Salvation for all people (Is it Biblical?)
As discussed in the introduction, the title for this argument is based on Titus 2:11 which states, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,…” This verse alone should at least make you consider the possibility that all people are eventually saved.
Perhaps, however, you might think that this is an isolated verse, taken out of context and twisted to mean something other than its true meaning. It is true that this can be done and that it is a common tactic of Satan for deceiving people. He even tried it on Jesus when he was being tempted in the desert.
A bit of scripture, out of context, twisted to mean something it never meant… It’s a powerful way to lie, especially to the religious, especially if they feel obligated to believe what you say. Well, imaginary skeptic, I’m glad you brought that up… we’ll discuss that idea more in later chapters and you might be surprised what you discover.
As it turns out, the skeptical claims proposed above are actually baseless. There are an incredible number of verses (especially incredible if you’ve been taught that the salvation of all mankind is heretical) that plainly tell us that Jesus Christ will save all people. All of them speak for themselves, but I’ll discuss a few of them that are especially interesting. Let’s take a look.
The Savior of All People
This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe .
Notice that God is the Savior of all people. The title of Savior can only apply if He indeed saves. In addition, the “especially of those who believe” clause is especially interesting. This suggests that, although Jesus saves all people, believers get a special benefit of some sort. I believe that this is referring to our sanctification, freedom from bondage to sin, ability to serve and please God, peace that surpasses understanding, spiritual gifts and so on, that are discussed throughout Scripture. We are saved from sin and given new life already and don’t have to wait until after we are judged!
John 12:32 (ESV)
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Being “lifted up from the earth” is a reference to the crucifixion, but may also be referencing His ascension into heaven and exaltation above all else. Notice that He draws all people. The Greek term translated “draw” is ἑλκύσω (elkusō) which means “to drag” according to the NASB lexicon (you can see it here for yourself: http://biblehub.com/lexicon/john/12-32.htm ).
The word "drag," however does not fully capture the essence of the word as it seems to imply unwillingness on the part of those being dragged. HELPS Word Studies clarifies that elkusō means to "induce (draw in), focusing on the attraction-power involved with the drawing." Thayer's Greek Lexicon also paraphrases the meaning of Jesus' statement in John 12:32 like this:"I by my moral, my spiritual, influence will win over to myself the hearts of all." This drawing is not forcing; all people will ultimately freely choose Christ, being persuaded by His awesome greatness and love. You may recall from other verses that the LORD seeks us and that salvation is not of ourselves, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Christ doesn't only draw us who profess belief by his grace presently, but also all people.
Romans 3:22b-24 (NIV)
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Notice that he is including Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) in his argument (i.e. everybody, because you’re either a Jew or you’re not). Also, notice that Paul is making an argument and showing that in the same sense that “all have sinned”, “all are justified freely by his grace.” We know that Paul is saying that everyone has sinned; there is no good reason to assume that he means anything else than everyone is justified freely by God’s grace. We see in context that this justification is to be received by faith, but this does not restrict when people can come to faith (trust) in Christ. In fact, as we shall soon see, we are guaranteed that all people will indeed come to faith in Christ (if you don't know what I'm referring to, read on).
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
1 Corinthians 15:22 (ESV)
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Both Romans 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 are comparing how sin entered humanity with Adam causing all to be sinful, to the work of Christ by which all are justified and made alive. Aren’t we all sinners? Isn't it clear that we are all dead in our trespasses as human beings (children of Adam)? Again, there is no reason to change the “all” to mean something else. It plainly says “all.” Enough said.
Romans 11:32 (ESV)
For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
All of Romans 11 is quite beautiful on the subject actually! Again, we see God’s heart and purpose. He even allows us to disobey by our own free will. Why? The Bible tells us: so that He can show mercy to everyone! God even uses our bad choices to show his merciful character.
Luke 3:6 (ESV)
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
All flesh. Saying that this means anything less than all is unfounded. Saying that it means that all flesh will see the salvation of God, but that this salvation will be kept out of reach is inconsistent with God's grace, mercy, love and purpose that all be saved.
The Savior of the World
John 1:29 (ESV)
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
1 John 4:14 (ESV)
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
Notice that he is the Savior of the world who takes away the sin of the world. The Greek world used is kosmou (κόσμου) which comes from the word kosmos. According to Strong's concordance (http://biblehub.com/greek/2889.htm) this can mean the world, the inhabitants of the world, or even the universe. In fact, it is the word from which we derive the English words cosmos and cosmology which refer to the universe. Clearly, this is not a word that narrows the scope of Christ's salvation! Rather, it broadens it and denotes the salvation of all people.
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2 is perhaps the most remarkable of them all. We know John is speaking to believers in his letter. Notice that he makes it a clear point to tell his readers that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not only for us, but also for the sins of the whole world. Notice that he says the whole world, in case just saying the world wasn't enough. This is for emphasis, almost as if John anticipated that people would attempt to reduce the gospel to something smaller than it was meant to be. No, says John, Jesus really did pay for the sins of the entire world!
Cryptic Passages Make Sense
1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
1 Peter 4:6 (ESV)
For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
These last two passages from 1 Peter are quite amazing. In 1 Peter 3, we see the great mercy of Christ in that he visited the disobedient men from the days of Noah and proclaimed something to them (presumably the gospel). Recall that God judged mankind at that time for incredible wickedness which was so great that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). Yet Christ preached to them, and 1 Peter 4:6 tells us why: that “they might live in the spirit the way God does.”
Almost all of these verses (except perhaps the last two passages from 1 Peter) are extremely straightforward and direct. The language isn’t symbolic or figurative. The meaning is obvious. The only objection that can arise in our minds is “what about hell?” If you remove this bias from the reading, however, the verses are entirely clear. We will address the “what about hell?” question later, and I think you’ll see that these direct, easy to understand verses mean what they say, while the traditional doctrine of hell has very little biblical support at all. By the way, feel free to skip ahead if this is still a stumbling block to you. Then come back and see the awesomeness of God’s plan in saving the whole world, as the Bible plainly teaches!
The Old Testament Agrees
Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.
Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.
Isaiah 25:6-8 (ESV)
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
"I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
"And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed."
In the Old Testament as well we see God's heart for all peoples. Interestingly, the religious leaders of Jesus' day had forgotten this, assuming that they alone were God's chosen people. They called the Gentiles "dogs" and refused to associate with them at all. Yet God was clear that his redemptive plan was broader than they were willing to admit. Let's not make the same mistake now and limit God's grace as if it only applies to the few.
The Redemption of All Things
It is interesting to note that God doesn’t just focus on the redemption of mankind but also on the redemption of all of creation. The following verses focus on the redemption of all things under Christ. How could humanity, who was made in His image, not be a part of this redemptive plan?
Ephesians 1:7-10 (ESV)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
1 Corinthians 15:28 (ESV)
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Colossians 1:19-20 (ESV)
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
There you have it! All things reconciled, united, and subjected to Christ. This is God's will, purpose, and plan that He has revealed to us (as Ephesians 1:7-10 so eloquently says). In what possible sense could this be true if billions of people, made in His image, remain rebellious and unredeemed eternally?
You may be thinking to yourself: “This guy is just copying text from the Bible! This is practically plagiarism! How can he even say he wrote this argument when it’s just a bunch of Bible verses!”
Well said, hypothetical critic. Well said.
The fact of the matter is that little commentary is necessary since the concept that all people are saved is very well established biblically. Why then do we have such a hard time accepting it? The answer largely lies in our doctrine of hell as a place of eternal torment. Doesn’t the Bible support this view as well? Aren’t they contradictory? How is this possible? In the next section (Is the Doctrine of hell Biblical?), we will examine these questions. But before we do so, let’s continue to look at the Biblical evidence and arguments in support of salvation for all.
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