So, as I seem to be doing often (maybe too much) these days, I was posting comments on a blog article and have ended up in a sort of debate with various folks about the nature of hell, among other things. Now I figure if I am going to spend my precious time thinking about these issues and writing long comments on someone else’s blog, I must as well turn them into a blog post right here on Reforming Christianity. Someone named Corcoran posted the following question:
If the penalty for sin is eternal torment, and Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, why is he not in eternal torment at this moment?
It was God’s plan to make Christ Jesus the source of eternal salvation for His children, the One who would perfectly and completely bear all His people’s sins at the Cross. Christ took upon Himself the full wrath of God. Accordingly, He paid the eternal penalty for the sins of His people at the cross and accomplished what He set out to do– the eternal salvation of His people. This free gift of salvation is to be received by faith alone, because we can do nothing to merit or earn it. He suffered once for all (all of His followers, and once for all time), in accordance with God’s plan. Thus according to Scripture, it is not needed for Christ to continue to suffer for sins since He has already done so.
See, among many other passages: Hebrews 5:9, 9: 11-28, Romans 5:1, 8-9, John 10:14-18.
In between this exchange was someone else interjected their comments saying I wasn’t giving a very good answer. I responded to them too but they were not too happy with that answer either. I guess he’ll need to give his own answer then. But to get back to this particular conversation, here is Corcoran’s response to me:
So all isn’t everyone – we wouldn’t be wanting “indiscriminate” grace. But isn’t indiscriminate part of the whole definition of grace? Because if grace isn’t indiscriminate, it has to be earned. But you say it isn’t earned. That means that God is indiscriminately graceful only to people he chooses. Of course that means that if people do not receive grace, it isn’t their fault and punishing them is indiscriminate.
But that’s another topic. To get back to my point, you say the answer to my question is unfathomable, but only “god-man” could accomplish it. But how can you be so sure about the god-man part if in fact the question is beyond human ability to grasp? It has to be one or the other. Either it is unfathomable or you know the answer.
And finally my reply to him, which makes up the remainder of this blog post. What do you think of my answer?
It is not what I want that is important. It is what Scripture declares that is relevant and needs to be understood properly. I know the dictionary definition of grace as well as anyone but I’m more interested in what Scripture says about how God Has demonstrated His grace. Scripture shows that a loving God nevertheless chooses some but not others to be recipients of His saving grace.
In John 10, did not Jesus say He lays His life down for His sheep?(John 10:7) This is discriminating isn’t it? It does not say He lays down his life for all, but only for His sheep, and Jesus defines His sheep as those whom He knows and who know His voice and follow Him (John 10:3-4). So we can conclude: all are not His sheep; only those whom Jesus knows and who follow His voice are His sheep (i.e., His people)
Similarly, Jesus distinguishes between those who believe, and those who don’t believe. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)… And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65). According to Jesus’ teaching here in John 6 and elsewhere in the gospels, do all believe? Will all receive God’s offer of grace through Jesus Christ? Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.(Matthew 7:13-14) So many did not believe in Jesus then, many do not and will not believe today.
Yet Jesus explains unbelief in John 6 by saying it is only those to whom it has been granted by the Father that come to Jesus; that the Father must draw people to Jesus. In John 8 He says something similar, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47). Jesus explains the source of belief in someone in terms of God’s action in or upon that person, describing those who hear and believe His words as those who are “of God”. But people are not naturally of God. Scripture states of all believers before they came to Christ: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul says that all were by nature children of wrath, following after Satan, dead in sins and walking in disobedience. Yet the grace of God comes to such people, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.(Ephesians 2:4-9)”
Here again we see the thought that it is God who must act upon sinners by His grace—yet that He does not do this for all people is patently clear in Scripture and from observation.
Going back to Jesus’ analogy of “sheep”, Jesus elsewhere says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left (Matthew 25:31-33). This apparently describes a time of judgment in which Jesus separates His sheep from goats. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”(Matthew 25:41-46). Now is this passage teaching that it’s only those who do good works who will be saved? This passage does point to good works as evidence that one will be saved by Jesus at the judgment. But as Jesus says elsewhere, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:21). The Bible teaches that good works are produced in us by God. We may not boast before God, but only humbly point to His grace upon and in us. Yes, grace is not something we can earn, yet as I have shown from Scripture, God’s love and grace are discriminating.
You wrote, “Of course that means that if people do not receive grace, it isn’t their fault and punishing them is indiscriminate”. I give you Paul’s answer, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?(Romans 9:19-24).”
So we have Scripture telling us that God must act in us so that we can hear His voice and bear good fruits and come to Him and live for Him, and says that if this doesn’t happen we will not come to Him and we will be condemned for our sins. I find Scripture saying that we have a moral responsibility to obey the God who created us, and at the same time I see Scripture describing us-apart from God– as without hope and by nature sons of wrath. These truths and many others are, according to Scriptural testimony, are “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”(Romans 11:33-35). We can know what God has revealed, for example, He revealed Himself as the God-Man. This is altogether different than being able to explain or fully understand His ways.