Last week we dealt with the question, “what is grace?” Our conclusion was that grace is difficult to define, that it is best known through our experience. The dictionary’s theological definition was, “the freely given, unmerited favour and love of God” and Philip Yancey’s definition was, “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more-no amount of spiritual callisthenics and renunciation, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less – no amount of racism, or pride, or pornography, or adultery, or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”
Today we address the question of whom this grace is for. When preparing this message my husband and I were talking and agreed that the answer is simple. Grace is for everyone. Ok, now that the sermon is done…
I had my first debate on this topic when I was in grade six. My Sunday school teacher was going to great lengths to make it clear that all Jews were going to hell unless they converted to Christianity. Armed with my twelve years’ experience and knowledge of God’s love, creation of all, and his specific relationship with Israel as his chosen people, I argued that God would not just abandon his people.
We know that there is no easy answer to today’s question. While it is absolutely true that God’s grace is for everyone, this is not an answer with which we are readily satisfied. It is hard enough for us to grasp that, despite all our faults, God still loves us and forgives us but what about thieves, murderers, and rapists? Grace can’t possibly be meant for people like Hitler and Pol Pot! We get hung up in our call for justice, by which we often mean retribution! Mark A; McIntosh says that starting out study of theology from salvation means that we don’t have to accept and be distracted by all that is bad in the world, because we know it is in the process of being transformed.
Let’s start with the slightly easier question of who needs grace. Again, there is an easy answer. Everyone who has sinned needs grace. Remember how many people threw stones when Jesus said in John 8, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” We could now branch off into a discussion of the doctrine of original sin, but we will leave that for another day. We will take for granted today that we all have sinned in some way in our lives and move on from there.
There are, depending on your basis for inclusion, between 192 and 194 countries in the world. The Vatican City is a country but not one of the United Nations. As of July 2016 the world population was approximately 7,336,390,000. Current estimates are that there are approximately 4200 different religions in the world.
We may think that people from some countries, continents, races or religions are vastly different from ourselves and that this would mean that the number for God to care for would be lower than that. Our Epistle reading this morning tells us, though, that, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross…to every creature under heaven.” God made every one of those more than 7 billion people. Scientific research demonstrates that, “all humans around the world today are biologically very similar despite our superficial differences. In fact, we are 99.9% genetically identical. When we are compared to many other kinds of animals, it is remarkable how little variation exists within our own species.” So, here today on the planet earth there are 7,336,390,000 people in 192 countries whom God loves and to whom his saving grace is available.
Paul reminds the Colossians that (in The Message paraphrase) “all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of (Jesus’) death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.” (1Col:16) When we clean out our garages and storage rooms we usually have three categories; garbage, keep and sell (or give to charity). Within this system we would automatically throw away anything that is actually broken without a second thought. If things are broken, they are of no value to anyone. Our landfills are silent testaments to this reality. But God doesn’t use a human value system, he doesn’t have a garbage pile, he doesn’t throw away those of us who are broken by sin.
The Pharisees asked about this different value system when they asked why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners rather than good lawful people like themselves. They actually asked the question of one of his disciples. But when (Jesus) heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mat 9:12-13
Forty years after my debate with my Sunday school teacher, and armed with more information and experience, here is my view on the idea that all people will be saved.
- God created all and declared that all was good
- Jesus died for the sins of all
- For present salvation and life as transformed people, and participation in Christ in the present, on must accept the gift of grace that is offered.
- Future salvation is available for all individuals.
- It is God’s intention to reconcile all of creation which would include all individuals.
- All individuals will be saved through God’s power and love in some way we are not yet able to perceive or accept.
“God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing…Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple.” (Col 1:27 MSG)
McIntosh, Mark A. Divine Teaching: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002. Print.
Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997. Print.