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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.

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