As a missionary who believes in the final restoration of all, I have been asked more than once: “If you believe all will be saved in the end anyway, why risk your life and that of your family preaching the gospel and making disciples in a conflict zone?” However, this question reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the biblical doctrine of universal salvation. All too often biblical Universalism is mistaken for a pluralistic form of Universalism which says that all roads lead to God, or an even more extreme form of Universalism which insists that we were never separated from God in need of salvation through Christ’s redemptive blood – that we are all gods and simply need to awaken to the divine within each one of us.
Sadly, many influential teachers within the Church today are peddling a Christianized adaptation of this same New Age Universalism. According to this view every sense of urgency to proclaim the gospel is removed, since, according to them, sin never caused a separation from God to begin with, and mankind doesn’t need to be saved from sin – they simply need to awaken to the truth that there never was any separation – that it has always been merely a figment of our imagination. According to this view, mankind simply lost sight of the reality of their own divinity or the “truth of their being,” and if they fail to embrace the “gospel” concerning their true identity in this life it is no great loss to them since they will discover it once they die.
While to me it is clear that Jesus and the disciples – consistent with the Old Testament, taught the final restoration of all (Acts 3:21), they also clearly emphasized the need to repent and believe the gospel in this life in order to avoid dying in one’s sins, missing out on the first resurrection unto life and later having to appear before God at the Great White Throne Judgment, receiving their part or portion in the Lake of Fire. (John 8:24; John 5:29; Rev 20:4-5,11,12,15)
Jesus said that He would effectually draw all unto Himself, seeking and saving the lost until the last lost sheep is safe in the fold, resulting in there only being one flock and one Shepherd (John 12:32; Luke 19:10; Luke 15:4; John 10:16). However, God chose to use us to herald the good news. It pleased Him to save mankind through the foolishness of the preaching of the cross (1Cor 1:18,21). He commissioned us saying: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). So while Jesus taught that all will finally be effectually drawn unto Himself, only those who believe are saved and justified in this life. Those who die in their sins without believing will not take part in the first resurrection. They will be resurrected for judgment after the 1,000 years of Christ’s millennial reign has ended. At that time all whose names are not found written in the book of life will be cast into the purifying Lake of Fire.
To Paul the mystery was revealed concerning the culmination of God’s plan for the ages which is to reunite all in Christ in the dispensation of the fullness of the times (Eph 1:10). He saw that all who had their beginning in Him (which includes absolutely all), are sustained by Him and will ultimately return to Him (Rom 11:36). He also saw that that at the end of the ages every knee will have bowed, and every tongue will have confessed Jesus as Lord, resulting in God being all in all before entering into eternity (Phil 2:10; 1Cor 15:28).
Nevertheless, the knowledge which Paul possessed in no way diminished his sense of urgency to seek and to save the lost. He said that he continually put his life in jeopardy in order that he might by all means save some. While he knew that few would come to faith and repentance, being saved in this life, he endured all things in order that the elect firstfruits of this age might obtain that salvation which is in Christ Jesus (2Tim 2:10, cf. Matt 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24).
Paul preached the gospel, trusting that the Holy Spirit would convince of sin and bring to faith in Christ those who were ordained unto eternal life (i.e. “to whom it was their ordained time”) (Acts 13:48). He understood that God’s election was not capricious nor random but according to grace (Rom 11:5-6). His grace goes out to the poor in spirit who are ripe for salvation (Eph 1:4-6; 1Cor 1:26-29). God, in His grace, passes over the proud and self-sufficient, and chooses the least to be the greatest and the last to be the firstfruits of His new creation (Eph 1:12; James 1:18).
In Hebrews 12:23 it literally says that the elect of this age are the called out assembly of the “firstborn ones” who are registered in heaven. We were not chosen to the exclusion of the rest, but in order to be a light to the nations that the residue of men might be drawn to the light of Christ within and upon us (Acts 13:47, cf. Isa 49:6; Isa 60:3-5). In the time of the manifestation of God’s elect sons, all of creation will be set free and restored (Rom 8:18-23, cf. Acts 3:19,20). In the coming ages we who first hoped in Christ will be put on display to the rest of creation to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:6,12; 2:7). Even after the White Throne Judgment we still see the Church, who will then be the Bride of the Lamb, extending the invitation to all who are outside the New Jerusalem to wash their robes so as to be able to enter and drink freely of the water of life and eat of the tree of life whose leaves are for their healing:
“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations… 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying… 17 The Spirit and the BRIDE say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” (Rev 22:1,2,14,15,17 NASU)
So, we see that our calling and election is not only to be a light to the nations in this age, but also in the coming ages we will be extending the invitation to those still outside to wash their robes so as to be able to enter into the New Jerusalem. Jesus will continue seeking and saving the lost until the last lost sheep is safe in His fold and all of creation has been reunited in Him. We will continue reigning with Him until the last knee bows and the last tongue confesses Jesus as Lord, at which time Christ will deliver the kingdom to the Father and then the triune God will be all in all.
Some Universalists who are Inclusivists fail to distinguish between what was accomplished at the cross and its effectuation in time. Inclusivists would say that since Christ died and rose for all, then all, including the Satanists and pedophiles, are already reconciled, saved, forgiven and seated with Christ in heavenly places, without the need for repentance and faith on their part. In this scenario the gospel does not need to be received by faith in order for one to be saved, justified and born again, since all were included in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ 2,000 years ago.
While it is true that all were included, it is also very clear that Christ’s redemptive work is not imputed to anyone apart from faith. Those who have not yet believed on Christ are still lost and need to hear and receive the gospel concerning Christ’s death, burial and resurrection on their behalf. When the Philippian Jailer asked what he had to do to be saved, Paul didn’t say: “you are already saved, you just don’t know it yet.” No. He said: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you WILL BE saved” (Acts 16:31). He said, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you WILL BE SAVED” (Rom 10:9). Furthermore, he said that the lost cannot hear and believe the gospel to be saved unless we preach it. He said: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (v.14).
Christ was delivered up for our sins and raised for our justification (Rom 4:25). However, one is justified or counted as righteous upon believing, not before (Rom 5:1; 4:5). Until one believes the gospel, they stand condemned (John 3:18). He who believes on the Son has life, whereas he who does not believe on the Son does not have life (1Jn 5:11-13). Unless one is born again, he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3-6). But it is only upon receiving Him by faith that one is born of God (John 1:12,13). Whereas in Adam all die, even so in Christ all WILL BE made alive but not yet. The order of being made alive is Christ, the Firstfruits and then those who are Christ’s at His coming (the elect of this age). After that it is “each in his own order” until the consummation when all will have been made alive (1Cor 15:22-24). All will then have become subject to Christ, resulting in God being all in all. But although this was an accomplished fact 2,000 years ago at the cross from God’s perspective, it has yet to be fully effectuated in time – all have not yet been saved and made alive. As the writer of Hebrews says, there is an “already” and a “not yet.” This reality is something that both Traditionalists and Inclusivists fail to recognize. He says:
“For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.” (Heb 2:8)
There is an “already” and a “not yet” in the outworking of God’s plan of universal salvation. It is “already” because God has determined and is able to save all and Christ made propitiation for all. But it is “not yet” because the submission is not a forced submission as the Partialists would have us believe. God reconciled the world unto Himself by the blood of the cross, but reconciliation requires that both parties conciliate. That is why we have been commissioned to proclaim to all: “God has reconciled the world unto Himself – now you be reconciled unto God” (2Cor 5:19,20; Col 1:20). He gave Himself a ransom for all, but “to be testified in due time” (i.e. “each one in his own order in the day of their visitation”). The prostitutes and tax collectors are among the first to recognize their need of salvation and enter the kingdom, whereas the Pharisees and other obstinately self-sufficient sinners will be the last to enter (Matt 21:31,32). They will not enter until the repent of their sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
God could force everyone to their knees in a moment’s time if that were what He desired. The reason why it will take ages for all to become subject to Him is because it is a willing submission in which everyone in their time of visitation will bow the knee in adoration, declaring Jesus as their Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Only God knows the condition of each individual’s heart. Only He knows when it is one’s ordained time of visitation and salvation. For that reason, we should not rely on any rigid formula when we evangelize. Jesus, knowing men’s hearts, met people where they were at that moment in their lives. To those who already felt the weight of their sin, like the woman caught in adultery, the thief on the cross or the Samaritan woman at the well, He freely extended saving grace without any conditions. To the self-righteous rich young ruler who sought to justify himself, He raised the bar even higher so that he would despair of self-salvation and look to God for grace. As evangelists we must have the mind of Christ through the communion with the Holy Spirit in order to likewise be able to meet people where they are at the moment.
God has sworn by Himself that all will look to Him and be saved. (Isa 45:22-24) But in His infinite wisdom He has chosen to save all by the preaching of the cross. We, the called-out assembly of the elect firstborn, have been commissioned to proclaim the eternal gospel until the last knee has bowed in joyful submission to Him.
So, in answer to those who think that the belief in the final reconciliation of all is a deterrent to evangelism, I would insist that it is a much greater incentive to proclaim a gospel which declares that Christ is indeed the Savior of the whole world and that He will successfully save even the last lost sheep before finally delivering the kingdom to the Father, than to believe as do many that, although Christ came to save the world, in the end He will only successfully save maybe ten percent, while He consigns the rest to unending torments. I believe that all the angels of heaven hoped to be the first to have the privilege of proclaiming the glad tidings to mankind saying:
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy
which will be to all people.” (Luke 2:10)