A TASTE OF CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM

Romans 10:9

“..if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” ESV

Many Christians use the above verse as a text for evidential proof that a person is saved and going to heaven when he or she dies.

I DON’T THINK SO.

The text is an affirmation for newer Christians, especially Gentiles, who were divided by grace and law to know that their confession was a confirmation of God’s sovereign grace for the entire world. It was not a ‘bar code’ to be scanned by God for entrance into the Kingdom.

And while the statement is itself true, it does not MAKE one a Christian. It was written by Paul as a challenge to the Jews and Gentiles who depended on the Law for salvation. And in the context of Gentile Christianity Paul is simply declaring that Christ is the END of the Law (10:4) and that anyone who puts their trust in Christ alone can know with certainty that they are reconciled to God.

Salvation is simply trusting to Christ to do for us in his faithfulness to God what we could never do for ourselves. Then we can assuredly know where we stand with God and find much peace and new ways to live with God. But remember, God is blessing the whole creation and pouring out God’s Spirit on all flesh as stated in Acts 2.

This includes all who HAVE YET TO BELIEVE. And it includes the Israelites who to this point have held out from such trust in their stubbornness. (Vs. 21)

Paul will go on in chapter 11 to write that mysterious sentence about all Israel being saved. (11:26-27)

And then there is that wonderful phrase of hopefulness for the whole creation.

“God has bound all people over to disobedience that God may have mercy on them all. (11:32)

The word ‘all’ contained at the beginning is the same ‘all’ at the end of the sentence. Something akin to ‘in Adam all died and in Christ all shall be made alive.’ (See 1Cor. 15:22) From the MSG version we read, “everybody dies in Adam and everybody comes alive in Christ.”

Everyone receives God’s mercy. Blessed are those who know it right now.

Therein lies a taste of Christian Universalism.

 

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GRACE? MY WIFE SAYS SHE MOVED TO MINNESOTA.

Really?!

My point is that often we evangelical types forget the magnitude, the outrageousness and the wideness of God’s Amazing Grace. I would love to explore this with any of you who would like to respond. I begin with a passage from Ephesians chapter 2.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

In the Voice Version this is how it reads:

But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed.

Words like unfathomable, indescribable, and even incomprehensible are not too extreme to describe God’s grace.

And this passage goes further to say that we have been saved by grace through faith and none of it is our doing, none of it. (Not even the faith part)

So where in any of the above passage do we see anything of our own doing in this salvation grace of God? Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.

The only ‘work’ that we might be able to do is to leave, walk out of that relationship with God. Let’s put it this way: we are in until we opt out. This is one of the premises of Christian universalism. Now don’t stop reading. This universalism idea has much to offer in the conversation about Grace.

Let’s consider this analogy. We are all in the river together being carried along in God’s love. Some choose to make the leap out of that flowing water. I had a tropical fish that once jumped out of the tank. It’s not long before it realizes the need for water. And so it is with us. After a season God will place the wandering fish back where it belongs. Some fish will see the error of their ways and struggle to get back home by themselves. Kind of like the prodigal son. Ok, maybe it’s not the best analogy but I like it.

But here’s the thing. God’s salvation is through the faithfulness of Christ to show the incomparable riches of his grace. (Verse 7)

How can those riches be displayed, and how can the glory of God be known when we take credit for somehow making salvation possible by our belief? Remember that in the Bible we are looking at a microcosm of salvation encounters over a period of say 100 years in the New Testament narratives. But God’s incredible grace is at work through all eternity and everywhere in all God’s creation.

When we talk about belief, faith or trust we are simply recognizing that there are people who do acknowledge that Christ is the author of our salvation.It is Christ’s faithfulness and his alone that brings salvation to the world. Recognition of Christ and obedience to Christ are essential to the Christian walk but God is up to something quite astounding in bringing the whole creation back to God.

I realize that we can ‘find’ other scriptures to ‘prove’ other than what I have written but let’s do this; let’s consider them all and see what kind of picture they present of the incredible riches of God’s kindness.

 

 

 

 

THE TRAIN AND THE PATH: A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR ALL

In John 1:14 we are told that everything about God, his presence, being and most of all his love became a human being in Jesus and lived with us.

This is the message of Christ for everybody. It’s a message of grace to the world made evident in Christ. God, we are told, was pleased to have all his fullness in Christ. (See Colossians 1:17)

Grace is God’s initiative in bringing salvation to the world through Christ.

Not that grace was missing in the Old Testament. Certainly it is evident through creation, covenant, kindness, mercy and forgiveness on the part of God. But in the Old Testament it was the LAW that held the covenant people together. The law was the boundary, the wall, or the custodian, all set in the context of rules and regulations for the safety of society.

Let’s compare LAW AND GRACE this way.

The LAW is a passenger train with God as the conductor. If in disobedience you jump off the train you are on your own. Oh, every once in a while you will hear the whistle blow and if you are strong enough and fast enough you might catch up with the train and pray the conductor to let you back on.

GRACE is the pathway through the wilderness. (See Isaiah 43:19) Jesus is at the front, at the back, and by the side of each traveler. If you should wander off the path, Jesus goes with you wherever you are and finds you another way with him to the goal of everlasting life with God.

Grace is the drawing influence of God upon the whole world. (That means you and me wherever we are.) You can get off the TRAIN at the next stop, which would be RIGHT NOW, and begin the journey with Christ.

Christmas is the word of God to the world that the grace of God has been revealed bring salvation to ALL PEOPLE.

So …a Blessed Christmas to all.

 

 

NOT SAVED BY FAITH

We are not saved by faith, as some would emphasize. We are saved only by God’s grace from beginning to end. It’s like that passage in Philippians 1:6,which states: “God who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day Christ returns.”

In a passage bursting with the understanding of grace we find these words, ‘we have received grace on top of grace’ or ‘grace upon grace’(John 1:16). God has lavished us with his blessing, his gifts of grace and truth that have come through Christ.

The Gospel cannot be supplemented by any human effort (even that of believing). All rescue from sin and idolatry is first and last by the grace of God revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Salvation, living with God, is all God’s idea. IF left up to us we would turn our backs on God, remain enemies as it were. But that’s when God showed his love for us. We showed nothing but vain attempts to appease the idols of religion and self-sufficiency. We, like the prodigal son, wished God dead, took what blessings we thought were owed to us and left town.

So you see, it’s all grace- a gift from God. Every breath we take is grace and on our worst day we are never outside of the reach of God’s grace and on our best day, never outside of the need of grace. (I think I stole that from someone but can’t remember whom). God’s grace saves us and transforms us.

“The closer you get to God the more miserable things you will find in your heart. That is not a negative thinking. God allows you to lose confidence in yourself. You will have accomplished something when you can look at your inner corruptness or bankruptcy without anxiety or discouragement. Simply let it go and trust God’s work in Christ.” Taken from Francois Fenelon (a theologian ca. 1700)

Grace is more important than any of the Five Solas of the Reformation Doctrines. *

Grace is the heart of the trinity expressed by the self-giving love we call Agape. It’s God’s initiative from beginning to end. Sola Gratia. Without it we have nothing. Paul writes ‘for by grace you have been saved through faith.’ Ephesians 2. Paul will even add in that verse that the good works we do are done by he grace of God. Look at the way the MESSAGE puts it:

7-10 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

In light of this we see faith as our ‘yes’ to Christ, nothing more, no greater work. And we must be careful that we don’t make ‘faith’ a work that adds something to God’s grace.

It’s like we are walking a journey and see two roads to choose between. Jesus is travelling one of those roads. ON the other road we see a heavy cart carrying the LAW, and with it the heaviness of the flesh. On Jesus’ way I saw light and though the way looked rough I saw Jesus on that road. And that was enough for me.

In John 1:16 we read the phrase ‘grace on top of grace’, meaning that it’s all grace from beginning to end. Faith takes no credit for what God has done in Christ. Faith may give assent, get on board, but all the initiative and credit comes from God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ and imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. Even faith is a gift. It’s the opening of our eyes to see the way to travel.

A classic line of Scripture is found in Ephesians 2:4,5: “Because of his great love for us God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sin. It’s by graces you have been saved.’

Grace built the road. Grace sent Christ to walk it to Calvary. Faith is the yes we offer to walk that road, even reluctantly.

Have you ever walked on a frozen lake? My son did when he was little. We lived across the lake from some friends and one day he showed up at the friends’ door and was asked how he got there. “I walked on the Lake”, was his reply. As his parents we were grateful he was safer but a bit angered that he made such a dangerous venture. He was fearless at 9 years old, and maybe a bit faithful too.

You probably all know the legend of the rider who crossed the frozen Lake of Constance by night without knowing it.  When he reached the opposite shore and was told whence he came, he broke down, horrified.  This is the human situation when the sky opens and the earth is bright, when we may hear: By grace you have been saved!  In such a moment we are like that terrified rider.  When we hear this word we involuntarily look back, do we not, asking ourselves: Where have I been? Over an abyss, in mortal danger!  What did I do?  The most foolish thing I ever attempted!  What happened?  I was doomed and miraculously escaped and now I am safe!  You ask: ‘Do we really live in such danger?’  Yes, we live on the brink of death.  But we have been saved.  Look at our Saviour and at our salvation!  Look at Jesus Christ on the cross, accused, sentenced and punished instead of us!  Do you know for whose sake he is hanging there?  For our sake–because of our sin–sharing our captivity–burdened with our suffering!  He nails our life to the cross.  This is how God had to deal with us.  From this darkness he has saved us.  He who is not shattered after hearing this news may not yet have grasped the word of God: By grace you have been saved! (Story recounted by Karl Barth)

I am not sure that there are really degrees of faith such that one person has MORE faith than another. Jesus sometimes comments to the disciples that they have little faith but I think in those cases he is frustrated about certain situations in which they are not able to accomplish a task he gives them like a healing or being scared to death in the boat with him on a stormy sea. But let’s look at this another way.

If there is a frozen lake and I decide to cross it, I may do so with fear and trembling, with a degree of anxiety or uncertainty but I will get across because the lake is solid. That’s what grace is- like a solid frozen lake that is never going to crack. God’s grace will carry us across. God’s grace is the assurance that God is at work in us to place us in his Kingdom now and forever. It’s God’s grace that assures us that through Christ’s faithfulness we are forgiven.

Grace is like electricity. God is supplying all the power needed. There is a switch on the wall and we either turn it on whether we understand it or not. Or we leave it untouched because we simply don’t believe that it works. But grace works whether we believe it or not. The power is there. Grace is strong. And if we don’t believe it then Jesus will by his own faithfulness turn it on for us and we sometimes don’t even know it’s been in use. Once we repent, (change our way of thinking) then we will understand that it is better to live in the light than in the darkness.

Grace is the most important of all the Reformation Solas for it includes and even initiates the rest- scripture, faith, Christ, and Glory to God. Grace is the essence of the universe.

Even when the Apostle Paul worked so hard for the Gospel, he declared it was all grace. 10 “But God’s grace has made me what I am, and his grace to me was not wasted. I worked harder than all the other apostles. (But it was not I really; it was God’s grace that was with me.)” 1Corinthians 15:10

Grace through Christ is the end of the law for getting or even being right with God. It’s all grace now. How great when we finally ‘get it,’ ‘trust’ and believe.

 

*These five themes were developed by the reformers in response to Catholic doctrines concerning the importance of works and merit.

 

 

 

POINT OF CONTACT

My friend, Larry, says that everyone has a point of contact with God. Somehow and at sometimes there is a way that humans want to touch God. The old saying that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’ has some merit. People need God. They may call God by another name, higher power, the one upstairs and they may even worship an idol to reach out to God as seen in Acts 17 nonetheless somehow people stop looking inward and they look outward.

Take the woman in Luke 8 who has a serious bleeding problem that has persisted for years and through the care of many doctors but there is still no relief. This would have been an amazing story for Luke to tell since he WAS a physician.

The woman comes up behind Jesus just to get close enough to perhaps touch him in HOPE that some healing might come to her. And as she touches the fringe of Jesus’ robe Jesus himself experiences power going out from him and the woman is healed.

Just a touch, a point of contact. A prayer of help. A baptism. A wedding. An hospital visit. A telephone call. A word of encouragement. Who knows how that point of contact will bring healing and salvation to a soul in need?

You and I are the body of Christ. We wear the garment that people want to touch. Let’s find ways for them to find Jesus in us.