Surely some don’t deserve to be saved

Aren’t some people so terrible they’re beyond saving? Like Attila the Hun who killed for the thrill of killing, or the priest who abuses hundreds of children and mocks his prosecutors, or any brutal criminal who shows no remorse for his cruelty.

But even the worst of people has been “reconciled to God through the death of his Son,” Romans 5:10, including Hitler and all the other genocidal maniacs like him. But how could God forgive such people for the horrors they’ve perpetrated? Surely they don’t deserve to be saved. Why on earth would God even want to save them?

But, Paul writes, we’ve all been “made alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5. And God’s reason for doing that is? “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,” verse 7. Well, he’s certainly done that, because how could anyone put up with the likes of us humans? Just watching the News makes me want to do serious damage to some people, so what does God feel?

Well, Paul tells us what God feels. “I was shown mercy,” he writes in 1 Timothy 1:13, “because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Paul had no idea what he was doing at the time, and God took that into account. Talk about grace. Did I have that kind of grace as a parent when my kids did something really idiotic? But here was Paul, “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man,” verse 13, directing all his fury against Christians too, so imagine being God and having to watch Paul tear apart the church he’d just birthed. If anyone fit the category “doesn’t deserve to be saved,” it was Paul.

But God accepted Paul’s ignorance. And that now stands as a beautiful example of how God feels and how he reacts to people who suddenly see themselves as they really are and wonder how God could ever forgive them. “I was shown mercy,” Paul continues in verse 16, “so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”

Imagine being Hitler on the day he realizes the enormity of what he did. “How can God ever forgive me?” he’ll ask himself. But God’s put up with millions of people just like him, who did terrible things without ever acknowledging they were wrong, but God never lost patience with them. In fact, he doesn’t hold anything they did against them, 2 Corinthians 5:19. Imagine Hitler’s relief, just like our relief when we too saw God for who he really is.


Everybody’s saved, they just don’t know it yet

Christ “died for ALL,” 2 Corinthians 5:15, to be the “Saviour of ALL men,” 1 Timothy 4:10. So Christ doesn’t miss anybody out when it comes to salvation. He “gave himself as a ransom for all men,” 1 Timothy 2:6, “tasted death for everyone,” Hebrews 2:9, “for the sins of the whole world,” 1 John 2:2, so that God could “reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” Colossians 1:19-20.

So it’s abundantly clear in scripture that Christ’s death covers everybody. And when he died, all humanity died with him, 2 Corinthians 5:14. Logically, then, if Christ died to save everyone and we’re all included in that death, then everybody must be saved already. Christ died, job done. “It is finished.”

“Ah, but that’s Universalism,” some cry. Oh, really? I thought Universalism says. “Everybody’s going to be saved,” that God gets us all through eventually and no one loses out on salvation. But is that what I meant? No. I have no idea if everybody’s going to be saved or “gets through eventually,” or not. Perhaps some might reject the gospel. But I didn’t say “everybody’s GOING to be saved,” I’m saying they ALREADY ARE. When Christ died, it was job done.

But not all Christians see it this way, that salvation for all humans – past, present and future – was done and dusted by Jesus on the cross. Some, for instance, believe that only an elect few will be saved. Others believe that only those who repent and believe receive salvation. In their minds, therefore, salvation is either selective or conditional, or that only some people are saved based on certain conditions being met. Salvation for them is definitely not for everybody, nor is it a free gift. Instead, salvation is only “potentially” ours, or it’s only in exchange for something we do.

That’s not what Ephesians 2:5 says, however, because “God made us alive with Christ EVEN WHEN we were dead in transgressions.” In other words, God saved us before we even had a clue what salvation was. He saved us from eternal death when we couldn’t care less about repentance and faith. It was when we were in no condition to be saved that he saved us. Why? Verse 8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the GIFT of God.” Salvation from beginning to end is a gift, that was ours already before we even knew about it.

So here we all are – all of us saved already as God’s amazing gift to us through Christ’s shed blood. But not everybody knows that yet, so it’s the job of the Christian church to tell them, Romans 10:15.

What exactly DOES God want us to do?

Does God do everything for us, or is there something he wants US to do as well? But what? And what can we do when we’re entirely dependent on God for eternal life and all that goes with it, like the fruits and gifts of the Spirit?

Scripture is clear that salvation from beginning to end is a gift and it’s all done by God’s grace, 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.”  Add to that Romans 4:6 that says “God credits righteousness apart from works,” and Hebrews 7:25 that Jesus is “able to save completely those who come to God through him,” and what’s left for us to do? If no works are required from us and it’s all done for us by Jesus, what do WE do?

There’s a clue in 2 Peter 1. In verse 3 God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness,” so it’s all still a gift and salvation is still completely God’s doing, but in verse 4 we’re “given these great and precious promises SO THAT you may PARTICIPATE in the divine nature.” Well, that makes sense, because what are we going to do with all these gifts and promises God lavishes on us? Obviously, he means us to participate in them, like a child would given a sack full of gifts at Christmas-time. The child doesn’t sit there looking at them, he launches himself into the bag, grabs a gift, rips the wrapping paper off and participates in what that gift was meant for.

Likewise, God gives us all these gifts hoping we’ll participate in what they were meant for, too. They were meant to help us participate in the divine nature – with several examples provided of what the divine nature is, in verses 5, 6 and 7. So how do we participate? By “adding” to them, verse 5. God gets us started with a sack full of gifts from his divine nature SO THAT we’ll dive in, see what we’ve got and make full use and enjoyment of all that he’s given us – because, verse 8, “if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive.”

The purpose of all these gifts God gives us is to enable us to live effective and productive lives. And all we do for our part is “use whatever gift he has received,” 1 Peter 4:10. Use what he’s given us, add to it, increase it, do what it was meant for, like a child who plays with a new toy for all its worth!

Must we obey to be saved?

In “Work out your own salvation. Who me?” (March 9/12), I thought the answer to “Who, me?” was “Yes, you!” – because I firmly believed it was up to me to make my salvation work.

And how was I supposed to make it work? By following Jesus’ example of obeying all God’s requirements and expectations, no matter how much hardship, stress and suffering, because wasn’t that how HE became perfect? In Hebrews 5:8 it says Jesus “learned obedience through suffering,” and that’s what made him “perfect,” verse 9. It was his obedience that “saved him from death,” verse 7, and obedience that made him “the source of eternal salvation,” verse 9. Obedience was clearly the key.

I took that to mean, therefore, that obedience was the source of my salvation, too. Obedience saved Jesus, so obedience would save me. Following his example I’d also be saved from death and made perfect by obeying – especially if I learned to stay obedient when stress and suffering hit, just as he did. But isn’t that what Jesus boiled everything down to in Matthew 19:17? “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments,” he said. Obedience to all that God commands, no matter what sacrifice and stress that involves, is the key. It certainly was for Jesus, so why would it be any different for me?

But it is different for me, because Jesus obeyed perfectly and I haven’t. So if my salvation depends on following Jesus’ example of perfect obedience, I’ve already failed. I began to wonder, then, if I’d understood Hebrews 5 correctly: How could it be talking about saving ourselves by our obedience when all humans have already failed the obedience test? We’ve all sinned and fallen short. And we all soon learn, by hard and frustrating experience, how impossible it is to be perfectly obedient all the time. In my case it was killing me.

And then it dawned on me: Hebrews 5 isn’t about “saving ourselves by OUR obedience,” it’s about Jesus saving us by HIS obedience. It’s talking about HIS perfect obedience becoming the “source of our salvation.” It’s got nothing to do with my obedience saving me, it’s about his obedience saving me. My salvation comes from Jesus’ obedience, not mine. And he obeyed perfectly. My salvation, therefore, has already been taken care of, because all the obedience I need – and will ever need – has been totally done by him.

What on earth does “Work out your own salvation” mean, then, if Jesus has already done all the obedience necessary for my salvation? What is there left for me to do if he’s done it all for me?….(continues on March 16/12)

There’s no mistake God can’t correct

God let the biggest mistake happen before he even created us. He gave us humans freedom of choice. And what did we do with our freedom of choice? We used it to reject him.

Huge mistake on God’s part, right? So why did he let it happen – especially when he already knew what happened when he gave a created being free will? He gave the angels free will, for instance, and look what they did with it. One third of them chose to follow Lucifer’s rebellion and now God was stuck with a devil and an army of demons against him.

But then God bungled things up again by letting the devil loose on Adam and Eve. Why on earth would he do that, when it was obvious, surely, that naive, hot-off-the-press humans were no match for the cunning of a seasoned warlord like the devil? Unsurprisingly, therefore, humans rebelled against God too, and now God was stuck with us against him as well.

What greater mistakes could God have made? His two masterpiece creations, angels and humans, turned against him, revealing a terrible flaw in their design. But what does it tell us about God? That he flubs things too, and therefore he can’t be trusted? – OR – to show us there’s no mistake he can’t correct, and therefore he can be trusted?

The answer in Ephesians 1:4-9 is that God had already corrected the flaw in our design before he even created us. He already knew how to make created beings “holy and blameless” despite their wrong choices. It meant he could give humans the freedom to choose and make every mistake in the book, but in the end it would all work out perfectly.

There isn’t a mistake we make, therefore, that God can’t correct, because he’s already corrected all of them. In his Son’s death, for instance, he’s already forgiven every mistake we’ll ever make, verse 7, and through the Holy Spirit he “guarantees our inheritance,” verse 14 – meaning we remain his much-loved children no matter what we do, verse 5. And he sends us the Spirit to make sure we get that point understood deep down in our innermost being too (Romans 8:15-16, Ephesians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:5).

What God is after is a relationship of trust between us and him. And how does our trust for him get started? From knowing God’s door is open to us no matter what we do. He invites us in, sits back and listens to our tale of woe and all the ghastly mess-ups we’ve made, so he can remind us yet again, “It’s already been taken care of, remember? Wanna hug?”