Monday, June 29, 2009

How Broad a Salvation? - Part 2

After posting comments to my son's blog entry about "universal reconciliation," I raised the same comments about the passage in Romans 5 in the weekly men's study at our church. Our pastor, who leads the study, candidly pointed out that if all we have of Paul's comments about who will be saved is Rom. 5:12-21, we'd have to conclude that all will be saved, that none will be lost. But, he pointed out, we have other passages in Paul's writings, such as 1 Cor. 6:9-10 -- " you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God" -- which indicates that salvation is not universal. The point is that in spite of the Rom. 5 passage, the preponderance of Paul's teaching is that salvation is limited to those who come to faith in Christ in this life. In addition, if all are saved, what's the point of evangelism and coming to Christ? We might as well all eat, drink, and be merry, in our own way, for tomorrow we go to heaven.

Seems a fair enough answer to the question. But the Rom. 5:12-21 passage still seems ackward. It states, in part, that just as "all died in Adam," "all shall live in Christ." If salvation is limited only to a select (or the elect), why did Paul use the term "all" to indicate those who would be saved by Christ? Wouldn't it have been more correct to say, "all died in Adam, and many shall live in Christ"?

And the answer -- that "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" -- begs a couple of questions. What is the kingdom of God? And what is the inheritance that believers come into possession of?

Is "the kingdom" heaven, by-and-by? Jesus implies that "the kingdom is at hand," and while his kingdom is "not of this world," it is nevertheless something that his followers can seek here-and-now.

In regard to inheritance, Paul makes reference to our inheritance in Ephesians 1:11, and it doesn't have to do with what we gain upon death and our being ushered into eternity. In fact, we've already obtained it, as Paul states in that verse. It has to do with possessing and experiencing "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" which Paul clearly says we have already, here-and-now, been blessed with (Eph. 1:3).

Later in the chapter, Paul prays for the Ephesian church that they might come into a full experience of "the inheritance" they have in Christ, now, not later when they die and go to heaven: "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know [from experience, not simply in one's head] what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe" (Eph. 1:18-19).

Putting verses 11 and 18-19 together, the conclusion is that every believer has already received an inheritance in Christ, but needs to come into the full experience of it, or a full manifestation of it in their lives.

So, if Ephesian believers have yet to enter into the full experience of the inheritance they have in Christ, to experience the kingdom which is "here-and-now," it makes perfect sense that the unrighteous, whether in the church or outside it, certainly won't experience or inherit the things of the kingdom of God. But this doesn't have to do with eternity and entering into heaven. It has to do with experiencing and walking in the blessings and experience of Christ now. Heb. 6:12 shows how we gain possession of our inheritance: we "inherit the promises" of God in Christ "through faith and patience." I don't see that this "patience" refers to waiting until we die and go to heaven.

Also, the 1 Cor. 6:9-10 passage is addressed to believers in Corinth. Is this passage even talking about unbelievers? Look around our own congregations....Aren't there revilers, adulterers, the covetous among us, people who declare a faith in Christ? If these are not in line to inherit the kingdom of God due to their behavior, is this to say that their going to heaven is dependent upon their actions, and not soley their declaration of faith and dependence upon Christ? Again, 1 Cor. 6:9-10 may not be about entering heaven, but about experiencing and manifesting the fullness of life in Christ.

So, the question remains: Why did Paul refer to a broad salvation in Rom. 5:12-21? The preponderance of his teaching may be that only some enter heaven (which I'm not convinced of), but the statement that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of heaven" isn't a conclusive refutation to the idea of a board, universal reconciliation.

And on the question of "Why evangelize?" fact, why receive Christ at all if all are saved?...the question might be asked as to what constitutes evangelism? God isn't simply calling people to "be saved," but to enter into a relationship with Him through Christ such that our lives reflect the presence of God, the life of God, that God be able to live His life out through the individual and through His church, that we might all reflect or manifest the inheritance we have in Christ. Not many Christians so reflect this, but this appears to be the point of evangelism and coming to Christ...Not to be "saved," per se, but to reflect the life and image of Christ. In this sense, the work of evangelism isn't yet complete in the lives of many Christians, let alone in the garden variety unbeliever.


  1. I have recently been coming to the same conclusions regarding the Kingdom of God. Many friends and acquaintances I have spoken with about this subject believe that kingdom is a coming future event entirely contained within the literal 1000 year reign of Christ on Earth; the so called "millennial reign." (You should hear some of the howls of consternation: "Do you really believe that THIS, this imperfect troubled world is it?")However, Jesus himself repeatedly talked about the Kingdom of God as a present reality that anyone could partake of, if only they would chose to follow Him.

    Matt. 8:28
    But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

    So the Kingdom of God (KoG) has (past tense) come upon those whom have had demons cast out by Christ?

    Mark 1:14-15
    Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

    Jesus proclaims the gospel, and notes that the KoG is at hand. At hand for everyone [i.e. the world], or at hand for those who accept the gospel? The second seems reasonable in light of some of the other passages.

    Mark 4:10-12
    And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

    "they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
    lest they should turn and be forgiven."

    The KoG is a secret, apparently, that is accessible to those who see and perceive, hear and understand, and turn and are forgiven.

    Luke 10:8-9
    Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'

    As with the casting out of demons, the KoG comes near to those who have been touched by God, in this case, in the form of healing. Might not those who have been touched by Christ's blood on the cross similarly experience the KoG?

    Luke 17:20-21
    Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

    The KoG is NOT something that everyone will experience or see. However, Jesus says it "is in the midst of you [the Pharisees he is speaking to]." The only way I can make sense of this statement is if Jesus himself is the manifestation of the KoG at this time [i.e. He is in their midst at that moment].

    From these and many, many more passages, the KoG seems to have everything to do with the person of Jesus. He is the reigning king in the KoG, and if we subject ourselves to His rule then we inherit the kingdom with Him. I don't think that the KoG has to do with heaven, the afterlife [although they do go together], or some future millennial kingdom, but with the present reality of Christ as Lord over all.

    In that sense it could be entirely possible that "fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God," and yet still be saved by the blood of Christ, according to my understanding of Universal Reconciliation.

  2. Paul also said some outlandish things, such as in Eph. 2:4-7 --

    "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

    I can hear your friends howl, "This is the what it's like to be seated in heavenly places?!" Spiritual truth requires spiritual discernment. We can't help it if the things of God are still hidden, even to believers.

    In 1 Cor. 2, Paul talks about the natural man who cannot receive the things of God, and the spiritual man who is so able. Then in chapter 3, he tells the Corinthians that he wished he could speak to them as spiritual, but he cannot because they are immature. In fact, he said they behave like "mere men" -- truly, a significant put-down.

    This tells me that in the church there are two types of people: those who have walked with God sufficiently enough that they understand Him and His ways; and those who remain in immaturity, and their ability to grasp and experience the things of God isn't much better than someone who is "natural" and outside the church. So, I think when we see "fornicators, idolators, adulterers...thieves...revilers" referred to in Paul's other writings, he may be talking about believers who "behave as mere men." He may be dealing with people who have not progressed beyond a simple understanding that Jesus is God and that He died for their sins, and that they likely have never entered into "the kingdom" presence of Christ such that Christ is controlling their lives, living out through them, filling them, being their Lord, etc.

  3. I guess my final point to what I wrote above is the same as yours...Some believers may never know what it is to come "into the Kingdom of God," but this may have nothing to do with their going to heaven, because the two things are different.