Wait Another Minute!

Optimism Out of Control, Wait Another MinuteSo, is that it?  Is that my incredibly awesome idea?  Yes, that is it.  For believing that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all mankind I was accused of having a case of "optimism out of control."  I hope I have written rationally enough to persuade you that my optimism is not out of control, but in fact in control and Biblically defensible.  More than that, the message that Christ is Messiah and Savior of all mankind is The Message of the Bible.  This is the Gospel -- the Good News!

I have suggested a model for evaluating salvation doctrines.  I have weighed the pros and cons of the four possible scenarios.  I have introduced you to the most common theories of Christian salvation.  I have invited you to read the ideas of other respected theologians.  I even took a closer look at the views of Bell, Dixon, Wittmer, Galli, Lewis, and Boice.  I also explained my own theory.

Jesus Christ is your savior, my savior, and the savior of all mankind.  However, most do not believe the good news and pervert either the scope of salvation or the means of salvation due to hypocrisy, religiosity, or simple ignorance. 

Now we turn to answer the many objections that we ourselves and others may have about the good news.  We will also consider God's special tactics to confront unbelief.  By the way, what is your response to the good news?

II Thessalonians 1:6-10

Objections?  Wait another minute!  What about the Scriptures that say unbelievers will be sentenced to everlasting destruction and banished from the Lord for their wickedness?  Good question.  Consider II Thessalonians 1:6-10 (WEB),

6) Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay affliction to those who afflict you, 7) and to give relief to you who are afflicted with us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, 8) punishing those who don’t know God, and to those who don’t obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus, 9) who will pay the penalty: eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10) when he comes in that day to be glorified in his saints and to be admired among all those who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

This passage is clear that those who do not know God will be punished with eternal destruction.  So even though I suggested that the Arminian and the Calvinist bend Scripture to fit their salvation model, now it seems that I am also bending Scripture and there is no possible way that all mankind can be saved.  However, before we conclude too soon, consider a few questions.

Who are those mentioned above who do not know God and do not obey the gospel?  Are they unbelieving mankind or only fallen angels?  We see from Luke 16:19-31 that unbelieving men are punished in Hades, but later are safely extracted in Revelation 20:13.  We also see from Revelation 20:7-10 that fallen angels, demons, are sentenced to the Lake of Fire for The Ages of The Ages.  However, this passage seems to be clearly talking about unbelieving men being punished with eternal destruction, not angels only.

So is the punishment described above the temporal punishment of Hades or The Ages of The Ages condemnation in the Lake of Fire?  Which punishment is in view?  If the judgment mentioned above is the Great White Throne judgment at the commencement of eternity, then the Lake of Fire must be in view.  However, if it is the judgment at each individual's death or at Christ's intermediate judgments, then the verse above must be talking about unbelieving men being sentenced to Hades or even simply sentenced to the destruction of their wicked earthly lives.  Yet can it possibly be Hades because this punishment is described as eternal?  That is a good point which leads us to a very curious observation in the Scripture.

Are you ready for a curious observation?

Simply stated, the Hebrew and Greek words translated as 'eternal' do not always mean forever.  "Aha," you say, "now Jeff is bending the Scripture!"  Yet, consider Deuteronomy 15:17 (WEB),

Then you shall take an awl, and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise.

In this verse the Hebrew word for 'forever' was used to mean the time until the death of the master or servant.  Certainly the servant is not bound to his master eternally, even beyond death!  This observation causes us to pull our Hebrew dictionary off the shelf.  Look for yourself and you will see that there are several valid denotations for the Hebrew word 'olam,' including 'eternal,' 'forever,' and also 'a long time, until.'  I have already written at length about this in point #9 in my article, Ten Theological Absurdities.  This may be a new idea for you, so take the time to do your own homework before you shake your head in disbelief.

The Old Testament Hebrew word 'olam,' translated 'eternal,' and the New Testament Greek synonym word 'aion,' also translated 'eternal' have been mistranslated at times.  The Greek word 'aion,' pronounced 'I - own,' is translated 'eternal' and 'forever' in the New Testament.  However, the meaning of 'olam' and 'aion' is 'age' or the 'duration' of the subject in view.  'Aion' can also simply mean 'complete.'  For example 'aion' can refer to the length of a man's life, the temporal time in Hades, The Ages of The Ages in the Lake of Fire, and the infinity of God.  The subject itself determines the length of time meant by 'aion.'  In fact, the etymology of the present day word 'eon' descends directly from 'aion!'  This is a critical observation.  Our modern New Testament translations have failed to properly communicate the duration of the punishments applied to the unbelieving.

Hebrews 9:26 (WEB) is an example where 'aion' is properly translated as 'age' because 'eternal' simply does not make sense.

or else he must have suffered often since the foundation of the world. But now once at the end of the ages [aion], he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

I had originally hoped to expand on these thoughts myself.  However, recently the Lord has blessed me through a reunion with John Wesley Hanson's classic 1875 work titled, The Greek Word Aion-Aionios translated Everlasting-Eternal in the Holy Bible Shown to Denote Limited Duration.  I was first introduced to this work in college by a good friend, but sadly my memory is largely untrustworthy and I forgot about the essential points made in this book.  None-the-less, this classic work is available for free from the U.S. Library of Congress website and also from my own website.  This 88 page book is a must read for anyone who agrees or disagrees with my conclusions.  There is little point to my adding further to this definitive work.  Study this volume for yourself and your faith and understanding of the Bible will be challenged in radically positive ways, if you are willing to let go of tradition and all self-righteousness.  Dr. Heleen Keizer has also written a dissertation proving the same, titled Life, Time, Entirety - A Study of Aion in Greek Literature and Philosophy, the Septuagint and Philo.  You can read her 315 page dissertation online or an abstract of her conclusions on my website.  You might think it is incredulous to claim that 'aion' is mistranslated in many Bibles.  Unless you are competent in ancient Greek you may not even know how to verify this for yourself.  The NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek in English is an invaluable resource on my shelf.  Young's Literal Translation of the Bible is also a valuable resource.

Thomas Talbott also makes a critical observation in The Inescapable Love of God. Talbott suggests that 'apo' is also mistranslated in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as 'from.'  Talbott proposes that 'apo' should instead be translated 'at' in this case.  So a proper translation would be "who will pay the penalty: eonian [or complete] destruction at the face of the Lord and at the glory of his might."  Talbott's proposal then makes even better sense that the unbelieving are punished at the Lord's coming judgment which is the subject in context.  Unbelieving mankind will suffer the complete loss and destruction of their wicked earthly lives and ambitions unless they repent.  The verse is not saying that the unbelieving are punished with eternal separation from God!

As an aside while discussing grace with a friend, he made an interesting comment to me.  He said that people who believe salvation is completely unmerited eventually degenerate to believing that all mankind is saved.  He mourned the thought.  However, I cannot mourn, but must rejoice!

Will you rejoice with me?

Daniel 12:1-4

Wait! We must also consider Daniel 12:1-4 (WEB).  Does this Scripture speak about the eternal damnation of unbelieving mankind?

1) At that time Michael will stand up, the great prince who stands for the children of your people; and there will be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time. At that time your people will be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2) Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3) Those who are wise will shine as the brightness of the expanse. Those who turn many to righteousness will shine as the stars forever and ever. 4) But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end. Many will run back and forth, and knowledge will be increased.

It would seem that there could be no other conclusion.  Part of mankind is saved and the remainder is not.  Period.  Yet, the meanings of the underlined words above may help us more clearly understand and apply Daniel 12:1-4 and what it teaches about the extent of Christ's salvation.

Your people

The Hebrews words "ben `am" are translated "your people."  A literal translation would be "the sons of your people" or perhaps more briefly "sons of mankind."  The natural question is who is this group of people?  Possibilities include all mankind, believing mankind only, National Israel generally, every individual Israelite particularly, or believing Israel only.  Other Old Testament usage of "'am" includes both all mankind and particular people such as the nation of Israel.  We also notice that the archangel Michael protects these people, whoever they are.  We know from the New Testament in Hebrews 1:14 that angels care for the redeemed and in Matthew 18:10 that children have guardian angels.  So it seems clear that "your people" means the redeemed people of God.  However, this phrase alone does not clearly indicate the extent of those elected to eternal life within mankind -- whether PART or ALL.  We need to look at the larger context.

Your people

The second occurrence of "your people" in the English translation above is really the abbreviated "'am" in Hebrew.  The Hebrew "ben" is omitted, but implied as the messenger from God in Daniel's vision is still talking about the same people group.  The messenger says that "your people" will be delivered.  So we can take heart that the protection of God through Michael, his powerful agent, is effective.  Yet we still look for clarity in the passage about the specific number of these people.

Everyone who is found written in the book

Does this phrase clarify or qualify who is meant by "your people?"  We have already said that "your people" are those effectively protected by God, so this phrase is not qualifying, but further clarifying that protection is guaranteed for ALL "your people."  It would be impossible that ALL "your people" were protected, but then only PART were listed in his book.  God is telling us that ALL of "your people" are secured with each one's name specifically penned in his book.  This is a great encouragement to believers.

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth

This phrase is most commonly, and perhaps most easily, understood to mean deceased humanity.  Old Testament patriarchs would speak about "resting with their fathers" and the New Testament speaks about those who "sleep" meaning those who have physically died.  However, are these multitudes deceased humans only, or are imprisoned fallen angels also included in this group?  This is a critical question.  We know from 2 Peter 2:4 that the crime of some fallen angels has warranted their early imprisonment, while others remain at large.  So it is at least possible that the "multitudes" here refers to a mixed group of people, including both humans and fallen angels.  I admit it seems odd to speak of angels, who are spirit beings, as sleeping in the dust for they do not have bodies that turn to dust as do humans.  Or do some angels have bodies?  I have pointed out in my article, Ten Theological Absurdities, that one day fallen angels will be embodied.  So perhaps it is not so odd that demons will also awake from the dust.  Also some theologians are certain that the demons currently imprisoned in Tartarus are the angels that fell into sexual sin with mankind in Genesis 6.  Because of this great sin they were specially punished immediately in Tartarus, as explained in 2 Peter 2.  If this is true, then these fallen angels do have bodies; it would be impossible to have sex without a body!

Will awake

Whoever the "multitudes" are we see that they "will awake."  When is the timing of this event and are the saved and unsaved raised at the same time?  The answer to this question is most important to our understanding of this passage.  The verse seems to indicate that the "Many...will awake" together at a single event in the future.  Some may dispute that, but let's consider that option first.  Events future from Daniel's time include A) the first coming of Christ, B) Christ's coming in judgment upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D., C) the resurrection at Christ's second coming, and D) the Great White Throne Judgment at the commencement of eternity.

The Great White Throne Judgment seems to be the best possible match for this event.  In fact just prior to The Great White Throne Judgment there is the resurrection of the "wicked dead."  Unbelieving mankind, now sufficiently punished for their unbelief, and the imprisoned angels are extracted out of Hades and Thalaasa, respectively, for final judgment as explained in Revelation 20:11-15.  We know that all humans and angels are removed from their prisons because it is specifically noted that Hades is thrown into the Lake of Fire, empty of all beings, whether human or demonic.  Most Christians do not appreciate the significance of this fact as it relates to Christ's final victory in the salvation of ALL mankind.  Instead most understand Revelation 20:11-15 to be only the final sentencing of the wicked dead to the Lake of Fire, presuming the group to be humans only.  However, Daniel 12:1-4 indicates a specific time in the future when "multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt."  The Great White Throne Judgment appears to be synonymous with Daniel 12:1-4 which explains that at that time some are resurrected to eternal life and others to condemnation.  So Daniel 12:1-4, rather than undermining the argument of this book, instead strongly supports the conclusion that some are saved and some are damned at The Great White Throne Judgment.  Contrary to popular salvation theology, we see that grace allows for the salvation of even unbelieving mankind at The Great White Throne Judgment because they are elect.  Yet the Devil and his demons are instead sentenced to the Lake of Fire.

Of course some may argue that the timing of the awakening in Daniel 12:2 is not the same for the saved group and the unsaved group.  They may say that deceased believers are raised first to life earlier and that deceased unbelievers are raised later at The Great White Throne Judgment for condemnation.  This model, however, does not fit well with the Lord's conversation in Matthew 25:31-46 (the Sheep and Goat Judgment), which I also understand to be synonymous with the Great White Throne Judgment.  Daniel 12 and Matthew 25 are clear that the final judgment will have both redeemed and unredeemed people standing before Christ at the same time.

Thus Daniel 12:1-4, Matthew 25:31-46, and Revelation 20:11-15 are all speaking about the same event.

They are each speaking about the final salvation of unbelieving mankind after their extraction from Hades and the condemnation of the Devil and his angels to the Lake of Fire, Matthew 25:41.  You may disagree and say that the saved in Matthew 25 do not include the unbelieving elect, that is human beings extracted from Hades.  Yet doesn't it seem odd that believers who are already reigning with Christ would have to face the Great White Throne Judgment and question their salvation again before the Lord?  Hardly.  The sheep who are incredulous at the Great White Throne Judgment are the unbelieving elect extracted safely from Hades and spared from the Lake of Fire by the grace of God alone.  They are incredulous that God's grace could save them even after a sentence in Hades.  Of course if you are a believer now, then you could never be incredulous about such a thing.  You fully understand how God's grace has saved you apart from any act of your will, solely by his electing grace.  You also should know that if the grace of Christ has saved us now it certainly can save unbelieving mankind then!

So are you incredulous or do you confidently trust in Christ? 

Further note that when Daniel 12:1 says "Michael... protects your people" the emphasis could mean "Michael [the arch angel]... protects your people [mankind]."  Michael says "your people" meaning mankind, in contrast to his people, that is angel-kind.

Some to everlasting life, and
some to shame and everlasting contempt

Some of the multitudes that "will awake" are granted eternal life, while the remainder are sentenced to everlasting contempt as already explained above.

Those who are wise will shine as the brightness of the expanse.
Those who turn many to righteousness
will shine as the stars forever and ever.

Those with wisdom will lead many to righteousness.  The gospel clarifies that true righteousness is from God, as explained in Romans 1:16-17.  Righteousness cannot be found in man or man's will.  I have argued in this book that both Arminianism and Calvinism fall short of proclaiming this righteousness.  The Arminian claims that his free will choice of Christ makes the difference.  The Calvinist rejects the Arminian claim, but also rejects Christ's atonement for all mankind.

Dear Reader, I pause to ask you which gospel have you received?  Do you believe that Christ died for ALL mankind?  Do you believe that salvation is ALL of grace?  Have you been led to the righteousness that is from God?  Are you shining with the truth?

Seal the book

Why would the messenger in Daniel's vision tell him to "seal up the words?"  Why would God hide the truth?  God has chosen to incrementally reveal his redemptive plan through history for his greater glory.  I have also suggested in my article that the "Hosea Strategy" is a key component of God's ministry to the hardhearted.  Likewise, Mark 4:11-13 explains that Jesus also uses parables for a similar purpose.

The good news is that the fullness of God's love for mankind is no longer hidden, but completely revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  Do you want rock solid hope for your salvation, as well as good news for all mankind?  It can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

This study has proved very fruitful for me and I trust for you as well.

John 3:16

John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the entire Bible.  And anyone familiar with John 3:16 would naturally say that my entire thesis is unbiblical and unfounded.  John 3:16 is commonly understood by all to mean that eternal salvation has been offered, but is only granted to those believing in Jesus.

John 3:16 (WEB) says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal [aionian] life.

Yet is the common translation and understanding of John 3:16 correct?  I have argued elsewhere that the meaning of the Greek word 'aionian,' is much richer than the simple translation 'eternal.'  Greek studies prove that valid denotations for the word 'aionian' include 'age-during,' 'entire,' 'complete,' 'whole,' and 'unbroken,' but rarely 'eternal' time.  A reading list for your own research is posted in my article, Book Reviews.  I also invite you to read my articles, Forever Is Not Forever? You Gotta Be Kidding Me! and Forever Is Not Forever? You Still Gotta Be Kidding Me!


Now please read John Chapter 3 (WEB) with me again, reconsidering the meaning of the Greek work 'aionian.'

1) Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  2) The same came to him by night, and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.'

Nicodemus approaches Jesus at NIGHT to SEE God's Kingdom.

3) Jesus answered him, 'Most certainly, I tell you, unless one is born anew, he can’t see God’s Kingdom.'

Jesus says that God's Kingdom can only be SEEN by those born from above.

4) Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?'

Nicodemus does not SEE.

5) Jesus answered, 'Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into God’s Kingdom.  6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  7) Don’t marvel that I said to you, "You must be born anew."  8) The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.'

Jesus answers again that SPIRIT BIRTH is needed.

9) Nicodemus answered him, 'How can these things be?'

Nicodemus still does not SEE.

10) Jesus answered him, 'Are you the teacher of Israel, and don’t understand these things?  11)  Most certainly I tell you, we speak that which we know, and testify of that which we have seen, and you don’t receive our witness.  12)  If I told you earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

Jesus confronts Nicodemus' BLINDNESS and unbelief.

13)  No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended out of heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.  14)  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  15)  that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal [age-during, whole, unbroken] life.  16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal [age-during, whole, unbroken] life.

Jesus answers that trust in him is the only way to AIONIAN life.

17) For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.

Jesus reminds Nicodemus that he condemns no one but instead saves!

18)  He who believes in him is not judged. He who doesn’t believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.  19) This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.  20) For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light, lest his works would be exposed.

But those hiding in DARKNESS are condemned because they do not trust Jesus.

21) But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God.'

Those knowing the truth will come into the LIGHT.

22) After these things, Jesus came with his disciples into the land of Judea. He stayed there with them and baptized.  23) John also was baptizing in Enon near Salim, because there was much water there. They came, and were baptized; 24) for John was not yet thrown into prison.  25) Therefore a dispute arose on the part of John’s disciples with some Jews about purification.  26) They came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, he baptizes, and everyone is coming to him.'

Many were coming to JESUS.

27) John answered, 'A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.  28) You yourselves testify that I said, "I am not the Christ," but, "I have been sent before him."  29) He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This, my joy, therefore is made full.  30) He must increase, but I must decrease. 31) He who comes from above is above all. He who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.  32) What he has seen and heard, of that he testifies; and no one receives his witness.  33) He who has received his witness has set his seal to this, that God is true.

Jesus testifies to what he has SEEN and heard.

34) For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for God gives the Spirit without measure.

GOD GIVES THE SPIRIT without measure!

35) The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.  36) One who believes in the Son has eternal [age-during, whole, unbroken] life, but one who disobeys the Son won’t see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.'

The one trusting Jesus HAS aionian life.  The disobedient will not SEE life... until their eyes are opened to trust in Christ.


So which valid denotation of 'aionian' is Jesus using in his conversation with Nicodemus?  Jesus condemns no one and has forgiven everyone!  Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly." (John 10:10b WEB).  Friends, Jesus is not selling fire insurance here, but teaching us the truth about the change of heart needed to trust that Christ already loves and forgives us so that we can live a whole, unbroken, completely restored life, both now and forever!


So is Hades properly understood to be Catholic Purgatory?  There are many views in Christendom about the afterlife.  Catholic Christians believe in the existence of Purgatory, while Protestants would consider the Catholics to be in error on this point.  Catholic doctrine holds to a temporary place of punishment and purification in the after-life for the redeemed.  According to Catholic doctrine, all people spend more or less time in Purgatory depending upon the good and bad things they did in this life.  For the Catholics, the after-life is a multi-step process until they arrive in Heaven.  Protestants, however, emphasize that the afterlife is a single step with one fork in the road and two destinations: eternal Heaven or eternal Hell.  Protestants reference Hebrews 9:26-28 (WEB) to prove this point,

26) or else he must have suffered often since the foundation of the world. But now once at the end of the ages, he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27) Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment, 28) so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without sin, to those who are eagerly waiting for him for salvation.

This verse says that people die and face judgment once at the end of their life.  This was the teaching I grew up with and feel naturally comfortable with.  However, from our study this far I have shown that Hebrews 9:27, while certainly true, does not explain the whole story.  At a minimum we see from Revelation 20:13-14 that Hades is in fact a temporary place of punishment.  One day Hades will be emptied of all people and then Hades itself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire empty of all people.  The Great White Throne Judgment punctuates this present world and marks the commencement of eternity.

I am not suggesting that the Biblical doctrine of Hell, that is Hades, is like Purgatory or even similar to it.  The Catholic Church has taught that one could work or pay one's way out of Purgatory with good deeds and penance.  More can be learned about views on Purgatory here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatory.  However, the Bible does not teach that unbelievers will somehow escape punishment for their rejection of Christ.  Certain punishment in Hades is the destiny of all unbelieving men.  No one should think that they can conquer Hades, work their way out of Hades, or escape from Hades through any means whatsoever... except by the grace of God.  Recently a person was pictured in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the gay marriage debate with a shirt proclaiming, "Hell will be fun."  Luke 16:19-31 makes it clear that the torments of Hades will bring even the hardest heart to immediate regret.  There will be no man-made escape for those punished in Hades.  The only escape is the grace of God alone. 

In a nutshell, Protestants (and Catholics) could benefit by expanding their understanding of afterlife events through more careful Bible study.  Is your faith built on the truth of the Bible or the traditions of men?

The Bottom Line

We live in a world that is often only concerned about the bottom line.  We want to know if our team won, if the business deal ended in the black, if the goal was reached.  We want the headline, and perhaps the summary, but have little time to actually live it or get emotionally involved.   We want the college degree now.  We want to lose weight now.  We want to get rich now.  In a nutshell we want the facts so we can get on with our own business and retreat to the comfort of our own homes.  However, we do not have the patience to live, work, and breathe for 365 days a year and still be pursuing the same goal as years turn into decades.

Why are our resumes strung with pages of job experience?  Why are we so good at making new friends, but not keeping the old friends?  Why are so many marriages failing?  How could our grandfathers stay with the same woman, visit the same friends, and do the same work for a lifetime?  Why do so many begin to follow Christ, yet either bail out or end their days warming a pew?  We have been duped by the promises of unscrupulous marketers.  Vain promises have drained us of our strength and perseverance for anything different or difficult.

Sadly, Christian evangelists have often done the same thing as the unscrupulous marketers that surround us, myself included.  Christian salvation is marketed with the same strategy that Lou uses to sell cars.  We get a customer hot for the sale with money burning a hole in his pocket, but he drives away not even knowing what he has purchased.

Warnings like "Are you saved?" and "Pray this prayer" lead you to believe that you can take action to add your own name to the Book of Life.  You have entirely missed the point of grace.  You think you have "bought" salvation, but do not even know what it is!  You have bought, but you have not rested in the Father's love.  You have your fire insurance policy, but you have no fire or passion for Christ.  There is no heart for a life of rugged discipleship for our lover.

Instead, true faith is a longing to leave sin and a commitment to righteousness.  Open the car hood of your life and check the timing and temperature of your engine!  Get to a hospital for open heart surgery to see if you actually have a new heart of flesh or the same old heart of stone!  Is the fire of Christ burning in your life or are you just a good (or perhaps bad) church kid?

What if instead you looked at Jesus Christ and received that you have been loved by him from before the very beginning?  What if instead you confessed that your eternal destiny is fully in the hands of Christ... period?  What if you truly believed that the victory was guaranteed and played for the love of the game and the love of your coach?  Then you would be thankful for your eternal destiny and thankful to live for him now.

Another friend suggested that if we told people that Christ had already forgiven all their future sin, then there would be no reason to quit sinning.  What an unfortunate understanding!  First, this man must think that fear is a more powerful motivator than love.  However, love, hands down, is the most powerful force in the universe.  Secondly, this man is blind to his own sin, voting a nebulous victory for himself, but without the power of God's love in his life.  My friend's heart is exposed, not as God's son, but as a slave to sin.  Sin is bad and harmful and this man does not even seem to know it!  Why would you prefer to know God as an angry slave master?  Why not know him as he actually is, as your loving Heavenly Father?

The point is that Christian salvation is much more than salvation from a bad end, but also salvation from the harm of sin now.  Read my article, SAVED 5X, for a larger list of the things we all need protection from.  Yes Christ finalized the TRANSACTION for our eternal salvation at the cross.  And now Christ fights for our TRANSFORMATION, opening our eyes and leading us to faith, a purposeful life, and Christ-likeness.

It is given that we want salvation for a pleasurable life after death.  But do we want salvation from sin now?  Do we want to be transformed into Christ-likeness?  Do we want to suffer with him for opposing self-righteousness and proclaiming grace?  Or, do we just like the style of the W.W.J.D. wristband?

Playing Church

We all agree that a truthful understanding of salvation is essential for the Christian.  However, if you have made it this far in my book you are now aware that those claiming to follow Christ can be categorized into at least three opposing views: the Arminian, the Calvinist, and those confident in the victory of grace for all mankind.  Of course there are varieties and shades of each, as well as fence sitters.  However, let's suppose by some miracle we did all come to the exact same understanding of Christian salvation.

Would we then be one as Jesus is one with the Father, as he prayed in John 17?

I fear that coming closer to agreement on one thing might increase the pressure of the differences on other things.  Squaring one corner could expose misalignment on the other corners.  Frankly, the unity Jesus prayed for seems like a hopeless endeavor.  So we often settle for "playing church" rather than pursuing Christ-likeness.

I feel particularly stretched because I have sincere Christian friends in all kinds of church denominations and theological camps.  All my Christian friends could not even fellowship under the same roof!  And worse, sometimes we are under the same roof, but true fellowship is not happening there either.  We need grace.

However, since I dared light a match to the explosive issue of Christian salvation, while the match still burns, let me light a few additional fuses.  Specifically, we are commanded to follow Christ, so what should that look like?  The whole subject of this book has been how to start a relationship with Christ on the right foot.  A relationship with Christ must begin with the confidence that God has, in fact, paid for all of our sin -- past, present, and future -- and the sins of all of his people.  However, the Christian life does not stop at the beginning!  Now that we have a relationship with God through faith in Christ, we must continue by following him and imitating his words and actions.  We are commanded to follow his example.  We must do this, not to stay saved or to earn and keep the salvation we already have, but instead simply to please Jesus through obedience to his commands.  Obedience to Christ is the mark of the Holy Spirit's transforming work in the believer's life.  So, what should it look like to follow Christ?

As one example, I hold to the view of Christian non-participation in earthly war, as I learned while growing up in a dear Mennonite congregation.  Instead, Christians are called to enlist in spiritual war -- the Great Commission!  Christ's command for Peter to put his sword away was reserved for the last hour at the critical fulcrum between choosing the kingdoms of this world or the Kingdom of Christ.  I have written at length about this in my article, To Battle with the Sword of the Spirit and Prayer!  Yet while discussing this with a friend, we considered a curious question.  Would Jesus have personally pulled the trigger to fire the nuclear bombs of World War II?  One brother said, "Most certainly yes!"

Wow!  Really?  So even if we could agree on the weighty matter of Christian salvation, could we then agree on what it actually means to follow Christ?  Does national patriotism and mere earthly defense trump fidelity to the mission of Christ?  To be sure, God has sanctioned governments to wield the sword.  To be sure Jesus Christ is also the sovereign agent behind every event in world history.  For example God appointed wicked Rome to destroy Jerusalem in 70 A.D. for their rejection of Christ.   Yet those who know they belong to Christ have been conscripted instead to follow the example and commission of Christ into deadly spiritual war.  Guns and ammo will never accomplish peace in the Middle East.  However, the Bible and prayer are powerful weapons with which to wage war.  We are called to leave home, family, farm, job, and country to offer our lives as a sacrifice in making disciples of the nations.  Can one do that with gun in hand?  Clearly one cannot when following the pattern of Jesus.  What part of the word "not" do you not understand in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4?  Please reconsider and read my article, Luke 22:26, Major George Buxton Persuades Sergeant Alvin York.

Where are the recruitment officers for the Lord's army?  Where is the passion for Christian mission?  We Americans have reduced the highest Christian ideal to honoring those fallen in mere earthly battles for our supposed democratic freedom.  Weak "constitutional" theology and weak knees have found the American church hiding behind the red, white, and blue.  Where is the praise for Abel and Zechariah mentioned in Luke 11:51?  Why don't we have a Memorial Day for these men?  They and countless others in history past have lost their lives preaching Christ to their own family and neighbors.  They demonstrated fidelity to Christ unmatched in our present generation!  They carried a cross, not a cross-bow.  Remember them well.

Once I suggested that I go to Afghanistan as a missionary.  Another said he would not send his worst enemy to that country.  Are we then followers of Uncle Sam or of Christ?  Christ came to serve those who counted him their enemy.  Should we not do likewise, if we claim to follow him?  Who is ready to pull the trigger to drop themselves as a "grace bomb" into enemy lands?  Jesus dropped himself into our world.  Friends, we have walled ourselves into a safe game of "American church."  However, the church is called to be the spiritual military camp to serve the nations with the weapons of God's word and prayer.  My view may seem odd or radical to you.  I am well aware that I am in the minority, yet certainly not alone.  Consider Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight, for further challenge.  My own articles Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News! and Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News! (Part 2) explain our need for Christ-likeness in battle.

As another example, while a young Christian, I favored non-denominational churches because they seemed better suited for outreach.  They have a passion for reaching the lost that at least moves them to preach Christ rather than denominational distinctions.  Since then I learned that every church has its issues of course, even non-denominational churches.  Yet problematic denominationalism led me to write the article, Should I Stay or Should I Go?  It is a good question to ask when faced with divisions in your own fellowship.

So if we cannot find a satisfactory Christian fellowship to call home, should we start yet another Christian group?  Can one more denomination or sect be the source of Christian unity?  Hardly!  Jesus could have tried to find better men to start his new movement, but where would he find them?  Instead he stuck with his weak disciples and set a resolute path to die for all mankind in Jerusalem.  Christ determined to love his disciples, the Pharisees, the Romans, and the Greeks -- that is ALL mankind.  So we are best advised to stick with him.  It is true that Christ's work divides us into believers and unbelievers, yet his ultimate goal is not to divide, but to weld his chosen people together with love and himself at the center for all eternity.  Jesus refused to start another human sect, but instead my article title highlights, He Went To Jerusalem.

We near the end of my review of the various views of Christian salvation.  The Protestant Reformation from the 16th century sparked a division over the doctrine of salvation that has cascaded into so many divisions that many churches no longer even hold to the views of their namesake.  The body of Christ has become a divided mess!  Even after reading Martin Luther I do not know if he believed that "faith" is the "pen" that writes our name in the Lamb's Book of Life or the "glasses" that enable us to see our name written there from before the foundation of the earth.  Did Luther think that "faith" was the condition that activated salvation?  What quadrant would he fall into in our Salvation Evaluator?  I am not sure.  But I know that it is even worse for you and me because in addition to Luther's opinion and the thousands of others since then, we now also have my opinion to consider.  I cannot imagine that more words of men can possibly help untangle the mess.

So are we playing church or are we following Christ?  Are we literally trying to walk in the footprints Jesus has left us?

Gospel Foolishness

The heart of the problem with Arminian and Calvinist efforts to codify the gospel is that they do not include gospel foolishness and they depend upon a mistranslation of the word "aion."  These models assume that the Bible is written to educate teachable people.  These models adopt a purely informational and educational strategy for winning converts that appeals only to the natural mind.  Furthermore, these models assume that the gospel can be simply codified.  I have written about the challenges of gospel codification in my article, Revelation 20:11-15, A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Grace.

Some Christian traditions even refuse to adopt systematic theologies.  They feel that the Scripture has already codified the truth in the most perfect way.  But our weak human models of the gospel attempt to interpret the words of the Bible as if the Holy Spirit only ever throws straight fast balls.  Yet, we have seen that God is also willing to throw curve balls to the unbeliever's foolish swing of the bat.  Just like the Wright brothers needed special tactics to confront unbelief, so we see that God himself is the author of special tactics.  Solomon teaches us how in Proverbs 26:4-5. Hosea lived it with stubborn Israel and his family as recorded in Hosea 2:23.  Jesus put it into practice in John 10:25-30.  Paul employs it in Romans 9:1-29.  Even the great prophet had to swallow a painful pill in Jeremiah 20:7a (NASB),

O Lord, You have deceived me and I was deceived.

Now we see that the Holy Spirit has used some very crafty strategies to pitch curve balls to the Left and Right wings of Christendom.  He has deceived us and we were deceived.  Three quadrants of our salvation matrix have stepped up to the plate for a big swing and a miss.  Fortunately God's ultimate purpose is not to strike us out and leave us losers.  His purpose is to heal us with his grace!  However, like a good doctor he also needs to remove the cancer of our pride and hypocrisy for true healing.  That is painful.  In fact we would not or could not do it ourselves, hence the curve balls. 

Specifically, our Salvation Evaluator matrix has exposed the hypocrisy of imagining that God chose us but not all men.  We are also exposed for the religiosity of thinking that we chose the grace of God with our free will while others did not.  Friends, only the will that has been freed by the grace of God trusts that Jesus has paid for the sins of all mankind.  Apparently just as Jesus faced the Right and Left responses of the Jew and Gentile in his day, these mistakes still are with us today.

Of course if we are Christians we may still honestly wonder why he has not opened all mankind's eyes to faith.  Why does most of humanity remain unbelieving?  Why have only a few believers been called to faith?  Three words come to mind: work, witness, and worship.  Jesus has left us with work to do, succinctly explained in 2 Corinthians 5:20.  Jesus also says we are to witness like him in I John 4:17.  And Jesus has left us with a grand doxology of worship found in our key verse, Romans 11:32-36.

No doubt there are true believers within both Arminian and Calvinist camps who understand their codifications of the gospel ultimately fall short.  There are also good followers of Christ who still have serious questions, even about the gospel.  However, there are just as many or more who claim to follow Jesus yet their hope is not based upon the truth.  They have not been to the foot of the cross.  Instead they stand upon lies that exalt man and debase Christ.  They are Christians in name only, not in heart.  Thus gospel foolishness is still needed to reach the rebellious elect.  We read in I Corinthians 1:18-31 (WEB),

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.

26) For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; 27) but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world that he might put to shame the things that are strong. 28) God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that don’t exist, that he might bring to nothing the things that exist, 29) that no flesh should boast before God. 30) Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: 31) that, as it is written, "He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord."

Just like an insane person cannot be reasoned with, so an unbelieving person cannot be taught the good news without gospel foolishness.

The Arminian boasts in his free will choice of God while the Calvinist blindly claims that he alone is chosen.  However, the only testimony that will stand is the cross of Jesus Christ, his blood shed for all mankind.

Curious Combo

Since foolishness to the foolish is integral to the gospel message, this creates the possibility of a curious combination of circumstances.  Specifically, the religious unbelieving could actually drive other unbelieving toward Christ through preaching pieces of the gospel.  The religious unbelieving might teach some true things about Christ that could help others take steps toward Christ.  Though if the leader does not know the whole path to the cross, then "the blind lead the blind" as Jesus warned.

Consider again Jesus' words in 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."

Now suppose we were Jesus' disciples standing there without fully understanding Jesus implementation of the Proverbs 26:4-5 and Hosea 2:23 tactics to reach the stubborn unbelieving.  We would most likely conclude that those who disbelieve, such as the Jews described above, are truly not Jesus' sheep.  We might also conclude that since Jesus said these people are not sheep, then they can never become his sheep and they are goats for all eternity.  We might think they are non-elect, non-chosen, non-predestined.  Yet, since we are very concerned about our own skin, we would also be happy to believe that we are Jesus' sheep. How convenient for us!  In fact Peter may have been such an unbeliever in the Olive Garden when he drew his sword to kill the Pharisees.  Peter still needed to learn that Jesus also loved the Pharisees and died for them, just as he died for Peter.

Furthermore, if we were Arminian style disciples we would conclude that we are Jesus' sheep because of our good free will choice to follow Christ.  If we were Calvinist style disciples we would conclude that we are Jesus' sheep simply because Christ chose us and not the unbelieving Jews above.  Either way we would be happy, but none-the-less big stinky hypocrites.

Now I boldly ask: if followers of Christ are this confused about God's love for all, are they actually following the Jesus who is and truly believing in him in the first place?  This is a good question!  Consider one of the toughest verses in the whole Bible in John 6:66 (WEB), "At this, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."

It is possible to follow Christ, to serve him, and to even be used by him, yet to be confused about his purpose and eventually turn away from him.  Yet, we see that most do not openly turn away, but instead turn to the religion of a graceless Christ.

The grace of Christ forgives a lot more confusion than we might be comfortable with.  In fact his grace covers ALL sin for ALL mankind for ALL time.  We are often not even aware of just how bad we actually are.  We can be offensive hypocrites yet blind to how we hurt others.  Yet the fragrance of Christ takes away our offensive sins.  His grace also takes away the sins of those who offend us.

Jesus always seems to have the perfect words for every occasion and even for the ideas on this page.  He says in Luke 10:19-21 (WEB),

19) "Behold, I give you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will in any way hurt you. 20) Nevertheless, don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." 21) In that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said, "I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight."

Do you think you are Jesus' sheep because of something you have done?  Do you think you have written your own name in Heaven by choosing "faith?"  That is foul.  Are you trying to get people to write their own names in Heaven?  That is really foul.

Can you instead repent of your self-righteousness and rejoice through faith that Christ has written ALL his chosen one's names in Heaven from before the creation of the world?

That is fragrant grace.

Constructive Envy

I have shown that special tactics are required to help those who persist in stubborn unbelief.  The stubborn may have various reasons for rejecting the good news that Jesus Christ is the savior of all mankind.  Foremost among them is the spiritual pride of thinking that we are PART of a supposed chosen subset forgiven by God, such as the Jews.  Or equally crummy, we may imagine that we provided PART of the condition to be eternally loved by God, just like pagan religions.  Since pride of this nature is bad news, when the stubborn unbelief persists, even further special tactics may be employed.

Paul explains another special tactic in Romans 11:13-15 (WEB),

13) For I speak to you who are Gentiles. Since then as I am an apostle to Gentiles, I glorify my ministry; 14) if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh, and may save some of them. 15) For if the rejection of them is the reconciling of the world, what would their acceptance be, but life from the dead?

Acts 22:1-22 (WEB) also provides an excellent demonstration of this tactic by Paul,

1) "Brothers and fathers, listen to the defense which I now make to you."  2) When they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they were even more quiet. He said, 3) "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict tradition of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, even as you all are today. 4) I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. 5) As also the high priest and all the council of the elders testify, from whom also I received letters to the brothers, and traveled to Damascus to bring them also who were there to Jerusalem in bonds to be punished.

6) As I made my journey, and came close to Damascus, about noon, suddenly a great light shone around me from the sky. 7) I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'

8) I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?'

He said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.'

9) "Those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they didn’t understand the voice of him who spoke to me. 10) I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?'

"The Lord said to me, 'Arise, and go into Damascus. There you will be told about all things which are appointed for you to do.' 11) When I couldn’t see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.

12) "One Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews who lived in Damascus, 13) came to me, and standing by me said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' In that very hour I looked up at him. 14) He said, 'The God of our fathers has appointed you to know his will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth. 15) For you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16) Now why do you wait? Arise, be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

17) "When I had returned to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in the temple, I fell into a trance, 18) and saw him saying to me, 'Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not receive testimony concerning me from you.' 19) I said, 'Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue those who believed in you. 20) When the blood of Stephen, your witness, was shed, I also was standing by, consenting to his death, and guarding the cloaks of those who killed him.' 

21) "He said to me, 'Depart, for I will send you out far from here to the Gentiles.' " 

22) They listened to him until he said that; then they lifted up their voice and said, "Rid the earth of this fellow, for he isn’t fit to live!"

Paul -- actually the Holy Spirit through Paul -- was willing to make constructive use of envy to confront the spiritual pride of the Jews who rejected Jesus as their savior and the savior of both Jew and Gentile.  The results as you see were explosive.  The Jews hated the thought that both the Jews and the Gentiles were equally needy of grace.  The Jews thought God's blessing was focused only on them and limited to them unless the Gentiles jumped through the hoop.  However, Paul crossed the line in reaching out to both Jews and Gentiles with the good news.  Though it may appear like Paul is giving up on the Jews, really he is playing his last, but most powerful card through the constructive use of envy.

Paul was willing to risk conflict for the greater good of helping at least some stubborn unbelievers appreciate the foolishness of their unbelief.

Paul always makes a point of giving the Jews ample opportunity to change their mind and acknowledge Jesus as Messiah.  In fact Paul taught that the Jews ought to even have the first opportunity to hear the gospel.  Romans 1:16-17 (WEB) says, 

16) For I am not ashamed of the Good News of Christ, because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first, and also for the Greek. 17) For in it is revealed God’s righteousness from faith to faith. As it is written, "But the righteous shall live by faith."

However, if stubborn unbelief continued, Paul became a burr under their saddle to get things kicking.  You may have noticed that this Biblical strategy is strangely similar to the winning tactic employed by the Wright brothers.  When the U.S. government rejected flight, the Wright brothers turned to Europe.  Then the U.S. woke up.

Now let's move on to my concluding thoughts.