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                         THE CASE FOR UNIVERSAL SALVATION: PART FIVE   

       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 facilitate that response.          

       In Romans chapter 12, Paul provides a list of behaviors that should be evident in the life of a Christian. Paul covers a great deal of material in his letter to the Roman Christians before getting to this list of behaviors in chapter 12. He prefixes this list by saying, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

       The fact Paul uses the word “Therefore” to begin this section of his letter, tells us that what he is about to write is connected to what he has already written. What he has already written is a rather complex discussion of the covenantal transition that had taken place where Paul makes it clear that a righteous standing before God cannot be established through human effort but can come only as a result of the mercy of God manifested through Christ Jesus. 

       A careful reading of Romans chapters one through eleven reveals that salvation is all about God’s mercy.  Beginning with Romans 12, Paul is telling the Romans that because of God’s merciful gift of salvation, they are now obligated to respond by offering their bodies as living sacrifices. Such response involves repenting of lawlessness and embracing behaviors congruent with righteousness.      

       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 earlier in 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 earlier, 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 Five 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."

     Conclusion:

       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. Therefore, just as there is universal salvation there also is universal judgement.

       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. It is instructive that in the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 which includes the timing of the appearance of Christ, it is recorded that the end result of this period of time would be to "finish  transgression, put an end to sin, atone for wickedness, bring in everlasting righteousness, and seal up vision and prophecy and anoint the most holy."

       This is highly descriptive of what was accomplished through the Christ event. The death and resurrection of Jesus brought about an end to transgression (sin) by atoning for wickedness which brought about everlasting righteousness. All human sin has been atoned for and replaced with applied righteousness.  The Christ event vanquished the death penalty for sin and replaced it with eternal life for all humans.

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

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