We are led to some difficult but important conclusions —
1. God gets and is angry. God’s wrath is real and evident today in the Western world. His wrath is revealed in the moral decadence of modern society as God increasingly turns his back on us, letting Godlessness look more and more like Godlessness. God will not long permit a society to wallow in God-lite. Merely being nice and tolerant is not good enough. And God will see to it that a society that rejects him will suffer the natural consequences of their sins, as he withdraws his common-grace from those who rebel against him.
2. God is just. He imposes no punishment greater than anyone deserves. But everyone deserves destruction. We all deserve to be tossed into the trash pile of gehenna. No one deserves better.
(Deu 32:4 ESV) 4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
3. God elects. He elected Abram and his descendants to play a central role in his movement through human history. He made a covenant with Abraham that would shape the people of the planet more than any other event in human history. In Christ, however, he opened his election up to the Gentiles, but he continued to be a God who elects.
God elected to introduce the gospel in Israel, not China, not Peru, and not Fiji, and for centuries, that decision dramatically affected who would receive grace rather than justice. Those receiving justice have no basis for complaint — not really — because God is under no obligation to be gracious to anyone.
(Rom 9:15-16 ESV) 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Many perceive God’s decision to elect some but not others as unfair and even unloving. How can God destine so many to hell? But God destines no one to hell. Rather, everyone deserves a just fate, and justice is punishment that fits the crime. God could have fairly done nothing at all for the sinfulness of mankind.
4. God is not fair. He is much more than fair. He saves people who simply don’t deserve it. And that bothers us. A lot. We don’t want to feel like beggars. We want the self-respect that comes from pulling ourselves up by our boot straps and doing it all by ourselves. But we can’t.
No one deserves grace, and those who receive it can only thank and praise God that someone was sent to preach the gospel that they heard and believed.
5. God wants everyone saved.
(1Ti 2:3-4 ESV) 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
6. God damns those outside of grace. Nothing in Romans remotely suggests a doctrine of second chance. There is no “available light” exception for those who never heard the gospel. Universalism is foreign to the scriptures and irresponsible to teach. Hell is real.
We try to find a way out of the box and avoid damnation for others by some means other than the means offered by God —
(Rom 10:9-17 ESV) 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. … 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
I’m convinced that our efforts to escape the fact that many — most — will wind up in gehenna stem from two problems —
1. It strikes us as terribly unfair that so many will be damned, when we’re going to be saved and we know we don’t deserve it.
2. We feel guilty for not having done more to save the lost.
The traditional answer is the right answer. If we don’t like the fact that so many will be damned in their sins, the solution isn’t clever exegesis. It’s to send missionaries. It’s to be a missionary. It’s to raise your children to be missionaries. It’s to elevate missionaries as heroes and examples to the kids in Bible class.
Lobbying for laws and running for office won’t do it. Talking to your neighbor about Jesus will.
But even that won’t work if the churches we plant aren’t vibrant, Spirit-filled communities pursuing God’s redemptive mission. The church often fails to transform its community because it becomes internalized, all about doctrinal disputes and church politics and not at all about redeeming the world.
We have to plant churches — but only the right kind of churches will do.
There are no short cuts. There is no salve for our guilty consciences. Rather, we thank God for his grace — grace we desperately need because we haven’t sent out nearly all the missionaries and church planters God needs — and we try to do better going forward.