Theology Thursday

Universal Salvation

(Here’s my Theology Thursday post, just two days early.)

I’ve always confused grace with salvation, and I don’t think I’m alone in that confusion. Grace does not equal salvation, grace makes salvation possible. Grace is the means, through faith, that we receive salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the core of Christianity, and without the centrality of this event, Christianity would not exist.

Recently, I have been reading and thinking about Universalism, or universal salvation. As Wikipedia puts it, universalism is, “the belief that all people will at some point receive salvation, because of the love and mercy of God.”

Morally, I like the idea. I find it hard to believe that just because someone doesn’t choose to follow the same God as me, the path that I have determined to be True, they will not receive eternal life. This is a hard concept to consider.

But religiously it just doesn’t work for me. I know they throw around passages to support the universalism idea, but none of them are straight-forward, and all require some sort of interpretation. Whereas the most popular Christian passage, John 3:16 clearly states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NRSV italics added) There is only one interpretation of that: believe in him and you shall receive eternal life.

If everyone is going to heaven anyway, regardless of belief, why follow Christ? His isn’t the easy way. It is one of pain and suffering, as he states in Luke 9:23, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” So why choose this path? Yes, it is supposed to be the better one and all of that, but that doesn’t change that fact that being a Christian isn’t one of ease.

So the concept that I have been thinking about is, “Does a universalism negate the gift of free will?” Universalists say that everyone receives salvation whether they believe in God or not. So if someone chooses not to believe in him, and they receive the gift of salvation anyway, doesn’t that mean they weren’t actually given the choice?

Grace is a gift given to everyone. And I like to think that it is received unless rejected, but no matter. Salvation is obtained via grace, but through faith. Now I have no idea what God’s plans are. I only know what is written in the Bible, and accept it as True. I might not fully understand it, or know how to interpret it all properly, but I believe it to be the authoritative Word of God. So if his mercy is such that all, regardless of belief, receive eternal life, that is his choice, and I would say a wonderful one. Right now, for me, I think faith in Jesus Christ as Lord is required for salvation.

(These are my current thoughts on the topic, though seeing as how I’m going through this period of huge changes in my theology, nothing is set in stone. If you don’t agree, please let me know. If you think I have something wrong, please correct me. The best way I learn is through discussion with other people. If you don’t like what I said, and it offends you, let me know. If it pisses you off, please stop reading.

I am struggling with this issue from a moral vs. religious standpoint, and am currently putting more weight on the religious side. Which is funny since this is on the conservative side of things, and I’ve always been more on the liberal side when it comes to Christianity. I’m also not big on throwing around Bible verses, but it was needed.)

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5 thoughts on “Universal Salvation

  1. You make believing in John 3.16 a good work. Do this and something follows. This makes God into a vending machine.

    Maybe Ephesians 2 and all the other universalist-sounding verses are right. If we do nothing, we are saved. What needs to be considered is what if you say “no.”

    Like the Prodigal Son, we may take our inheritance and leave.

    Instead of telling people to “repent,” we need to tell them to “wake up.” There is nothing we can do to be saved, even a command to believe, but we are free to reject so great a salvation.

    Fortunately I don’t have to decide when a no is final.

  2. “Grace is a gift given to everyone. And I like to think that it is received unless rejected, but no matter. Salvation is obtained via grace, but through faith”

    I just want you to know I read this AFTER I posted on facebook [on your wall] I swear!

    Nice to know we think alike 😀

    I don’t usually talk religion [or politics] which you know, but since this is Theology Thursday I will go for something astute. hee

    I can’t agree with Universalism-if everyone is going to be accepted, without choice, what exactly is the point of believing in God as opposed to not? Although I know that some people would have quite a few things to say to this next question but what is the point of organized religion [based on God] if the Universalists are correct?

    I also have to add that I have a few atheist friends that would not be too happy to find out they were saved, so to speak 😀

    I hope that helps just a little bit.

  3. I have a friend who is an athiest and I actually really liked what he said to me one day when I was breifly blurbing about just such a topic.
    Basically what I got from him is that the ‘way’ to God is not the point. Jesus didn’t sit down with everyone he healed or with everyone that followed him or didn’t and say “hey, have you been saved today?” He spent the majority of his time telling us how to live. So isn’t that the point? Shouldn’t we worry more about that and let God figure out te who is getting to heaven and who is not?
    Now let me clerify something quickly. I am a christian, Jesus is in my heart and on most days I believe in him. Lol. I struggle with this question all the time. You can’t tell me that Joe Buddist over there won’t be in Heaven simply because he didn’t choose the Jesus path. Or John from nomad African tribe that has never really heard about Jesus. Except for this one day when some COMPLETE stranger came and told him about it. Or Mary who lived in western society her whole life and chose not to believe but when she was on her death bed in the hospital chose to believe. What about her? She didn’t really have faith. I mean isn’t that where Grace comes back into the equation? I’m just not so sure its so black and white.
    For God so loved the world that he gave his Son.. For whoever believes in him will have eternal life.
    Maybe Jesus has more than one name. Maybe God goes by Allah too. Does that verse mean we have to believe he is the Son of God or just buy what He is selling? What if we believe he lived and was a great person and that everything he taught was spot on so we should live that way? Still believing in God but not sure of the whole Son of God part?
    Too much grey.. I dunno what to say.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Bob. Thinking of belief as a work is something I was only introduced to yesterday. I had always though belief, or acceptance was just a part of faith, not a work. So it is a new concept (to me) that I’ve been thinking about, and will have to think about more. The prodigal son reference helps it make a little more sense, but the idea is still foreign to me. Thanks for the food-for-thought though. I like new ideas. 🙂

    Hey Skippy-mom, I actually wrote the post after I read your comment on facebook (well, they occurred at the same time), so maybe I stole the idea from you? 😉 You’ve hit on the crux of the issue with, “what exactly is the point of believing in God as opposed to not?” That is what I am struggling with.
    You final point though really made me laugh, because I have a couple of atheist friends who would say exactly the same thing. 🙂 I was actually thinking about that as I was writing the post.

    Thanks for the comment Stef. I hear that point your atheist friend made a lot, and while there is validity to it, it is also not looking at the whole picture. Jesus’ message on Earth was about the Kingdom of God, and what that means. He was teaching people how to live. And while that was the focus of his life, his death and resurrection are equally, if not more, important. To not acknowledge this is to miss the centrality of Christianity. There needs to be equal emphasis on life, death, and resurrection.

    I do agree that it is not our place to say who receives God’s salvation and who doesn’t, but I think it is important to define it within Christianity.

    Something I’ve really been working on lately, is: Can something be True to me, but it doesn’t need to be True to someone else. Can I believe I am right, but not that you are wrong?

    Because while I think Jesus is the only way to salvation, I don’t necessarily think He has to be the way for everyone. Maybe Allah, or Buddah is the way for someone else. Maybe there is more than one way to salvation, but for me, Jesus is the only way, and that way must be through active belief.

    I don’t know if this is a viable thought process. Logically it doesn’t work, but I want to bypass logic. Can I do that?

    Part of my problem with the emergent church (who generally fall under the banner of universalism) and the introduction of pluralism to Christianity is that it defies the very fabric that is Christianity. Christianity says that Jesus is the only way to Christ. I think it is very black and white in that respect. To over-generalize, the emergent movement is moving away from the authority of scripture, and the one way to salvation. I have no problem with people who think that, and are moving towards that, but to remove those central tenets of Christianity is to cease to be Christian. It sounds great from a moral standpoint, but religiously it becomes a separate category that I don’t think can fall under the banner of Christianity. But then is my thinking that others have their truth while I have mine unChristian? This is where I’m torn.

    Christianity is full of grey, but I think the salvation of Christ is black and white. At least within Christianity. (Now I’m making broad statements here, but the truth is I’m still working through this all too. This is the hat I am currently wearing, but it seems to be fitting quite well. I’m struggling between using an active vs. passive writing voice. While I want to own the statements I’m making they are also, “I think” statements, because they are what I think, not necessarily what is True… if that makes any sense)

  5. It seems to me that universalism is just Calvinism on a wider scale. I’d offer the following to think about. Is it possible for a person to permenantly harden themselves against God or no?

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