Tag Archives: universalism

Error in the Name of Grace


Grace 101

Because the church system neglected or forgot the message of grace and the sufficiency of Christ, those who teach grace are often thought to be bringing a new gospel.  The message meets a certain amount of opposition simply because the people haven’t heard it before.  But, for the same reason, it attracts predators who want to use the freshness and excitement that comes with it.

Jesus used the birds to illustrate this opportunism.  The birds swoop to the new seed and snatch it away from its intended purpose before it has a chance to take root.  They come to feed, to use the seed for themselves, with no regard for the needs of the gardener.

Often, when the grace message is proclaimed, there are those who welcome it with open arms because they see ways to use it for their own agenda.  In the last post I wrote about the anti-law people who see in the message of grace support for their desire to serve certain passions of their flesh.  Today I want to focus on those who use this message to promote their unorthodox teachings.

The grace message teaches that God takes the initiative and does the work of salvation.  This has been used by some in recent days to support their ideas of universal salvation.  They say that, since we can do nothing toward our salvation, then God has done the work for all people in Jesus.  All are saved; all are forgiven; all are reconciled to God, they say, because that was what Jesus did on the cross for all people.  They do not believe that any personal reception or expression of faith can be necessary because Jesus died for all.  They believe hell was an invention of those who wanted to keep people in line under the law.

The error of this is obvious for many people, but the argument is now couched in the language of grace.  Since God loves all people and the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for any and all, then salvation has been given as a gift to all, whether they know it or accept it or not, they say.  Many of these people held this view before they learned of the grace message, but now they have changed their vocabulary.

Another very current area in which we find the grace message used is in the advocacy of certain movements which have been challenged by the church.  Homosexual marriage, for example, is said to be acceptable because “we are not under law but under grace.”  Drug use, pornography, and other practices deemed immoral by conservative churches are to be accepted because to reject them would be to operate under law.  Believers find this very confusing and some reject the grace message because it is misused.

We must understand that this is to be expected.  The definition of grace is a Person, not a code or a list.  We do not have standards to which we must measure.  We don’t have a law at all except to love one another and God above all.  We cannot point to commandments that must be obeyed in order for us to experience grace.  Frankly, the door that was opened to allow us into Christ without requiring a change of behavior is the same door that is used to suggest that such behavior is now acceptable.

But accepting a person is different from accepting that person’s behavior.  And living under grace is not the same as license to do whatever we wish in the flesh.  Nor does the truth of the sufficiency of Christ negate the personal responsibility of each individual to accept what Jesus has done.

Just because the truth is misused does not make it less true.


Filed under Freedom, Grace 101

God’s Desire

Grace 101

“The Lord is . . . not willing that any should perish.”  2 Peter 3:9

How simple is that?  It is the will of the Lord that all people should enter into this amazing relationship He wants with us.  All people.  No one should perish.  There is little question, based on simple Scripture, that Jesus died to give the opportunity for salvation to all people.

That means there is no room for racism in the Christian faith.  Yes, I realize racism is part of Christian history, but we have not always acted in accordance with the will of our Lord. 

babiesbacksNow, I suffer from cultural angst as much as the next person.  That means I find myself uncomfortable outside my own culture.  To enter into a situation where I don’t understand the words and don’t really know what’s going on is naturally a little disconcerting.  That’s not racism.  Real racism goes far beyond that.  Racism is another form of depersonalization; which, of course, is a foundation of hate.

If there are people in my mind that I think of as less in the sight of God, or undesirable to Him, then I am wrong.  God loves every person of His creation.  All are in His heart.  Jesus died for each one.  Any walls I put up are mine alone.

But if I understand that God loves all people, then I have to understand that He calls to each one within that person’s culture.  No person has to become like me in order to be saved.  God loves each one where and as they are.  Dominant cultures tend to think of themselves as some kind of ideal or model for others.  The truth is that the variety of culture is as much a testament to the creativity of God as the variety we see among people.   That doesn’t mean everything in every culture is good.  It simply means that one culture does not have a corner on the heart of God.

Of course, culture isn’t the only thing that makes people different.  Nor is skin color.  Body size and shape, gender, hair color, language, even choices we have made suggest differences.  God loves us all.  Many of the differences that we so foolishly allow to divide us are simply expressions of the amazing creativity of God.

Oh, yeah, I mentioned choices.  Does God love the sinner, the person who has not yet come to Him for salvation?  Of course!  Does He make a distinction between sins, so that those who do this sin are acceptable, but those who do that one are not?  Of course not!  Jesus came to wash away sin, no matter what that sin is.  So even the divisions between us that we consider to be the result of past or continuing sinful choices are lost in the love of God.  He loves us all!

Now there are some people teaching that God gets whatever He wants and, if He wants everyone to be saved then, all are or will be saved.  That certainly is not what the Bible teaches.  Yet, if He does love every person, why are not all going to be saved?  It isn’t as simple as saying that all kinds of people will be in Heaven.  The question is why every individual is not going to be saved.

What would keep God from saving every person He loves?

His love!

I’ll explain tomorrow.

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Filed under Grace 101, Relationship, Theology and mystery

But What About…

What happens to those who don’t come to Jesus?

Well, that’s the question for today, isn’t it?  Are they saved, whether they want to be or not?  Are they saved already, as long as they don’t deny Jesus?  Will there be some kind of second chance for them after death?  All of these suggestions center on the desire that more people would go to Heaven.  But they also all have to twist the simple assertion of the Scripture.  Some people will end up in hell.

Be wary of those who can tell you details about things the Scripture says little about.  I don’t intend to be one of them.  I believe that the Scripture teaches about hell.  I believe that hell will not be empty.  But what hell will be like, I don’t know.  Not good, though.

I don’t like the idea of hell.  It grieves me to think that some people will be there.  Annihilation sounds better to me, I suppose.  Universal salvation certainly sounds better.  But none of this is about me and what I want or think.   Hell is real.  Jesus taught about hell.  He wanted people to avoid it.  He believed that some people would be there.  Who am I to contradict Him?

The one clear message we get about hell is that people go there because of unbelief.  The way to Heaven was available to them and they didn’t want it.  I do not believe God sends anyone to hell; I believe that all are already on their way to hell because of sin and unbelief.  In some way, God allows them what they want—separation from Him.  I don’t know what that would be like, but it can’t be good.  The little we are told sounds terrible.

The bottom line is that the Scriptures tell us about something that is very difficult to accept.  God allows people to choose and He allows them to choose against Him.  Those who are learning to see others through the mind and heart of Jesus find hell disturbing to consider.  So disturbing, I suppose, that Jesus was willing to suffer torture and death so that people could avoid it.  The heart of God desires for all to be saved–but not all will be saved.

So we tell people about Jesus and the love of God that is available to them.  We don’t care who they are or where they have been, we just know they need a Savior and we know that He is strong enough, good enough, to overcome anything they have done. 



Filed under grace, Theology and mystery

One Choice Has Already Been Made

“He who is not against us is on our side.”  That’s what Jesus told His disciples in Luke 9:50.  Some have taken this to mean that anyone who has not chosen to deny Christ is with Him.  They push this as far as ultimate salvation, suggesting that those who die without ever acknowledging Christ as Lord are still saved as long as they haven’t knowingly denied Him.  This, in their minds, allows those who have never heard the gospel to have a chance at salvation.  In order to make this work, many of those who believe this idea suggest that there will be an opportunity after death for a decision.  (It seems a little unfair to me that those who haven’t heard the gospel would be given the chance to face Jesus personally after death.  In fact, some have suggested that we are actually doing a disservice with evangelism and missions if this doctrine is true.  How much better would it be not to tell them and make them choose here and now?  Let them die without ever hearing and then they can choose, when they have all the facts in front of them.)

But the truth is that the choice has already been made.  Whether you and I like the idea of original sin or not, the bottom line is that Adam’s sin affected our relationship with God.  And even if I were to claim that I am not guilty in Adam, I still have Dave to contend with.  I chose to sin against God.  Even if Adam hadn’t, I would have.  The Scripture (Romans 1) says that the existence of God is plain in nature and that no one has an excuse for choosing their own way. 

So no one really has to choose to deny Christ because all who have sinned have already chosen against God.  That’s the current state of the lost.  All have sinned—that’s one of the most basic concepts of our faith.  The concept that corresponds to that is just as powerful—all need a Savior.

When studying Scripture, context is so important.  One of the disciples came to Jesus to tell him about a man who was casting demons in Jesus’ name.  But the man was not one of the twelve nor among those who regularly hung out with Jesus.  Still, the man acknowledged the power and authority of Jesus.  In fact, he came to the hurting in Jesus’s name and successfully faced evil while secure in Jesus.  The problem was not this man’s personal faith.  The problem, in the minds of the disciples, was that this man didn’t walk with them.  So Jesus said, “He who is not against us is on our side.” 

You don’t have to think like me to be saved.  But you do have to come to the Savior.

Only those who come to the Savior will be saved.  It’s as simple as that.

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If You’re Saved and Don’t Know it, Clap Your Hands

Can someone be saved and not know it?

The simplest answer is “yes.”  I have known people who were never sure that they were saved.  Usually it was because someone had told them that they must act a certain way or live up to certain standards in order to be “really saved.”  Legalism almost always produces a lack of assurance even in the heart of true believers. 

But let me ask another question:  Can a person be saved and not want it?  You see the difference?  Could someone be unwillingly or accidently saved?  You know, could a person travel to a “Christian nation” and be saved simply by getting off the boat?  Could a person be swimming downstream from where a group is baptizing and be accidently saved?  Or maybe this is more realistic: Could a person grow up in a Christian home and attend a Christian church every Sunday and be saved simply by osmosis?  Could someone wake up in Heaven someday and say, “But I didn’t want this!”? 

No, no, no, you say.  A person has to want to be saved.  Why?

We say that Heaven is a free gift.  It has already been paid for, fully provided and readied for anyone.  But only the “free” part is active.  I have had the odd experience of finding a wrapped gift that was never delivered to the person who was supposed to receive it.  The timeliness of the gift was gone and it was no longer needed or appropriate.  I unwrapped the item and did something else with it.  My intention was that it would be a gift, but was it?  Just because I called it a gift, didn’t make it a gift.  My friend would not have said that I gave him a gift.  The term “gift” no longer applied to its reality; it only applied to its intended purpose. 

Many wannabe boyfriends have had similar experiences.  The gift they offered was not received.  Maybe they threw the item away or they used it for themselves, but it was not really a gift because it was never received.  God offers salvation as a free gift.  It really is free.  He has done all the work.  The cost was all His.  But if the gift is not received, not wanted, it has no effect, no reality for the intended receiver.

Like the old motivational speaker said, “Ya gotta have the want to!”

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Do I Have to Choose?

Is the act of choosing Christ necessary for salvation?  Be careful how you answer that—a great deal depends on who is asking.  You see, if you say that no personal choice is necessary, you quickly find yourself with one of two groups.  You will be either with those who say that God chooses some to be saved and others to be condemned (no matter what the individual would like) or with those who say that everyone has been chosen and all are or will be saved. 

However, if you say that personal choice is necessary, you may find yourself accused of believing that the work of the individual is required for salvation.  In the minds of some, choosing Christ is the one work that sets the saved apart from the unsaved.  The spiritual effort of repentance and acceptance becomes the way we earn salvation.  No longer is salvation fully the work of the Savior.  Now it appears to be part His and part ours.

So how do you answer that question?  You could mumble and quickly change the subject.  You could jam something into your mouth to avoid having to answer (like in the TV commercials).  You could call your pastor (after all, that’s what he is paid for).  Or you could simply admit the truth—that the sovereign choice of God in salvation and the personal responsibility of the individual are both true.  Both are taught in the Scriptures.  However, let’s be very clear: only God does the work.

It helps me to think of this as the execution of a will.  Let’s say that you are the long lost child of J. D. Moneybags.  You have lived your life without knowing this until someone arrives at your door with the news that J. D. Moneybags has died and you are his heir.  Throughout his life, J. D. Moneybags has tried to find you, to bring you back into the family, but you managed to elude him until the end.  There are other heirs who are quite happy that you have been found.  They look forward to welcoming you into the family and sharing everything with you.  There is plenty for all. 

Now, at long last, you are faced with a simple choice.  Do you acknowledge your father and receive your inheritance or do you remain fatherless and poor?  You can stay outside the family or enter in.  The choice is yours.  But you have done nothing to create the identity or inheritance that has been offered.  Accepting the inheritance takes nothing but a willingness to belong.

This analogy isn’t perfect.  In fact, it lacks in several ways.  But the idea is much the same.  Yes, you have to open your heart and want to belong.  You have to choose the Savior.  But that choosing is not a good work, not a saving effort on your part.  All the work is God’s.

The Father loved you and sent the Son.  Jesus went to the cross for you.  The work is done, the inheritance is yours, you are welcome to enter the family.  It doesn’t matter who you think you are or what you have done.  But if you refuse the love, you get nothing.  All this is yours . . . if you want it.  If you don’t want it, it won’t be yours. 

The transaction is not complete until you accept it.  You cannot be part of the family until you enter in.

Comments?  Questions?

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Relationship, Uncategorized

Love Allows Freedom

Many years ago (Ok, say thirty—to my kids, that’s many) I challenged the orthodoxy of a young man who was preparing for ordination in the denomination I served at the time.  This was a mainline denomination moving more toward the left each year and my guard was up.  The young man had said during his examination that he believed all people would eventually be saved.  The idea of universal salvation is a historical heresy in the church and I felt strongly that his views needed some clarification. 

When I raised the issue, an older man challenged me.  He believed that I had heard the young man incorrectly.  He thought the candidate had said that he would like everyone to be saved eventually.  The older man pointed out that there was nothing wrong with wanting everyone to be saved.

Well, to make a long story short, I asked for the young man to be called back and asked him a couple more questions.  I asked him who would be saved at the end, when all things were complete.  He said that all people would be saved.  I asked him if this was what he wanted or if this was what he believed to be true.  He assured us all that this was what he believed to be the eventual reality.  I asked him if he understood that was an old heresy in the Christian church.  He said he was willing to accept that.  At that point the vote was taken and the young man was welcomed into the denomination with an overwhelming majority support. 

I have learned many things through my study of grace and the love of our Lord.  One thing that has been of great significance in my life has been to begin to feel the Lord’s great love for those who are lost.  It doesn’t matter to Him where a person has been or what the person has done, He came to save them because He loves them.  Increasingly, it doesn’t matter to me either.  As the heart of Jesus becomes more and more the operative heart in me, I find myself to be ever more willing to accept people who are different from me or even outcast from most of my circles.  Homosexuals, beer-drinking rednecks, liberal agnostics, adulterers—Jesus loves them all and offers any of them the way home.  I find that I truly desire for all to be saved.

But another thing I have learned through grace is that I am not the one who gets to determine the way things will be.  From the foundation of the world, God allowed the people of His creation to choose.  Motivated by His love, He allowed Adam and Eve to choose to obey—or not—and when they chose to sin, His great plan of salvation would be available for those who would choose to return to Him.  His desire was not really that we would not sin, but that we would see and accept His love.  The choice was allowed because love, as the Scripture says, does not demand its own way.  Differences and divisions are acceptable because we are truly persons, made in the image of a creative and willful God, who wants us to be ourselves as we choose Him.  The result of that freedom, that responsibility, to choose is that not all will come to the Lord for salvation.  There is no way to avoid that fact as we understand the heart of God or the plain teaching of the Scripture.

I find often that the difference between what I desire to happen and what will happen is simple reality.  There are people in my life I want to see come to Jesus.  They need Him and He loves them.  I don’t want them to die without Him.  But I cannot avoid the fact that they must choose.  No matter how much I want it to be true, the Lord is not going to make them join with Him in eternal glory.  I can redecorate the doctrine, make it sound more welcoming; I can avoid talking about hell or condemnation; I can say that Jesus accomplished everything they need on the cross; but they still have to choose.  And, I fear, some will choose to stay where they are.  They think they don’t need a Savior and they don’t want what He offers.  Just because it breaks my heart doesn’t make it less right for them to have that choice.

To take away the most important choice of human life, the one choice that lies at the core of all that is humanity, is not love.  Grace allows us to accept that.


Filed under Freedom, grace, Grace definition, Relationship, Theology and mystery