Romans, chapter nine:

       Some believe that what Paul wrote in Romans 9 shows that God predestinates some to be saved and others not to be saved. In Romans 9:11-13, Jacob is seen as chosen by God in preference to Esau.  This choice was made without regard to any good or bad behavior on their part.  Paul also relates how God chose Pharaoh for the express purpose of demonstrating God’s power. Paul then points out that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (9:18).

       Paul uses the potter and clay metaphor to show God can make some individuals for noble purposes and others for ennoble purposes.  Paul shows God can do what he wants to do with us humans and we have no right to question why He does what He does.  Paul speaks of God bearing with great patience the objects of his wrath in order to glorify himself before the objects of his mercy

       Romans 9:22-23: What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction (ἀπώλειαν (apōleian)? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

       Some see Paul saying that God predestines some to be objects of His wrath and others to be objects of His mercy. This is tantamount to saying God predestines some to be evil so He can display wrath against them and predestines others to be righteous so He can display mercy upon them. Paul says God "bore with great patience the objects of his wrath."

       It would appear to make no sense for God to exercise patience with those who are objects of his wrath if He made such people for the express purpose of displaying His wrath against them and there was nothing they could do about it.  What purpose would it serve to exercise patience toward such people if they were predestined to suffer wrath and destruction?  It should be evident that what is being said here is that God bore great patience with those who became objects of His wrath because of their unrighteous behavior and not that God made them objects of His wrath.  People don’t become objects of God’s wrath unless they refuse to respond to the patience He extends to them to repent.  

       Romans 2:4: Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?  

       Were the Jews and Gentiles who were called to be objects of God’s mercy and prepared in advance for glory predestined to be objects of His mercy and subsequent glory? As already discussed in this series, it is evident throughout Scripture that it is because of God’s mercy that we are forgiven of sin and reconciled to God through the Christ event. In this respect, all of humanity is predestined to be recipients of God’s mercy. 

       In Romans 9, Paul is simply distinguishing between those who at the time were refusing to believe the gospel message and those who were accepting the gospel message. Those who were accepting the Gospel message were in line for glory and those who were rejecting the gospel message were in line for destruction. 

       It should be noted, however, that the Greek word rendered “destruction” in 9:22 is apollumi.  As discussed earlier in this series, this word does not have an intrinsic meaning of permanent destruction.  It is used a number of times by NT writers to denote a temporary loss or ruin. It is not used in association with the eternal destiny of humanity.

       As already pointed out in this series and in various essays on this website, much of the NT narrative dealing with destruction, perishing and judgment pertains to the prophesied and expected return of Christ in association with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem during the war with Rome. 

       A careful examination of Romans 9-11 reveals a struggle that was going on relative to the implications of the gospel for the nation of Israel.  Paul uses a number of OT passages in his discussion of these implications. A careful examination of Paul’s Old Testament quotes in Romans 9-11 sheds a distinctly different light on Paul’s discussion of predestination from what is commonly believed.  

       Paul’s discussion of predestination in Romans has nothing to do with who is ultimately saved or lost.  Paul’s discussion has to do with the dynamics associated with justification before God and how such justification comes about.  Paul’s whole focus in His letter to the Romans is to demonstrate that justification before God is based on faith and not on works.  Paul reveals how God has manipulated certain events in the historical past to bring about His purpose to provide His human creation with salvation. Paul is not revealing a universal template for how God deals with all human behavior.

       In Romans 1-8, Paul discusses the sinful state of humanity and how deliverance from the penalty for sin cannot be achieved by the works of the law but by faith in Christ Jesus.  In chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham as an example of justification by faith.  Abraham believed God’s promise that he and Sarah would procreate a son in their old age.  Sarah was well past the age for child bearing but because of faith in God’s promise was able to give birth to a son.  The birth of Isaac was not based on normal physical ability to have a son but on God’s facilitation of such ability.  Thus Isaac is seen as a son of promise. 

       Paul recites this event as an example of faith producing a given result as opposed to the works of the flesh producing such results.  Abraham is considered righteous because he believed God would produce a miracle in facilitating the birth of Isaac.  The righteousness of Abraham resulted from his reliance on God to facilitate the seemingly impossible.   Paul uses this event to demonstrate that righteousness comes by faith in the promise of God and not by our works. 

       Romans 9:8: it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

       Israel believed they were the children of promise.  After all, they were descendants of Jacob who was a son of Isaac who was the child of promise birthed by Abraham and Sarah. Ethnic Israel sees their descent from Abraham as their ticket to acceptance before God.  However, we see in Galatians 4:21-31 that Paul identifies ethnic Israel with Hagar, as opposed to Sarah. 

       Galatians 4:22-31:  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.  His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.  These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.  Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."   Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.  At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.   But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."  Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

       Paul analogized Israel’s ethnic decent to Ishmael, who was Abraham’s descendant by purely natural means.  In contrast, both Jews and Gentiles are said to be children of Abraham based on their faith in Christ. Therefore, it is those who profess faith in Christ who are considered the true descendants of Abraham because they are children of promise.

       Galatians 3:6-11: Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."

       Paul is telling First Century Israel that ethnic decent from Abraham and keeping the law is not what makes one a child of Abraham.  It is the placing of faith in the Christ event that enables such a relationship.  It is in this context that Paul says the following:

       Romans 9:6b-8: For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

       It is through Isaac Abraham’s offspring is reckoned. Isaac is the child of promise and as such represents the work of God and not of man.  It is through the work of God that salvation is facilitated and not the work of man.  This is the message Paul is trying to get across.  The real Israel of God is not the physical descendants of Abraham but all those who express faith in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. 

       Galatians 6:15-16: Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. 

       Under the Old Covenant, God related to Israel on the basis of ethnicity and strict obedience to the covenant He made with them at Sinai.  God rewarded Israel for obedience and punished them for disobedience.  However, God’s ultimate purpose was to have an indwelling spiritual relationship with man facilitated by the death and resurrection of the promised Savior Christ Jesus.  Much of first century Israel could not grasp the covenantal change that was taking place and would not accept Paul’s teaching that a relationship with God was no longer based on physical descent from Abraham and obedience to law.  Many Jews were particularity incensed over Gentiles being accepted short of their being circumcised and keeping the Mosaic regulations.

       Paul’s use of Isaac and Ishmael (Ishmael's name is not mentioned but implied) in the way that he does in Galatians and Romans appears intended to establish that the Israelites have no reason to trust in their descent from Abraham as the pathway to a relationship with God.  Their physical descent from Abraham is not what matters.  If physical descent was the criteria to have a relationship with God, then Ishmael and his descendants would have just as much right to claim God’s promises as could the descendants of Isaac.

       Israel believed one was justified before God on the basis of descent from Abraham and keeping of the Law.  While a number of first century Israelites came to accept the teaching that faith in Christ was the pathway to justification before God, the vast majority believed this to be nonsense.  They looked at what Paul was saying and virtually concluded that if Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith in Christ were true, then God would have essentially broken His promises to Israel. 

       The people of Israel saw justification before God as based on descent from Abraham and keeping the Law.  How then could God now be saying that justification is not based on descent from Abraham or keeping the Law, but rather on faith in Christ?  It is this thinking on the part of first century Israel that Paul is dealing with in Romans, Galatians and other of his letters. Predestination must be understood in the context of God requiring that a relationship with Him is based on faith and not on works. It is this that God has predestined.

       Predestination in Scripture has nothing to do with predetermining in advance who is saved and who is not saved.  If this were the case, statements such as “God wants all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:3) would be meaningless and rather ludicrous and absurd. Predestination has nothing to do with God predetermining all human activity and events that occur.  Predestination has to do with specific events associated with God establishing the pathway for human salvation.

       God’s preference of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau was for the express purpose of establishing a line of decent to fulfill His promise to bring a savior into the world to provide salvation to mankind.  This salvation was to be a miraculous work of God with human works being irrelevant.  To demonstrate the supernatural nature of God’s promise to provide a savior, the miraculously born Isaac is chosen over the naturally born Ishmael.  God supernaturally intervenes to have the elder Esau serve the younger Jacob through whose son Judah the Christ would come.  God is showing by all this that the entire process of facilitating salvation for humanity is based not on normal events and activities but on supernatural involvement that insures that human salvation is freely given and not something we can earn.  

       Romans 9:11-12: Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger."

       God choose Jacob over Esau so that God’s purpose in election would stand.  It is the election of Jacob over Esau that is being discussed.  Paul is not here revealing a universal election were people in general are either chosen to be saved or chosen to be lost. Paul is not addressing the issue of being saved or lost at all.  Paul is addressing the matter of how the availability of salvation came about. Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3 where God says he loved Jacob and hated Esau (Romans 9:13).  . 

       Romans 9:13-18: Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!  For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."  It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

       Paul asks if loving Jacob and hating Esau is unjust on the part of God.  He answers by quoting what God said to Moses. "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."  The implication is that God is sovereign and can choose how certain individuals will be used to fulfill his purpose irrespective of their own desires.  There is no reason to believe, however, that Paul is revealing that God predetermines all things and thus prevents the expression of freewill.  Paul is dealing with a specific event and not expounding some universal principle relative to how God relates to man in all circumstances.

       In reference to God saying He loved Jacob and hated Esau, it should be noted that all indications are that God expressed a preference for Jacob over Esau and not that He literally hated Esau in some adversarial sense.  In Genesis 33 is the account of Jacob meeting Esau and providing Esau with many gifts.  Esau initially turns down the gifts saying he already had plenty.  Esau is not seen as having been cursed by God.  Deuteronomy 2:4-6, shows that God did not allow the Israelites to attack Edom (descendants of Esau) or to take any portion of the land God had given them.  He instructed Israel to pay them in silver for the food they eat and the water they drink. This is not a picture of a God who hates someone in a condemnational manner.  It is reasonable to believe God hated Esau in the same sense Christ instructed that we hate our parents in contrast to loving Christ.  Jesus wasn’t teaching we are to literally hate our parents but that we preferentially put Christ ahead of our parents.     

       God predetermined that Jacob would be chosen over Esau as the one through whom the nation of Israel would be assembled and through whom Christ would trace His genealogy.  The whole process of providing salvation for mankind is seen to be supernaturally orchestrated and based on faith as opposed to the progression of natural events.  It is in this context we must read Romans 9. For further discussion of Romans 9 and the issue of predestination, please go to “Predestination and free will,” parts two and three.

       Let’s now look at some additional passages of Scripture that some feel falsify the concept of universal salvation.

Romans 5:19:

      Romans 5:19: For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

       Some feel Paul’s use of “many” limits the number of individuals being considered.  The word “many,” however, is used within the context of all sinning in Adam and all being made alive in Christ.  Paul had just said “just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Romans 5:18). Paul now saying many were made sinners through the disobedience that began with Adam and many will be made righteous through Christ does not reduce the “all men” Paul just spoke of in 5:18 to less than all men. The context is all men. The actions of both Adam and Jesus stand in relationship to all men, not just many (some) men.  

       Therefore, it should be apparent that Paul is not using the word “many” to in some way qualify the “all” he just spoke of.  All become sinners as a result of what started with Adam and in contrast, all are made righteous because of the Christ event. This is the continuous teaching of Paul throughout his writings.             

1st Timothy 4:9-10:

       1st Timothy 4:9-10: This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially (μάλιστα (malista) of those who believe.

       Paul writes God "is the Savior of all men, and especially of all those who believe."  The Greek μάλιστα (malista) is defined in Greek Lexicons as “especially, chiefly, most of all, above all.” Some see Paul’s use of this word as God limiting salvation to only those who believe. Is this what Paul is saying?

        In Galatians 6:10 Paul writes: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."  The same Greek word is here rendered "especially" as in 1st Timothy 4:10.  It should be obvious that doing good especially to believers doesn't take away the responsibility of doing good to all people. 

       In 1st Timothy 5:17 Paul writes: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." Here again the same Greek word is rendered "especially" and as can be seen, giving double honor to those who preach and teach does not in any way mean giving less honor to the other elders.         

       It should be evident that when Paul writes that "God is the Savior of all men and especially of those who believe," he is saying two things.  Firstly, Paul is saying that God is the savior of all men and secondly he is saying God is especially the savior of those who believe. However, granting salvation to those who believe does not rule out salvation for those who don’t believe. The very fact Paul distinguishes between God being the savior of all men and those who believe shows God is the Savior of both those who believe and those who don’t believe.


       While belief in Christ is seen throughout Paul’s writings as the expected response to the salvation God has provided, lack of such believe does not prevent God from providing salvation. As discussed elsewhere in this series, it is not our faith that saves us; it is the mercy of God facilitated through the Christ event that saves us.     

       I submit that the word "especially" is simply being used to emphasize and highlight those who were believers at the time. The use of this word does not mean that salvation is not available to unbelievers.

       This being said, the Scriptures are clear that belief in God and Jesus is a prerequisite for having the gift of salvation applied. As covered elsewhere in this series, while few, comparatively speaking, demonstrate such faith during this lifetime, I believe that belief in God and Christ will be demonstrated by all humans in the afterlife enabling them to be granted salvation. Go to Faith-repentance-baptism-salvation-part-one for a comprehensive discussion of the relationship between belief and salvation.

Enduring to the end:

       Jesus, in speaking of His coming and the social turmoil that would precede that coming, indicates that only those who endure and stand firm to the end would be saved? (Matthew 10:21-23). Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 24:12.  Was standing firm to the end a condition of being saved?   

       As covered in my series “When Does Christ Return,” the end spoken of in Matthew 10 and 24 is the near to them coming of Christ in association with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in AD 70. This is made very apparent by the context of these two passages.

       Matthew 10: 21-23:  "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

       Matthew 24: 9-13:  "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 

       It appears Jesus is exhorting believers to stand firm in the face of trials associated with the coming wrath upon Israel.  This is a common theme throughout the NT narrative. We see Paul and others writers admonishing, exhorting and encouraging believers to stay strong in the face of difficulties and persecutions as they wait for the imminent to them return of Christ to deliver them from the coming wrath.  To the Thessalonians Paul wrote, “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1st Thessalonians 1:9-10).

        Despite these exhortations, admonitions and encouragements, it is apparent that many believers would not stand firm and endure to the end but turn from the faith.  Jesus said that “At that time many will turn away from the faith (Matthew 24:10). What happened to these folks?  The writer to the Hebrew Christians provides a rather grim outlook for those who turn their back on Christ prior to his imminent return.

       Hebrews 10: 25-30: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching (the day of Christ’s return).  If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.   Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people."

       Hebrews 10:37-39: For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed (Greek: ἀπώλειαν (apōleian), but of those who believe and are saved.

       The wording of these passages of Scripture clearly reveals the anticipated soon to occur coming of Christ. The writer is addressing Hebrew Christians and telling them what is soon to take place.  The Greek here is very emphatic. Bullinger, in the Companion Bible, shows the Greek phrase mikron hoson hoson to mean: "in a very, very little while."   This statement was made some 2000 years ago to Jewish Christians who are being told to persevere so they will receive what was promised at a near to occur coming of Christ. 

       The believers are told to remain faithful and if they don’t, they will be judged and destroyed.  The Greek word translated “destroy” in Hebrews 10:39 is a tense of the Greek word apollumi which we discussed previously and determined that while this word means "to destroy" it does not necessarily convey permanent destruction.  It often is used by NT writers to convey temporary loss or ruin as seen previously in this series.

       As previously pointed out, the end that is discussed in the NT is the end of the Old Covenant age and this end came at the time of the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem around AD 70.  Jesus made this clear in the Olivet Discourse as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.  Jesus made a number of other statements during His ministry that show He was talking about a soon to occur judgment upon Jerusalem. 

       Apostle Peter used the same apocalyptic language Jesus used in the Olivet Discourse to announce the soon to occur coming of Christ which is referred to here as “the great and glorious day of the Lord.”  In referring to the speaking in tongues event as an event to occur in “the last days” (Acts 2:17), Peter goes on to say how God “will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (Acts 2:19-21).  I again refer the reader to my multipart series entitled “When Does Christ Return.” 

       In reading through the NT, it becomes apparent that much of what is written is in the context of the belief that Christ would be coming back within their generation. Jesus plainly taught that His coming in judgment would occur in the generation He was addressing at the time (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 22: 46-51, Luke 21: 32).

       Those that accepted the gospel message and remained faithful to that message to the time of their death or the time of Christ’s return would receive the promised gift of eternal life. Those that did not accept the gospel message and those who had accepted it but fell away (apparently many according to Christ (Matthew 24:9-13) would be judged for their unrighteous behavior and suffer the consequences of their disobedience.  For many it was physical death and for some it was captivity.  First century historian Josephus writes in his antiquities that one million Jews were killed and 100,000 taken into captivity during the war with Rome.   

       A careful reading of the NT passages dealing with the destruction of the wicked indicates their destruction was a temporal destruction and not an eternal one. Their destruction had nothing to do with their eternal destiny. It was a temporal destruction associated with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.

       As covered earlier, those destroyed in the judgments of Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre, and Sidon are seen as facing a judgment after their biological death. This is a judgment over and above the destruction they experienced while physically alive. This appears to be a final judgment to determine their eternal destiny. It would appear those destroyed in the judgment of first century Jerusalem would receive such final judgment as well. 

Faith, repentance and salvation:     

       At the beginning of this series I wrote that God doesn’t save us from eternal death in exchange for our faith and repentance. Faith and repentance is our response to learning of the salvation God has granted us because of his mercy and love for us. It is a response to learning what Jesus did on our behalf in facilitating our salvation.  We respond in faith and repentance because of learning what Paul so succinctly wrote about in several of his letters.

       Romans 5:8-10: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

       2nd Corinthians 5:18: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

       Colossians 1:21-22:  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

       This is the gospel message that Paul preached everywhere he went. God demonstrated His love for us in that while still in our sins Christ died for us. Through His shed blood we are justified and reconciled to God who no longer counts our sins against us. We are freed from accusation. This was not done in response to repentance on our part but because of God’s love, mercy and grace.

       Apostle Paul bemoaned the manner in which he was expressing his human nature and asked the rhetorical question, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?"  He answers his own question by stating it will be "through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24). The body of death we are rescued from is the eternal sin death which results from the many unrighteous choices we make in life. Paul shows we are rescued from this death through Christ.  This is another way of Paul saying that while we all die in Adam; we are all made alive in Christ.   

       Paul made it clear that the granting of the gift of salvation is an act of God's grace and is not conditioned on anything we do or don't do. This gift is free. It is granted unconditionally.  As Paul wrote, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God having Jesus pay the penalty for our sin is not conditioned on anything we do but purely on the mercy and love of God for us.

       If salvation was based on our works of righteousness, this would present a series problem.  How would it be determined how many works are necessary for salvation?  How would the standard be set? On a scale of 1 to 10, would I need a 10 to “qualify” for salvation?  Would an 8 or 9 do? Could I get by with a 5 or 6?  If I receive salvation with an 8 and my neighbor is denied salvation because he only was at 6 does this give me bragging rights over my neighbor?  The folly of all this should be apparent.  That is why salvation is seen as given as a gift and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).    

       If indeed salvation is a free unmerited gift of God, what are we to make of the Scriptures that indicate there are conditions that must be met due us to be given this gift?

       Paul wrote to the Ephesian elders that he had “declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). When the Philippian jailer asked what he must do to be saved Paul and Silas said “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

       In preaching the Gospel to Cornelius and his friends and family, Apostle Peter shows that belief in Jesus is the pathway to the forgiveness of sin. Peter told them that “All the prophets testify about him (Jesus) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).

       In his trial before King Agrippa, Paul related how he preached to both Jews and Gentles “that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).  Here Paul is not only preaching repentance but a verification of such repentance through the performance of deeds. This is the same thing John the Baptist asked of the religious leaders who came to him to be baptized.

       Matthew 3:7-8: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.      

       God, through Christ, has provided the gift of salvation. That is a done deal.  Nothing we have ever done or ever will do earns us this gift. Since salvation corresponds to having a righteous standing before God, God expects us to maintain that righteousness in our behavior.  Paul wrote to the Romans that our response to the grace of God is to live a life of righteousness.

       Romans 6:1-4: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?   Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 

       Romans 6:12-13: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

       Romans 6: 19b: Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.   

       The pursuit of righteousness doesn’t earn our salvation. The pursuit of righteousness is simply our response to the gift we have been given. We will be judged on how well we facilitated that response.     

       Apostle John defined sin as lawlessness (1st John 3:4). To repent is to acknowledge ones sinful behavior and strive to live in obedience to the behavioral standards revealed in Scripture. Many Scriptures show that faith and repentance are closely associated with each other. While faith in Christ is to acknowledge that His sacrifice pays the eternal death penalty associated with sin, faith in Christ is a lot more than that.

       Faith in Christ Jesus is characterized by submission and obedience to His will and the will of the Father.  Loving Jesus and behaving according to what He taught is what defines faith in Jesus. Loving God is defined by the keeping of His commandments.  Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15).  John wrote, "This is love for God: to obey his commands" (1st John 5:3a).   

       To have faith in Christ is to know, believe and practice what He taught.  Apostle John wrote, "We know that we have come to know him (Jesus) if we obey his commands" (1st John 2:3)                

       John wrote “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1st John 2:3-4). Scriptures as these define faith in Christ as doing what he says. Therefore, faith in Christ involves works. Paul says the same thing.

        Ephesians 2:8-9:  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.      

       In James 2:14, the Apostle asks the question, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can faith save him?”  Verse 17: “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”  Verse 24: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”  Verse 26b: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."

        Salvation is clearly a gift based on God’s mercy and grace.  It is nothing we can earn.  Righteous behavior does not earn us salvation. However, righteous behavior is the commanded response to our receiving salvation. It is the expected response to us knowing and understanding we have been granted salvation by God as a gift through Christ. While this gift is free in that we can’t earn it, we are expected to acknowledge the source of this gift and submit to the will of this source. It should be very evident that the will of God the Father and Christ the Son is for us to practice works of righteousness and avoid sin.

       As covered in Part One of this series, all humans will be judged as to how they behaved while in the flesh. As Paul said, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2nd Corinthians 5:10).      

       Those who learn of and understand the gospel message while physically alive will be judged on how they respond to that message. If they believe in what Christ did to atone for sin and strive to do good works in response to that atonement, they will be rewarded accordingly.

       As discussed in Part One of this series, those who do not learn of or understand the gospel message while physically alive (the vast majority of all humans) it would appear that in the afterlife, they will be judged on the basis of how much they did understood about righteous behavior and how they responded to that understanding. This is indicated by what Paul wrote to the Romans.

       Romans 2:14-16: Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

       God judging men's secrets through Jesus Christ appears to be a reference to appearing before Christ in judgment where, as Paul wrote, "that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

       Some have argued that it is our faith in Jesus that saves us. Paul's statement to the Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith  (Ephesians 2:8-9) is seen as proof that faith must be present for salvation to be granted.  As cited above, a number of Scriptures connect belief in Jesus with being saved.  What kind of belief is being spoken of and how does that belief pertain to our receiving salvation?

        In reading through the writings of Paul, it becomes evident that there was much controversy as to how we are justified before God.   Under the Old Covenant, justification before God was accomplished through keeping the Law. This was still believed to be the case by the Jews of Paul's day.  Under the New Covenant, justification before God is accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This new means of justification was the focus of Paul's teachings throughout his ministry.

       When Paul, Peter and others speak of expressing faith in Christ in order to be saved, they are speaking of believing that it is no longer through keeping the Law (works) that man is justified but through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That this is the case is seen in the following Scriptures.      

       Acts 13:38-39: "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.  Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.  

       Romans 3:20-30: For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it,   the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith (RSV).

       Romans 4:2-8: If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."

       Galatians 2:16: know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

       Galatians 3:11: Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."  Verse 24: So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

       Galatians 5:4-6: You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

       In Galatians 3:19 Paul shows that the Law (Mosaic Law) was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. This shows that transgression of law existed before the Mosaic Law was put into effect and thus sin and death was extant from the start.  Paul wrote to the Romans that “death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses” (Romans 5:5:14). In view of this, Paul shows that the whole world is a prisoner of sin and before faith came we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed (Galatians 3:22-23).

       The Greek word rendered “prisoners” (συγκλείω (sugkleió) is the same Greek word rendered “bound” in Romans 11:32 where Paul wrote that “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”  This Greek word means to be totally enclosed and shut up without means of escape (See Thayer's Greek Lexicon).    

       He goes on to say that the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith (3:24). Paul goes on to write that “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:25-26).

       As seen here in Galatians and throughout Paul’s writings, expressing faith/belief in Christ is all about acknowledging that it is not through works but through the Christ event that man is justified which means having sin atoned for resulting in the granting of eternal life. 

      Justification comes through the grace of God facilitated through the redemption that came through Jesus. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his (God's) grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24-25).  Paul told the Romans that “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!” (Romans 5:9).  

       The Scriptural passages found in Acts, Romans and Galatians, as quoted above, define what it means to be justified by faith.  To be justified by faith is to acknowledge that justification (and thus salvation) comes about through the mercy of God facilitated through the Christ event and not through keeping the Law (works).  Faith is our response to the Christ event in believing it is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that  justification/salvation occurs and not through any works we do.  Paul made this very clear in his letter to Titus.

       Titus 3:4-7: But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  

       Paul clearly shows we are justified by the mercy of God and the grace of Jesus. The grace of Christ is seen as given to us before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9). Our faith doesn't produce this grace, it acknowledges this grace. It is an acknowledgement of what was in the plan and purpose of God from the beginning. Paul shows that while we were ungodly and still sinners that Christ died for us (Romans 5:6, 8). Paul shows we are justified while still in a state of wickedness (Romans 4:9).  

      Paul clearly taught we are justified by grace. When he speaks of being justified by faith, he is speaking of our acknowledgement that it is through the grace of God and Christ that we are justified and not works.  Faith is our response to the justification that already exists. It is our recognition and acknowledgement of what already is.   

      Paul wrote the Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith and not of ourselves. It is the gift of God and not of works.  When Paul writes we are saved by grace through faith, he is not teaching that it is our faith/belief that saves us.  He is teaching that we recognize and acknowledge that it is by grace we are saved and not by works. Paul is teaching that it is God’s grace that saves us and not that our faith saves us. 

       To conclude our salvation is determined through our faith would mean we determine whether or not we receive salvation. This is not what the Scriptures teach. God decides our destiny. God decides whether or not we are justified and receive salvation. In view of all the Scriptures we have reviewed and discussed in this Three Part series, it is evident that God has made the decision that all humans receive salvation which means all humans will come to believe in the Christ event and come to understand its significance.   

       While only a small percentage of humans come to such belief during this physical life. It will be in the afterlife, when all humans will be judged, that belief in the Christ event will become universal. As covered earlier, all humans will cheerfully come to worship God and his Son Christ Jesus (Romans 14:10b-12, Philippians 2:9-11).

       This all being said what does James mean when he says “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). He can’t be speaking of being justified in regard to having one’s sins forgiven and being granted eternal life as we see from the teachings of Paul that justification and the granting of eternal life (salvation) is a free gift of God. It’s apparent that James is speaking of justification within the context of our response to God’s free gift of salvation and not the gift itself.  As stated above, all humans will face a judgement subsequent to biological death. We will be judged as to how we conducted ourselves while in the flesh.    

       The Greek word rendered “justified” in James 2:24 is δικαιοῦται (dikaioutai). One of the ways this word is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon is “to judge, declare, pronounce, righteous and therefore acceptable.” As discussed above, In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus said “men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned” (NIV).

       The word “acquitted” in the NIV (Greek: δικαιόω (dikaioó) is rendered justified in most English translations as this is the basic meaning of this word. The word “condemned” (Greek: καταδικασθήσῃ (katadikasthēsē) is rendered “condemned” in most English translations but may better be rendered as "judgement." Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as “to give judgment against (one), to pronounce guilty; to condemn.” Young's Literal Translation of Matthew 12:37 renders this passage as “for from thy words thou shalt be declared righteous, and from thy words thou shalt be declared unrighteous.’

       For a comprehensive discussion of the relationship between faith, repentance, baptism and salvation, go to "Faith, Repentance and Baptism."


       It should be evident from the Scriptural passages reviewed and discussed in this series that there will be a resurrection to life of all humans subsequent to biological death and that such resurrection was made possible through the resurrection of Jesus.  Paul made it clear that just as all die in Adam, all are made alive in Christ (1st Corinthians 15:22, Romans 5:18). Scripture teaches that the purpose for the Christ event was to facilitate salvation for all of humanity (John 1:29, 12:32, 1st John 2:2, 4:14, Romans 11:32, 2nd Corinthians 5:18, Colossians 1:21-22, 1st Timothy 2:3-6, 4:10, 2nd Timothy 1:10).  Salvation is the granting of eternal life in place of the eternal death that sin produces.

       The Scriptures make it clear that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (John 5:28-30, Acts 24:15, Daniel 12:2). The Scriptures make it clear that all humans will be judged subsequent to physical death (Matthew 10:15, 11:22, 12:36, 12:41, Luke 11:31, Romans 14:10-12, 2nd Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 9:27). It appears that judgment is for the purpose of determining reward or lack thereof for things done while in the flesh.

       It is also apparent from a careful reading of the NT that much of what was said was in the context of the anticipated and expected return of Christ in judgment upon first century Israel as played out in the conflagration with Rome. Therefore, most of the judgment passages seen throughout the NT narrative must be seen in the context of the anticipated war with Rome.

       These judgment passages contain a lot of figurative language to describe the destruction that was to come upon those who rejected Christ as the promised Messiah and persecuted those who did acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. These judgment passages should not be seen as the eternal destruction of the unrighteous but as a temporal judgment as was true in the case of those destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrah and other ancient cities. 

       It appears evident that all humanity will face a final judgment subsequent to biological death which will determine their eternal destiny. Paul wrote “we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10b-12).

      Verse 11: As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God (New American Standard Bible)

       Paul also wrote “Therefore God exalted him (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

       It is apparent this will be a confession that will glorify God. As discussed earlier in this series, the Greek word that is translated “confess” in Philippians 2:11 (also in Romans 14:11) is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon to mean professing freely, openly and joyfully. The Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon shows this word is used to express praise and honor.  It would appear that all humans will at some point make this confession and it will be a voluntary confession.

       This voluntary confession will be a recognition and acknowledgement of the mercy of God and the sacrifice of Jesus in facilitating the removal of the death penalty for sin. This confession will also be a commitment to eternal obedience to the will of God. In other words, faith and repentance will ultimately be demonstrated by all. 

       If indeed all of humanity will confess Jesus is Lord and in so doing come to repentance and faith in Christ, it would follow that all of humanity will be granted salvation. 

       This concludes this series on universal salvation.  This writer welcomes evidence based response to the foregoing discussion.