Friday, June 10, 2011

The Divided Waters (Part 3)

        There are further Scriptural examples which seem to express the idea of eventual universal salvation. The Bible doesn’t say we will all be accepted into eternal life just the way we are. There will be a period of correction and fine-tuning for everyone, but it sounds like we will all be reconciled after a certain amount of time. I base my interpretations on the verses shown below. They are divided into five categories: Verses about God’s mercy, verses indicating redemption after death, indications of God’s love for non-Christians, support for universal reconciliation, and verses I still have questions about.          

Verses about God’s mercy
This section features passages which express God’s forgiving and compassionate nature.
-Micah 7:19-“You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

-Psalm 145:9-“The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all His works.” See Psalm 89:31-33, 145:8-9, 14; Jonah 4:2; Luke 6:35-36; Lamentations 3:31-33; Isaiah 55:7; Matthew 5:44-45; Job 6:14; Acts 14:17; James 1:5, 5:11; and 1 Timothy 1:13.

-James 2:12-13-“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” God’s judgments are ultimately merciful. See Zechariah 7:9-10, where He defines true justice as mercy and compassion.

-Ephesians 2:8-9-“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” This is widely interpreted to mean that personal conversion can save us. However, to convert to Christianity is an action, which would fall under the category of “works.” The Bible specifically says that grace is not based on anything we do. Thus we are not saved by the act of converting, but by God’s divine mercy. See Titus 3:3-7.
-Romans 2:4-“Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” God is the one who incites us to repent.

-Romans 11:26-“All Israel will be saved…He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” God will remove the peoples’ flaws, rather than remove the flawed people.

Verses indicating redemption after death:
This section covers the idea that we’ll be able to turn to God after we die.

-Romans 6:7- “For he that is dead is freed from sin.”

-1 Corinthians 15:26-“The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” See 1 Corinthians 15:54. This flies in the face of an eternal hell. How could “death,” aka alienation from God, be destroyed if some people were doomed to eternal alienation from Him? If that were the case, death would not be destroyed or defeated. It would be in effect forever.

Indications of God’s love for non-Christians
These passages show that God loves people regardless of their religious beliefs.

-Isaiah 65:1-“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. To a nation that did not call on My name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’”

-1 Timothy 4:10-“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.” This verse says “especially,” but not “exclusively.” It affirms that salvation is foremost offered to believers, but extends to others as well. If only Christians were saved, the word “especially” would not be included, nor would it say that God is the savior of all. See Ephesians 2:14 and 3:6.

-Acts 17:28-“As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” In this verse, Paul was speaking to non-Christians. This means that non-Christians are also God’s children. See Malachi 2:10.

-Romans 2:14-15-“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. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” Nonbelievers can be morally upright as well, since God imprints His standards into everyone’s heart.

-Isaiah 54:7-10-“’For a brief moment I abandoned you (Israel), but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord your Redeemer. ‘To Me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” If the Lord said He’d never rebuke Israel again and knew that some Israelites would reject Jesus as the Messiah, He must have also been planning to save the Israelites who didn’t believe in Jesus. If all of Israel will be saved, this includes those who don’t yet worship Christ (see Romans 3:3-4). The text says that everyone will eventually come to know Christ in the age to come.

Support for universal reconciliation
This section contains verses showing that the whole world will see redemption eventually. 

-Hebrews 7:25-“He is able to save to the uttermost.” God is both able and willing.

-Ezekiel 18:4-“All souls are Mine.” Because all souls belong to God, He can do whatever He wishes to do with them. God has expressed a desire to save them all, so that is what He’ll do.

-Revelation 21:5-“Behold, I make all things new.” All things include all people.

1 Timothy 1:16: “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” Christ’s patience has no limitations, which means he has patience for everyone and the supply will never run out. 2: Peter 3:15 tells us to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” When these verses are read together, it follows that all will be saved.

-Romans 11:15-16-“If their (Israel) being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit (Israel) is holy, the lump (of humanity) is also holy.”

-2 Peter 3:9-“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” One can repent in the upcoming age, after they are resurrected. God wills for this to happen and will carry it out. See Romans 14:1-4, 15:21; 1 Corinthians 4:5; and Ephesians 2:1-0.

-1 Timothy 2:3-6-“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” Here, it’s important to note that the word translated to “will” (God “will have all men to be saved”) is the Greek word thelo. The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament defines thelo as “To will as the equivalent of to purpose, to be decided upon, seeing one’s desire to execution…Thelo indicates not only willing something, but also pressing it into action.” In other words, God not only wants to save all men, but also fully intends to do it. See John 1:7-9; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 28; Colossians 1:19-20; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2, 4:14; Revelation 15:4; Ephesians 1:7-10; Acts 3:21, 25-26; Luke 2:10, 3:6, 9:56, 15:4; Joel 2:28; Daniel 9:24; Isaiah 25:6-8, 45:22, 52:10, and 53:5-6.

-Exodus 21:33-34-“If anyone uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or donkey falls into it, the one who opened the pit must pay the owner for the loss and take the dead animal in exchange.” This law promotes personal accountability and extends to the fact that God owns us, and is therefore liable for us. In Genesis, He placed the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and was fully aware that Adam and Eve would eat from it. This must have been part of His plan, since nothing catches God by surprise and all is under His control. Ergo, it infers that God was responsible for man’s fall and will redeem us.

-Psalms 66:3-4-“Through the greatness of Your power, Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You.” When everyone is resurrected and the world is renewed, all will eventually turn to God. It doesn’t sound like they’ll be brutally forced to submit, but that they’ll see the full truth of God. Once God’s goodness and truth is fully revealed, no one will want to resist Him. See Philippians 2:9-11; Romans 8:21; and Ephesians 1:7-10.

-2 Corinthians 5:18-19-“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 people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” The world includes everything and everyone in it. Also, consider Ephesians 4:6: “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” If everything is a part of God, it always will be, because He is infinite. If a part of God broke off and was no longer a part of Him, He would cease to be infinite. Losing a person would entail losing a part of Himself. See Colossians 1:16-18 and 2 Timothy 2:13.

-1 Corinthians 4:6-“Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.” When the early Christians were warned not to go beyond what was written, they were likely being advised not to trust some of the popular Pagan and Jewish lore which featured dramatic tales of demons and the underworld. Such lore had begun to circulate during this time. A popular interpretation of this passage says we shouldn’t look outside the Bible for answers, but the prophets were not saying this. They didn’t purport to know everything. This is expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:9-12.

-1 Timothy 1:20-“Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” In this letter, Peter uses Satan as a symbolic figure to convey that he allowed the men to face consequences so they would learn a lesson. See 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-6; and Proverbs 3:11-12. (In 1 Corinthians 11:32, “the world” pertains to the world of sin.)

-Romans 5:15-21-“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In this passage, “death” refers to physical death, or possibly unrighteousness. It says that all people receive life and justification through Jesus. Romans 5:15-16 also says “many” receive justification, which some perceive as evidence that God doesn’t save everyone. However, the same two verses also say that “many” are sinners. If taken literally, this would imply that some people do not sin. We know the Bible doesn’t teach this, though, because there are numerous verses saying that everyone sins. For this reason, we shouldn’t be hasty to assume that “many” means a limited number of people, inferring that only a limited number of people are sinners and only a limited number will be saved. The word translated into “many” is pollos, which can also mean “all”. When you look at the verse contextually, you see that it should have been translated into English as, “For just as through the disobedience of one man all were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man all will be made righteous.”
Conversely, in Romans 5:18, the word translated to “all” is pantas. In Greek, pantas is strictly defined as “all” or “everyone/everything”. There are no alternate definitions that would allow for limited atonement. It’s an all-inclusive term.

Verses I still have questions about:
This section contains verses I’m unclear about, but they seem to support the aforementioned arguments.

-1 Peter 4:6-“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” When he says “those who are now dead,” I wonder whether he means physically or spiritually dead? If this verse refers to the physically dead, it refutes the common belief that we receive no “second chance” after we die.

-Isaiah 57:15-18-“I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me—the breath of man that I have created. I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid My face in anger, yet he kept on in his sinful ways. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.” I have questions about this passage. In 57:17, was God implying that He punished man in hopes that he would mend his ways, but the outcome didn’t pan out as hoped? If so, why did God do this if He already knew it wouldn’t work out? At any rate, the message is clear: The Lord reconciles us to Himself.

(Continued in Part 4)

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