Can Everyone Be Saved?
The Bible is True…
- Can everyone be saved? Are there some people beyond saving?
- Can the drug cartel boss who mutilates any threat to his organization be saved?
- Can the people who traffic young girls in sex slavery be saved?
- Can the woman who pimps out her 3-year-old daughter to feed her drug habit be saved?
- Can the once-Christian, now turned atheist who denies the existence of a Savior or his need for one be saved?
- Can the 30-year-old irresponsible daughter who neglects her kids so she can party and sleep around be saved?
- Can the baby daddy who spends all his money on booze, drugs, or porn—then who is unable to pay child support—be saved?
- Here’s another more personal question: DO WE WANT THEM TO BE SAVED?
I offer two primary texts to begin answering this overarching question: can everyone be saved? The first is, no doubt, the most quoted scripture regarding the universal nature of salvation: John 3:16àFor God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Taken on its face value, who could argue against God’s divine will to see the world saved through his one and only Son? After all, it is God’s love for the world that sent Jesus to die a cruel, inhumane, gruesome death on a cross.
The Greek word translated whoever (or whosoever in KJV) is pás, which means “all, the whole, every kind of.” It means “all” in the sense of “each (every) part that applies.” In other words, anyone who believes in Jesus shall not pay for their sins through eternal punishment (because Jesus paid the price of death for their sins) and instead enjoys life in Jesus forever.
The second passage for us to consider is less quoted, but no less significant. It comes from the apostle Paul’s first letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. READ 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Paul, in context, is writing on the importance of intercessory prayer, especially on behalf of those in authority who can make life peaceful for followers of Christ. He calls such prayer good because God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Without restraint of governing authorities, Christ-followers are more free to share the truth of the Gospel—namely, that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for ALL people.
If we just considered these two passages, we could conclude the universal nature of salvation—meaning that the offer of salvation is extended to ALL the world. There are other texts that lead us to this conclusion, such as 2 Peter 3:9 à 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
These scriptures answer at least one question: “Can EVERYONE be saved?” The answer based at least on these passages is, YES! It is possible that all people CAN be saved through the blood of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection was sufficient to redeem all of humanity from their sins. It also addresses another equally significant question we haven’t asked yet: Does God desire that everyone be saved? Again, just looking at these passages, we might conclude that, YES, God desires…wills…that everyone come to repentance.
Here’s another question…one that all of us wrestle with from time to time: WILL everyone be saved? What about those who never heard the Gospel and had no chance to respond one way or the other? How about those who died before the coming of Jesus Christ? What about the Jews, God’s chosen people? And what about those kinds of people I asked about at the beginning of my message? Will THEY be saved?
These are complex issues that deserve a more thorough examination and consideration than we can explore in the time we have left this morning. I’m wrestling with whether or not to make this a sermon series or a Life Group conversation. [Please let me know how YOU would like me to address it.]
For instance, to address the question: What about the Jews? We would need to dig deep into chapters 9-11 in Romans, where Paul gives great insight. To address the question: What about those who never heard the Gospel? We would need to examine the differences between inclusivism and exclusivism through passages like Romans 1-2, Romans 10, Acts 4, Acts 10, and John 14.
But in the remaining time this morning, I want us to touch on the general question: “WILL everyone be saved?” And if not, then WHY? If God WILLS for all to be saved, then WHY aren’t all people saved? As a Bible-believing, Spirit-filled, evangelical, Christ-follower [with Wesleyan-Arminian leanings], my answer is likely the same as yours: NO. Not everyone WILL be saved.
Evangelical, Bible-following Christians do not hold the view of universalism which states that “all roads lead to heaven.” We do not believe—as Rob Bell asserts in his book, Love Wins—that eventually, the love of God compels everyone to eternal salvation. Here’s a snippet of the synopsis of Bell’s book offered by pastor Kevin DeYoung: God will have his way. How can his good purposes fail? Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. There will be no eternal conscious torment. In the end, love wins.
Instead of Bell’s universal claim of salvation, we acknowledge what even our Master says in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Yes, all CAN be saved, but not all WILL be saved. The larger context of John 3:16 bears witness, at least in part, to this truth claim. Let’s pick up in the 14th verse:
14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
John’s commentary on Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus on the nature of being born again speaks to the heart of the matter. Whoever does NOT believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. With Jesus, the light of the Truth has come into the world, but here’s the stark reality: people love darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil. Like roaches scurrying to dark crevices when a light is turned on, those who love their sin more than God run from Truth.
As a result, they do not confront their sin, repent from their sins (turn toward God), and believe in Jesus as the one who can take their sins away and restore them to a right relationship with God. In short, in rebelliousness, they choose—sometimes unwittingly—death rather than life. God’s offer of forgiveness is universal, but salvation is NOT for everyone because not everyone will lift up the name of Jesus.
Not everyone will reject sin and receive forgiveness. Not everyone will die to self so that they might live in Christ. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 7:13-14, 13“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
This leads me to another question that demands much more time and reflection than we can give today: Can the sinner help it? God’s offer of salvation may be compelling enough, but is it God’s will that they NOT come to salvation by God’s divine election? Or, is God limited in saving us because of our moral free will? How do we reconcile God’s universal offer of salvation we see in John 3:16 with other texts that seem to limit salvation to a select few whom God chooses, such as the statement by Jesus to his disciples in Mark 4:11–12 when He says, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
Have I thoroughly confused you? Good! I have you right where I want you! Just kidding. My point is this: the questions we’re pondering are not quite as a simple yes or no, then move on to lunch! On these two things, at least, I think we can agree: (1) All CAN be saved through work of Jesus on the cross, but (2) all WILL NOT be saved because of unbelief and unrepentance. As to WHY they may not be saved, would you like to explore that question in the future? Okay, let me know how? Sermon series? Bible study? Both?
Most of you know that, as a Methodist pastor, I have Wesleyan—Arminian theological leanings. But I like to keep an open mind about my theology and scriptural interpretation. I’ve recently read an intriguing little book by Calvinist pastor, author, and teacher, John Piper called, Does God Desire All to be Saved, and here’s what he said in his concluding remarks:
“Since not all people are saved, we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to ultimate human self-determination or whether we believe (with the Reformed) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of the full range of his perfections in exalting his sovereign grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Rom. 9:22–23).”
Two theological camps that hold the same conclusion: not all people will be saved. But how one reaches that conclusion depends on whether one holds a high view of humanity’s power of self-determination or one holds an even higher view God’s divine determination and sovereign grace. I’m not sure it can be both at the same time. A difficult exercise in biblical interpretation to be sure…and one we can’t cover this morning.
But I want to leave you with one final question: If all will NOT be saved, then what are we to do about those who continually reject the Good News of Jesus Christ and continue to live in rebellion toward God? What about those categories I mentioned at the beginning: the drug lords, pimps, sex traffickers, deadbeat dads and drug-infested moms who neglect their kids?
What about your sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, who continually choose self-destructive behaviors and lifestyles instead of walking in the light as He is in the light?
- Do we continue to preach Truth at them in hopes that one day it will stick?
- Do we continue to rescue them from themselves in hopes that the kindness we show might lead to repentance?
- Do we give, give, give, without any evidence of change in their lives?
- Or do we let them go? Do we leave them in their sins—either because they are doomed to eternal separation from God already, or because we believe that by leaving them alone to fall they may fall far enough that they “come to their senses” like the Prodigal son?
These are tough questions because they involve the people we love. And there’s no easy answer. Sometimes turning our friends and family away is the best way for them to find God’s saving grace. At other times, extending grace at just the right time is needed in order for people see the unconditional love of God through Jesus Christ.
When faced with the dilemma of ministering to friends and family who continually reject God’s Truth and Grace, I can only suggest the following things:
- Pray. Pray for your loved one to see and accept truth found in God’s Word.
- Ask. Get godly counsel from several sources.
- Surrender. Turn it over to God. Every individual must come to Jesus on their own. We can’t do it for them. Give your loved one over to God. Then do it again and again.
- Accept. Acknowledge that God’s ways are higher than ours. Accept whatever happens.
As we prepare to receive Holy Communion, it’s important we remember WHY we do this regularly? Jesus commands his followers to “do this in remembrance of Me.” It is a covenant meal where we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. And until he does, we renew our covenant with Jesus through this sacrament of Holy Communion…