Last week we looked at what the Bible has to say about the Doctrine of Universalism. I want us to continue that study this morning. In case you missed last week, Universalism is the teaching that God, through the atonement of Jesus, will ultimately bring reconciliation between Himself and all people throughout history. This reconciliation will occur regardless of whether they have trusted in, or rejected, Jesus as Savior during their lifetime.
Mars Hill pastor, Rob Bell, ignited a theological controversy over Universalism with his book Love Wins, which came out in March of this year. Bell leads the 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church near Grand Rapids, Mich. The gist of Bell's book is: Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. In the end, love wins.
In the blog buzz leading up the release of Love Wins there was a lot of discussion about whether Bell is or is not a Christian Universalist. From what Bell says, I would have to say that he is a Universalist. Bell argues that God wants everyone to be saved, and God gets what God wants. He tells us that "God's love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts" (p108).
Bell is certainly more of a trendy pastor than he is a theologian. Bell lists a number of passages that point to final restoration: Jeremiah 5, Lamentations 3, Hosea 14, Zephaniah 3, Isaiah 57, Hosea 6, Joel 3, Amos 9, Nahum 2, Zephaniah 2, Zephaniah 3, Zechariah 9, Zechariah 10, and Micah 7 (8687). Anyone familiar with the prophets knows that they often finish with a promise of future blessing. But anyone familiar with the prophets should also know that these promises are for God's covenant people, predicated on faith, and fulfilled ultimately in Christ.
Bell frequently harkens back to the Pauline promise in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1 that God is reconciling or uniting all things together in Christ (149). These are favorite passages of Universalists.
Let's look at Romans 8:1 again:
There is, then, now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit; Romans 8:1 YLT
"No condemnation" here refers to spiritual death. All are condemned in Adam, but those who are in Christ, who are those who walk according to the Spirit--New Covenant truth, have "no condemnation."
If Paul was a Universalist he would have said, "There is therefore now no condemnation to anyone! But he didn't, he said that only those in Christ, those walking according to the New Covenant, are not condemned.
As I said last week, Universalists use Scripture to support their view. I'm sure that you are probably aware that you can take any doctrine in the Bible, and I mean any doctrine, and come up with Scripture that seems to contradict it. Why do you think we have so many denominations? Every church has their own set of Scripture that they use to defend their point of view--whether you're talking about whether one can lose their salvation, the gifts of the Spirit, water baptism, the return of Christ, or the final destination of the wicked. Twenty people can read a passage of Scripture and come up with twenty different interpretations.
If we are going to understand the Bible, we must have some understanding of Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science of Biblical interpretation:
Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. Luke 24:27 NASB
The word "explained" is the Greek word diermeneuo, which means: "to explain throughly, expound, interpret." The purpose of Hermeneutics is to establish guidelines and rules for interpreting the Bible. Any written document is subject to misinterpretation, and thus we have developed rules to safeguard us from such misunderstanding.
God has spoken, and what He has said is recorded in Scripture. The basic need of Hermeneutics is to ascertain what God meant by what He said. Edward White said, "There is no folly, no God-dishonoring theology, no iniquity for which chapter and verse may not be cited by an enslaved intelligence." Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice Act 3, scene 2 said, "In religion, what error but some sober brow will bless it, and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with a fair ornament."
The primary rule of Hermeneutics is called: "The Analogy of Faith"--this means that Scripture interprets Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. The Analogy of Faith is a safeguard that should help us from reading into the Scriptures something that is not there. If one Scripture seems to contradict another, then we must turn to what is easily understood and then continue digging until we have reconciled the apparent contradiction or difficulty in understanding. God is not the author of confusion, and I believe His Word is adequately clear to show us the answers.
"The Westminster Confession of Faith" states: "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."
The best way for you to use Scripture to interpret Scripture is to be familiar with the whole of Scripture. What I mean is we must read the Book from cover to cover, over and over and over.
R. C. Sproul, in his book Knowing Scripture, makes this sad yet insightful comment, "If you have read the whole Bible, you are in a small minority of Christian people. If you have studied the Bible, you are in an even smaller minority. Isn't it amazing that almost every American has an opinion to offer about the Bible, and yet so few have really studied it?"
One principle of Hermeneutics that we must use in our seeking to understand Universalism is: Determine carefully the meaning of words. Whatever else the Bible is, it is a book which communicates information verbally. That means that it is filled with words. Thoughts are expressed through relationships of those words. Each individual word contributes something to the whole of the content expressed. The better understanding we have of the individual words used in biblical statements the better we will be able to understand the total message of Scripture. Accurate communication and clear understanding are difficult when words are used imprecisely or ambiguously. Misuses of words and misunderstanding go hand in hand. Take for example Proverbs 29:18:
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Proverbs 29:18 KJV
This verse is often quoted to inspire people to look to the future and believe that God will do great things in a certain area, such as a vision of growth, or a building program. What does the word "vision" mean? Webster gives a meaning of the ability to foresee or perceive something not actually visible. That is often how this verse is interpreted. What does the Hebrew word used here mean? Vision is the Hebrew word chazon (khaw-zone), which means: "a revelation from God," see Isaiah 1:1. Having no revelation from God is quite different than not having the ability to foresee something not visible.
We said last week that the basic presuppositions of Universalism are that God is love and God loves everybody. They seem to focus on God's attribute of love. To say that God is love is the truth, but it is not the whole truth. Love is not God's only attribute, He has many others.
The Universalist also believers that God loves everybody, therefore, Christ died for everybody; therefore, all will be saved. I think that Universalism is the logical out come of Arminianism. If God loves everyone, than it only makes sense that He will save everyone.
When I talked last week about the fact that God doesn't love everyone, I know that that ruffled some feathers. You may think I'm giving you something that is believed by a narrow little group of people who have odd views. But do you not know that the Reformation stood firm on the bondage of the human will, and that man could not turn to God unless God first gave life to man? The Lutheran side of the Reformation stood firmly on that, and the Calvinistic side of the Reformation stood firmly on that. Evangelicalism in its historic roots in the Reformation constantly proclaimed the bondage of the human will and that the will was affected by sin, and men could not believe of themselves.
So the basic presupposition of Universalism is that God's nature is love, and He loves everybody. They go through the Scriptures and pull out all the verses that mention "all" and "world" to attempt to prove their point.
Tentmaker website, which is a Universalist site, states: "God has given His Son authority over ALL flesh, to give eternal life to ALL whom He has given Him" (John 17:2); "The Father has given ALL things into the Son's hands" (John 3:35), and so "ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6) because of "the unchangeable character of God's purpose" (Hebrews 6:17), because His love for His enemies is unchanging, and "He is kind to the ungrateful and evil" (Luke 6:35); "He desires ALL people to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4); He "gave Himself as a ransom for ALL" (1 Timothy 2:6); He "is not wishing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9); He "has consigned ALL to disobedience, that He may have mercy on ALL" (Romans 11:32); "for from Him and through Him and to Him are ALL things" (Romans 11:36).
Last week we looked at several texts and examined the use of "all" and "world." We saw that the word "world" is often used to mean: "not Israel alone but other nations as well." God so loved the world. We also saw that "all" often does not mean: "all without exception, but "all without distinction." Though this is not always the case.
The website, http://www.biblicaluniversalist.com, starts with this question: Have you considered the possibility that God is saving some men and women now, and will reconcile all others later? The Bible says that the living God is "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe" (1Tim. 4:10):
For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 1 Timothy 4:10 NASB
Commenting on this verse, which is their theme verse, www.tentmaker.org, writes, "The meaning is so clear it's transparent! God IS the Savior of everyone! He is the Savior of believers now, and He will save everyone else in due time." Is that what this verse says? He is the Savior of believers now and everyone else in due time? I don't see that in this verse.
The question was raised last week about this verse in 1 Timothy, so what does it mean? First of all, let me say that this is a text where I think that "all" means: "all." The living God is the Savior of all men. That is what it says, what does it mean? This is where our principle of: "Determine carefully the meaning of words" comes in. Hermeneutics uses two basic methods by which words are defined: 1) Etymology-- which is the science of word derivations. 2) Usage--which is how the author uses a word. Which of these two always takes precedence? Usage. Why? Because words can change their meaning over time.
Let's look at a couple of words in the phrase, "The Savior of all men, especially of believers"--Universalists jump on this verse, because on the surface it sounds like it supports their theology. But does it? If God is the Savior of all men, what does "especially of believers" mean? The word "especially" is from the Greek word malista, which means: "chiefly, most of all." It is not contrastive, or adversative, so it can't be saying all men are saved in this sense, but believers are saved in this sense. What it's saying is all men are saved in this sense, but especially do believers experience it. So whatever salvation it's referring to, it refers to all men experiencing in some way to some degree the same kind of salvation that believers experience.
What exactly does He mean by this? To understand this, we must first understand what He means by the word "Savior." A true exegesis must begin with a definition of "Savior." The majority of English readers see this word and automatically think-- eternal life, salvation from wrath and spiritual death. But the Greek noun soter--Savior, and verb sozo--save, have a wide range of possible meanings. They can be referring to physical healing, rescue from danger, spiritual deliverance of various kinds, and to preservation from final judgment. For example look at:
When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. Judges 3:9 NASB
The word "deliverer" here is the Hebrew word yasha, which is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek soter, Savior. Young's translation has the word "savior" in Judges 3:9. Othniel was the savior of Israel, he delivered them from their enemies:
The LORD gave Israel a deliverer, so that they escaped from under the hand of the Arameans; and the sons of Israel lived in their tents as formerly. 2 Kings 13:5 NASB
God gave Israel a "savior" to physically deliver them from the Arameans.
I think that "Savior" in 1 Timothy 4:10 is not used in a soteriological sense. It is used in the sense of a preserver of all men, specially of those that believe:
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgments are like a great deep. O LORD, You preserve man and beast. Psalms 36:6 NASB
The word "preserve" here is the Hebrew word yasha--Savior. So Yahweh is the Savior of man and beast. This isn't animals receiving eternal life. This is preservation.
So in our text in 1 Timothy 4:10, He's the Savior of all men in the sense that He preserves the life of all men, but especially does His work encompass His own sons and daughters. Now notice the context of verse 11:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 1 Timothy 4:1 NASB
So the apostle begins by speaking of the coming apostasy and affirming the certainty of it. Now that expression, "the faith," does not refer to the faith by which we believe in the Lord Jesus. The New Testament uses faith in different senses. Sometimes the term faith means: "the faith by which we believe and are saved." At other times, the faith is a reference to that which we believe, the body of truth. He is talking about certain doctrines, and he says that there are men who shall depart from the faith.
Now let's go to the end of the chapter:
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:16 NASB
We have an interesting occurrence of the verb sozo here translated "salvation." Can a man save himself by taking heed to himself and taking heed to the teaching and continuing in them? Is that the way you get saved? No, that's not the way you get saved? You get saved by believing the Gospel message concerning the Lord Jesus. If you take heed to yourself and to the doctrine of the Word of God, and if you continue in them you will preserve yourself from the false teachers and their attacks.
So you can see that the word "salvation" here means: "to deliver" in this context; not save spiritually, in the sense of from the penalty of sin, but preserve from the effects of the teaching of the false teachers.
Notice what Paul says to the Gentiles in Athens on Mars Hill:
nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; Acts 17:25 NASB
God, then, in a sense, is the sustainer, and the provider of life and breath and all things for all people. So the word "savior" can mean sustainer, provider, deliverer. It is used this way later on in the book of Acts:
"Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish." Acts 27:34 NASB
The word "preservation" here is soteria--salvation. He's not talking about spiritual salvation, he's talking about their physical deliverance.
God is the Savior of all men who breathe air, live life, know healing in their human bodies because God is the sustainer of all of that. So He is the Savior of all, but especially does He sustain and provide for those who believe and will forever and ever. And this is what Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy 4:10. Paul is not a Universalist.
A Universalists writes: "Belief is not a 'requirement' to be returned back to God in spirit when you die. Belief is that thing that gives us joy RIGHT NOW, KNOWING that it has been accomplished, that the works of the Devil have been undone, and that Jesus is the Savior of the world."
The Bible doesn't say that those who believe will have joy, but eternal life. To not believe is to not have eternal life:
he who is believing in the Son, hath life age-during; and he who is not believing the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God doth remain upon him.' John 3:36 YLT
The Scripture from beginning to end proclaims the necessity of faith. Apart from faith in Christ men will perish. Eternal life is only for believers:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:13-14 NASB
Jesus received this curse, which we deserved, and He did not, so that we could receive the blessing of Abraham, which He deserved, and we did not! It would be enough if Jesus simply took away the curse we deserved, but He did far more than that; He also gave a blessing that we didn't deserve!
What is the blessing of Abraham? If the curse of the Law is death, what is the blessing? Life! The blessing of Abraham is eternal life. The parallelism of the two phrases in verse 14 indicates that the blessing given to Abraham is equivalent to the promise of the Spirit.
Please notice what it is that the Gentiles (we) receive--"the promise of the Spirit."What is the promise of the Spirit? To answer that, look with me at:
"And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS UPON HIS THRONE, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. 32 "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. Acts 2:30-33 NASB
The promise of the Spirit is the resurrection, which is life! Look at:
"For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself." Acts 2:39 NASB
The promise that is to "as many as the Lord our God will call" is the promise of resurrection. And resurrection is life in the presence of God. To be under the curse is to be separated from God, and to be blessed is to be in His presence.
So how do we receive the promise? "We would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith"--Paul doesn't say that everyone would receive the promise of the Spirit. The promise is received by faith. And only those who have faith receive it.
But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Galatians 3:22 NASB
Again the promise is given to, and only to, those who believe.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26 NASB
You become a son of God only through faith!
The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. Galatians 3:8-9 NASB
It is only those who have faith that are blessed with Abraham--the Father of faith.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18 NASB
Notice that it is the one who believes that doesn't perish. It is the one who believes that is not judged.
We have some time left, so let's look at a few of the verses that Universalists use to prove their point.
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NASB
Is it God's will that no one perish? Does God want to save all men? I have to say that the Universalist is more consistent with this verse than the Arminian. If God in fact wanted to save everyone, He would! God gets what He wants, He is not frustrated. Again, we must look at the context of this verse:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." 2 Peter 3:3-4 NASB
The Second Coming of Christ is in view here, and scoffers are saying, "Where is He? I thought He promised to come soon." The non-Christian Jews, Judaizers, and other critics of Christianity were heckling the saints with the delay in fulfillment of Christ's predictions to destroy the old and bring in the New Heaven and Earth. Verse 8 and 9 answer the question that these scoffers ask:
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 NASB
Who are the "beloved" of verse 8? They are Christian Jews. God has not forgotten His promise; speaking of His promise to return in judgment, destroying the Old Heaven and Earth and establishing the New Heaven and Earth. Notice who Peter is saying would see the "promise" fulfilled? Some generation way off in the future? No, look at the context (vss. 11, 12, 13, 14, 16). Peter is telling his contemporaries, "We are looking for these things" (vs. 13). "He is patient toward you"--referring to the elect Jews as a whole, waiting for the deliverer to come from ZION. "Not wishing for any to perish"--the antecedent of "any" is the beloved of verse 1. Clearly, Peter is not saying that God wants to save everybody. Jay Green's Interlinear Bible puts it this way"
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to US-ward, not willing that ANY OF US should perish, but that ALL OF US should come to repentance."
The "us" is referring to the elect, not all people.
Alright, here's another one:
and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 1 John 2:2 NASB
This is not teaching that Jesus propitiates for everyone's sins, but that He is the ONLY propitiation that there is. It is not speaking of universal propitiation, but of exclusiveness. In other words, there is no other propitiation other than Jesus Christ. If they don't look to Christ, there is no one else to propitiate for their sins. Jesus is the only propitiation for all the world. Peter tells us this in:
let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. "He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:10-12 NASB
So, 1 John 2:2 doesn't support Universalism either.
Why did Paul and all the apostles sacrifice so much to preach the Gospel if it was really unnecessary because all men would be saved anyway. They were persecuted unto death, some were thrown into boiling caldrons of oil, some of them were burned at the stake, some of them were crucified. Why go through all this to bring men the Gospel when all men will eventually be saved anyway?
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 1 Corinthians 9:22 NASB
Paul became all things to all men for the sake of bringing "some" to Christ.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:8-10 NASB
"For this reason"--that's a hina with a subjunctive, which is a direct purpose clause."I endure"--the word means: "to remain under suffering." "All things" relates to hardship, sacrifice, persecution, chains, prison, all that kind of stuff. I endure all of that continually. I do it all for the sake of those who are chosen, the elect.
Why does Paul want to reach the elect? In order that they may obtain what they've been elected to obtain. The point is this, God has chosen them to be saved, but God also gives us this incredible privilege of being the human agency by which the saving Gospel is brought to their hearts. They must believe, but they must hear so they can believe. That's the issue.
So what compels Paul is not that he is responsible to save people, but that he has the high and holy privilege to be the instrument by which God saves people. So, his sufferings have an evangelistic purpose. The fact that God is using his preaching to save the elect enables him to endure anything. I'll say it again, Paul was no Universalist, and neither am I.
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