More about everyone's free gift: Justification to Life

According to Romans 5, the death of Jesus involves an activity of God's grace that he assures us is even more powerful than the operation of his wrath in condemning all who died "in Adam." "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Paul argues that just as a single act of transgression brought condemnation to all men -- clearly, through a process of hereditary inheritance -- so by the righteousness of one man the "free gift" comes to "all men" -- justification to life.

Note that the promise is not eternal life for all, because eternal life requires an appropriate response of loving character in every individual granted this gift, as Jesus makes clear in his parable of the Sheep and the Goats -- Matt. 25:42ff.

"Justification to life" is a somewhat odd but very precise phrase Paul uses to describe what is guaranteed to every man by Jesus' sacrifice -- and we believe it means simply a full elimination of all hereditary sin factors in their relationship with God.

Justification as Christians
experience it now

Justification is the process by which God accounts an imperfect person as though they were acceptable on the basis of their personal acceptance of Christ as their savior. During the Christian age, justified believers have all the privileges of full sonship with God --

  1. access by prayer
  2. forgiveness of sins
  3. providential guidance of one's life
  4. correction and discipline by the loving heavenly Father
  5. encouragement and opportunities of service
  6. power to be a son of God
  7. association with other sons of God

All Christians know by experience that they do not deserve these privileges. These gifts are an unmerited favor or grace of God, and they are provided to us the moment we accept Christ as our savior, before any correction of life or thoughts or actions has permeated our fallen nature. (see Colossians 1:6) In fact, the access to God by prayer and the providential guidance of our life -- even in many cases, the correction and discipline that we need to pay closer attention to God's call, often dawns on our human horizon early, well before we respond in repentance, faith, and obedience. For believers of this age, justification is the entrance ticket to a walk with God, a safety-railing to help keep us from falling, and a safety net to catch us when we do fall.

God's provision of justification to life
for the rest of the world

Jesus' death as a ransom is clearly stated in Romans 5:18 to have secured one full privilege of this experience for all mankind. "The free gift comes upon ALL men -- justification to life."

Let that sink in for a moment.

If the word "all" is truly meant, then it means that Jesus secured an opportunity to enjoy the privileges described above for everyone. Those familiar with traditional Christian teaching will immediately say, "if they believe" -- and yes, we agree, the mechanism that allows this grace to be applied to anyone is belief in Christ. But still, we must ask the question: Is it possible that there is more than one age when this grace is exercised? Or, put another way, "Would some important principle be violated if God were to grant a full opportunity to believe to those who do not respond at this time?"

We believe that in light of Romans 5:18 and the following scriptures that use similar language, the burden of proof is on those who say that "now is our only chance of salvation" and that after death it is "too late". Such need to try and show from the Bible, that (1) The "day of judgment" contains no hope of repentance or learning from the experiences of this life, but is strictly for the enforcement of some eternal decision, already sealed at the moment of each person's death; and (2) there is no promise or prophecy of future major conversions and world-wide expansion of eternal life to large percentages of the world.

We think the evidence is so overwhelmingly against this traditional view that we are confident many, many Christians in the next decade or two will abandon their old, frightful paradigm of "turn or burn" and accept the truly radical grace of God promised in the Bible.

More Scriptures that speak of salvation reaching beyond the Christian Church:

1 Timothy 2:6 uses that word "all" again. There a clear, unequivocal statement is made regarding the purpose of Christ's death: "who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."

Two verses earlier, in 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul makes a simple and clear statement as to God's purpose in the redemptive process: "who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."

Note that in these 2 verses we hear the echo of Paul's ringing statement from Romans 5:18 -- the free gift comes upon all men.

Note the echo of Jesus' words in John 12:32: "If I be lifted up (on a cross) I will draw all men unto me."

Here are some more scriptures to consider with careful thought and prayer:

Colossians 1:20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven.

Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man

Isaiah 25:6 And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.

Isaiah 25:8 The Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears from off all faces.

Revelation 21:3,4 See, the Tent of God is with men, and he will make his living-place with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God. He will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away."

John 5:28 Wonder not at this. For a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and will come forth...

Acts 24:15 there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.

Acts 15:16-17 After these things I will return, and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which is fallen, and will rebuild its ruins, and will set it up, that the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

Luke 2:10 "And the angel said to them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people." Note, it does not say, "good tidings shall be sent to all people." It says that the good tidings are that great joy will be to all people.

Again, the burden of proof is upon anyone who chooses to explain away these and many other equally explicit scriptures.

Many of our Christian brethren acknowledge that suffering is significant in the world, and that it is a valid stumbling-block to faith. Ken Ham's article on this is relevant. But a careful study of his article will show that no real hope is given for those who do not come to Christ in this age. Carefully reading the explanations will reveal that all people are blamed for their own sins, as well as having to shoulder the incredible hereditary weight of Adam's sin:

God takes no pleasure in the afflictions and calamities of people. He is a loving, merciful God—it is our fault [italics ours] that man is in the current state of suffering and death.
As we face horrible suffering, such as the tragedy at the World Trade Center, let it remind us that the ultimate cause of such calamity is our sin—our rebellion against God. Our loving God, despite our sinfulness, wants us to spend eternity with Him. - Ken Ham and Dr Jonathan Sarfati, Why is there death and suffering? (link to their full article)

As with all traditionalist explanations, the only compensation offered by Ham and Sarfati is that for those who accept Christ now, the present times of trouble will seem to be "light affliction" by comparison to the eternal weight of glory of heaven. Surely that is true for those who gain eternal life through faith in this age -- but again, what about those who don't? Why cannot God remove the physical and spiritual obstacles which have stood in people's way? Why can't God grant a few more years, and a few more explicit instructions, by some better messengers, to help out the babies who died in infancy, the slaves that perished on ships, the kids who were born with crack in their brains, the generations reared in communistic atheism, the urbane but pagan resenters of corrupt European "Christian" exploitation in China, India, Indonesia, southeast Asia, Africa, and South America? What about them? Are we really to believe God brought them into a world where they were oppressed by "Christians", inclined to do wrong -- and then plans to afflict them forever with some sort of conscious reminder that they could have chosen God's merciful provision, but did not? Didn't we just read in Ham's article that all of these folks were doing what they were inclined to do as a result of Adam's sin and the added sins of their forefathers?

God is even more merciful, wise, and fair than our Christian brethren such as Ken Ham have been prepared to acknowledge so far.

The only solution we have found is to acknowledge Bible statements that there are two ages or dispensations of God's grace --

  1. one age of faith, when heavenly salvation comes to the few, the way is tough, God "hides himself", strict obedience is not expected or even possible (but an advocate is provided for the faltering steps of believers), and even so a comparatively few (a "little flock") find their "way" to heaven, where the rewards are amazingly great;
  2. and another age of life gained through judgments, God has revealed himself, obedience is required, it is much easier, temptations are removed, and anyone can gain life, but the reward is not so immense -- life on earth, instead of in heaven.

Is the Judgment Day a time in which change and reform is possible?

Is it a time when learning takes place or only that final sentences are handed out based upon past actions? We know what traditionalism says, but what does the Bible say?

The scriptures use the term "judgment" to describe a happy time when people "learn righteousness". (See Psalm 96, Isaiah 26:9)

Note the clear statement of the Isaiah 26:9 text: "When [God's] judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness."

No doubt many judgments of God have been in the earth throughout human history. The patriarchs saw God's judgments at times -- think Noah and the flood, Abraham and Sodom. Some diseases are Biblically viewed as judgments of God against certain kinds of sin -- see Romans 1:26-27)

Still, other judgments were not clearly made. Jonah was disappointed that God did not bring his judgment against Ninevah, and in an action that seems to foreshadow the attitude of many Christians today, was upset when God chose to send more mercy their way.

Further, it doesn't take a lot of historic awareness to note that whole nations have arisen and faded from history without any evidence of God's involvement in their lives or activities. Where, for example, was the judgment of God with the Aztecs vs. the Spaniards who destroyed them? Was either nation pleasing to God? Can any of those folks claim to demonstrate that God approved and would grant eternal heavenly bliss to them? Would any Christian who has read the historic record be bold enough to say that Cortez and his men, with their treachery and lust for gold, will nevertheless enjoy eternal life because they professed faith in Christ?

Or think about African slavery. Where was the judgment of God there? Have any of the oppressive European governments who enslaved and murdered tens or hundreds of millions of men, women and children during the centuries of the "middle passage" seen any judgment for their sins? Can the slaves who died without faith, or the masters whose faith was a travesty, show any evidence of having heard the judgment of God in their cases?

How about the more recent saga of Belgian treachery in the Congo? King Leopold's plunder and mass murder, sanctioned by the other crowned heads of Europe? The murder of Patrice Lumumba, or the support of the multiple atrocities of Mobutu Sese Seko, with the support of governments that think of themselves as civilized? Where has the judgment of God been in evidence, teaching people around the world what is right, and what is wrong? We submit that God in his wisdom has left mankind largely to his own devices, to experience first-hand the futility and failure that attend human rebellion and unbelief. When coupled with the future experience of divine guidance and clear instruction, the whole world will see vividly and clearly what is right, and why God is to be trusted and obeyed.

Does the Bible teach that we MUST believe now, before we die?

It clearly states that the only way to eternal life is through belief in the name of Christ. (Acts 2:38, 4:12) This clearly text slams the door on the idea of "salvation in ignorance".

But does it really say we must accept Christ now, in this life, before we die, or face eternal, conscious suffering without the possibility of repentance?

Well, Jesus did tell his Jewish audience in Luke 13:3 and 5 that "accidents" (vs 4) and "political injustice" (vs 1) would be their lot if they did not repent. Was this a general statement for all people at all times, everywhere, or was it a special warning of the national judgment from God that was coming to the Jewish people soon? And was it speaking about eternal hell, as traditionalists maintain, or was it simply talking about the way his audience could expect to die? Just as Jesus warned, all of the Jews of the 1st century either suffered the normal vicissitudes of life depicted by the accidental wall collapse -- dying randomly without any special protection by God -- or the special trouble that Jerusalem experienced at Roman hands. That troublous time, which Jesus warned his people of, wept for, and instructed his followers how to avoid, was one of the worst times of human history. (See Luke 19:41-44, Matthew 23:37 and 24:15) But we also submit that Jesus died for those folks too, and though they suffered in this life, and many died in agony, they will be resurrected and enjoy the great promises and privileges of eternal life in the new, regenerated Israel -- the reign of Messiah. We cannot accept Luke 13:3 as a statement that supports traditional views of "hell".

Another text commonly used to say that all people must accept Christ now, or burn forever, is Hebrews 9:27: "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment." No question, it says that men die once, and that judgment comes afterward. But it does not state that "judgment" excludes the possibility of repentance, change, learning, or redemption. Further, a careful look at the context of this passage reveals that the "men" referred to are the high priests of ancient Israel, whose death had an impact in matters of judgment. In the law type, which Hebrews 9 is extolling as an evidence of God's mercy, murderers were instructed to go to a city of refuge, where they awaited the death of the high priest. When the high priest died, the judgment was that now they were to go free. And so the writer of Hebrews draws another lesson from the experience of typical Israel; just as that human priest died, and the next phase of those previously judged was release, so the thing that follows Christ's bearing of human sin is an age of grace -- appearing "without a sin offering, unto salvation." Nothing in this text implies that Jesus draws a line in the sand, beyond which his precious blood cannot go. Instead, it opens the door of hope to everyone.

Jesus stated clearly that those who do not respond to him now are NOT condemned, but await a time of judgment during his reign as Messiah. John 12:47 Again, the meaning of this text is often twisted by the expectation of the reader. If we assume that the "judgment day" is a time without hope, a time without the possibility of repentance and learning the lessons and reflecting on the experiences of our "first life", then John 12:47 would meant that any who do not accept Christ now will burn forever. But it does not state that. It, along with John 3:17, states clearly that those who do not accept Christ -- even if they have heard his teachings -- will not be judged in this life. We believe the implication is clear from other more explicit texts -- that all such will be dealt with in the next age of judgment -- the Millennium.

There is no question that lives of sin, rebellion and debauchery will be difficult to overcome in the time of judgment, but we believe it is a mistake to suppose that the folks who have not responded to God's call in their year or two or 10 or 50 or 100 above ground during the Christian age have forever spent their one golden opportunity for life. Though "in Adam's fall we sinned all", we believe the traditional church has long overlooked the clear teaching of Scripture that "in Christ's cross, God restores all we lost."

For a discussion of the orthodox Christian objections to this viewpoint, go here.

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