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Against Universalism III:

Unbelievers in the Plan of God

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Question #1: 

Nothing like the "good intentions" of a preacher paving a road to hell. Here's a link to a story about a pastor who teaches that there is no hell:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110324/
ap_on_re/us_rel_hell__no

Response #1: 

I'd sure like to think it's a matter of "good intentions", but I really wonder. If no one is condemned, then everyone is saved; and if everyone is saved, regardless of their opinion of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, then that work and His coming into the world was unnecessary. For if God can in perfect justice ignore the whole principle of our free will and faith in salvation, then none of this trouble called history is really necessary. So then the Father will have put the Son to death for no reason – God forbid!

Deciding that the truth is not the truth or, more precisely put, deciding that we have the right to alter the truth to whatever we may find to be "better" or "more acceptable" is to usurp God's place in heaven and to dictate to Him how thing are going to be. There may be a better definition of arrogance, but I think this will do in the meantime. It is also the height of folly. This is the same line of thinking the devil took, and it hasn't worked out for him particularly well. But these gentlemen will no doubt have plenty of time to discuss the matter with him, starting in the very near future.

Thanks for link!

Bob L.

Question #2: 

They're either deceived or deceivers. Maybe they should at least be as honest as old Tom Jefferson who cut out the verses he didn't agree with; better that than trying to explain away what's written. If you're gonna be wrong, might as well go whole hog in that direction. Like so many in our day they want no judgments made, unless it suits their point of view. We are witnesses to a world going mad; it will get worse; we ain't seen nothing yet.

Response #2: 

Yes indeed. Why even bother with the Bible? It has a tendency to complicate all such "personal theology".

Things are getting interesting. It makes one wish that the apocryphal Chinese proverb/curse, "May you live in interesting times", were actually genuine.

Your pal in Jesus,

Question #3: 

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

A friend of mine insists that all people will be saved and cites these passages as proof-text. He cited these passages and arguments for it.

"Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - 2:9-11

I'd like to make several pertinent points here to begin with.

-The passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 45:22-24) alluded by Paul in Phil. 2:9-11 envisages the confession in a salvific context.

-Elsewhere (Rom.10:9) we find Paul stating that if one confesses that Jesus as Lord (precisely what is envisaged in Phil 2:11), then one will be saved.

- Philippians 2:11 states explicitly that God is glorified by said confession (compare Matt. 7:22-23)

-Elsewhere Paul states that one can "confess" Christ is Lord only through the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:3)

-The Greek word "exomologeo" used by Paul that elsewhere in the New Testament and the LXX is only used to denote heartfelt worship, praise and thanksgiving when confession before God is in view.

- Confession is done by all and together, and there are no exegetical warrants to suggest that the intent and content of any confession differs from any other."

I'm a bit stumped as to how to refute this, and at the same time know that the Bible teaches eternal punishment. How is this reconciled with the doctrine of eternal punishment? Thanks!

God Bless,

Response #3: 

Here is what I read in the book of Revelation:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:12-15 NIV

Here is what I read in the book of Matthew:

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Matthew 25:41-46 NIV

And, speaking of Isaiah, here is what I read elsewhere in that book:

"And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind."
Isaiah 66:24 NIV

None of these three passages (or the very many more which might be quoted on this point) require any interpretation to establish their basic meaning: unbelievers are condemned for their unbelief. Since scripture does not contradict itself, whenever we have a case of a seeming contradiction there is really always instead a problem with some point of the interpretation, and that clearly is the case here.

Without question, your correspondent's argument for universal salvation is quite a stretch (to say the least), and I think it speaks volumes that such rhetorical gymnastics are necessary to try to support this false doctrine. That is to say, the prima facie speciousness of the argument is in itself an argument against the position (because if there were any genuine evidence we would be hearing about that instead). We are being asked to believe that because "all" will confess Jesus, that therefore "all" will be saved, because "confessing Jesus" is the basis for salvation. There are numerous problems with the logic here, and also with the specifics of the interpretation. The first is the timing. We are presently alive, and now is "the day of salvation"; now is the time for us to decide whether or not we are willing to adapt our will to God's WILL in accepting His Son as our Substitute for sin. Once we exit this life, our time of decision-making will be over. It would not constitute a fair test of free will for a person at the last judgment to still be able to "believe" in the very presence of our glorified Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, at that point it would be impossible for anyone not to believe that He is the Lord, but that is quite a different thing from placing our faith-allegiance in Him (as James points out: " You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder."; Jas.2:19 NIV). This necessity of maintaining an environment for legitimate choice here in this life is the main reason why our Lord is "a God who hides Himself" (Is.45:15): human beings have to have the opportunity to choose freely. That is what life on earth is really all about. So regardless of what regrets a person may have after refusing Jesus Christ in this life, they will count for nothing afterwards, no matter how they may be expressed.

"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Luke 16:27-31 NIV

Secondly, the word "confess" is not the same in Romans 10:9 as the word we have in the context, Philippians 2:11. They are close in form and in meaning, but the verb here has an additional prefix (ex), and is in the middle voice. Moreover, when we look at the context of the original quotation, we find that the choice of the verb translated in many versions "confess" has been based upon the fact that this is the Septuagint's rendering of the Hebrew original. That is to say, just as I often quote a version rather than supplying my own translations in email responses (unless there is a particular point that needs to be brought out), and do so in order to provide the reader with something familiar, so Paul has done in Philippians 2:11 (i.e., he has used the familiar LXX translation rather than translating anew as he sometimes does). But to get the precise meaning, we need to have a look at the Hebrew original. In the Masoretic text of Isaiah 45:23, the verb is shaba' in the niphal stem, meaning "to swear an oath" (very often used in secular contexts absent any "heartfelt worship"), and that is what we find uniformly in the versions (e.g., KJV: "every tongue shall swear"). So while it is permissible, I suppose, to translate Philippians 2:11 as "every tongue will confess", it is impermissible to understand this as "heartfelt worship", let alone a life-changing "confession of faith". It merely represents a recognition and verification of the truth, truth which at that point – before the Great White Throne – will be undeniable. Whether or not the act of swearing/confessing represents a "salvific" experience, therefore, depends entirely on the context: and salvation can only occur before death coming from the genuine, uncoerced free will of the individual in question.

In Romans chapter 14, Paul also quotes this same verse from Isaiah and in doing so provides us the precise context of the "swearing and bowing":

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For 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 acknowledge God.’" So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Romans 14:10-12 NIV

The "account" in question is that given by believers, not unbelievers, and scripture is very clear that our judgment is separate from that of the judgment which faces unbelievers, namely, the Great White Throne or "last judgment" (see the link). We find the same thing in Isaiah:

"Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.’" All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.
Isaiah 45:22-25 NIV

So whether in Paul's quotation or in the original passage the contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous ("those who raged against Him") is crystal clear. All are invited to salvation ("Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth"), but not all are saved. This is confirmed by Paul's conclusion in Philippians based upon the statement at the heart of this debate in Philippians chapter 2 to the effect that "every tongue will confess":

Therefore (i.e., based upon this knowledge that "every tongue will confess"), my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, "children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation." Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.
Philippians 2:12-16 NIV

If all were saved, how could Paul be concerned about working in vain? If none were condemned, why should the Philippians be concerned to "work out salvation with fear and trembling"? The context of the confession of Jesus as Lord is the exultation of the entire family of God in worship before Him. Whether or not unbelievers and fallen angels are forced at their last judgment to make this same proclamation of what is true – Jesus' Lordship – just before they are pitched into the lake of fire, is entirely moot in respect to their condemnation: even if they do, it will not be a reflection of their love for or faith in Jesus Christ and will not result in their avoiding the fate which they have deliberately chosen. Neither Paul nor Isaiah nor the grammar nor the theology nor the logic require us to adopt this false view – indeed, all of these witnesses loudly reject it (not to mention the passages given at the beginning of this response which unequivocally refute it).

Here are some other links on this subject which may be helpful for you:

Against Universalism I: Free Will and the Image of God.

Against Universalism II: Only Believers are Saved.

In Jesus in whom alone is eternal life through faith in His holy Name.

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

I don't remember the name of the preacher, but he basically said that hell is eternal because those in hell cannot repent. He said that since hell is eternal separation from God, and one can only be saved if the Spirit draws them; therefore the lost cannot repent in hell because they are separated from God and His Spirit forever. I often wondered if people would actually repent and ask for forgiveness in hell if they could, but seeing that they are eternally separated from God and His Spirit which draws them, they will remain in an unrepentant state. And this seems to line up with what the bible says about, "now is the day of Salvation". Is this biblical? Thanks!

God Bless,

Response #4: 

Always good to hear from you. I certainly agree that condemnation is forever. There is no salvation from hell; see the link:

Against Universalism II: Only Believers are Saved.

Everyone in hell is there / will be there because that is what they chose. As Paul says in Romans, "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him" (v.21 NIV). People who refuse to come to the Lord in this life do so because their own will is more important to them than God's WILL. The test here on earth is fair because even though all "know about God" and recognize therefore the three fundamental truths about human life [i.e., 1) our mortality; 2) our sinfulness; 3) and our eventual judgment by a perfectly righteous God], they nevertheless are able to "put these truths to death", ignoring them or even coming to deny them. God allows this so that the choice of where to spend eternity may be genuine. If we all started in the lake of fire, we would all repent – not out of any genuine wish to embrace Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf, not with any particular thankfulness to God, but out of our sheer misery alone. If we all saw God face to face, we would all acknowledge and worship Him – not out of any particular gratitude or appreciation, but out of His overwhelming nature alone. Here on earth we know the basic truths and can know so much more if that is our pleasure, but we can also, as most human beings in the course of human history have in fact chosen to do, put God and our existential problem out of mind precisely because they are out of sight for the most part (i.e., we cannot see the Lord with our physical eyes and unless we are on the point of dying we have a wonderful ability to ignore the problem). We can, if we choose, prefer to create our own little world of our own "truths" and turn aside from God entirely. That is what most people do, preferring to follow their own ways for a few short years rather than have eternal life by giving themselves over to God and His truth in Jesus Christ instead. Such individuals would no doubt not be happy or satisfied in eternity: like Satan, they prefer their own choices. Like the devil, they want eternity, but only on their terms under their own authority. Amid the severe pressures of the lake of fire, no doubt everyone therein would do or say anything if it would get them out – but if anyone of them were given a "second chance", every single one who was would revert to type just as soon as the pressure was off, and this would repeat 1,000 times if given a 1,000 life-times to "try again". We are who are. Inside each of us is a free will which can be pressured but not be changed. Those who choose for Jesus do so because that is who they are – we are made just the way we wanted to be. It may seem strange to say that so many choose the lake of fire, but really what they are doing is choosing themselves over God, just like the devil did, and the only way they would not make this choice would be if the situation really allowed them no true choice – as will be the case with all consigned to the lake of fire when there will be no further choice to make. The true inclinations and secrets of every unbeliever's heart will be revealed at the last judgment, and we believers will all get to see what these people who threw away as something vile the sacrifice of Jesus Christ were really thinking in their heart of hearts when they did so. It will not be pretty, but it will be educational.

There is much more about this at the following link: BB 4B: Soteriology

Yours in Jesus Christ, the One and only Way of salvation.

Bob L.

Question #5:

Dear Bob,

This is a quote from someone on a forum for those seeking advice about Christianity.

"Thanks for the advice, but to be honest I probably wouldn’t act differently if my faith in Jesus was firm; I already possess a strong moral compass. I thoroughly wish to discover a reason to believe in Jesus, so will continue to pray for Jesus to instill within me *the gift of faith in him*".

Most of these people know about Jesus, so much so that they can ‘apologize’ at great length as to why they do not believe using the very scriptures they need in order to believe. So, this person has a computer, the internet, most likely has access to a Bible and posts on and on, having a reason to not to believe for every post on why he should believe. Now I know many of these supposed ‘agnostics’ (something I don’t agree with) who post are truly atheist and they post only to spread their doubts and to trip up Christians and make them look foolish. I can spot them a mile away. I believe that most of these seeking the truth aren’t really seeking the truth. It is rare to 'feel' a sincere post, but I do not want to take it upon myself to judge. Initial posts ring sincere, but the 'fruit' usually presents itself later in the thread when the true anger against God comes out.

As I read and reread this person’s statement I found myself wondering if this is a truthful predicament. I know that anything I would write them might help someone else even if this person is not sincere and so I do continue on in forum activity. And I always like to present truths when I see lies, whether that person in particular accepts them or not, but at least, like I said before, the post isn’t left only with lies to others who may be reading it. I know that faith is a gift, but at what point do we have to buck up and make a decision. I know this delves into the topic of free will and predestination, but to see a person who has this knowledge and a seeming desire to know Christ, I have to ask you, what is the problem here? Is this a sincere post and do people in the know have to wait around for Christ to ‘instil’ this ‘gift of faith’ when they have everything they need to have in order to do so?

I’d love to have your thoughts on this.

In Christ,

Response #5: 

Always good to hear from you! As to your question, I should start out by saying that faith is a universal human faculty. Salvation is the gift referred to in Ephesians 2:8:

For you have been saved by [God's] grace through faith [in Christ]; and this did not come from you – it (i.e., salvation) is God's gift.
Ephesians 2:8

This is why we find 1) Jesus Christ (Rom.5:15-17), 2) the salvation that comes through faith in Him (Rom.6:23), and 3) God's grace in providing salvation (Eph.3:7), all referred to in scripture as God's gift.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2nd Corinthians 9:15 NIV

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
Revelation 22:17 NIV

Salvation is free, because God has given it to us in grace – that is, to everyone who puts his/her faith in Jesus Christ. Now everyone "believes" something or other. But we are put here on earth to see whether or not we are willing to submit our will to God's WILL in the issue of accepting the gift of salvation through faith. And nothing could be simpler. All we have to do is "not say no" to God. He has done all the work. Indeed, Jesus has already died for the sins of this person and those of the entire world. Nothing stands in the way of this person being saved – except his/her acceptance through faith of the Gift, Jesus Christ.

Act differently? Being born again is a transformative experience no unbeliever can appreciate before the fact. Unbelievers may or may not have a "strong moral compass", but they are most certainly not living for God. Believers are earning eternal rewards as we grow through believing the truth, pass the tests that come our way, and help others do likewise through the exercise of our various gifts. Unbelievers, no matter how good and no matter how bad, are only biding their time, and their time is not unlimited.

A reason to believe? Every human being knows from observation of the world that 1) we will not live forever; 2) we are infected by sin; and 3) there is a perfect and perfectly righteous God (before whom we shall have to stand one day). Knowing all this, anyone who is genuinely motivated in humility to avoid condemnation will seek an answer . . . and all those who do will find it in Jesus Christ – who is the only answer, the way, the truth and the life. But most unbelievers in the history of the world, though they know all these things, are not willing to come to the Lord even so. They harden their hearts against these truths – something God allows them to do so that their decision for or against Him and His Son who died for them may be genuinely free.  Please see the links:

BB 4B: Hardening of the Heart, Phases 1-3

Apostasy and the Hardening of the Heart

Hardening (in Peter #21)

The Heart is Hardened (in Peter #26)

Hardening of the Heart (in Peter #27)

Exodus Chapter 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart

Apostasy and the Sin unto Death

But deciding not to decide for Jesus is just as much a decision as deciding to reject Him. At the last judgment, it will be made clear in the case of each and every unbeliever what they decided and when. It will be made clear that they had ample reason to know that they were in danger, and we already know that Jesus died for them all personally in order that they might be spared from the danger of death and be given eternal life instead. And it will be shown that their refusal was for purely selfish reasons, namely, not being willing to subordinate their own precious will to the WILL of God even at no cost to themselves, even when what is being asked is so small, even though the consequences for making such a horribly foolish decision are so large. God has done and continues to do absolutely everything for these people short of forcing them to believe. They know the score. The heavens shout out the truth about God (Ps.19; Rom.1), and everyone can see that we all die and that none of us is perfect. And He sent Jesus into the world to bear every single one of their sins individually in His body on the cross, to die in the fire and the darkness for each sin until all were expiated by His blood, His spiritual death (see the link). But in spite of all this, "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him (i.e., by accepting His Son as their Savior), but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom.1:21 NIV). That is the tragedy of so much of the human race, but without the ability to say "no!", where would those of us willing to say "yes!" be? We are who we are only because we really do have free will. God could have made us like the insects with no spiritual life at all; He could have made us like the animals without the image of God. But praise be to God that He made us like He did, true possessors of free will, the ability to choose, having the very image of God! This is so much a part of who we are – it is the essence of who we are – that it is not really possible for us to imagine what we would be like if we had been created any other way – and we would in that case certainly not be "us". So while I lament for unbelievers, you are absolutely correct: it comes down to a choice. And while we can reason, and teach, and warn, and even beg, we cannot make that decision for any other person. Salvation is the gift of God, freely given . . . to all who are willing to accept it through their free-will faith.

There is much more about all these issues at the following link (highly recommended for anyone involved in witnessing): Bible Basics 4B: Soteriology.

You are in my prayers daily.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6:

If God doesn't draw any distinction between living in this present age under Satan's rule and the Millenium, then why does Satan have to be bound in a pit for there to be a 1000 years of peace--your hypothesis doesn't make sense and it is not our Father's character. ---and if everyone gets a fair chance to know God in this age ,why is it stressed so often, that in the next age everyone will know God and no one will have to communicate it to his neighbour and that will bring great peace.---in other words ,a person can be righteous in God's eyes without believing in Him and Genesis 18:23 proves it when Abraham sais "wilt thou also destroy the righteous(not holy!) with the wicked"---there is a clear example of the "Three Eternal Destinies of Man" for there couldn't have been any holy people in Sodom ,but Abraham was asking if God was going to destroy people of conscience also---as you know "holy" means a set apart people ,a very small flock indeed,God's peculiar treasure, a royal priesthood ,a holy nation!---the ones that will be judged in the Great White Throne Judgement will be judged by how they obeyed God in their conscience and they will be weighed in the balance after they have paid for every one of their sins in Hades----otherwise there would be no reason to open the Book of Life at that time----and don't forget that our Father is going to gather(raised mortal) natural Israel back to Israel and they are going to loathe themselves for their past sins and until a new heart and right spirit is formed within them---remember ,it is our Father's heart that all men be saved ----most people who ever lived will be given another chance to receive salvation once the "evil one is removed form the picture ---otherwise ,YHWH would be extremely unfair and we know that He is not.--above all ,He delights in mercy!---this "you only get one chance lie" has turned many people away from YHWH and it is not Scriptural---there are Three Eternal Destinies of Man, not two and they are:Rev.22:11

Holy ---set apart people for YHWH--ie disciples 24/7 who will rule and reign with Messiah

Righteous ---eternal nations (people of conscience)--

Filthy /Unjust---Lake of Fire

Response #6: 

Respectfully, this is not a matter of "hypotheses". Believers in Jesus Christ are saved. Unbelievers go to hell. Period. A person has to depart very far from scripture – and risk an equally far departure from the Lord, assuming the person in question is a believer, even to consider another "hypothesis". Please see the links:

Against Universalism I: Free Will and the Image of God.

Against Universalism II: Only Believers are Saved.

There is no second chance. One life is more than enough to demonstrate a person's "true colors". Those who die without reaching an age or a mental state where they actually can and actually do contemplate and consider God's creation and their place in it, their mortality and imperfection and the need for a Savior to deliver them, are automatically saved. All others must believe in the Savior to come (before the cross) or in the Savior who has come (after the cross). There are no exceptions. This is not only basic Christian doctrine shared by all genuine Christian churches and groups but also very clear to anyone reading through the Bible. It is also clear to the conscience of every person – because God makes it clear.

No one is holy or righteous apart from faith. Abraham was a believer, and so was Lot (albeit nowhere near on the same spiritual level). God does honor those who try to live life according to His natural rules (Rom.2:14-16), but that "honoring" consists of the natural blessings of an honorable and disciplined life while on this earth and the provision of the gospel – for all who desire it. In your context, Cornelius desired the truth about eternal life and was given it. Acts 10 proves definitively that God has never let the desire for the truth and the way of salvation go answered or a lack of information stop anyone from being saved. But God is under no obligation to provide the gospel to those who are not interested in it. Making that fundamental choice of where to spend eternity is why we are here on earth. That is why we are not thrown to our deaths immediately but given the time of this life to make a free and informed choice about whether or not we are willing to submit to God His way, the only way, but putting our faith in the Son of God, His perfect Person, human and divine, and His perfect work in dying for all of our sins on the cross. On all this, please see the link: BB 4B: Soteriology.

As to the rest:

1) The man "handed over" was a believer in danger of apostatizing (please see the link: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death").

2) The judgment in 1st Corinthians chapter three is the judgment of believers only, the judgment for determining our eternal rewards. It has nothing to do with the last judgment of unbelievers (see the link: "The Judgment and Reward of the Church").

3) "All Israel" means "all who are truly Israel" for "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" (Rom.9:6 NIV). Only those who repent and believe when the Messiah returns are saved (see the link: "The Repentance of Israel").

4) On, the "uttermost farthing" of Matthew 5:26, I know that Roman Catholics use the passage to suggest that there is a Purgatory, but that is not the case (please see the link: "Is there a purgatory according to the Bible?"). The person in question in the parable is thrown into prison because he has nothing, will have no way to get anything in prison, and so will never get out – that is the situation in the lake of fire. That is why he needs to "reconcile" before being thrown in, as our Lord says, i.e., come to the Lord while you are still alive; afterwards there is no way to be saved.

5) The Plan of God demonstrates through all manner of circumstances that it is not circumstances which determine salvation but a person's own choice. As I say in the above linked BB 4B, "God made us who we choose to be". All of Bible history and the history of the angelic and human races verify this principle. In the Millennium there will be great knowledge of God – and yet most people still will not be saved and will join in Satan's rebellion just as soon as he is released (Rev.20:7-9). This proves my point decisively: even though having lived in as perfect conditions as sinful, mortal human beings can endure and even with the gospel singing from every branch and tree, yet most people will still not deign to submit to God. Satan knew everything perfectly about God, and yet he and one third of angelic kind rebelled. It's not about knowledge. It's not about circumstances. It's not about opportunities: anyone and everyone who has ever wanted a relationship with the Lord and to know more about Him has been given the knowledge, the circumstances and the opportunities to do so. It is anything else that would truly be "inconsistent with the character of the Father".

6) Genesis 18:23: Lot was righteous – by faith (just like Abraham; cf. Rom.4).

7) The last judgment will include many good people, smart people, nice people, bad people, mediocre people, wicked people, any and every sort of person – all of whom either refused to seek a Savior or outright rejected Him during their lifetimes. And they would do it again if given a million lifetimes (cf. the Pharaoh of the Exodus who reverted to his hardened position every time once the Lord took the pressure off). All this will be demonstrated at their final trial. Once in hell, there can be no fair test of free will since no one would choose to stay in hell. But if ever released, all these people would revert. Eternity will be populated by those who want God. God wants all saved, but can only save those who want Him back – otherwise free will would not be genuine and all of this – creation, the satanic rebellion, human history – would be for naught.

8) No one can pay for sins! The best most moral person who has ever lived, the saintliest and most self-sacrificing person in all of human history is not qualified to bear a single one of their own sins, not even the least of them, and could not do so even if they were. An eternity of suffering does not suffice to blot out the smallest transgression. The only atonement for sin is the blood of Jesus Christ! See the link: "The Blood of Christ".

9) The Book of Life was written before creation began and contained the names of every single human being who would ever live, the entire, perfect continuum of the human race. Names are "blotted out" when 1) a person willfully rejects the Savior, or 2) dies without accepting Him. The Book of Life is opened not to demonstrate what a person did or did not do – information about the person's every decision et al. is in the other "books" opened first (Rev.20:12). The Book of Life (see the link) is opened to ensure that no one will be condemned unjustly. But if a person does not have God's eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, that person will be condemned.

10) Ezekiel 36:24-31 is describing the Jewish people who survive the Tribulation and who are regathered into the land of Israel in fulfillment of this very common and quite famous Messianic promise. They are mortals, not resurrected. They have "a new heart" because they repent when they see the Messiah return (just as we all do when reborn; see the link), and are allowed to enter the land to experience the Millennium only because they do repent so as to be saved (see the above link on the repentance of Israel).

Satan's entire modus operandi during his revolt and, after the judgment on the universe (which he seems not to have anticipated) and the creation of Mankind to demonstrate God's justice and fairness, has been one of crying "not fair!" (please see the link: "The Satanic Rebellion" series). But God is fair. He cannot be unfair, but it is "unfair" to tell people that what they choose in this one opportunity called life will not define their eternity, for it most certainly will.

Telling people the truth is the only thing that has a chance of turning them around. Accommodating to their misconceptions can only do them harm. It is sometimes hard to tell people the truth. They often don't appreciate it. But when it comes to the gospel and matters of eternal life and the second death, no one can afford to mince words. To be saved, one must "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ". Anything else results in damnation. Even a good life righteously lived, does not change the fact that the person in question is born spiritually dead, commits sins, and is mortal. God has provided a solution. Would a truly good and holy and righteous person throw that solution right back in the Father's face? Is a person who is not willing to submit to the Father's will in the one very small area of believing in Jesus Christ and accepting the work He did in dying for their sins really to be pitied? Jesus died for every single one of that person's sins, died in the darkness, died in the fire that did not consume Him, died in a way we cannot really appreciate even to a small degree, died so that person with their own unacceptable righteousness might have God's righteousness through faith: that is the only way to be saved.

This is very good news. We are nothing and have nothing to commend our fundamentally sinful selves to a perfectly holy and righteous God, yet He paid the price for us. If we refuse to accept His precious gift – the death of His own dear Son on our behalf – then "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Heb.10:26-27 NIV).

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case--things that accompany salvation.
Hebrews 6:9 NIV

Yours in the one and only Way of salvation, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Dear Professor,

Another set of questions, please answer them whenever is convenient for you. Could you please clarify the beginning of Romans 4:

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Could you please clarify the meaning of the verses 4-6? What specifically has Paul got in mind when he uses the comparison of somebody who doesn't work? I do understand that it is the faith that is credited as righteousness, but all these passages are not completely clear to me - work is not something to boast about (and the wages for it are obligation), but pure faith is. I'm aware of the fact that no work can atone for the sins and hence the need for the sacrifice of Our Lord, I just don't really understand the explanation that Paul here provides and verses 4-6 may sound almost as if not working was better than working.

My current understanding: if we are working (if we were righteous and not sinful at all, which we all are since Adam, I'm not sure if my thinking here is correct), we would 'deserve' the credit. But since we do not work (we are sinful), it is only our faith that can make us righteous in his eyes. As I said, I'm not sure if 'work' can be compared, or understood as 'being clean from sin'. Also, this interpretation doesn't fit to the previous passage:

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.

Please clarify.

Response #7: 

Great to hear from you as always. I hope all goes well with you and yours -- I am encouraged to see you continue energetically with your study of the Word of God!

"Works" are things "we do for God". That whole mentality is sinful because God doesn't need anything from us (contrary to what pagan religion assumes: Acts 17:25). God doesn't need us – we need God. This principle is seen clearly in the example of Cain and Abel. Cain offered God some vegetables: "Look at what I did! And now I'm giving you some!" This whole attitude is abhorrent to the Lord because 1) He needs nothing from us so to assume He'll reward us for doing something He neither needs nor wants nor asked for is arrogant in the extreme; 2) To think that we can actually "reward God" so that He then "owes us something" (cf. Rom.4:4) is downright blasphemous; and 3) anything we could ever "do" in this life is only possible because God has given us the means to do it (cf. Deut.8:18; 1Chron.29:16).

Faith, on the other hand, is the opposite of work. Faith is being willing to receive a gift. Faith is the completely non-meritorious function of our will. Faith is free-will exercised without effort or sweat. Faith is accepting God's authority, and, in the case of salvation, accepting God's free gift. The difference is profound. If we exert effort for salvation, we are earning it (if it could be earned, which it cannot); we deserve it – in that hypothetical, impossible case. But in fact there is nothing we could do in a thousand lifetimes if we devoted all of our waking efforts to the problem to remove the guilt of the smallest sin we have ever committed. Salvation cannot be earned. It cannot be worked for (efficaciously, at any rate). And trying to work for salvation is the most egregious insult to God the Father who judged all of our sins in His beloved Son so that we might not have to face such an impossible situation, and to God the Son who has born the guilt of all of our sins so that we might be saved in the only way it was possible to be saved: through non-meritorious faith, accepting Him as our Substitute. Abel understood and accepted what Cain would not have. His "offering" was a symbolic representation of what Christ would do – die for all sin to open the way for mankind's salvation. Abel's offering was not "work"; Abel's offering was "worship". When Christians "do" anything in a spiritual vein it is "good" because God has planned it and empowered it. Legitimate Christian "good works" follow salvation rather than preceding it and are done in the power of the Holy Spirit not in the power of the sinful flesh.

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.
Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

Question #8: 

I also wanted to ask about eternal death and hell - do people eternally condemned are eternally dead and cease to exist, or are they eternally tormented? I assume some sort of sensitivity and 'life' is required for eternal punishment to take effect.

Response #8: 

Everyone will be resurrected. Some to life but most to "death".

Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
John 5:28-29 NASB

Following the last judgment, all of the "dead", that is, all those who do not have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (which entitles us to be with Him in the New Jerusalem) will suffer "the second death".

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
Revelation 20:14 (cf. Rev.2:11; 20:6; 21:8) NIV

The "place" of these "dead" is the lake of fire (Rev.21:8), but this "death" does not equate to oblivion or even lack of consciousness. Rather, this "death" is death in the sense of being dead to God, shut out from His presence and blessing, and sowing the consequences of a free-will decision to reject His offer of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Every spirit God has every created will exist forever. Among His moral creatures, only those angels who did not rebel and only those human beings who returned to Him through faith in His Substitute for sin will have eternal life. This is a very short synopsis of a long topic covered in greater detail at the following links (although, as always, feel free to write back about any of the above in any case):

The Last Judgment (in CT 6)

The Lake of Fire (in CT 6)

Against Universalism I: Free Will and the Image of God.

Against Universalism II: Only Believers are Saved.

Question #9: 

I understand your explanation of beatitudes and woes and the spiritual disposition being the key in applying these, but how does that interpretation sit with Luke 16:19-31, where no belief or lack of it is mention in the story about the rich man and Lazarus and it seems as if it is the material state of their earthly life that decides about their life eternal?

Response #9: 

The only place in this pericope where I find any direct mention of the issue of how to avoid hell and achieve heaven is at the end of the discussion:

"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. '"'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Luke 16:29-31 NIV

The "answer" or "good news" is contained 1) in Moses and the Prophets, and also will be forthcoming in the words of "One who rises from the dead". In other words, if we want to know how to be saved we look to the Bible, the Old Testament (available at the time Jesus spoke these words) and the New Testament, which is anticipated in the message which the One who rises from the dead will give – a message of good news which will also not be accepted by those who love this present life more than God. And wherever in scripture one looks, the gospel is always the same: faith in the truth.

What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Romans 4:3 NIV

Question #10: 

I also have a related four-part question

a) Matt.8:22; Lk.9:60 are passages that I found difficult to understand. You wrote: that it's about the '(spiritually) dead who are to bury their own dead'. The second 'dead' (to bury their own 'dead') refers to dead people known to the 'spiritually dead' (meaning: the spiritually dead can occupy themselves with meaningless acts, as burying the dead people they know) or does it refer to the spiritually dead who are to bury themselves (they condemn - 'bury' themselves by their lack of faith). Please let me know which interpretation is correct.

b) Also, as you wrote - we are born in the state of spiritual death and faith brings our spirit to life. In light of that, why does Jesus say these words, if these (spiritually) dead can still be brought to life?

c) Is it possible to be permanently spiritually dead, for example through conscious choices that led one so far to God that there is no way back? I guess Satan may be a case, but, as you wrote - with their knowledge angels don't change their minds, so I don't know if that can be applied to human beings (I mean to be spiritually dead during the earthly life).

d) Linked to the above is my next question. Could you please clarify 1 Peter 4:6:

6 For the gospel has for this purpose been [a]preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

What type of 'dead' does Peter have in mind here? Those who don't know the gospel, those who got to know it but rejected it? Why does he use the word 'even', if it's the 'dead' that really need the gospel?

Response #10: 

On Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60, here is how I fill the meaning:

"Let the [spiritually dead] bury their own [physically dead who were spiritually dead when alive and are now in hell – it would be pointless for you to compromise your opportunity do so since once a person has died there is no way for them to be saved if they did not desire a relationship with God while living]".

Our Lord knew full well who would believe and who would not. Evangelizing this group would have apparently been a complete waste of time for the individual in question. I think there is a good lesson to draw from this too. We should endeavor to do what God has called us to do. If we have the gift of evangelism, then there is a time and a place and a proper way to give the message of good news, but there are also very unprofitable venues and occasions which should be avoided. Giving ourselves over to tradition or to what is comfortable and familiar is likely not going to be of much use. Giving our lives over to evangelize a family or group or particular people where there are good indications that this will be of no particular use is largely a waste of time. As Paul says to the hypothetical believing wife who is distraught that her marriage with an unbelieving husband is coming to an end, "How do you know, woman, whether or not you will be able to save your husband?" (1Cor.7:16). The Holy Spirit wouldn't allow Paul and his company to evangelize Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7); they obeyed this prompting and as a result salvation came to much of mainland Greece where there were those willing to be saved. We too need to listen carefully to the Spirit and heed His advice instead of our own emotional predispositions. Had Paul done so always, he would not have been arrested in Jerusalem (see the link: Paul's Jerusalem Error). He had a passion for his fellow Jews (Rom.9:3-4). That is admirable, but how many genuinely interested persons lost out because of his misplaced emotional focus? Surely, God works all things out together for good, and Paul no doubt has earned one of the greatest rewards in the history of the world. Still, the principle is sound. A gentile today who had a "heart for the Jews" might be responding to the Lord's will in devoting him/herself to such a mission field, but it seems to me at any rate far more likely that such a person would be making the same mistake this person did in our context instead of following the Lord as He wanted him and wants us to do.

Nothing is impossible with God, so I always like to say "where there is life, there is hope". That does not mean that believers should be gullible or unrealistic. There was a famous atheist here in the west who died recently by the name of Christopher Hitchens – a highly intelligent and amazingly articulate individual whose opinions on many subjects were at the very least food for thought. I enjoyed listening to him and, as is my wont, I did say at least one prayer for him and several if memory serves. That was probably a waste of time inasmuch as his rock-solid atheism was an indication of severe hardening of heart. Hardening of heart is the issue in all these matters (see the link). When we are saved, our hearts are "circumcised", so to speak, and new believers often experience a burst of euphoria as they can now perceive spiritual truths without hindrance (i.e., the heart has been completely liberated from its prior hardness; see the link: Reborn). However, if we choose to give our attention to and believe things which are untrue and at the same time fail to seek God's truth and believe it, we will find that even as believers it is possible for our hearts to harden back up – and in extreme cases to the loss of our faith (see the link: Apostasy and the Sin unto Death). Since it is very difficult to live in this world of lies and retain a posture of absolute acceptance of the truth and rejection of all that is false, unbelievers inevitably have some degree of hardness when saved. It is certainly possible for them, like the Pharaoh of the exodus, to harden their hearts against truth to such a profound degree that salvation from that point on is seemingly impossible. In such cases, it is fruitless to attempt to intervene. That would be a case of "throwing pearls to swine", and, as John says about believers in such a fix, "There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that" (1Jn.5:16b NIV). Please see the link in BB 4B: "The Problem of Unbelievers" (followed by the stages of hardening of the heart).

On 1st Peter 4:6, I take this to mean the conviction of the Holy Spirit when He makes it clear to anyone who is "dead" that they are in fact dead to God and in need of salvation in order to escape eternal condemnation. These "dead" have the gospel preached to them so that they may be "judged", that is, convinced by the Spirit that they are guilty, "dead", and in need of help, to the end that they may "live" as a result of responding to the "gospel preached" in saving faith in Jesus Christ.

(8) "When [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will call the world to account regarding sin, and righteousness, and judgment: (9) regarding sin, because they do not believe in Me[, the only One who can forgive their sins]; (10) regarding righteousness, because I am going to my Father and you are not going to be seeing Me any longer [as the standard of righteousness]; (11) regarding judgment, because the ruler of this world has been convicted [already, demonstrating that all who do not believe are destined for judgment]."
John 16:8-11

Question #11:

You wrote (regarding my question about Revelation 14:10):

Many translations do have "in the presence of". The Greek improper-preposition enopion (ἐνώπιον) can be translated either way. I felt the need for this parenthetical explanation because many people (wrongly) take this passage to mean that the torment will go on forever "in front of the holy angels and the Lamb", whereas this is really a brachylogy for the last judgment "before the Lamb" at the conclusion of which each unbeliever will be cast into the lake of fire.

Since the passage says: 'and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb' (and not 'he will be judged in the presence'), how do we know it's a brachylogy and is not supposed to be interpreted literally?

Response #11:
 

Scripture never contradicts itself. When it appears to do so, it is always the case that we are missing something. Sometimes a better understanding of the passage in the original language or the solving of a textual problem in one of the verses will reconcile them. Sometimes it is a case of having to wait until we understand some other point or area of Bible teaching before the true meaning shines forth clearly. I.e., if we don't understand the Trinity, many passages will seem odd; if we don't know anything at all about eschatology, we are likely going to be confused by much of Old Testament prophecy. The more we know and believe, moreover, the more we grow, so that getting where we want to be requires the continued putting together of one piece of the puzzle after another until the picture begins to take shape more and more clearly – and we have to be willing to reexamine from time to time why we have placed piece "A" next to piece "B". There are of course other factors: history, culture, grammar, phraseology, figures of speech, etc. The main thing is that every passage "means what it means", and you are very right to let those verses which "stick in your craw" as we say here in the States, continue to exercise you until you get a solution – most especially as someone with the gift and calling of teacher. For carefully exploring those passages which "don't fit" is often the means of opening up greater vistas going forward as we challenge assumptions which may not be true (or may not be as deeply understood as they should be) – whereas just forgetting about them leads to sloppiness of the worst sort.

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.
2nd Thessalonians 1:6-9

The eternal state in the New Heavens and on the New Earth with its capital in New Jerusalem will, in consistency with the passage above, have no trace of anything corrupt. There will be no unbelievers in His presence, torment notwithstanding. In counterpoint to the third heaven which is likewise "not of this creation", the lake of fire will not be within the New Heavens and New Earth. It will apparently be visible from a particular vantage point (Is.66:24), but that point will most definitely not be "in front of the holy angels and the Lamb". And it would be most odd, would it not, if at the focal point of our worship and appreciation of God in front of His throne at the very center of New Jerusalem we also saw the lake of fire containing the devil and his angels along with the 99% of humanity who chose hell over Jesus Christ?

"Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind."
Isaiah 65:17 NIV

Whatever our remembrance at that blessed future time of life in this far inferior world, it is clear from this verse that we will give it very little thought – something seemingly entirely inconsistent with seeing the lake of fire and the torment of its inhabitants every time we assemble to worship and appreciate our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father (which I fully expect to be a very frequent occurrence; cf. Job 1:6; 2:1).

So 2nd Thessalonians 1:9 quoted above seems on the face of it to contradict Revelation 14:10 – at least when the former is correctly translated. As can be seen just from the brief argument above, there are other passages and other doctrinal considerations which would argue for the obvious sense of 2nd Thessalonians 1:9 to contain the clear meaning of the eternal situation, and for Revelation 14:10 to be the passage which must be understood differently from the way most versions translate it. It is very typical that some exegetes have taken the easy route: if only we mis-translate 2nd Thessalonians 1:9, then it will not seem in conflict with Revelation 14:10. Such individuals have apparently given little thought to the fact that this leaves us with a description which seems to defy scripture. And it really is inappropriate to translate 2nd Thessalonians 1:9 any other way than "away from the presence of the Lord" (or similar). A quick survey of the versions shows that most have seen the Greek phrase apo prosopou tou kyriou (literally, "away from the face of the Lord") in exactly this way, namely, as describing separation and exclusion: NIV, NASB, ESV, RSV; on the other hand, those which do not follow the clear meaning of the text leave it ambiguous enough to allow someone without recourse to the Greek to assume that this refers to the place whence the judgment is coming from (and that is not at all what the Greek means nor, most likely, what KJV, NKJV, ASV, DBY really mean to imply).

But while we will not spend eternity observing and considering the foul state of those who "did not deem themselves worthy of eternal life", the portion of all unbelievers will most definitely be far away from anything having to do with this blessed place "where righteousness dwells" (2Pet.3:13). For it will be one from which all evil-doers (that is, all unbelievers and fallen angels) will be excluded forever (Rev.21:8; 21:7; 22:15). Even the passage which suggests the possibility of viewing this horrid end of the unsaved supports seeing Revelation 14:10 in the way I have explained it:

"And they will go out (e.g., out of the New Jerusalem so as not to be "in the presence" of the Lamb) and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind."
Isaiah 66:24 NIV

And while we will never again for all eternity see those who chose against God (unless we are ever moved to make this effort), we most definitely will see their final trial, the Great White Throne (or "last") judgment (see the link). It is at that time when all unbelievers will be judged according to their works and then cast into the lake of fire. At that point, between the conclusion of history and at the entrance into eternity, we will all be standing there in resurrection watching not only the trial but the immediate execution of judgment. For that brief period, unbelievers will be punished by condemnation and consignment to the lake of fire – and we will see it. They will most certainly be judged "before the Lamb" and thrown into the lake "from before the Lamb" and we will all see them tormented "separated now from the presence of the Lamb" at that time. But our inspection of these matters and the trial itself are not going to last forever, and that was the point I was making both in my parenthesis and in my prior response to you. When this judgment ends, the New Heavens and New Earth will appear, and the New Jerusalem will make its way down from the third heaven to settle on the New Earth. At that time, the Father too will return, and there will never more be any trace of corruption in the universe – all unbelievers will be shut out from His glorious presence, condemned to the lake of fire along with Satan and his demons – and we will never again be troubled by this sight or their plight (although, as I say, Is.66:24 seems to indicate that we will be able to see it if we have a mind too – I imagine this will be a very rare event for "they will be loathsome to all [saved] mankind"). On this please see also the following links:

The Fate of the Unrighteous Dead in Isaiah 66:24

Things to Come III (Q #2)

Last Things and Last Judgments (Q#9)

The Last Judgment (in CT 6)

Question #12:

Lastly, a five-part question.

a) In your response regarding John 6:65 you wrote:

In order for genuine free will to be able to exist, all of human history had to be decreed in advance in the most minute detail.

With regard to the human history needing to be decreed in advance, is it necessitated by the fact that God wanted to 'position' the believers, and unbelievers alike, so as to realize His plan? God, in His foreknowledge would 'put' the people, of whom He knew that they would respond to Him (and those that wouldn't), in specific spatio-temporal circumstances in order for His course of history to be completed. Hence for example Judas, who had free will like everyone, betrayed our Lord in accordance with the plan of God and fulfilled his role. The same, in the opposite sense can be said of Paul or anyone else. Although, I'm not sure if this way of thinking doesn't conflict with what you wrote:

These passages not only show the eagerness on behalf of the Father and the Son to save all of humanity but also their active involvement in the lives of all human beings to draw each and every one to salvation.

If God knows someone wouldn't respond to Him, would He still be actively involved in drawing that person to salvation? Please correct my understanding.

b)

Moral creatures operating in terms of making genuine choices can only do so in an environment of time and space which is under God's complete control.

Is this control necessitated by Satan's desire to lead everyone astray? He's got the power to do so, but is limited in the scope of his actions, since otherwise, as you wrote, all of humanity would have probably been already swept aside. Please let me know if this is the reason for God's complete control, and if there are any others.

c)

Moral creatures operating in terms of making genuine choices can only do so in an environment of time and space which is under God's complete control, and, most importantly, the decree of such a process (history) necessitated in advance the obligating of God to sacrifice His Son in order for that will really to be free.

It's the second part of this sentence that I want to ask about - could you just briefly explain why was the sacrifice of our Lord necessary for our will to be free? Is it to do with Col. 2:11 - 'circumcision made without hands' - factors that you discussed in the last epistle that were 'blocking our free view of the Truth?

d) Could you please explain the usage of the word 'draw' in John 6:44 and 'grant' in John 6:65? I'm still unsure about the extent and character of God's role there. We know that:

1. God wants all to be saved.

2. All human beings have free will.

In light of these two assumptions, I'm trying to establish where do 'drawing' and 'granting' sit. I have browsed through the Soteriology study (I haven't read it yet, I will proceed to it when I've read Christology, through which I'm going at the moment) and I have found the following explanation revealing:

However, it is pointless to "draw" to Jesus those who are unwilling to accept Him if so drawn (one of our Lord's main points here in John chapter six as He remonstrates with those who saw the miracle of the bread and fish but would not accept Him as the Bread of Life). Only those who are willing are benefitted by being "drawn", that is, by being led to a hearing of the truth, that is, the gospel.

Having read this, I think I conceptualized the process of 'drawing' and I ask you, as always, to direct my thinking and correct when needed. 'Drawing' can be likened to hardening of the heart (the opposite of it), which was one of the topics of our correspondence recently. Whereas hardening of the heart is a process as a result of which a human being unwilling to believe is led to a state of lack of any desire to accept the truth and is 'fast forwarded' to a point at which he could possibly not arrive due to the mental weakness rather than willingness to believe (or potentially would have arrived at, but maybe it would have taken longer, I'm not sure what is your view on this interpretation), so 'the lack of drawing' could be described as a process more 'passive' on part of God - He doesn't harden the heart, but he doesn't change the current state of hardness - God does not coerce one to believe the truth. Consequently, 'drawing' can be described as a process of revealing the truth to those who are willing to accept it and believe it, a process that maybe could be likened to 'pruning the branch' - those branches that want to be pruned, will be pruned, those that don't want to be pruned, will not be pruned against their own will. The problem with this interpretation is that it may somewhat contradict what you wrote:

These passages not only show the eagerness on behalf of the Father and the Son to save all of humanity but also their active involvement in the lives of all human beings to draw each and every one to salvation.

If we assume that it's just the 'eagerness to draw' that you mean here, then this may be in harmony with the understanding that I've arrived at. If you mean that actual 'involvement to draw everyone', then there may be a gap between your explanation. Could you thus clarify, if you mean here that God draws everyone, or does God draws the ones who want to be drawn?

e) Finally, in light of the above considerations, what does Jesus mean in John 12:32:

32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself."

Why will our Lord draw 'all men' to Himself, as opposed to only drawing those who want to be drawn?

Response #12: 

Let me first summarize my understanding of these issues. God's foreknowledge of this creation is complete. He knew perfectly and in absolute detail how every human being was disposed to respond to the essential question of submission to His Will in order to live eternally with Him. Creating the actual universe with its entire complement of moral agents meant that some would respond but that others would not. In the case of the angels, allowing true free will would result in one third rebelling against Him and refusing to come back to Him under any circumstances. In the case of human beings, whose creation and history demonstrates that God could and would offer such reconciliation if it were to be genuinely reciprocated, creating the entire spectrum of humanity was destined to result in the vast majority of human beings rejecting Him. In both cases, human and angelic, perfect creation necessitated the actual full complement being created. That is to say, for God to have "fine-tuned out" those who rejected Him would have meant not only a less than perfect creation inconsistent with His perfection but also a set of creatures whose will was not really free. It is generally very much under-appreciated what an amazing blessing the image of God is. We are like Him in what matters most – the ability to choose – in such a fundamental way that we could not be more so like Him (apart, of course, from our present imperfection and sinfulness) and still be limited to time and space. Sharing this most basic aspect of His divinity with us was not a cavalier decision as is evidenced by the fact that this perfect creation and the perfect process which results in its completely victorious outcome was impossible without God becoming man in the Person of Jesus Christ and dying for the sins of all humanity in order to make our continued existence with Him in eternity possible. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is bigger than the universe and more important than all of history heretofore and to eternity: it is the Light that has swallowed up the darkness; it is the Life which has put death to death. If there were any way to "fine tune" things, the overwhelming and nearly incomprehensible spiritual death of our Lord for all sin would most certainly have been "fine tuned out" – at least to the extent of not requiring Jesus to suffer and die for the sins of so many unbelievers. The fact that it was not and could not have been "fine-tuned" in any way shows conclusively that what we actually have is the perfect creation, not only notwithstanding unbelievers but no doubt shown also conclusively by the fact and existence of unbelievers.

Having foreknown all things, God then decreed the perfect plan which works things out "for the absolute good" in every respect. In the process of human history, no one who would believe fails to believe, and no one who would be saved fails to be saved. God has anticipated our every decision and made perfect allowance for it without compromising our genuine free will. Indeed. He has authorized and enabled that free will, and perfectly so. In the context of salvation, while He wants all to be saved, making it possible for human beings to have the god-like gift of true free will without which we would not be who we are in any recognizable way required that those who would not be willing to respond to Him be allowed to reject Him. Therefore whatever God might do without at the same time violating a person's free-will cannot change the outcome for unbelievers who prize their own will more than the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Under such circumstances, the actual methods which God uses in the case of individual unbelievers while varying and various are completely consistent in every important respect, namely, the provision of just the right circumstances to save all who would be saved. No doubt to teach the angels and to demonstrate these truths to us too (now to the extent that we can observe and accept it but also later when we are party to the "hidden things of every heart" at the last judgment), God treats every individual as an individual and makes use of a variety of means in individual cases, "drawing" some more clearly and deliberately than others even in the case of those who refuse (natural revelation [see the link] is a "draw" which all human beings experience, after all, not to mention the particular life circumstances God uses in each life to pound home the truths it contains). This variation is, as I say, more to demonstrate the entire spectrum of human hardness than to change the issue, for God has given everyone every chance and knew perfectly how and when each would be willing to respond if willing to respond under any circumstances. So the variation in "drawing" is part of God's justice in demonstrating these points through the historical process, with a boundless range of circumstances still resulting in rejection on the part of those He foreknew would never accept Jesus in a thousand life-times. As to a/b/c/d/e:

a) I do definitely think that God has indeed "put" us all into exactly the right time and place: for those of us who choose salvation to be saved; for those of us who would actually follow Jesus forward to advance – and even for those who would not choose to spend eternity with God at the price of "compromising" their free will to play their own dubious role in the process of human history, demonstrating by the very wide divergence in their cultural, material, social, and all manner of other circumstances that hardness of heart is not circumstantial but instead deeply rooted in individual choice. Every single human being is given a multiplicity of things which do lead to God, the three main areas being 1) the hard-wiring into every human spirit of a need for God in order to be truly complete; and 2) the fundamental calculus of life which forces thinking about these issues (i.e., the universal knowledge of death, personal imperfection, and the idea of perfect justice which must eventually be faced), and 3) natural revelation more broadly – the fact that everything we see in His creation witnesses to God, His existence, His majesty, His integrity, and His perfection. So while part of the variation of circumstances (which will be shown at the last judgment to have made no difference in any single case of rejection of God's solution in Jesus Christ) is indeed a different level of "drawing" of individual unbelievers to Him, 1) in no case will a person be lost on account of insufficient "drawing", and 2) in every case it will be demonstrated that the way in which our Lord made the world and has been administering history was more than sufficient to result in salvation if there had been the least bit of willingness to be saved.

b) God's control is complete because it had to be so. History could not happen without His decree, and when He decreed history, everything was "baked in the cake", so to speak. The mistake people often make with this truth is the assumption that foreordination takes away free will. Instead, it enshrines it. No one could exist unless God made them. No one could have free will unless God gave it to them. No one could exercise free will unless God provided a place and time for them to do so (the world). And even so no one could actually make a choice unless God decreed it – according to His foreknowledge of what the person would choose in absolute free will – since there can be no partial history, only the actual, complete and total whole which comprises everyone and everything (including the devil). So Satan is certainly part of the picture but I would not wish to over-emphasize his role. Human beings in toto are in one respect a response to the evil one's false claims that God was unfair to condemn him because we (believers) demonstrate by our faith and by our lives of faith that response to God from a position of weakness/condemnation is indeed possible and that God is indeed capable of accommodating that response and willing to do so – at the greatest possible cost to Himself in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. So while the Plan of God does employ Satan and his minions, this is just one factor in the whole which comprises every creature, every choice, and every action and interaction throughout all of history.

c) Creating a perfect universe which included the perfect number of angels meant that the rebellion of some was foreordained, and that, being angels, these would not be willing to repent of their rebellion. Thus, the creation of angels necessitated the creation of human beings as a demonstration of the principle of God's love, mercy, and forgiveness. The creation of Mankind to replace the devil and his company set in motion the temptation and the fall – as God knew it would – and produced a situation comparable in some ways to that in the angelic sphere but different in other crucial ways. All human beings were now lost, absent God's intervention (not just some). But while the angels who fell were unwilling to return, from the beginning some human beings were willing to accept the gift of salvation. Since there was willingness on the part of some, God in His grace and His perfect love had to provide that gift, and that meant the sacrifice of Jesus for all the sins of the world. None of these pivotal events are stand-alone developments; none of them are unanticipated by the perfect foreknowledge of God; all of them are part of the perfect texture of history as a whole which was decreed as one seamlessly integrated tapestry. For creation to be decreed, Christ had to die for our sins, because if creation were decreed, we would be here as sinners, since if creation were decreed, Adam and Eve would be tempted and would fall bringing death to all mankind, since the devil would tempt them, since he and his would be trying to avoid being replaced, since they had fallen under judgment, since they rebelled, because they had the free will to do so, on account of the fact that God initiated the creation – and God did initiate creation in order to bring about the perfect eternal state populated by human beings and angels who used their free will to choose for Him, the angels having remained loyal, we believers having returned to Him through Jesus Christ, though having been born spiritually dead, on account of our human lineage, which was corrupted by the fall, when our first parents fell into temptation, after being tricked by the devil, who was trying to circumvent his replacement, after being condemned for his rebellion, which was the way he chose to exercise his own free will. So history necessitates the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which is in fact its cornerstone, the event of all events which defines all the others, since through it the free will of every moral creature is actuated, validated and confirmed, whether used to reject Him and His Father, or embrace Him and the Father for eternal life. Because God is love – and wanted to share Himself with us, which is made clear at its most perspicuous in the Person of Christ who became one of us and died for us in order to save us. And none of this should be surprising, because all genuine love involves sacrifice. When we worship God the Father and our dear Lord Jesus in eternity, we will be doing so as those who chose to respond to the unfathomable love of the Son who loved us so much that He died for us and of the Father who loved us so much that He sacrificed His beloved Son for us. This sacrifice was necessary because free will produces rebellion and only sacrificial love can produce reconciliation. Without the possibility of the rejection of God's love there is no free will; without the loving sacrifice of Jesus there is no redemption for those who are willing to be reconciled and restored to fellowship with Him. Christ's sacrifice pays for the one and so enables the other. Christ's sacrifice is human history – everything else is merely a response or a reaction to it.

d) There is a sense in which every human being is drawn to salvation, for God wants all to be saved. Every human being has, for example, "eternity written in their heart" (Eccl.3:11), and since all are made to be and feel unfilled without God, a natural desire exists for that fulfillment, whether or not the person acts upon it so as to be saved. All human beings are aware that they will die as well, so there is a built-in motivation to seek a solution to death – which of course only God can truly provide. All human beings recognize they are sinful while at the same time possessing in their hearts, "hard-wired" there by God, the idea of a perfect standard which, when they measure themselves against it, convicts them as deficient. Furthermore, everything in the created universe, from the galaxies of stars above to the structure of life and all matter, testifies to the existence of God, "his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature" (Rom.1:20 ESV), so that "the [very] heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps.19:1). Therefore everything in this creation, everything in this world, everything we are as individuals, our bodies which are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps.139:14) and our minds, our persons, our spirits, our selves which we feel and see and recognize as marvelous in general and individually unique in particular, are clear testimonies to the greatness and goodness of God and constitute an advocacy for Him and His truth, a "drawing" of sorts, which has been "given" to all mankind as our common legacy as sons of God. Moreover, God also superintends the lives of all, and has predestined the lives of all, predetermining the circumstances of all in ways that lead and draw to the acceptance of the truths of natural revelation – and no one who has ever been willing to respond has ever been deprived of all the truth he or she was willing to accept so as to be saved (except in the case of those who died without reaching the point of accountability – and all these are automatically saved). Finally, God is also free to provide or "give" more, even to those who will eventually prove unwilling to be saved; He is free to "draw" more aggressively even those who in spite of this additional provision on His part will nonetheless reject His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. So it is true that no two human beings who end up not believing through their own choice received in life the precise same circumstances or the precise same measure of "drawing". Nevertheless, it will be shown at the last judgment of unbelievers that 1) in every case the person's true choice was honored; 2) in no case would any different set of circumstances or provision of impetus for salvation have led to a different outcome; and 3) that in every case God's provision of opportunities and truth was superabundant in the face of the rejection that was nonetheless forthcoming. So the different level of drawing and provision is not a factor in salvation, but it will provide a very revealing lesson about the nature of choice and unbelief in the face of God's desire for all to be saved. For in every case, Christ died for every single one of the person's sins so that they could be saved – a critical fact that can never be overlooked in discussions of this sort – and in every case God wanted the person to be saved and provided much help and direction and many opportunities which, if they had been met with any spark of desire to be saved, would have resulted in salvation. The wide panorama of human experience as each unbeliever's life from Eden to the end of the Millennium is examined before the Great White Throne will prove over and over again that the restricting factor was choice: unbelievers go to hell because that is what they choose to do. Hardness of heart enters into all this mostly as an enabler of free will. If a person had to revisit the essential truths of natural revelation and the terrifying calculus of the human situation on a daily basis, at some point the pressure this would bring to bear would reach the level of coercion and could have conceivably resulted in some submitting to God out of what would not be the genuine choice of their unrestricted free will. Hardness of heart, as in the case of Pharaoh, enables people to do what they really want to do even when obvious truth would otherwise restrain them from doing so.

e) I understand John 12:32 as first reflecting the essential and fundamental change which the actual sacrifice of Jesus Christ would occasion. Before the cross, those being drawn were drawn to the promise of salvation; after the cross, we see the Savior in the flesh and we understand His sacrifice in crystal clear terms. Before the cross, the object of salvation is the coming Substitute who was somewhat veiled to sight:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
1st Peter 1:10-11 NIV

After the cross, Jesus is the clear object of salvation who is transparently visible for all to behold:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
Hebrews 1:1-2a NIV

Thus Jesus does draw all who will be saved after the cross and His glorification "to Himself" directly and without any sort of intermediary. Secondly, there is a very clear intensification of salvation in the Church as opposed to the four millennia which preceded it. It is fair to say that vast majority of Jesus' Church have been and are being called out during the "Church Age" – and that is the true significance of using such terminology, the time of "calling out" the bulk of the assembly, rather than to suggest that believers before the cross are not also part of "the Church" (which of course they are; see the link). The gospel has been proclaimed throughout the world, so that even though most still do not accept Jesus in this life, the intensification of the drawing of all to Him in this age which has followed His sacrifice, resurrection, ascension and glorification is clear to see. From a practical point of view, therefore, it is difficult to see how at least a peripheral knowledge of the gospel – if only having heard of Christ – could be restricted to those willing to believe. But in fact that is neither here nor there: the victory of our Lord has occasioned during this age an aggressive expansion of the people of God, the Church, and of the knowledge of salvation, the gospel, which dwarfs everything which happened in the four thousand or so years which preceded.

And I tell you that you are Peter [the little rock] (petr-os), and upon this [mighty] Rock (petr-a, i.e., upon Christ Himself; cf. 1Cor.3:11) I shall build My Church (cf. Dan.2:44-45), and the gates (i.e., the fortified defenses) of Hades (i.e., the devil's kingdom) will not [be able to] resist it.
Matthew 16:18

To one degree or another, this intensification of God's plan of salvation has resulted in Jesus drawing "all" more so than before – even though all are not willing to be saved.

To conclude, I am greatly encouraged by your dedication to the truth of God's Word and to your zealous pursuit of answers to all your questions. My apologies in advance if any of the above missed the point or was insufficient in any way (please feel free to write back). Hitting just the right mix between accepting the truth of the Bible and questioning interpretations of it is in my view the number one asset that a man of God who is called to teach the Bible must have – and you certainly have it. Best wishes with all your efforts in preparing yourself for the work of the gospel I know our dear Lord Jesus has in store for you.

In our dear Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

p.s. Thank you so much for your prayers!


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