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 -- "...do 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?"...in 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.