Addressing Objections: The “Bad People Don’t Get In” Argument
This is a common argument against the biblical teaching of salvation for all men. It is based on certain biblical passages that discuss the fact that the wicked will be judged and that God’s wrath is upon them. One of the most famous and well known of these passages is found in the book of Romans, written by the apostle Paul. Let’s examine it now, but as we do, keep in mind that Paul was a very intelligent, educated man, well-versed in rhetoric and argumentation. Also, I am going to emphasize Paul’s use of the words “they,” “their” and “them” in the passage by showing them in bold. You will see why in a bit (wait for it…).
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Notice how Paul calls them out and discusses all of the evil that they do. You might at this point be feeling glad that you aren’t one of them, maybe even a little smug and superior. If that’s you, you are Paul’s target audience and you’d better buckle up because the very next verses are the crux of the argument, and the twist might hurt a bit.
You , therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.
Why did Paul suddenly change his pronoun usage from “they” to “you?” Did he just abruptly change topics? Is Paul a bit senile and forgot who and what he was talking about?
No! His argument is continuing and he has intentionally turned the tables on his audience. To those who were judgmentally looking down on others he says “No, I’ve been talking to you! This is about you, not them! You do the same things! Stop being hypocrites!” In fact, he argues that our judgmental attitudes toward others actually store up God’s wrath against us.
You see, Paul is putting us all in the same boat. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. All of us! Being a rebellious sinner doesn’t preclude you from God’s grace; it is the very reason you need it, the very reason we all need it.
So this passage isn’t arguing that sinners cannot enter the kingdom of God but rather that we are all sinners and can only enter by his grace.
Additionally, the text does not discuss eternal punishment or hell at all. This may surprise you if you consider “wrath” and “hell” to be synonymous. They clearly are not. In fact, Paul tells us specifically what he is referring to when he discusses God’s wrath in this passage. Go back and read Romans 1:18-32 to see what it is.
Do you see it?
He “gave them over” to their “sinful desires,” to “shameful lusts” and to “a depraved mind.” And as a result they “received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” This is God’s wrath on them, being allowed to have foolish hearts and participate in destructive behaviors. Don’t we see how the destructive choices we make ruin us? This is the wrath of God being discussed in the passage and it is temporary, not eternal.
This interpretation echoes Jesus' statements in John 3:18-19:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Notice that those who do not believe are condemned already. Jesus, like Paul, is clearly referrring to the present state of those who do not yet believe in Him. Interpreting His words as referring to a future condemnation is a misread of the text. He tells us specifically what they are condemned to, and it isn't eternal hell, but rather loving the darkness. For this reason, those who do not follow Christ miss out on his light and are given over to the darkness. This, as Jesus says, is the judgment.
But there is no reason to believe that this judgment is eternal. Rather there is every reason to be certain that it is not. The reason I say this is that it is abundantly clear that everybody must come to belief in Christ in order to become believers. Everyone starts out as an unbeliever. Does this mean that they are forever condemned to live in darkness? Of course not! We were all condemned to loving darkness before we came to understand the light of Christ, for "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Now those of us who believe have come to realize God's great love for us and have begun the sanctification process. As 1 John 4:16 says: "So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us." Notice here the difference between those who believe and those who don't is that believers know and believe the love God has for us. The love of God for us was already a reality. Believers just have the privilege of understanding this reality and living into it as we continually grow in our walk with Christ.
Does Romans 2 Also Refer to a Future Wrath?
Although part of the wrath of God described in Romans 1-2 is the consequences that we experience when we are turned over to our sinful ways, there is also acknowledgment of future wrath and judgment on "the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed." Notice that at this future judgment, God repays "each person according to what they have done" and that those who do evil experience "trouble and distress." Notice also that Paul is sternly warning believers in this passage to stop being judgmental or they will be storing up wrath for themselves. This judgmentalism is the evil that Paul is specifically referring to in the passage, saying that it shows "contempt for the riches of his [God's] kindness, forbearance and patience," which are meant to lead us to humble repentance, not arrogant judgmentalism.
So God will also judge evil at a future judgment, referred to in this passage as the "day of God's wrath." This is not something I am disputing. But it is clear from this passage that believers who insist on judging others will experience this wrath, since they are violating Jesus' clear command to "not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1). In Matthew 7, Jesus follows up this command with reasoning that matches Paul's warning to the Roman believers.
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
Does this mean that believers who are judgmental toward other people will be condemned to eternal hell, since they are "storing up wrath" against themselves? I do not believe that it does (and if it does, the number of believers in hell will go up astronomically). Instead, it is simply another sin that God will have to purify us of before we are able to enter into the fullness of His kingdom. Will God's wrath and anger at judgmental attitudes and other evils cause people "trouble and distress"? I think that it clearly will. Does this mean that the trouble and distress people experience will never end? No, it does not, "for his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime" (Psalm 30:5).
Another Passage About "Bad" People
Now, let’s look at one more passage that could be used to argue (disingenuously) against God’s ultimate salvation of mankind.
1 Corinthians 6:7-11 (NIV)
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
This is another classic passage used to claim that sinners will go to hell. But, once again, this misses the point of the passage. Notice the context. Paul is reprimanding believers for suing one another in court. As we have seen earlier, salvation is from our sins. Yet, Paul says, these believers are sinning against one another by these lawsuits and not acting like the kingdom of God on earth, as they were called to do. Those who insist on persistently practicing wickedness do not inherit the benefits of the kingdom of God in the present, nor in the future if they continue to persist in their evil ways. This is why he warns that wrongdoers won’t inherit the kingdom of God and lists some wrongdoings.
But once again, we see God’s redemptive purpose. Right after listing the types of sinners that won’t inherit the kingdom, he says “and that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Yet again, we see God redeeming people through Christ, regardless of their former rebellion. And we see in other passages that this washing, sanctification, and justification are universally applied, “for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22) because Christ’s “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18).
We all will eventually experience cleansing and restoration, by the power of God through Christ because that is what God said He will do!
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