beast and The False Prophet?   Revelation 13 introduces both a First Beast from the sea and Second Beast from the land.  A comparison of Revelation 13:14 and 19:20 shows that the Second Beast is later referred to as The False Prophet in Revelation 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10.  Thus the Second Beast and The False Prophet are the same person.

Revelation 16:13-14 also shows us that the mouths of The Dragon (Satan), The Beast, and The False Prophet are each the source of demonic spirits.   This is initial evidence that these three beings share a common nature.  This is one argument that they are not human beings, but instead demonic beings.  Humans do not beget demons, but Satan, The Beast, and The False Prophet are the source of demonic activity.  They are the demon chiefs!

13) I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits, something like frogs; 14) for they are spirits of demons, performing signs; which go out to the kings of the whole inhabited earth, to gather them together for the war of that great day of God, the Almighty.

Revelation 16:13-14 (WEB)


Secondly, we already know that Jesus became a human being to pay for the sins of all mankind and thus I have reasoned that all mankind is spared the Lake of Fire.  Jesus did not become an angel and so apparently the sins of fallen angels are not atoned and they will suffer the Lake of Fire.  Thus, those sentenced to the Lake of Fire are demons, fallen angels, and not human beings.  Otherwise, if they were human, their sins would be paid for and they would not be sentenced to the Lake of Fire.  Matthew 25:41, previously mentioned, also clearly states that the Lake of Fire is "prepared for the Devil and his angels."  Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 also make it clear that fallen angels will be present at the final judgment, hence the goats on Jesus' left.

Further study could be done to confirm the identity of The First Beast as demonic.  Some are certain that The Beast of Revelation is the Roman Empire, Nero, the Pope, or someone else altogether.  The image of a beast arising from the sea first appears in Scripture at Isaiah 27:1. Leviathan is also mentioned earlier in the book of Job, but that reference may simply be from the animal kingdom.  However, Isaiah's reference surely points to a larger Spiritual oppressor, perhaps the very same being mentioned in Revelation 13:1.  Now, I am not suggesting that demons actually abode in the sea, but this Biblical metaphor illustrates an invisible, but very real, demonic landscape.  The tumultuous sea is used to picture the caustic habitat of demons.

In that day, Yahweh with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan, the fleeing serpent, and leviathan the twisted serpent; and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.

Isaiah 27:1 (WEB)

Now, consider an important concept.  The Revelation drama reveals illustrations of real people and interaction between the seen and unseen worlds.  I have also shown from Revelation 16:13-14, above, that demons are assigned various tasks in their great war against God and mankind.  The "frog" demons were sent to rally the kings of earth for war on the yet future Great Day of God.  Thus I propose that The First Beast is an actual demon chief alongside of Satan whose evil mission gave rise to the wicked Roman Empire.  His evil mission was accomplished through the wicked Roman Empire.  Thus he is portrayed with ten horns and seven heads illustrative of the Roman Emperors as explained in Revelation 13 and 17.  Yet because The Beast stands alongside Satan and is literally cast into the Lake of Fire with Satan, we know that he is also a demonic being.

Likewise for an early mention of a false demonic prophet we read,

20) A spirit came out, stood before Yahweh, and said, "I will entice him."  Yahweh said to him, "How?"  21) He said, "I will go, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets."  He said, "You will entice him, and will prevail also. Go and do so."  22) Now therefore, behold, Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets; and Yahweh has spoken evil concerning you.

2 Chronicles 18:20-22 (WEB)

Perhaps, this deceiving spirit mentioned in the Old Testament, or another like him, is the demon called "The False Prophet" in Revelation 20.  Yet identifying the Second Beast with the demonic seems more problematic, at least initially.  The First Beast does not seem particularly human, but instead governmental, and so perhaps my proposal that a particular demon empowered Rome does not seem unreasonable.  However, the Second Beast instead seems to be more personal and human.  In fact, since the Second Beast gets his power from the First Beast he then seems like a human tyrant controlled by a demon, that is by the First Beast.  Common candidates for the Second Beast include Nero, Domitian, the Roman Concilia to enforce state worship, the Pope, and numerous others throughout history.

However, just like my proposal that the First Beast was a powerful demon whose work was manifest in the birth and growth of the Roman Empire, so I propose that the Second Beast was a powerful demon whose work was manifest in the wickedness of a Roman Emperor, perhaps Nero or Domitian.  Countless hours of effort have been spent in the effort to determine the identity of the Second Beast, The False Prophet, with the mysterious number of "666" given in Revelation 13:18 (WEB).

Here is wisdom. He who has understanding, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is six hundred sixty-six. 

The expression "number of a man" seems to indicate that "666" is the identity of a specific human being.  Some efforts at gematria identify Nero as the Second Beast, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_the_Beast.  While this could easily be the case I also propose that Nero, or whoever the actual Second Beast proves to be, was specifically empowered by a demon.  Thus the Second Beast demon is finally damned to the Lake of Fire, not the human being he possessed.  Though one might question my concern to "save Nero," I am convinced he is saved by the same blood of Christ that saved you and me.  The expression above may also be better rendered "human numbering," meaning according to human calculation.  Consider that the mysterious number "666" is referenced at the end of a chapter discussing Satan, The Beast, and the False Prophet.  Certainly this triple "6" number must point to the terrible nature of demonic power that falls short of God's perfection in the Holy Trinity.  Since "7" is a picture of God's perfection and completeness, the number "666" may point to the climax of evil in the Unholy Trinity.  What worse scenario can you image than Satan working through a demonic government working through a demonic tyrant?

Revelation 20:10 then finally confirms that the demonic beings of Satan, The Beast, and The False Prophet are damned to the Lake of Fire for The Ages of The Ages.  God is not pronouncing doom to mere movements or governments.  How does one throw a movement into the Lake of Fire?  How does one torment a government for The Ages of The Ages?  Instead the only things ever mentioned as thrown into Hades or the Lake of Fire are people and places.  Further, it would seem curious for the Holy Spirit to explicitly highlight the damnation of Satan with one government and one government leader.  So, for my last point, the common destiny of the Unholy Trinity is likewise strong evidence for the common nature of these three beings.  This is especially so since Matthew 25:41 explicitly says that the Lake of Fire is "prepared for the Devil and his angels."

Read more about my understanding of Revelation in my articles in the Appendix, Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News! and Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News! (Part 2 with Grudem, Riddlebarger, Chilton, Summers, and Ewing).

Finally consider an extra-Biblical comparison.  Just as there are three demon leaders (Satan, the Beast, and the False Prophet), so God himself is three persons (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit).  The Bible does not highlight this parallel explicitly, but I mention it for you to ponder.  You or I might be tempted to think that the salvation and fate of mankind is uncertain and in question.  Too often my (and perhaps your) ministry efforts and actions reflect this uncertainty.  However, take a moment and fully rest in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Actually, you are advised to rest in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ now and forever!  Our eternal destiny rests fully in his hands.  Our salvation is not uncertain!  Through his grace he does not consider us his enemies, but his chosen family -- redeemed for all eternity.

However, if we are not born again, our birth nature opposes God because our hearts are bad. We crucified Christ, but Christ loves and forgives us. Fallen angels also hate God, but God has promised to crush the head of Satan. Satan is the true enemy of God in this cosmic spiritual war.

Thus for the demonstration of his grace, God created angels and decreed that some would fall into rebellion and become his enemies destined for the Lake of Fire.  Why?  Perhaps to help us better understand grace, God decreed a dark frame to contrast his glorious mercy.  Apparently grace could not be fully praised and appreciated any other way.  The parallels between God's good nature and the evil nature of demons are noteworthy.  Consider a comparison of the Holy Trinity with the Unholy Trinity.

Role Holy Trinity (God is good)
Unholy Trinity (Anti-God is evil)
The Head The Father The Devil
The Image The Son The Beast
The Voice The Holy Spirit The False Prophet

Friends, the salvation of mankind is not uncertain, nor is our salvation in question.  But sparks will fly until God throws his enemies (that is, Satan and the fallen angels that follow him) into the Lake of Fire for The Ages of The Ages.

1 Corinthians 1:17-25

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:17-25 (WEB),

17) For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Good News—not in wisdom of words, so that the cross of Christ wouldn’t be made void. 18) For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19) For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise. I will bring the discernment of the discerning to nothing." 20) Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21) For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. 22) For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, 23) but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks, 24) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God; 25) because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The Bible says that God is so wise that his "foolishness" is wiser than our "wisdom" and that his "weakness" is stronger than our "strength."  Since this is in the Bible, Christians would all agree with the words above.

Now suppose God used his foolishness and weakness to expose our foolishness and weakness to remind us of our utter dependency upon him for salvation, and that we are saved by grace and not saved even by our understanding or our choices.

How does this relate to our current discussion?  No doubt there are many that are beginning to dispute the propositions of this short book.  I do not fault your reaction.  It certainly is a radically different approach than the more commonly accepted views of Arminianism and Calvinism.  Yet, my proposition does not fit neatly into common Universalism, either.  Many Universalists wrongly teach that there is no punishment after death for the unbeliever or that unbelievers are punished temporarily in the Lake of Fire.  However, I understand that unbelievers are punished after death in Hades, but that no human being will ever enter the Lake of Fire.  Based on the preceding reasoning from Scripture, I believe that ALL mankind, every individual descendant of Adam and Eve, is deeply loved by God and will certainly be saved from the Lake of Fire by the electing grace of God alone.

You may ask why God did not make it clearer.  Why are not more aware of this good news?  God has made his love for ALL mankind quite clear, but his message is obscured by our hypocrisy and turning Christ into yet another religion.  Perhaps the wisdom of God knows best how to lead us sinners from our darkness and dread fear into the glorious light of his salvation.  Perhaps he does not want to cast these pearls before those whose hearts are not ready.  Perhaps since he has already made eternal salvation from condemnation for all his chosen people a certainty, his focus is now transformational salvation from sin and our hatred of our God.  He has won the decision in the courtroom of Heaven, but now intends to win the decision in each of our hearts.  Perhaps we cannot know why God did not make it clearer.

You may also ask why God did not just settle all this earlier in history.  That is an excellent question as we consider how God has given us additional pieces of revelation throughout history.  Adam and Eve did not even have a Bible, but only the verbal promise that someone was coming, a deliverer.  Prophets came and brought the Word of the Lord, the Old Testament, but they were not the deliverer.  One day John the Baptist came and announced that someone was here, the deliverer had arrived -- Jesus Christ.  His disciples gave us the New Testament.  God's word concludes with the words that someone is coming again.  The Lord Jesus Christ will return in power and great might for the final salvation of all his people.  Until then, we seek to understand his holy Word and obey him as we wait for his return.

Hopefully I have gently exposed the religiosity and hypocrisy that can be found in both Arminianism and Calvinism.  The exposure of sin is essential for healing.  Doctors cannot heal without a diagnosis, and Christ cannot remove our sin without grabbing the root and pulling it out.  That is painful.  Yet sin must be pulled out if we are to continue to grow in Christ-likeness and to live for him and others, fully confident in his grace for all.

2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Consider 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (WEB),

14) For the love of Christ constrains us; because we judge thus, that one died for all, therefore all died. 15) He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again. 16) Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. 17) Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. 18) But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19) namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20) We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21) For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This passage clarifies a few things.  Just because Jesus has written every human being's name in the Lamb's Book of Life does not mean everyone is saved in every dimension.  Christ has died for all mankind, but not all live!  God has reconciled all mankind to himself through Christ, but not all acknowledge their forgiveness in Christ.  All are forgiven, but not all are saved from the prideful refusal to be happy about forgiveness, and others are simply ignorant of the good news.  Most of those in the Lamb's Book, the elect, are still unbelieving, and unless they are graced with faith they will suffer punishment in Hades for their unbelief.  The first born nature of rebellion still rules their heart.

We know this to be true for no one is born with faith.  Each individual must be born again through the Holy Spirit and come to faith in Christ to know God.  Even though the unbelieving elect are saved from the Lake of Fire, they are not saved from unbelief and punishment in Hades unless they repent.  Even though their names are in the Lamb's Book of Life they will still suffer punishment in Hades for their rebellion.  Furthermore, even many Christians who are saved from Hades are also not saved from sin and the consequences of sin.  Even though Christians are blessed children of God and saved from Hades, we can still ruin our earthly lives with sin.  Salvation has numerous dimensions including rescue from the Lake of Fire, from Hades, and from sin as I discuss in my article, SAVED 5X.  Jesus warned that broad is the road to destruction and many enter through it!

Now what if someone were persuaded that his name is in the Book of Life, yet instead of serving Christ in gratitude, he simply lived like the Devil for his selfish interests?  Such a person is certainly the fool mentioned in Proverbs 26:4-5.  Such a person could hardly dare to call himself a Christian or a follower of Christ. Regardless of the hope of the Good News, such a person really has no hope.  Such a person lives a life of fearful expectation of the coming judgment.  Furthermore, Romans 10:9 makes it clear that to be truly saved one must both confess with the mouth and believe with the heart.  Punishment in Hades awaits everyone without a Christian heart.  The Scripture has important words of warning for such a person which I will come to shortly.

Again, the Scripture above confirms that Christ has died for all.  These verses even explain that all mankind is already positionally reconciled to God "in Christ" apart from faith.  Most would teach that each individual is placed "into Christ" only as he believes in him.  But I understand that those predestined to salvation are never outside of God's grace because they are always positionally in Christ.  However, as each individual is awakened as a new creation, he realizes his position in Christ and begins to live in Christ.  The elect of God are in desperate need of the salvation of their hearts through the new birth.  However, God's gracious purpose for his chosen ones was decreed before we believed, before we were born, and even before creation.  See my article 'In' Doctrine for further discussion.

A related thought is that most Christian theologies suggest that justification, the legal proclamation of our right standing with God, happens per individual either immediately before or after personally trusting Christ.  However, I suggest that justification was pronounced for all God's people one time at the cross.  Again see my article Justified! for more details.

Unfortunately too many professing Christians imagine or have been taught that the free will choice of "faith" is the activating ingredient in our personal salvation.  They imagine "faith" to be like a string that reaches from their prayer to Heaven's courtroom to hammer the gavel of their justification.

However, picture this: a venomous criminal with only the courtroom floor between himself and the lawful judge that he hates.  If the police were not restraining him and the judge's bench was not so high, he would simply reach out and kill the judge.  We know this to be accurate imagery because there was one time in history when the judge stepped down from his bench.  We know that God's holy angels were commanded to stand by.  The good judge gave himself into the hands of the criminal.  Mankind universally conspired to kill the Christ!  When will such a venomous criminal ever exercise his free will to repent?  He does not even want to be saved.  He does not want to be at peace with the judge.  He hates the judge.  He wants to kill the judge!  He wants to be his own judge... and the judge of everyone else.  But he just cannot reach the gavel of justification across the courtroom floor.  The true judge will not relinquish the gavel to the criminal because he is the good judge.  The criminal cannot change his heart to begin to love the judge because he hates the judge BY HIS VERY NATURE.  He is not free, but locked in bondage to sin.  Even if the criminal could suddenly begin to be good, it would not be enough to mend the error of his past rebellion.  Even if the criminal would magically transform into Mother Teresa, he still must pay the price for his past crimes.  Claims of free will decisions for Christ and "faith" that "writes our name in Heaven" simply miss the heart of grace.

The crux of the matter is that Jesus Christ imputed righteousness to our account while we still hated him and while we loved only ourselves, according to Romans 5:10.  The essential point is that there will never be any positive change until God himself reaches inside the individual's life to replace his heart of stone with a heart of flesh.  The good news is that Christ alone has sacrificed his body and poured his blood on the Father's righteous bench to proclaim our justification.  He did this while we criminals were still spitting out venom dressed in our rags of self-righteousness.  But the sound of Jesus' gavel silences Satan, the prosecuting attorney, who still drones on listing our sins for an easy indictment.  All of this transpires before the courtroom audience.  God's holy angels are astonished that Christ could forgive us, the very partners of Satan.  They never cease to marvel over God's glorious grace toward his redeemed.

Of course most of us do not appear to be venomous criminals... at least not until our self-righteous attitudes are confronted with God's glorious grace and Christ's love for ALL mankind.

If you are an evangelist consider that the purpose of evangelism is NOT to add names to the Book of Life!  How can we do that anyway?  Instead, consider that the purpose of evangelism is to bring the elect of God from unbelief to belief, from spiritual death to spiritual life, from disobedience to obedience, and from certain punishment with the wicked in Hades to joyful communion with Christ... to receive Christ's finished work on their behalf.

Lastly, 2 Corinthians 5:16 also tells us that we are not to view others from a worldly point of view.  The world believes that some are evil, but only those who do good meet a good end.  Someone once told me that all unbelievers think that everyone will be saved in the end.  Friends, I have yet to meet an unbeliever who thinks that all are saved.  They typically believe there are at least enough people worse than them to fill the seats in Hell so that they will not have to go there.  Thus on this point, Arminianism and Calvinism both speak from a worldly point of view.

John 10:25-30

Consider John 10:25-30 (WEB),

25) Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you don’t believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify about me. 26)  But you don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I told you. 27)  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28)  I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29)  My Father who has given them to me is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30)  I and the Father are one."

This seems to be a problematic passage for those believing that all mankind is finally saved.  Here Jesus tells the unbelieving Jews that they are "not his sheep."  The Lord's grave words at the Sheep and Goat judgment used in Matthew 25:31-46 suggest that there are only two categories of people in the whole world.  There are sheep (of the lost and found variety) and goats.  Doctrines like predestination and particular atonement teach us that goats do not become sheep, and sheep do not become goats.  Sheep are the redeemed people of God, while goats are the unredeemed.  So are these unbelieving Jews then goats with no hope of salvation?

Perhaps I have concluded too hastily and we need to drop back to the Calvinist understanding of the gospel.

In fact, this is one of the passages that led me to a Calvinistic understanding of the gospel in the past.  The message seems clear enough, so what else could be concluded?  The message seemed clear until I read Hosea 2:23.

Hosea 2:23

Consider Hosea 2:23 (WEB),

I will sow her to me in the earth; and
I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; and
I will tell those who were not my people, "You are my people;"
and they will say, "My God!"

This passage is peculiar in that God specifically calls rebellious Israel "not my people." But after he has changed their hearts he reverts to calling them "my people."  We have already said that sheep do not become goats and goats do not become sheep.  Yet here those who are "not his people", then become "his people."  These words parallel Jesus' words of calling the stubborn Pharisees "not my sheep", but those who repented he then calls "my sheep."

Why doesn't God call rebellious Israel simply "my bad people?"  Perhaps God is willing to call a "lost sheep" a "goat" or actually "not a sheep" in order to get their attention.  For an extreme example consider that Jesus even called Peter "Satan" to his face in Matthew 16:23.  Was Peter then actually Satan?  Certainly not!  So why should we be surprised if he calls the unbelieving Jews, the rebellious elect, "not his sheep", even though they are the "lost sheep" of his pasture?  Furthermore, our wicked hearts need to be so radically changed that we become new people.  We must be born again.

The story is told of a father with a rebellious son.  The son rebelled further and further from family values until the father firmly and painfully told the rebel, "You are not my son."  The ice of those words combined with time and reflection brought the father's son back to his senses and heartfelt repentance.  The father received him with open arms weeping with joy over his son.

This strategy, which I call the "Hosea Strategy", is an integral component of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Note also that Paul references Hosea 2:23 in Romans 9:25.  Romans Chapter 9 is the most difficult and avoided chapter in the whole New Testament.  The chapter is often avoided by Christians because it appears to teach that God hates people and has chosen some people for salvation and others for eternal damnation before they were even born.

However, I suggest that you re-read the Romans Chapter 9 with the insight that God does have special strategies, such as the Hosea Strategy, for confronting unbelief in mankind.

Paul threatens in Romans 9:18-24 (WEB),

18) So then, he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires. 19) You will say then to me, "Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?" 20) But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed ask him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?" 21) Or hasn't the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor? 22) What if God, willing to show his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23) and that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, 24) us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?

Yet Paul promises in Romans 9:25-26 (WEB),

25) As he says also in Hosea, "I will call them 'my people,' which were not my people; and her 'beloved,' who was not beloved." 26) "It will be that in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'children of the living God.' "

I have written further on this subject in my article, Hosea 1:10, Optimism Out of Control, Part 2: In the Same Place!

Proverbs 26:4-5

Consider Proverbs 26:4-5 (WEB), which I mentioned in the beginning of this book,

4) Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.  5) Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

If God does have special strategies for dealing with unbelief in mankind, does he give us any explanation or instruction to do likewise ourselves?  I introduced this book with a story about the Wright brothers and the special strategies they used to persuade others that flight is possible.  Believing in flight does have a very practical importance.  However, believing that Jesus Christ is your savior, my savior, and the savior of the whole world is infinitely more important.  The good news should change the importance and priority of everything.  If we truly know God's love, we will be filled with affection for him and love for our neighbor.

Yet sadly, just like people did not believe the Wright brothers, people also do not believe the gospel and reject Jesus and his love.  Therefore, Jesus has given us an example in John Chapter 10 of how to confront unbelief as we already discussed.  Solomon has also given us an instruction, cited above, for answering foolishness, a special strategy for dealing with unbelief.

Now we see that one reason the body of Christ is ridiculously divided over the gospel is because our unbelief, hypocrisy, and religiosity has blinded us.  We have not seen the beautiful truth that Christ is the savior of all mankind.  We have interpreted the words of Scripture as if God only ever throws straight fast balls.  However, the Scripture above shows us that God also throws curve balls to the unbelieving.  I suggest that God's Word is perfectly worded to answer both the foolish and the wise.

It would appear that many, including myself at times, have interpreted Jesus' answers to the foolish as wisdom and so have joined the unbelieving in their folly.

The Word of God truly has laid our hearts bare before his penetrating gaze. Thankfully, there is grace.

Jonah 3

Consider another well-known example of God's special strategies for confronting the wickedness of men.  Consider the story of Jonah and the whale.  Most know that Jonah was swallowed by a large fish and dramatically saved.  So this 'happily ever after story' often finds itself in Children's storybooks along with cuddly stuffed whales.  However, the whole story is both more dramatic and more joyful than commonly portrayed.  Find the book of Jonah in the Old Testament and read it for yourself.

Did you also know that this story reveals yet another tactic that God may employ to graciously move his people away from the destructiveness of evil?

  1. God told Jonah to preach against the sin of Nineveh to help them.
  2. Jonah did not want grace to come to Nineveh so he ran away.
  3. So God stopped Jonah with a storm and a large fish.
  4. Then Jonah had a change of heart in the belly of the fish.
  5. Then God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land...

Now let's pick up the story at Jonah Chapter 3 (WEB),

1) Yahweh’s word came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2) "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I give you."  3) So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to Yahweh’s word. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey across. 4) Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried out, and said, "In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!"  5) The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from their greatest even to their least. 6) The news reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and took off his royal robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7) He made a proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, "Let neither man nor animal, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, nor drink water; 8) but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and animal, and let them cry mightily to God. Yes, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands. 9) Who knows whether God will not turn and relent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we might not perish?"  10) God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God relented of the disaster which he said he would do to them, and he didn’t do it.

How are we to understand this?

God said, through Jonah, that Nineveh would be overthrown in 40 days.  However, Nineveh repented and was not overthrown.  So did God lie or misrepresent himself?  His word to Nineveh included no condition, just a flat statement that Nineveh would be overthrown in 40 days -- period.  Yet Nineveh was not overthrown in 40 days, but instead spared because of their repentance.  Let's consider three possible explanations.

  1. God's threat of overthrow included an unspoken condition.  That is one possible interpretation, however, the Ninevites' words in response suggest otherwise.  The Ninevites said, "Who knows whether God will not turn and relent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we might not perish?"  So it is clear that the Ninevites were not aware of mercy conditioned on their repentance.  In fact they clearly did not know if God would relent even if they repented!  From their point of view they were moved to repent for the mere possibility that God might relent and offer mercy.

  2. Jonah spoke of overthrow, but that was not the message God intended.  This is not a valid understanding either.  The Holy Spirit makes it clear that Jonah's words were in fact God's words to Nineveh.  The Scripture says, "Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried out, and said, 'In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!'  The people of Nineveh believed God;"  The message of overthrow in 40 days was from God through Jonah.

  3. God threatened powerfully for a guaranteed effect.  A final possibility is that God threatened Nineveh so powerfully that his intended effect, the Ninevites' repentance, was guaranteed.  With this model of understanding we suggest that God's sovereign plan never intended to overthrow Nineveh in 40 days and that his words were a threat only -- guaranteed to result in Nineveh's repentance.  He spoke his threat persuasively to guarantee his purpose.  Though, one very very very important caveat to this understanding is that we can only conclude this in retrospect!  To respond to any of God's warnings concluding that he is making a mere threat and will not follow through is not recommended.  We are advised to repent hoping that God may extend mercy.

So do I propose that God employs this same tactic through the gospel of Jesus Christ?

One way he certainly does not employ this tactic is to merely threaten the unbelieving with judgment and punishment in Hades.  Jesus does not simply threaten the fires of Hades; the unbelieving, wicked dead are actually sent there.  Some would suggest Luke 16:19-31 is a parable, yet it has none of the elements of a parable.  The rich man who refused to help poor Lazarus was sent to Hades fire, as Jesus makes quite plain.  Consider also that Revelation 20:5 makes it clear that the unbelieving dead remain dead in Hades while believers live.  Thus it is again clear that Hades is not empty, but filled with the unbelieving.  Revelation 20:13 also says that Hades then finally gives up these wicked dead.  So again Hades is not empty or how could Hades give up the dead?  Jesus also preached hope by saying in Matthew 16:18 that grace would overcome the gates of Hades.  Hades needs to be overcome because it is filled with wicked men who have yet to acknowledge their redemption.  Why does Christ need to overcome the gates of Hades if no one is being punished there?  Paul even joins the chorus in 1 Corinthians 15:55 saying that Christ will steal all victory from both death and Hades!  Hades will be finally robbed of all victory when the grace of God proves victorious even for the unbelieving elect currently being punished there.  The gospel warnings of punishment in Hades after death for the unbelieving disobedient are not a threat, but certain reality.  Friend, take care!

However, we also see that Christ is willing to call his "lost sheep," "not my sheep" in John 10:26.  He is also willing to call "his people," "not my people" and his "loved one," "not my loved one" in Hosea 2:23.  Now this tactic is very similar to God's strategy with Nineveh.  The strategy is also very fitting.  Consider just what an unbeliever really is in the first place.  An unbeliever is one of God's precious creations, deeply loved by God and redeemed by Christ, who rejects the love and forgiveness of our Heavenly Father in order to remain god of his own life.  He rejects his election just as Esau rejected his birthright... for a bowl of soup.  Jesus is perfectly willing to label these wicked unbelievers as non-elect, not his sheep, not his people, not his chosen.  Just like God wanted the Ninevites to fear destruction, so the unbelieving elect can only fear eternal damnation.  However, just like the Ninevites repented and were not destroyed, so the love of Christ has already guaranteed the final salvation of all his chosen people.  Not one of Christ's elect can ever stumble into the Lake of Fire, but will be brought to repentance sooner... or later.

Though all mankind is chosen for the atonement of sins, most are not yet chosen to simply believe this good news about their redemption.  Yet even so, they are loved by God from before the foundation of the world with a guaranteed home in Heaven.

The story of Jonah and Nineveh is another example of God's special, gracious strategies to care for rebellious, unbelieving mankind.

Acts 13:48

Consider Acts 13:48 (WEB),

As the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God. As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

This verse is commonly cited by Calvinists to defend their view that Christ has only atoned for the sins of a subset of mankind.  The verse seems to say that everyone who is appointed to eternal life will believe immediately when they hear the gospel.  However, in light of our discussion we see instead that the Holy Spirit is recognizing God's election in those who believed, while at the same time offering no assurance to the unbelieving elect in their rebellion.  The elect of God often remain in stubborn unbelief even after hearing the gospel.  This verse does not mean that they are not elect and not loved by God, and never will believe.  Instead, all the unbelieving elect will believe, sooner... or later.  However, no comfort will be given to the wicked until they repent.

The Apostle John uses a similar strategy on the positive side of the equation when he refers to himself as the "disciple whom Jesus loved."  Should we be offended that he singles himself out as the one whom Jesus loved?  No.  Instead we should wake up, smile, and say "I also am the disciple whom Jesus loves!"

God's special love does not mean that his love is therefore limited.  I tell each of my children that they are my favorites.  So when I focus my special love on one child, that does not mean I no longer love the others.  Instead, I love each of my children in a special way.  God, even more so, loves each human being with his special love.