In the Name of Jesus Christ We Must be Saved

The Evangel

 UnsearchableRiches
March, 2002; Volume XCIII Number 2
Questions and Answers

 Question:

I believe that God, in His justice, will subject the lost— is to say the non-elect— endless punishment for their sins, albeit to a punishment consisting not of endless torment but of permanent death.

Likewise, the gospel is that Christ died for our sins, that is, for the sins of the elect. Christ's work on the cross was designed to save the elect alone, who are saved by grace alone, and who alone will be saved, though not apart from faith in the gospel.

Since you too, as a universalist, like the Arminians, do not believe the gospel, you, too, are unsaved, and will remain unsaved and perish for eternity unless you repent and believe the gospel.

In correspondence to the above considerations, I also believe that the dictates of justice are determinative of the acts of love, not that the dictates of love are determinative of the acts of justice. Therefore, whatever God does is right; this includes all instances in which He, in love, grants blessing, and, all instances in which He, in accord with His will and purpose, instead, imposes punishment. Accordingly, then, I would ask you this: To be righteous, does God have to save anybody?

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Answer:

IN REPLY to your statements and question, let me first say that I agree with you in several important points.

Certainly, you are correct in your finding that the final adversative judgment of Scripture, to which all the lost will be committed, is that of death, not conscious torment, endlessly experienced.

The only question is whether death is to be the destiny of the lost temporarily or permanently. When considering their fate insofar as this is contemplated in John's vision of the new earth, we acknowledge that, "their part is in the lake burning with fire and sulphur, which is the second death" (Rev.21:8).

This fact notwithstanding, however, there is no reason to conclude that therefore this is their final destiny, claiming thus that since, here, it is their lot to be subjected to the second death, therefore the second death will always be their portion. Indeed, even if John's vision of the new earth (Revelation 21, 22) were the only scriptural revelation pertinent to this question, it would still be wrong to insist that the lost will never be delivered from the second death. Instead, in that case, we could only say that the Scripture does not inform us whether or not they will one day be delivered therefrom.

Likewise, and with much enthusiasm, I join you in acclaiming the gospel that Christ died for our sins, we who are His elect, or chosen ones (I Cor.15:3; cf Rom.8:28-33). The apostle Paul does indeed hereby declare "the evangel of [our] salvation" (cf Eph.1:13), not some other message of glad tidings, concerned with a different theme.

Accordingly, I certainly agree with you in your affirmation that the elect are saved by grace alone, even as in your further testimony that their salvation by grace alone is not apart from faith in the gospel.

God truly chooses us, singling us out from the rest. He does so in His grace, according to His purpose Even though He has not disclosed to us His specific reasons for choosing us instead of others, we do know that before the disruption of the world, He chose us ( Eph.1:4).

Salvation is not a matter of reciprocity, but of gracious blessing. Under Paul's evangel, it is not that we are required to believe or to live uprightly, but that we are privileged to do so, each in the measure appointed unto him.  We cannot boast either in our faith or in our good works. Our faith is a gracious gift (Phil.1:29), not a requirement to be saved. Our good works are not a "ticket" giving us the right to salvation, but a provision of God, which He makes ready beforehand that we should be walking in them (Eph.2:10).

The evangel of our salvation, however, is not the only evangel of salvation revealed in Scripture. And, while it is true that we are God's "elect" and that we alone enjoy the blessings thereof, election has reference to eonian life, life in the oncoming eons (cf Acts 13:48; 1Tim.1:16; Eph.2:7). It does not preclude blessing beyond the eons for those who, with reference to eonian life, are indeed the "non-elect."

It is ironic the Calvinists who, unlike Arminians, enjoy the great truth of their own election in grace, have nevertheless seen fit to endow the phrase "the non-elect" with the notion of eternal reprobation.

I strongly object to this common practice of Calvinists in which they glibly speak of the "non-elect" as being non-elect with respect to salvation itself— if this very term entailed preclusion from salvation for all persons thus identified. It does not follow simply because God does not "elect" to bless a certain man with vivification at a certain point in time, that He will therefore never bless him thus at all, at any point in time.

All scriptural references which are concerned with the elect and their particular salvation are confined to blessings of the oncoming eons; they do not address issues of vivification at the consummation of life subsequent thereunto. Therefore, it is begging the question to argue as if the question were already settled in the negative whether all will finally be saved inasmuch as there are those who may justly be termed "the non-elect."

Indeed, as God's chosen ones, we— we alone— saved from indignation (Rom.5:9), and for life eonian (Rom.5:21). But we should not conclude since the not-elect will not enjoy life eonian, that they will therefore never be delivered from death. The question is not, Is there a second death? but, Will death be abolished?

The answer to this vital question is explicitly declared by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:26: "The last enemy is being abolished: death." Even as President Lincoln's emancipation proclamation which decreed the abolition of slavery entailed the deliverance from slavery for all those formerly enslaved, thus also, the apostle Paul's grand pronouncement decreeing the abolition of death, entails the deliverance from death for all those who were formerly dead.

There can be no question that Paul's vision of "the consummation" (1 Cor.15:23), at which juncture death will be abolished (1 Cor.15:26), contemplates a time subsequent to that of John's vision of the new earth, recorded in Revelation 21, 22. This is because at the time envisioned by John, Christ is still reigning (cp Rev.11:15), and the saints of that allotment are continuing to reign as well (Rev.22:5b). Likewise, in that day, the second death is still extant (cp Rev.20:15; 21:8).

Paul, however, in speaking of the consummation, envisions a day which, of necessity, is subsequent to the time of John's vision. This is because, in that still later day to which Paul refers us, Christ will no longer be reigning (cf "whenever He may be giving up the kingdom [i.e., the 'reign']....He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet"; 1 Cor.15:24,25). Similarly, it is evident that the saints of the new earth, by that time, will have ceased to reign as well, for Christ will then nullify all sovereignty and all authority and power (1 Cor.15:24).

Accordingly, while at the time contemplated in John's vision, death is still present (Rev.21:8; even though even in that day no more will be added to the dead; cp "death will be no more"; Rev. 21:4), in the day perceived by Paul, which is "the consummation" (1 Cor.15:23), death will be abolished. And, as noted above, this entails deliverance from death for all those formerly dead.

"The consummation" is the day in which God's great work of vivifying all (1 Tim.6:13) will finally be realized. Not only does "the consummation" speak of a day in which "vivification" will occur (which is to say, that glorious life of which Christ is the Firstfruit; 1 Cor.15:23a), but it speaks of the day in which the remainder of those who will enjoy this blessing will be granted it: "in Christ, shall all be vivified. Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit [of vivification], Christ; thereafter the consummation [of vivification shall occur], whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father..." (1 Cor.15:22-24).

We are told that, "even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified" (1 Cor.15:22).

As we have explicated in a previous writing,1 the usage of "in" in these phrases is instrumental (as in, "In you [i.e., Abraham], shall all the nations be blessed"; Gal.3:8; or, "in Christ is it [the old covenant] being nullified"; 2 Cor.3:14); it is not locative (as in, "[those] who...came to be in Christ before me"; Rom.16:7).

As stated in that article: The instrumental usage of "in" in the phrase, "in Christ shall all be vivified" (1 Cor.15:22), reveals how we are vivified (we are vivified, "in Him").

Indeed, the phrase, "in Christ is it being nullified" is parallel to, "in Christ shall all be vivified." "In Christ, shall all be vivified," then, no more means "those who are in Christ shall be vivified," than "in Christ is it being nullified," means "those who are in Christ is it being nullified," which, means nothing at all.

It should be noted that in 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul does not say, "all in Adam" and "all in Christ," but, "in Adam, all," and "in Christ, all." It is unconscionable to reverse the scriptural syntax as so many do, when interpreting this passage. It is unconscionable as well, when the apostle's words already express a clear thought as they stand, to revise his words so as to express a different clear thought than his clear thought.

We may not change the scripture syntax when by so doing we change the scripture sense. The syntax we are considering is the syntax of these scriptural phrases in question in 1 Corinthians 15:22, "in Adam, all..." and, "in Christ, all...." The words "in Adam" and "in Christ," are prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases may be used as adverbs or as adjectives. When we say, "in Christ, shall all be vivified," we are using the words "in Christ" adverbially, so that "in Christ" modifies "vivified." Such a construction answers the question how, or where, all shall be vivified. The sense is: "all [in this case, all mankind] shall be vivified," but they shall be vivified, "in Christ [i.e., not otherwise or elsewhere]."

The non-scriptural construction, however, "all in Christ," presents us with a different thought from that of the scriptural syntax, "in Christ, all." And, as it is popularly understood, this non-scriptural syntax presents an unscriptural thought. In the construction, "all in Christ," the phrase "in Christ" is used adjectivally, so that it modifies the adjective (used as a noun) "all." In this case, the sense is that "the 'in Christ' all" are "the all" who shall be vivified.

Before we even attempt to judge the sense or scope of such a phrase, we must realize that such a phrase does not declare Paul's idea. Whether or not, on other grounds, such a thought, in some sense, may be true, such a thought is not revealed here.

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CHRIST, THE FIRSTFRUIT

The purpose of 1 Corinthians 15:22 is to tell us why it is so that "through a man came death, [and] through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead" (verse 21). The text explains that this is so, "for even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified" (verse 22). The antecedent, then, for "all" in both clauses of verse 22, is "man" (i.e., "human"), from the word "human" in both respective clauses of verse 21. Therefore, the elliptical noun to be supplied following "all" in both clauses of verse 22 ("in Adam, all ....", in Christ, all....") is "humans," that is, "mankind."

The theme which is in view throughout this entire section, to which Paul makes the extended reply of verses 20-28, is that of the universal forlornness of all mankind if there is no resurrection of the dead (cp vs. 12,19). Further, it is in the context not merely of believers, but of all mankind (v.19), in which Paul declares that Christ is the Firstfruit of those who are reposing (v.21). "Repose" is the figure of euphemism by which, in gentleness, we make mention of the dead who are lying in their graves. Those who died in unbelief are lying in their graves quite as much as those who died in faith. Hence it is vain to claim that "the reposing" are confined to dead believers. Clearly, the expression comprises all the dead, not merely those of a certain class.

Let us rehearse again the theme that is in view and the considerations attending it. The overriding theme is the universal hopelessness of all mankind apart from resurrection. Yet the marvelous point to note is that while it is indeed the case that, considered in themselves, the dead are utterly hopeless, Christ is the Firstfruit (cp Acts 26:23) of a company which comprises all the dead!  Christ, in vivified glory, is the Firstfruit of the "reposing," that is, of the dead. "Firstfruit" speaks of the first fruit to ripen and be presented to God (cp Lev.23:10). If the firstfruit is holy, so are the rest (cp Rom.11:16)....

Christ is the Firstfruit of those who are reposing, "for since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead" (v.21). Notice, the subject is not the resurrection of some certain company among the dead; it is rather simply the resurrection of "the dead" (literally, the "standing up of dead ones"). It is the case that through a man came death, and that through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead, "for even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified" (v.22).

The theme, the hopelessness of mankind apart from resurrection, is established in verses 12-19. The fact that Christ has been roused out from among those who are dead as the Firstfruit of the ones "having been reposed" (literal rendering), is declared in verse 20.  That in verses 21 and 22 Paul's subject continues to be all mankind, is made evident by the overall logical flow of the text. And, that this is and necessarily continues to be, the true range of his subject, is protected against all intelligent denial by the subject-maintaining causal conjunctions "for" at the beginning of both verses 21 and 22.

The fact is that the noun "human" appearing in both clauses of verse 21, constitutes the identification of the elliptical adjective "all" appearing in both clauses of verse 22.  This makes the scope of the "all" in both clauses of verse 22, all mankind.

To claim that at least in the second "all" of verse 22 (the all who will be vivified), this refers not to all mankind but only to all who believe and even then only to all who believe during this life, is to do extreme violence both to the text and the context.

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LOVE AND JUSTICE

You asked, "To be righteous, does God have to save anybody?"  In leading up to this question, you stated that you believe that, "the dictates of justice are determinative of the acts of love, not that the dictates of love are determinative of the acts of justice. Therefore, whatever God does is right; this includes all instances in which He, in love, grants blessing, and, all instances in which He, in accord with His will and purpose, instead, imposes punishment."

Although I think that most of what you say here, in itself, is quite good, still, I think it is a mistaken perspective to set justice over love. This is because God is "love" (1 John 4:8), and, because, though He is just, we are not informed that He is "justice." It is evident that while God would have us ever mindful that all that He does is right, He would especially have us realize that His very essence is that of love (cp 1 Cor.13).

Therefore, I would instead say that neither God's love or justice needs to be judged by the other. This is because God's love is righteous, and His righteousness is loving.  It is the cross of Christ which shows this to me.

I wholly concur with you, however, in the principle that whatever God actually does is right. We are informed by Him as to what is right; we ourselves are by no means the arbiters of righteousness. Neither conscience, intuition, nor "the consensus of scholars" is determinative, either of what is true or of what is right.

It is to be regretted, however, that the adjective "just" and the noun "justice," for many, have been burdened with an exceedingly negative connotation. How frequently we are told, "Since God is just, unrepentant sinners will be punished in hell forever." And, "Since God's justice must be satisfied, all Christ-rejecters must be subjected to the eternal punishment of the damned."

Of course, since in making such astonishing claims even those setting them forth are often affected by their sheer horror, they feel constrained to say at least something in their favor. Since they can hardly claim that since God is love, it is therefore that the lost will spend eternity in hell, groping for something to accommodate their need, they fall back on the claim that since God is just, it is for that reason that the lost will always be lost, their punishment unremitted for all eternity.

This is especially ironic since the wider evangel, as it is set forth in Romans 3, is that since God is just, He sees to the need of sinners for justification. Since all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God, every mouth is barred from being righteous in God's sight through works of law. The entire world, then, must become subject to "the just verdict of God" concerning this grave situation. What will His "just verdict" be concerning our awful predicament when all come under His justice (literally, become "UNDER-JUST" to Him; Rom.3:19)?  We anxiously await His reply:

How glorious!  In manifestation of the righteousness (i.e., justice) of God, His word is not one of malediction but of blessing. It is a declaration as to "righteousness of God through Jesus Christ's faith." It is a pronouncement that is "for all" (and, "on all who are believing")— there is no distinction, for all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God.

The evangel, here declared, which is "for all, and on all who are believing," is the blessing of: "Being justified gratuitously in [God's] grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom.3:24; cp3:9-24).

It is in this light that we rejoice even in God's most severe judgments, since we know that even in judging ("in the day when God will be judging the hidden things of humanity"), God will be doing so " according to [lit., DOWN, i.e., based upon] my evangel, through Jesus Christ" (Rom.2:16). "This Jesus," He it is Whom God dispatched into the world, that the world may be saved through Him (John 3:17), He Who is "the lamb of God...taking away the sin of the world!" John 1:29.

Obviously, then, to answer your question, while we would not assume a priori 2 that God will (much less, must) do this or that, even so, now that we have been given faith and have perceived God's achievement at the cross, we freely say, Yes, "in the name of Jesus Christ....we must be saved" (Acts 4:10,12). God must save not only some (your term was "anybody"), and, not only those who are elect for life eonian, but even all mankind. This is because God, our Saviour, is also the Saviour of all mankind. He has formed the decision that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth. Accordingly, Christ is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for the sake of all (1 Tim.2:4,6; 4:10).  It is in this character that we rely on the living God (1 Tim.4:9), Who does not lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, by the necessity of the consequence, it becomes evident that He must save not only "somebody," but "everybody."

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ASSURANCE OF UNDERSTANDING

You said concerning me, "Since you, too, as a universalist, like the Arminians, do not believe the gospel, you, to, are unsaved...."

Since I do, however, believe the evangel that "Christ died for our sins," which is the evangel to which you refer, your claim can only truly be that I do not believe your interpretation of the evangel, which is that Christ died for our sins alone. Now while I acknowledge that I do not accept your interpretation of the evangel, it does not follow from this that I do not believe the evangel itself, and so am not in Christ and remain unsaved. Nor is it so that your interpretation of the evangel—whether or not it should be correct—is constitutive of the evangel itself.

Even as various others, you confound believing with understanding, the declaration of the faith with the interpretation of the faith. We must all make judgments, which is to say, interpretations, as to the sense, scope, and corollaries of God's Word. Interpretation is central to understanding. This is a simple fact, even if some should deny it, fail to see its significance, or ridicule us for having pointed it out. Indeed, if we should have any understanding at all as to how any certain declaration is to be understood, this is only because, wittingly or unwittingly, we have made a certain judgment as to its sense or interpretation.

Much of the confusion surrounding issues of believing and understanding, is born out of the unsophisticated notion that one need not (perhaps even, must not) interpret the Bible in order to understand it. Then, we have the influence of simplistic aphorisms such as, "the Bible interprets itself," and, "the Bible says what it means and means what it says."

Now we agree with and honor much that is meant by such sayings. Yet the first of these— the helpful truth to which it points— overlooks the fact that the reader, nonetheless, must have the insight rightly to take note of whatever internal governance of sense Scripture may well afford us in settling any certain question. And the second of these sayings— its higher intent to affirm the truth of inspiration— itself, is sheer tautology, if it has any content at all.

In the case of a short, subjectively simple statement, most are apt to imagine, "There is nothing to interpret; just believe what it says." If you think about it, this is surely foolish, besides false (we recall that it is false when we remember that the question of usage is ever present). That such a claim is also foolish is evident inasmuch as any long complex statement is nevertheless comprised of short, discrete parts, many of which, usually at least, being subjectively simple.

Even short statements, however, including ones universally recognized as simple, still always call for interpretation. Take for example: "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Rom.16:16); and "Jesus weeps" (John 11:35). While we may have confidence that our (presumably, literal) interpretations of these normally uncontroversial statements is correct, that does not make them correct, nor does it make them anything other than interpretations. This is because it is neither impossible nor absurd (whether likely or not) that the "kiss was spoken of in some sort of metaphorical/metonymical way, and that even the "weeping" was metaphorical, an internal "shedding of tears," within the heart. Indeed, in speaking of my own sorrows, I have sometimes spoken of having "wept" over a certain matter in cases where no actual tears were shed.

Perhaps I can illustrate what I have in mind still more clearly, by the words of Jesus which have puzzled so many: "Verily, I am saying to you that by no means may this generation be passing by till all these things should be occurring" (Matt.24:34).3

Now since this has been a very controversial passage which has been interpreted in various ways, not many would be apt to say that those who interpret it differently than themselves, therefore do not believe what it says. Any of good sense would say instead that while those of opposing views believe what it says— statement itself— misinterpret what it means— of which it truly speaks, and the way that that was intended to be understood. And, in saying this, in the case of the one holding the correct interpretation of this text, he would be correct in speaking thus.

In parallel, then, in considering the text, "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor.15:3), no one should say that those who interpret it differently than themselves, do not believe what it says— unbelievers as to this declaration— that they (to some degree) misinterpret its proper sense. And, in saying this, in the case of the one holding the correct interpretation of this text, he likewise would be correct in speaking thus.

Therefore, all who are convinced that the declaration, "Christ died for our sins" is true, are our fellow believers in Christ, joint enjoyers of salvation even with ourselves.  Concerning either the term "died," or the phrase "our sins," whether one should understand Christ's death for our sins as having occurred either categorically, in every way, or only corporeally, or, for ourselves alone, or for ourselves as well as for others, is irrelevant insofar as the question of one's faith in this statement itself is concerned.

Faith is in what is said. Whether or not we should also understand the sense in which what is said is so, is a separate issue, one which is irrelevant (i.e., non-determinative) insofar as the question of the existence of faith itself is concerned.

When an intrinsically-coherent, cognizable proposition has been declared, and then— hearer knowing the basic meaning of the words of which the declaration consists— same intrinsically-coherent proposition becomes (1) that of which the hearer is cognizant, and (2) that of which the hearer is convinced, faith then becomes the portion of the hearer.

We are mindful that for many these various considerations will be difficult to grasp, or simply unacceptable. So our prayer is that God might grant a measure of competency in the discernment of His Word.

James R. Coram

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