One Pastor strongly objected...
READER>> Is all mankind elect? NO!
ME>> Dear Pastor,
Thank you for your study of election that you emailed to me. Thank you also for taking the time to fully understand my view. I have no desire to break with tradition unnecessarily. When one does break with tradition, there are often misunderstandings. Yet you have not misunderstood. Second, thank you for not ignoring this difference. I was short sighted in thinking that the difference did not matter or could be overlooked. Third, thank you for your faithfulness to Regular Baptist tradition which has many good components. Fourth, thank you for humbly praying that if I am wrong the Lord would correct me, but also that if you are wrong that the Lord would correct you. We both need the Lord and stand by his grace alone.
Sadly after reading your study below, I continue to disagree with your interpretation. Yet happily, I still understand the Scripture to teach that all humankind is elect and will be finally saved from the Lake of Fire. I am also compelled to be the Lord’s servant and warn those who reject grace that they will be punished for the duration in Hades. Again, I do not have any desire to break with tradition unnecessarily. Yet after studying your objections I have become even more certain that Jesus is the savior of all mankind. There have been others in history that have held this view as well as contemporaries with whom I am initiating fellowship. However, we are a fellowship with "no place to lay our heads."
I have written at length in my book, Optimism Out of Control, to defend my understanding. Of course you have read this already and disagree. I would invite you to invest the effort to read it one more time. It would also be important for you to read my answers to other objections in the Appendix of my book. I hope to answer your important objections below. My first goal in doing so is to hold myself accountable to be faithful to the Scriptures. My second goal is to invite you to join my understanding and re-forge partnership in making disciples. What a wonderful mission calling lost sheep to trust that Jesus loves them, has forgiven them, and wants to transform them into his image.
Since the minority has broken with tradition on this point, the majority could easily dismiss this view as suspect without any research or reconsideration needed whatsoever. Yet I hope to defend that Christ is the savior of all mankind with Scripture. To that end, I begin by saying that your misunderstanding of Scripture and grace are easily repaired with five corrections.
FIVE CORRECTIONS TO TRADITION
1) Hopefully we agree that only the elect, those chosen by God’s grace without any condition satisfied by man, are predestined to His good purposes. Yet you reduce election to only or primarily address our eternal state. Consider that Jesus elects nations, groups, and individuals to various good stations, some temporal and others eternal. One could be elect or not elect in one dimension while being elect or not elect in another dimension. For example, Israel was specially chosen as the ancestry of Christ and the guardian of the Old Testament Scripture, Romans 9:4-5. Yet God has also specially chosen to love other nations, Isaiah 19:24. The Twelve were specially chosen as Apostles, John 6:70. Yet God has also specially chosen to work in the lives of all believers, 1 Peter 2:4-5. Christians are alone chosen for repentance and receiving forgiveness, Romans 2:4. Yet Christ also chose to forgive all mankind, even the unbelieving unrepentant, from the cross, Luke 23:34 and 1 John 2:1-2. The Scriptures do not speak of only one "election," but numerous. Ephesians also makes this plain when the Holy Spirit says in Ephesians 1:11, "we were also chosen." If we were "also" chosen, then there is more than one dimension to election. The context of grace enables believers to interpret rightly and boldly. Christ elected to forgive ALL mankind from the cross from before the creation of the world, Ephesians 1:3-10. However, NOT ALL, but only some are elected to receive and believe the fact that they are forgiven apart from all conditions before they die, Ephesians 1:11-14. Christ’s death has already reconciled God’s heart to all mankind, past tense! Since we are reconciled (past tense), how much more will those who live be saved from sin by his life, Romans 5:10.
2) Hopefully we both agree that only the elect, those chosen by God’s grace without any condition satisfied by man, are saved from a bad end. Yet you make salvation to be primarily single-dimensional so that salvation from Hades is equal to salvation from the Lake of Fire. Consider that if Jesus elects nations, groups, and individuals to various good stations, then he also saves nations, groups, and individuals from various bad stations, again both temporal and eternal. One could be saved or not saved in one dimension while being saved or not saved in another dimension. One generation of Israelites was saved from slavery in Egypt, Micah 6:4. Yet, many Israelite generations were not saved from slavery, but died as slaves in Egypt over 400 years, even though they also were loved by God, Genesis 15:13. Even those Israelites that God did save from slavery were saved only due to His gracious choice and no merit of theirs, Deuteronomy 9:6. Noah and his family were saved from the flood, 1 Peter 3: 20. Yet, the remainder of mankind was not saved from the flood, even though they also were loved by God, Genesis 6:6 and 1 Peter 3:18-20. David asked for salvation from lying lips, Psalm 120:2. Yet, Ananias and Sapphira were not saved from lying to the Holy Spirit, or from punishment, even to the loss of their lives, though they were Christians and saved from Hell, Acts 5:1-11.
Christians, because we have received forgiveness, now have reconciled hearts to God and are saved from the power of sin, Romans 6:1-4, from fruitless lives, 2 Peter 1:4, and from punishment after death, Luke 23:43. Yet those who reject grace are not saved from the 'aion' (duration) of punishment in Hades, Luke 16:19-31. The fire of Hades is a fit punishment for their hardened hearts. So though there is one faith, Ephesians 4:4-6, there are many dimensions to salvation. Again, the context of grace enables believers to interpret rightly and boldly. No doubt we agree that Christian salvation is a package deal that saves from both sin and judgment. Yet we disagree about how the Lake of Fire fits into the package. David said he could even go to Sheol and not be outside of God’s love, Psalm 139:8. Jesus taught that the gates of Hades will be finally defeated by God’s grace, Matthew 16:18. So even the redeemed will be punished in Hades if they continue to reject grace, 2 Peter 2:1. Yet the redeemed will not go to the Lake of Fire, Romans 11:32, Revelation 20:15. The gates of Hades will be defeated!
3) Hopefully we agree that Greek studies are helpful and a word can have several valid denotations and different applications. As just proved above, the same Greek word translated "salvation" can be applied to salvation from sin, futile purpose, harm, Hades, and the Lake of Fire. Likewise the Greek word "aion" is used to describe the duration of different epochs. For example "aion" in Romans 16:25 indicates the "duration" of the earth to the present time, while "aion" in Romans 16:26, one verse later, indicates the "eternal" God. Matthew 28:20 likewise speaks of the end of "aion," this "age." Other non-eternal uses of "aion" include Matthew 24:3, Luke 16:8, Luke 20:34-35, John 9:32, Acts 3:21, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 1:20, 2:6-8, 3:18, 10:11, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 1:21, 2:2, 2:7, 3:9, Colossians 1:26, 2 Timothy 4:10, Hebrews 6:5, 9:26, and Hebrews 11:3. John Wesley Hanson's classic work proves that "aion" means the duration of the object in question whether finite or eternal. Septuagint usage proves that "aion" is synonymous with Hebrew "olam" which can mean temporal or eternal. Read Hanson's work from my website. (Though I do not agree with Hanson’s application in Matthew 25:31-46.) Dr. Helena Keizer’s dissertation proves the same: Life, Time, Entirety – A Study of Aion in Greek Literature and Philosophy, the Septuagint and Philo. Read her 315 page dissertation online or read an abstract of her conclusions from my website. The English word "eon" even descends etymologically from "aion!" Yet you and tradition chose "aion" to mean "eternal" in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. Why?
The context of grace is a better interpretive tool than tradition when choosing between valid denotations. If you are convinced that you are saved from eternity in the Lake of Fire because of your free will choice of Christ, then you have little need to answer the question as to why you chose Christ while the majority did not. You give your free will the credit. Or if you are persuaded that Jesus set his special love on you and paid for your sin while also not loving others and not paying for their sin, then again there is little need for Greek studies. You have missed the beauty of the cross that paid for the sins of all, as highlighted in particular by the Pharisees' hatred of Christ for extending grace to the Gentiles. Yet Jesus loved both the Pharisees and the pagans. He forgave us all from the cross even though no one asked for forgiveness.
4) Hopefully we both agree that Jesus identified the unbelieving Jews as, "not his sheep," in John 10:26. Yet you interpret Jesus' words to mean they were not elect and never would be elect. You conclude that they are not sheep, or even lost sheep, but instead goats. You conclude that these Jews whom Jesus spoke to are eternally passed over by God’s love and damned with hatred by God for eternity. Yet, consider from point #1 in this list that election is not a single dimensional concept. Just because these particular Jews were apparently not elected to believe (at least as evidenced at that moment) does not mean that Jesus did not elect to pay for their sin, or that they did not believe later. And if you agree that they could believe later, then you must also agree that they were predestined from before they were even born and thus ultimately always God’s sheep, albeit, lost. Simply, Jesus is willing to confront stubborn lost sheep by saying they are "not his sheep." Jesus is employing the pattern of Hosea 2:23 to confront the stubborn unbelief of these Jews. Certainly you do not interpret Hosea 2:23 to mean that God’s love for his people is "off again" and then "on again!" God’s eternal love for his people is eternally constant according to Jeremiah 31:3. Yet God clearly says in Hosea 2:23 that the unbelieving are, "not my loved one," and then again after their repentance they are, "my loved one." How is this to be understood? Romans 9:13 likewise quotes Malachi 1:1-3 saying that God hated Esau. So does God only love a small subset of mankind while allowing his hatred and wrath to damn the majority for all eternity? Or does God simply offer love to mankind, but only those who reciprocate are spared from damnation? There is a better answer as explained in Romans 11:28. Jewish unbelievers and all unbelievers are enemies of the gospel because of their rejection of Christ, yet they are loved on account of election. ALL mankind is loved by Christ because they are ALL elect, yet they remain enemies of the gospel until they are converted and place faith in Christ.
5) Hopefully we both agree that true Biblical faith must be reasonable and maintain integrity with both the Scriptures and logic. The Four Square Salvation Evaluator was designed to help people think through the Biblical and logical questions needed to properly understand salvation by grace. Yet after reading your objections below I am having trouble figuring out just what your view is, whether Arminian or Calvinist. I am very clear that you object with my understanding. Yet, both Boice and Lewis concluded that there is no middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism. Could I ask you to explain your specific view in more detail? For example, Boice boldly believed that if God loves you at all then there is absolutely no escape from his love and determination to bring you safely to final salvation. I believe exactly the same. However, since he neglected the distinction between Hades and the Lake of Fire and the meaning of "aion," he then concluded that God does not love, nor will ever love the majority of mankind who are damned. This is an unfortunate error.
On the other hand Lewis boldly believed that God makes an offer of love to every individual, but for love to be true love, God must allow each individual's free will choice of faith to be the determining factor in their final salvation. He has my respect for being clear on this point, though I strongly disagree with his view of the character of God's love. He also did not appreciate the distinction between Hades and the Lake of Fire and so concluded that most of mankind is damned because they do not accept Christ with their free will. Lewis also offers no Biblical explanation as to why a few repent and most do not because his view is not Biblical. Lewis missed the point of grace: God loved us first while we still hated him. I can also respect a third person who has doubts and is struggling to understand how all these things add up. He has simple faith in Christ and knows that Christ is the judge of the whole Universe and he trusts God's judgment without telling God he cannot extend saving grace to all mankind. This person also has my respect. However, you have objected strongly to my understanding that all mankind is elected to salvation from the Lake of Fire. You have said that God simply cannot save all mankind! Yet I am struggling to completely understand how you yourself have answered the important questions raised in my book.
Please consider these five points and my request for further explanation of your view of grace. In the meantime, I am concerned that your view does not have both feet planted on the bedrock of God’s grace. I began to be aware of this when you said, "surely you believe in free will" and also, "but God uses means in salvation." Do you then believe that our free will is the deciding factor in our final salvation as Lewis did? Perhaps I misheard. You did use the metaphor, "it is a free gift, but you have to write your name on it." With a proper understanding of grace we should instead say, "God has written our names all over his free gift, but we must repent of all self-righteousness before we will be willing to receive it." We are rebellious children with terrible attitudes, yet with a Father who has written our names all over his gifts to us. However, until we repent we will not receive his gift! In your objections below you observe that Isaiah 53:6 says that Christ died for all sin and that according to John 3:16, Christ died for the world. You conclude that since "the Bible teaches all of the above and so must we!" Your words betray a curious confession. You are certain that some are saved including yourself, yet the most you can say about Christ’s death for ALL is that "the Bible teaches it and so must we?" It sounds like you are saying, "I trust that Christ paid for my sin and so I am spared damnation, and even though I do not understand how it works, Christ also paid for the sins of all mankind, but most of them are going to be damned." That is not good. You gravely urge your own audience to take action to escape the Lake of Fire. Yet your tone could only result in persuading fearful people to "pray a prayer" or meet a "condition" to "write their name on the gift." Instead, we are calling lost sheep not to reach up, but to fall down on their knees and repent of all self-righteousness to receive the gift already given. It would seem we really do have two different gospels and partnership with this difference would be difficult as you already know.
Your points are listed in gray below and my comments follow, referencing my points 1 through 5 above.
PASTOR'S POINTS HIGHLIGHTED WITH MY ANSWER FOLLOWING EACH POINT
1) Is all mankind elect? NO (Note- “elect” is from the Greek word “eklektos” which has four variations in the NT and is used a total of 55 times; the below is an exegetical summation of the above answer)
All mankind is not elect in every dimension. For example most of mankind is not elected to trust in Christ, but the wrath of God is still appeased for all mankind through the death of Christ. #1
a. Specific individuals (e.g. Ishmael; Esau) not chosen- the “children of God” are the “children of promise” (Rom. 9:8) according to “God’s choice” (Rom. 9:11).
Esau was not elected for a believing heart or to be the ancestor of Christ, but he was chosen for his sins to be paid, along with all mankind. #1
b. Only a “remnant” of Israel was “chosen” the rest were hardened (Rom. 11:5-6); there is coming a day when “all Israel” will be saved (Rom. 11:25-32).
Most of Abraham’s physical descendants are not chosen for faith. However, the day is coming when Christ’s atonement for all mankind will be believed by all. #1
c. God has chosen some not all (I Corinthians 1:26-31).
True, only some are chosen to become Christians. Nonetheless, the sins of all mankind, believing and unbelieving, are still chosen for forgiveness. #1-2
d. Those whom God chooses He predestines to adoption and redeems through Christ’s blood and makes them know the mystery of His will and gives to them an inheritance and seals them with the Holy Spirit (after believing in the Gospel of salvation)- who is the pledge of the believer’s inheritance (Eph. 1:3-14; also see I Peter 1:1-2; note - although “elect” is not used in Rom. 8:28-30 the teaching is similar).
The blessings highlighted in Ephesians 1:1-10 are not the result of faith nor do those versus say any such thing. Instead these are the blessings granted to all the elect before faith, but only the believing elect are able to see these blessings. Ephesians 1:11, however, transitions to a second dimension of election, namely that the Ephesian Christians where chosen for belief to the praise of God’s glory. #1. It is the same today. God’s decision to pay for the sins of all mankind remains the great finished work of Christ for all mankind, yet very few are chosen to believe it.
e. Only believers in God’s “living stone” which is “choice and precious” in God’s sight are identified as a “chosen race” (I Peter 2:4-10).
Agreed. Believers are specially chosen and elected to believe and are the 'chosen race' mentioned in this verse. The unbelieving elect are not given this title. #1
f. Only those who have a “faith of the same kind” and a “true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory” can be “diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing” (II Peter 1:1-11).
Certainly. Only believers who acknowledge their election can make their election certain. Unbelievers, however, cannot see God’s eternal love for them. They are blind to the blessings they have in Christ because they refuse to believe. #1
g. The Lamb, the Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him: “the called and chosen and faithful” will defeat the “beast: who was and is not and is about to come” and “those who dwell on the earth whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 17:8-14; also see Rev. 13:7-10).
Agreed. Only believers stand with Christ during this time. #1-2. More at 3.b.
2) Some other verses that indicate that not all mankind is elect:
a. John 6:37, 44, 55- “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me…” – the fact that many do not come to Jesus indicates that they are not given to Jesus by the Father.
Agreed. God the Father, for the demonstration of grace, has not chosen to bring even most of mankind to faith in Christ. Yet that does not change the fact that his eternal wrath against their sin is still propitiated by the death of Christ. And if their sin is propitiated from God’s wrath, then who can possibly damn them? These unbelieving are deeply loved by Christ even though they remain unbelieving. However, only those chosen for faith come to Christ in humble repentance. #1-2
b. John 8:47- “…for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
Agreed. These Jews were apparently not chosen for faith, at least at that time. #1
c. John 10:26-28- “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me…and they will never perish…”
Agreed. These Jews were not chosen for faith, but instead unbelief. If they persist in unbelief, if God does not open their eyes, they will be punished in Hades. #1
d. Acts 13:48 (first missionary journey; at Pisidian Antioch; following the “word of the Lord” on the second Sabbath) - “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” – the fact that not all believed indicates that not all (in that assembly) were appointed to eternal life.
Are you saying that this verse means that if someone hears the gospel and does not believe immediately that it is proved that they are not elected to salvation from the Lake of Fire? Do you side with Calvin in saying that their sins were never paid or with Lewis in saying that they never reciprocated love for God? I heard the gospel multiple times over multiple years before my eyes where opened to the truth. A better understanding of this verse is that the Apostles and the Holy Spirit are confronting unbelief just as Hosea did in Hosea 2:23 and Jesus did in John 10:26. #4. This Scripture could also be distinguishing between the destinies of the unbelieving to the fires of Hades versus the believers to paradise, since the Greek word translated eternal is 'aionios'. #2-3
3) Is every man’s name written in the Lamb’s book of life? NO
This is the point upon which we disagree. #1
a. Following GWT judgment unbelievers are in the lake of fire- Rev. 21:7-8; 22:15. (Note- there is not one NT example of the Greek word “apistos” and its three variations [57 total usages] being used to describe angelic beings rather only human beings.)
Revelation 21:8 places eight sins on parallel footing. They are cowardice, unbelief, vileness, murder, fornication, sorcery, idolatry, and lying. Notice that the sin of unbelief is not even listed first by way of importance. Furthermore, because the sin of unbelief is included in the list as a peer with the sin of lying, we can legally conclude that the unbelieving truth teller and the believing liar will both be sentenced to the Lake of Fire. You and I are both liars yet the verse gives no indication that belief will exempt us from the verdict of damnation for our lying since unbelief is equal with lying on this list. Your whole emphasis seems to be that your "faith" has saved you from damnation to the Lake of Fire. However, this verse is not purposed to drive people to reach up and provide the "condition of faith" to be saved from the Lake of Fire. Impossible. Instead this verse is purposed to drive the lost sheep down on our knees to the foundation of election and trust that Christ has loved us from before the foundation of the world and paid for all our sin even though we are still liars and many of the things on this terrible list. The religious may continue to fool themselves into thinking their "faith" or self-righteousness is sufficient to exempt them from the condemnation of this verse. However, the truly believing boldly trust that only the electing grace of God will exclude us from this damnation because all mankind is guilty of these sins. You are in great error in your understanding of this verse. Your argument that "apistos" is never used to describe fallen angels is weak as an argument from the absence of evidence. I have written further about this verse in my article, How Can You Say Revelation 21:8 Does Not Apply to Humans. The purpose of Revelation 21:7-8 is the final condemnation of the non-elect, fallen angels, and also as a warning to unbelieving elect humanity who persist in rejecting grace to drive them to faith. #4.
The key question that stands before us then is what is election? Months ago I mentioned the concept of the "unbelieving elect" and you seemed surprised and confused by the expression. Perhaps you think that since faith is required for salvation from the Lake of Fire that election is born the moment someone believes? However, election is clearly a reality from before the foundation of the world for each of God’s chosen ones. Election is not merely God foretelling the future as to who will exercise their free will and make the good choice of faith. Election is his rock solid eternal decree. God’s chosen ones are elect even before faith and thus are the "unbelieving elect" until faith, Romans 11:28.
b. People who dwell on the earth whose names are not in the Lamb’s book of life worship the “beast of the sea” in opposition to God and His saints- Rev. 13:1-8 (also see Rev. 17:8).
Thank you for calling these verses to my attention. I can see how they lend to your interpretation. However, the Scripture and character of God’s grace both support my understanding and so the clear Scripture should be used to interpret the less clear. Here are two possible explanations. First, Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 are not clear on the specific identity of those not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Fallen angels could be in view. I understand Isaiah 66:22-24 to explain that fallen angels will live embodied upon the earth in the future. I write about this on number 8 of my article, Ten Theological Absurdities. Some theologians believe that angels lived embodied upon the earth in the past, so why not the future? However, I would not hinge my conclusions on speculation about embodied angels on the earth. Second, Exodus 32:33 suggests that someone’s name can be blotted out of the Lamb’s Book of Life. I understand this to be God speaking foolishness to the fool, Proverbs 26:4-5. If the names of the predestined can be blotted out then salvation is dependent upon human condition or a capricious God. Ultimately it is impossible that God’s love and eternal plans for his chosen one will ever change such that names are blotted out of the Lamb’s Book, or else grace would not be grace. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that God says to the unbelieving elect that they are not his sheep or acknowledged in the Lamb’s Book, even though they are listed there because he later warmly calls the repentant, "my people." These verses could easily be explained by #4.
c. How many enter the new Jerusalem?...”but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” in contrast to those who are “unclean…who practices abomination and lying.” Rev. 21:27
Are you saying that the elect are not impure and no longer do anything shameful or deceitful? The verse is not an exhortation to be good enough to somehow write our name in the Lamb’s Book of Life through a free will decision of faith. You and I are both at times impure and do shameful things. This verse is purposed to encourage the believing elect that our sin cannot follow us into Heaven! That is awesome news! The verse also stands as a warning to the unbelieving elect to drive them to receive their election and forgiveness already given through faith in Jesus Christ. The verse is not intended to drive people to the work of conditional salvation. That is impossible. #1
4) Are there “unbelieving” elect upon physical death and/or at the beginning of the GWT judgment? NO
Psalm 139:8, Matthew 16:17-20, Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 3:3, Romans 11:28-32, 1 Peter 3:19, 1 Peter 4:6, and 2 Peter 2:1 all add up to show that God’s love will not fail even for those who remain unbelieving at physical death and are punished in Hades. Furthermore, I think it interesting that the rich man in Hades called Abraham, "Father" and Abraham called him "child." It is not enough information to conclude that he was elect based on that alone, however, these affectionate titles are most curious if you think that the rich man is finally damned. 1 Peter 3:19 indicates also that Christ preached to those in Hades. What did he preach? 1 Peter 4:6. Furthermore, I’ve already mentioned that David thought he could even go to Sheol and yet not be outside of God’s love, Psalm 139:8. Jesus also taught that the gates of Hades will be finally defeated by God’s grace, Matthew 16:18. It is a fearful thought that those who reject grace will be punished in Hades even though their sins are completely forgiven, but better a fearful truth than the imaginary thought that religion can save us. Revelation 20:13-14 makes it clear that Hades is emptied and Matthew 25:31-46 gives the most complete account of the Great White Throne Judgment to come. Here are my thoughts on that in my article, You Are Wrong About Matthew 25:31-46. Of course the majority of the Scripture is focused on calling people to repent and trust in the love of Christ so we do not have a huge window into the world of those already passed. Yet we do know some things. 2 Peter 2:1-2 also makes it clear that false teachers will be sentenced to Hades even though they are redeemed. Boice goes to great lengths to deny the truth of this verse because it does not fit into Calvinism.
a. Election is always in conjunction with God’s “salvation” call experienced through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Gospel (Ephesians 1:3-14; Romans 8:28-30; Romans 10:14-17)
Yes, I see where the confusion is. I have already explained that Ephesians 1:3-10 says absolutely nothing about faith as the cause of election. Rather Ephesians 1:11-14 explains that faith is the receiving of forgiveness and of election already given. Note that Romans 8:28-30, the great chain of grace, says nothing about faith as a component of final salvation. There is no condition or even response of man listed in this great chain, but only the unconditional love of Christ for all his chosen people. If there were even the smallest condition dependent upon us, we would all be lost! I have written further here that justification is a work already finished at the cross, yet received as each one comes to faith as explained in my article, Justified. Romans 10:14-17 is our exhortation to tell the lost sheep the good news that their sins are already paid for, yet no one will believe apart from also being elected to believe. The prideful rejection of grace and unconditional love is evident in every generation. #1
b. John 6:37, 44, 55- “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me…”
Yes! If someone is a Christian, it is because he was chosen for belief. #1-2
c. Jesus’ sheep hear His voice and follow Him- John 10:27
Yes! If someone is a Christian, it is because he was chosen for belief. #1-2
5) Is salvation by grace independent of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Gospel? NO
Yes, this summarizes our greatest difference. You proclaim either that Christ provided for the possibility of salvation for all, or the certainty of salvation for a few. You then urge people to either provide the missing condition of faith, or to simply trust that they are one of the chosen few. Which do you proclaim again? Yet Jesus proclaimed that the sins of all mankind are fully paid apart from all our works and even our response of faith, Luke 23:34. And if our sins are paid, then the wrath of God is fully satisfied against all mankind. Thus we urge both the self-righteous and the unrighteous to believe the good news, while warning those who reject grace that they will be punished in the fires of Hades. Jesus warned about Hell because of his passionate love to spare the unbelieving from the fires of Hades. Once again, certainly not everyone is saved. That is, very few are saved from unbelief to Christian faith, transformed lives, and avoiding punishment in Hades. Faith is essential for all these blessings. The vast majority are not saved from punishment in Hades. Yet, based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ alone, the sins of all mankind are already paid for and thus not even God can damn them to the Lake of Fire. His decision has already been made.
a. The God of all grace (I Peter 5:10) is also the God of the Gospel (Romans 1:16-17) which is His power that leads the elect to saving faith (Romans 10:17).
The emphasis of Romans 1:16-17 and the arguments that follow in Romans concern salvation from sin and in particular religious hypocrisy. You will note that Romans does not mention Hades or the Lake of Fire one time! Those that believe Christ has already paid for our sin are transformed by the power and loving grace of God. #2. Now I am not saying that salvation from the Lake of Fire is not the grand conclusion of salvation or that we don’t deserve to be eternally damned. However, I am saying that the main point of Romans is not fire insurance, but calling the believing elect to salvation from sin and to a transformed life. Romans 1:16-17 well notes that the power of the gospel is only for those who believe that their sins are forgiven. The remainder of mankind, who do not believe, even though their sins are also forgiven, are not saved from sin or a hardened heart toward God, and so cannot enjoy living in God’s love.
b. Grace and faith are “friends” that work together in the saving operations of God- Eph. 2:8-9; Romans 9:6-10:17; Eph. 1:3-14
Absolutely. Grace does it all and Biblical faith trusts that all has been done by grace! However, when you speak, I think you are making faith to be some sort of activating ingredient in God’s love toward us? Faith does not change God’s heart toward us in the least nor his eternal destiny for the elect. However, faith does change our heart toward God. When you say grace and faith are friends, from your viewpoint, it sounds like you are saying grace and faith "work together" to save the individual. If that is what you are saying, then you have stepped away from Biblical faith to an understanding of faith that really is a work or condition provided by man. That is a dangerous thing to do. Paul wrote the book of Galatians to confront an entire church that had fallen away from a right understanding of grace. Galatians 3 does not highlight fine theological argument, but simply a crucified Christ. A right understanding of grace and the end of religious striving proceed from this fact. #1-5
c. It is the “word of God’s grace” (Acts 20:32) that brings “new birth” to those who hear and believe (Acts 11:15-17; I Peter 1:22-25); the “new birth” that is required for one to see/enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5).
Exactly. Only those chosen for faith enjoy the confidence that their sins have been already paid. Only those chosen for faith have been born again to a new heart. #1
6) Is faith a “work of man”? NO
Are you saying that faith is not "work" because it is granted only by God’s grace? I agree. Or are you saying that everyone has a free will to meet the condition of faith, but this condition supplied by man is not considered a "work"? If so you have compromised grace. Luther’s book Bondage of the Will is helpful reading to correct that error.
a. Faith is a necessary part of the operations of the saving grace of God- man is saved by grace through faith: both of which are part of the gift of God- Eph. 2:8-9.
Faith is evidence of the new birth and the beginning of a new and good heart towards God. There is no salvation from sin or exemption from Hades without faith. #1
b. Apart from faith man does not experience justification (Gen. 15:6; Romans 3:23-26) nor the new birth (John 1:12-13); nor does man have life/eternal life (John 5:24; I John 5:11-13).
Are you saying that faith initiates the new birth? I John 5:1 makes it clear that faith is the result of the new birth rather than vice versa. Regarding justification I understand that justification was completed at the cross such that the acquitting gavel has already pronounced our justification in Heaven. Now the Holy Spirit, God’s great evangelist, is persuading individuals to receive our justification. I have written about this in my article, Justified. Biblical faith is not the activator of God’s love for his people or else grace would not be grace. The false gospel says, "trust Christ and you can be born again and forgiven." The true gospel says, "You are already forgiven by Christ and only those born again will trust Him."
c. “Saving” faith is faith that hears the Gospel and “believes in the heart that God raised Him from the dead” and “confesses with the mouth Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:5-13); saving faith is also a “works-producing” faith (Eph. 2:10; James 2:14).
Amen! Certainly one cannot claim to have a heart changed toward God without faith that produces loving works. Salvation from sin means that real progress is made in leaving sin behind. However, once again if the doctrine of predestination is true in any sense whatsoever, then faith plays absolutely no part in adding our names to the Lamb’s Book of Life or saving us from the Lake of Fire. No condition provided by man can save us from the holy wrath of God, but only the electing grace of God and the finished work of Jesus Christ. #2
7) Are fallen angels before God at the GWT judgment? NO
I believe some fallen angels will be judged there, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6.
a. The false prophet and the beast are not there- Rev. 19:20. (Note- if the false prophet and/or the beast are men then “not all men are elect.”)
Yes, as you say, The Beast and The False Prophet are already in the Lake of Fire before the Great White Throne Judgment. However, I also believe that The Beast and The False Prophet in Revelation are demonic. Read more in my articles, Revelation 20:10, Fallen Angels at the Great White Throne Judgment, and Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News! (Part 2 with Grudem, Riddlebarger, Chilton, Summers, and Ewing).
b. The devil is not there- Rev. 20:10.
Agreed. He is already in the Lake of Fire before the Great White Throne Judgment.
c. The resurrected dead (unbelievers) are there; angelic beings do not experience “physical death” thus will never experience any kind of resurrection. (Note- the GWT judgment is the final judgment upon unbelievers; believer’s final judgment is the “Bema” seat judgment of II Cor. 5:10.)
We have a difference here. I believe that both unbelieving mankind and fallen angels are extracted from Hades and Thalassa to stand before the Great White Throne judgment. 2 Peter 2:4 makes it clear that some fallen angels are already locked up to be judged later. When are they judged? I believe they will be judged later at the Great White Throne judgment. These unredeemed angels are also the people on Jesus’ left in Matthew 25:31-46. Whether the imprisoned angels are "resurrected" or not I do not know, but Revelation 20:13 makes it clear that both Hades and Thalassa are fully emptied.
d. According to II Peter 2:4, “God did not spare angels when they sinned but cast them into hell (from the Greek word “tartaroo” which is literally translated as tartarus) and committed them to pits (from the Greek word “siros” which refers to a cave/pit) of darkness reserved for judgment.” Whether or not “tartarus” and these “pits of darkness” are one and the same as “hades” (Rev. 20:13-14) is a matter of discussion however there is no sense of these angels dying physically and thus being resurrected unto judgment at the GWT judgment. If these angels are in Hades then they remain there when Hades “gives up the dead” (Rev. 20:13) as well as when Hades is “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14).
To say that fallen angels will not be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment is to conclude more than is possible. The account of the Great White Throne Judgment in Matthew 25:41 makes it clear that these unredeemed fallen angels will stand before Christ for final judgment and be cast into the Lake of Fire, where Satan had already been tossed as you pointed out above. Note also that Matthew 25:41 explicitly says that the Lake of Fire is prepared for "the devil and his angels." The Lake of Fire is not prepared for mankind who has been completely redeemed by the death of Christ. Instead the Lake of Fire is for the unredeemed, the fallen angels. Hebrews 2:14-16 also makes it clear that Jesus is not the helper fallen angels. They are unredeemed. However, 1 John 2:1-2 makes it doubly clear that Jesus did die for all mankind, the redeemed, whether believing or unbelieving. Please read my article, Fallen Angels at the Great White Throne Judgment.
8) What is the “eternal state” of those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior?
a. “Perish”- John 3:16 (note- Christ’s sheep will not perish- John 10:28).
Yes, the unbelieving will perish in the fires of Hades. Traditional interpretation assumes that the perishing is eternal. However, that is not the case for three reasons. First, the Greek word "apollymi" translated "perish" in John 3:16 is used numerous places in the New Testament to mean catastrophic loss, but not eternal loss, such as Matthew 2:13. Herod sought to kill Jesus, but even Herod knew he could not eternally destroy anyone. Second, the Greek word "aionios" translated "eternal" in John 3:16 might be referring to eternal, but could also refer to "complete" or "whole" life of Christian restored to fellowship with God The Greek word "aionios" can mean "age," "epoch," "duration," "complete," and "eternal." Thus believers live and reign during the Church Age and enjoy whole life, while unbelievers perish in the fires of Hades. Third, notice that a careful reading of John 3:1-21 states the positive that believers are saved from perishing, but there is no mention of Hades, the Lake of Fire, or eternal punishment for the unbelieving! This passage could even be understood to teach that believers are saved from the destruction of sin for a restored whole life, while the lives of unbelievers are destroyed by sin. Yet I do believe that the unbelieving are punished in the fires of Hades. #3
b. “Eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord”- II Thes. 1:9 (note-destruction” is from the same word family as “perish” in the Greek- the Greek word “apolluo” [“apollyon”- Rev. 9:11]).
Again "apollymi" does not necessarily mean eternal destruction as just explained above. Furthermore "aionios" does not always mean eternal, but can mean "age," "duration," or even "complete." Thus, those who reject their election will be punished for the duration of Hades and suffer complete loss. The contexts of the Scriptural passage, of the subject, and of grace are all required to properly interpret the meanings of "apollymi" and "aionios." Furthermore there is strong evidence that "from" should be translated "at" in my article, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. #3
c. “Destruction”- II Peter 3:7 (note above).
Agreed. The lives of unbelievers will be destroyed by the fruit of sin and punished in the fires of Hades by the wrath of God. However, this word alone does not require eternal destruction as already explained. There are other types of destruction such as the destruction from the consequence of sin and the destruction found in Hades.
d. “Wide gate and the broad way” lead to “destruction”- Matt. 7:13 (note above).
Yes. Sadly for the purposes of his grace God only brings the few to trust that their sins are paid for while the self-righteous persist in rejecting the good news. Rather than cling to Christ, they cling to their cement life preserver. The good news is so plain and simple at times it is almost maddening to explain to unbelievers that they can trust that Christ has already paid for all their sin. Too often we cling to tradition, fear, rebellion, or ignorance instead of clinging to Christ.
e. Those who do not “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” will “perish- II Thes. 2:10 (note above).
Yes, unbelievers will perish through the consequences of their sin as well as punishment in Hades.
f. Eternal fire and punishment- Matt. 25:41, 46.
I understand that Matthew 25:31-46 is speaking about the Great White Throne Judgment at the precipice of the Lake of Fire. Thus, I believe that the unredeemed on Christ’s left are the fallen angels, while the redeemed on his right are the unbelieving humans, both just extracted from Hades. Those on Christ’s right are given grace, while those on his left are damned to the Lake of Fire for The Ages of The Ages. Thus I agree with you that "aionios" in this case might be eternal based on the context of the passage. Note that Hanson, whose work I referenced above, tries to interpret this judgment to be other than eternal, but as I mentioned I disagree with his understanding. Though, I have considered the possibility of "apokatastasis" that would include even that final salvation of the demons from the Lake of Fire. Check out the chart in my article, Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News!
Note also that the salvation of those on his right is not a second chance! Salvation was never a chance in the first place! Since Christ has already served as the vicarious substitute for all mankind, even the sins of the wicked, unbelieving humans in Hades are completely paid. The wrath of God is propitiated and it would be impossible that they could be damned to the Lake of Fire. For the same reason that I cannot go to the Lake of Fire, since Christ paid for my sin, they likewise cannot go to the Lake of Fire because their sins are paid… whether they believe it or not. Who will damn them if God himself has already paid for their sin? The salvation of the redeemed is based solely on the work of Christ at the cross. To assert otherwise is to impugn grace with a condition. To add condition to grace is to follow the path of 2 Peter 2:2.
g. Lake of fire and brimstone- Rev. 20:15; 21:8 (the “second death”); 22:15 (“outside”).
Yes, certainly the Lake of Fire is for The Ages of The Ages and the sentence of Satan and his demon following.
h. “Eternal death” (I John 5:11-13; by implication).
The phrase "does not have life" could easily be understood to mean "has not yet" believed or received their eternal life. You also would agree that an unbeliever does "not have life," YET. In fact this understanding is consistent with the Holy Spirit’s goal to drive people to faith in Christ.
i. The “wrath of God”- Col. 3:6.
Yes, the wrath of God is upon the unbelieving, even though their sins are paid and they are deeply loved by God. This wrath is not eternal wrath, or even fatherly wrath, since the unbelieving are not yet his children. Instead this is Holy wrath against sin and the sinful nature of the unregenerate. It is the wrath that burned against me while I lived in unbelief.
j. “Die in their sins”- John 8:24.
Yes, the unbelieving die in their sins, remain unregenerate, and enter the fires of Hades as a fit punishment for creatures that hate the God of love and his grace. Some others suggested that I taught that the time in Hades was a way to "work" one’s way back into God’s grace. I have taught no such thing, but instead that the fires of Hades are a fit punishment for the unbelieving who are unregenerate and hate God by nature. Those in Hades hate grace and the truth that God loves them equally with all mankind. Jesus words "die in their sins" does not say anything about eternal death, but only that they remain unregenerate as they pass from this world.
9) Must a man believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior before physical death to enter into God’s Kingdom? YES
Yes, most certainly. Unbelievers do not reign in Christ's Kingdom, as discussed in Revelation 20. Yet Christ's Kingdom is still not the end of this world. The final judgment at the Great White Throne Judgment is not until the commencement of eternity when the grace of God is proved finally victorious even for the unbelieving humans punished in Hades.
a. Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5); one is “born again” by “receiving Him (i.e. Christ)”/”believing in His name” (John 1:12-13).
Exactly, without faith one cannot see the truth. However, just because some cannot see God’s love for them does not mean that God does not love them. That would be like a child who hides his own eyes and then thinks his parents cannot see him. There is no hiding from the love of God. I’ve written some about that in my article, John 3:36 Offers No Optimism.
b. “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Yes. There is judgment and giving account to the Lord at each one’s death. However, this verse or the surrounding context says absolutely nothing about the Lake of Fire or eternal judgment.
10) Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ:
a. Christ died for all sin- Isaiah 53:6
b. Christ died for the world- John 3:16
c. Christ died for His church- Eph. 5:25
d. Christ died for me- Gal. 2:20
e. Christ’s death is appropriated by those who believe- Romans 3:21-26 and not appropriated by those who do not believe (I Peter 2:7-8).
Yes! Believers receive the blessings of God’s love because we believe it. The unbelieving reject God’s love and their election and suffer because of it. My favorite passages on this subject are Romans 5:17 and 2 Corinthians 5:15. Both passages make it clear that Christ loves all mankind and has paid for all mankind’s sin, but only those who believe are able to LIVE for God! Just because someone rejects God’s love does not mean that God stops loving them. A mere offer of love from God is totally silly. However, those who reject God’s love will be punished severely. The "appropriation" of God’s love does not cause God to love us. He loved us while we hated him. Romans 5:10 even goes further to say we were reconciled to God through Christ while we were yet his enemies, before we had faith! So the "appropriation" of Christ’s death changes our hearts toward God, but God’s heart toward us was determined long before that.
I began the paragraph with a "yes" of agreement, but I do not think we agree. It seems you are saying that we must apply the payment of Christ’s death to our account ourselves through faith. If I understand properly, you are saying that salvation is grace plus the human condition of faith, an unfortunate perversion of simply trusting Christ.
f. The Bible teaches all of the above and so must we!
As already stated, above your words betray a curious confession. I am confident that Christ has paid for my sins, because he has paid for the sins of all mankind. Yet you seem confident he has paid for yours with uncertainty about all mankind. Each one must personally receive God’s love to have a changed heart toward God and be saved from our terrible sinful nature. However, there is no such thing as a personal atonement. Instead, Christ gave his heart for a whole people, that is all mankind. Christ did not die for individuals, but Hebrews 10:10 says "once for all".
11) A few verses that indicate the fact of “assurance of salvation”:
Yes, only believers can have assurance.
a. Gal. 3:26- “For you are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, only believers are given and receive the title of Sons of God.
b. Eph. 2:8- “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Yes, salvation from a corrupted heart and punishment in Hades is realized through faith. Since the Scripture is clear that God loved us even as enemies apart from faith, we can say that faith played no part in saving us from his eternal wrath, but instead faith is the receiving of the gift already given.
c. I John 3:2- “Beloved, now we are children of God…”
Yes, only believers are children of God, though God is a prolific adopter!
d. I John 5:13- “these things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
12) Basis of “assurance of salvation”:
a. witness of God’s word- I John 5:11-13
b. witness of God the Holy Spirit- Rom. 8:16
c. witness of the new creation in Christ- II Cor. 5:17
Yes, agreed with all this.
13) NT verses re: “Hades” (total of eleven; Greek word is “hades”): Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:24, 27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.
Yes, I think we agree that Hades and the Lake of Fire are not the same place, though you conclude that destiny to the one requires destiny to the other.
14) NT verses re: “Hell” (total of twelve; Greek word is “geenna”- most pronounce as “gehenna”): Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6
I am not sure if Gehenna and Hades are synonyms. Hades is definitely a location that houses souls after death. It is possible that Gehenna, the trash pile, may emphasize the destruction of sin in this life. I hope to study that further.
15) What about the following verses?
a. Romans 11:32- “…that He may show mercy to all.”
i. “All”- both Jew and Greek
ii. “All”- “all Israel” (11:26)
You once taught that this verse means that a future generation of Israelites will all be saved. You are right that the majority of Romans 11 is speaking about the salvation of the Jews. However, Romans 11:30-31 swings the conversation back to both Jew and Gentile. Thus Romans 11:32 stands as Paul’s grand conclusion of the entire argument of the book of Romans concerning the redemption of both Jew and Gentile. My book exegetes this verse.
b. I Timothy 4:10- “…living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
i. “All men”- Jew and Greek; male and female; slave and free
ii. “All”- doesn’t always mean “all in absolute totality” (e.g. “…the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth…” in Eph. 1:10 does not apply to rebellious angels unless one wants to extend universalism to angelic beings as well)
Certainly all does not mean all in every context. However, the context of grace helps the believer to properly interpret Scripture. In the case of 1 Timothy 4:10 the Holy Spirit’s use of "especially" is a very curious expression that best fits with my understanding. Believers are especially saved from sin, though all are saved from damnation! It makes no sense to say believers are especially saved from damnation while unbelievers are not saved at all.
c. I John 2:1-2- “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
i. “World”- similar to usage in John 3:16
ii. Christ’s atonement does satisfy the just personal wrath of the thrice holy God regarding the sin of all men; a “satisfaction” which is appropriated through faith
Your understanding as stated above would put you clearly out of even any Calvinist camp. The work of Christ is apart from any condition provided by man and to state otherwise is to add works to the grace of God. The work of Christ is completed and finished only for the elect of God. Though your biggest dispute with me is the scope or extent of election within mankind, I feel that the much greater difference between us is our understanding of Biblical grace and faith. Though I may misunderstand what you mean by "appropriated." If you mean "activated" or "made effective," then yes, you have added works to grace. If you mean "receive grace already given to our account such that our heart is changed toward God, though God's heart is already determined," then we happily agree.
This question needs to be answered first before there is any fruit to be born in discussing the scope of election. Biblical grace must be understood, swallowed, and digested before anyone will be happy to learn that Christ also loves all mankind as well. Until the unconditional electing grace of God is received, all efforts to reach God or save one’s self will be the mere religion of man. It has been said there are only two religions in the whole world, the "do" religion, and the "done" religion. The "satisfaction" of Christ is a finished work already granted to the elect with no appropriation needed whatsoever. The heart of God is decided and now he seeks to win the hearts of his lost sheep, Isaiah 30.
d. Romans 5:12-21
i. Adam is the federal head of all those who are born (in sin)
ii. Christ is the federal head of all those who are born-again (through faith in Christ)
No. Rather, the passage says that Christ is the new federal head of all mankind as concluded in Romans 5:18-19.
e. II Corinthians 5:19- “…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…”
i. If all are reconciled then why the need to “be reconciled” (5:20)
This is a most excellent question! Perhaps this is the discussion point that God can use to bring us together. Many have an eastern religion worldview with good and evil pitted against each other like a Yin and Yang and the future in the balance, including the salvation of any particular individual. However, this is not a Christian worldview. The Scripture tell us of a God who has determined to show off his grace in the salvation of his particular people. Through the cross of Christ he accomplished the impossible of maintaining his perfect Holiness, Justice, and Love in the most amazing way. No device of man could have imagined it or foreseen it. Furthermore, he increased the odds against himself to further show off his grace decreeing that each of his chosen ones is born opposing him by their birth nature. He did this so that he can show off his grace, miraculously bringing us to receive his love, one by one. Every single one of his chosen ones is already reconciled to God through Christ as far as God’s heart and his eternal plans for his redeemed. Meanwhile our hearts are not reconciled to him until the Holy Spirit works his miracle within each individual, one by one. Though many religions are in competition with the Holy Spirit, he will not be defeated, nor will he lose one! We need to be reconciled to God because God has determined to show off his grace in converting his enemies into loving sons. We are already reconciled to God for his part and there is no escaping his love. However, until we become a Christian, we are not reconciled to God as far as our heart is concerned. Sadly most people die physically in unbelief, not having received God’s love.
ii. If we are the righteousness of God in Christ then why the need to “become the righteousness of God in Him”…(5:21)
As already explained above with Romans 5:10-11 as my proof.
f. Summation- these verses highlight that:
i. Salvation is available for all men (with no discrimination- i.e. nationality; gender; social standing; etc.).
Salvation is not a possibility or merely available, but a certainty for the elect. If salvation is a mere availability, we all are lost. There is no hope ever!
ii. Man must believe to enter into this salvation.
Faith is certainly required to be saved from a heart hardened toward God. However, faith does absolutely nothing to change God’s loving heart toward the elect. God’s love and grace is unchanging, unconquerable, and unending!
iii. Believers have the responsibility to appeal to men to be reconciled to God!
I appeal that you would know that God has loved you from before the foundation of the world. Your blessed eternal destiny is guaranteed apart from all conditions. Do you deny this election? Saving faith in Christ is the eye glasses enabling you to see God’s eternal love for you. We must leave self-righteousness to receive his righteousness. Be reconciled to God!
CONVERSATIONS WORTH NOTING
One of my favorite questions is to ask people whether they think God forgives us before or after we ask. I believe that Christ has forgiven all mankind without anyone asking, Luke 23:34. This is the heart of grace. Grace is not mere theology, but instead history. Mankind nailed Christ to the cross and while we remained his enemies, Jesus prayed to the Father asking for our forgiveness. Praise God! The good news is that we are already forgiven! Any other answer is simply the religion of man reaching up to God. I mention all this because in casual conversation, a church attendee asserted that most certainly we are not forgiven before, but only after, we ask for forgiveness. I was stupefied. I did not argue, but this is not the gospel of grace that I received or teach.
Two others asked if I compromised truth to accommodate my unbelieving loved ones. Of course I do have a great concern about the destiny of the unbelieving. My great hope is that Christ also died for them just as he did for me and it is now impossible for the redeemed to be damned. Yet, those who reject the grace Christ will be punished in Hades, even if they are our family, friends, enemy, or even our Pastor.
Another insisted that free will, though not taught, is implied by Scripture as the answer to the Calvinism / Arminianism wrangle. He is right that free will is not taught in Scripture, but quite wrong that it is implied. Instead, the bondage of the will to sin is plainly taught. Again I did not argue, but reflected that Biblical teaching is needed on this point to properly give glory to God. Luther taught that to claim to be saved by free will was an affront to grace and confirmation of one’s unbelief. Spurgeon also agreed.
Another church attendee suggested that it does not matter if one believes as I, plus what you believe, because then you just have extra insurance. However, you and I understand that this is not true. Our understandings not only differ on the scope of election, but even more primarily, we appear to differ on the definition of saving faith. I would like to understand your view more completely before saying too much because I have not been able to figure out if you are squarely Arminian or Calvinist. I am neither, but you also disagree with me. It seems to me that some of your objections compromise the grace of God and add a condition to God’s unconditional love. You seem to say on one hand that Christ died for the sins of everyone, but in name only. Then you say he died effectively only for the sins of believers. I see no Biblical support for the idea that Christ’s death is divided into two categories. The death of Christ was a single gracious act to give his life as an atoning sacrifice for all His chosen people. The cross of Christ is a finished work making payment for sins. One should not say we are saved by the finished work of Christ and then say we need to "appropriate it" or "sign it" or even "believe it" in order for his work to be finally effective. Christ's work on the cross was completed apart from anything we could possibly add. I hope to talk with you further to understand your view more fully.
Another suggested that since God only effectively died for a small subset of mankind we really cannot know who these chosen ones are until they come to faith in Christ. If that is true, then logically there is no way that anyone can say that Christ effectively died for them either. On what basis could they say it? On a condition they provide? On subjective experience? Feelings? They could claim to have special revelation beyond the Scriptures that their sins are atoned while also claiming that the sins of a majority of mankind are not atoned. But the facts from Scripture are simple. Christ became a man and died a vicarious death on the cross as the new federal head of all mankind. Why is there resistance to the good news that Christ loves and has effectively paid for the sins of all mankind? My clarification of the gospel is faithful to Scripture, logically sound, and resonates with God as the benevolent gracious Father that he claims to be.
Another church attendee said if all mankind is saved from the Lake of Fire, then there is no reason for him to stay with his wife or to be good. Unfortunately his unbelief is exposed as he does not know God as a loving Father, but only as the giant policeman in the sky.
Another also said if all are saved, then why do we invest all this effort in following Christ? This very question exposes a misunderstanding about grace and the reasons that we pursue Christ. The question implies that we are saved by what we do. I guess if we think that God is the giant judge in the sky, then we will also think that our status with him is based on our performance. If we think that our salvation is conditional, based on a condition that we have to supply, then we will think that our salvation is dependent upon the effort we invest. However, returning love to God who first loved us is the reason we serve Christ. We also respect his hand of punishment, but with no fear of damnation. This same person also claimed that the vast majority of unbelievers think everyone will be saved. My experience with evangelism is that most unbelievers are like the Jews who think that evil people are eternally damned, but they will be saved because they have met the condition to be good enough.
Recently someone told me that they felt both Arminianism and Calvinism go further than can be Biblically supported. I feel the same. Unfortunately, debates between these two camps could be compared to two school bullies fighting about who God loves after both failed an exam about love. The dubious middle ground between these two camps offers no safe haven either. I invite you to read my book again and see that there is no compromise between these two systems. I then invite you to consider that I have reasonably and Biblically answered all your objections above, as well as glorified Christ as the God of all grace. The cross of Christ has unconditionally purchased eternal salvation for ALL his people and he will not lose one of his chosen, though many will be punished in Hades for their unbelief.
OTHER IMPORTANT POINTS WORTH NOTING
1) Beginning from Genesis 1:1 you will get deep into the Old Testament before there is even a possible reference to eternal damnation. There is not even one reference in Genesis which brings you to 1,806 BC. If we assume a creation date of 4,000 BC then 2,194 years of human history passed without one warning about eternal damnation. That is more than one third of human history! God did make it clear that a redeemer was coming in Genesis 3:15 to reverse the works of Satan. God revealed enough that men began to call on his name, Genesis 4:26. But the silence about eternal damnation seems very strange. You might argue that since salvation is all of grace, then God is not even obligated to warn the wicked of the great danger before them or even to tell us the means of escape. However, that does not fit well with the nature of our loving God and his mission to save mankind. The point is that God himself is not anxious or worried about the eternal destiny of mankind because our destiny lies fully in his hands and not our choices. He is not on the street selling fire insurance in a panic to change the destinies of men. Instead our destinies were written from before the foundation of the earth. He does not warn the first third of human history about eternal damnation because human beings can never go to the Lake of Fire. Praise to Jesus.
2) I’ve also wondered about your view of the unborn and infants. Many Christians believe that the unborn and infants are granted salvation apart from faith. Do you believe this is the case or do you believe people cannot be saved until they make a volitional profession of faith? If you do believe eternal salvation hangs in the balance for the unborn and infants then having children could be viewed as a form of Russian Roulette with damnation. Why risk it? Perhaps you believe in an "age of accountability" or a "covenant" to Christian parents, but then you also believe there is salvation apart from faith. Yet, you object strongly to the idea that there is any salvation from the Lake of Fire apart from a volitional choice of faith in Christ. The Bible never discusses an "age of accountability" or "covenant" to Christian parents. However, the gospel proclaims that the sins of all mankind are fully atoned, including the unborn and infants. Hopefully Christian parents tell their kids the good news!
3) There is at least a small irony that I agree with Arminians on one point and Calvinists on another point, yet they often divide. They are united in their opposition to the idea that Christ saves all mankind. So then is the test of orthodoxy that some human beings must go to the Lake of Fire regardless of the salvation recipe? Whoa! Jesus Christ is the God of all grace!
4) I heard someone say, "God loves you unconditionally, but…" I heard another say, "Christ died for sinners, but…" Or again, "It is a free gift, but…" I laughed, then I cried. There are no "buts" after grace. Instead, after our sin, there is “...but God who is rich in mercy!”
5) Evangelical churches boast about the "finished work of Christ." This is a beautiful phrase. Yet, I see that it means different things to different people. I believe that the death of Christ signed the guarantee for every one of his chosen people and it actually is a finished work. However, you say that grace is not finished until "faith" is added. Why not, instead, simply trust in God's truly finished work on the cross?
6) It is short sighted to claim that Christ loves you, while claiming that he did not die for all, or only nominally died for all, or even being uncertain about others. It is also short sighted to claim to "appropriate" or "apply" the work of Christ to yourself. The first is an offense to the atonement and the second an offense to grace.
7) Faith that claims to be the condition for salvation from the Lake of Fire is not Biblical faith resting in the grace of God and resulting in a transformed heart. Faith defined as a condition to God’s eternal love is a human work that ultimately rejects grace, rejects God’s unconditional love, and cannot save from hypocrisy. Currently I am reading the book Hope Beyond Hell by Gerry Beauchemin. His website is www.hopebeyondhell.net. I was not aware of his book before writing my own, but it is evidence that the message of grace is propelling many to question traditional thoughts about eternal damnation. Of course his book is simply the word of man, but then again so is tradition.
I am confident that the Lord is at work. If he happily brings us together again in the future, here is a draft statement of faith that could be a starting point for us.
- In one true God, existing eternally as one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, John 14:9-21, who is in essence spirit, John 4:24, light, 1 John 1:5, and love, 1 John 4:8.
- That the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are the unique, inerrant, inspired Word of God in the original autographs, and the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct, 2 Tim 3:16.
- In the sovereignty and active rule of God in creation, the fall, history, revelation, miracles, prophecy, redemption, and final judgment, Romans 8:20-21.
- That man was created by God in His image, but that since Adam's fall, all men are sinful and by nature deserve God's wrath, Ephesians 2:3.
- That Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, fully human and fully divine, eternally existing as God, yet born in time of a virgin, and that He lived a sinless and perfect life, 2 Timothy 2:5.
- In the historic death of Jesus as the full and only atonement, guaranteeing loving forgiveness for the sins of all mankind, in His bodily resurrection from the dead, and in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, 1 John 2:1-2.
- That all mankind is justified by the loving grace of God and redeemed on the basis of the death of Christ, which is received through faith, Ephesians 2:8-9.
- That the Holy Spirit is the effective agent in regeneration, bringing individuals to faith and transformed lives, 2 Corinthians 3:18.
- In one universal church, Christ's Body, to which all believers belong, and in particular
churches accountable to God, led by elders who rule in doctrine and discipline,
while acknowledging individual conscience, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 John 2:27.
- That believing mankind is rewarded in paradise after death, while unbelievers suffer punishment in Hades after death merited by their sinful nature and their rejection of the grace of Christ, Luke 16:19-31.
- In the future, visible, physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, Titus 2:13.
- In the final resurrection of redeemed mankind to the enjoyment of God forever, and the damnation of those excluded from the Book of Life to the Lake of Fire prepared for the Devil and his angels for the ages of the ages, Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20:10.
ALTERNATIVELY, CONSIDER A SIMPLE OUTLINE OF CHOICES
This could help me to better understand your beliefs. Then I could either be persuaded to your understanding or persuade you to my understanding. Here are six possibilities to consider.
1) Victorious Gospel
a. Christ’s death satisfied the wrath of God for all mankind.
b. Believers are saved from sin to paradise, unbelievers are punished in Hades.
c. All mankind is saved from the Lake of Fire, prepared for the Devil & his angels.
d. This view is faithful to Scripture and faithful to the character of God’s grace.
e. Both feet are planted solidly on both the depth and breadth of God’s love.
a. Christ’s death satisfied the wrath of God for a subset of mankind.
b. The Holy Spirit effectively brings the chosen subset to repentance and faith.
c. Those punished in Hades are also damned to the Lake of Fire.
d. This view is like the Jews who claimed to be elect while gentiles are not elect.
e. One foot is planted on the depth of God’s love, but the other foot on hypocrisy.
a. Christ’s death potentially satisfies the wrath of God for all mankind.
b. Individual people exercise their free will to accept Christ and then are saved.
c. Those punished in Hades are also damned to the Lake of Fire.
d. This view reminds me of the graceless religions of the gentile world.
e. One foot is planted on the breadth of God’s love, the other on human condition.
a. Christ’s death satisfies God's wrath effectively for some, nominally for the rest.
b. Two mediating methods
i. The Holy Spirit effectively brings the chosen subset to repentance and faith.
ii. Individual people exercise their free will to accept Christ and then are saved.
c. Those punished in Hades are also damned to the Lake of Fire.
d. This view is really Calvinism or Arminianism in disguise or double mindedness.
5) Simple faith and the Victorious Gospel is wrong
a. Simple faith that all people are sinners and Christ died for sinners.
b. Sinners are invited to trust Christ, but avoid debate and theology.
c. The Victorious Gospel is wrong because unbelievers are certainly damned.
d. This view is unfair to call the Victorious Gospel wrong without Scripture.
e. One foot appears to be planted on God’s love, but the other on tradition.
6) Simple faith and the Victorious Gospel may be right
a. Simple faith that all people are sinners and Christ died for sinners.
b. Sinners are invited to trust Christ, but with ignorance of the extent of God’s love.
c. The Victorious Gospel sounds hopeful, and they may want to learn more.
d. This view appears interested in Scripture and grace more than tradition.
e. One foot appears to be planted on grace, but no certainty of who God loves.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?
I have been admonished to argue no further. So I will break fellowship with Arminianism and Calvinism in pursuit of Christ. Perhaps, openness about these differences will allow us to discuss God’s grace more openly in the future. I would enjoy that very much.