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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Will Everyone Be Saved?

In my last article, I shared how the grace God offers me isn’t due to something I’ve done or will do, but rather, it’s something he chose to do on his own accord. During this discussion, I asked the question of whether God shows his grace to everyone and then proceeded to give a quick answer without any further explanation. This article offers a deeper explanation of my answer to this question.

For years, people, even in the Christian community, have been divided on this topic. Some say that God only shows grace to some people while others say that God shows grace to all people. I think both are correct, but in different ways. My purpose in writing this article is to share what God has communicated to us about the scope of his grace.

Common Grace

Going all the way back to the beginning of human history, we find a story which sheds some light on a theological principle which is often referred to as common grace. The first two humans God created, Adam and Eve, were originally sinless beings. God placed them in a garden and told them they could eat the fruit from any tree in the garden except for one tree. They were told that on the day they ate from it, they would die.

Nonetheless, they decided to eat from the forbidden tree. When they did this, they were removed from the garden and therefore God’s presence, but they did not immediately die. Death didn’t come until many years later.

As a just judge, God had every reason to condemn (kill) Adam and Eve as soon as they ate fruit from the forbidden tree. But he didn’t. This act of letting them live many more years was an act of grace.

In the same way, the Bible tells us that we are born as sinners and continue to live in sin every single day of our lives, yet God continues to withhold judgment until a date which only he knows. This is only possible because of God’s grace, something he’s issued to every single one of us currently living on this planet from the newborn to the elderly.

This is the type of grace God shows to everyone and the reason why I answered the question with a “Yes.”

Special Grace

Now we’ll turn our attention towards another type of grace, the grace about which most of you are most concerned: special grace. In theological circles, this type of grace is defined as the grace by which God saves people (gives them eternal life). In alignment with the topic of this article, the question on the table, then, is this: Does God show special grace to everyone? Let’s take a look.

In Revelation 20, we’re told about the final judgment which is to come where God will sit on his throne and judge every person who has ever lived. It says that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”[1] Immediately following these verses, we see that those whose names were written in the book life will be with God in his dwelling place, the New Jerusalem. These verses give us a clear distinction between the fates of people which is dependent upon whether God offers special grace to them.

In another book of the Bible, Jesus shared a parable about the eternal fate of the righteous versus the eternal fate of the unrighteous: “And [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[2] Once again, we can ascertain that Jesus was communicating that there are two different fates for people, one which involves eternal punishment and one which involves eternal life. Those who receive God’s special grace receive eternal life.

The Counter Argument

As straightforward as this concept may seem, not everyone agrees that this is actually what the biblical writers meant. Rob Bell, a theologian out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has made the claim that the Greek word aion which was translated “eternal” in English, can mean “eternal,” but it can also mean “a finite period of time.” Therefore, he claims that these verses are saying that the supposed “eternal” punishment is actually referring to an “age of” punishment. At the completion of the aion, everyone will receive eternal life.[3] What Rob Bell is arguing for is a theology called Universalism which states that everyone who has ever lived receives God’s special grace.

At first, his argument may sound like a pretty good conclusion. After all, who doesn’t want everyone to be saved? But his argument breaks down when we apply the same definition of aion to the phrase “eternal life” which would read “age of life.” Do some people in Matthew 25 receive an age of punishment and some an age of life? What happens after that? There’s no mention in the Bible of another age to come afterwards. So based on the context, it seems the word aion was properly translated in these verses to “eternal.”

Therefore, in answer to the original question, I’ve concluded that God gives special grace to some people, but not to everyone.

Why Do Some People Receive God’s Special Grace and Others Don’t?

I think my answer to the prior question may spark another question: Why do some people receive God’s special grace and others don’t? So before I wrap up this article, I’m going to attempt to shed at least a little light on this question.

Many of us like to think that God will give special grace to us if we do something to earn it. Maybe if we attend a church service every week, read the Bible every day, help needy people, and accept Jesus into our hearts, then God will show us this special grace so that we can receive eternal life. Fortunately, God's special grace isn’t given because of our merits. I say fortunately because I’d never in a million years have the necessary merits to earn his special grace. God doesn’t grade us on a bell-curve; he grades us according to his standard, a standard which none of us can even hope to attain on our own.

Instead, the biblical writers tell us that God’s special grace is issued to those whom God chooses to give it. Yes, you heard that correctly. The biblical writers say it’s 100 percent God’s choice. If you don’t believe me, check out these passages:
And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. – Exodus 33:19
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy…So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. – Romans 9:16-18
[God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. – Ephesians 1:4
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. – John 6:44
When I was first introduced to the idea of God choosing certain people to belong to him, honestly, I thought it was complete bogus. I thought God chose everyone (gave everyone special grace), but only certain people accepted the free invitation. However, as I dug into it more, I found that my thought process wasn’t biblical. Nowhere does it say that God chose to offer an invitation of special grace to everyone nor does it say that it’s only effectual for people who accept it. I’ve concluded that these are nothing more than doctrines made up by people who are desperately trying to protect God from sounding like his treatment of people is unfair. I appreciate the concern for God’s reputation, but I’m certain he’s less than enthusiastic about us trying to change his character so that less people are offended by him.

When we paint a picture of the God we read about in the Bible, we most likely won’t like what we see. What we see is a God who is in complete control of the universe (Matthew 6:25-34), a God who is loving (John 3:16), a God who is a just judge (Psalm 7:11), a God who always gets his way (Isaiah 46:8-11), a God whose first and foremost priority is bringing glory to himself (Isaiah 48:9-11), a God who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3), and a God who chooses to show special grace to whomever he wishes (Exodus 33:19).

When we let the Bible, and only the Bible, inform our understanding of God, what we realize is that God doesn’t think or operate like us. And just when we think we’ve got him figured out, he throws us a curveball that makes us go, “What???” At the end of the day, we’re never going to be able to answer the impossible question of why he chooses to show special grace to some and not to others. I love the way Francis Chan once put it:
…we must come to a place where we can let God be God. We need to surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how He is going to deal with people…He hasn’t asked us to figure out why He does the things He does. We can’t. We’re not capable…there will be times, many times, when you won’t figure Him out.[4]
Personally, instead of trying to figure out why he chooses to do what he does, I thank him for showing me both common and special grace and seek to worship him with all my heart every single day of my life. And I daily hold out hope that I will one day get the privilege of spending eternity united with him, my one and only king.

Do you agree that God shows common grace to everyone? Do you agree that God shows special grace to some people and not to others? What Bible passages come to mind when you think about this topic? Do you think they support or counter my claims?

[1] Revelation 20:15.
[2] Matthew 25:46.
[3] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 31-58.
[4] Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2011), 131-34.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

I Did Nothing

I successfully fulfilled my job responsibilities…I got a good rating. I was kind to other people…I made friends. I trained regularly…I became a better athlete. I don’t say all these things to express an attitude of arrogance, but to show an important principle which is foundational to our culture: I received the wages of my work.

In America, we often live under the impression that the rewards we receive are a result of something we do. If we have a huge nest egg, we think it’s a result of our excellent budgeting skills. If we climb the corporate ladder, we think it’s a result of our hard work. If we gain trust from other people, we think it’s a result of us displaying a high level of integrity. On the flipside, if we don’t get any of these things–a huge nest egg, career advancement, and gaining trust–we think it’s because we did something wrong. Our experiences have told us that we have the ability to control our destinies.

Having experienced this cause and effect relationship, many years ago I concluded that my faith and consequential relationship with God was a result of something I did. I thought my increasing faith was a byproduct of attending a church service every week, reading my Bible every day, and daily spending time in prayer. But as the Holy Spirit continues to remove the veil over my spiritual eyes, I’m more and more coming to believe something that has completely rocked my worldview. I’ve come to believe that my faith, my relationship with God, my heart transformation, and my salvation have absolutely nothing to do with a decision I made or will make or something I did or will do, but has everything to do with a decision God made and something he did.

By Grace or By Works?

It’s often stated in Christian circles that salvation is a result of grace and not a result of works. Paul, one of the most well-known biblical writers, made this point absolutely clear when he wrote:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.[1]
I used to read this verse over and over thinking that my theological framework was in complete alignment with these verses. As I understood it, Jesus died on the cross to forgive my sins. But his forgiveness didn’t take effect until I made the conscious and whole-hearted decision to accept it. My acceptance of Jesus was a result of my faith, something which I needed to muster up within myself.

But as I began thinking about it on a deeper level, my thinking on this topic began to unravel as I discovered the errancy in my thought process. Grace, as it’s defined in Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written), is an unmerited favor.[2] What does it mean for something to be unmerited? It means we did absolutely nothing to earn it. In another one of Paul’s writings, he explained it this way:
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.[3]
By definition, grace is something which is given irregardless of anything we do. If the favor I have with someone is a result of something I did, then by definition, it’s not grace at all. When someone decides to love me (I’m talking brotherly sort of love, not romantic love) after spending a few hours together, that decision was made based on what he saw of me in those few hours. Since he liked what he saw, he decided to love me. If, on the other hand, someone decides to love me without knowing anything about me, such as was the case with my parents when I was born, then that’s grace. And the love they have for me comes with no strings attached.

When I applied this same principle to these passages of scripture, I began to see the inconsistency in my logic. If salvation is a result of grace, then it has absolutely nothing to do with anything about me or anything I do. It’s not based on whether I muster up the faith to believe in Jesus, whether I repent of my sins, or whether I accept him into my heart. If it was, it would no longer meet the definition of grace since it would be partially based upon something I did.

If salvation is based upon God’s grace, then aren’t my faith, my transformation, and my relationship with him also based solely upon his grace? Yes! As much as I previously thought these things were a result of something I did, I’ve realized that they are purely acts of God. The person I am today, the faith I exhibit, and the relationship I have with God aren’t a result of my drive and perseverance; they are a result of God’s grace and his grace alone. I did nothing to earn them.

Is Grace Offered to All People?

A common response I receive when I share this conclusion is: Does that mean God offers grace to everyone? Yes and no. But in order for me to expound upon this answer, I’ll need more than a few paragraphs, so I’ll save that discussion for another article. More to come on this topic!

Can’t We Do Whatever We Want?

Another common response I receive when I share this conclusion is: If we’re saved by God’s grace alone, then can’t we do whatever we want? Yes, we can. And we don’t have to fear losing our salvation because if God chooses to save us, then he’s going to be faithful in that promise. But that’s only part of the story.

If God has truly chosen to save us, then we will bear good fruit, not because we do something to make it happen, but because of the work God does in our hearts. As the biblical writer John once wrote:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.[4]
As God continues to transform our hearts, our heart condition, which drives our actions, will continue to align more and more with his will. As our heart and mind are being transformed, the thought of feeling licensed to sin as a result of knowing that nothing is going to impact our salvation doesn’t even make sense. A transformed mindset doesn’t ask, “What’s the minimum I have to do in order to stay in God’s good graces,” but rather, “How does God’s grace in my life influence the way I live?” These are two very different mindsets.


God’s grace is an unmerited favor, which means he gives it to whom he wants and doesn’t give it to whom he wants. As he once said to Moses:
I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.[5]
I know this may not sound fair, but I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter whether it sounds fair to us. God is God, so he can do whatever he wants.[6] If he chooses to show me grace, that’s his choice. If he chooses not to show me grace, that’s also his choice. Personally, I am eternally grateful and thankful for the grace he has shown me and which I hope he will continue to show me in the coming years.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my conclusion that God’s grace is completely his doing and isn’t dependent on anything we do? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Also, I’d be more than happy to expound upon anything I’ve written in this article, so let me know.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9.
[2] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Grace”, accessed September 12, 2018,
[3] Romans 11:6.
[4] John 15:5.
[5] According to Exodus 33:17.
[6] Psalm 115:3.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Why Authoritative Figures Can't Be Vulnerable

In my last article, I shared that there is a cost associated with being vulnerable: a loss of deep connection with other people. This is a huge cost to all of us since we’re all wired to desire connection with others. However, some people, even after having come to this realization, have chosen to remain invulnerable. Why? Is there something they know about vulnerability that we’re missing?

As I shared in my article last week, there could potentially be a high cost associated with being vulnerable. It could be the loss of friends, family, your spouse, your job, your house, or power. For the remainder of this article, I will be discussing the cost associated with losing power because for some, this cost is so great that they would rather remain invulnerable than risk losing it.

How Authority Works

In order to understand why the cost of vulnerability is so high for people who have power, which for the purposes of this discussion I will also refer to as authority, we have to start by gaining an understanding of how authority works. I realize this discussion may sound elementary, but I think it’s important nonetheless to spend a brief moment reviewing it. One of my favorite explanations of authority was once stated by a Roman centurion:
For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.[1]
The basic principle this guy was getting at was that when the person who has authority over him gives him a command, he does it. And when he gives a command to the people under his authority, they do it. This is the way authority works.

Another way of looking at it would be to say that the authoritative person has the power to “control” the actions of the people under him. If your boss says he wants you to put a cover on his TPS reports, then you pretty much have no choice but to put a cover on them. Make sense?

Everyone Wants Authority

Everyone wants authority to one degree or another. Certainly some people want more of it than others, but that doesn’t take away the fact that we all innately desire it. Of course I’ve developed an entire theory explaining why I think people want authority, but I’ve decided that including it in this article is unnecessary to arriving at a conclusion to the question at hand. If you’d like to read more about it, let me know and I’ll send it to you or write it as a future article. For the point of the discussion in this article, all I’m really after is making sure we’re on the same page with realizing that we all want authority.

The Power Struggle

Our desire for authority wouldn’t be an issue if we all wanted authority over different things. But the problem we face is that we’re not the only ones who want that authority; we’re always stuck in a competition with one or more people for authority. When another person wins, we lose. When we win, another person loses. That’s the unpleasant nature of the world in which we live.

When we engage in competition, such as when the Ohio State football team plays against the Michigan football team, both teams are competing against each other for the same thing: the victory. Only one of the two teams will walk away the winner. Do you think it’d be wise for the teams to share their weaknesses with one another? Not at all. They would compromise their ability to achieve the victory. If either team realizes the other team’s weaknesses, they will exploit those weaknesses as much as possible because the end goal is not to be nice to each other, but to win the game.

The competition for authority is exactly the same. It’s a battle between two or more people for authority over the same things. Sharing our weaknesses, also known as our messes, gives the opposition something to exploit in their fight against us for the authority prize. And believe me, they will exploit it. We see it during every election season.

So what’s the cost of vulnerability to a person who wants authority? Authority. The greater the amount of authority, the greater the cost. The cost of a low-level manager losing his position is less than the cost of a megachurch pastor losing his position which is less than the cost of the President losing his position. When authoritative figures are vulnerable, they are at risk of losing their authority, a cost which to many of them is greater than the loss of relational connection associated with their invulnerability.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I think many of us desire to have deeper relational connections with the people who have authority over us such as our bosses, pastors, and our government officials. And somehow we realize that vulnerability plays an important role in deepening these relationships.

But I think we have to realize that there’s a great cost associated with vulnerability for authoritative figures. All it takes is one person, either maliciously or accidentally betraying them, to end their career and take away their authority. I haven’t concluded that the decision to remain invulnerable is necessarily a good decision, but contemplating this topic has given me a deeper understanding of why people with authority tend to remain relationally distant from others and I hope it’s done the same for you.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think people with authority have a lot at stake to be vulnerable? Can you think of an authoritative figure in your life who has demonstrated high levels of vulnerability? In a game of “Would You Rather,” would you rather have authority or be relationally connected with other people?

[1] Matthew 8:9.