"The Really Good News About God" is a popular edition paperback that presents a lay-person's introduction to Christian Universalism, rather than a theological or philosophical argument for that position.
This page discusses some of the thinking behind the views presented in Chapter Four and also addresses several genuine questions that are often raised when topics such as these are debated.
Hopefully, this will put some meat on the bones in Chapter Four and stimulate healthy, respectful discussion by those who choose to dig a bit deeper.
For those who wish to dig a lot deeper, other books and websites are listed in the Recommended References link towards the bottom of the Topic Menu on the left.
|The Kingdom||Reconciliation||Frequently Asked Questions|
Salvation is a word used in some Christian circles to describe an event in a person's life that saves him/her from an eternity of separation from God while being tormented in a place usually called hell.
"Have you been saved?" is a question often asked of a new acquaintance when inquiring if that person has made the vital decision to avoid this nasty future.
In summary, in these circles, salvation is a singular decision-making moment that provides a get-out-of-jail-free card to avoid spending an eternity in this horrible place.
This page explores salvation from a Biblical standpoint and discovers some refreshing, and maybe surprising, features of God's plan of salvation for humankind.
Have you ever wondered what our future would be like if Jesus never came to our planet 2000 years ago, or if Jesus did come but found his mission too difficult to complete?
He certainly found it difficult.
"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." (Matthew 26 : 38, 39 NIV)
But He did see it through - he was faithful to the plan the Father had assigned to him. And, as a result, we have been saved and will live beyond the grave.
In this sense, Christ's faithfulness has saved us and given us life. Yet, most of our popular translations of the Bible credit our salvation to our faith rather than Christ's.
Popular, dynamic equivalence translations and paraphrases usually give the false impression that we are the active participants in achieving salvation rather than Jesus by translating "the faith or faithfulness of Jesus" as "faith in Jesus".
Here are three examples just from Galatians.
Chapter 2 Verse 16
... know that a person is not justified by the works of 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 the works of the law, ... (NIV and similar in most modern translations and paraphrases)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law ... (KJV and similar in most literal translations)
Chapter 2 Verse 20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV et al)
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV et al)
Chapter 3 Verse 22
But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (NIV et al)
But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. (KJV et al)
Clearly we are not justified by works of the law, and not even by the "work" of faith, as the modern popular translations infer.
Grace is grace; we are freely given justification, salvation, life, and so much more. We are even given the ability to believe so that we can receive them now and so become the firstfruits of the eventual harvest.
Because of Jesus' faith/faithfulness, he guaranteed reconciliation for his whole creation, ensuring the complete harvest (after the kingdom age during the millennium.
Salvation has two major aspects which cater for the two major features of our creation.
When God made mankind, he created us in his image
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
[ Genesis 1 : 27 NIV ]
and breathed his life into us.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
[ Genesis 2 : 7 NIV ]
When sin entered the picture, we lost both - his life in us (we became mortal) and his image (we no longer reflected a true image of God).
So to save us from this situation, salvation needs to restore both features of our original making - immortality and Christ-likeness.
Let me illustrate with a little "Barry story" that I told in Chapter 4.
Suppose you have a friend who dies of a serious illness.
And you have the power to do absolutely anything for your friend.
What would you do?
Suppose you choose to raise your friend to life.
What would be the result?
Your friend would be alive, but still seriously ill, and so would die again.
Not the best outcome.
Let’s start again.
Suppose this time you choose to heal your dead friend.
What would be the result this time?
Your friend would be well, but still dead.
You’d have a healthy dead person on your hands.
Clearly the best choice would be to heal your friend and bring your friend back to life.
Only then would you have a living, healthy friend again - only then would you have saved your friend.
Two things need to be done for your friend, not one, for your friend to be completely saved.
We too are dead and have a serious illness.
We need to be brought back to life (re-gain immortality) and be healed of our disease (have the image of God re-formed in us).
In a nutshell ...
Salvation is a journey of restoration that starts with re-gaining life and is completed when we return to being God's true image bearers, as was Jesus.
And this is definitely not a one-moment event of accepting a get-out-of-jail-free card.
* * * * *
"When were you saved?" is a question Christians are frequently asked, especially in evangelical circles. In response, many give a date when they "raised their hand" or "walked to the front" in response to an invitation to be saved in a Christian meeting, or had a life-changing experience in some other setting.
For me, that happened when I was a 12 year old.
But was I saved then?
This raises the question, "What comes first - salvation or faith?"
I think Paul answers that clearly when he tells us that Christ died for sinners, not believers.
But God has shown us how much he loves us---it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! [Romans 5 : 8 GNB]
Jesus paid the price for our sin and therefore we have been declared righteous (in right standing) before God. We have been declared not guilty since the death of Christ.
Paul states this also in 2 Corinthians 5 : 19 ...
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. [NIV]
So our salvation came long before many of us were even born into this world, and well before we believed or had faith.
Many times I have heard an illustration that is meant to show that we are not saved until we have faith, until we believe and confess Jesus as Lord.
I use the same illustration, but in a different way.
Here is the illustration.
Suppose someone puts $1 million into my bank account without my knowledge. I have the potential or opportunity to be rich, but since I don't know the money is there and don't access it, I am still poor. Even if I am told the money is there for me, if I don't believe this news I remain poor. However, when I do believe the news and withdraw the money I become rich, then and only then.
Most users of the illustration conclude that I need to believe that the money is in my account, and there for me to use, and I need to withdraw it, before I can become rich. I need to do something (or some things) in order to be rich.
However, my interpretation is different.
I am rich the moment the money hits my account. The depositor, the bank manager and any court in the land would confirm that. And when I discover it, and withdraw and use it, I begin to experience the benefits of my newly acquired wealth.
Salvation is just like this.
I was saved when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead 2000 years ago. I wasn't even born then so had no chance of knowing that fact. But when I became aware of it, and was given the faith to believe it, I began to experience the benefits of my salvation.
Salvation is a fact established by Jesus many years ago. It was deposited into my account long before I was born. My experience of it, its benefits and responsibilities, has been growing from the time I was given the faith to believe it and walk in it.
God gives me the faith to believe the fact of salvation, what Jesus did for me years ago. He would not give me the faith to believe something that did not yet exist. So salvation must come before faith.
This fact helps me see how God will fulfil his plan to save all, as all have already been saved even though only relatively few have been given the faith to believe it and walk in it at this stage.
According to the Gospels, Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Light, the Kingdom ... yet we haven't mentioned it at all in this section so far.
So let's change that right away.
1 Timothy 4 :10 is a great verse, one of my favourites, which makes this distinction well. Paul says in writing to Timothy ...
"That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe."
So often I am told that the bit that comes after the last comma is a denial of the bit that comes before it, so the verse "clearly" says that only believers will be saved.
I confess that I am only a mathematician, but my English grammar skills are good enough to see how ridiculous that sort of interpretation is.
I say to anyone who will listen ...
"I love icecream, especially when it's chocolate coated."
Am I saying that I only like chocolate coated icecream?
Of course not!
I am just saying that I like chocolate coated icecreams best.
I have a friend who is mad keen on Holdens and thinks they are all "nice" cars, especially the Calais models.
Is he saying he only likes the Calais models?
Of course not!
But there is something special about those models that really appeals to him.
So what is Paul saying in his salvation statement to Timothy?
God saves all people, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross of Calvary, and will be given timeless life at the end of the ages.
But believers have something extra, something special.
They are given their life now, during the ages, starting from the time they are given the faith to believe, so they can play their part with God in implementing his plan for the ages.
Aren't we (believers) so privileged to have been given faith in our lifetime on this planet? We have been chosen NOW.
And doesn't that give us a huge responsibility?
We have "ruling" or kingdom work to do now, and in the age to come. We have been chosen to partner with God in implementing his plan to bring salvation to all.
* * * * *
As well as the "especially" verse of 1 Tim 4 : 10, there is another "especially" verse in Galatians 6 : 10, which says:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (NIV)
The icecream and Holden examples above could also be used to illustrate the difference between the "all people" and the "especially people" in this verse, but let me offer another to show how "especially" does not exclude the "all people", as many opponents of God's plan of universal reconciliation claim.
Suppose you live in a small town with a large town hall that will accommodate all of its residents in a single sitting.
A popular band is on tour and has agreed to play one night in your town. The promoter of the tour has tickets for every person living there. The news begins to spread - the band is coming to town and there's a ticket for everyone, especially for those who are members of the band's fan club.
Fan club members will meet the band backstage before the concert for drinks, nibbles and autographs, and be given a free copy of the band's latest CD. They will get to meet the band first, and then the rest of the town will join the band and the fan club in the hall for the main concert later.
That's how it will be at the end (consummation) of the ages. Believers will have met Jesus first and enjoyed kingdom life with him through the ages, and then be joined by the rest of humankind for the main concert in eternity.
* * * * *
Here's another parable like the Concert one above.
To ensure there was a good crowd for the opening match of the season, the coach of a local football team was authorised to give tickets to every person who lived in their small country town.
In addition, he gave gold passes to those who were his close friends, which entitled them to attend the pre-match lunch in the clubrooms with club officials and the players involved in the match.
So everyone in the town got to enjoy the first match of the year, and there was a special treat beforehand for the coach's close friends
Let's see how this might illustrate our original "especially" text.
We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.
[1 Timothy 4 : 10 NIV]
All of creation gets to enjoy eternity (the match) with God, but the friends of the Coach (believers - members of the Body of Christ) get to enjoy the pre-eternity ages with Him.
And just as the coach's friends were chosen by the coach well before the day of the match, so believers (members of the Body of Christ) have been chosen well before eternity, even before the ages began.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.
[ Ephesians 1 : 4, 5 NIV]
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of the world, you have been chosen before the creation of the world to be adopted into sonship.
Indeed, you weren't chosen because you believed, you were given belief (faith) because you were chosen.
Just like these Gentiles ...
The Gentiles listened with delight and extolled the Lord's Message; and all who were pre-destined to the Life of the Ages believed. [Acts 13 : 48 Weymouth]
We are very privileged people. But we also have great responsibility, not only in the now, but also in those pre-eternity ages - yes, we have been chosen for a purpose.
In the now ...
God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. [Ephesians 2 : 10 GNB]
In the pre-eternity ages ...
... and did raise us up together, and did seat us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that He might show, in the ages that are coming, the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus ... [Ephesians 2 : 6, 7 YLT]
Do you not know that we shall judge the angels? How much more, then, the things of this life! [1 Corinthians 6 : 3 GNB]
Chosen for ministry on earth now and ministry in the heavens in the coming ages.
PS. I am not tempted to de-gender "sonship" in the Ephesians 1 quote above because to do so would lose so much of Paul's thrust here. "Adoption to sonship" is a legal expression that referred to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in the Roman culture of his time. So Paul is saying that believers have full legal standing as adopted sons (I call them male sons and female sons) and heirs with Christ in God's family.
* * * * *
This is an important topic that will be addressed in detail in our next book "The Really Good News About Jesus". However, we'll just mention it here using two key references.
As you are probably well aware, one of my favourite verses is 1 Timothy 4 : 10, which is in the sidebar on the Blog and therefore appears beside every new post.
That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (NIV)
Apart from assuring us that God has decreed that all of his creation will be saved and live in harmony with him (and each other) in eternity, it also shows the distinction between those who are believers in their time on this planet and those who are not.
The believers are the firstfruits of the eventual harvest of all. They are those especially chosen for knowing and appreciating the saving grace of God in their earthly lives and been given the responsibility to live as ambassadors for Christ having the really good news to announce.
(See 2 Cor 5 : 18 - 20)
Another reference that makes the same distinction as 1 Tim 4 : 10 occurs in Romans 3 : 21 - 22 (when translated correctly).
And now apart from the law has the righteousness of God been manifested, testified to by the law and the prophets, and the righteousness of God is through the faith of Jesus Christ to all, and upon all those believing, ... (Young's Literal Translation)
The distinction is indeed clear in a good, literal translation - the righteousness of God is to all (eventually) but upon believers (in the realm of time).
Interestingly, this distinction is obscured, even omitted, by many modern translators who do not wish to admit that God's plan is to save all, and who restrict salvation to those who become believers during their earthly lives.
Compare the verse quoted above from YLT with this one from NIV.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. ... (NIV)
Why do so many Christians, including many modern translators, want to portray our loving God as such a sadistic monster when Jesus has already fully paid for all our sins and God has clearly revealed his plan to save all at the end of time? (See Ephesians 1 : 9 - 10)
The Firstfruits are NOT the Harvest. The firstfruits are few: the harvest is plentiful.
PS. You might also have noticed another example where popular, modern translations attribute the righteousness of God in which we stand to our faith in Christ, rather than to the faith or faithfulness of Christ, as we discussed above in the section named "Jesus Christ".
This section contains the questions I have most frequently been asked on the broad topic of God's Champion Lifesaver, and my usual answers to these.
As you read, please remember that some questions may not have precise answers. There are so many things we creatures do not know about our Creator and how he operates, even though we often have many clues in the Scriptures.
However, if you have some better answers than I have presented here, please offer them through the last item, Ask Your Question, on the Topics menu on the left. I will really appreciate being able to add to my understanding through your input.
You can also ask a question of your own by selecting the same item, Ask Your Question, on the left. If your question gets asked frequently enough, your question and my answer will be added to this page.
I usually describe the position I promote as Christian Universalism (CU) or Universal Restoration (UR).
But sometimes I am careless in casual conversations by agreeing/conceding that I'm a universalist (without the "Christian" or "Restoration" bit).
I am finally learning to be more careful with the terms I use.
By using or allowing the wrong ones, I leave myself open to criticisms that are not applicable to the correct position that I believe the Scriptures teach.
I do not believe in universalism, as the word is generally used.
Universalism most often describes the position that all will be saved, regardless of the work of Jesus or of a person's relationship to Jesus - in other words, all roads lead to heaven.
This is not what the Bible teaches.
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." [ John 14: 6 NIV ]
Equally, I do not believe in inclusivism, as the word is generally used.
Inclusivism usually describes the position that all are saved now as the result of the death and resurrection of Jesus - and all have the Holy Spirit indwelling them right now.
This is not what the Bible teaches either.
"No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." [ Matthew 11: 27 NIV]
I definitely believe that all are forgiven now through what Jesus has done, and will come to know the Father eventually - all will be included eventually, but not yet.
Clearly, I need to be using the word "eventually" constantly to keep distinguishing CU or UR from inclusivism in my conversations, preaching and writing.
God genuinely and unconditionally loves us,
Jesus has dealt with our sin,
God has completely forgiven us, holds nothing against us, and
has opened the door for us to enjoy life in union with him forever,
but most of us have not walked through that door ... yet.
Another random thought.
By definition, inclusivism is the opposite of what is true - exclusivism.
Access to eternity in fellowship with God (and each other) is exclusively available through a relationship with Jesus.
And this is still to come for most.
No, all roads do not lead to heaven - a relationship with Jesus is the only way.
For those who are not believers by the time they leave the planet, knowledge, faith, repentance and worship will come some time later, more than likely at the Great White Throne.
* * * * *
Let's repeat our nutshell description of salvation from the Salvation section above.
Salvation is a journey of restoration that starts with re-gaining life and is completed when we return to being God's true image bearers, as was Jesus.
So salvation is a journey with a beginning and an end.
The beginning of the journey is being restored or resurrected to life.
This life is God's life, eternal life, which God breathes into us, his Holy Spirit.
And that comes from knowing God, having God and Jesus revealed to us, and indwelling us.
Jesus said ...
"Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." [ John 17:3 NIV ]
"No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." [ Matthew 11: 27 NIV ]
In my opinion, once we know God, we can't "un-know" him.
We might disappoint him, or fail him, or even disown him (as did Peter during Jesus' lifetime on earth), but we can't subsequently say we don't know him.
Therefore we cannot lose eternal life, we cannot lose the beginning of the salvation journey once it has been given to us.
The end of the journey is Christ-likeness, being restored to the image of God.
So if this is the end, there is no time or opportunity remaining after this in which to lose anything.
Therefore we cannot lose Christ-likeness, we cannot lose the end of the journey after we have finally arrived there, as there is no "after".
So what about the (major) part of the journey - the bit between the beginning and end?
Can we lose that? Ummmmmm ...
That's a weird question, isn't it?
At times, we can lose our way, get side-tracked, take routes that are long and winding and dangerous; we can give up for a while, take extended siestas, etc. etc.
But eventually, we will respond to the nudging and corrections of the Holy Spirit within us, repent and get back on track again.
What makes me so sure?
Firstly, there are so many characters in the Bible whose lives demonstrate that this happens.
Take David for example.
The prophet Samuel told Saul that he was to be replaced as King of Israel by a man after God's own heart, referring to David.
And yet it was subsequent to his appointment as king that David committed adultery and arranged a cowardly murder before repenting and getting his life back on track and becoming a key person in Israel's history and in the earthly ancestry of Jesus Christ.
And, secondly, the Apostle Paul guarantees we will get to the end.
Hear him to the believers in Philippi ...
"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
[ Philippians 1:6 NIV ]
and to his apprentice Timothy ...
"That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe." [ 1 Timothy 4:10 NIV ]
If God is to be the Saviour of all people, surely that includes those who start that journey while on earth, regardless of what might happen during the rest of their lifetimes here.
So, can we lose our salvation?
We can't lose the beginning, we can't lose the end, and God guarantees the journey in between.
And to top it off, God is going to be the Saviour of all.
So no-one can lose their salvation, including those who haven't begun the journey yet.
* * * * *
Matthew 25 : 31 - 46 describes the Judgement of the Nations, which, I admit, most commentators or theologians believe to be a description of the final judgement of mankind at the end of time to decide who will be saved or enter the kingdom.
I suspect this is not a correct interpretation for the following reasons ...
I am therefore persuaded that this judgement was a temporal one on the tribes or nations of Israel in AD70, and Jews being law-keepers, would be judged in it on how well they had kept the law and offered charity to those who lived in the land with them (the ethnic brothers of Christ).
I have to admit, before we commence, that there are not too many clues in the Scriptures about HOW God does most things, including the saving of unbelievers, whether they are on this planet, or have left it.
In many cases we know WHAT he does/did, but not HOW he does/did it.
For example ...
We know that God implanted Jesus into the womb of the virgin Mary, but no clues are given about how he did it?
We know that Jesus turned water into wine, but no clues are given about how he did it?
We know that Jesus raised the widow's son in Nain from the dead, but no clues are given about how he did it?
You and I received faith in God and Jesus' sacrifice for our sins, but I, for one, cannot explain how we got that faith?
We, as the creatures, will never understand how he, the Creator, does such things, unless he tells us, or we make guesses from clues sprinkled through the Scriptures.
So let's start with the WHAT, about the fate of those who leave the planet as unbelievers, which is well documented in the Scriptures.
Col 1 : 19 - 20 : God will reconcile all things, in heaven and on earth, to himself. The same sacrifice of Jesus that got you and me reconciled to God will reconcile the rest of his creation.
2 Cor 5 : 19 : God is no longer counting our sins against us - any of us.
1 John 2 : 2 : Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world.
1 Tim 4 : 10 : God will save all people, not just believers.
Romans 11 : 32 : God will have mercy on us all.
Ephesians 1 : 10 : The end result will be the unity of all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
HOW God will save unbelievers beyond their time on this planet is just as difficult to explain as the HOW he saves those who become believers while still here (people like us).
We are made aware of our sin, God's provision for dealing with it, and his being reconciled to us.
God gives us the faith to believe these truths, as Jesus draws us to himself.
We respond by confessing our faith in Jesus and his completed work for us.
We are reconciled to (at peace with) God, and express our appreciation and devotion.
This happens in a multitude of ways and circumstances and places - it's all God's doing and timing.
I think that those who leave this planet as unbelievers will be reconciled to God through a similar series of "steps" that unbelievers experience in their lifetime here - awareness, faith, drawing, confession, reconciliation, appreciation and devotion.
Here are my guesses ...
Because God is already reconciled to these unbelievers when they show up before him, they will discover that God holds nothing against them and does not need to be feared (because of the completed work of Jesus in dealing with their sin).
Believing these truths will be easy in the presence of Jesus; they will be drawn to him, confessing their conviction that he is their Lord and their God.
Of course, this will happen far too late for them to experience governing with Christ and the early believers in the kingdom age, but it will carry them reconciled to God and the rest of creation into eternity.
So what clues have I based these guesses on?
One way or the other God's plan (the WHAT above) must be fulfilled.
[ Psalm 135 : 6 ; Isaiah 46 : 9 - 11 ]
Jesus came into the world to save it, not judge it, and he is the same yesterday and today and into the ages. [ John 12 : 47 ; Hebrews 13 : 8 ]
God is already reconciled to all of us and holds nothing against us.
[ 2 Cor 5 : 19 ]
The experience of Thomas. [ John 20 : 24 - 29 ]
Jesus' "lost" parables, especially of the prodigal son and how his loving and merciful father dealt with him. [ Luke 15 ]