What is Faith?
It seems that one of the main objections to the notion that God will ultimately save all people stems from a misunderstanding of the word “faith.” I say this because some people seem to think that the salvation of all people negates the importance of faith for salvation. This is not the case. The argument is not that faith is no longer needed, but rather that all people will come to faith as God draws them to Himself.
You see, faith is trust in God. And when the Bible repeats God’s promise that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” that “‘in the Lord alone are deliverance and strength,” we see that all will have faith. Psalm 22:27-28 makes a similar claim:
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
All the ends of the earth, including every family of every nation “will remember and turn to the Lord” and “bow down before him.” This demonstrates the ultimate universality of faith that God will grant to all people. We will all trust Him and know him, from the least to the greatest (Hebrews 8:11). Such a promise is not just for Israel for we are told that “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” will say ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13). Everything created by God, in every place imaginable, will praise Him. At the risk of stating the obvious, all people are created by God and therefore will worship Him as described, demonstrating faith in Him.
Now some people will try to say that wholehearted worship of God is not faith. They will say that it is not possible to show faith in God once He has revealed himself, as evidently will occur when every knee bows and every created being praises Him. If it is obvious that God exists, they will say that it is no longer possible to have faith, because they equate faith to a blind leap into the unknown. What merit is there to having faith when it is obvious?
But this line of reasoning clearly misunderstands faith. Faith is a gift of God that does not require any merit on our part. As Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” When we ask the question, “what good is it to have faith when the reality of God is obvious?” we are making faith itself into a work and boasting that we have it while others do not. We are forgetting that the faith we do have is a gift given purely by grace.
Keith DeRose explains this line of reasoning well, in reference to his prior misunderstanding of the “every knee and every tongue” verses:
To be honest, the real reason I never thought of the Philippians passage as having universalist implications in conjunction with the Romans passage is that I thought that such a confession would be “too late” and so wouldn’t count. Why did I think that? Romans 10:9 includes no fine print to the effect that the confession must take place prior to death to be effective, and, as we’ve seen, there’s next to no good Scriptural reason to deny further chances. Well, there are many reasons one might think this confession is too late, but, unfortunately, in my case, the line of thought was roughly as follows: “Of course they’ll confess then. It’ll be so obvious that Jesus is Lord at that point. There’s no merit to confessing at that point.”
Yikes! I had always been taught, and had always thought I believed, that salvation came through God’s grace alone, and not at all through the merit of the one being saved. One just had to accept this grace, by confessing, etc. But the above line of thought shows that the tendency to understand rewards in term of merit was so strong in me that I had taken the confession and acceptance part of the above story and turned them into matters of merit — to the point that I wouldn’t let them count if they didn’t strike me as sufficiently meritorious. This is surely a dangerous line of thought. (DeRose)
DeRose summarizes this dangerous (and very common) line of thinking very well. For some reason, faith, confession, and worship don’t count once God has revealed himself because then everyone will obviously believe. But why do people think this? It is not from the Bible, I can guarantee that.
Didn’t God speak to Abraham, meet Moses in the burning bush, and perform signs and wonders while speaking to and through the prophets? Is it not true that Jesus met Saul with a glorious blinding light while he was on the road to Damascus, intent on finding more Christians to persecute and murder? The apostles too saw Jesus risen from the dead. God revealed himself clearly to all of them in undeniable, obvious ways. Is it therefore impossible for these men to show faith in God? Do we ask the absurd question, ‘What good is it for them to show faith since God made himself known to them so clearly’? I think not. Why then do we assume that having faith in God once He has revealed himself fully is not good enough for others?
The answer seems to be that people have misinterpreted faith to mean: “believing in something that we have no evidence for.” Faith has come to be equated with believing something in spite of the fact that it seems contrary to reason, like believing that an extremely large man in a red suit squeezes down everyone’s chimney (or under their door if you live in an apartment like I did as a young child), to deliver presents every Christmas. This understanding of faith as a blind leap, however, is false.
Faith is not a blind leap; it is a reasonable trust. It is because we know that the character of God is good that we have faith in Him. We put faith in people when we know that they are trustworthy. We do not put our faith in strangers because that would be stupid. If a stranger asks you to borrow your credit card and just have faith in him, you would be daft to hand it over. True faith is not blind, idiotic naivete. Christian faith is trust in Jesus, the savior of all people (1 Timothy 4:10), the savior of the world (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14), the one who demonstrated his great love for us while we were still sinners by dying as the ransom for all people (Romans 5:8, 1 Timothy 2:6). It is trusting in the God who does all that he pleases and “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
Faith is not blind; it is embracing God, His love, mercy, grace, truth, and justice with eyes, minds, and hearts wide open, no blind leap or merit required. It is a gift that will be bestowed on all people, in God's timing, and it has no restrictions or human limitations.
DeRose, Keith. Universalism and the Bible: The Really Good News. http://campuspress.yale.edu/keithderose/1129-2/#7. Last retrieved 10/24/2018